Thursday, January 26, 2012

organize yourself.

I'm kind of the opposite of a hoarder (compulsive de-clutterer?), so I'm not talking about organizing, like, my medicine cabinet. I'm talking about organizing my neighbors. By trade, I'm a community organizer (just, um, slightly less effective, powerful, and famous as another community organizer you've probably heard of before). Six years after finishing my graduate degrees, I'm not a community organizer the way I thought I'd be (the Saul Alinsky of early childhood? Not so much), but I do spend my days working to mobilize people and enable grassroots change.

Just, you know...for everyone but myself.

Here's the thing. Part of the manifestation of my anxiety disorder is a wee bit of social anxiety.* (Really a good thing for a SOCIAL WORKER, I know. Whatevs.) Two and a half years ago, we moved into our dream neighborhood - a solidly middle-class grid of wide, quiet streets, with parks and playgrounds around every corner. And the residents? A huge range of skin colors, languages spoken, family configurations, religious backgrounds, physical ability, and front-lawn-veggie-garden proclivity. Like the 92-year-old woman from whom we bought our house, a lot of the residents here are the original homeowners. Seeing that the neighborhood was developed in the mid-'60s, the translation of that is: lots of elderly people. But as these folks move on to other housing options (condos, nursing homes, that great neighborhood in the sky), young families are moving in. I see them everywhere - walking their dogs, pushing their babies' strollers, chasing after bikes with training wheels. They generally look super nice and non-murdery. (Really, spellcheck? You'll call out "whatevs," but not "murdery"?)

I know I should just strike up a conversation with someone - anyone! After all, I keep complaining that it's really hard to make friends in your late 20s early 30s (yikes), and the truth of it is, the neighborhood is now my dorm/bar/school/workplace - the setting in which I'm supposed to meet new people. But that's been really hard to do without the buffer of a kid or a dog to start up a conversation.

So, as a community organizer, the next logical step is to (wait for it)...organize the community. A game night, a picnic, anything. The devil, as they say, has been in the details:

  • Do we have to invite their kids? Will anyone come if kids aren't allowed?
  • Will it be weird if we're the only ones without kids, if kids are invited?
  • Should we borrow our nieces/nephews and pretend they're ours so we fit in?
  • Is that weirder or not as weird as shoving a sack of flour into a Baby Bjorn and covering it with a blanky and pretending it's our newborn who never grows or ages?
  • Where do we hold such an event? In Ann Arbor, the great outdoors is not really an option for three-quarters of the year, but do I really want all you weirdos (non-murdery though you may be) in my house?
  • What if you're all annoying?

Our neighborhood actually already holds a number of community events - a July Fourth open-swim/picnic at the pool, a fall festival with cider and doughnuts, a Halloween parade, a big garage sale - but again, I kind of feel like all of these things center around kids. I like kids - they're my fave and all - but it's hard to attend events like these prior to procreating.

I know there are other childless couples in the neighborhood. I've seen them walking around with nary a sling or pram in sight. Unless they're leaving their progeny home alone or in the care of an extra-responsible pet (and hey, who am I to judge? ...Oh, yeah, a mandated reporter), I really think they just might not have kids. I have nothing against my neighbors WITH kids - I just feel like there are other childless peeps out there who are looking for awesome friends like us. Likewise, I have nothing against parents. Some of my best friends are parents. But wouldn't it be nice to connect with some other couples in the same stage of life as us?

It's probably bad taste to post a sign all over the neighborhood that says something like:

Super Awesome Party Tonight!
Please, no children.
In fact...no parents, either.
Actually? What we're really looking for are neighborhood dwellers who are
post-college and pre-baby, enjoy Settlers of Catan, and spend untold hours
staring into space while holding a jug of milk, marveling that they let people
like all of us live day-to-day lives unsupervised.

Sigh. Looks like it's sack-of-flour-in-the-Baby-Bjorn time back to creepily staring out my window at the neighbors all having fun together without me the drawing board.

*Okay, can I just say that I just found this definition of social anxiety, and all of a sudden, so many things make sense? The blushing, sweating, and trembling, in particular. Son of a puppy. I never knew. But why did this all develop after grad school? And why does it happen in situations where I'm not even consciously anxious? Seriously: Normal, non-stressful conversations can = flaming red face and sweating buckets. wtf...

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