Building Community in a Fractured World

Building Community in a Fractured World

Recently a writers’ organization asked me to contribute a post for their members on the theme of community.

It seemed like such a perfect fit given the camaraderie and inspiration I’ve always found among the community of writers. How much I had to say about the topic! About how writers lift one another up, how our community of fellow creatives can be a source of support, encouragement, insight, belonging, can chase away the shadows of isolation that we can fall into as we create worlds from our cloistered solitude—a safety net and a blanket.

But quite honestly, lately it’s hard to feel connected to a sense of community.

It’s not that I’m suffering from pandemic isolation and loneliness—in fact my husband jokes that my social life has been busier since COVID than it was when I could actually go out, and he’s right. Like a lot of us I have plenty of Zoom dates and socially distant outdoor get-togethers. Despite that we have no kids, a pod of neighborhood children have even taken to bringing picnics and sitting in our backyard, happily grooming our Great Pyrenees that they’ve fallen in love with and chattering among one another and to me (but mostly to our dog).

And among the writing and publishing community I still find safe harbor and daily nourishment. I’ve spent hours of time on phone calls with authors struggling to create in these “interesting times” we’re living. I started reaching out directly to other editors whose work I’d seen or heard good things about, for no other reason than a collegial connection, which resulted in some of us collaborating on a free online event to help authors edit and revise their own writing and so far has reached more than 700 writers.

And yet outside this warm bubble of fellowship and solidarity, the world is more ideologically polarized than most of us ever remember in our lifetimes. Societal civil-rights issues and a climate crisis and a global pandemic that should have reminded us all how interdependent we are instead have somehow become political issues and polarized us even further. Neighbors turn against neighbors, friendships dissolve, family rifts form or widen.

What do any of our paltry handful of connections matter in the big picture when the world population of nearly eight billion people seems divided in half and at one another’s throats? What does community actually mean if it doesn’t extend outside our little bubbles?

What does community actually mean if it doesn’t extend outside our little bubbles?

As I often do when my mind spirals into these dark places, I looked for solace in story.

Real-life ones—like this true Lord of the Flies news item about a group of young boys stranded on a desert island for 15 months, but instead of turning on one another as in the famous novel they worked cooperatively, including forming a makeshift government to delegate everyone’s duties in the hard work of survival and, when one of the boys broke his leg, dividing his work among them so he could heal—and who stayed banded together long after their rescue.

Like the woman who recently posted on NextDoor, “My 74-year-old husband would like to have a partner to throw the ball with,” and started a socially distant neighborhood game of catch that drew a crowd from high school players to retirees connecting over the most American pastime of baseball. 

Like this Twitter thread that reminded me how magnificently kind people can be, and the impact even a single connection can have.

I’ve found comfort in fictional stories too, like Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, which widened my perspective to consider previous times we’ve struggled to mend tears in our social fabric, and the progress that’s been made. That showed how families can be torn apart…and put back together…and even when they can’t how hearts can heal.

Like Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, which I find myself rereading passages from at random like a Bible of family strife that reminds me that differences are things you can learn to live with and accept and maybe even appreciate.

Like Marriage Story, a Netflix film about an agonizing divorce that viscerally, heartachingly showed me how you can love people even if you may not always like them, and you can work together for the greater good of something you both care deeply about, like a child (or a population…or a nation…or a planet…).

You can love people even if you may not always like them, and you can work together for the greater good of something you both care deeply about.

The sense of community I read about in these stories fed my deep-seated, foundational longing for that kind of broader human connection. It reminded me how decent and good people can be. How much we have in common. The astonishing and transformative things we can do when we come together that are the closest humanity can come to being sublime.

The stories gave me hope. They restored my faith. They always do.

Community makes our world manageable and livable. It brings the unimaginably enormous, faceless global population down to the individual souls around you, a microcosm of the world—a slice of life, if you will…just as we create in our writing.

And just as we focus our stories on a handful of individuals facing challenges and undergoing growth and change as a way of crystallizing universal and widely relatable truths about the human experience, maybe the communities we create and draw around us will help contribute to a more global coming-together. A healing.

