This month I attended a panel on vulnerability at HealHaus yoga studio and healing center. The conversation was multi-layered and wide-ranging. On the topic of why we aren’t more vulnerable, panelist Liana Naima talked about the patriarchal orientation of our society, and how it influences how we communicate and connect with others. She went on to say that we need more community spaces where we can be vulnerable with each other and hold each other safe.
It’s interesting how naming and defining something changes your relationship to it. I firmly believe in the power of community and for most of my life, have been a member of one (informal) group or another. From writing groups to cultural groups and book clubs to goal setting duos, I’m almost always seeking to partner with others to bring something new to light.
I have a community of cheerleaders as I get through the fifth draft of my novel. They receive my chapters and say things like “Go, Kiini, Go.” “You’re awesome.” “You can do it.” One of them gives me copy edits, another discusses plot, and a third tells me what she thinks when we hang out. I’m not relying on them for critiques, just support. I have another community that I collage with, we sit together, talk, drink, and make collages on a theme. After six months of this, I started doing more art on my own. I am over the moon to be creating work again and did not expect to find this new space for creativity as a result of connecting around art on a regular basis.
During the panel discussion, I realized that vulnerability is what I value about both my cheerleading group and my collage group. It is an honor and a gift to have a group of people I can share my ups and downs with, as well as be vulnerable with as I move forward on my path. My achievements are fueled by my ability to gain energy, share struggles, and collect inspiration from a group of people also on a path of growth. An audience member shared about a book he was reading (I wish I remembered the title) that argued that community is a space of healing and equalizing—where we can help address oppression, exclusion, and lack. So lets let 2019 be a wave of community building (micro and macro).
After the panel, I ran into two examples of community building that echoed the ideas we’d been discussing. N.K. Jemisin hosted a gathering of spec pic writers of color so we could connect and network with each other. I got an email about Marriage Trumps All—a movement to spark love marriages between U.S. citizens and immigrants through communal dining. Both of these events were extremely inspiring to me because they are movements that are not Movements. They are movements that go directly to the source: people. They are examples of people using their passion and their sphere of influence to build bridges between others. In community is how we grow. In community is how we test our boundaries and possibilities. In community is how we secure opportunities and learn essential life hacks. It’s how we’re built to operate.
I hope you’ll consider starting some type of regular community event in your circle. Anything you’re passionate about can be fodder for a group. Here are some ideas:
Journaling group: get together and pick prompts that forward things you’re interest in addressing, growing, or healing. Set a timer and free write on the topic while the timer is going. Afterward share reflections from the experience (no need to share what you actually wrote.)
Goal setting group: Discuss your life goals and your current goals. Map out a thing you’d like to achieve, break it down in baby steps, then each meeting commit to two or three baby steps, report back at the next meeting. Support each other when there are breakdowns, push each other when there is hiding out, celebrate each other’s successes.
Writing group: Bring writing, read each other’s work and offer critiques. Two notes: 1. if the critiques are not helpful, as a group, do some research around how to critique. Perhaps by discussing and determining categories for critique (character, plot, tone, description), feedback can be focused and meaningful. 2. READ ALL SUBMITTED WORK ALOUD. This is how I learned how to read in front of people. I was a HORRIBLE reader at the outset, but reading my work aloud repeatedly in front of my workshop group helped me master the art of representing my work.
Collage group: What’s great about collage is that you don’t need a particular skill to do it. Some images, some scissors, some glue, and some paper, and you’re done. My group discusses our collages afterward and each person presents their work and shares a reflection on the topic. That portion is always rich. It’s healing to provide and receive a listening ear.
Creative group: You can have a sewing group or a quilting group or a knitting group. You can have a group of artists that work together to mount shows. You can have a group of creatives that work together to create an inspirational newsletter or a series of performance art pieces or parties or panels.
On a practical level, when you’re working with a group of people, logistics and obstacles will rear their head. I find it’s helpful to do three things:
Choose a minimum number of people you’ll proceed with (for my collage group it’s three—if at least three of us are available, we will hold the session)
Make it sustainable (what are the obstacles people face—time, location, access? Do your best to address or balance out these obstacles so that the barriers are minimal [or at least spread out among members])
Pick a focus that resonates and don’t be afraid to shift it as needed (my collage group started out as a book club. We were passionate, we were fierce, it was my medicine and my church! Then we started having issues with the book choices, then we started having issues with the timing, then people stopped reading the books. The next year, I tried to turn it into a culture group—where we go see art, which worked fine, when there was something we were all interested in seeing, but other than that, a logistical nightmare and difficult to get agreement on what we would do that month. Finally, we turned to collage and it has stuck. Why? No prep is needed, just show up with your supplies, we don’t need a large number of people, so fluctuations in attendance doesn’t matter, we always have rich conversations and the collage themes provide much needed opportunities for reflection.)
I would also caution you to avoid looking for quantity. Healing ripples outward from one individual. So if it’s two consistent members, the work you are doing will touch thousands just through the shifts you achieve as you move through the world.
Let’s make little power cells in our communities—places where people can gather and lick wounds and recharge, gear up to go out in the world more bravely and more brilliantly than they ever have before.
I will leave you with this lighthearted example of how being in community can inspire. (Scroll through the pictures and a story will unfold.)
Be well. Be love(d).