I found myself pondering why it is I lack “a sense of community”. This primarily came about (the pondering, not the sense) after watching bits of some videos by one of these Youtubers who live in a van. This particular one was used to living on her own, but she recently had a friend join her on a journey for some days, and then immediately after that she noticed how anxious she had become about travelling alone. She was familiar with this feeling and expected it to soon pass once she had become readjusted to travelling alone.
I myself, besides having a cat, live on my own, although not in a van. It took me a while to accept myself as an anxious person because I didn’t actually understand the term. For me, to be anxious about something, is to be keen for it to happen, rather than apprehensive. Being “apprehensive” seems more accurate, but having “anxiety” is what is more widely recognised as a thing. All of this could be related to autism, but acknowledging that doesn’t necessarily provide a way forward. Anyway, I’ve noticed how I find things like shopping to be an “anxious”, or rather, awkward experience, particularly when something out of the ordinary occurs, like bumping into a familiar face, and when I realised this I began to think back through my life to where this all perhaps began.
Early on I was a happy child and liked having friends to play with. Children, it seems, given the chance, will generally happily play with others. Plonk them in a room with other kids of a similar age of whom they’ve not met before and likely they’ll soon be building towers together out of blocks, racing and crashing toy cars into each others’, painting pictures and happily chatting amongst themselves. That’s my kind of memory anyway (who knows* what all this “we need to keep children 2 meters/6 feet apart and wearing masks, or making them attend school online will do to them).
I remember though, a time when I would go and stay with a relative during the summer holidays. Across the road lived a fellow child of about my age and we’d met before and played together a year or so previously. Then on a last childhood stay with this relative it was offered to me that I could go and play across the road if I wanted. And I did want to. Except I felt uncomfortable about going over there (on my own), so I said something akin to “It’s okay, I don’t want to”. And there I stayed, on my own, wanting to go across the road, but getting up to mischief instead.
Maybe this other child had been offered something similar: “Brian’s across the road if you want to go and play with him?” but they felt the same awkwardness.
Who knows. Sometimes kids and adults alike need that little extra push to overcome these little hurdles.
I wonder why it is I am this way, because, while I have overcome a lot of this awkwardness, I’m certainly not free of it. If I have some quite days where I’m not dealing with clients, I find it difficult to pick up the phone when they start to call. I end up in my own little world, and I want to stay there.
I can only think that I learned this character trait from my mum, as we seem alike in this regard.
During my childhood, teens, and 20s, we moved house no less than four times, one of which caused a mid-term change of school, and another forced me out of college. In later years my sister was forced to change high-schools through one of these moves, disrupting her exams and detaching her from friends; something she resented for a long time. In a few of the areas I lived I can recall that there was a “lack of community”, but in my happiest childhood location I remember the move to there and immediately befriending other kids. In fact, as children we were essentially our own little community, roaming around beyond the area we were supposed to be, playing games together, building dens, and forming gangs (the nice kind that had secret passwords and membership cards). But all this was happening while the parents kept to themselves.
Not all parents were like this, I realised. Some I knew of were well established and would organise things together, but our parents were different. It seems that the only times they interacted with other adults on our estate of fifty houses, was when there were upsets between children.
My step dad was far more sociable than my mum though. He had a natural zest for it. He could literally talk to anyone, seemingly about anything. However, he still lacked friends.
Shopping times might be an ideal time for children to learn how to interact as an adult; going into a shop, buying the things you need, meeting other members of your community, engaging with shop-keepers or supermarket staff, or fellow customers, but I only learned the fundamentals of saying please and thank you and the art of counting money (the stuff you’re taught in school). However, being one of four kids meant that traipsing us all round the shops was never going to be a thing, instead, as I recall, us four would stay in the car with our dad (or even stay at home), while mum went in to do the big weekly shop (and get out again as swiftly as possible, spending as little as possible in the process, for money was always tight).
I can now see how this process of shopping was ingrained into me; shopping would always be about getting in and round a shop as swiftly as possible whilst spending as little as possible. There would be no time for social pleasantries (the kids would be waiting/winding each other up in the car).
Now in my adult life I struggle to feel a sense of community. I observe with bemusement, how others have friendly chats in the street or with the person behind the counter; “How did they get to know each other?” I wonder. I feel disconnected from others, I feel like an outsider, but not like it really bothers me – I probably quite like it! I remember feeling this way in college when others would be cheerfully getting along on a new course as if they already knew each other, and I would assume this, but perhaps I was wrong; perhaps they just had a skill I lacked. I remember at one college a fellow student came up to me at the start of a lunch break (I suspected later that an observant tutor had prompted this) and invited me to join the others on the course, to wherever they headed off to. Like that time staying with my relative, I declined the offer to put myself out there, preferring to do what I was familiar with, which was to sit in my car on my own and eat my home-made sandwiches and listen to the radio, rather than go out to wherever and feel uncomfortable around others, and buying food I couldn’t justify spending money on (again, money being a barrier to entry, I felt).