Maybe not. I don’t know. But really all we can control in a world that often seems lately to be running off the rails is the community immediately around us: family, friends, our neighborhood and town, our writing and publishing comrades. We can engage, listen, assist, enjoy, learn, empathize. We can try to put as much good into our immediate worlds as we’re able, and see and appreciate all the good in the people around us.

We can be part of the community.

These connections we create matter for the bonds they create in our lives, and the way they Doppler out to the wider world. And the stories we write and the communities we create within them matter too. They affect people. Make them think. Maybe offer a new perspective and understanding of those they might have formerly dismissed as “other.”

And maybe that’s how we help bring the world back together—one person, one connection, one story at a time.

8 Comments. Leave new

  • Mathieu Tallegas
    January 28, 2021 5:59 pm

    An inspiring article, Tiffany. Sticking to a closed world of like-minded people is boring and can starve you as a writer. Reaching across boundaries, be they political, social, or otherwise, can be enriching and feed your inspiration for novels to come.

    • Thanks, Mathieu. I agree about reaching across boundaries–I’ve been concentrating on that in life in general, and I think you’re right that it makes us better writers too.

  • Writing communities are amazing. And I think they are terribly important because during the process of getting the words on the page, we are alone with our characters and ideas. While that may be great company to be in, it’s not enough. I am fortunate to belong to a writing group of four: a High School Latin teacher, a retired marketing executive, a domestic engineer/family manager, and an eighty-year-old retiree with background in finance and the arts. Although I’m not sure anyone is qualified to lead us, I sometimes wonder if in our writing we are the blind leading the blind. But, our community is wonderful. Our every effort is to help one another. We’ve been doing this for over seven years and have come to care about one another. If not for our interest in writing, it is unlikely that we would have even met. This is my community, since retirement, the only one I have apart from my family. Boy is it important.

    • Oh, Bob, I love this comment so much. What a wonderful illustration of how important communities are–writing and otherwise. I had a group like you describe for a long time–four completely disparate writers, but it was the safest and most supportive place, and did more for my writing than anything else, I think. I love the sound of your group–how helpful and positive and supportive it sounds like it is. That can be hard to find sometimes, but when you do find a great “fit” for a group like that, boy, there’s nothing like it, is there? Hope you guys continue to enjoy your collaboration for years to come. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Writers everywhere need to hear this! I put out an ad on NextDoor in 2019 asking if there were any writers in my community who’d want to form a writing group. We had a tight group of 6 or 7 until Covid hit, and then we stopped meeting. I still kept in touch with everyone, and encouraged everyone to keep writing, but it wasn’t the same. Then a year later I ran into one of the members on a beach walk and decided to heck with it. Restrictions are eased up, and one of the members has a huge backyard. I’m setting up a meeting. The woman I ran into was so glad, because she’d stopped writing during the pandemic and felt unmoored without her community. A few of the members went onto other things during that year we didn’t meet, so now it’s down to four of us diehards, masked up in a backyard and getting back to what matters.

    • Oh, I love this, Cate! I swear, the writing community is such a wonderful support system–especially considering how isolating it can be. Especially in COVID! Love that you got the group back together.

  • Leslie Ann Bosher
    January 29, 2021 9:52 pm

    Inspiring and leaving me feeling needy. Two of my local social groups have all but folded, including book club. The oxygen simply drained out. So easy to bounce back when you are young, not so easy to regroup when you are older. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Oh, what perfect timing, then–this morning I just saw this thread on agent Carly Watters’s Twitter account that you might check out, about this very topic. Also, are you a member of a writers’ organization, like WFWA, Sisters in Crime, or any of the wonderful organizations often affiliated with conferences, like Pikes Peak Writers or Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers? They can be wonderful places to look for writing partners, accountability buddies, crit partners. I found a local group here in Austin years ago on MeetUp–I expect many are doing virtual events now. And if you look for any of the many writing groups on Facebook they can often be a wonderful place to seek like minds. I hope you find a community! It really helps. Feel free to email me if you could use more suggestions or have questions.


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