By Courtney Dowe
( An excerpt from the forthcoming novel “ OVERTHROW YOURSELF”)
When I decided to leave Washington DC to check out an intentional community in Puerto Rico, it wasn’t because I knew that it would “work out”. The idea that something has to last forever in order to “work out” has never really made much sense to me. By that rationale, any human being that has come to the end of their life should be considered a failure. If I live to be 90 years old, and someone standing next to my death bed says “ I guess it just didn’t work out.” I hope I still have enough strength left to flip them the bird.
Anyway, I went to Puerto Rico because I knew that I was not prepared to sacrifice all of my dreams, for the sake of motherhood. I knew that I had to at least try to build a life that I could love. I knew that I needed to see what was possible, and most importantly, I knew that I couldn’t live in fear just because I had a child. If anything, I needed to be more willing to take a leap. For the first time, there was more than just my own happiness at stake. There was a new life that was counting on me to take a huge running leap toward personal liberation and to land as far as I could.
I had been talking with a land-based community on the island for some time before I decided to actually go there. I sent them an email about a year before I heard anything back. Once we did connect, I had regular phone conversations with the man who started the project for about 6 months before I finally decided to get on a plane with my child and fly into the unknown. We were headed for the rainforest. The only rainforest in the U.S. National Park system to be exact.
When I remember the rainforest, I think of the sounds. A vast biological jam-session that never stops. I remember frog-like creatures hanging out in the ice-maker and tiny lizards crawling across the living room floor. One night a baby scorpion even decided to stop by. Gratefully, we found it before it found us.
The community was basically just a small family. Two parents and their child. They were very kind but they were under a lot of financial strain and I think that heavily impacted the way they engaged with us. We stayed with them for about 2 weeks and then I realized that we were not going to be able to get past the stress of survival enough to be honest with each other, enough to be able to work together, enough to see ourselves as being on the same side and in the same fight. Without getting too much into the details, I decided to leave.
Soon thereafter, a friend of mine living in community in the DC area reached out to me unexpectedly. I tried to join the community where he lived a couple of years before, it didn’t work out but we remained friends. He told me that there was a new income sharing community that was forming in Washington DC. I reached out to them immediately, but I had to let them know that I was not in a position to fully engage right away. I was trying to get my bearings and I wasn’t going to be able to focus on getting to know them from a distance until I figured out some basics for my everyday life. They understood and so when I finally did settle into my own place, I decided to reach out to them again. We started talking on a regular basis. They had Tuesday night meetings and I would often attend via satellite through some kind of chat program. The meetings were unexpectedly encouraging. The people in the group were interesting,and they not only tolerated my direct style of communication, they actually seemed to like it. I figured I should continue to give it a shot.
I will ruin the suspense for you here because wondering whether or not I would become a member of the DC commune was intensely emotional for me. Everyone was supportive and kind for the most part, it just took me back to my days as a child in foster care, when I wondered whether or not I would ever find a family and a sense of belonging. As I write this I’m laying here in my bedroom, in the house in Washington DC that I share with five adults and four children. My son and I are full members of Compersia Community.
Every day’s an adventure, even without leaving the house. I believe that we are all mirrors for each other, not just in the commune, but with people in general. As we reflect and as we are reflected, we sometimes see more of ourselves than we expect or want to see. Anyone who’s ever seen themselves, first thing in the morning understands that a mirror is not always your friend, but it can always tell you something.
The love between members of any community is hard to describe. There are days when I stand back and marvel at the miracle of human connection. But, to clarify, and to make sure that I’m not misrepresenting reality, for anyone who has ever thought about joining an intentional community, on a lot of levels it sucks. There are a ton of things that are really hard about living with even one other adult, let alone 5 adults and 4 children. Every single day I have to push through something in order to be in harmony with the larger environment. I have to grow. I have to stretch a little more beyond myself, in order to rise to the occasion at hand. That said, there is still something deliciously ordinary about having dinner around the table, putting out the plates and forks, and listening to the sound of someone practicing an instrument while the kids run around doing whatever it is that kids do. Someone is coming home from work and someone is just leaving. Someone is feeling deeply connected and someone else is feeling terribly alone, and all of it, every single sweet sacred part of it, is love.
