What’s A Community, Anyway?

Damn, I just had to make a split second decision about someone’s gender, out of nowhere, and moments after waking up.  It’s five am, I just got the generator on etc., and I was stirring my coffee.  A voice said, “Hey, how does this work?  I’ve never been to a fire camp shower before.”  I turned around and it was a person, in a hoodie, with the hood pulled up, and idk a fair amount of shower stuff tucked under their arm.  The person was sort of waving between the two metal stairs, one for the men’s side, one for the women’s, which it’s too dark to see the signage clearly right now.  Our lights are good at shining out, but they don’t shine straight down the side of the trailer.  

So all of the sudden it was upon me, and I just pointed to what functions as the women’s side and said, “You can take shower number one.”  The person is happily showering as we speak.  I did a bit of an AAR (after action review) as I continued to stir my coffee more thoughtfully — it was like one of those times in traffic where you do the right thing, quicker than you can logically process it, and then you realize later why it was the right thing.  So first off, this person of whatever gender is less likely to encounter another person on the women’s side, this early in the morning.  The stalls are all private and partitioned, so you’re unlikely to encounter anyone anyway, but the men’s side is busier, with 12 showers versus 4.  Second, contextually speaking, I am in an environment where I’m more likely to encounter a masculine female than a feminine male, so it was smart it that sense too.  

But what I really should have done was just say, “Oh, it’s your first time!  Let me show you around,” and then just indicated what everything is, and removed myself from the equation.  That just wasn’t my default instinct because…it’s like two metal stairs up into a trailer with a handwash sink and mirror, with outlets, outside in the middle.  It didn’t occur to me quickly enough because it’s so simple.  

Oh well, it’s over now.  Maybe some day it will be like Battlestar Galactica with gender neutral bathrooms and showers that people treat responsibly, papers with the corners cut off, and everyone saying frack instead of the other eff word (I don’t know why I’m being coy now, I say it all the time), but for right now, at this fire camp, our shower is gender binary.  Imagine how long of a trailer I’d have to drive around to accommodate all the genders if the company went that way.  They’re based out of Kentucky, so they’re not goin that way. 

I’ve been overexposing myself to ideas on one dimension, for a while now, and underexposing myself to other dimensions, so I feel it a little bit in my writing / ie confabulated spiritual path.  Like, I’m pretty drawn in to the drama of 2020 and politics and current events, and I’m often forgetting to visualize, re-frame, pivot, do those basic little energetic things I know how to do.  I haven’t journaled for the sake of journaling in quite a while.  Understandable, with the job, and I’m not blaming myself, just observing.  I’ve been so firmly disinterested in worldly, he-said-she-said stuff for so long, it’s kind of nice to just give myself this chance to indulge and refine how my integrity best lines up with the big three: thought, word and action.  

I’ve always been a bit confused about what type of “community” suits me, having come across aspects I like and aspects I don’t like, amid my various ramblings.  My college experience wasn’t the stereotypical flaming debauch, even for back then, because I just don’t have that in me, and I was a performing arts students.  

I was really happy, even when I was unhappily happy, working on the stone cold motherfucker that is the classical guitar.  Good lord, what a doozy of an instrument.  I really liked my practice routine, and while I didn’t vibe particularly with most of the other students in the studio, I really liked my teacher and like one or two people that I hung out with and practiced elaborate duets with.  My one friend Tyrone, for instance, was just this salt of the earth guy who could as easily have been out on a tractor, but he and I were neck-and-neck in skill, as we progressed, and then he got tendonitis and never recovered so I was kind of on my own and a bit lonely.  

The other music majors, in the college generally, seemed mostly inaccessible to me, and I suffered from imposter syndrome nearly all the time.  I became stressed when I added first one job and then more jobs to this equation — really all I wanted to do was have class, lots of free time for practice because you have to practice a lot, and then daily exercise, but that all started to feel pretty crunched, the more employed I got.  Once I got better at my instrument, I took about 20 hours a week playing therapeutic music at the bedside, at the hospital, and while there were moments I enjoyed, I was always a little anxious in that job.  If I had been at a point in my own repertoire to simply enjoy the things I could play well, at the hospital, it would have felt better, but I was really trying to reach into new capability, and I essentially had to use that time to refine iffy pieces, and that would blow up in my face sometimes.  

