community

The Hardship of Caring - MiniPost

I recently came across this quote by Normal Fischer:

We become numb and isolated because we want to avoid the suffering, but it’s the

numbness and isolation that feel the worst. When we break through the unnecessary

suffering and connect with others, it’s hard and it’s painful, but it’s also better. When we

open up to the real pain of caring for others, we do feel better

This speaks volumes about how I once dealt with close relationships. I had become quite proficient at distancing in order to maintain my own sense of “safety.” By avoiding the suffering of friendship and caring for others (particularly new people) I had learned how to be able to avoid the potential hurt of caring for others.

This has changed for me in the past few years, but it takes a lot of work (and is on-going). I find myself often overwhelmed (when I am not doing my own self-care) by the sheer pain/dissatisfaction/sadness of other people. This is a gentle reminder that it is through facing this vulnerability we build stronger connective tissue. Strong connections take work. They involve suffering, and they are not pleasant. It is, however, in moving through this unpleasantness that we can build the safety nets of true community participation that I think we all really crave.

Be well, friends

Jesse

***As an aside, “suffering” here denotes a personal uncomfortability and emotional turmoil/unpleasantness. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship that is something to correct/leave/ find support for as soon as is safely possible. Look out for one another. ***

Community as Participation and Reciprocity

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Community as Participation

A Meditation on Punk Rock, Citizenship and Reciprocity

Here are two things that you may not know about me: the first is that very late last year, I officially became a Canadian citizen. The second, is that I grew up deeply entrenched in the music and ethic of punk rock thanks in no small part to my father (something for which I am eternally grateful). I share these things because I have been thinking about community, belonging, and reciprocity a lot lately. More specifically, I have been considering what it means to belong to a community, how I feel about it, and what gives rise to a strong sense of give and take in the communities in which I am involved.

For most of my life, I have felt kind of like my legal status; a landed immigrant (before the days of ‘Permanent Resident’). When I traveled, my passport was different, I said things with a weird hold-over pronunciation from preschool years in California, and I had no ‘roots’ here - no local family lineage or history. Thankfully, as I grew older most of those things mattered less to me. I considered myself Canadian, my parents and siblings began to set our own roots, and I got used to pronouncing pasta in a way that got laughs.

What all this means is that I began to become a part of the place that I resided.

That happened in a multitude of ways. First, I simply existed - I am in class pictures in elementary and secondary schools, in faded newspaper clippings for random community events, and in the memories of those that shared those years with me. Second, I made this place a Place: a piece of land and landmark that carries significance to me. A multitude of memories and feelings and experiences (both good and bad) that tie me to the physical landscape of my town. Third, I have come to accept that this is where I a from. It is not shameful (as it was in my youth), it is a point of pride. This distinction is important because it denotes choice. An adoption, rather than a circumstance one is born (or moved) into. I like that people (mostly) smile and nod on the streets, know each other by sight if not by name, and genuinely seem interested with what is going on.

All this is to say that community is a multifaceted and complex idea. I think that it involves not only circumstantial events, like moving somewhere for work or to be closer to family, or to simply start again, but also includes things like participation, a sense of belonging, and a reciprocal attitude.

Quesnel feels more like a place I want to be the more I treat it like I care that it exists, and imagine it thriving in a future not yet come.

So where does punk rock fit? It matters in my own story because as a newer Canadian citizen, I now have the privilege of voting. I can partake in our chosen form of democracy, and ideally effect the change I want to see.

I will say right here, I don’t care what your political affiliation is, the following thoughts are on participation and giving back as a ethic of community, not as a persuasive argument for any political party or candidate.

The punk rock I grew up on was staunchly anti-authority. Lyrics usually fell into general genres of rallying against oppression, defeating the status quo, or just lamenting a feeling on non-belonging and (perceived) powerlessness. As such, I came to really develop a cynical view of power structures. I didn’t trust them, I didn’t believe they told the truth, and I thought participation in the system was a form of ‘selling out’. It was a convenient way, ironically, of finding my own sense of community, and opting out of any real participation.

Looking back on it now, it reminds me of William Golding’s essay “Thinking as a Hobby” where he outlines different levels of thinking. In his three grades, I was definitely caught in Grade Two Thinking, characterized by reveling in tearing things down without being able to build them back up again. As Golding puts it, “To find out the deficiencies of our elders bolsters the young ego but does not make for personal security.” I would interpret that also as not making meaningful personal connection - a fundamental component to building community. See, Golding says that the real goal should be to reach Grade One Thinking: the place where one not only wants to point out deficiencies, but also wants to work (and I think this requires others to work with) to build up something more meaningful in it’s place.