Courtney Dowe is a member of Compersia Community in Washington, DC.
By Caroline Midden
Greetings, Communards! It’s Caroline from The Midden in Columbus, OH, on a visitor period to Compersia in DC. I’ve been here 11 days, and have been participating in the labor system, exploring the city on foot and by car, wrangling children, and connecting with various other visitors– Sitali, Telos, Mary, and Beaux. Telos arrived a couple days ago, and he and I have been job searching, updating resumes, cooking, and just connecting in general. Yay!
When I first arrived, the house was nearly empty. Peaches, Courtney (and Telos) all went up to the HONK! Festival in Boston along with some other communards, Maximus Cambia and Paxus Twin Oaks. The children were staying elsewhere. Kathryn and her visiting mother Mary took a trip to Dolly Sods for a weekend adventure. GPaul was on a month-long trip to the west coast. I found myself nearly alone after having survived a particularly challenging yoga class, when Jenny emerged in the backyard in a snazzy dress and makeup. She had a date later in the evening, and so we decided to go out to dinner beforehand to talk about membership. I donned a dress and some glitter and we walked to Thip Khao, a Laotian restaurant. The verdict: DELICIOUS. En route we encountered these fantastical huge mushrooms.
While it was just me and Jenny in the house we got to have a couple really good conversations about patriarchy, alpha men and white male privilege in the communities movement, and the damaging and lasting effects that this stuff can have on women. Even when we try to dismantle these systems in an intentional way, we’re so indoctrinated by society that it’s easy to reproduce this shit in our communities without even realizing. Patriarchy isn’t a just a women’s problem, or just a men’s problem. It’s a multilayered system full of subtleties.
Top takeaways: as a woman you’ll often find yourself on the losing end of any proposition. You may not even realize there was a power dynamic until it’s too late. You may end up with more work to do, or you have have surrendered your self-determination into the hands of a man (who may or may not even want to be The Decider!) Don’t beat yourself up about it when you do finally realize. Take notice of how it went down, and look for early warning signs next time. Because there will always be a next time. Refine your ability to notice the nuance, inquire within about your own internalized patriarchy, and choose your actions carefully. There’s no one right way to subvert the patriarchy. Outright refusal to be complicit, gentle on-on-one conversations, banding together to build power together, dancing about it, smashing about it… Creativity counts.
But enough about patriarchy. How about cats?! There are 3 hammocks hanging in the back yard. (Twin Oaks hammocks, obviously.) One night I went out to hang and this lil fluffer joined me for some cuddles. I’m allergic, but really couldn’t resist. A nice moment of decompression after some deep emotional work.
Compersians often appear to be in to costumes from my perspective from under a cape, but I’m told that in fact, there’s a desire to increase costume time. Courtney has been rocking the Wookie costume for a couple days now. I’ve suggested they start an adult costume closet, so they can combine forces and always have ridiculous things to wear. Like Commie Clothes, but Commie Costumes.
Courtney and I had a couple substantial conversations during my time here, one in particular stood out, and included Telos and Kathryn. The conversation was about a phrase we have all heard said by a number of community members, “We want to be an ambitious commune.” At first blush, this struck a number of us oddly. Like, is this Ableism in action? Or is it some domineering work ethic, similar to the one white people imposed on black people in this country for centuries? Why would it be a good thing to be ambitious? Wasn’t Hitler ambitious? So we dug in a little more and expanded and modified the idea. What if it’s not the communards being individually ambitious, but the COMMUNE itself? If the community hones in on it’s ideals and dreams and pursues them relentlessly, can’t that be a good way to be ambitious? For the good of the whole, and not as a competitive individualistic pursuit? More people living communally is a good thing. Let’s pursue that together, with gusto. This is obviously a conversation that has a lot more room to evolve, but this conversation appeared to be a second draft of what it means to “be an ambitious commune.”
On Thursday night, Peaches came home from visiting family in Maine with new ideas for building a swinging bed from the rafters in the living room. (Not gonna happen.) On Friday, GPaul came home from a grand train adventure across the country. The children were clearly happy to have their jungle gym back. (Not pictured: Solomon and his awesome new mohawk.) There’s a new 20-foot shipping container for bike storage, and it’s full of bikes. Which is great! Except we lost the key. So that’s a thing… Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of antics and mayhem from this thriving young urban commune we call Compersia.