I mean, the thing about classical guitar at the college level is you can take classes til the end of time and still not graduate.  I had to have completed Sagreras Studies book four, have scales up to a certain speed on the metronome, get strong in my tremolo game (which was actually a strong suit) and play pieces sophisticated enough that my teacher would green light them for first a junior recital and then a senior recital.  That shit doesn’t learn to play itself.  So I was using that time at the hospital as a dress rehearsal for things that, you know, might go off the rails, and then predictably they would go off the rails, usually at the worst possible time.  Like, when a bunch of in-patient suicidal teens in the lockdown mental health facility decided to group-meditate during one of my first disastrous run-throughs of a very nice arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  That was quite a day.  But once you get to a certain competency, you can make extra money at weddings and restaurants, and the only way to get beautiful pieces solid is to find out what happens to them under varying degrees of exposure and pressure.  It’s so freaking hard.    

Anyway, that didn’t feel like the “community” for me per se but I really liked some of it, most notably my relationship with my teacher, once Tyrone fell by the wayside especially.  I was in the Army National Guard the whole time, and drill weekends and menstruation have one big thing in common: once a month doesn’t *sound* like that often, but in reality it’s like — every time you turn around, or it feels like it.  And you know, I didn’t have to go as all in as I did, in the Guard, considering I was in school learning this evil giant robot spider of an instrument, but I traveled and trained a lot with the marksmanship team, and officiated military funerals all around the region with the Honor Guard team, and decided to get my CDL on top of all that, and did the Bataan Memorial Death March competition every year, which involved training up for it obviously.  So I spread myself pretty thin.  I don’t think that felt very good, in itself, but I was too curious about too many opportunities and just couldn’t not, somehow.  

I always kind of dreaded going to drill, in some low grade way, but I truly, honestly, thoroughly enjoyed our 2 week long AT’s, or annual trainings.  We’d get in the trucks and drive to some godforsaken place like Death Valley and do all sorts of tactical ops and sleep on cots and just be really involved in the trucks every day — and of course I’d be trying to practice my goddamn guitar in the tiny spaces between.  Of course my playing would backslide, it was only a question of how much it would backslide.  I did my junior and senior year guitar juries (we had juries, not finals) in uniform because I had to run off to drill immediately after.  

Community-wise, same thing — there were just maybe one or two or three people, in my Guard unit, who absolutely delighted me, and the rest were neutral or mostly positive or full blown aggravating.  It seems like, no matter where you go or what you do, there’s always some woman in charge of paperwork who never does anything but sit on her fat ass and hold up progress.  That’s one thing I’ve learned in life.  Anyway, I just adored my co-driver on deployments, Specialist Bird — he made me laugh til my stomach hurt — and this other guy Hastings, who physically resembled a stork, and was highly intelligent, and had an understated but devastating sense of humor.  I really liked Brian…damn, what was his last name.  I always knew, if I ever got into a life or death situation in the Guard, I wouldn’t care what my “leader” said to do, I would cue off Brian because that would be the likeliest way to survive.  He was a contractor who built houses and barely had patience for the drill scene, but was just good at stuff.  I liked the Manygoats a lot too — there were several of them.  My unit was probably like half natives, mostly Navajos, and they were always a low key good time, also really good at stuff.  So it was an interesting community, not all the way comfy or “home” for me, but net gain.  I hated being at the armory acting busy but I loved being out in the trucks, unless it was cold, tromping around with freezing feet, which it often was, and that I just hated.  I spent quite a lot of my infinitesimal disposable income on a pair of Matterhorn boots, I hated it so much.  

When I transferred to the Air Guard unit in Phoenix, after six years with the Army, that was not my community.  I don’t have to say much about it and no offense to anyone, but that sucked, socially speaking and mostly in general.  Cardiopulmonary school, the 1.5 year long training in Texas I had to do for that job, was pretty nice.  I liked learning about medical stuff, I mostly liked my classmates, I mostly liked my job as it, you know, emerged from the formless chaos of learning about everything in the first place.  I liked running ventilators.  I didn’t like the smell or feel of hospitals, though, kind of a bummer to find that out after so much personal investment.  Once I got out and functioning with that occupation…I don’t know, I had mixed feelings about it.  There weren’t many people I worked with that I wanted to hang out with in my spare time.  

Grad school: socially painful.  I felt actively disliked by some of my teachers and most of my peers.  There was always that sense that people were talking about me before I entered the room and continued after I left.  Maybe, maybe not, but just…something.  I studied creative writing at the graduate level and *that* I loved — I just love to write — but it was not my community, and very rarely even comfortable, to be honest.  I was not enchanted by the offerings others seemed enchanted by, and vice versa.  I don’t know, I was just all wrong for that “community”, with very few exceptions, but I did learn to write better almost despite the experience, so that’s fine.  I’m still in touch with one single, solitary colleague from grad school, and I enjoy that friendship, but he was in the Army before and kind of like me, a mixed bag.  

