Built by Relationship

by Raven Glomus

I’ve written about this several times before, but I feel like I can’t say it enough.  Community is all about relationships.  I’ve written a piece about an imaginary community that is actually a composite of three communities that I’ve known–and why the founders couldn’t get it to work.  (Hint: they focused on the ecological goals rather than relationships.  Of the three real communities, one lost the alpha male founder and is currently very focused on relationships, one recently seems to be doing better–and likely because relationships are being nourished, and I don’t know what happened to the third–likely it’s not around.)  Polish communal researcher Katarzyna Gajewska wrote a post for us on why tech folks have a hard time building communities. (Hint: Techies focus on design, rather than relationships.)

So, how do you build relationships?  The first step to building relationships is to be gentle with yourself and with others.  That’s harder than it might sound.  Most of us (myself included) have a tendency to be critical, and justify it as being ‘realistic’.  The truth is, being critical alienates people.  It’s not that you can’t point out when something (or someone) isn’t working–or is hurting someone else.  The question is how you do it. (More on this in a moment.)

The next step is to listen.  Listening can be hard.  The problem is that most of us have had some kind of trauma in our lives.  I’ve talked about communities as laboratories for social change.  After spending lots of time living in community, I’ve come to the realization of why social change doesn’t happen (and why communities don’t happen–or do briefly and then fall apart).  My insight was “We trigger each other.”

There are tools to deal with this, whole books written on processes that help with listening.  The difficulty usually lies in actually doing what the books recommend.  I am going to focus on Nonviolent Communication (NVC), not because it’s the only or best way, but because I’m very familiar with it.  NVC is a very useful tool to help with listening and building connection–but only if it’s done right.  I’ve heard criticism of NVC and it usually amounts to people doing what they think is NVC–but not understanding what Nonviolent (also called Compassionate) Communication really is.  If you are telling someone that they are not doing NVC correctly–or at all, you are not doing NVC.  NVC is not a tool to change another person’s behavior, it’s a tool to help you to understand someone else, to listen better.

The goal here is to actually listen to another person and to listen to them first.  I like Stephen Covey’s formulation: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  It doesn’t mean that you don’t get to put your viewpoint out.  It means you listen first and make sure that they feel understood, before you try to explain. This is when you can point out, gently, problems.

Listening is really difficult to do when you are being triggered. If you aren’t able to listen, don’t try to get your point across.  Instead, go find someone who can listen to you enough to let you have enough free attention to listen first.  There are lots of practices people engage in to do this (NVC empathy sessions, Re-evaluation Co-counseling, Active Listening, Focusing, etc.) and using any of these can be helpful, but really just finding someone who can listen can be very useful.  

This is one of the advantages of living in a community.  If a community is big enough, generally there’s someone and often several folks who are not triggered by whatever is going on.  That’s not to say that they don’t have triggers, but in a big enough group of folks, different folks will have different triggers.

If there isn’t anyone that’s not triggered, or if the situation is difficult enough, don’t be afraid to bring in outside mediators–someone who is truly neutral and can listen to all sides.

The final thing that I want to suggest in terms of building relationships to build community is that making a real commitment to the community and the people in it, makes a huge amount of difference.  When folks know that they can disagree, and disagree strongly, and it won’t destroy the relationships, it contributes to the longevity of the community.

Building relationships builds community.  I’m suggesting at least three steps that help build those relationships–being gentle with yourself and others, learning to listen and listen well, and making strong commitments to the community and the people in it.  Relationships are not the only part of community building, but they are the glue that holds a community together.

Built by Relationship

Healthy Communities and Community Memes

by Raven Glomus

I am tending to use Friday posts on here to summarize or showcase posts from the Facebook site. This past week has not been a good week for that.

I recently wrote what I thought was a good question on the site and it got an okay number of views, but no one commented on it. What good is writing an interesting question if no one responds to it?

Here’s what I wrote:

I also reposted a provocative meme from the Twin Oaks website and it didn’t get very many views. It did get two comments but neither felt particularly on topic to me.

Here’s the couple of comments:

I don’t know. Maybe folks are getting bored with the content. Or, perhaps more likely, it’s spring and everyone is just too busy to respond. Let’s see what happens from here.

Healthy Communities and Community Memes

Many Alternatives

by Raven Glomus

A little over a week ago, I was on the panel about Urban Communities.  Someone I knew from the co-op household scene in the Boston area made a comment that implied that I wanted to turn all the co-ops into income-sharing communities.  I think that she was exaggerating for effect, but it was true that she had gone to a talk I had sponsored on how co-ops could become communes.  However, I want to be clear, I like co-op houses and I don’t want them to all turn into income-sharing communities.

