Creating Community

I talk a lot about this, about creating some kind of community of like-minded people. In My Ideal World, I would have a group of people who loved the things I love, and we would meet regularly at a coffee shop (which in my fantasy would be the perfect size and the perfect temperature and would have a big round table with comfortable chairs just for us, not to mention excellent coffee and pastries far better than those at Starbucks), and we would sit and stitch and share ideas and techniques, sources and advice. You'd be able to hold up what you're working on and show it to everyone and ask stuff like, "Why is the thread doing this?" or "How can I get this part to lie flat?" Everyone would show what they're working on, and you'd ask questions and get ideas and It. Would. Be. Fabulous. Alas, that is never going to happen for me, not where I live in the desert of West Texas, not In Real Life. But in my virtual life, the one online? That's a whole nother thang, and we're making it happen. I posted last week about #StitchLounge, our virtual sewing/handwork circle, and we had the first Twitter chat last Wednesday. There was just a handful of us, and for an hour we showed what we were doing, asked questions, sent links, and--at least in my case--sat in front of our computers and stitched, just as if we'd been in the same room around the same table instead of on different continents (Zom Osborne joined us from Australia). It was just exactly like my fantasy of a real-life sewing circle, only online. Now, some people would argue that this virtual meet-up wasn't a success because it didn't have dozens of participants and didn't trend. Because that's what it's all about, isn't it, this social media world? You're successful only if you have thousands of friends and/or followers and/or subscribers, and anything less than that--say, a dozen, or a handful--is indicative of failure. You're supposed to be an instant sensation, and if not, what's the point? I say the point is to make social media work for you, the way you want it to. Instead of adapting yourself to it--figuring out what you need to post and tweet to get people to be interested in what you have to say--you can adapt it to what you want. There's another way to look at Twitter and Facebook and blogs, not as showcases for displaying your popularity, kind of like those friendship bracelets you collected in jr. high, but as tools for creating community that might not be available to you where you live. Say you have some obscure passion or interest, something shared by no one you know in real life. Say you'd like to develop new techniques that relate to this, find tools and supplies from someone who's used them. You can create a blog about just that one thing--your love of engraving Russian designs on eggshells, maybe, or learning to tat lace, or creating realistic miniatures from the Victoria period. You can make a Facebook page about it, displaying photos and sharing links to sites that inspire you. You can use a hashtag on twitter to announce your interest to others who might be looking for the same online inspiration. You can put your interest out there and invite others to join you in discussing it. Even if you connect with only a couple of people, you've found your community. In short, you can make social media be what you want it to be. It doesn't have to be about your tweeting what you ate for breakfast or posting on Facebook the funny photos from your niece's softball game. It can be about what you want it to be about, helping you to do the things you want to do: find others who share your interests and who have useful information they're more than happy to provide and who will be thrilled at reciprocal inspiration from you. Community is what you make it, and no matter where you live, no matter how isolated you are from people who are interested in the same things that interest you, you can use the available online resources to make contact with them. You can set up a Flickr stream to share photos, host a regular Twitter chat, as I did, so people can talk, virtually, in almost-real time. It can be as elaborate (a website with forums, perhaps) or as simple (a monthly chat) as you want. It may take a little work on your part, but what you gain from it is the opportunity to share what you love with others who feel the same. You can join us for #StitchLounge the first Wednesday of each month at 9 pm Central time. No need to sign up or RSVP--just drop in and enjoy the company!   Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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