Wednesday, May 21, 2014

One Month on Lopez :: Guide to Settling into a Community

T, S, E, A, A, D and dogs B, M, L, and L around the fire.
It's been exactly one month since I came to Lopez - 4 weeks and two days.
What an unexpected month it's been.

I'm not taking a step back and looking at what's been done and learned on this island.

It seems like there's a new group of people to meet every day and a whole list of names to remember. Yesterday I met P, T, D, S, E, A, A, P, W, B, C... those are all names I'm currently running through in my mind, hoping to hold on to them.

My goal, in coming to Lopez Island, was to wiggle my way into the community - to find a place where I could contribute and find a balance, working towards the acceptance that comes with time.

Becoming part of a community, to me, means learning all of the community drama (yesterday I got my fill, pieces are starting to come together) and connections and histories. It's a long process of learning specialized information that will never be recorded in a book, but is key to know to be able to relate to certain folks. At Bowen I could joke about the turf field (anyone there would know exactly what I was talking about) and in Haines, we talk about how the community seems to come together in the fall when the summer help leaves.

My time in Haines has sort of given me a leg-up on "getting" Lopez. They're quite different, but in a lot of ways, they're still small towns and have a bounty in common. Both are towns where no one likes to lock the doors of their cars or homes or lock up their bikes. They both have a summer population swell. Both are tiny - Haines has 2,500 and Lopez has 2,100.

Connecting in Haines took me longer because I started off by relying on Andrew for my social life which meant that, mainly, I met the river guides (whom I had zero connection with, making me feel socially inept). It wasn't until three months in that I started to meet people on my own terms.

This time, there's more of a rhythm to it all.

Here are some things I have learned on how to settle into a community:

1. Learn everyone's name. If you have a short conversation with them, ask them their name. Remember it. Use it next time and every time you see them. Tobbit has been a great conversation stater.

2. Spend lots of time alone in the community. Wander around town on foot, sit on benches, go to the park. this is where a lot of connections start. If you have access to a cute baby, strap them to your front and walk around.

3. Don't immediately rely on the first connection you make, nor hold it too close. It takes time to figure out who you want to be known by. I know this sounds a bit judge-y (may be), but it makes a difference. When I first came to Haines, I thought everyone knew and loved Andrew and let myself be known as his friend - that was my identity. I didn't really know what the community thought about him and it wasn't till later that I learned and realized I didn't want to be associated with it. On Lopez, I'm cautious of who folks pin me to - they want to do that, they want to have someone to associate me with. I'm slowly learning which folks in the community are well respected and who have a sketchy history with the island.

4. Listen to what people have to say but take it with a grain of salt. I'm not entirely sure what that phrase means, but what I intend to say is that you need to listen, but not believe everything. Folks have different reputations and, for safety sake, I want to know them - but when I want to actually interact with a human with a peculiar reputation, I sort of put that in the back of my mind and treat them based on how I've met them and that specific experience, keeping in my mind that my experiences with folks frequently are different then other folks (goes for each of us).

5. Don't contribute to conversations that are negative about other folks. Just don't. Don't encourage these conversations, however, if it's a safety situation, ask ask ask. If you notice people get a bit weird when you mention someone you're staying with, find out why.

6. Take up every invitation. Even if it was in passing, just go. Show up. Meet more folks. This is where the wealth of the community is that hides from the tourists. Meet folks, make connections, make plans. It'll take a lot longer to develop friendships than connections. Friendship is what it will take for me to be able to stick around for a while and is what I desire.

7. Ask for recommendations and follow through with them and let them know that you did.

8. Listen. Listen a lot.

9. Don't come in the summer. Then you'll be assumed to be a temporary resident.

10. Put in time. It'll take time for a small community to accept that you'll be there for a while. Towns like Haines and Lopez Island host a vast transient populations. For the locals, it's not worth investing time into someone that will just move on in a few months when the weather changes. It's after a few seasons that some folks will realize that you actually mean to stick around and will reach out to connect with you.

11. Be grateful.

That's all that comes to mind.

Truth is, I miss Haines a lot.

But, the other truth is, I'm thoroughly grateful to be here. I'm grateful to the folks who have welcomed me into their homes and the weather and all the nooks and crannies I've been able to explore. I'm looking forward to the next 11 months.

1 comment:

  1. This is truly wise advice Magi. I wish I had had a glimmer of this when I was young. You have a great gift for friendship.


Your words make me grin.

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