Cotyledon is a egalitarian, income-sharing residential community in Queens, New York, dedicated to environmental and food justice, radical sharing, personal growth and accountability, clear communication, and simple, cooperative living.
The outside of the building we are in.
A view of the living room
Another view of the living room
The Cotyledon members:
And the three of us together
This is Smiling Hogshead Ranch, one project the three of us are involved with.
We are staying in a 4 bedroom apartment in Astoria, but we have a plan to eventually grow and move into a larger home, staying close to Western Queens.
Donald’s View Intentional Community, Eagle Rock, Virginia
“Where we are” geographically is the rural area near Roanoke, Virginia. But, at Donald’s View Intentional Community, thinking before doing is really where we are. To us, location is important in terms of connection to the land. And, as important as this connection is, what is also important is the state of mind we are in: questioning. Questioning everything: reality, “diversity,” our own lives and experiences, the importance of information vs. the importance of intuition in establishing a grounded interspiritual (including secular) community in the mountainous rural South. While this may seem idealistic and impractical, we feel it is more impractical to lack a heartfelt connection to our surrounding community. So that has become one of the important things we are thinking about. After researching many intentional communities, we found that the communities that lasted–as we hope ours will–have a visionary inspiration at their core. So that is another thing we are thinking deeply about as we form.
A third thing we are thinking about is purchasing the land. While we do not currently own it, we do have an option to buy it at a very low price and we have some money that may be set aside for this purpose.
What we want right now are people to think with us. Thinking-with is underrated in our culture. Thinking possibly for a very long time before doing is underrated and often confused with procrastination or inaction. Forming an IC requires practical work but any long-lasting IC requires a well conceived foundation. If we want a long lasting structure of heart, we must start with a foundation of heart.
Our aim is that all our community’s founders enjoy developing our core values with us. These core values are: diversity, consciousness, bridging and communication. In more detail, we express these core values as:
Diversity is a core value in part because of our history: a slave (Michael’s great-great-grandfather) bought the property that was the main impetus for Donald’s View from his “owner” after the Civil War; the land Donald’s View is on was the less-valuable, harder-to-farm “Negro area” where Blacks were allowed to live during Reconstruction. This land was also part of the homeland of the Monacan people before they were chased off of it, due largely to European invasion. The history of the land has a primary place in our thinking about how to build our IC. It is maintained and respected by making diversity a formal component of the community.
Consciousness, in the dominant culture and a good number of intentional communities, is an afterthought, or an assumption that either a shared religion will lead to consciousness, or that values suffice to ensure we increasingly develop conscious awareness. An active effort to grow in consciousness is important to heal the wounds inflicted by the dominant culture. It is not enough to acknowledge that the dominant culture has wounded almost everyone. Instead, we should actively work to heal in part by working with others in a community who are doing the same. Active consciousness work is a necessity for our community to be strong.
Bridging is reaching out, and extending ourselves to different others, on purpose. At Donald’s View, this means reaching out through service to our surrounding geographic community. Humans are communal animals. Attempting to live in a vacuum is a resolution to staying wounded.
Communication is the glue that binds all our other core values together. It is through communication that we will have success in diversity. It is through true communication that we may help each other grow in consciousness. Communication is the building material of social bridges.
We get guidance through structured intuitive sessions with the non-visible but sentient energies associated with our community and its land who have proven themselves helpful many times over. We do a lot of listening to our higher guidance and the spirits of the land and intentions we’ve set. We have a mission statement not only for our community but for the process of creating our community.
These meetings–and thinking itself, as an activity–may look like procrastination or inaction. But they are very different from them. We seldom talk about this quiet level of our activity. But we are “coming out” in this piece, especially to people who get thinking as a kind of doing. Especially thinking that takes its inspiration from the land. Thinking that takes the highest rather than the lowest common denominator as its guide. In the confidence we can not just hear, but converse reliably and actionably with energies perceived outside what is considered normal awareness but prove to be practical.
We realize our process may sound strange, weird, or excessively “woo-woo” to some readers. We don’t expect anyone to believe the things we do. We don’t expect anyone reading this to start listening to non-visible energies. We do want co-founders who will use their rational minds to think with us. For us, integration between the rational and intuitive is possible.
If anyone else is interested in our process, of course we’ll share. And if others have intuitive processes they use that work, we are interested as well. Our purpose in this article is to enrich the discourse around what “counts” as forming and allow others to join in it with us.
Examples of the things we have wondered in our meetings and gained guidance on:
Are we waiting too long to develop Donald’s View? (No).
Should we present at the Communities conference this year? (Yes.)
