Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Cohousing Christmas — Emily Gable

This year we had a wonderful Christmas dinner with our future cohousing friends at the home of Wendy and Hans. It was a great preview of things to come. Although we don't have a common house yet, or even our own houses in community with each other, it felt so good to have friendship, which seems to me the strongest part of community. We arrived with our two kids, to find Coleen, Wendy and Hans already settled into a cozy kitchen and bits to eat. Mitch and Catnip (with their dog Max) arrived a bit later. I came to realize that Mitch had been deliberating over recipe variations in her house a few miles away all afternoon. When we have a common kitchen, there will be others to chime in and help, not to mention we won't have to schlepp food in and out of cars and to another house- it will all be right there. It felt so good to be eating such wonderful food with such amazing people. Not to mention that my son Sorrel's first whisper this morning was "pie" (so all that time spend Mitch on the pies surely left an impression on Sorrel).
We all got to know each other a bit better, share our holiday cooking together, and play games with dogs and kids. Parula and Sorrel had a blast exploring Wendy and Hans's kitchen, playing with Coleen and Catnip and eating yummy food cooked by all. It was such a treat to watch my kids feel so comfortable with the folks we will be living in community with soon! It was a great way to spend the first of many holidays together in cohousing!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Halloween in Coho — Arielle Bywater

I know this is a month late, but what can I say: life with two young kids!

Anyway, a month ago, on Halloween, my family was making the decision about where to trick or treat. We love Halloween and trick or treating, but it's always a bit, well, tricky, because we have a four year old who is pretty easily frightened by spooky things, and you just never know when you walk up to a house on Halloween whether you are going to be greeted with a gentle hello and some candy or someone in a gorilla mask accompanied by scary background music. And that's not even to get into the fears around unsafe candy, unsavory neighbors, etc. (none of which I worry much about, but some people do).

This year, as we walked around our neighborhood, some houses were safe and lovely places to trick or treat with my two young kids. Other houses were much too scary and had to be avoided at all costs. Some houses were not decorated in scary ways but had loud dogs or weird people at the door. Still other houses were dark. It made for a somewhat uneven experience. And it made me think of some future Halloween in Cohousing, when the community children can go door to door around our tightly clustered thirty-six home neighborhood without any fear at all. Perhaps without chaperones, even, because the children will know all the adults behind every door they knock on. All the people will be kind to my kids. All the candy will be safe. And, for maximum candy efficiency, and ideal for cold Maine Octobers, the whole circuit of thirty-six Halloween-friendly houses can be made in no time flat, since we are all within a few yards of one another!

Halloween. Another reason to join Cohousing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saving My Life With Poetry — Elizabeth Garber

In my Cohousing life, I organize the monthly Open Houses -- Maypole dances, Live Chess Match, bulb planting-- for our community and guests, yet here I want to give a glimpse of my other life.

It's five fifteen am and the sliver of the waning moon is bright outside my back window. I'm wide awake, settled onto my couch, a shawl around my shoulders and knees, cup of hot tea on the table in front of me, my laptop ready to go. I have two hours free to write before I get ready to meet my first acupuncture patient at eight o'clock. I'm a writer and this is my idea of a happy morning.

The summer I was ten, in the 1960's, I decided I was going to be a writer. I opened a new notebook and wrote down the title of the novel about a girl in the 1880's in my village in Ohio. But I didn't know where to begin. At our little library, I read biographies of girls and drew drawings of clothes a girl would have worn. Yet when I stared at the notebook, I couldn't imagine her life or who she was. Finally I tore out the page and began a journal of my summer telling about camping in the backyard with my best friend, getting scared and coming back into the house.

I kept journals for the next forty years, and began writing poetry in my late twenties. The first line of a poem would appear on a walk or while sitting in nature. I'd grab pen and paper, catching the poem as it poured. This was a perfect art form in my life as a mother. I carried a notebook and sometimes when driving, with my kids asleep in car seats, a poem might arrive. With the notebook across my lap, (not looking down, I promise!), I scrawled ragged jumbles of lines across the page so I wouldn't lose the poem.

When my younger child left home, taking her lively daily conversations about life, music and school, I decided to start an MFA in Creative Writing in a low-residency program. Two and a half years later, the erratic untrained poet has become a steady writer with a nearly finished book-length memoir of my childhood in that old-fashioned village in Ohio. I've come full circle. I imagined the life of a girl in another time and filled the blank page my ten year old self yearned to write.

