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Posts Tagged ‘housemates’

To me, this is the beauty of the united states: the glorious opportunity for a mismatched group of people to find peace together. For diversity and coexistence to come to life. There are so many beliefs, so many interests, so many personal ideals all living under one “roof.” Life is like a record store, Forrest: everyone’s vinyl is a different vintage. Some folks are jazzy, others full of metal rage. There are soft-spoken crooners and exploratory concept bands. And due to luck, fate, alphabetics, they might all be leaning against each other in the “C” box. Coltrane. Claw Finger. Crosby. Cooper. I discuss this concept with one of my favorite housemates, a grad student named Hank who does the New York Times crossword every morning. He disagrees. No man, life is like a fridge with magnetic words all over it. Sometimes they come together and make a sentence, and sometimes it’s just non-sense. But the point is, green and mother and moon are all on the same playing field. It’s just a matter of who will notice and put them together. It’s the divine spirit, the god and goddess writing a giant, ever-changing fridge poem. We contemplate this, as we drink fair trade organic coffee from chipped thrift store ceramic mugs.
“Hank. I know you have all the good mugs in your room, dude. Time to share or prepare for a raid.”
He smiles says, “Ten letters. Tom Cruise Mission.”
Impossible. I laugh as he walks away with a pen, newspaper, and yet another cup to his room. Jen and Lars come down from the attic in their pjs, which consist of a giant Steve Miller band T-shirt and a silk robe, respectively. I ask them what life is like. Lars slides next to me on the bench.He says, “It’s like some modern abstract painting: no one fucking knows what it means. Even the artist makes up some bullshit ethereal contemplation, but he doesn’t know, man. It’s all these colors and lines and shadows. Fucking beautiful.” Jen likes this because she’s the modern abstract artist. She slides onto the bench too, with two steaming cups of tea and honey. They sip gratefully, the warmth wet on their lips. Her eyes wander up and to the left, meaning she’s thinking of something good to say. Hmmmmmmm. Her eyes then close. She purrs, “Life is like a library.” She’s quiet again, as if she will keep her revelation to herself. And incredulous Lars comments that she probably hasn’t been in a library in years. She ignores him and explains: “There’s non-fiction and fiction separated into different rooms. Magazines and movies and newspapers get divided. Allende and Alcott make it so South American spirits sit next to young Victorian heiresses. Homeless men sleep in corners and yuppie kids play chase around bookshelves. Chaos and order in the same place all the time.” As she says this, Adam comes in and asks if she’s talking about our kitchen. And then he sighs because there are no more mugs in the cupboard. I stretch and pass him mine as I stand to face the day.

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(I am sorry to say that in hearing the word co-op, and it’s description, I imagine a lifestyle similar to the kind depicted in a reality tv show- a la MTV.  Bad romances, wild partying, drama abound.  Please tell me you can dissuade me of this stereotype. )

Ugh. So many people think this.  But it’s not so much that they will ask (so thanks for your direct question!), but I can just see the slight repugnance and disapproval in their eyes. I’ll bet it prevents a lot of people from considering shared housing as a lifestyle, when the reality of it can be so much more rewarding.  In fact, when I spend time in other people’s houses, I often daydream about how it would change if it were a co-op.  The household is more efficient: one person doesn’t have to shoulder the cost of everything, so bulk foods, taking turns cooking, utility bills, all get shared- making it easier and cheaper!  The house is more alive: the rooms and shelves are all full, instead of seeing whole rooms go forgotten, unused, neglected because the house is too big for two people or whatever.  It always produces more well-balanced citizens: everyday is a chance to learn a different way of doing things.  Okay, so the picture I paint in my imagination is a little pie-in-the-sky…Of course, conflicts occur.  Sometimes not everyone wants a disco dance party at 2 am.  Sometimes a housemate of two will get irritated at the number of times they’ve eaten vegan casserole that week.  Sometimes a certain housemate will sweep their downstairs neighbor off their feet, in a very short-lived romance (due to the walk of awkwardness to the breakfast table the next morning).  But everyone’s life has challenges, and I think the result of struggle and strife in a communal and intentional setting results in much more considerate and capable citizens.  I really really do.

