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Co-opcrisy? November 16, 2009

Posted by Onely in Bad Onely Activities, Everyday Happenings, Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities.
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I was thinking the other day. (Sometimes I feel as if my brain is a rental car alarm going off and I can’t find the right button to turn it off.)  During my thinking, I realized that I may be a Onely hypocrite, at least partially. Lisa and I do a lot of advocating on this site for “new paradigms” of social structure that go beyond (isolated) couples and nuclear families. Yet when I had a chance to live for myself in a community that practiced a unique and apparently enlightened form of group living, I turned it down. Am I not as progressive as I make myself out to be? Or am I just not a team player?

My friend J worked on a coop organic farm that had a small community of twenty of so single-family houses (my memory is hazy) lining a curved street with no cars because everyone parked in a small lot down at the bottom of a gentle hill. There was a community center in one of the houses, with a common kitchen. J and I ate there once–a delicious eggplant stirfry with ingredients grown in the fields just outside the door. Just beyond those fields was Tyson’s Corner, the most congested, commercial area in all of northern Virginia, which is already pretty astoundingly congested and plastic. But you’d never know that, sitting in the coop kitchen, with crickets chirping under the porch outside.

Residents didn’t have to cook in the common kitchen, but they could if they wanted to. On a big white board a calendar drawn with multicolored markers and without rulers showed the dinner schedule. Most residents cooked a meal for the entire community once every couple weeks.  Again, not required, but I noticed that the calendar had a variety of names on it, many of the days were assigned.

There were houses for sale in the community. I was in the market for a house. But I decided not to buy one on the farm. Why? I was afraid of the common kitchen. No, not of germs. Not of community wooden spoons or coughing children. No, I was afraid of cooperation and calendars. The thought of even preparing a just huge pot of soup and several baguettes of garlic bread for a large group horrified me. The weight of the grocery bags! The math involved to extrapolate a recipe for six! Making sure there were enough plates! Finding all the spoons! AAAAAAAA!   As some of the very kind residents showed me around, I wondered, but did not ask, if I would be branded a rebel if I *never* ate in the community kitchen, in order to avoid ever having to reciprocate by making a meal for everyone else. I looked at the separate calendar for the den cleaning schedule and had the same feeling of suffocation. What if Tuesday came around but I didn’t feel like vaccuming the TV room?  What if on Saturday I was on the hook to cook chicken and dumplings but my own tummy just wanted toast and guacamole?

I just couldn’t do it.

I love my current townhouse. I do wonder sometimes (not often) whether I would have benefitted from having that community around me. Where I live now, the neighbors barely see each other, and I know very few of them. Of note, the farm community consisted of mostly couples with children. Would that have been a great environment for me–a casual environment to get to know neighbors and laugh at the children’s antics before going home to my quiet house? Or would it have been just a smaller, tighter version of our big heteronormative world? I don’t know, because I couldn’t get past my fear of scheduling. For the most part, I think I was right to listen to my shivering gut. But if everyone were as cooperation-averse as I turned out to be, how could we ever manage to produce new, fairer, and inventive ways of interacting with each other besides coupling up?

Copious Readers, have you had experiences with co-ops?

–Christina

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