Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Apples to Apples

I am an APLS. I spend less money than I have. Haunt thrift stores instead of Target. Cook from scratch instead of order take out. Bike when I can. Give what I can. It feels great to be an APLS. I feel lighter ditching stuff that would only clutter my home and my consciousness. I embrace experiences instead of things, revel in the peace of a bike ride, the meditation of hanging laundry.

As grounding as it is to be an APLS, there have been times when I felt like the only apple in the basket. Those times, being an APLS didn't feel so good. I felt lonely and eco-freakish. The solution, though, was not to abandon APLS-dom but to connect apples to apples. Over the past year, I've slowly found and connected to like-minded folks and have gradually moved from a sense of isolation to a place of belonging and community.

Growing a green community is as easy as picking apples from an apple tree. It requires only a ladder, a bushel basket and the will to pick.


- Join a group and become active: "Green" organizations, while perhaps the first choice, are not necessary. The PTA for your kids' school, a gardening club, a local mothers' club, a sports league, a church, a bicycling group, a neighborhood bunco group - almost anything will do. The only catch is that you must actually be interested in the focus of the group you are joining and not joining solely to meet others. Research repeatedly demonstrates that we are happier and healthier when we connect with others. The more people you come across, the more likely you are to eventually cross paths with another APLS.

- Go Out on a Limb: Once you are in some sort of organization, you can put your feelers out for other APLS. Offer to start a sub-group - maybe an edible gardening club, a cooking club, a hiking group, a stitch 'n bitch, a local food buying club, a green book club or a simplicity circle. If you are near a school, community education organization, or non profit center, attend a class or offer to teach one. It doesn't have to be an economics class. I recently attended a class on raising chickens put on by a local gardening supply and education center. While there, attendees were clamoring for more classes - ones on canning, edible gardening, composting. The topics are endless as the opportunities for connecting with other like-minded folks and, once we departed, the instructor had twenty new friends.

- Branch Out on the Web: While meeting other APLS in person is great, there is no reason not to connect more via the Internet. If you are reading this, you likely read and/or have a blog. Blogs and Yahoo groups are great for jump-starting communities and the warm, supportive blog community has served as home base to me for nearly a year. But connections can go deeper than posts and comments. They can start as simply as sending an email.


- Web-based APLS: I count Arduous as a good friend. It started with me emailing her a petition to sign for her Armchair Activism challenge. A month later, she emailed me to ask for advice about a birthday gift for a child my son's age. Next thing I knew, we were emailing regularly, starting a joint blog and eating strawberry crepes together. Not every email sent to a fellow blogger has yielded a breakfast meeting. A good number, however, have yielded a real connection - a collaborative blog, shared ideas on beating blogger burnout or simply common joy in a pair of sustainable flip flops (you might be surprised who bought hot pink ones). Melinda at Elements in Time rightly encourages meeting fellow bloggers. She's done it on several occasions and now regularly hits the farmers' market with same city bloggers. The APLS who inhabit the blogosphere can become more than fellow bloggers. They can become friends.

- APLS in the Neighborhood: CindyW at Organic Picks recently offered up a fantastic list for getting to know your neighbors. Nothing builds sustainable communities like close ties within a neighborhood. As Cindy suggests, it is easy to start small - borrowing a cup of milk, hanging out on your front porch, working in your garden. Everyone in town knows my next door neighbor. She makes the neighborhood a small place by doing each one of the things on Cindy's list. And, the more I get to know her, I realize that she's more apple than orange.

- Community APLS: A year ago, I was a fledgling member of my mothers' club. I lurked on the message board, rarely posting, and fled from anything resembling a physical meeting. I am a bookworm - shocking, I know. After months of rumination, I sent out a tentative email on the mothers' club bulletin board and launched a green book club with a handful of interested moms - none of whom I'd ever met. Over the past 8 months, we added a few members, discussed a number of books, and have moved beyond books to the beginning of real friendships.


