I’ve been thinking about the idea of community a lot. There is so much in life that makes us feel separate, other, and alone that finding a tribe of people that makes you feel included, valued, and understood is worth a great deal. This is why clubs, churches, teams, and such exist, I’m sure. Though I value individuality tremendously and require a regular allotment of solitude to be a balanced and sane person, I’m beyond grateful that, after years of floundering and feeling like an alien in many settings, I found my way back to the group that makes me feel most myself, happiest, and inspired: writers.
I spent last weekend at Hippo Camp, which is not actually a summer home-away-from-home for giant water mammals, as the name might suggest. It’s the conference born from Hippocampus Magazine, one of the few literary journals dedicated exclusively to creative nonfiction, which, even more than writing in general, is my specific jam these days. True stories told bravely and poignantly are published each month, and I am proud to have published an excerpt of my memoir-in-progress there in the spring. (That also meant I got to wear a special green ribbon below my name tag reading “contributor” during the conference that made me feel like a winner.)
I was able to hear one of my favorite writers, Abigail Thomas, deliver a fabulous keynote address. I learned practical new tips and got some excellent story ideas; each session offered me at least one nugget of wisdom. But above all, I noticed there were tons of conversations about how lonely writing can be and what it means to be with others who “get it.” Clearly many of us considered it worth the travel, expense, and logistics to be there simply in the company of others like us. I was lucky to also be there with former MFA friends and mentors, which was an added bonus. I met people I had chatted with on social media, but never seen in person. I got over my introversion because I knew I was surrounded by introverts, which somehow made me feel braver — and more extroverted — than usual.
It’s interesting to get out of our “normal” routines and do this kind of thing time to time. I don’t have the resources to do it often, and it always surprises me how much I like literary settings because, though I’ve suffered my share of impostor syndrome as a writer, I also experience a sense of belonging in a stronger way at readings, workshops, and conferences like this than almost anywhere else. It’s a good perspective shift; it reminds me what matters: my creativity and sharing the good, bad, and ugly of the process with other people in the same — sometimes leaky, but floating — boat.
Find your tribe. Meet up with them. As my dear friend Melanie Brooks said, “Make it a habit.”
Photo by Melanie Brooks, courtesy of Heidi Fettig Parton.