Luckily, I have been able - through introspection, lots of reading, and wonderfully intelligent friends who like to talk - to figure out what it means to be a Grade One thinker. It means to give back. Punk Rock made me really proficient at taking; taking my good fortune for granted, taking a critical eye to positions of power, and taking nothing at face value (which encouraged me to read and write and explore and think). But what I have come to see, especially as a counsellor, citizen, son, brother and husband, is that I need to rebuild as well. To ask the question: now that the buildings have crumbled, what do we erect in their place? I need to give energy back in the form of participation, volunteerism, kindness, openness, and compassion. I need to be mindful of my impact on the communities (geographic, political, familial [including friends], collegial to name a few…) of which I have the honor to be apart.

The truth is, all of this thinking came to a head when my wife and I began discussing the voting coming up in the next few days and weeks. I am a little older, and my conceptions of what matters has changed, and I really do think that taking part means showing up. I am saying this as a man with a little cynical devil that still holds permanent residence in my mind, one that tries to convince me that doing nothing is as effective as casting a ballot.

Comments on WTF Facebook pages don’t make change, showing up and giving back does.

I’ll see you at the polls, band t-shirt and ripped jeans and all.

Be well, friends,

Jesse

(Re) Discovering Connection

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(Re) Discovering Connection

The Beginning of an Inquiry into Community

The potatoes pictured above came from the garden my wife and I planted earlier this spring. We are not “green thumbs” by any means, and potatoes have the reputation of being a little more resilient to our neglect than other vegetables. So, the season went on, and true to form we allowed the potatoes to (mostly) raise themselves in our little garden boxes in our yard. As we came and went over the season, we could see the green leaves climb towards the sky and marveled at just how little we had to be involved in order to see something grow so large. For me, potatoes are a neat little treasure: unlike the squash that balloons out in your face, barely hid by it’s own wide leaves, potatoes are hidden. They find their way to maturation out of sight, and so you can only mound and wait and hope they are going to be alright.

In both my counselling, my recent education (a Master’s of Education) and in the world at large, I have been drawn over and over to the sense that there is a massive disconnection. A community-sized void that people are trying to fill with all kinds of non-community things: TV, the internet, drugs, alcohol, outrage, denial, and lonliness. I am one of those people. I find it easier and easier to stay at home and comfortably watch TV or play video games than to go out to socialize and risk awkwardness, boredom, or uncertainty in the name of community building. I am also very lucky. I have found and managed to retain a few important friends that have become my family. I can rely on them when I am in trouble, and whine to them when I am sad, and just be nurtured by their presence when all is well. In some ways it reminds me of the potatoes - when you find a good community, you just kind of exist, mounding experience and time on to your friendships, hoping those pale-skinned nuggets of trust and connection are growing. Then, when you need them the most, you can plunge your hands into the soil, and hope they are going to be there for you, to nourish you or to simply brighten your day with their presence. If I am fortunate, some days I can provide the same thing back for those same people. We plant and tend and grow and rely on one another over and over again, season by season.

All that being said, I truly do think I am lucky. Lucky in that my particular community has slowly grown in ways that are working. As I said before, there is a theme in my work that is telling me this is not the case in most areas of many of our lives. We buy our potatoes, cleaned, semi-symmetrical, sterile, and trade them for money. This often mirrors our engagement with community - that it comes (usually in the form of syndicated comedy or drama) in clean, 30 to 60 min packages ready to be consumed and told how to laugh or cry or connect with characters we see in ourselves and in our struggles and we get the added bonus of shutting it off whenever it becomes too much. I would argue that in both cases, we are missing something. We are missing the dirty hands, the discovery of ants in the roots of the plants, the uncomfortability of not knowing how things will turn out, and the drawing together of people (or food, or both) when things do work out. The image of roots comes to mind, and how they draw their nourishment from everything around them, they don’t get to pick and choose, and together they help their common goal (to grow) come to fruition.

I think that some our communities (spiritual, regional, familial, occupational, and all others) have suffered the same fate of disconnection that I have with my store-bought potatoes. They can feel transactional and distant and not really grounded in substance. They lack the dirt, the care and the giving of yourself that makes them valuable. This may sound naive to the farmers out there, but I have a much harder time throwing out or wasting the things I grow than the stuff I buy. There is something of me in these potatoes, and I don’t want to do that a disservice. Our communities and friendships and home environments should model this, I think. They should be places where we have vested interest, we care for one another because we are in it together, period. We plant in the spring because we expect there to be a need for potatoes in fall, because one day, we might not be able to simply drive to the store and get them. What would happen if we treated our communities like this?

I will continue to write on this subject every few weeks for those that would like to follow along. I welcome your voice on anything that comes up during the journey.

J