Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Creativity, Community, Connection

I'm inspired by my neighbor Marie. As far as I can see, she rises to any challenge with grace and good humor, but this one in particular strikes me as creative genius: You have a large but unknown number of cold, tired, hungry people and access only to what's in your own larder. Could you work a loaves and fishes miracle?  Marie does, with biscuits and gravy that are culinary works of art.

This post is about creativity and community that's probably familiar to many of you. And I hope you'll share your own experiences in the comments section below. But to get my thoughts in order, here's what led to the telling of this story about community.

As you may know, I live in a rural area with a small population scattered over a large geographic area. It's the type of place where firefighters and EMTs are all volunteers. My husband has served 25 years on a small department. Structure fires require assistance from neighboring departments.

Last night, as the temperature slipped toward zero, Bill was paged out to a structure fire in a neighboring jurisdiction. On his way out the door he promised to assign himself a job that wouldn't aggravate the back pain he's had since Saturday.

As he left, I was texting members of the our department auxiliary. Our newest member, Cindy, met me at the scene to pass out bottles of water, Gatorade and granola bars to firefighters. It was so cold, the Gatorade froze.

At midnight, Marie and Jonita were serving biscuits and gravy, sandwiches, cookies and coffee to firefighters from a table in the house next door to the fire scene. None of us knew the owner who graciously opened her home.

Many people from the community came together to take care of each other. One home was destroyed, but the people who lived there all got out. At this point, their story branches off, but my story about community continues -- online.

After leaving the fire scene last night, I went home and worked for a couple of hours.

First, I posted Lesson 1 for students registered in the Cross-Knit Looping eCourse. The roster includes both first-timers and returning students from across the U.S. and in Europe who share a fiber interest. But you know how it is: You learn who the dog lovers are, what other interests students share, whose life is complicated by medical concerns, who's planning an adventure. And you celebrate successes and discoveries together. In other words, it's a community.

Next, I posted a few pictures I took on the fire department's Facebook page. Many people in the community have a limited understanding of what volunteers firefighters do. Much of what they do isn't exciting and it's virtually invisible: Two hours of repacking hoses, emptying creek water from the tanker and refilling it with clean water, going to town to get replacement parts for couplings that broke in the cold. Firefighters don't do all that to get their pictures tagged on Facebook. But their spouses, cousins, neighbors and friends who are on Facebook are proud to share that those pictures with their friends (or Friends, in Facebook parlance). 

I see some of my neighbors more on Facebook than in real life. But you know what? I love that I can talk to someone I'm sitting next to about a picture of them I saw on Facebook. I love staying in touch with students who took fiber art workshops with me years ago. I love reconnecting with old friends from our canoe and kayak school days. I love keeping up with our godsons and a passel of kids who are interesting young adults now. And I love following the adventures of a group of women who became friends in a willow basketry class at Sievers lo, these many years ago. Those are the kind of friends who may not see each other for months or even years, then pick right up where we left off. That was true before Facebook. It's true with Facebook. And I'm sure it will be true After Facebook. I suspect it will be true after we're all just so much cosmic dust.

Because what connects us isn't digital. It's the community we built. Together.

As you may know, I'm taking an online course on e-learning and digital cultures. It doesn't start for a couple of weeks. So for now, I'm only guessing at how the course may impact my perception of "being human in the digital age," or how it might alter my approach to teaching online. Here's what I do know:

What connects us is the community, not the carrier. It's what we build together that makes a difference in our lives.

P.S. I would love to hear your stories of creativity, community and connection. Hit the Comments link below and say your piece. Thanks!

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