I imagine ahead to when we live in Cohousing, finishing my cup of tea and morning writing, and walking out into my Cohousing life. I'll be ready to plant a garden or cook a meal or perhaps read something I've just written to a friend over breakfast.

The Day After She Finishes Driver’s Ed My Daughter Suddenly Notices I Write Poetry While Driving

“What are you doing? You can’t write and drive!”
She’s aghast, watching my pen scrawl across the open notebook
on my lap, as I drive one handed north up Route 1.

“Mimi, I’ve written nearly half of all my poems while driving
since before you were born. When else can moms write poetry?
I’m completely focused on the road and another part of my mind
is free to write. It’s great!”

“I want all your mind on the road!
I don’t want to die just because you have to write poetry!”
She pulls the paper and pen out of my grasp.

“Mimi, it’s not just for poems. It’s for making grocery lists,
and making sure I don’t forget things, like that you need ballet shoes.
And lots of people drive and eat!
Please may I have my paper and pen back?”

“No! You can eat and drive, but no poetry!”
She says with determination as we continue up the coast.
I’m left empty handed, soothed by the billowing
indigo wash of lupine in meadow grasses following the road.

An expanse of white paper stretches out in my mind
and no way to etch the day across it.
I have to be patient until I drive off alone
and can once again save my life with poetry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Belfast? Why Waldo County? Why Maine? — Arielle Bywater

I was asked to give a reading at today's cohousing general meeting, and I chose to read a poem about how the Belfast community took care of our family when our second child died, a stillbirth. I didn't realize until afterward that many people did not know this part of our story. So below is a short essay I wrote about the experience--and how it fits into our interest in Maine and in community--back after it happened.

* * *

When my husband and I tell folks that we got married in an art gallery in Belfast, Maine, or that I gave birth to our son in a small house overlooking the bay there, or that this son is buried a bit further north in a pine forest in Orrington, they look at us funny. After all, we live in the Midwest. “You don’t have family there, do you?” Nope. “Did you grow up there?” We grew up in Ohio, New York and Massachusetts. “Well, then, why?”

How does anyone obsessed with Maine explain this particular madness? Usually, I say something like, “We started going there on vacation when we were dating because I had fond memories of camping in Acadia as a child. Also, I had once stumbled upon Belfast with an ex, ate hand-made lavender ice cream in an architectural salvage store/cafe, and swore I’d go back. Also, I saw a feature about the Common Ground Fair on TV when I was a teenager, wrote the name down in a notebook and never forgot about it. Also, it’s where I took up running, and where, in a used bookstore, I discovered Buddhism...” at which point my eyes start to flash the state seal and my conversational companions politely excuse themselves.

Or I tell this story: After several trips to Belfast wherein Rob and I discovered it was the place where the most magical things always happened to us, we were in Maine again, this time determined not to go to Belfast. “Let’s go to Camden,” we said. “We never go to Camden.” A half-dozen t-shirt shops later, we took one look at each other and hopped in the car, heading twenty minutes north for our beloved town. Driving in on High Street, we saw the road was blocked off: the town was having a midsummer festival, and people young and old were wearing flower wreaths in their hair and dancing barefoot in the middle of the street. Ah, we sighed. We’re back.

So when we were to be married, it had to be Belfast. The affair was strictly locavore, to use a phrase since coined: dinner with arriving guests at Chase’s Daily, everyone at B&Bs, picnic with food from the Co-op in a public park on the harbor, party the night before at the yoga studio, a morning run through the streets, flowers from a woman who lives in a geodesic dome outside of town, and a caterer and photographer we found right downtown, who provided food and photographs all of our sophisticated city friends pronounced the loveliest they’d ever eaten or seen. Our furthest import was the wonderful, wacky Buddhist professor from Bowdoin who married us. It was perfect.

Fast forward five year, and we were pregnant with our second child and living in Illinois, where the kind of birth we wanted, a homebirth with professional midwives, is illegal. Our solution? The same solution we have for everything: go to Belfast! Once again, we found the ideal people for the job in the tiny downtown: better midwives, I believe, than are available in the entire city of Chicago. So in the dead of winter, we moved temporarily into the little house we’d rented for a couple weeks the previous summer and waited for our son to arrive.

