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COMMUNAL WHINE

September 7, 2013

There’s this meditation class I attend semi-regularly. By semi I mean, sometimes I go for long swaths of time showing up every week for my dose of dharma and silence, but then I book a show or download a new video game or a new season of So You Think You Can Dance starts and I don’t make it for a few months. As such, last week I made my triumphant return after months of show/game/dance.  It happened to be a special class where instead of the usual meditation and dharma talk, we sat for a bit and then heard from the LGBTQ members of the class, and heard testimonials on difference and sensitivity and understanding.

Lovely.

Truly. It was a well organized and incredibly well spoken evening. But it nagged at me that almost everyone’s share involved a glowing description of the incredible community and family they found in this class, in all the amazing friends they’ve made in this very room. While I sat feeling like the Kool-Aid got passed around while I was in the bathroom, one girl exclaimed, “I just want to give you guys all a big hug! I feel so much love from this group!”

Now, I’ve been going to this class for over two years. From what I’ve seen, no one talks to people they don’t know.  In fact, that very day I had arrived early, and found myself alone with a woman to whom I’ve introduced myself a couple times previously (mostly while waiting for the bathroom), and she told me her name as if I were brand new to the class. There is a crew of cool kids who all sit up front near the teacher and ask questions, and the teacher knows them all by name, and then the rest of us sit behind them, staring at the back of their gregarious heads. There was one girl I really liked who talked to me occasionally, but she hasn’t been in class in a year or so. Maybe she found a new video game.

It would be easy for me to write off this group of people as having hierarchy and clique issues, and maybe some of that is at play, but this particular experience of exclusion throws a wrench in the story I usually write about myself and groups, at least for the last 4½ years.

Not drinking alcohol (though unequivocally one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life) has proven the perfect Ego-tool for narrative manipulation. “Because I don’t like being around drunk people,” is a terrific, catch-all excuse for reclusiveness and social anxiety. It is terrific, partly, because it is completely honest. I really, REALLY don’t like being around drunk people. But it is also effective because it projects my issues outside of myself. I don’t have to deal with my insecurities and discomforts, the problem can be “them” and not “me.”

But in this class, because the founder of the parent organization came from a recovery background, and my teacher comes from a recovery background, a high percentage of my classmates come from recovery as well, and I would say if not “most,” then “many” of people there are non-drinkers and non-users. Not to mention, it’s a meditation class – no one’s hauling a keg up 3 flights of stairs to a Bowery yoga studio.

My tool is broken. But the Ego is a remarkably tricky vixen. Faced with feeling exclusion from this population, my brain went through gymnastic efforts to reorganize: “It’s because I don’t identify as an alcoholic.” “It’s because I’m not queer.” “It’s because I’m not covered in tattoos like everyone else.” It’s a lot of noise.

At some point, being unable to find community, can’t be blamed on the community. I can try to blame the lack of alcohol in my blood or the lack of AA in my schedule, but when it comes down to it, it’s a lack of something in myself. It is a received idea that I don’t fit in, that I have managed to internalize, and I’m the only one who can fix it.

Last night I spent a wallowing 45 minute commute home after seeing a terrific show written and performed by an artist I know, but not well. At the end of the show, I waited around with his closer friends but when the opportunity came to wish him well, I turned and headed out of the theater, paralyzed by the fear that he wouldn’t remember who I am. The theater where the show was produced is one at which many of my friends have worked – some of them have had commissions there or been artists-in-residence. But in my 10 years in this business, I’ve never managed to break into the “scene,” there, and the space, though beautiful, fills me with the dread of a middle schooler with nowhere to sit in the lunchroom. As I headed to the subway alone, and pulled out my journal to write, I finally had to look the situation in the face and recognize something was very wrong, and it was in no one’s hands but mine.

I got home, put my bag on the kitchen table and took a deep breath to calm myself. As I did, I caught the scents of multiple hugs I had received throughout the day: the oils of two separate yoga teacher friends of mine, one peppery, one sweet; Febreze and cigarettes from one actor friend, bourbon from another. The thought was soothing. Maybe my community is not in one place, under one roof, in one occupation, following one philosophy. Maybe I will always have to amass my “family” from far reaching, disparate corners of my life. And can I be ok with that? Can I accept that I may never fit in with a particular group, but can choose to chisel out my own version of sangha?

I’m not sure. Maybe. Right now I still sort of feel like the kid in the lunchroom. But maybe.

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