As humans, we are characters of routine. We like our comfort zones and the safety of our nest. If we didn’t, most everyone would pack up and move to different cities and states more often than we do. But we don’t because we value our roots and the people around us. The sense of community is what builds us to be the people we are.
I am no different.
I’ve always been the type of person to choose quality over quantity when it comes to friends and most of my friendships have been those of longevity. I would rather have a few diamonds than a box full of rocks – the ones where life and busyness don’t get in the way. But your diamonds don’t come along when you pack up and move 200 miles away. When I fled the city and sought asylum in rural Georgia, I knew maybe 10 people. Probably 5 I could call if I needed something. Luckily, I wasn’t intimidated by this because I knew my job would provide for me to meet all kinds of people, often – but that didn’t quite go as planned either.
South Georgia communities are small. The number of transplants are far exceeded by the number of people who have lived here their entire lives. The cliques are well established and making room for outsiders is almost unheard of. Outsiders are more than likely welcomed by other outsiders who are now considered insiders but have a memory fresh enough to recall the feeling of an outsider. It’s almost like former outsiders lobby for current outsiders to the insiders.
Did you follow all that? Hopefully, because it gets more complicated. A simple outsider, someone who marries into a family or takes a beloved job in the community, is more likely to be welcomed than a complex outsider like myself.
It’s like middle school – the worst years of all our lives – all over again.
I’m a complex outsider because not only am I not from around here, but I also have a job that makes some…cautious.
I already talked about the people who are scared to speak to someone with a job like mine in public in a previous blog. I came to terms with that a long time ago and it doesn’t bother me much anymore.
But imagine having to build friendships in reverse. Imagine your starting point is a place where someone doesn’t like you because of what they’ve heard about you. Or because they don’t like where you’re from, or your boss, or they spent too much time in the comment section on an article. They’re related to someone in a town you’ve written about or they just think you aren’t worthy of covering the issue, so they have a preconceived opinion of you before even speaking to you. Or they’re friends with a councilman who’s made it his prerogative to taint any public perception of you.
I was run out of my last town, I’m sleeping with handfuls of people, I’m getting paid by an enemy to write about an issue, or, my personal favorite, I’m a spy. There are lots of reasons given, but they yield the same result: skepticism.
So do I weigh my personal life versus my professional life. Do I try to avoid certain towns so it’s easier to say no? Do I turn people away because I don’t want to stir the pot where I socialize?
That’s not my personality. Externally, it would make me a bad friend. Internally, it would make me bad for myself. I would no longer carry the same weight of I worried about what people would think of me before I started looking into any given local government or elected official.
Instead, I place people in two categories: the ones I can win over and the ones I cannot. I do my job and trust that the people I want to surround myself with will surface. I’ll keep writing, doing my job, and staying true to myself and the people who have the ability to see my character…will.
After 13 months down here, that is starting to happen. Part of me really didn’t think it would take as long as it has, while the realist in me knew better. Like everything else in life, though, I am not in control of the time table. I’m not in control of much, actually, but none of us are and that’s another blog for another day.
Anyone can pick up and move to a new town and find people with whom they can socialize. Anyone can build superficial relationships. But it takes time and effort to find a circle where you can rely on and trust, and I’m thankful I’m beginning to build my circle.