Can we get Superfund clean-up money to help remediate some rubber dumped on the land? (No.)
What does it mean that we are taking this long? (Others are starting to put in the infrastructure we will want without our ever having anticipated this would happen, for one thing.)
What does the timing mean of learning about about the rubber dumping right after our first Founding Meeting when no one present but us wanted to move onto this land? (One thing it means is integrating the rubber into our building plans. Another is to change our direction enough that we will have an entirely different Founding Meeting when our new direction is clear.)
What does it mean that so many obstacles arise in our path yet nothing ever seems to say, “Stop”? (It means: keep listening, keep taking one small action, take good notes, keep your word to each other, keep your meeting schedule, keep listening. It means trust yourselves and trust your guidance. Don’t let the world reframe what you are doing as procrastination or inaction. It means trust that every single thing that arises in this “lab” is important, and useful, and meant to be used in developing according to your intention.)
One of our favorite insights about Donald’s View came not from the non-visible but from our very visible human sister, Courtney Dowe, who has this post and this one too in the Commune Life Blog: the shape of the land we hope to build on looks like the human development process itself: flat, perhaps, and not very interesting, then rough as you climb, and then the most stellar views at the top. As the saying goes, the best views come after the hardest climb.
If you are interested in learning more about Donald’s View or in thinking more about it with us, here is our community description in the Fellowship for Intentional Community Directory, and you can contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org or (304) 410-2612.
A few days ago several people sent me this article about co-living in New York City. Co-living came to national attention a year and a half ago when co-living groups in the San Francisco bay area, like the Embassy and Campus networks and Open Door Development, got a flurry of press attention (here, there, and elsewhere).
I spent some time trying to reach out to the folks mentioned in the story and am still unclear about whether the stories described a genuinely new thing (communal living updated for the networked age) or simply an old thing (group houses) with good branding and fancy websites made by people whose success in life depends on their ability to cast what they’re doing as innovative and disruptive. The label encompassed diverse assortment of houses, networks, and projects that sometimes shared little in common aside from a demographic and not all of whom were aware that they were being labeled as “co-living” spaces.
It was an interesting development of ambiguous meaning that I’ve continued to keep an eye on and occasionally try to research further. At best they could harbor some innovative ideas on how to adapt collective cooperative living to the modern networked age, its technology, its economy, and its culture. At worst, it was group houses for the techie crowd and its aspiring capitalists. Harmless enough.
The recent story in the New York Times highlights a different model, though, and raises different worries.
The article describes several attempts, mostly in New York, to commodify the group living experience, in one case by a single landlord but in others by corporations. The whole thing strikes me as a quixotic recuperative attempt by capitalism.
Much has been written about the ways that capitalism and consumerism, sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally, leads to isolation, alienation, the destruction of community, and the impoverishment of meaning. Because of this we have been, for some time but especially recently, in the midst of a realization of the value of what has been lost and a mass attempt to recapture it. The longing for community, authenticity, and meaning has spawned, in whole or in part, the back to the land movement, the local food movement, intentional communities of all stripes, foodies generally, the tiny house movement. Sometimes this quest for meaning and connection has led to radical departures from and alternatives to capitalism. Sometimes it has led down a path of quick recuperation with capital once again creating spectacles and commodities that promise community, connection, and meaning.
The problem, of course, is that capitalism is structurally incapable of fulfilling these very human needs. Community is the result of a web of relationships and arises where people have some common context or experience choose to enter into relationship with each other as equals. Hierarchies and inequalities make free and authentic relating nearly impossible. It is a deeply and essentially democratic process and simply cannot be enforced from above or outside and thus cannot be packaged and sold. Meaning, similarly, is something that can only be generated by a person through experiences that are important to them. Objects themselves have no inherent meaning or authenticity. Those qualities are imparted by the relationships that they take part in. You can no more buy meaning than you can buy love.
The New York City Co-Living projects profiled in the article are trying to take something essentially internal and induce it from outside. They promise that through them you can buy satisfying friendships and meaningful experiences. But they can only awkwardly ape the results that cooperative communities achieve spontaneously. Their communities are doomed to be hollow simulacra with all the appearance of a cooperative community of peers but none of the guts that actually make it work. Should a genuine community arise it will be a happy accident and would exist in an awkward tension with the profit driven owners who were not responsible for it but will try always to charge for it (a commonplace strategy of the networked age).
Although in a way I am happy for him, the story of the chef who moved into a Pure House property and describes how satisfying it is that people ask him how his day was when he gets home makes me sad. He has to pay $2400 or more per month to get friends to live with. And even those friends, so dearly bought, do not stay.
