Group work

A conversation else-Net has me thinking about the topic of groups and unpleasant experiences. Like so many other things I talk about, I think it’s more complicated than This Group Good, That Group Bad. The long and short of it is that people are complicated, and groups of people are even more so, and that there’s a bunch of things that go into the interactions.

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A pause for some background

A friend on Dreamwidth posted an interesting Pagan meme that I thought was particularly timely: I’m coming up on the 10 year anniversary of seeking out the group I trained with and worked with until early 2008, when I hived off. Seems like a good time for a “What I’m doing now” moment, plus a nice introduction to link to in various blog places.

(Below, I’m speaking for myself, rather than the trad as a whole, which seems worth making clear right about now.)

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Changing perspectives

I still have lots of posts I’m mulling over that will be more in depth, but a relatively quick thought. (erm. For me. It’s still about 600 words.)

I’ve alluded here and other places that the medical foo of the last year has changed some stuff for me. That’s been true in terms of managing energy in ritual and magical work, but I’ve also been mulling over what’s changed for me in other ways.

One of them, apparently, is how my intuition kicks in.

Last week, I went to Boston for a combination of a job hiring conference, and in the hopes of arranging a few other visits with jobs out there in the process (and seeing my mother and college friends who are in the area.)

Now, as you all probably know, Boston was one of the places that got hit by massive snow storm last week – about 18″ in the course of 36 hours (and on top of masses of other snow that mean clearing the new stuff is particularly difficult.)

When I was booking my flight, I got the very strong pull that I should do two things. First, that it would be very smart to fly in on Tuesday, rather than Thursday (the hiring conference started Friday), and second that flying non-stop would be a very smart thing.

Both these things are logical, in their way. It’s been a *weird* winter for weather, so not flying through another city that might get snowbound (Chicago and Milwaukee are my two most likely stops, and I’ve done Indianapolis in the past) might make sense. And leaving time for travel delays in general is also smart.

As it turns out: all three of those cities shut down for snow: I would not have made a connecting flight on Tuesday out of any of them, and might well have gotten stuck at whatever airport for the duration.

Equally, my original flight (10:45am on Tuesday) got cancelled, but in enough time to reschedule me on the 7am flight. Which was, at it turns out, the last flight into Boston’s Logan airport before they shut down the airport on Tuesday for a bit. (With a superb landing.)

So, all at once, that initial intuition – fly Tuesday, fly non-stop – and the circumstances lined up in a way to get me where I wanted, when I wanted, and safely. (And as a bonus, *because* of the weather, I got a chance to go see a dear friend and her toddler and the rest of her family when I wasn’t expecting to be able to make it out there, because someone was handy to leave work early to pick me up from the bus. Worth every minute of travel.)

While I’ve had things like that in the past, those moments where the intuition comes alive and connects and everything falls into place, the way this felt was different. Previously, that kind of intuition had a rapid crescendo behind it, for lack of a better way to phrase it, a sudden burst of “Oh, *that* thing, this big shiny thing over there.” This time, it was just … there. Very firmly, but also very quietly. Waiting for me to do the needful stuff with it. Like a bit of granite, slowly being revealed by a retreating glacier, rather than fireworks.

It’s cool that it worked. But it’s also a reminder of the fact a lot of fundamental things have shifted for me, and that I can’t assume that what worked in the past is going to continue to do so (or if it still works, that it’s the most effective way to do so.)

I’m still figuring out what that means. And in particular, what it means about how I should change my practice, my daily attention, etc. to take advantage of it.

Creating the life I want to live

Today is my birthday (I’m 33). I’ve spent a bunch of the past few weeks thinking about something specific – about creating the life I want to live in.

I’m single: almost three years post-divorce, and now back at a point where I’d like to consider the possibility of a serious relationship again. But to do that, I need to make space and continue working on balance (and on continuing to expand my social circles a bit.)

I have a still-new coven, and how do I want that to take shape and grow? And how do I give it space to do so, and ways to incorporate ideas and things that are not me? We’ve got a good start, but there’s still a lot of work.

There are a lot of things that interest me: how do I make time for them, or figure out which ones to do? Music is a big thing on the plate, and it’s somewhat emotionally fraught for complicated reasons. There’s writing, and there’s fiber art, and there’s baking, and all the books I want to read, and somewhere in there exercise would be a good idea.

I have an ongoing relationship with multiple deities (the joys of polytheism). How do I continue to nuture and expand and explore within that context?

I have dear friends, family of choice, and family of origin, all of whom I want to spend time with. How do I balance that against scheduling limitations, and other things that also matter to me?

And how do I make my home, my hearth, my work the kinds of space I want to spend time in – between doing the things I want, and managing the mundane responsibilities as well as possible (dishes, laundry, bills).

These things are, to my way of thinking, the most fundamental kind of magic: reshaping my own life at the most fundamental levels with focused intention and desires. But these are all big and complicated issues.

So, I started with a party.

I knew that what I wanted for my birthday was a day full of good food, good company, and great conversation. What I got was all of those and then some (there was also some fabulous mead, and some very thoughtful and caring divination readings.)

But how did I get there?

Well, first, I have loving and caring and generous friends (who are also good cooks) which helps rather a lot. My covenmate hosted (she’s got more space suitable for a larger gathering) and another friend brought homemade scones, a range of delicious fruit spreads, and there was all sorts of other goodness.

