Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

This is my photographic response to this week’s photo challenge by The Daily Post. 

The assignment: “This week, in a post created specifically for this challenge, show us community, and interpret it any way you please!”

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This is a little community I discovered this weekend. It looks like a charming place. I was surprised to find that they have two trains running non-stop in such a small town. They must be really committed to public transit.

ROW80 Sunday Check-In: Stepping Back for a Wider View

(My ROW80 Check-in is at the bottom of this post.)

Once a young man—a contemporary of mine and aspiring screenwriter who had moved to Southern California for the purpose of furthering that ambition—delivered to me a sort of writer’s curse.

“CJ, no one cares what you have to say.”

I recognized even at the time, even when I was twenty, that this comment was more about him than it was about me. Even so, it has echoed in my mind since then. It won’t go away because it accurately reflects a real fear—the fear that no one really cares what I have to say.

“We need to be known,” writes Alan Jones. “This knowledge of being known we call love.”

One of the ways that we know we are known is through being listened to. If no one cares what I have to say, how can I be loved?

Now, I can employ reason and see all of the evidence that I’m loved and that others want to hear what I have to say (not everyone, I’m sure, but I don’t need to be loved by everyone anyway). But reason doesn’t magically make the fear disappear.

I’m comfortable, at least somewhat, with that fear attending my writing practice because my primary reason for writing isn’t to be listened to. That’s a major reason, but the primary reason is just that I gain understanding by writing through experiences and issues. I’ve spent years journaling and writing stories that I’ve never submitted for publication, writing letters I had no intention of sending; I’m going to write whether I have an audience or not.

Facebook and Twitter are another matter.

In his chapter about “Technology and Media,” from Doris Janzen Longacre’s Living More with Less, Isaac Villegas writes:

“We are lonely people. So with the click of a mouse we try to convince ourselves that we are not alone…with my computer and smart phone I can constantly update my status on Twitter and Facebook just to convince myself that someone wants to know the minutiae of my life. I want to know that someone cares about my life and wants my companionship—or at least a status update.”

I recognize that my primary reason for being on Twitter and Facebook is a desire for connection. As someone who is fairly shy and socially awkward to begin with and busy at home with my children most of every day and living as a relative newcomer to a geographic area that lacks a central community, I find the draw of online community very strong. It promises me connection without the discomfort of in-person interactions. The trouble is that the (virtual) reality doesn’t live up to the promise. The virtual connection just doesn’t fill the void for me like being face-to-face with someone, or even just hearing their voice on the telephone.

Villegas suggests we ask three questions about our technology use:

1) “How can we make sure technology serves our relationships rather than the other way around?”

2) “What do our media habits reveal about our deepest desires?”

3) “What are we not doing when we are in front of a screen?”

Technology can serve my relationships by facilitating in-person connections and keeping strong those connections I have with friends and family who are geographically distant in between the times we can see each other in person. My media habits reveal that I deeply desire a compassionate community with whom I can explore my values and how best to live them. When I’m in front of a screen, I’m not looking my children in the eye. I’m not discussing my values, hopes, and desires with my husband. I’m not having coffee with my neighbors or taking my children to play with their friends across town. I’m not sleeping or exercising or hiking or reading or calling my mom (actually, I’m embarrassed to admit it but sometimes I am browsing the Internet while I’m on the phone with my mom).

This week, when I found myself disappointed that we only lost electricity for three hours because I was so looking forward to the break from technology, I decided that something had to give.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to try making sleep and in-person connections my priority. I’m going to go to bed at the same time my son does (around 7:00 pm) on the nights I can and no later than 10:00 pm on those nights that I have extra-domiciliary activities. This will eventually be more sleep than I need, but I hope that starting with more-than-enough sleep will help me recover from so many years of not-enough sleep and that I’ll gradually work into some sort of schedule. I’m hoping that with ample sleep, some of these other anxieties and disappointments and unacceptable behaviors (the yelling) will disappear on their own or that I’ll feel more equipped to address them.

I am going to keep writing because I sleep better when I’m writing (provided I’m not writing when I would otherwise be sleeping). I don’t know what I’ll do with blogging. I plan to do my Wednesday and Sunday check-ins for ROW80, but I don’t know if I’ll blog outside of those check-ins. Blogging is a weird limbo for me between writing and social media. It’s writing, but with the commenting and stats, it also includes that anxiety-provoking edge that social media has (especially when the trolls show up). I’ll have to observe myself in the next two weeks and go from there.

I’m not going to avoid online connections entirely, but I’m going to try to be mindful of whether they’re supporting my relationships or not. If they’re not, I hope I can step away and do something that does.

Oh, and the original purpose of this blog post, my ROW80 Sunday Check-In: I’ve written four nights out of seven, meeting my minimum goal for ROW80 for this week.

[Insert Awesome Post Here]

This was going to be a really awesome post I’ve been planning since Sunday. But when I sat down to write it tonight, I couldn’t figure out what my point was and worried that I was just meandering and complaining and perhaps even insulting some people unintentionally.

I was certain that I was going to link to this post on “Live Your Bliss” (entitled “When ‘Paying it Forward’ Really Matters”). That is an awesome post, and I had something really profound to say about it that worked in This American Life and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Oddly, when I sat down at the laptop tonight, the post didn’t really come together like I thought it would when I mentally drafted it in the shower this evening.

