I first moved to Jackson, Miss., when I joined the Jackson Free Press in January 2019. Excited as I may have been to find an editorial job in my home state so soon after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, and as much as my new coworkers welcomed me with warm smiles, I felt alone.
At USM, I spent at least some time with friends every day. In Jackson, I effectively knew no one besides the friend completing an internship with Nissan who let me crash on an air mattress in his one-bedroom Ridgeland apartment while I sorted out a more permanent housing solution. Even though he and I had been friends since we were children in the early 2000s, adjusting to post-college living left us too drained during the evenings to do much besides casually decompress.
Sure, I may be an introvert, for the most part, but I still enjoy spending meaningful time with people, socially. And I was roughly two hours away from either my college friends in Hattiesburg or the people I grew up alongside in the area between Laurel and Waynesboro. So I primarily bolstered my social health by driving home every weekend to see my family, friends and girlfriend.
Once I found a roommate, I still mostly traveled to and from work almost exclusively. Yes, that’s on me. I used to struggle with driving anxiety, even back then, so new areas with busy roads freaked me out a little. The Jackson metro felt enormous and complicated.
By the time I felt comfortable getting around, COVID happened. The world went into lockdown.
The Free Press team began working from home (a few of them on the new Mississippi Free Press), and I saw even fewer people than I did previously. Luckily, I lived with my fiancée then, and though we rarely left our home, they kept me socially engaged enough to stay sane.
As much as I loved my fiancée, though, I determined that interacting with additional people on a more regular basis would be a boon to my health and happiness. We started making plans with different friends who had likewise moved to the Jackson area, and I felt an improvement. Conflicting schedules, however, meant I still sometimes went months between gatherings.
I needed to branch out, deepen the friendships I had started to foster with people I met in Jackson.
Hobbies mean a lot to me. I spend much of my free time reading comic books, playing retro video games and testing out new board games. You all knew I had a nerdy streak, right?
Guess what? Whatever your interests, other Mississippians are fans of those activities, too! Moreover, thanks in part to online forums and social-media groups, hobbyists of all kinds have formed communities in the Magnolia State.
Van’s Comics, Cards & Games’ employees are more than willing to discuss the latest exploits of your favorite superheroes. The Warp Zone Arcade invites gamers to gather and play titles old and new. Dogmud Tavern offers more than 60 board and card games, including ones that its sister company Certifiable Studios designs and produces, for enthusiasts to test at their tables between drinks and snacks.
And those are just three that I found for my hobbies, specifically, in the Jackson metro area.
“Your people,” the ones who love the things you love, are out there. They want to talk about the things you want to talk about. They want to be friends. My neighbor invited me to a regular game night, and through him I’ve recently met even more wonderful people who have welcomed me in their circle. I let shyness hold me back, but some friendly people will boldly extend their hands anyway. We have to be equally bold and accept their gestures, find and build our own personal communities. Then we don’t have to feel as lonely anymore.
I understand that I have the privilege of living in a metropolitan area with businesses that support niche communities, but I believe that Mississippians across the state equally long to develop relationships with people who share their interests.
Shedding a light on the hobbyist communities across the state, in areas both urban and rural, has become one of my journalistic goals as an editor. From gardening to competitive sports and beyond, I am researching hobbies and groups in Mississippi so that our readership can stumble upon articles that help them broaden their social circles alongside others who share their interests.
To that end, your support of the Mississippi Free Press allows us to hire writers in different regions of our state so that we can discover the communities that bring like-minded people together. I’m still learning to boldly build friendships, but I want the MFP to be a resource for fellow Mississippians to also find “their people,” as well as events across Mississippi to get you out of the house more again. Watch for our new statewide events calendar launching this summer.
Plus: If you know of any hobbyist communities around the state that would love to welcome additional Mississippians among their number, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would appreciate the story tips!
Deputy Editor, News and Features