What are we talking about when we say “community”? Or more to the point, what am I talking about?
Do a bunch of people who live in the same place automatically become a community or do we need to add some length of time? Or practical support, emotional support, friendships? What about mutual interests? By mutual interests I don’t mean everyone being obsessed with needlepoint or punk rock but that people’s individual self-interests intertwine with each other’s and with the group’s.
Just to complicate things, if we have enough of those elements, do we need to share a place? Does it make sense to use community to mean something a lot like demographic—the African-American community; the Jewish community; the gay community? The groups that spring to mind as examples of this are all minority groups of one sort or another, which says something interesting, although to explore it I’d need a whole ‘nother post and—you may have noticed—it’s not really on topic for Notes.
So having asked those questions, I’m not going to answer them, just leave them with you. Sometimes just asking the questions is worthwhile. Or so I’m going to claim as I duck out on the tough questions.
All this comes to mind because I’ve tossed the word community around pretty loosely lately, and I’m about to do it again.
As an outsider, feeling like I’m part of the community is a big thing. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of community, or this particular community, when I can never be fully a part of it. If I’d grown up in the village, I can imagine my teenage self pounding against its limits, looking for a way out so I could get to what I would have been sure was the real world. I was like that in the community I did grow up in—which at the time I wouldn’t have called a community. As for the real world, I defined it as anywhere I wasn’t.
Some of the kids here are like that. It’s a small village, in a part of the world without a lot of jobs and even fewer that pay well—or that are even full time and year round. Not all the kids move out and not all of them want to, but some can’t wait. Others leave because they have to. Some stay and struggle through, and given the gap between pay levels and the cost of living, it’s not easy.
But here I am, retired and an incomer, counting the signs that I’m part of the community, knowing how absurd I am. I can report two new ones.
We have two overlapping bugs making the rounds, and I caught them both, almost at the same time. What could be more community minded? One’s a bad, fluish cold and the other’s a cough that goes on forever. As nearly as I can reconstruct it, I gave one to Wild Thing and she gave the other to me. Is that a good relationship or what? We thought we were alone in our misery until she staggered to a meeting (you can only isolate yourself for just so long, and besides, the only way to get rid of a bug is to give them to someone else) and returned with a list of other people who’d had one or both for weeks.
So, we have the community cold. Isn’t that heartwarming? It’s also the reason I couldn’t follow up on the second sign that I’m part of the community: J. suggested I write about it the Horticultural Show—a central village institution that I can’t make heads or tails of.
I hesitated because I tend to write—. How am I going to put this? I don’t do travelogues. I don’t do isn’t-it-lovely? With a very few exceptions, if I can’t find something to laugh about—preferably but not necessarily me—then I don’t have a post.
To be clear, I draw the line at writing about other people in ways that would leave them feeling rotten, although the occasional unidentifiable stranger is fair game. As are public figures. I confess, I tend to forget they’re real people.
Given those restrictions, could I go to the horticultural show and find something to write about? J. and I traded emails, and in the process she morphed from the person I’ve known for some years into a cheerleader for the show. Enter something, she wrote. Flowers. Vegetables. Something baked. You’re a baker. It’s right up your alley. Or knit!
Kint? I know how to knit the way I know how to play chess: I know all the moves but much good it does me. I have no way to predict, when I knit, what size or shape the finished product will be, and given the cost of yarn–nah. Besides, I had something like two or three days by then, and if those aren’t enough reasons, I have carpal tunnel syndrome and knitting aggravates it.
As for baking, to enter the show you have to bake something according to a the show’s recipe, not your own. I don’t see the point.
But then, the entire horticultural show is a mystery to me. You wander through and look at, say, eight paper plates of runner beans. Each has the same number of beans. Let’s say three; not many, whatever the actual number is. They all look like runner beans. None of them have spots. None of them have been chewed up by insects. But one plate won first prize and another won second and another won nothing at all, and I can’t see the difference.
So I wrote back to J. that since I didn’t understand how the show is judged it didn’t make sense to enter. Besides, for no reason I could explain, I just plain didn’t want to.
“Let’s pretend,” I wrote, “that it would undermine my journalistic objectivity.”
If you’ve been around here for any time at all, you know how much journalistic objectivity I have, but I did at least include the word pretend.
So she invited me to help set up and watch the judging so I could understand how it worked.
I’d been invited into the heart of village institution.
Which is when I added Wild Thing’s bug (a miserable, fluish thing) to the one I was already carrying and I had to back out. Given that all I could have contributed to the gathering was my germs, J. was glad to have me stay home. And I can’t say I blame her.
Maybe next year I’ll be able to report on the mysteries. Assuming the invitation’s repeated. And assuming I’m not sworn to secrecy.