Many of us own a ladder and long for a basket overflowing with apples. Sometimes, though, it's downright hard to climb and pick. I recently read Achieving Success Through Social Capital a book not about the environment but about social networking. The author argues that consciously expanding your network "requires a change of behavior on your part. There is no way around it. To implement a practice you have to move out of your comfort zone, change your daily routines, and step outside the normal rounds of your life." (126). He lays out the following motivating tenets:

1) Embrace discomfort: "Most people interpret discomfort as a warning sign telling them to avoid something. The opposite is true for networking. Discomfort is a sign that you are doing something right." (Id.) When I first started my book club, emailed a fellow blogger for the first time, or met the first member of my local food buying club, I felt unsure, nervous, intimidated. Even now, I'll end a book club meeting wondering if I talked too much, gave too many "jam" directions, cleaned my house too much or not enough. I'm willing to bet Eco 'Burban mom was a little nervous when she first launched her Little League recycling program and I'll bet being labeled "The Trash Lady" didn't feel all that comfortable. Discomfort pays off in dividends, though, when you spot a familiar face at a city council meeting or have a friend - whom you've connected with only by blogs and emails - cajole you out of a climate change funk.

2) Act as if: "New attitudes don't precede new behaviors; the reverse is true - new behaviors create new attitudes. . . . [S]tride forth and build networks; only then will you develop the attitude of a network builder." (Id.) I've always longed to be a social butterfly - someone like my next door neighbor who can connect with a stranger at the park and end up having coffee with that person the next day. In trying to connect with other APLS, I've forced myself act more like a butterfly than a moth. I've extended invitations for the book club and pimped my buying club on local boards. Gradually, I've become a bit more comfortable, slightly smoother in my responses, and, as the number of greenies I know expand, more capable of hooking people up.

3) Start small: Send an email to another blogger. Ask a friend to attend a class with you. Find a local business or restaurant, go regularly and get to know the people who work there. Chat with the farmers at the farmers' market. Eat family dinners more. Make connections in your life - even if it is as simple as saying hi to a neighbor or calling your sister.

4) Make a commitment to yourself: "Good intentions don't lead to action; commitments do. Make a contract with yourself . . . [b]e specific and write it down." Keeping a blog, putting your words out there for the world to read, far exceeds any written contract in my book. If I could not write about my community building efforts here, feel answering support in comments and posts, I likely would have crawled back to the couch and the bag of Doritos months ago.

Life is much more delicious this way - with blogger friends to email and visit, book club meetings to prepare for, edible gardening tours to attend with friends, and neighbors with whom to share gardening discoveries. Life is more delicious when you connect apples to apples.


Robin said...

As someone who has always been hopelessly, helplessly shy, this post is immensely inspiring to me. It shores me up to know that someone I admire, who is such a community builder, once faced intimidation, trepidation.

The main strategy I have used to work past my own shyness is to "fake it until you make it"; that is, to pretend to be the person I wish I could be, until I find the confidence to actually BE that person. I'm not there yet... but edging closer.

Heather @ SGF said...

I've always been a loner myself, but in the last few months - I started blogging myself, I started leaving more comments on others' blogs, I started doing more with a girlfriend of mine - I feel so much more alive and inspired. Those connections make a huge difference, even for those who shy away from personal contact.

Joyce said...

I'm an introvert, too, GB. Your post is one I can totally relate to, as a person who likes to stay quietly at home reading and thinking. I've never been a "joiner", and my circle of real friends, all wonderful, is relatively small. I have enjoyed connecting here, but you are right, I need to get out into the neighborhood and community and widen my circle, not because i want to be influential, but because people are interesting and stimulating to know. Thanks for the little nudge!

The Purloined Letter said...

Yep. Community is what it is all about--and even when it is a little hard to get started when you're introverted, it creates such a place of safety and joy. Great advice here!

Donna said...

Wow, great food for thought. It's going to take me a while to digest it. ;-)

I never dreamed when I started blogging a little over a year ago what a difference it would make in my life, and now I feel like I might be ready to take some next steps to broaden my community. And like others here, I was the shyest kid in my class.

Jennifer said...

I, too, am hopelessly shy. I'm getting anxious just READING your post today!

Do we HAVE to have a large community? What about those of us who feel very happy in their small worlds? (or at least safer... could be a problem with THAT. Safety isn't everthing...)

Bugs and Brooms said...

I have always been an extrovert but I am stuggling with the feelings I have of being an eco-freak! My own family makes fun of my new greener choices and, since we are new in this community, new friends have made some negative comments about my lifestyle choices - like using real plates instead of plastic at cookouts! I thought this would be easier but it hasn't - at least not for me. I know that the apples are out there but I am having a hard time locating them! And I REALLY NEED to find some soon!!

Thanks for the encouraging words that like-minded folks do exist - it just might take me a little longer to find them than the oranges.

eco 'burban mom said...

