I promised I’d write a bit about cohousing. Have you heard of it? I think of cohousing like the grown-up version of the hippie communes of my youth. While I was never in a commune per se, my brother’s house was an approximation thereof with the various people who lived there, sort of lived there, hung out there or just partied there. What I liked about it was that you could count on people being around and on companionship with (mostly) like-minded souls.
What I didn’t like was the chaos. Basic supplies were never around – you’d bring a whole box of tampons and a day later there weren’t any (house had lots of women…). The fridge was full of beer, but food? not so much, unless you count condiments, and those were likely to be either weird or old. It was fun to hang out and party there, but it wasn’t a concept around which one could build a life worth living – even in my wild and feckless youth.
I started hearing about “intentional communities” and that sounded way more promising. The first such place I heard about – WAY back in the early 70s still exists – “The Farm” in Summerton, Tennessee (see http://www.thefarm.org/). That sounded a bit out there to me, but I liked the overall idea.
Fast forward a few decades and then in the early 1990s I got together with a partner who shared my thoughts that living in some more communal way would really fit our needs – both then (when we were still in our forties) and as we sailed towards older age. so Sue and I trekked to the northern tip of Scotland to the very archetypal Findhorn Foundation (see http://www.findhorn.org ). Founded a few decades before we got there by 3 middle-aged seemingly ‘normal’ folks, it is a community centered on meditation and group consensus – arriving at decisions from the simplest to the largest through shared meditation time. This was VERY me. So Sue & I went for a week and I really fell in love with Findhorn. It’s very international – while most of the residents ARE European they’re from all over Europe and there were plenty of Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, Americans and smattering of folks from Asia, Africa and South America. I like that it’s formed on a spiritual basis. They have a huge emphasis on nature, creativity and play – all very me!
But despite my Scottish roots and my deep love for the entire “British Isles” and all of Europe – well, it was a long way from my beloved family and Sweet Home Chicago, so, while I’ve toyed with the idea of going back, it hasn’t really felt realistic.
Sue and I explored more intentional communities in the States – Twin Oaks (along with The Farm, I think Twin Oaks has to be one of the older existing intentional communities in the US) – http://www.twinoaks.org/, a small community in Vermont, another community in southern Virginia (Twin Oaks is in Virginia as well). They were all interesting, but most felt too iconoclastic for me (I know this must seem surprising to people who a) know me; and b) know what the word iconoclastic means – !).
A few years later Sue and I started hearing about cohousing. Cohousing is not communes. It’s not intentional communities. I think of cohousing as “enlightened subdivisions” or “friend-filled apartment buildings.”
While some cohousing communities, like almost all intentional communities, are centered around an ideal or a philosophy (say, vegetarianism, sustainability, social justice) many are not. Some are formed by groups of people who know one another – or a core group of friends and some get created with a group of former strangers.
and while some of the intentional communities we visited made George’s hippie house seem modern and well-furbished, cohousing spaces I’ve investigated tend to be brand new, and not only designed for practicality and sustainability – but also for beauty.
That’s important to me.
I want to live cooperatively with others nearby – but in my own space (I’m so done with running out of things and other people’s noise and chaos – my twenties cured me of that!). I want to be able to share things: tools, cooking, help with chores, fun, children, depth, watermelon – you know – LIFE.
The idea of living lightly on the earth seems more do-able if you can share things with others. I know I’ve been longing to belong to a CSA farm again (Community Supported Agriculture – I’ll write on that another time, meanwhile study up here: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ ) but in a household of one, it’s just not practical.
I have incredible neighbors and friends and we DO share things, but I’d like to have that be even more of my life. Hey – I got a great loaf of bread today – it will only taste this fantastic for a while, here’s half. Hey – I never knew I might need pinking shears, but now I do – do you have any? That type of thing.
One of the most appealing things to me, the extrovert, is having a ready source of people at hand. But the introverts I know who live in cohousing like it as much (maybe more) than I do – they have their own space, but don’t have to be too brave about seeking out people when that’s what fills the bill.
I also like the idea of intergenerational living. I love people from infants to elders and I’d like to be around all of the above. And while I say I’m a “kitty mom” I’m a “dog aunt” and having different animal companions around would be great too.
I have to say – back in the day, they called this family life – intergenerational families banded together and it was good. My favorite movie, Antonia’s Line (see http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19960214/REVIEWS/602140301/1023) covered just such a happy gathering of souls – there’s a picnic scene that just made my heart leap – reminded me of being at my grandparents farm – bustling, food, kids, dogs – LIFE!
As my generation ages, the idea of cohousing has a lot of appeal to people I know.
I have a lot more to say about this, but this is a good start. You’re probably tired of reading. I have to go meet my friend Candace for our Friday night hanging out. Check out http://www.cohousing.org/.
Then tell me:
– Does this have any appeal to you? (why? why not?)
– what seems weird or creepy or “don’t like” about it?
– What interests you?
If you were to be in a cohousing community what (if anything) would the common element be?
I”m sure I’ll write more on this topic – unless you guys have no interest. I’ll know by your comments….