Posted on 2023-10-01

Read Time: 3 minutes | 631 words

The Struggle for Community

I moved back to Minnesota in 2019. I had just completed my doctorate and made the decision that I wasn’t going to try to stay in academia, full time. It was an emotional and difficult decision, but it felt like the right one1. I took a position as a developer for a large corporation as I looked to find the next challenge.

I (like everyone else) wasn’t expecting 2020. While I did manage to find a new professional position with an organization I value and respect, that is rapidly becoming the only positive note from that year. Otherwise, 2020 was a disaster in so many ways. I went from daily walks to sitting still. I gained weight and lost muscle and energy. My writing and research, outside of specific work contexts, all but ceased. Worst of all, I spent a more than a year and a half disconnected from a community I was just starting to discover.

It is 2023, now. I am still not where I want to be. The habits of the past years coupled with the inertia that those habits foster has made change slow and difficult. It’s been a struggle, but I am starting to gain some ground. I am working on making time for my health and my movement. I am focusing on the things I love and value, and I am not allowing myself to wallow for long.

The area where I remain stymied is community. I expected that to an extent. Minnesota is not known for its open and friendly nature. People are treated kindly, but are kept at arm’s distance. I am also older now, and there is a ton of research that highlights the challenges that older people face in making connections in a new community. Even worse, I am still not comfortable going out. I happen to still believe that COVID is a serious risk. In just the past week, multiple acquaintances who have been out and about have contracted the disease. This makes any sort of in person meeting deeply challenging.

Pre-2015, I wouldn’t have blinked. I would have sought out an online community and dived into it with gusto. Online connections have been a rewarding and valuable part of my life and community since the mid-90s. Now, though, so much of the online space is just toxic. Finding a community that shares your values and ideals is difficult. It also matters. I am not interested in chatting amiably with someone who supports the erasure of trans people and the continued assault on women’s autonomy. Fandom is not a mask and shouldn’t be treated as one. Someone liking the same genres and video games that I do doesn’t make them any less of an asshole.

I think, though, that I need to start pushing more to find my community wherever it may be. It’s the last few months of the year, and I want to end it well. I am looking at a long road to recovery, but I have hope. I am not sure where it will take me, but I continue to look forward. After all, even in the midst of the darkest moments of these past years, I have grown and learned more about who I am and what I value. While I may have preferred a slightly less harsh version of that lesson, I am grateful for the lessons I have gained. Let’s see what comes next!

  1. It still does. I deeply value research, teaching, and the academic community, but higher education, as a system, is deeply broken. As a nontraditional scholar, I had very little power and/or opportunity to advocate for any real change in the space, so I decided to go to those places where my experience and expertise could be of real use. ↩︎

Tags: #personal  #reflection 

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