A Boston area co-op house

In fact, I think that all forms of communities are great: communes, co-ops, ecovillages, hybrid models (like Ganas), spiritual communities, even co-housing (which I regard as a toe-in-the-water for many folks who would be otherwise scared of any form of community living). What’s more important is that I don’t think that everyone should live in community.  Ironically, two of the folks that I built my first income-sharing community with in the 1990s now live by themselves.  I don’t think that everyone is suited for communal living, and the longer that I do it, the more I think that’s true.  I envision (and see myself working for) a world with many forms of community–and also, people living by themselves, with partners, with random strangers (if that appeals to them), in nuclear families, in extended families, etc.  Diversity is wonderful and I think that the end goal for me is, as I have written here, creating more possibilities.  I want to see a world with, not only more communities, but more co-operative and worker-owned and run businesses, and small businesses, family businesses, and cottage industries, and municipally run businesses, and alternative forms of agriculture, energy, and even government.  We need many, many alternatives.

So, why am I so focused on communes in this blog?  Because I think that communal living is one of the more radical ways to see how change is possible.  The Foundation for Intentional Community already covers the wide spectrum of the communities movement.  If you want to know more, you should check out their website, which I have already written about in this blog.

My goal here is not that everyone should live in a commune, but that most people should know that they exist, and they actually work, and anyone who is excited about them should be able to try one out and live in a commune if they like.  But they can’t do that if they don’t realize that it’s possible.  I want to see a world with many alternatives, and have communal living be one.

Many Alternatives

A Community of Communities

from the Spring, 2021, Leaves of Twin Oaks newsletter

by Valerie 

Photo (clockwise from top left): Acorn, Cambia, LEF, Little Flower (Catholic Worker logo).
If variety is the spice of life, then life is good for community living in Louisa. In addition to Twin Oaks, there are several other intentional communities in the county.

How did these all arise? In early 1967, a supporter of the ideas of Twin Oaks donated the land we now live on—that is why we are located here. In the early 90s, we helped found Acorn, as a way of providing a communal living option for the 25 people on our Waiting List. In 2010, two ex-members founded Living Energy Farm, a fossil-fuel-free farm and community. And within the last 5 years, Cambia has sprung up nearby as well. We’re also connected with Little Flower, a Catholic Worker community that offers radical hospitality and does various anti-poverty, anti-military and anti-oppression activism. All of these communities are within 10 miles of us, and it makes for a great “community of communities”.

The advantages of this inter-connected network are many. Most of the other communities chose to settle here due to proximity to Twin Oaks, in order to take advantage of the social and skill-sharing abilities due to that closeness.

We collectively engage in various cooperative activities, including both work and play. If one community needs a skilled person such as a conflict resolution facilitator, or someone with experience repairing a broken well-pump, they need only look as far as the next community over. In this way we provide mutual aid. We share the work of Acorn’s Southern Exposure Seed Exchange business. We have developed a Labour Exchange Program amongst all the communities. It can be fun to spend time working at another community and sometimes very helpful to take a break from one’s home community, for example following a relationship break-up or similar community stress.

This broader network also provides a larger social pool and increased options for inter-community friendships and relationships. One family was “bi-community” for a few years and eventually settled into the one community that they decided fit them both best.  On major community holidays, we provide communal shuttles and send people back-and-forth, so we can celebrate with each other without each person having to take their own vehicle.

And when it comes to membership, each community has its own unique commune “flavor.” If a given visitor interested in communal living isn’t quite the right fit for one community, there are several similar-but-just-different-enough options nearby. It’s also not uncommon for members to move back and forth between communities either as dual-members, or, if they realize they are better suited to another commune, to make a more permanent move over to that one, while still maintaining their existing friendships and connections.

We know that diversity is strength and we are grateful for these diverse communities that share this piece of earth with us.

Twin Oaks: An income-sharing, egalitarian ecovillage of 100 people supporting themselves on 500 acres.

Acorn: A consensus-based community sharing income generated from the sale of heirloom seeds. 

Cambia: Focused on co-creating a culture of social sustainability and harmony that nourishes us as well as the earth.

Living Energy Farm: (LEF) A zero-fossil-fuel education center developing sustainable technologies that are accessible to all, regardless of income.

