A few weeks ago, at the Virginia Festival of the Book, I did a placemaking activity where I had passersby fill out cards that said, “I live in ______________ and this is why I love it.” People dashed off answers like:
“Because the people are welcoming and the food is delicious.”—Houston, Texas
“It is full of interesting people who’ve built a close-knit, lively, supportive community that feels small-town.”—Montclair, Virginia
“Because it’s home.”—Crozet, Virginia
Then there were the outliers. A few people stood there for a while, stumped. A military spouse told me that, actually, she hated her city, thank you very much. One woman carefully crossed out “love” and penciled in “like,” comfortable with admitting only the vaguest of warm feelings about her place. Some visitors, like water balloons, needed just one little prick of curiosity for them to leak their struggles all over the place, most of which boiled down to this:
“I don’t have any friends here.”
Oh. I get that. How I get that.
One of the women I interviewed for This Is Where You Belong, an eminent placemaker in her own right, described moving to a new state like this: “There was a real sense of grief, because I realized, oh my gosh, no one within a ninety-mile radius would care if I died.” That feeling of loneliness is at the heart of all the crazy chaos around moving to a new place, all the disconnection we sometimes feel from the place we’re in: We’re lonely.
In the May 2017 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, Mary Pauline Lowry describes making kombucha with a neighbor’s “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” a SCOBY. Imagine a sourdough starter, like a ball of goo that gets passed and divided and passed along again. (Holy cow, you can buy a SCOBY on Amazon. Why do people drink kombucha again?) When Lowry moved to Boise from Southern California, she posted on a local message board asking for Idaho SCOBY, and the woman who gave it to her become a running buddy. She shared the finished kombucha with a neighbor, who later invited her to brunch. Instant friends.
Kombucha as ice breaker may be weird, but probably the weirdest ways of meeting new friends work best. People are everywhere. What you need in a new place is a tribe. People who speak your innermost language, by loving Star Wars with your same intensity or homeschooling their kids with your same little-known philosophy … or loving kombucha. Your people. To find them, you have to be keenly aware of what’s meaningful to you, what thrills you, and who you are at your core. Your tribe is probably hanging out in the places you already love to go (farmers market, movie theater, river), doing the stuff you love to do.
Do you have a tribe where you live? How have you found it? I’m asking for real. A friend and fellow journalist is looking for sources who moved to a new city for a job and can talk about the weird way they made friends there. If you can help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you in touch and be your kombucha friend forever.
7 items of interest
1. What if all the construction fences in your city were an art gallery?
2. Why we’re mistakenly nostalgic for Main Street—and how maybe online work is the way back. Wut? Then there’s this argument for making delight, not cost, the center of all your decisions.
3. For those of you still daydreaming about it, 11 bloggers talk about the challenges of moving to New York City.
4. More divisive than red vs. blue in our nation right now is urban vs. rural.
5. Even introverts can learn to love/like/deal with their neighbors.
6. Your town definitely needs a remakery.
7. If I saw these bikes in my town, I’d have a happiness freak-out.
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