It’s the first question and it’s the wrong one:
“A commune? Where is it?”
Sure, it’s relevant. It tells a person various things about your life. But it also reflects a basic error on the part of the asker. The commune is not a place any more than a marriage is a place. Sure, most people live somewhere and most people in a tight cooperative relationship like a commune or a marriage prefer to live together but it misses an important point. If you want to understand my life and the role the commune plays in it you’ll want to know about the people, my relationships with them, and our shared life and purpose. You’ll want to know what brings us together and why we stay together not where exactly it is that we have come together in space.
I didn’t actually think very hard about this question until I moved to the city, though, and I think that that very fact is telling. The rural communes are in many cases land-based projects. A significant shared purpose for the members of many rural communes coming together is the cultivation of the land. They are coming together to make a commune that people can come and live on. The experience of being physically on the commune’s property is notable: the space has been transformed. Compersia, the urban commune I now live at, does not own property and probably won’t for years to come. Las Indias, an urban commune of the Spanish speaking world, has moved to an entirely new city sometimes on an entirely different continent every several years for their whole existence. For us at Compersia we think of ourselves as cultivating a home within a space but we know this space is not ours forever. We intend to grow and we know that we won’t always fit in the house we all live in now (and previously have not all fit in one house). But we know that we are one commune. We are people living in a commune.
And that’s when I noticed that small but meaningful semantic detail. At the rural communes it makes sense to talk about living on a commune. In the city it makes sense to talk about living in a commune.
Often times, at our open house dinners or other events at our very full and lively house I’ll mention that we’re recruiting.
“You’re recruiting? Aren’t you full though?”
To which I always answer,
“The city is full of houses.”