The community got together yesterday. All four of us. There are more community members than four, of course, but all community oriented gatherings begin with a small nucleus and this was no exception. We gathered to paint the kitchen floor of the community ‘house’ (The Bunkhouse) in preparation for the larger turnout expected Saturday which will, if people turn out, erect the walls to the kitchen. Right now, we have a great roof. Three walls are framed. And that’s it.
And winter is looming.
Community is a weird concept for me. I have experienced it before when Sal and I lived on boats (just one at a time, silly). Those who also lived onboard their vessels are liveabords and there were about a dozen or more in each marina we were in. That was good. That was fun. We still have friends from those times.
Mind you, ‘community’ back then just meant sailing on weekends and meeting for Chinese food on Sunday night. Easy-peasy.
Oddly, I never felt a sense of community in any conventional neighbourhood I ever lived in. But that, I suppose, is to be expected if you attended thirteen different schools before you graduated.
That feeling of ‘not belonging’ continued when Sal and I teamed up as well. To be fair, we first lived in apartments before we lived on boats and apartments are notorious for creating isolation. Plus, we weren’t at any one apartment for very long. And when we moved to a mansion in Shaughnessy, well, we just weren’t of the right caliber to mix with the neighbours. In fact, we only met one and that was when they sent the health department to investigate us. (We weren’t unhygienic. They just wanted to know what a young couple with a baby, a nanny, my brother and a live-in gardener were up to). Mansions, it seems, can isolate as well.
But this community is different at a whole other level. Firstly, you have to accept that most of those who move out here do so partly to get away from people. If not ‘people’ then certainly the pressures and obligations of society and/or groups of people. Islanders are, by nature, more independent than cul-de-sacers. Some are actual ‘loners’. Few seek to join anything. It only stands to reason. Plus they live so much further apart. Getting ‘together’ out here requires a bigger commitment of time and travel at the very least.
‘Community’ building is a lot of work at the best of times and especially so out here.
Paradoxically, there is a tradition of doing just that, however – getting together, anyway. Book Club is famous for twenty or so women gathering every month. In a way, that is very much a sense of community. Probably the community event with the longest history is the School Xmas Pageant that is well attended by at least 100+ people every year despite not more than five to ten of the audience members having kids in the school. That has to be some kind of commitment to community worthy of note.
Then there is the ‘never-ending’ work-party. It is not so much that the work party doesn’t end. It does when the designated chore is finished. It is just that, when you have several community buildings to care for, there is a never-ending series of projects. There is no better way to insert yourself into the community out here than by arriving at the current project on the right day (trés important!) with tools. You will be welcome. If you have the plague and are covered in festering boils, you will simply be given a chore slightly distant from the others but you will be welcomed, nevertheless.
This community manifests itself best, however, when there is a crisis. If it is real, everyone comes together. If it is a tempest-in-a-teapot, everyone still comes together – but over coffee. The only real difference is how long they stay at it. A fire will be attended to until it is put out and efforts to help the victim will continue until there is a resolution. If two people are feuding over the BBQ or how so-and-so tied up their boat, everyone will discuss it and offer opinions (to each other). But it is really only entertainment. We are egalitarian in our attention to things but quite frugal as to where we spend real energy.
The real problem, of course, is the real non-problem. We don’t have enough people in the vicinity for a dynamic, spirit-producing community and we all came out here for usually very personal reasons that didn’t include wanting one.
And yet, we have one.
It’s an enigma of sorts.