Why does it seem that the hopelessly shy, bookworm types are so comfortable baring their souls and sharing with strangers via a blog? I know it makes a big difference for me! Thanks, Green Bean, I am so happy to be an APL in your blogger bushel basket!

Funny though, apples in blog posts seem to be a theme today. I had written a post about apples (sadly, not as inspiring as APLS, my apple is the kind you eat) over the weekend and had posted it today. Great minds... :o)

Bobbi said...

Wow - great tips! Sometimes it bugs me so much when I am the only person at the check-out lane of the local store or Farmer's Market using my own bags! People look at you like you've got 3 heads or something!

arduous said...

Aw, I'm happy you're my friend too, GB.

I'm actually not shy at all. I know you are really surprised to hear that. But a lot of these things are hard for me too. But I think they are easier for me than they are for a lot of other people, which reminds me that it's important for me to initiate more. Because if it's not that scary for me, than I can play a big part by drawing other people out.

Green Bean said...

Robin: "Fake it until you make it". That is exactly right! I'm not a born community builder by a long shot but I keep pretending I am one and hope everything will fall into line.

Heather: I feel the same as you. By nature, I'm much more of a hermit yet, once I force myself to connect with others, I feel invigorated, happy and as you said "alive."

Joyce: Absolutely. If we do it to be influential, I imagine we'll fail. If we do it to learn from others, make connections, feel invigorated ourselves, I know we will succeed. In my own little world, I'm always right but never learning or growing. When connected with others, I thrive.

The Purloined Letter: It can be hard to get started but, as you point out, community is where it is at. Thank you!

Donna: From one shy bookworm to another, you might find connecting through books or something along those lines works well. I used to be terrified at my book club meetings and now I look forward to them all month long - even though I'm also getting together with those moms throughout the month as well.

Jennifer: I know! I felt nervous writing it. I feel nervous every time I do a "community building" thing - which is why I loved to read that discomfort is normal. Do we need big communities? No. But I do believe community is the answer - to surviving climate change, peak oil, a depressed economy and to feeling happier. I felt safe in my little world and relatively happy. My first real step was my green book club. Eight months later, we're jamming together and planning a retreat to an organic farm and to go organic wine tasting. I've never had a lot of friends - one or two close ones. I've got to tell you though, I'm happier this way.

Bugs: There are lots of oranges, aren't there? I sure hope you can find some APLS soon. I'm not sure where you live but I do think it helpful to do things where you might run into APLS: gardening classes, farmers markets, knitting store. You get the idea. Here's hoping there are some APLS in your future.

EcoBurbs: I love having you in my bushel basket! :) And you are right. That is one thing that shines through on all these comments - how shy and introverted many of us and yet we comfortably bare all for the world to see on our blogs. Interesting, isn't it? But that is why connecting with blogger friends may be a good fist step for a lot of us.

Bobbi: Change is coming!! I can't remember where you live but I used to be the only person like that in my neck of the woods. The tide is turning and more and more folks are bringing their own bags and making environmentally friendly choices. I hope an apple lands in your bushel basket soon.

Arduous: Great point. For those of us who, like you, are a little more comfortable, we can move things forward, work to create groups for others to join, and help build the connections.

kale for sale said...

Good post green bean. You put it perfectly - the only apple in the basket. Eco-freak. I'm going to have to think about this. Joining groups is not my natural tendancy and I have a few more excuses too. But I do need some green friends as mine are many beautiful shades but green is not always one of them.

Melissa said...

hmmm I see a trend here! I am not shy at all with people I know, but strangers always think I am very snobby because I really find it hard to chat with people I don't know. This post was timely for me; I'm going to my first volunteer get out the vote event tomorrow with a woman I met through my book club. I'm nervous, but I think it'll be really good. I've been pondering starting a buying club lately but I haven't acted on it because I've had this idea that i need to personally know all the people who'd want to sign up ahead of time...but maybe I should rethink that and try the craigslist approach or something...anyway, thanks, as always, for giving me stuff to think about!

Green Bean said...

Katrina: It's always nice to add folks to your ring of friends and especially nice if they can relate to our inner eco-freakness. :)

Melissa: Good for you! Volunteering at an event would make me nervous too but what a wonderful way to not only do something you believe in but also to meet some new people who believe in the same things. Can't wait to read about your experience.

Kerstin said...

Good Job! :)


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