Now, a couple of years ago, I might have made a few plaintive noises about what I wanted. And I might well have gotten some of it (I have nifty friends, after all.) But this year, for a range of reasons, I felt a lot more comfortable being quite specific.

And look! Wonderful things happened.

Why did it work?

Well, I was asking for help with things that the people helping generally like to do. That never hurts.

And while this was something of a production (both my covenmate and I spent most of Saturday cooking and otherwise prepping) it was the kind of production we generally *enjoy* doing a couple of times a year.

And third, it tied into other things. It’s a time to celebrate harvest and plenty and abundance – a gathering of great food and conversation and reflection on what to ponder as we move into the dark half of the year certainly fit very tidily in that. And, having poked our heads out and been sociable, we can now focus back on the coven building for a few months.

It’s not only a good model of friendships (and I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped make this happen – whether it was obvious stuff like cooking, or just showing up). But it’s very much a model of how I want to priestess. I obviously have Opinions and Ideas and Plans – capitals quite intentional. But I also want to be doing things I can do with people I care about, and find the things *they* enjoy and look forward to, and so on.

Getting that mix right yesterday? Very hope-inducing for my coming year and years.

What do you bring?

Recent conversation with a friend applying for training with a particular teacher near her got me thinking about a common question. A number of groups or teachers ask some variant of “What do you bring to this group/trad?”. She found it hard to answer – and in talking about it, I admitted I found it hard to answer too, back when I got asked it. (And yet, it’s on one of our lists of interview questions for prospective members, because it really is an interesting question.)

Part of the problem is a standard interview issue. What do you say that fairly demonstrates the stuff you’re good at without coming across as being arrogant? There are obviously ways around this, and many of the standard job interview approaches also apply to religious groups.

But part of it is more complicated. After all – especially with experiential things, like an oathbound trad – you may not have a lot of specific information to go on. Learning about a group, you may not know all of the things that they particularly need or value.

I’m reminded of a long stint of volunteer work I did for LiveJournal (for the Abuse/Terms of Service team, which handles user concerns and some legal issues), where our manager was very attentive not only to whether people were generally competent – but how they fit into the overall team.

I have a real knack for explaining things about technology to people who are not technology users (but particularly parents and teachers or administrators concerned about student online behavior) in a way that is realistic but compatible with the site’s policies. I’d calm them down, give them meaningful options, and they’d go away.

On the other hand, there’s all sorts of things I didn’t deal with as well. I don’t do aggressive particularly well, and while I can cope with it coming towards me, I’m not always good at squashing a particular kind of trouble-making behavior (people keep trying to see if they can get me to back down.) Plus, there were types of cases I just didn’t much like doing. (Everyone has something like this.)

If the entire team had been made up of people like me, it would have been skewed and one-sided, and there would be gaps. And it’s the job of whoever the gatekeeper is for something like that to be aware of that – and to make some decisions based on it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that if we get a prospective group member who’s just like me, or just like L, that we’re going to turn them down, because we’ve already got one like that. But it does mean that we might probe a little more for what the differences are – what strengths they have that we don’t have, what weaknesses they don’t share – and over time, encourage them into a position that continues to develop the new stuff and fill in the gaps.

Which still doesn’t help you answer the question. But it does mean that I think the ideal answer to it is something about “Here’s what I am that may be of particular interest to you in your setting.”

If I were answering that question today, I think I’d say something like this:

[but maybe shorter]

I’m a self-proclaimed geek. I’m not the earliest adopter of technology, but I’m usually at the end of the first wave, when I’ve had a chance to see how it’s most useful and how it fits my specific needs. And I do use technology – broadly and deeply, depending on what it does and what I want.

More than that, I’m a process geek. I am fascinated by how things work, how they fit together, and how to make connections between them. I am not interested in technology because it is new and shiny, but because it has the chance to make something better. Smoother, kinder, simpler, leaving more time for all the other passions and things I’m interested in. Better.

Information is my profession, my hobby, my toy, and my comfort. I can no more stop reading, stop learning, stop trying to understand, than I can stop breathing. But with that information, I bring a wide-ranging memory, a lot of background, and all sorts of other intellectual resources to whatever questions I come across. I don’t know everything – but I know a little bit about lots of things, and can often get up and running on figuring something out fairly quickly. (As long as you don’t actually require me to do the practical science and math parts, where my theory is a lot better than my actual skills.)

Experience is harder for me – but it’s something I know I must engage with. I know that I have to get my nose out of the book, and out of the library, and away from the screen, and I must go and try things. Over the years, I’ve learned more and more how to do that – and I deeply enjoy the time with wool twisting through my fingers, the feel of bread dough under my hands, the harp strings over skin, or the intricate dance and art of close group ritual.

More than anything, though, I’m a synthesist. I need to know the context of something to make sense of it. Facts and dates in history are meaningless for me without knowing the stories of the people who lived – and the arts they created. I am fascinated by the ways to approach library searches and information gathering – but they’re useless without real people’s questions.

I bring all of these to any group I’m part of. Past experiences have taught me not to overwhelm people (and mostly, how to avoid people feeling bad they don’t know the same things: I certainly don’t expect them to, I just think knowledge is nifty.) I’ll feel my way cautiously along until I get a sense of how much sharing of tangents and other unrelated information makes sense.

But I’ll also sit down some night, look at something that’s been going on, and come up with a new way to look at it. Or a new list of resources and ideas. Or a way to present something better. I can’t tell in advance what these things will be – I just know they’ll happen, and when they do, they often help.