Little Flower: A Catholic Worker homestead that practices hospitality and does resistance work around issues of militarism and social injustice.
A Community of Communities

Urban Communities Panel

(I’ve written about urban communes before, but next Sunday I will be on a panel talking about urban communities–all types of communities, not just communes. If this is a subject that interests you, you should join us. – Raven)

Join us for Free Online Intentional Urban Community Panel Discussion

Would you and your co-op mates be interested in participating in an online urban intentional communities event? The topic is the struggles and resilience of urban communities.  Urban communities often encounter challenges that rural ones do not, as how to create a rural community is more established.  It is organized by Ganas (an urban community in New York City) and also an ecovillage activist group called Gen North America.  The panel consists of 5 seasoned leaders and experienced dwellers of urban intentional communities from San Francisco, New York City, and Washington DC.

Join here for the Zoom call that is taking place Sunday, April 11, 3PM EST/ 2PM CDT/ 1 PM MDT/ 12 PM PST.

https://us02web.zoom.us/s/4891987598

Buildings at Ganas

PANELISTS:

Dr. Zarinah Agnew lived in an intentional community in San Francisco for the last 9 years, and is a steward of Haight St Commons (HsC), which is a collective of around 75 communities in the Bay Area.  It has a decentralized federation that shares resources, learnings, housemates, documents, a radical fund, a newsletter and more.  She is part of a global federation called the Embassy Network.  She is director of a non profit that supports the creation of experimental commons and autonomous spaces. On the ground, one of the projects that she stewarded is called the Second Life Project, which are autonomous spaces centered around the needs and wisdoms of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Darrell Duane is the founder of Glowhouse in Washington, DC, which existed since 2000.  Glowhouse hosts a community of holistic practitioners, burners (people passionate about Burning Man), and also meditators. They do avid couch surfing, and enjoy healthy eating and authentic relating.  Duane is working on a number of projects, such as the Crypto Universal Basic Income Foundation, DMV Ecovillages, Ranked Choice Voting Support Network, Lovers of Living Together DC, and Organic Groups

Raven Glomus has helped start a number of urban communities.  In 1995 he founded Common Threads in Cambridge, Massachusetts which lasted 5 years and more recently created Cotelydon Community in Queens.  He has also lived in a number of co-op houses in the Boston area and he manages the Commune Life blog.  Ironically, he now lives in a rural commune in the western foothills of the Catskills.  He is concerned about the fact that there are no more urban egalitarian income sharing communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and is passionate about how to start and maintain such communities.

Maddie Hana Fontaine is a lifelong urban communitarian.  She was part of communal living since she was 10 years old, and as an only child, learned a lot growing up in an intentional community in Madison, Wisconsin from other children and adults. She was part of Madison Community Cooperative (MCC), an organization of multiple urban coops.   She lived in Ambrosia and also Friends in Madison, both part of MCC, and then after college, she lived in Youtopia in Brooklyn.  She learned much about conflict resolution, adaptability, leadership, interpersonal relationships, and how to share space with others in her experience.

Michael Johnson co-founded Ganas, a 65 member community in New York City in 1980,   He regards it as an experiential research center in democratic culture where people live and work together.  He had been immersed in the cooperative/solidarity economic movements since 2007 with the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives (New England), SolidarityNYC, and Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective (GEO), which he is a regular contributor and editor.   He is the author of The Growing Democracy Project: A Cultural Strategy for Taking Our Love, Power, and Democracy to New Levels.  

Sincerely,

Leon Tsao (Ganas member and fellow communitarian)

former home of Cotyledon, urban commune that was in NYC

Urban Communities Panel

The Downside to Communal Living

by Raven Glomus

As I was thinking of what questions I could ask on Facebook, I thought of this: “What is the thing that you like least about communal living?” It seemed to have touched a nerve–we reached 400 people and got twelve comments. Here’s the post:

And here are all the comments. Apparently people are very clear about what they don’t like (well, except for Dan, who can’t remember):

Feel free to add to the list.

The Downside to Communal Living

A Delicate Balance—The Individual and The Community

by Raven Glomus

I decided, long ago, that communities were a balancing act, that for me community exists precisely in what I call the dynamic tension between the individual and the group.

Many people have trouble understanding this. They see a commune, for example, as just a place where a lot of people live. But a commune is more than a collection of people, the same way that a forest is more than a collection of trees. I believe that communes and communities are living, breathing entities unto themselves. And, yes, it’s true that no community could exist without people, but it’s also true that our bodies can’t exist without cells. However, that doesn’t make our bodies just a container for cells.

