Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that I tend to lean hard on metaphors to illustrate whatever point I’m trying to make. I’ve talked about plants, welding ground clamps, Army PT tests, even velociraptors to help drive home points in a memorable and entertaining way. It’s great! It’s kind of becoming my “thing”. But, today there’s no metaphor. Today I just want to talk to you.
Why the departure from the norm? Well, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude in the last few days and I really want to talk about why.
Here’s the story:
On Sunday, I tweeted about how I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a novel and how I was excited to have gotten the first one-thousand words under my belt. In response, the Twitter writing community came out of the woodwork to support and congratulate me. Like, a lot. It’s been an amazing few days –I’m still getting congratulations three days later– and this tidal-wave of support has me thinking about all the amazing communities I’ve been a part of, and the roll each has played in my life.
So that’s what I want to talk about today.
I invite you now to think back to the times you’ve felt most “at home”. I’m willing to bet that, even if you’re introverted like me, some of your happiest moments have been when you were doing something you love and sharing it with people who also love and support that thing. For you it may be writing, or art, or sports, or something else, but there’s just something about having a tribe of like-minded people that helps us feel complete.
And the reason, I think, that the hubbub surrounding my book tweet has hit me so hard in the last few days is that I had lost that sense of community for a long, long time.
You see, I grew up in a series of closely-knit communities which came to make up my entire identity until I left home for college. Starting first with the active-duty military community and my religious community, I grew and became a part of the homeschooling community, the Civil War reenacting community, and my greatest love: the theatre community. Each of these groups was an integral part of who I was –and am– as a person and helped me to grow and develop in ways I never could have without them. My early life was a joyful celebration of things and people I truly, truly loved.
But things shifted from the fall of 2014 until last summer.
To make a long, complicated story short, let’s just say that the second half of college was very lonely for me. Then, after graduation, my wife and I were thrown into a battle for her survival as we worked to get her through the deep dark of a massive mental health crisis, subsequent treatment, and the beginning of an entirely new life. That journey has taken all of the ensuing six-and-a-half years and there just hasn’t been the time or energy left over for me to take part in any kind of external community. And that has been really, really hard.
The turning point in this story came last year when, in the course of the revolving door of hobbies I always seem to be stuck in, I decided to try something I had wanted to for a while: I found a group online and started playing Dungeons and Dragons. And that may be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
What I discovered once I started playing is that the D&D community (and the greater tabletop gaming community as a whole) has something to it that I had been missing since I did my last theatre production somewhere in the early-mid 2010’s: they absolutely love the thing they do and they don’t care who knows it. And they do that thing together.
The group of guys who I play with on Wednesday nights provided a gateway for me to once again enter a community and begin to shake off the years of quasi-isolation I had endured. Then, as the result of an offhanded conversation with one of my D&D buddies, I stumbled on the miniatures painting community. Joining this new community gave me a more creative outlet and led me to online chat servers where I met and interacted with even more new people with the same interests as me. It felt awesome, and helped me find a lot of confidence.
And finally, we come full-circle to the writing community on Twitter. In January of this year I started this blog and, thanks in great part to the confidence I had gained from taking part in the D&D and Miniatures communities, I took the plunge and joined a group of people that now feels like one big family. It’s amazing, every day I get to hang out and talk with a bunch of other word-nerds! And, let me tell you, it has felt like coming home.
So, that’s it! That’s the post. Like I said, there’s no metaphor, no silly story, and no real big lesson I wanted to convey. I just wanted to give you a chance to reflect on whatever communities you’re a part of and appreciate them. And if, like I was, you’re feeling starved for that bond, I’m encouraging you to jump in with both feet. Find the group of crazy weirdos who like whatever your thing is as much as you do and join the party. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,