The Power of Community

Sometimes I think life would be so much easier if I could answer the question “what do you do” with one simple answer.

“What do you do?”

“I am a ________.”

I can’t do that though, because there are so many different versions of me. Each one of them takes priority in different situations, and there isn’t really one that I can say I value the most. I value them all as facets of what makes my life rich, complicated, and very, very confusing.

Recently, the talented and hilarious writer/Mom/social media expert extraordinaire Sarah Cottrell (Housewife Plus) connected me with (in her words) :

“A spirited group of clever ladies who sometimes drink and swear, always laugh, and – most importantly – need a place to vent, share, and hide while eating all the chocolate!”

As I started “meeting” these women, I began to think about the things that we had in common (or the things that make us different). Most of us are mothers (it seems), many of us write in some form or other, some of us have other jobs as well . . . all of us have many aspects to our lives which we will never understand unless we spend time getting to know each other.

I asked this group how they answer the question “What do you do?” and got some fabulous responses:

I don’t have a good answer to that insane question buuuuut, I read an article recently that said that when you are at a party and introduce someone to a group, rather than say, “this is Christine, she’s a kick ass writer and nurse on the side”, you should introduce the person with something personal about them “this is Christine and she’s the funniest mom I know.” It takes the focus off people’s jobs being who they are. Since then, I’ve done it a few times and it’s worked really well!” (Christine McDevitt Burke, Keeper of the Fruit Loops)

“My tactic is to shift focus as well. I loath the ‘what do you do’ question.” (Beth Teliho, Writer B is Me)

“I keep kids alive. That’s what I do.” (Harmony Hobbs, Modern Mommy Madness)

Assassin. Just to see their eyes get big.” (Alexa Haddock Bigwarfe, No Holding Back)

So how do I answer the question? I stumble and mumble and come up with something that makes sense in the situation, but my answers may or may not include:

  • I am a mother. I list this one first because–in some version of someone else’s reality–this is supposed to be the “job” I value the most. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my daughter and am very proud of the person she is turning into. But is this something I do or is this something I am? I mean, really, half the time I don’t know that I make conscious mothering choices. The other half I just pray that I’m not being an idiot who is destroying my daughter’s life.  Sometimes I think that I am just a prop in someone else’s life, as she grows toward something and I fade into midlife. Sometimes she is the center of the universe, and sometimes I want to run away and find a place of my own. Perfect mother I am not . . . nor am I the perfect wife.
  • I am an educator. This one is even more complicated. While the majority of my income comes from adjunct faculty work, in a broken system the “adjunct” makes me seem lesser than tenured or tenure track faculty. I’m not though. I work as hard( or harder) than some faculty for and with my students, I just attend fewer meetings. At one point in my life I was aiming for that traditional tenured position, but the reality is that is not where I want to be. While I love teaching and mentoring some students, I don’t love the politics and the games of academia. I no longer enjoy working with students who don’t want to learn. I don’t want to write the things I need to write in a “publish or perish” world. Sure, I can write an academic tome, but I would much rather work on the things that inspire me at the moment. Someday I will write an academic opus, but because I choose to, not because I am trying to jump through the hoops of tenure. Meanwhile, I can focus on being the best teacher I want to be. I also teach in other situations as well–courses and workshops for people of all ages. I don’t, however, have the actual title that lends gravitas to my identity (unless you count the fact that I am, actually, Dr. Kramer).
  • I am a theatre artist. This is one of the identities I struggle with, even though I have been doing it all my life. I am a director–but I am not always seen as a professional because I often work with young people. I am the co-Founder of a theatre company that focuses on using theatre as a tool for community building rather than creating stars, and is still stumbling to build into something bigger. Because I have both an MFA and a PhD I am labeled as an academic, when I’ve always wanted to be an artist–so I have lost my way in this field. I still love it to some degree, but I don’t know if I call this home.
  • I am a writer. This is the title I most yearn to claim, but the one I stumble over the most as well. The more I find myself involved in communities of writers–people who have actually been published more than a few times, people who make a living writing and teaching about writing, people whose names are recognized in writing circles–the more I feel like an imposter of words.  Of course, I write all the time. At one point I was blogging daily, but I had to get back to focus on other projects. I have published a book. I have written a dissertation. I have published articles. Yet, I still struggle defining myself with these terms. What will it take?

I think the answer to that question lies in the title of this post, “the power of community.”  As much as I hate the fact that I still look for outside validation sometimes, I believe that in many ways the community of people you surround yourself with helps define you. I may often still feel like an imposter in the middle of incredible people, but being included in the conversation helps me say I am a wife, mother, writer, theatre artist, director, educator, business woman, advocate . . . complicated human being with a lot to offer the world. Finding communities which support the chaotic reality of life–the reality that we are not just one thing but many–is one of the most wonderful gifts.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who interact with me in my various communities. You make my life a richer place.

What communities do you belong to? Do they help define you?

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Discover how the power of a community can change the world for better, even in a fictional place–get your copy of P.O.W.ER today.

For each book sold, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to causes that support women and children around the world.  

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Author: Lisa Kramer

Lisa A. Kramer is a lover of words, stories, and the power of all the arts to strengthen communities and bring understanding. Her first novel, P.O.W.ER was the finalist for the Sarton Literary Prize for Contemporary Fiction. Author of P.O.W.ER. She is also the author of non-fiction and short stories. She holds degrees in English and Theatre from Smith College" an MFA in directing from the University of Hawai'i, Manoa, and a Ph.D. in Theatre for Arizona State University. She is the co-founder of Heart Forward-a company that communities through the creation of innovative artistic projects—at home and abroad—that challenge ourselves, our audiences, and our collaborators to find strength in shared stories and to foster social change. Lisa is also a Creativity & Innovation coach and the co-Founder of Yes, And . . . Creativity Coaching.

