Finding Your Tribe

I helped make a magazine. It’s one of those small, local magazines that you see sitting in piles at a cafe or placed on lending library shelves. We’ve got a team numbering in the single digits. I’m here to sell it to you, but I don’t really feel like playing the salesman.

Here’s the deal: I love this magazine. I could talk about it in a distant, technical way to try and lure you in without seeming too much like a hard sell, or I could give you a bunch of brief, honest, loving little overviews of each piece to display all of our hard work. However, I’m not going to do either of those things. I’m going to tell you the story of how it came to be, and why it’s special.

It starts before my including, back in the Halcyon days of 2014. If you’ve heard of National Novel Writing Month, the next part will be pretty familiar. It’s a yearly writing challenge where participants meet up, make friends, and try to bang out 50,000 words of a novel in one month. I’ve written about my participation before.

The Lowell-Merrimack Valley region was pretty active in those days, and still is. I was nervous when I joined. I’d lived in Alabama most of my life, and driving thirty minutes to meet strangers in an unfamiliar Massachusetts city wasn’t exactly frightening, but it was intimidating.

I arrived to find a dense neighborhood dominated by towering old textile mills. The GPS didn’t know where to take me. I remember standing outside the parking deck, overwhelmed by traffic that I can now navigate easily, and wondering what the hell to do. It was cold and dark, and I was just an Alabama bumpkin who didn’t know what to do. Should I just go home?

Only by investigating the neighborhood did I find signs directing me through an iron gate and into the interior of one of those mills. An elevator invited me to the fourth floor. There, I found a bazaar-style indoor shopping center, including a homey coffee shop filled with NaNo writers. It was like a little pocket universe, squirreled away from the dreary city streets outside. And inside,  I’d found them. I joined them quietly, and it was good.

What I didn’t know was that the region’s organizers had started musing about self-publishing a magazine to showcase the work of our regional NaNo participants. They named it the Mill Pages, in honor of Lowell’s dominant historical feature and the clandestine venue that hosted them. When I arrived for my first meeting, they were already hard at work.

I came back the next year. I got the same little high that I felt at concerts and conventions – knowing that I had something in common with everyone in that room. In 2015, I was still lonely and largely friendless in New England. I regretted not talking to people more at the 2014 events. I’d missed a chance to make friends. I felt like I’d reverted to my shy and awkward childhood. I spent much of my adulthood cultivating a talkative and extroverted personality, but the move opened up my old insecurities, and I simply couldn’t do it. I arrived alone, worked on my project alone, and left alone. But when the others would chat about writing or make jokes, I would smile.

In 2015, I was more myself. I talked to the organizers, all of whom I recognized from the previous years, and who are now my friends. They invited me to their monthly writing meetings, and to work on the magazine.

When I was young, my mother talked to me about ‘finding your tribe’. She’s a pagan spiritualist, quite the rarity in Alabama, and partially responsible for saving me from the enduring Hell of evangelical Christianity. She understood that I was an isolated child, and she told me that it would be okay. One day, I would find my tribe. People like me, who loved me as I was. I’d find people I could connect with.

I did find those people over the years. I had wonderful friends with whom I shared deep connections, but they were all in Alabama, or adrift in the endless internet. They weren’t beside me, and how I longed for that to change.

Sometime during 2016, while we worked diligently on volume 2 of the Mill Pages, I realized that I’d found my tribe. They spoke to me casually. They invited me to their non-writing activities. Most importantly, I’d come to care for them, and desire their attachment in return.  These people weren’t just acquaintances or people that I enjoyed a monthly 2 hour meetup with. They’d become my friends, and I cared deeply for them.

They became some of my first friends in New England, and the first in a long time.

That’s why I love the Mill Pages. It’s a small production, with only a handful of us working on it. We spend hours in cramped brick coffee houses and crisp apartment building common rooms, listening to the city hum past outside while we hammer out our magazine. It’s a feat of hard work, the result of endless learning and experimentation, and a labor of love.

The Mill Pages has changed in these few years, too. Volume 3 is our first to distance itself from NaNoWriMo, focusing less on including pieces from the challenge and focusing more on celebrating local writers. We think of ourselves as a small studio of writers, all trying to help each other grow. We raised our standards and tightened up our production. We’ve started interacting with our followers online. We’re still small, but we’re working hard to grow.  I’m sure volume 4 will be even better.

So, that’s my story. I won’t tell you that the Mill Pages is perfect, but I will say that it’s special. Our incredible team, who are also my incredible friends, have put their souls into this work. Thank you to my friends for your hard work in this endeavor, and for being my tribe. Thank you to our readers and followers for your love and support. Seeing my name on the inner cover is an honor that I don’t deserve, and I dearly hope you will consider checking it out.

Volumes 1 is on sale here.

Volume 2 can be found here.

Volume 3 will be on sale Sept. 30.  You can check out the Mill Pages blog here. Thank you for your patronage.

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