In the course of my graduate work I served as cannon fodder for the university adjunct instructor scam, of course, and I REALLY enjoyed working with students, particularly when I was in a position to know what the fuck I was teaching and talking about, which was not always.  My peers — eh.  To be the real deal in that field, you gotta be a very appropriately but wryly humorous yet serious female with a flowy scarf tied in some ingenious way around your neck, and sit and gesticulate with swan-like grace, and be able to sort of hold forth on minutiae indefinitely, and — I don’t know, be really good at stuff in a way that I’m mostly not.  I was only kind of good at any of that, and not generally comfortable.  I really wanted students to get their apostrophes right, though.  The whole possessive versus contraction thing — if students can exit this experience with only one skill, please let it be that, I would think.  Let people guess how smart or not smart you are, but don’t advertise functional illiteracy with these crazy, out of control apostrophes.  

Oil field: I lived in a house in Minot with thirteen other drivers, and honestly I really liked that.  I didn’t like the irregular and inhumane hours/shifts situation, or the bad weather, but it was a house full of teddy bears and I stayed to myself, mostly, but in a very appreciating way.  Truck drivers are extremely talkative people, which is why I put up some insular barriers right away, but generally good experience.  Not like “I could do this forever”, but definitely okay.  

Tucson — worked at a truck school, pretty lonely in general.  One of my best friends there was a guy from Flagstaff who moved to Tucson shortly after me, and we had spent a couple years playing Americana duets together and actually touring around at some points, now and then.  We were very different people but it mostly worked, and has persisted as a really positive but low maintenance friendship that actually I need to be better about showing up for.  My other best friend was a Libyan guy I met at the import grocery store, who worked there, and eventually ended up coming through my school to get a CDL and then went out on the road trucking, built his family in Libya an entirely new house with his earnings in his first two years, bought his own truck in his second two years, and now owns a restaurant in Tucson that he operates with his wife, who he helped immigrate in from Libya.  He seems happy but we’re mostly out of touch.  Really good guy.  We team drove together, a bit, in 2015 after I quit my truck school job.  It’s good he held on to that truck, considering what the deliberately crashed economy from the fake pandemic has done to small businesses.  He and I always agreed on one thing: you have to have at least two ways to make money.  

Back to Flagstaff for a rotating cast of freelance CDL work: the CDL work was fine, Flagstaff sucked more than it’s ever sucked before, for me, socially.  I’m just not the right person for that town.  The town is perfectly happy being what it is, I’m just not the right fit.  I was there because initially my dad went mostly blind, following some botched surgeries and a move from Kansas to our house there, and needed help with everything, and then got some more surgeries and can see okay now to function, and by then I was just kind of there.  Of course there were some good moments with some good people but…really tough social scene for me.  Depression-ville.  What’s wrong with me.  Dating impossible.  I’ve actually been wondering if I’ve never been as much of an introvert as I’ve thought; I’ve just spent decades in a place that made introversion feel like the funner, more interesting option.    

Wildland fire work: really good fit!  It was kind of a revelation.  I could just do my little job, everyone else was doing their little job, many many brief but fun interactions throughout the day, some social pains in the ass of course, got on with one okay company, then a great company with people I really liked, now an even better company.  I like it more than the military, and I like the season it occurs in better than winter, let’s say.  I feel connected enough to other people but not too connected.  Shared-enough sensibilities, not much to really outrage me.  I’ve always noticed that any social situation that happens out in nature seems to go better and more organically than any social situation that happens in a building, for what it’s worth.  Although I was invited out to a Rainbow Festival in the woods near Flagstaff, one year, and did not enjoy myself or feel at home, and was actually looking at the trucks going past on the barely visible interstate with some longing, so I don’t think it was for me.  I played a couple songs on my guitar, there, and that was fine but not great.  I don’t know.  

Oh, gigs throughout the years: also fine but not great.  Many bars, cafes, open mics.  Fine.  Not great.  

Nick and I became a community of two really quickly after we met, since we moved to Albuquerque together on our 2 month dating anniversary, and as difficult as our relationship has sometimes been, that is what I’m somehow geared for, psychologically.  

