Writer’s notebook: more on community

I’m coming to the end of a week of unexpected illness, which has made everything very much more difficult. Editing has slowed to a crawl, and the only thing I have been able to work on with much attention is the long-deferred project of packing up my inactive projects and organizing the others.

When I say “long-deferred,” I mean that it’s been hanging fire for two decades. As an Artist with a Day Job, I have been impatient with anything that gets between me and doing the work. Even setting up a work space (some years ago) sent me into a slow boil of rage and frustration. Every minute I was working on that was a minute not spent on the work, but I needed that work space to do the work. I knew a lot of other artists who were subsidized by family money or wealthy spouses. I didn’t bother talking to them, not wanting to hear the usual blithe good cheer about “choices” and “life balance” in the face of other people’s struggles.

As I slow down to think about it, things are very different now.

Operating at half-strength makes me think about what I can realistically get done right now. I have lots of students, protege(e)s, and friends to whom I have given great, research-based advice (work in 90-minute bouts at most, don’t forget to take breaks, step back from time to time and reflect on what you’ve learned). Now that advice is coming back to me.

What else is coming back: a real sense of community. Off-camera, this has been a very difficult year in Day Job and in Life, and in the last weeks I have heard over and over again:

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I can help you with this task, and here’s somebody who can help you with this other one.”

“If things go really bad, I’ve got you covered.”

I’ve relearned in another arena what I already knew from NaNoWriMo: when something’s really, really hard, the presence of friendly supportive people can make all the difference. There’s the protegee who hangs out with me while I pack up the books and project files, carefully guiding me back on track when my brain starts to glitch at the sheer scale of the problem; there’s my nephew who walks with me to a particularly stressful appointment; there’s the friends who talk with me without judgment and offer ways to think about the present struggle.

The last time things were this hard, it was just me and my partner. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with the gut-sick terrified conviction that if something happened to one of us, the other would be completely alone. Now, after decades of trial and error, we have a real community that spans generations and cultures. One thing I do notice is that my closest friends are one or two generations from real poverty and come from cultures expert in collective survival against a hostile majority. The favor you do today, when you’re feeling strong, is returned tomorrow when you’re not so strong. Karmic debts to parents and mentors are paid forward to children and protege(e)s. This is how most working human societies have operated, but in the USA it’s counter-cultural, quite literally against the culture of White Majority Corporate Suburbia (or City, given that the rich are once more “taking back their cities” via gentrification).

So, moving slowly toward better health, I’m feeling thankful for the good people in my life who have come through for me over and over again.

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2 Responses to Writer’s notebook: more on community

  1. Lovely thoughts and posts. Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Jean Lamb says:

    Artist with a day job! I know that one… It’s nice to know that others have your back; we try to do that at work, too. And the school has rallied around Mike and his chemo a whole lot over here. I’m so glad that you have people who have your back as well.

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