I was by this time a few years into my life online. This was a time when socialising online was not the norm. I befriended people online far more easily; I chatted to girls there and had the deep conversations I felt were impossible in real life; something I had always craved. The weird thing is, the more that socialising online became the norm among the masses, the more difficult I felt even this was becoming. Chat services like Yahoo! Chat and MSN and Yahoo! Messengers came and went and along came the likes of Facebook and Twitter; I dabbled in these for a while, seeking out old school friends for a short time, until I felt out of touch and merely grasping at a life that was in the past where it should remain (I’d moved away from those areas and people had moved on, myself included).
I have this weird sense of being left out, something I felt way back in my school days; others would be the invitees, the ones to invite people to parties, I was never the inviter. Now I live in an area that does have a sense of community of sorts, but I still don’t fit in. After pondering about all of this stuff last night I went out today to meet a couple of clients in a nearby village and grab some things from the shop there; I had this topic on my mind throughout.
These were older clients I’ve known for some years now and done various work for; the first visit was a quick errand to replace some wrong items supplied. I was offered payment at the end but I declined since it had been my mistake. The client, being thankful for my service nonetheless offered instead a loaf of home-made of bara brith. Such a nice gesture, I thought, and you can’t get much more ‘part of a community’ than that, I felt. It’s not the first time I’ve been thanked with cake, or wine, or other produce. My second client was actually a friend of the first, and they each knew about my visit to the other; again, another sense of community. We had a nice chat during the work; it turned out that she used to know someone that lived in the house next door to mine. Then off to the local shop where, outside, I met the local window cleaner who I knew (and his dad before him) from my time working in the local community centre; we got chatting about cycling and bikes, a conversation we’d had some years back, but it was nice to catch up. Once in the shop I was served by a lady who always compliments me with how well I’ve done choosing a selection of reduced-priced items and spending so little on an armful of produce.
I recall how, even in some supermarkets, you can get dealt with personally, and faces become familiar; with checkout assistants perhaps commenting on something you’re buying and sharing their experiences with it or cooking ideas. You certainly don’t get this from self-service. But alas, I’ve always failed to really appreciate that I’m actually a part of a community.
My time at that community centre I mentioned, really thrust me into the local community, even if I never fully embraced it. I got to know people (and gain clients) some of whom I still see and deal with to this day. There used to be a bank in the village when I first worked there (and a couple of others before then), and a post office, and I still do work for some of the staff that worked at these places. I knew back then when these places closed, how this would be at detriment of ‘the community’, and it has been, somewhat, but not entirely. There is still a community out there, I just have to remain aware of it and appreciate it, support it, and feel a part of it.
It’s all well and good (I suppose) shopping, or banking, or socialising online, because these things and ways can have their benefits, but we need to be cautious about what we give away or lose in the process, not only money and local wealth, but a sense of real community. Through these times were living in, I’ve heard that the use of dating apps are on the rise, while at the same time are marriage breakups. I’ve always turned my nose up at the prospect of joining a dating app; I’d rather rely on fate, even though I have dated online.
I can see a sense of community here on WordPress, and this comes about partly through shared interests in both writing or the topics we write about (perhaps we lack an audience or like-minded people in real life. I joined Neocities last year and quickly found a place there because many people on the platform share a similar nostalgia about the internet during the 90s and 2000s. I watch channels on Youtube that are dedicated to, say, cars of a certain era, or computers of the past, or there are the food and lifestyle channels where others feel a sense of community because they’re engaging in (or merely absorbing) content they can relate to.
I think also of the TV shows and movies I might watch, or have watched over the years, even watching or listening to the news, talk-show hosts, and politicians, and how those characters might actually morph, somewhere in my psyche, into a pseudo community; friendly and/or familiar faces providing a further surrogate community to fill the gaps left behind in the real one, when really, surely, these people shouldn’t be given such importance?
Since ancient times, people had their legends and heroes, their angels and spirit guides. Some might have imaginary friends or claim contact with aliens, or talk to the dead. Imagined or real, this may be irrelevant; for all form a community within you.
*P.S. I’ll tell you what having children wearing masks, “social distancing” (and vaccinating them against Covid-19) will do to them: it’ll screw them over. Scarred for life, fearful of others, and dependent on medication and future vaccines they likely didn’t need in the first place. All for a virus of which is least likely to directly harm them.
I can relate to much of what you say about being left out and struggling to socialise. I often have to make myself go out and talk to people or pick up the phone. As for schoolchildren, lockdown is definitely bad for their mental and emotional health as it is for most of us, but the point is to keep them alive.