Working at truck school number two: not what I’d call a comfy relationship with my supervisor, and not an initially comfortable relationship with the cadre of other instructors, but I did come to feel quite at home with my colleagues there, and had many many positive interactions with students.  I don’t like teaching one thing, a parallel park for instance, all day long every day for seven hours straight, out in the heat or out in the cold — heat is better, but only slightly — and once I got lined up to do the online classes and only teach hands-on weekends, that felt better, and I was basically really enjoying that whole gig until the fake pandemic turned it all upside down.  I refuse to call it anything but “the fake pandemic” at this point.  I marked myself safe from it on Facebook months ago lmao.  

I guess one takeaway is that I’ve had better social experiences in outdoor environments than in buildings, which is odd because I’m not that outdoorsy.  I’m really, really okay with being in a building, much of the time.  Also, though, and as Nick has brought to my attention through the sharp contrast of his own beachy preferences, the climates I consider normal and even neutral are climates he considers to be hostile to human life, and that’s been an invisible criterion to all this.  I thought having my nose feel like it’s full of crushed potato chips was just a natural thing.  

I am really excited about the Hawaiian “intentional community” project that’s being ramped up right now, involving us, my brother, and my dad, and of course we’re throwing out invites to people to join but not everyone’s as willing to say “fuck it all” and move as we are.  It’s nice knowing for a fact I can cohabitate very happily with all of these three people, and it sounds like balm to my soul, honestly.  So much of life is about being lonely, essentially, and feeling like everyone else has somehow found their community.  I’m not neutral about my family — like “if this is what it takes to live in my ideal climate, that’s a fine trade-off” — I’m very specifically excited about that aspect.  Maybe I was born into the only community that will ever really feel like home, in the form of my strange, wonderful, counter-culture but not in any way rebellious, nuclear family.  Maybe we should have all just lived together this whole time, lollll.  

My romantic partner drive is very strong and having Nick in my life, in this context especially, and the little animals, just checks all the boxes for me.  I don’t want to succumb to being too insular, as I often do, and writing this blog is a way to at least anchor some kind of outward-facing signal on a regular basis.  I’m open to accumulating a few more steady, life-long friends, and I think as an adult it’s not so much compatibility as it is logistics.  We all get really busy and it becomes a triage of desires and responsibilities.  I don’t know if I should keep hoping to have one really great girlfriend or not.  I’ve connected online with a *wonderful* handful of women who already live in Hawaii, and appreciate the same Spell dresses I do — what a funny community to have fallen into, ass backwards, amidst all this other junk — and it continues to be one of my favorite forms of online interaction, so having some IRL interactions will be a super cool evolution, and a clothes-borrowing opportunity at the very least, I’d think haha!  

I guess moral of the story: we don’t need much, socially, but goddamn even that little bit feels hard to come by.  

So in light of ALL THAT, adventure-year 2020 has helpfully served to sharpen everyone’s sense of what and who they agree with and don’t agree with.  The choice for me, in years past, has often been: would I rather attempt to carve out some kind of intellectual, socially progressive (the way it used to mean) niche for myself in a cultural hick town environment, or would I rather carve out a old-fashioned, truck driving, country-music-listening niche for myself in a liberal mecca?  Not that I personally feel defined by any of that, but those tropes are where the rubber seems to meet the road, for me, one way or the other.  Would I rather explain to people, over and over again, that it’s okay to be vegan, or would I rather explain over and over again that it’s okay to get a fucking trade and work for a living and not feel rattled by every breeze that passes?  And that it’s also okay to be vegan.  

I mean, am I a snowflake?  I’ve asked myself this.  When the word “snowflake” first started being thrown around as a pejorative, I felt like it was dismissive of just a lot of important things.  Cultural hick towns emphasize this really oversimplified social intelligibility that, you know, maybe I’ve been defensive about because vegan makes you socially unintelligible in nearly all environments, straight out the gate.  I’ve had stupider conversations about it at academic dinner parties than work dinners at Golden Corral, let’s just acknowledge.  So I guess I was semi-consciously on the side of the “snowflakes” for a long time, because it felt obvious to me that we’re here to define and evolve ourselves forward, certainly in light of traditional thinking but not bound by it, hemmed it with it.  