By dynamic, I mean that the balance is always shifting. Sometimes we need to focus on the contributions of the individuals and sometimes we need to focus on what we have collectively accomplished. Sometimes it’s good to say, “Look, I did this,” but often, it is more satisfying to say, “Look what we did.” I think that it’s hard in this individualistic society (especially if you haven’t lived in community) to appreciate how important being part of that “we” is. (We have someone here at Glomus that is fond of saying that “Teamwork makes the dream work.”) This doesn’t negate the importance of honoring the contributions of the individuals in a community. But it’s always a balance. It’s not about the individual OR the community, it’s both/and.

So we appreciate each other—and we appreciate ourselves as a commune. On Validation Day, we had a card created for each person, but someone also made up a card for “Glomus/EBCF/The Land” where we expressed our appreciations for this wonderful place where we are.

Here at Glomus Commune, we are working to truly honor the contributions of each individual as well as what we do collectively. We don’t always succeed, but it’s what we are working on.

A Delicate Balance—The Individual and The Community

Playing Community

from Running in ZK, a blog by members of the Twin Oaks community

Want to Start a Community? First, Play Stardew Valley!

Posted on 21 February 2021 by Stephan Nashoba

While much of the covid-19 pandemic has fortunately left our community relatively untouched (we went on full external lockdown, so there is generally no masking/distancing/etc required while on the farm), it has certainly still brought along its share of stresses and desire for leisure activities to keep our spirits high. As with Settlers of Catan back in the early 2000s, communards sometimes think “hmm…what should I do to relax after a long day of farming, foraging, cooking, crafting, and raising animals? Oh I know: Pretend to do all these things!” Enter: Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is a computer game that has been around for a few years now, but recently came out on mobile so it has renewed popularity (also, Oakers tend to get into things a couple years after the rest of the world). It’s an adorable simulation game in which you inherit your grandfather’s farm after he’s passed away and proceed to try to make it into a productive part of the community, while also doing helpful tasks for others and flirting with the single people around town. While my real-life poly family was getting into this game on their own, we recently went on a little vacation at an AirBnB in town and decided to try out “co-op” mode. This got me thinking about all the similarities between the game and real-life communal living. The internet is also full of people just discovering community and wanting to immediately go buy land and invite their friends over, so this could potentially be a useful tool for folks to try it out group decision-making and income-sharing prior to taking the real-life leap.

Screenshot of a co-op farm setup
(http://www.geeksandcom.com/2018/05/01/le-mode-multijoueur-de-stardew-valley-est-enfin-disponible/)

Founder’s Syndrome

The first thing to decide when going to co-op mode is whether or not to start a brand new farm or invite people to one you’re already been working on. This can be a test of what we in the communities movement call “Founder’s Syndrome.”

According to Wikipedia, Founder’s Syndrome is “a popular term for the difficulties faced by organizations where founders maintain disproportionate amounts of power and influence following the initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organization and those involved in it.” Many communities are founded by one person or a small group of people who have a particular vision of what they want the community to be. While this is all well and good at first, it starts to become increasingly challenging as they try to attract new members who may generally agree but also have some different ideas about what they’d like to happen.

In Stardew Valley, if you invite people to join a farm that you’ve been laboring on for several in-game years, it can be beneficial because there is already an established base of income and less start-up labor, but can also be challenging if the founder is resistant to the suggestions of the other players, takes too much ownership of the land, and has very particular feelings about how things should run. It can be difficult for other players to speak up about the dynamic because they don’t want to disrespect all the work that the founder has put in, leading to building of resentment over time.

Starting a new farm with other people can lead to less of this, even though technically one person is still the “host” and needs to be logged in for others to be able to play. However, there is then a lot of work to do, quests to unlock, and minimal money to work with from the beginning. Just like in real-life!

Income-Sharing

Another feature to think about when starting your co-op farm is whether or not to share income. The default mode is income-sharing, so whenever a player sells a parsnip or buys an upgraded axe, this affects the total amount of money available to all players. This sounds idyllic in theory, but what happens when 3 people want to each get a bigger backpack for 4000g each but you only have 5000g? Do you talk about your purchasing desires all together and approve each transaction? Do you keep a separate ledger and keep track of 1/3 of the income each? Do you allot only a certain amount of personal spending each day or week? Decisions, decisions!

Group Decision-Making and Division of Labor

Along with how to make/spend money, there are several quests in the game that require various items. You’ll need to determine how to make decisions about which quests to prioritize, which items need to be kept as quest items versus being sold, and more.

