Looking for Group

On Monday night, I finished entering the current round of edits to my novel…the round that I was making myself complete before I started sending out inquiry letters to publishers. That means that I am officially on the prowl for an agent and I have a book to show. There’s more work to be done, no doubt, but I’m happy with the plot, the agency of my characters, and the consistency of plot from beginning to end. Do you think there’s an app that will make your smartphone sense whenever you’ve completed a major life goal and automatically give you an “achievement unlocked” noise?

Okay, okay–after wasting twenty minutes listening to fanfares from various iterations of Zelda, I found the one I want to hear. (Click to listen: it’s the “collectible fanfare” from “Skyward Sword.”)

Now that I’ve unlocked both of those achievements (finishing my edits and finding my ideal achievement unlocked noise, that is), I’m questing for guilds, so to speak, to work with on new challenges. Monday and Tuesday, I sent out emails to coordinators at a Portland school and the library to see what can be done to get involved in writing groups, both as a teacher of young adults and as a writer looking for companionship along the lonely and isolated road of trying to get published. I also queried my bosses whether it would be an acceptable evening use of the co-working public space in our office building to host a regular craft night, a “Stitch Lab,” if you will.

As I was excitedly telling John about all of these things that I’m looking to build some kind of community around, he laughed at me, just a little. “That’s a lot to get involved in.”

He’s right. And I have some fairly introverted tendencies…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten excited about participating in a new experience only to crumble in terror when it comes time to leave the house to actually do whatever it is…volunteering activities, purely social activities. I have managed to grow to the point that instead of having a screaming, sobbing, foot-dragging tantrum in the parking lot of the building I’m heading for (yes, that did happen when I was twelve, and I’m pretty sure my karmic payback is going to be a bitch for putting my poor mother through that), I have occasional lead-in-stomach, unable-to-move fits of anxiety that are accompanied by an irritating tendency to start leaking tears no matter how much I don’t actually want to cry.

The only reason I haven’t sought counseling or medical advice for this anxiety is that it doesn’t win. Although I do sometimes make scheduling decisions in recognition of the fact that I’m having a rough week on the anxiety front and don’t want to fight a fresh battle while I’m still recovering from the last one, I do not back out of commitments last minute because of anxiety. My relationship to anxiety may be a struggle, a tussle, but experience and John’s loving-but-no-nonsense support when I get overwhelmed have shown me that I’m stronger than the anxiety and that the rewards on the other end of the journey are worth fighting through the nauseating dread.

More to the point for this discussion, the anxiety has a tendency to rear its ugly head most often when I’m isolated from people. When I’m connected to good communities that I feel invested in and love, I thrive and the anxiety doesn’t have room to get a foothold in my brain. Being back in Portland has been a blessing because I have community in spades, compared to what we had in Massachusetts. I’ve got a friend who might as well be a sister and an actual sister. I’m slowly reconnecting with friends who knew me when I was still of a tantrum-throwing age and earlier. Our families are much closer for visiting purposes, and we’ve gained a new branch of family with my sister’s in-laws. We are blessed with friends and family.

Those core friends and family–those people who love you because your histories are wound up enough in each other that you just can’t not love each other–are the ties I missed the most in Massachusetts. Now that we’re close enough to them that the line is clear, I feel comfortable starting to put down roots to build a community of people who will be a part of my life because we share common interests and goals and ideals. Getting your foot in the door isn’t always easy. Finding a group you can comfortable quest with is a challenge, and I’m sure I do have battles with the Dragon of Dread in my immediate future.

That’s okay, though. He’s a toothless, flameless old bastard who’s been declawed, so all he can really do is sit on me. He’s damn heavy, so that’s effective enough, but once I manage to stand up, gravity starts to work in my favor. For the benefits of being part of thriving communities that will castrate and further weaken my dragon…I think I can summon the courage to stand up a few times, don’t you?

P.S. – A Note on Anxiety and Depression

I am damn lucky that my anxiety has, to this point in my life, been manageable, in that it hasn’t ruined relationships or impacted my quality of life in a persistent manner. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please know, first and foremost, that about 9.5% of Americans suffer from a form of anxiety or depression. If the numbers from the CDC and NIMH aren’t persuasive, you may find the community that connects through the Bloggess helpful in feeling that you are NOT alone. Second, know that there is NO shame but only bravery and courage in looking for help and support, so if you’re struggling, please talk to someone knowledgeable and whom you trust about finding the right support. And finally, in the words of one of my favorite philosophers…

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. ” – A.A. Milne

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