As 2020 has really gotten underway, though, I’ve had a change of heart, or at least interpretation.  We’ve elevated feeling unsafe to a fucking art form.  Teal Swan imparted a really interesting perspective on this, in her Cancel Culture blog.  She said we’ve arrived at a point where the Millennial generation has inherited and is steering the cultural parlance, and the Millennials are unfortunately a very wounded generation.  It’s not their fault: they are a group of people who, largely, were raised by single moms, taught cooperation over competition in school, encouraged to think in terms of social justice and community belonging rather than national identity and nuclear family belonging, and then on top of all that, inherited the worst, most wrecked economy we’ve ever seen, following the 2008 crash.  They struggled through that, which was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime oopsie, forming the strong impression that dedicated investment in a company, an industry, an educational path would not necessarily yield returns — I mean, how could they not get that memo — and so their sense of civic duty, participation, and just the basic ass American trust that they’ll see some ROI on hard work has been stunted, and understandably so.  They feel fucked over by previous generations because they are fucked over by previous generations, or it’s had that effect.  And now we’re seeing our second economic crash, much much worse than the first one, and this time global, and long story short, they feel very unsafe.  As a generation, they feel very fucking unsafe.  And ironically, a sense of entitlement can only stem from that feeling of unsafety, because anyone who feels in comfortable command of a reasonable host of resources doesn’t need to bother leveraging other people’s participation in basic wellbeing and advancement — hence the entitlement.  ‘I’m owed your energies because I don’t have enough of my own to be okay.’  This focus on micromanaging not only what others do but how they feel is part of the same problem, coming from a worldview of lack and threat and the imminent collapse of anything they put their energies into.  It’s the bargaining position of the weak, which is again, quite understandable from this bird’s eye view.  Even more to the point: why should they feel protective of constitutional freedoms, or proud of national accomplishments, or invested in (reasonably) free market capitalism, or aligned with any of the ideals that made sense even one generation before them?  I mean, I’ve half-assed an occupational trajectory with much less foresight, consistency, long-term ROI and accumulated equity than the average 40-something, but even I have generally been able to see that a largely hands-off government who dispassionately air-traffic-controls lanes of safety and legality, and otherwise fucks off, is of enormous benefit to me.  I’ve seen, in microcosmic form as a campus manager, how almost any extra rule or protection, on behalf of any employee, tends to immediately backfire and create a problem worse than the problem I just got done solving, and that the loudest personalities can’t be the ones driving my sense of urgency or responsibility as a manager, as it’s often the quietest personalities who are serving as the actual backbone of the operation.  

So Teal Swan’s “Millennial wound” take is quite insightful, in my opinion, as otherwise I’d be hard pressed to make sense of this national situation.  Using truck school campus management as a parallel again, it’s like the absolute worst employees threatening to strike if they don’t get a list of poorly-constructed demands, and feeling kind of bemused.  Well — all the people who make shit happen around here are not threatening to strike, so…

…So then back to the snowflake thing, I guess I’m not one?  Well, we all are sometimes, and that’s probably the work right there — to recognize that these warring factions, as they emerge, mimic inner aspects and realities for each of us, and they’re there to be understood, not necessarily blindly indulged.  

Welp — that’s about it for today.  Gray water came and pumped out our bag, now potable is here filling up our tank, propane burners are working just fine after another odd glitch last night (an odd glitch means like eight people stop having hot water in the middle of their showers, so that’s not good, but running okay now), and I continue to be grateful to be at this camp.  I read the majority of the blog to Nick once he woke up and we got the bugaboos situation with their breakfasts, and the moment I started reading, a forklift began unloading light bank generators right next to us, and the moment I was done reading, the forklift was also done, so that was annoying.  The fact that they’re still building up the camp infrastructure is always a good sign, financially, and the fact that we’re so far from anything is an even better sign.  If we were in a town, as we often are, there’s always this point where the management team decides to let all the camp resources go and consign remaining personnel to hotels and restaurants, but that’s not an option out here so as long as they stay, we stay.  

We had a super majestic lift in the wild, yesterday evening, companionably with one of my fuel friends from last season, Shad.  I got almost all my reps at five sets of overhead press, 77 pounds — thank god for the little fractional plates or else I wouldn’t make jumps at all — and five sets of pause bench press at 105.  Nick got all his sets and reps of like a thousand fucking pounds, of course, and the little dogs meandered around interestedly.  The landscape was ruggedly grand, the light was halcyon, the knerling on the bar felt good, and the difficulty of locking out heavy overhead presses on uneven ground, in the wind, was on the fun side of scary.  All is well.    

2 thoughts on “What’s A Community, Anyway?

  1. Shipboard family: “Doap”
    Reserve call up center: Shit.

    Teal Swan hits a home run when it comes to the “energy” comment.

    Beware of anyone named Flynn, Jordan, and Taylor. You cant tell which bathroom they need. Show them both and let them sort it out

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