The whole idea presented in this article reminds me of a management handbook I once read. It began by explaining how study after study and anecdote after anecdote showed that morale was better, productivity was higher, absenteeism was rarer, and creativity and effort flowed in abundance when workers on a project felt like equal partners, felt like they had real agency and freedom, basically when they felt empowered. It then went on to suggest ways to trick your employees into thinking they were equal empowered partners without actually changing any of the fundamental power dynamics in the corporation.
The idea of a cooperative community of equals is an incomprehensible absurdity to capitalism because it exists outside of the profit-seeking and individualist paradigm. There is no way to understand it within those paradigms. To attempt to privatize, systematize, and commodify such a thing is to destroy it.
These are the early days at Cotyledon, the income sharing community we are forming in NYC. We are not even two months old. There were four of us but one person decided to live somewhere else, so now we will be three. This is not a good direction to go in.
I helped build a commune in Cambridge, MA, in the nineties, that got up to six adults and two kids at one point. It was after we dropped down to four adults that we fell apart. A four person community is very vulnerable. We lost two more folks and we were gone. I’ve heard of at least one other community that fell apart for similar reasons.
As the manager of Commune Life, I’m hearing of a bunch of new communities–most at this point consist of three or four folks. Many have a couple at their center. I’ve written about how some communities with a couple at their center fail to work out. I’ve noticed that some of these communities have different dynamics, some of which still may turn out to be problematic.
I’m, also acutely aware of the new communes that don’t work out, or are transitioning out of income sharing. It’s hard to build these communities to last and, I think, growing them beyond a small number of people is an important part of the process.
I talked with someone at Acorn about how they survived. They were down to six people at one point early in their history and down to two people at another. I asked how they managed to get past that. I was told there were two reasons for their survival. One was Ira Wallace, a strong person, and the other was Twin Oaks, a strong community nearby.
And how did Twin Oaks survive? In her book, A Walden Two Experiment, Kat Kinkade wrote that in 1969 Twin Oaks was down to ten members and dropping. They decided to get rid of the entrance-fee. It meant that anyone could come and people started coming.
I find Kat Kinkade amazing. She was part of starting three communes (Twin Oaks, Acorn, and East Wind) and all three are still going strong. Folks have told me that her philosophy was to build up communities fast and I figure that she knew something.
I don’t have an answer to this but I’m well aware that staying small is a barrier. I’ve talked with GPaul at Compersia about this and they are working on growing. They are up to six folks now.
I believe that having some openness and flexibility while remaining true to your basic principles is part of what is needed. It’s a balancing act but I think it’s what you need to do to get beyond being two, three, or four.
As a community it is an outgrowth of and sister to the Twin Oaks community (which I will visit in November) and they compare themselves to Twin Oaks a lot. Some differences which were pointed out to me in my orientation here are that Acorn operates by consensus (whereas Twin Oaks has a complicated Planner/Manager system) and Acorn members don’t need to fill out labor sheets–although visitors like me do. Both Twin Oaks and Acorn require members and visitors to work 42 hours a week.
Here at Acorn work can be farm work in the gardens or with the animals (I’ve been doing some weeding), office work (I’ve spent a lot of time packing seeds for SESE), or house work (I’ve been doing some clean up after the meals and did the dishes once–which is a lot of dishes when it covers breakfast and lunch for around forty people).
As a farm, it has extensive plantings–plus chickens, rabbits, and goats. However, most of the plantings are in support of the seed business–food is usually grown for the seeds rather than as food. Someone said that what was left after the plant reached the seed stage and had the seeds taken out was not thrilling food. They buy most of their food from local farmers (and occasionally dumpster dive some).
The seed business is what keeps Acorn going–it’s the community’s work and they’re very serious about it. Most of their seed is organic, as well as adapted to the area, and much of it is heirloom varieties. They see this as righteous work, something they believe it, and it also makes quite a bit of money for the community. They feel lucky to have something that can support them well that they also feel so good about.
Acorn is a spinoff from the Twin Oaks community (see my post on Communities of Communities, 6/9/12, for details) and has been around for nineteen years now. At the moment they are so full that all the visitors are staying in tents in the woods on their property. They tell folks that even if they are accepted for membership it may be at least six months before there could be an opening that allow moving in. The place is full, the waiting list is long, and the people here work hard. This is a community that’s working.
Quote of the Day: ” Our community encourages personal responsibility, supports queer and alternative lifestyles, and strives to create a stimulating social, political, feminist and intellectual environment….
“Remember, this stuff is hard! Living and working together, having fun and running a business, making decisions together and sharing income, are all challenging every day.” – from the Acorn Website