And when our son was stillborn, it was the Maine community who rallied around us and kept us whole, even though we were perfect strangers: the Belfast midwives; the homesteaders in Montville who’d had stillbirths themselves and made us a necklace to remember our boy out of grass seeds from their land; the labor doula from Union who became a dear friend; the stone carver from Stockton Springs who makes exquisite tombstones and dropped all his work to do this small job for us; the Solon woman starting a green cemetery in Orrington who allowed our son to be buried in her family’s private plot because the paperwork hadn’t yet gone through to make it public; and the local church folks who came out on that frigid winter day to dig the grave for us. Our baby’s death certificate, like our marriage license, is issued from the Belfast Town Hall. It’s the place where some of the biggest moments of our lives have happened, even though we’ve never actually lived there.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dreaming of Cohousing II — Arielle Bywater

Another cohousing dream last night: I dreamt Michelle Obama and her two kids were meeting with the members of our cohousing group (apparently in the cafeteria of my elementary school in upstate New York). The First Lady was very impressed with our group, especially with how membership required such a high level (quantity and quality) of volunteer work from us all: she felt this was a great model for volunteerism in America in general. And Sasha and Malia got along great with our cohousing kids!

So. Why do I seem to dream so much about cohousing? And how can we extend an invitation to the Obamas to come visit our project, get a tour of our house from Alan and Matt, join us for a potluck? And how can we find more non-white members for our group (probably the greatest diversity challenge in Midcoast Maine)?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Becoming Native To A Place — Coleen O'Connell

From the banks of Thompson Creek in the St. George’s River watershed in the great state of Maine

For those of you who awaken each day to another day of sunshine it may not be known to you that there are those who feel responsible for the return of the sun each day. Twenty years ago, upon adopting a new homeland in Maine, I immediately began to explore the native history of the land. I had never read of the Wabanaki Confederacy in any of my history books nor heard of the northeast tribes who call themselves the Micmac, Maliseet, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy and Abenaki. This confederacy knows themselves as the “People of the Dawn” and they hold a responsibility on Turtle Island (North America) to call up the sun each morning.

On the eastern most point of the United States in a place in Maine where the waters were once filled with cod and whales, I am awakened in the dark to the sound of a rattle shaking near my head. My native friend, gkiesotonomook, is rousing us to action. I rise, dress and silently walk the path to the ocean’s edge. First light is announcing itself. With sweet grass lit, a smudging ceremony purifies each of us. As my friend faces the eastern ocean and raises his arms, a school of harbor porpoise passes quickly off shore – synchronized fins cutting through the dark water. A seal pops its curious head up in front of us. The ocean is calm this morning though a small breeze blows the smudge smoke toward the east.

Though not understanding the language of the prayer, I resonate with the earnestness in which my native friend calls forth to the directions. The intentions of his every movement and each word spoken brings with it increasing lightness. Pink and indigo streaks are beginning to lace the eastern sky. Black is shifting to dark purple out on the water. The spruce and fir trees are turning green as the blanket of night is lifted. The prayers continue with an increased tempo. As the sun peeks over the horizon my friend shouts a greeting of welcome. Tears roll down my cheek in a rush of primordial recognition. Another day has begun on Turtle Island. He turns with a big grin and announces “Let’s make some coffee and have some grub.”

How do I become native to this place? The local ancestors of the first white settlers to Maine (which was then part of Massachusetts) claim that your family must live here 3 or 4 generations before you can say you are native. The hippies that came in the 70’s and had children, who are now having children, cannot yet say they are natives. “Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven doesn’t make them bisquits” the old white guys proclaim. It occurs to me that the concept of Native has been contextualized and I wonder what my Indian friend would say to the bisquit joke?