But here’s basically what I was trying to get at:

The “Live Your Bliss” post helped me realize that, while online connections and keeping in touch with geographically distant friends won’t help me feel connected to my local community (and won’t give me someone to have tea with on occasion), I can use my long-distance connections as inspiration for relationship-building, compassionate action in my everyday life.

I might not be able to take a meal to a sick friend in Utah, but I can take food to a neighbor here.

I can’t give a friend a ride to SFO, but I can drive a recent immigrant to the grocery store.

I can’t drive my mom (who lives 11 hours away by car) to her post-surgery doctor appointments or clean her house for her while she’s recovering, but I can nag my younger sister and brother to do more for her.

Okay, that last one wasn’t really a good example. But I’m confident that I’ll improve with practice.

And I might just have a stronger local community when all’s said and done.

The Land of my Youth

An F-14 A Tomcat aircraft of Fighter Squadron ...
An F-14 from VF-124. (Image via Wikipedia)

The Daily Post prompt today:

Describe the town where you grew up. Do you still live there? If not, do you ever visit?

The geography of my childhood was less a place than it was a state of mind. I grew up a Navy brat. We moved about every three years, so I didn’t grow up in a single town. Instead, I grew up in a series of military neighborhoods, and specifically among the families of fighter pilots.

I was born on Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS) in Florida. We lived there only a few months before we moved to NAS Miramar in California. Then we spent a few years at the Naval Postgraduate School in Navy housing in Monterey, California, before moving back to Miramar. Until I was ten years old, my family lived on base surrounded by other Navy and Marines families.

Living on a naval air station provided me with some different visceral experiences of “home” than I think civilian kids grow up with. I could identify a the basic class of airplane based on its sound and I could narrow it down to the specific type of plane by sight. The base fairgrounds were behind our houses and across a field. We could watch the air shows from our back yard. We walked to the Bob Hope USO Show. Some of the flying they did for the movie Top Gun was over our houses.

The houses on base were all similar. At Miramar, they were old officers’ quarters built circa WWII. Our street was made up of seven units, squat, stuccoed buildings each set on 1/4 acre of land. There were empty fields surrounding the houses. When construction started on the new commissary and exchange, it drove the rattlesnakes into our yards. Before letting us play outside, my mother would go outside and hose down all of the bushes to dislodge any snakes that might be lurking there. When my father would come home from work in the evening, I would hug him, burying my face in his shirt and breathing in the mix of cigarette smoke, Brut aftershave, and jet fuel that permeated the khaki cloth. Or we would spend months without him while he was on an aircraft carrier floating about the seas, protecting American air space, sightseeing in exotic locales, and having bizarre parties on board the aircraft carrier. When I was older, I would spend summer days riding bikes with my friend, Lisa, up and down the dead-end streets, singing “The Greatest American Hero” theme song at the top of our lungs.

In Monterey, the houses were triplexes, two units on the bottom with a breezeway in between, and one above that extended over the units below. During the day, the children ran through the streets unsupervised by adults. From age 4, I would play by myself at the park behind the houses across the street. The school was in the neighborhood, so when I started kindergarten I walked there with my friends every day. I remember Monterey as shaded and scented by evergreen trees. My favorite things to do were to go to the pond and feed the geese stale bread and go to Fisherman’s Wharf and give the organ grinder’s monkey coins and maybe get to shake his skinny little hand. If I was really lucky, I would get a huge soft pretzel or an all-day sucker. I loved watching the otters floating on their backs and beating shellfish with stones to break them open. From our house, we could hear the sea lions barking and the fog horns bellowing.

The big thing I remember is the feeling of community among the military families. With the husbands gone so much of the time (at that time, it was all husbands; I knew only a handful of active duty military women), the squadron Wives Clubs provided a great deal of support. We would meet for dinners and picnics and play dates (although they weren’t called play dates in the late 70’s and early 80’s). The women would organize care packages to send to the guys on cruise, and get us kids to write letters to the guys without families. When my father’s plane went down, and he was missing for almost 24 hours, the wives converged on our home. They brought food and children and wine and sat with my mom and us kids all through that long, long day. They cried with us with relief when the chaplain knocked on the door after dark to tell us my dad and the pilot had been found, safe.

Even though we were far from our biological families, we had a bond with these other families wrought of common experience and the fear of that black car pulling up to deliver tragedy.

I no longer live in the town where I grew up, physically or emotionally. Geographically, these places don’t even exist the way I knew them. All of my childhood homes have been torn down. My father’s opinion is that this happened way too late, as they were pretty much in disrepair (and filled with asbestos) when we lived there. He’s probably right, but there’s something unmooring about never being able to prove with my eyes that the places in my memory actually existed.

Experience-wise, I’ve never found the kind of community we had on base. The only place I’ve ever experienced anything like that kind of take-it-for-granted closeness was at college, where we would drop by and just let ourselves into our friends’ homes, crash on their floors, share food off of their plates. Like college, once we left the geographical and circumstantial closeness of living on base, the emotional closeness waned, too. It’s like the connections stretch only so far before they break. But it’s not a dramatic break. I picture silly putty, stretched and stretched until the little bit in the middle is too thin to support its own weight and it just oozes apart.

So, that’s where I grew up. While I think the stress that brought us so close to the families then would consume me now, I still feel drawn to that closeness nevertheless. I had hoped to manufacture it in my adult life, but perhaps without the daily threat of death (or worse), people just can’t or don’t pull together that close.

While I can’t visit the land of my childhood, I get a taste of it when a fighter jet flies overhead.