(How do you handle all the details and responsibilities of a home, shared between so many interests?)

We have a four hour long meeting every Sunday night.  It sounds intense (and it can get that way!) but generally, we eat dinner, we vote through any number of things, someone facilitates.  It’s like any board of directors; everyone has a different role in the house, we take turns doing chores, we take meeting notes and have an agenda.  That stuff usually goes pretty quickly.  It’s the New Proposals section that eats up the whole evening.  I find it fun and fascinating. Shayna proposes we host a GLBTQ movie night.  She’s a little shy and nervous because she never presents much to the group.  Most people nod, until she names the date and time and gets a few loud protests: Not the weekend before midterms!  How many people did you say you wanted to invite?  100?! And she quickly loses her shyness and her cheeks get flushed and she defends herself fiercely.  These are the moments people become leaders, become advocates, become nay-sayers, draw lines in the sand, get defensive, get offensive, find personal truths or find ways to tell lies for what they believe in.  It’s an amazing thing to watch people develop passion and beliefs.  It’s why I work in politics- because I see politics and government in everyday life.  We (human beings) are constantly forming groups, defining ourselves and others through exclusion and inclusion, asking for leaders to make decisions for us, making trades and rules and rewards and punishments and credos and mission statements.  Whether consciously or not, humanity will always magnetically move towards and with one another, and whether the result of that particular interaction is thriving or decay, we will work at working together tirelessly.  Every politician, economist, historian has a different idea of the best way for us to live together on this little planet.  To me, the point is not the methods or approach.  The point is, we are not like tigers in the jungle who live singularly and alone.  We are not even like bees who live in huge, organized colonies with one collaborative purpose.  We are this funny little species; we like to ask questions and share the answers with each other; we’d rather work together, for better or for worse; we form preferences for mates and friends based on inexplicable reasons; our whole history as a species is an inquisitive step towards each other, and a refusal to completely run away no matter what we see.  It’s illogical and beautiful.

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My name is Leon, like the Russian revolutionary.  I have a lot to live up to.  Most people name their children the most common names possible: John and Jason and Josh- all having nothing to do with meaning or purpose, but mostly just because they like the ring of it or the way it pairs with their last name.  But my parents named me after a man who’s convictions led him to try and change an entire country.  I’m sorry, my feet don’t fit in those giant leather shoes.  But the funny thing is that I am a political communist activist. Just not a famous/ brilliant/ ambitious one.  Which came first, the chicken or the name?  Was I named Leon because I was born destined to live in a commune and work for a political lobby group and think tank? Or do I live in a commune and work for a political lobby group and think tank because my name is Leon?  In either case, I have never lived on my own; I have never owned  even my own coffee cup, let alone a kitchen appliance; I have always rather eaten at potlucks than any restaurant; in grade school the only high marks on my report card was “Shares with others.”  Does that answer your question, or is it too much significance?  My apologies- It’s not just that I tend to go a little overboard sometimes, just jumping into a question or project; but that I am prone to diving head first into the deep end and racing to touch the bottom.

So you live in a commune.  Can you tell me more about that: how you chose it, what it’s like?

I would love to.  The commune is a very large house with 29 people living in it.  Each room and tenant is unique, and things are constantly changing.  People move in and out, guests come and go, walls get painted and re-painted and muraled and painted again, seven couches dance around the living room, and art projects are born and grow and die on a regular basis.  I chose to live here because I could never live any other way.  I couldn’t imagine a life without heated philosophical debates over how to cure a cast iron skillet; without the passionate nights of card games and wine; without wondering whose shoes found their way into the fridge and why; without long weekly meetings with vehement discussion about the brand of peanut butter to buy; without being a part of this pulsing, living web of individuals who all bring their own flavor to the table.  I read somewhere once this complaint:  “In a communal kitchen, no one has the authority to throw out the ugly mug.”  While very true, the point has been lost: it’s not about efficiency in removing (the subjectively) ugly object; but rather, the communal kitchen is about embracing what we all bring together to share, and about the process of intentionally and thoroughly examining the group’s values and goals.  Again, does that answer your question?  Or I have I gone to deep once more?

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