The DC Chapter of Point A is moving rapidly towards the birth of the first commune. As we approach the moment of our launch we’re hammering out the foundational mechanics for our group. And arguably the most foundational, most essential policies are for membership and expulsion: how people are included and excluded. Thinking about expulsion is not a fun topic and many democratic and collective groups don’t really think about it. Some (like Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany, apparently) seem to get on just fine for years. For other groups, not having thought much about expulsion eventually causes a conflict to blow up into an explosive crisis and, with an unfortunate frequency, destroy the group.
A community is a web of relationships, and a healthy community reinforces and weaves those relationships thicker and tighter. The complexity and strength of this web is the source of the value and power behind a vibrant community: it brings meaning to our lives, it enriches us socially, and it gives us access to support and assistance when we need it. It can include our closest allies, collaborators, audience, and friends. But it’s the very importance of our community that makes it that much more painful when an assault or serious breach of trust occurs within it. The bigger we are, as it were, the harder we fall.
When a member of our community hurts us or breaks our trust, it is common and reasonable to want them to leave and never come back. Maybe we fear that they’ll hurt us again, or maybe seeing them reminds us of the pain they’ve caused us, or maybe we feel like they’ve broken their side of the social compact and so don’t deserve membership any more. However, in a deep and vibrant community, and especially one with any history, ostracizing a member is messy because inevitably important relationships exist between other members and the perpetrator of the offense, relationships which are not destroyed by the offense. If the aftermath of a serious offense is not handled with sensitivity and care to all sides, it is all too easy for the community to divide into camps and begin to attack itself. If the perpetrator is ostracized and their remaining relationships are not honored, then damage can cascade through the web that is the community. That damage can cause other members to lose their faith in the community’s ability or desire to care for them and frequently results in an exodus of people from all sides of a conflict.
Additionally, although ostracism is sometimes appropriate, it often has the same problem as the throw away society that it resembles: it assumes that there’s an “away” where you can throw people where they won’t do harm (much like we assume there’s an “away” where we can throw trash where it won’t do harm). That’s not always true and if we don’t deal with the root cause of the offense and the perpetrator has not taken on the project of self-reflection and change we want them to then we might just be passing our problem on down the line to the next community they end up in. Similarly, this “throw away justice” assumes that the person who has committed the offense is no longer of value. They are trash and not worth saving.
In light of all this serious thought about the process of expulsion is of obvious value. Especially knowing that often when an offense occurs emotions run high, people are in pain, and quick and skillful action is necessary to prevent harm from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult or even impossible to conceive of, design, and execute such a response if it has not been discussed by the community in advance. When we design such a process, then, there are a few deep questions we need to consider. If we choose to not just get rid of people whenever they harm someone, how do we respond to offenses in a way that takes care of the whole community and leaves us stronger and better people on the other side? When and why is the work to do that beyond our ability and how can we tell? If it is beyond our ability… what do we do then?
Hi all, I’m Caroline from the community formerly known as the Midden (long story, for another time.) I’ve been visiting Compersia since the Twin Oaks Communities Conference 9/1 – 9/4. TOCC was pretty great even though it rained hurricane rains on us while we camped in the woods. But I built a huge fire in the pit once the rain slowed and everybody got to huddle and dry out and make merry. The theme of the conference was Racial and Social Justice, and a lot of people walked away with a new deeper understanding of the ways that inequality and white supremacy is encoded into the fabric of our society. We learned ways we can be aware of this and begin to dismantle it. During the conference I went to visit Acorn, and got to reconnect with Rejoice, who allowed us 3 city kids to join her to feed and water the cows and goats. We visited and scratched the head of her beloved Cow and Cow’s offspring Trogdor. We fed goats, we trampled through fields of poison ivy, we jumped a fence.
