Sunday, August 31, 2008

In my head there's a greyhound station

I went to a party on Wednesday night, a going-away party for an old friend of mine who is moving a few states away. It was an odd experience. I didn't know most of the people there, just my little brother's band, who played for about half an hour, and a few people from my old youth group.

Church used to be the source of community in my life, and for the rest of my family it still is. I never liked it that life worked that way. The constant watchfulness and self-editing to ensure that no unacceptable ideas are even implied by what I say stresses me out even now, and it was much worse when I was struggling to find what I believed without causing a major shitstorm that would have cut off my carefully planned avenue of escape from this town. As beseiged as I felt, and as different from the church norm as I was, I never made many friends at church, but there was a group of people who tolerated me, and several of these people were at this party.

It was surreal, seeing these people again. I was afraid that it might give me flashbacks to the way my life was when I was a kid, but instead it just reinforced how much I've changed, and how impossible it would be to try to fit into that world again. I can't keep my mouth shut like I used to do. I can be civil and refrain from giving my opinions on the church when the conversation is about something else, but I can't listen to treacly comments about how valuable small group prayer sessions are without making snide comments. Well, technically I'm able to just shut up. But the knowledge that somewhere listening might be another kid like me keeps me from staying silent. I managed to escape this particular party with only one outburst at someone who told me I was going to hell, but there's no way I could do that on a regular basis.

Which has led me to ask myself where exactly I think I'm going to find a community. I'm not good at making friends at the best of times, being sick and tired all the time certainly doesn't help, and I don't really know where to start. I've got a book group and a knitting group that I go to once a month each, but they both tend toward late middle aged women who are almost as socially conservative as the members of my parents' church. I've enrolled for one class at the local community college, and will probably go on to finish my BA at the University of Washington, if I can scrape up the money, energy, and sheer physical courage for it, so I guess I could join some kind of club or something at school.

Its just... I'm really bad at connecting with people. I always have been. Even online, where people pour their hearts out to random strangers all the time, there are people who I find fascinating, but I'm never quite sure if we're friends or not. Maybe I'm just too picky, or too weird, or too awkward. I wish there were classes on how to meet people you like and become friends with them. People like me could really benefit.


yanub said...

I suck at it, too, and I haven't really gotten any better. It helps that as I approach the half-century mark, the sheer number of acquaintances I've made means that there is a percentage who actually seem to like me for me, and who I like back just as much. And that we get together sometimes, but not often, which is again just like I like it. People around all the time....irritating. Watching what you have to say? Unacceptable outside of family reunions and the workplace.

Just keep meeting people. You will eventually accumulate people in your life you feel comfortable with and glad to get together with as often as the occasion arises.

Carapace said...

The bad news: you are not likely to find the community you crave in Wisconsin. I have a former-Wisconsin friend who is as socially malleable as possible without having an identity disorder, and even he could not manage to conform to the beer-football-church culture enough to feel accepted. Plus, there are just not that many people.

The good news is that there are many places in the world that are not Wisconsin. Go there, if only online.

More generally, I suggest finding a fandom and immersing yourself in it; geek culture is strong and very accepting, if argumentative. And the friends you make in LARP/anime/Renfair/Trekking will have friends in other aspects of life, and introduce you. It really speeds up the life-building thing.

Tayi said...

yanub- The problem with accumulating acquaintances is that I have this recurring desire to move to new places and start over. I'm here in WA and have plans to stay for the next few years or so to get my degree, but really I've only been here three months and I'm already planning where I want to move next (someplace dry and hot, probably New Mexico). Maybe someday I'll find a place where I want to put down roots, but I hate to count on it (although if I did, I could build myself a tiny house, which I'm itching to do. So maybe someday).

carapace- joining a fandom actually sounds like a decent idea. How would you suggest going about it? I mean, I've been a part of MMORPG guilds, and there are a few places online where I interact with science fiction/fantasy geeks, but I'm not sure how to find such people irl. Any ideas?

yanub said...

I don't really know anything about New Mexico, other than that my parents briefly lived there. But if you don't know where you'll end up, maybe you will end up in Central Texas. In which case, you'd better email me in advance so we can make plans! And you may as well move sooner than later. Why stay in a place where you are already socially uncomfortable?

You remind me a bit of my baby sister, also a veteran, though not disabled. She gets wanderlust something fierce. I tell her that she needs to just buy an RV and move when the spirit hits her. You could do that, or, even better, build a tiny house on a trailer. I know that people do that. Why not you? And then people will always want to be talking to you about your tiny mobile house.

Carapace said...

Tayi, for RL geeky contacts, a few suggestions:
Colleges: Nearly every good sized college I know of has anime or comic clubs; some have RPG clubs. A lot of them are open to everyone, student or not. This is the bulk of my friends met each other, at a time when only about half of them were students.
Comic Shops-- if there are any decent comic stores in the area, they'll most likely serve as a social hub. There are two (good ones) in Austin; they both have bulletin boards and binders full of people looking for games, looking for hang-out pals, advertising fairs, etc. This is how I met my old RP group, back when I had the energy to RP.
Conventions-- if there's an anime or comic convention you want to go to-- go! And check out the artist's alley and dealer's room for clubs advertising for members. Some even have a big whiteboard where people can advertise room parties and such. This is how I've met the remaining majority of my friends, in fact. They aren't all local, but it's reassuring to have people everywhere IRL.
Forums- If you have a fandom already, find some forums that cater to it (google can help you as much as I). If you're just a general geek;), check out TV Tropes or Comics Curmudgeon. Hang around, make a few posts, and then try to arrange a meatspace meetup. Yes, again, I have made friends this way.
I should emphasize that I really am Not Good at meeting and keeping people in my life; but geekdom is ever so tolerant of that fact. And very good about physical differences too, in my experience. I love my socially-inept social circle!

Tayi said...

yanub- I can't move to New Mexico yet for financial reasons. I'm living with my parents here in WA, and they're giving me free room and board, and even some help with other finances if it turns out I need it... plus if I were to move to another state and try to finish my degree at another university, it would take longer to get resident's tuition rates and enough credits to graduate. So I'm stuck here for a while unless the VA suddenly decides that I deserve a disability stipend that I can live on. But if when I do head down south, I will let you know!

carapace- you know, there is actually a comic shop just a mile away. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the ideas!