How are you going to spend your precious time? Are you all going to be all-around balanced communards or is one person going to be in charge of crops while another goes out fishing and a third gathers resources from the mines? Do you alternate? What about a chore chart? All of these things can be discussed to your heart’s content. Sound like a lot of work before you even get to the work? Welcome to community life!

Mods

One of the great benefits of Stardew Valley is the plethora of fan-made modifications, aka “mods,” that can alter various aspects of gameplay. You can make your version of Stardew Valley even more realistic to community living by adding on some of these popular mods.

Screenshot of multiple spouses mod
(https://www.nexusmods.com/stardewvalley/mods/6227)

Multiple Spouses: While certainly not everyone in an intentional community is polyamorous, ethical non-monogamy (an approach to relationships wherein people can have more than one romantic and sexual partner at a time, and everybody involved is aware and enthusiastically consents to the dynamic) is generally more accepted and validated in these communities. Income-sharing and egalitarian communities are especially supportive of poly families since people’s romantic relationships can be untethered from issues of housing and economics because everyone in the community has their basic needs met through the efforts of the whole community. While the original version of Stardew Valley allows you to date many people but only marry one, the Multiple Spouses mod allows you to marry multiple people, live with multiple people, have kids with multiple people, and more!

Comparison of different versions of Elliot in Diverse Stardew Valley mod
(https://www.nexusmods.com/stardewvalley/mods/4079)

Diverse Stardew Valley: You might notice how white most of the characters are in the original Stardew Valley. This is unfortunately not unlike many intentional communities founded by white folks. While you could leave the original version for a more sadly realistic experience, most people are drawn to community in order to imagine and create more inclusive utopian spaces. So if you’re a BIPOC looking to start a community or a white person wanting to try to get a better idea of what a multiracial community could look like, you can add the Diverse Stardew Valley mod. This mod adds ethnic, cultural, gender identity, and body type diversity to the original characters.

Screenshot of co-op mode with Unlimited Players mod
(https://www.nexusmods.com/stardewvalley/mods/2213)

Unlimited Players: The original co-op mode limits the farm to 4 players. However, you might have more people than that in your community start-up group. The Unlimited Players mod will allow the host to add unlimited cabins to the farm. The more the merrier, right?

Conclusion

There are certainly many ways in which Stardew Valley is not anything like real-life community, from dungeon monsters to magic teleportation, but playing in co-op mode does require that folks practice the most central parts of community living: communication and cooperation! It might also reveal things about yourself and others that would be really good to know prior to actually living together. Oh, and don’t forget to also have fun while you’re at it 

Playing Community

Communal Nomads

by Raven Glomus

Not all the folks in a commune stay put. There are some who go from community to community.  Let’s call them communal nomads.

I probably fit in that category, although I seldom think of myself that way.  I helped start two short-lived income sharing communities:  Common Threads (1995-2000) and Cotyledon (2017-2019).  I’ve lived at three Boston area cooperative houses,  visited Twin Oaks and Acorn enough times to make me a familiar face there, done a three week visit at Dancing Rabbit, and lived at Ganas for two and a half years.  I am now at Glomus Commune and while I would like to think that it might be my long term home and last move, I suspect that might not be true.

Me at Cotyledon, early winter 2017

I know several other folk who migrate from community to community.  Many of them, like me, are trying to find a community that fits, but there are also those who choose this as a lifestyle, not wanting to settle down in one place, preferring to sample a bit from one community and then enjoy how different things are at another.

Nomads definitely serve a function in the communal world.  They carry news from place to place and often bring ideas from other communities–and pass ideas from your community on.  Their contributions often live on after them.  I know that here I’ve heard people talking about how this nomad who was here for a while taught them this or built this thing we are using or, even, just telling stories about them and what they did while they were here.  They influence many communities and add lovely touches.

When someone comes here that has been to many communities, I will often ask them about the places that they’ve been and get some vicarious communal education through them.  I am grateful for these travelers and I know that others are as well.

It’s important to have folks that are long-term, stable members of a community but it’s also useful to have nomads travel through the communes and to enjoy them while they are with us and even have them to talk about after they’re gone.  I don’t talk about them often here on Commune Life, but I am certainly happy that they are in the community world–and, as I said, while I don’t think about it often, I still seem to be one.

The crew at Glomus Commune, spring 2020.  Anande is now at East Wind Community.

Communal Nomads