I’m interested to possibly become a member here at Compersia, so I thought I’d swing by and experience life here for a couple days. Hence, they let me take over their blog post. (Muahahaha!!) No, I really only have nice things to say. Except maybe about the dishes. Which I’ve been told bubble up from flat surfaces, and you have to wipe them away into the dishwasher, and 30 minutes later, more will just spontaneously bubble up from random surfaces, only to have you scrape them away, and repeat this pattern ad infinitum, until you die. Luckily, I don’t particularly despise dish duty any more, and so found a way to make myself useful. Another way to be useful? Declare yourself a jungle gym for the children! Definitely popular among the under 4-foot crowd. M, one of the children, and I had a great conversation one evening about the usefulness of typing as a skill. It may sound boring to the outsider, but was actually quite engaging. Typing: it matters.
On Wednesday, Compersia hosted a rousing concert by David Wax Museum, and oooOOOOEEE, that was good fun. They played guitar, accordion, fiddle, the jaw bone of a donkey, and maybe a ukulele?? I may not know my stringed instruments, but I know a foot-stomping good time when I hear one. 35 people came and listened. The children threw flowers. The adults danced and chair-danced. I, for one, can’t wait to hear their Spanish-language album, the one song they played from it set the room on fire!
Thursday afternoon I saw a 10+ point buck (male deer) with a fawn wandering through the back yard, and shouted for everyone to come see. The kids were like, “meh,” and apparently the adults don’t like the deer because they eat the garden. But I was floored because it was a majestic beast.
On Thursday evening, my last night here, I offered an iRest Yoga Nidra session to all interested parties. 4 folks had time and interest, and we covered the living room floor with yoga mats, blankets, pillows, and soft things, and did a deep relaxation session. iRest Yoga Nidra is a research-based transformative practice of deep relaxation and meditative inquiry. It’s currently being utilized in VA hospitals, hospice, homeless shelters, and schools. Research has shown that iRest effectively reduces PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and chemical dependency while increasing health, resiliency, and well-being. Yay healing! Yay deep relaxation! Yay for the post meditation cuddle puddle!
If you’d like to read more or listen to a 20 or 30 minute pre-recorded session by the psychologist who developed this practice based on Kashmir Shaivism, check it out here: https://www.irest.us/projects/irest
That’s all for now. This commundard is over and out. If you want to learn more about the Midden in Columbus, OH, check out our brand new blog to read about our adventures: http://radicalcooperation.wordpress.com
AKA Caroline Midden
AKA Imperator Furiosa
People ask regularly if there are spaces for new members at the income sharing communities. This is a current update on the space availability of the various communes in the US with ways to contact them and relevant guest/intern/visitor policies linked. This information changes with time, so it’s best to check with any community you wish to visit before scheduling your trip there.
Cambia (Louisa, VA) Yes, there are spaces. Cambia is actively promoting its sustainable environmental education program and has space for both interns and new members. This 2016 intern announcement is also current for 2017 and 2018.
Mimosa (Louisa, VA) This reforming new community (formerly Sapling) is interested in new members but is currently working on completing housing to provide space and thus cannot currently accommodate people for more than short visits. Feel free to send them an email.
Twin Oaks (Louisa, VA) is near its population cap, and continues to accept people for membership, currently if you were accepted you could join right away, but there is some chance we will return to a waiting list soon. Twin Oaks does not currently have intern spots available.
Twin Oaks also hosts an annual communities conference. This year it is Sept 1st thru 4th (labor day weekend). If you are seeking communities, this is a great place to discover a bunch of them at once. And here are 7 reasons it is a better place to spend your time than Burning Man.
Ganas (Staten Island, NY) is looking for new members. While technically not an income sharing community over all, Ganas is supportive of the Point A project and the expansion of the communes movement. There are occasionally job openings at Ganas but right now Ganas is looking for paying members.
East Wind (Tecumseh, MO) is full and has a waiting list, but is still happy to have folks come and visit and like Twin Oaks you can apply for membership and be put on a waiting list. Because East Wind has a gender imbalance it actually has two waiting lists, one for males and one for females. There is currently a male waiting list of about half a dozen men. A woman who was accepted now would be at the top of that waiting list, and after three women are accepted, one of the men can be offered membership from the male waiting list.
The Midden (Columbus, OH) is in transition away from being a commune and towards being a NASCO group house in Columbus.