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Recently I had the pleasure of leaving the Real World behind for two days of communing with people with whom I share an interest. It was the weekend when Daylight Saving Time ended, right before the elections. And it was a weekend of nothing but fiber arts, complete with a fanciful keynote speaker imagining an Apocalypse and its impact on the availability of yarn. Just for that weekend it was possible to skip the worries of the day and revel in a shared interest.
Connectedness or connection?
Our world is one of “connectedness” by machine. We can see the world suffering on television, immediately contact anyone by phone or text or email. We can look things up in seconds with any number of devices. And yet, young people, who live with devices full-time, are increasingly lonely to the point of suicide. Many a modern recluse is surrounded by electronic communications equipment, and to what end?
This was a weekend of face-to-face interactions. Sure, there were cell phones around because there always are. And many of us order our specialty supplies online. But here we could talk to each other, and to the vendors as we saw their wares in real life. We were unassisted by technology except for the microphone at the big evening sessions, when they handed out door prizes.
Meeting new people
I was attending this event alone, and I’m a bit shy by nature. Strange for someone who interacts with people all day for a living, but true. New people used to scare me, but now I was going to deal with people who share my interest in fiber arts. This tribe has telltales, such as wheels in bags, knitting going on, and one-of-a-kind shawls. So when I couldn’t find the registration for the event, I asked a small group of women in the lobby who had all three. And sure enough, they knew.
Having gone solo to one of these before, I had developed methods to find a place to eat. Either you get there early and commandeer a table so others will ask to eat there, or ask at a sparsely populated one. You tend to find other solos or folks traveling in pairs without a guild to eat with. It’s fun; you end up meeting folks from all over. Generally you have most of the same group meal after meal so you have someone to check in with and compare notes on classes.
Alone is approachable
In other times I’ve traveled alone and not had any trouble finding people to talk to. When you’re alone you’re not a threat. Others will talk to you if you’re a little out of place, such as a woman in a truck stop diner, and I’ve always found the (mostly) guys polite, helpful and supportive. Truckers generally talked about road conditions in all directions, and advised me of hazards ahead. Once a silver prospector in Nevada bought me breakfast and told me all about the area we were in.
So I make this work for me in other places. I was the only Vermont resident at a table of five New Yorkers, three from Long Island and two from central New York, near where I grew up. It was amazing to hear a native speaker with the accent of Irish central New Yorkers again after many years!
Of course, these are northeasterners. We took about 20 minutes watching each other and then the ice started to melt, and we had a blast learning about dyeing wool. The central New Yorkers even shared a method they had for dyeing and scouring wool all at the same time. The Long Islanders kept us in stitches through the process with their irreverence. I shared stories of life on the international border, carding wool and watching guys try to cross illegally.
A community grew.
As the weekend progressed, this group of about 130 became more familiar. After all, we all wore the name tags and creative efforts of our kind as we went from meal to class to shopping and back. The arrangement of the classes had us marching back and forth around the hotel so we began to recognize one another.
The evening sessions were times to bring our fiber to spin as we listened to speakers and won prizes. We had an organizational meeting that didn’t last long, but acquainted us with the officers of the Association. We also heard about the next Gathering slated for Massachusetts in two years. And we heard the wonderful keynote talk about the effects of the Zombie Apocalypse on our crafts. Imagine raiding yarn shops for necessary supplies to survive the bad times, and you have a start.
And all the while you had people spinning and knitting together, even jokes about spindle spinners raising their hands at the wrong times during the meeting. (The suspending hand goes up to make room for more spun yarn.) Most sat with their guilds in groups, or in pairs of friends. At this point I sat between groups, admiring others’ work or just being, and I wasn’t lonely.
When I won a door prize, I was in the middle of something with my hands full, got flustered, fumbled and finally just flung it all. The folks around me laughed as I got up to claim my fancy fiber prize. I didn’t care; they seemed to be laughing with me, since it was silly to get so worked up about yarn. After all, it wasn’t done yet, it could still be fixed. And so it was.
The power of shared interest
I hope you find a group of people to go to who share an interest with you. It doesn’t have to be big like the Gathering. It could be a reading group at the library, or a quilter’s guild, or a club that raises funds for a good cause. The main thing is, if you have an interest in common with the others, it’s comparatively easy to get into the group and start a conversation about that interest.
You don’t have to bring a friend, or have one there, in order to get along, either. I am awkward and don’t do small talk well. But I can go to groups and have a good time because there’s always a safe topic. And, as the other people get used to you, the conversation branches out as they want to know more about you, and share of themselves.
So don’t forget to use your interests to broaden social contacts. You not only get new friends, you also find support for your interests and new contacts you can use to grow them.
Need more tips on avoiding loneliness? Try here.
What experiences have you had getting acquainted with strangers in a group with a shared interest?