GETTING A COMMUNE TOGETHER
Peter and Sandra Cock
After the fundamental questions of 'who am I' and 'where am I going' emerge the issues of 'How am I going to live, where, and with whom"? There has been a dearth of information on how to set up a commune, on how to express an interest and involvement in community living, on how to find the right numbers of the right people, and so on. The following is written for those who may profit by the experiences of others who have created a communal environment for themselves.
Developing a Communal Interest
My own interest incommunal living came through my thinking. I live communally because I thought it through. I felt intellectually that this was a more meaningful way of living, and from there set about implementing my belief.
An emotional attachment to communal living is a different matter, one that hasn't come easily for me. For others, however, their feelings and emotions are the primary motivator.This feels right to me, I am a communal type person, I like to be continuously around a lot of people, and so on. Some become communally aware when they are suddenly told that their current living situation constitutes a commune. Their response is often, 'Well, I guess so. I never really thought about it.' Their communal consciousness derives from their own shared living experiences and becomes further refined as their communal life style develops.
However one becomes focused on the desirability of communal living, essentially the same questions are raised; what type of commune, where, how many people, what kind of people, where can I find them, and how can we get to know each other?
Meeting the People In Australia there have been several experiences organised to bring people together to meet each other and to discuss communal living at evening meetings where interested people gather together to share ideas and concerns, and at weekend camps where people can meet, discuss and swim; commune together if you like. For some, these weekends are their first contact with the commune movement, for others a real attempt to meet people they would like to live with.
For others it may be a chance for snooping and fulfilling curiosity, for doing an 'in-thing' or just a good way to spend a weekend. Another way of reaching likely communal contacts is through advertising—through expressing your interest on bulletin boards or newspapers such as Nation Review. For most this has proved a slow and difficult process, yielding few satisfactory people. The artificiality and unknowingness of the advertising scene places it low on the priority list, and yet who knows what mutually valuable liaisons might be formed from a timely well-chosen ad?
Getting to Know the People
Having met interested people, it now remains for us to get to know each other sufficiently well to decide whether we want to, or feel we can, live with each other, and in what kind of arrangement. All kinds of social situations can be used - rap sessions over coffee, day trips, and barbecues. Activities, which most simulate real living situations, are the most revealing and useful for this purpose, such as weekends away together where one's mutual communal philosophy and expectations could be discussed.
I have found structured group experiences, such as a sensitivity encounter group, very valuable in the process of quickly getting to know each other in depth. The aim of such groups is to increase awareness of one self and others, members sharing their feelings about themselves and other group members. I have found it especially useful to have as group facilitator a trained person unconnected with but sympathetic to the proposed community plan.
Many questions demand consideration. Do we hold similar views (political, social, religious, etc.,) do we seek a similar standard of living, are you tidy, will you clean up and do the dishes, do we agree on no smoking, dogs drugs, sex, etc., what are your future plans? The more you think about it, the more difficult it seems. To survive it requires work.
The aim of these various attempts then is to find out whether we all want to live with each other in a similar style, as much as that is possible before living together. Often there is an immediate feeling that this is not our scene, that we are not suited to each other, without there needing for anything to be said. In our group three couples dropped out—one because we were not communal enough to begin with the two because of personality differences and differing aspirations.
After having answered the questions do we want to live together, with how many, and in what form, the next question is finding the situation.
Finding a Place
Questions needing consideration here are :
What is our minimum standard of housing ? Minimum facilities? Do we all require our rooms? How much rent are we prepared to pay? Can we do or get done cheaply any alternations, renovations? What area (s) do we want to live in? Near public transport? etc.It took us three months to find the right house a really frustrating and time consuming process.Each couple took responsibility for a locality, chatting up all the estate agents and leaving with, them a sheet listing our housing requirements. It was worth it to hang out for our place, which is well located, has sufficient private and communal space, although a bit expensive and too close to traffic. You will never find a perfect house for they are not built for communal living.It becomes a question of advantages over disadvantages. Having found your house however, the next issue is one of organisation.What about cleanliness standards? Again, who does what, with whom, and how often?
Getting the Commune Organised
By which I mean the nitty-gritty consideration of the specifics of how you want to live. For example. Who has which room? Do we pool all clothes, possessions, and income? What do we pool? How much money do we spend on food, repairs, utilities, and extras? Will we have a 'kitty'? Drawing up the lease if the house is to be rented.What if someone can't afford to pay for a while? What can we get the landlord to do?What is our legal position?
How do we want to eat: Vegetarian or not? Can we accommodate all tastes? How will we arrange cooking? Rosters again?
How do we cope with parents and outside friends in relation to the commune?
What happens if someone drops out? How do we get suitable new members?
How do we handle conflicts? How do we cope with the transition from old styles of living to new?
The excitement of moving in and getting together soon wears off. The honeymoon is over and it's time for the joys as well as difficulties of communal living —the real living out phase of your lives together.
The Living Out Phase
Here the focus is on experiencing your communal life style, on ordering and refining it to make it even better, on living as you like it, on developing a 'we' consciousness and relishing it that way, of closing the gap between where you are as a group and where you want to go as a group and as individuals. There are discoveries', both positive and negative, about the difference between communal and nuclear family living - I couldn't cook for that many!; Oh, wow, I don't have to wash up tonight; the food isn't as good as I'm used to; always somebody to look after the baby; always someone in the bathroom; I can go out tonight and he won't be alone; boy, wish I'd known him (her, them) a bit better before I decided to move in, etc.
Along with these discoveries comes a consideration of questions such as: Is communal life for me? In what form? A worthwhile experience but not in the long term? Are we communal enough or too so? Do I have enough privacy or too much? Most say that communal living is a worthwhile experience and continue in some form often in a different commune. Others don't and go back to living in the nuclear family as often as not grateful for the experience of comparing life styles.
Communal living isn't for all but it may be for you. If you feel it is then think carefully about it for it isn't easy. We are not trained for it and hence need to discover amongst ourselves how tome meaningfully and successfully live communally: a continual effort. Just going out and doing it isn 't likely to succeed. Communal living is but one alternative available. Seek out and discover others before choosing any of them. What you choose today may become irrelevant tomorrow. But need that matter?