Introducing Cotyledon

by Raven

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.

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The outside of the building we are in.

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A view of the living room

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Another view of the living room

The Cotyledon members:

dna plus snake

DNA

Gil and tracks

Gil

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Raven

cotyledon crew

And the three of us together

SHHR View

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.

We are also currently looking for a new member of our commune.

 

 

Introducing Cotyledon

WE ARE NOT SELLING A PRODUCT

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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 (herethere, 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.

co_living-cartoon-300x169The 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.

income sharing venn diagramThe 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.

They are doomed.

WE ARE NOT SELLING A PRODUCT

Getting Beyond Two, Three, or Four Folks

  by Raven

 

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.

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The building Cotyledon is 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.

in , , on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.  Sarah Rice
Acorn, now

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.

 

Getting Beyond Two, Three, or Four Folks

The Acorn Community

from MoonRaven’s Social Alchemy Blog, September 14, 2012

(Note, this is from my first visit to Acorn, five years ago.)

Acorn is at least three different things: an egalitarian community, a farm, and a business (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange).

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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).

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Acorn family portrait

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.

 

in , , on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.  Sarah Rice
Another Acorn group shot

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

 

The Acorn Community

Signs at Cambia

 

Cambia is a community with a good deal of signage.

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The sign says “Welcome to Cambia”.  It’s in front of the commune.

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Even the main house has a sign.

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The compost is in the tree trunk looking thing.

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The outhouse is a humanure toilet.

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This is the entrance to the forest demonstration site.

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A site using tiny toys to show how big a carbon footprint each of us has.

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Weighing your carbon positives and negatives.IMG_0068

A doll house that is timber framed, where you can add strawbale, cob, etc.  A chance to try out sustainability strategies on a very small scale.

 

Signs at Cambia

Io Saturnalia!

By Telos of Compersia

    December is a month with a litany of holidays. Some celebrate Hanukkah, others Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, another holiday, or no holiday at all. Personally, I’m partial to Winter Solstice as a marker of the soon-to-return sunshine, and we had quite the Christmas feast here at Compersia, but on December 17th we also celebrated Saturnalia, as one of our members, Jenny, has done with her kids for several years.

    Saturnalia is an ancient Roman festival in celebration of Saturn, the agricultural god of generation, dissolution, wealth, renewal, and liberation. The festival would start at the Temple of Saturn, with a pig sacrificed in Saturn’s honor, and the undoing of the woolen bonds normally tied around the feet of Saturn’s statue, signaling his liberation. Saturnalia would last through December 23rd, featuring public banquets, the exchange of candles and terracotta figurines as gifts, and (most importantly) an upheaval of social conventions.

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    Romans would ditch their togas in favor of colorful dinner clothing that was normally considered in poor taste for daytime wear. Masters and slaves alike would wear the the mark of a freed slave, a conical felt cap called a pileus. Slaves said and did what they wanted, including openly disrespecting their own masters without threat of punishment. Gambling, normally frowned upon, would happen openly, and even slaves would take part.

    Even more so than a relaxation of social conventions, Saturnalia was their reversal. Drunkenness was the rule, rather than the exception. Slaves would have a grand banquet at their master’s table, sometimes waited on by the masters themselves. Each household would choose a mock king from their lowest ranks, the Saturnalicius princeps, also called the “lord of misrule.” This lowly king would insult guests, give absurd orders (such as to dance naked- always fun), and cause other mischief.

    At Compersia, the children were our Saturnalicius princeps. For one day, they were given the chance to rule, to decide what was important (or fun) to do, and to have adults making them cookies all day (we ate some too), all without pressure to clean up their mess. The catch is that for big decisions, the children had to use consensus, since that’s what the adults of Compersia have assented to. In the spirit of true role reversal, some of the adults whined about the children’s rule. “But why do we have to make paper snowflakes right now?” “I don’t want macaroni and cheese for dinner!”

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    Ultimately, Saturnalia was joyous, whimsical, and did not result in our house getting burnt down. The costumes were on point, our tree ended up beautifully decorated, and the cookies were abundant. It turns out that the kids here are reasonably responsible and know how to have a good time!

    Beyond the fun of celebrating Saturnalia in our own home, I think it’s a holiday that can hold wider inspiration for those who dream of social change. What if we aspired to bring the social upheaval of Saturnalia to the wider world, in an ongoing way? Elevating the oppressed and putting power into the service of the masses have always been worthy goals, far too noble to be confined to one day. If we’re to take any lessons from Saturnalia, perhaps this social upheaval starts in our own communities, when we successfully share power with the least powerful among us. Io Saturnalia!

Io Saturnalia!