My next guest blogger is Virginia K. Interesting story on this one. We met in the Barnes and Noble Forum and I quickly surmised
to be an astute and talented writer. It wasn’t until we’d gotten to know each other better and had even beta read for each other that I learned she was barely into her teens. To say I felt surprised is putting it mildly. Age doesn’t define friendships, I’ve found, as long as two people have something in common. Virginia continues to surprise and delight me with her insight, wisdom, and talents. In her own words: “Raised in a rambling old Victorian House, I am a blues guitarist, djembe drummer and writer of the odd fantasy/horror/surrealist fiction, in no particular order. Someday I hope to find a way to combine all these things... a Gaimanesque blues-rock band, hailing from the Virginia Midwest?”
Having been educated at home for the past ten years, I have found friends only beyond what others may call the comfort zone. I met all but a few of my friends at a local bookstore that opened the first year of my homeschooling journey, when I was hardly tall enough to see them over the counter. All were at least twelve years my senior, but still we conversed on books, films, comic books and music as the years progressed. One of them still sits in a place of honor on our refrigerator, beside me in a photograph of the last Harry Potter book release party.
My grandmother asked once why I had no friends, and I was shocked at the question, pointing toward the bookstore across the mall's food court. She could hardly believe that I socialized happily with adults at my age, seemingly untouched by society's proscriptions and norms that would declare me shy.
What, then, is a comfort zone? A social construct of peers, but what qualities mark who may or may not enter this zone?
As a little girl, I always sought common ground by reading materials. Prose fiction in particular creates a universe in which minds may meet, sharing memories that neither have lived beyond the pages of a book, even when separated by an age, gender or socioeconomic barrier. One of my dearest friends (again from the bookstore) is a father of three, and at the age of nine I enthusiastically discussed theories on the latest Harry Potter installment. I mused with comparisons of fairy tale and myth, while he brought a lifelong love of comic books and mysteries to the table, and my mom stood nearby with a pun or one-liner. I first met the closest person I have to a sister when she recommended A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, based on my love of Victorian Gothic novels.
When I conversed with people closer to my own age, even for such a brief time as between sections of an annual test, I did struggle a bit more. Not for want of trying or politeness, but out of a lack of common ground. Unsurprisingly, it has been difficult to find teenagers who know every nook and cranny of the vintage X-Men universe, or play Delta blues on the guitar.
This has become more evident as I've begun to search for bandmates; the youngest blues guitarist I've found at this point is three years older than I, and apparently not as interested in forming a band. More painful yet was my discovery last month that my city's only bookstore will be closed by the end of the year -- among so many other regrets, it will be one less place for me to meet new friends.
My struggle in finding friends near my age has led me to wonder if reaching out to new people somehow entails more than common interests. Telepathy? A love spell? Or perhaps my qualifications for new friends are my comfort zone, a box through which I see the world.
The comfort zone, then, is more than a set of social norms. It is also an internal wall, a filter guarding against both the known and the unknown. It is what society dictates as impossible and improper, and it is only made stronger by one's own expectations for the world outside.
An unwittingly wise man told me recently that I should let no one put me in a box. What of the box I've built for myself?
-- Virginia K