15 thoughts on “The Power of Community”

  1. Not defined, just…truncated. I feel a bit like a tree which had a couple of its major branches ripped off, and yes – I’ll grow in other areas, and still give shade and dappled sunlight and float beautiful leaves down into people’s worlds, but I’m different, and there’s always going to be that scarring, and that hole where branches coulda-woulda-shoulda been.

    I know this is something that Beth was struggling with the other day – she wrote on Facebook that she usually stammers and then tells people that she’s a SAHM, and it just…it felt icky to see that, as though she were apologising for not being more, when in fact (and I know it’s wonderful and terrible – I’ve enough experience and have heard enough tales, and seen enough encounters to know that) it’s so fundamental to the continuation of our society – that children are raised into decent, wonderful, responsible human beings. They are your legacy, your responsibility, and through them, the world will be made or broken further than we are able to ensure in this generation.

    To surf around the Blogosphere and see so many examples of parents really CARING about how they raise their children – to see them agonise over discipline, nutrition, vaccinations, outings, rewards, lifestyles…all the mountains and molehills which make up the successful raising of a child – is beautiful and I love being an onlooker. I’ve found a number of bloggers whose descriptions of the ways they’re raising their families give me such HOPE, because the children know that they’re secure, safe, loved, cherished and nurtured. And it’s amazing. I love that, because I didn’t really have it, and I can’t offer it, except in bit-part.

    So I do what I can to encourage and support others, wherever possible, and when I’m capable of it.

    I have Niece and Neff and my Goddaughter here, and a straggly bunch of other kids I call ‘mine’, and the straggly bunch is beginning to get wider, geographically, and I now have kids who are a little bit mine as far afield as OH, FL, NJ and TX, which is wonderful, and I love it.

    (Good to know I’m not alone in not growing up!)

    1. Lisa Kramer says:

      Count my daughter as one of yours. I barely know you but I already know that she would be lucky to have you as inspiration in her life.

      I’m sure you’ve looked into this and I probably have no right asking, but is fostering an option?

      1. We have, and no it’s not. We’re excluded from adoption for (solid, right) mental health reasons, and fostering is something my heart would be too weak for – I couldn’t give them back, ESPECIALLY not to return them to a potentially abusive home. Just no!

        And thank you *grins* I love adding to ‘my’ gaggle. I shall welcome her addition warmly. Sarah, right? 🙂 Great name (my Sis is a Sarah). And bless your boots for that. Thank you 🙂

        1. Lisa Kramer says:

          Hugs.

  2. I don’t have a good answer either, so I tend to obfuscate the matter. I sometimes just tell people I haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. Because it’s the truth.

    And being a mother might not be the ‘job’ you value most (which is fine, because it’s the everything and the awful and all that’s in between) but I do think it’s about the most important thing anyone can do – to raise a person to the best of their abilities, and to leave the world richer by that person’s presence.

    1. Lisa Kramer says:

      Oh, Lizzi, your response makes me want to reach across this technological universe and hug you so tightly. First, I will often answer that way as well because I don’t think I will ever grow up. Second, I realize that being a mother is important, and I know how much you yearn to be one, but I truly believe that one can “raise a person to the best of their abilities and leave the world richer by that person’s presence” without being a mother. I value the interactions I have with many young people. I feel the most joy when I see someone I have mentored in some way (whether it is my daughter, a student, a friend, or a stranger) blossom because of some gift I didn’t even know I was giving them (words, time, creative experiences, a kind ear). You do that already. Please don’t place the label “mother” as more important that the label “good, kind, caring person.” Motherhood is both wonderful and terrible, but that was in a way my point. I would help raise Sarah whether she was mine or not. I love her, but I am not defined by her. You are not defined by whether or not you can be a mother. <3

  3. TheMomCafe.com says:

    I love love love the idea of responding with something more personal about myself. I struggle with an answer too… so many things we all DO. I’d love most to say writer, and much like you- tiptoe on the fence of feeling worthy of that claim.

    I’ll take Alexa’s answer. Yeah, I’m gonna go for that one next time. 😉

    1. Lisa Kramer says:

      I think I am finally learning my permanent answer . . . . “I’m living life on my own terms.”

  4. Worst question ever. I usually just tell people what my day job is, but even that is problematic.

    1. Lisa Kramer says:

      I know, because nowadays our day job rarely defines us. Perhaps definitions are the problem altogether.

      1. I think on some level definitions are part of the problem. My day job is great, and I love it, but I can’t say I would continue to do it if I won the lotto. Writing on the other hand, or being the best father I can be, or any number of other things that I would rather do than my job, or at the very least in addition to my job, I would keep on doing and I would still be me, if not more so.

        1. Lisa Kramer says:

          We live in a world which is unable to function without labeling people, and labels are so limiting. There are so many things we would rather do and be than whatever or “label” is.

  5. bethteliho says:

    I remember that thread! I do hate that question, but mostly for me it’s because if I say “writer”, the natural response is either, “oh, what do you write?” or “do you have anything I can read?” Both of which make me cringe because I have to consider if this is someone I feel should know about my blog, AND as of yet, I don’t have anything they can read…..but SOON that answer can change to YES I HAVE A BOOK GO READ IT RIGHT NOW!! hahaha 🙂

    1. Lisa Kramer says:

      The funny thing is that, even though I now have the book I still have trouble saying “I am a writer.” I guess it comes from how one defines success. I wish I could just accept that I am living a successful life on my own terms. Maybe, from now on, that will be my response: What do you do? I live life on my own terms. Yeah, I like that.

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