I recently read somewhere that if you are native to a place, you must be able to tell it’s stories. Whether or not I can ever become native to this place, I am surely making it my home. I drink its waters, eat its wild berries, warm myself with its wood, and bask in the wild beauties of each season, including mud and black fly season. I eat lobster and blue mussels, grow potatoes and squash, nurture an apple orchard, and wonder how to get the wood chuck to stop living under my house and eating my flowers. I am an apprentice to the order of life in this wooded Eden. I am collecting stories each day I live on this small piece of land in midcoast Maine. Like the bear that wandered in to eat out of the bird feeder; or the porcupine that has her babies each year in the crawl space under my house; or the beaver that built an incredible pond on our stream – but then were eradicated by local trappers whom I had a confrontation with. I document the changes with photos that will collect over the years – taken each season at the same spot. I have instituted rituals that arise out of this place... and I love that others join me. This spring when the adolescent male turkey was practicing his mating warble in my front yard, I chided him for sounding more like a dog than a turkey. I wished him luck as he headed into the woods seemingly in search of the willing partner. Next year I hope he is back in full regalia and accomplished sex talk ... I can only wait and wonder.

Silently, and without fanfare, the Native Americans of North America continue their ceremonies that entwine their lives within the web of life. The Hopi’s gather ceremonially in their plazas; the Lakota dance and fast during four-day Sundances; the Makah conduct their ceremonial whale hunt. In our fast paced consumer culture, these ceremonies go unnoticed... relegated to another time, another worldview. I used to be confused by all the different Native cultures around the world proclaiming that their mountain, or their ritual site was the center of the Universe... that life arose from these special places. How could this be that there could be so many different “center of the universes”? In my westernized thinking – there could only be one center. Who was correct? I have lived my life into the answer – coming to understand that when I truly reside in a place, come to know my more-than-human neighbors, and am mindful each day of my place in the web of life, my home becomes a sacred place. My community has become the center of my life revolves around the order of things that sustain me in this place. As the circle shifts, so does the center... an ongoing dynamic as invisible circles are imagined into life everywhere on our planet.

It no longer matters to me whether or not I will ever be considered a native Mainer. I am of North America, I am of this land that gave birth to my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents and beyond. I too will become an ancestor in just a generation. What does matter to me is that those that come after me will have fresh water to drink, will have clean air to breathe, and will have soil and a climate that will support the growing of food. If I can leave this physical existence knowing that I have done my best to insure that legacy for future generations then I will have the due reward that I desire. I will have found my place in “the family of things” as poet Mary Oliver announces.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Match Point — Emily Gable

I really don't have a reason to title this "Match Point" except that I just watched Juan Martin Del Potro, a 20 year old Argentinian defeat the 5 time Swiss champion Roger Federer for the title of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament. I felt so honored to be a witness to this event, along with the millions of people also watching along and cheering. Maybe it was re-assuring to see a different name in bold to take the main stage....what an amazing match, and wow they get lots of cash with that prize! Maybe he'd like to donate some to the coho community?

Back to the reality of life with two children under the age of 3. Our days are full. Full of smiles, giggles, screams (of joy and of upset), singing, animal sounds, poopy diapers, sinks of dishes, dirty laundry baskets, you get it. Most of the time I don't know if I really have a life besides my family. I know I once did , and I imagine that the possibility exists sometime, but not quite yet. But there has been a distinct moment in time when my body has said "this is all you". I thought maybe this would be a good place to share with my future coho community and whoever else may end up reading this; the struggles of a seemingly young and healthy family, as getting to the match point is indeed quite hard work!

On May 23, 2008 I woke up excited and ready to get to the first Belfast Farmer's Market of the season. I was already dreaming of tasting the cheese samples from the Appleton Creamery and getting a fresh loaf of bread from Billy of the Firefly Farm. I was second in line to get a shower, enjoying the kicks of my baby in my womb, as I was just entering my 26th week of pregnancy with my second child. As I finished up my bathroom routine the room started spinning and I immediately grabbed my dirty clothes and ran for the bed about 10 feet away. I felt as if I were inside of a centrifuge, my world spinning endlessly around me, no up, no down, no in between. I felt as if I were falling but I was already on stable ground. I called for James, but could not be heard. Eventually he caught sound of my voice and came up the stairs. Maybe he would be able to do some Reiki on me and this would all stop and go away. But nothing slowed down. This was something serious, maybe I was having a miscarraige, this was all I could imagine, and I was worried. I began to be sick, as most people who get severe sea sickness do. James called our midwife, but there was no answer. He left a message. Next option was 911, and the dispatcher sent the EMT who arrived in minutes. One happened to be a neighbor from down the road, another an overweight smoker who I only remember by his huffing and puffing the entire trip to the hospital. What was going on, and why was this happening to me?

