I’ve been thinking about “community” a lot lately. Rather, I think about it all the time but lately I’ve thought about it more than usual, probably because it was conference season and my main job is to maintain and inform the BlogHer Conference attendee community on Facebook. I spent hours upon hours (as I have for the past four years since we started the group) reassuring “newbies”, what we affectionately call our first-time attendees, that they’re going to learn/make friends/have fun/come away inspired. In part due to my involvement and in part due to our conference veterans being the best, most helpful people ever and in part due to other variables, the vast majority of our newbies say that their conference experience was much better than they could have ever imagined. I’m lucky in that I get to meet lots of these people on-site every year. Talking to them IRL (in real life) is one of the perks of my job. Another community in which I thrive is my community of co-workers; we’re a tight bunch. We’ve been through a lot together.
In addition to my “regular” job, I’ve spent the last five years nurturing the “Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) Chicago” community–co-nurturing, actually: *waves to Tracey*–, and the last four years co-nurturing the national LTYM community of producers and directors in each city, as a mentor on the national team. I have always enjoyed a sense of community as one-fifth of that team, and still do even though the national project has ended, in nearly-daily text threads.
I look for community everywhere. I guess part of that is due to being an extrovert; I love people. I enjoy being alone now and then but I get a burst of energy when I’m able to spend time with others. Community can boost us up, it can hold us accountable, it can strengthen us, it can help us when we’re in need, and so many other things. My life has been enriched by people from all walks of life because I keep myself open to it; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been so lucky to have been a part of many different communities throughout my life, many simultaneously, like PTA parents, groups that originated in our temple, my various workout communities, and of course the blogger community.
Yesterday, the old-school blogging community learned of the death of Anissa Mayhew. Hers was one of the first blogs I ever read, and over the years although I wouldn’t say we were good friends, we met a few times IRL and were certainly friendly. She was an incredible woman who started writing about her younger daughter who had childhood cancer. Anissa eventually started up a new blog when Peyton went into remission. She also founded a site called Aiming Low which gave lots of writers their first shot at publishing on a well-known group site, and when she wanted to be inclusive (and a little lazy, totally aiming low) she produced a “Non-con” (non-conference). In 2009 she had a stroke and ended up in a wheelchair and she eventually had a second stroke. Through all of her health challenges she remained a good friend to many and a community champion. She was hysterical and had a wickedly inappropriate sense of humor, often leaving beefcake pictures on her friends’ Facebook walls instead of the traditional birthday greeting. Again, we weren’t good/close friends but I know all of this because Anissa really put herself out there. She. Was. Fantastic.
When news of her death rippled across Facebook yesterday, it was sad but at the same time it seemed like everyone had an Anissa story, and almost all of them involved breasts, swear words, or some other form of inappropriateness. I couldn’t help but think that Anissa would have loved this legacy she left behind in our community. (Here is an excellent post on the community’s loss.) Many of us were left feeling like it was a little reunion, a time machine trip back to the good old days of blogging when nobody was thinking about monetizing, people visited other blogs on a daily basis and actually left comments, Facebook and Twitter were new, and Instagram didn’t yet exist. It made me long for those days like crazy, when we all rallied around each other in times of sadness–like when one family lost their precious Maddie and when one of our own, Susan, died after living with inflammatory breast cancer for five years–and even when we just wanted to help. Back then I didn’t think twice before driving six hours to Columbus and six hours back in the same day (while live-tweeting the whole thing) to help deliver a van full of meat to Momo, just because her freezer was left open and the meat she had just filled it with defrosted and got ruined. We were a community and we wanted to help. I’d do it all over again.
I’m as passionate about community as I am about family. Community makes life easier and far more enjoyable. I’m going to find more ways to interact within the communities of which I’m already a part, and I’m going to find ways to create more community. In these times that seem to be taken up with technology seemingly designed to pull us apart and make us more isolated, I think it’s important to find ways to get in there and pull others closer.
What do you think of when it comes to community?