It turns out, after an emergency MRI and helicopter ride to Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland, that I had a blood clot in the right side of my cerebellum, causing me to have a stroke. I was unable to speak with clarity (due to weakened vocal chords), unable to swallow for 8 weeks, lost sensation on the right side of my face and left side of my body, and was living in constant vertigo for 6 months. I spent 4 weeks in Portland at two different hospitals. Parula, who was then 16 months old, was cut off from nursing, and broke her arm the 2nd day I was in the hospital. Good thing she and James were on their way to seeing me in the hospital, a quick trip to the ER. It was an extremely stressfull time in our lives. When we all returned home from Portland I was not in good shape. I could barely walk, I had to be fed liquid through a tube in my stomach as I could not swallow. I also got to carry around a bottle that I spit in, as I was unable to swallow, saliva included. The hottest days of summer came and went, and all I wanted to do was drink a tall glass of water. I sucked on cold popsicles and ice, my throat rejecting anything to go down. One day James encouraged me to try to eat something, maybe a bolus of food would be easier than a small amount of liquid. I swallowed a bite of homemade pizza a friend had brought over, and from that moment forward I was all about swallowing again!

Sorrel was born at MMC August 19, both he and I were very healthy and his birht was as natural as possible. We were both released from hospital care within 36 hours. I was able to drive a car again in late November, and this summer I have begun to feel in my body again, much more grounded and able to take care of not only myself, but also my kids. For a long time James was the primary caregiver to us all, holding the space of physical functioning human in our household. He has involuntarily taken on a huge load of care and done an amazing job at making sure we are all happy and staying healthy.

All of this being said, I think it is a huge part of my life that I cannot leave out, as my entire physical perception of the world has been changed by this event. The thoughts of joining the cohousing community first came into our minds last fall, when our friend Maria had become an exploring member and urged us to attend a meeting. We felt skeptical, as we weren't really ready to think about this idea that seemed larger than we could handle at the time. Now it seems we can handle not only the idea, but the reality of community as well. So many people were willing to help us out when we were struggling the most, and I know I would do the same if I were on the other side of the situation. This group of people involved in the Belfast Cohousing community feels open and inviting to me and my family. Having a community to support and be supported by seems to be extremely important with all I have come across in life so far. Not only would there be opportunity to help others with whatever their needs or desires are, but we have a chance to be a part of the creation of something sustainable, beautiful and extremely satisfying. In return, we are living more efficiently, with help nearby if needed, and with community for our kids to grow up knowing their neighbors! If there is one lesson I have learned from this life over and over and over again, it would be that our time here is finite. So, why not make the best of it and share the joys and struggles with our friends who are also our neighbors?!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You've become an Exploring Member, now what? — Elizabeth Garber

Since we have several new Exploring Members, I'm including a letter I wrote to Arielle earlier this summer after she and her family joined and had come to a first General meeting. She had written in to the egroup to say "We are so incredibly buzzed and excited, but now what? When are meetings and what can I do?..."

We have worked to minimize numbers of big meetings so more work can happen on projects and in smaller committees. The General Meeting is held on the second Sunday of the month on the same day as our Open House's so we can make a day of it and so long distance members can enjoy both . We have many other ways that members of the Cohousing community can get together for fun and projects. Some are planned events where we sign-up to volunteer at events to share about Cohousing (like the Common Ground Fair coming in September) and some are spur of the moment.

When we have interested families in joining the community we've put out the word for potluck suppers at the Farmhouse, or small group lunches at Chases and then walking the land. This summer we have had some wonderful camp outs on the land. Many things like this depend on someone saying, How about we do this?! and organizing it, checking with others on dates, and seeing who comes. A fun event coming this fall with be the Women and Girls Clothes Swap party and a pot luck with our new Austrian family comes to visit in November and I'm sure many more events will be created!

A good way to help keep this project moving is joining a committee. See what's a good match for you. If you'd like to join Membership and Marketing to help with getting the word out, you can contact Wendy and/or Denise. If you're interested in Process committee contact Jim. If you'd like to write something for the E-news, a new member profile or responses to joining, you can send that to Steve. If you want to join the Finance Committee contact Sanna or Margi. If you want to help plan and organize Open Houses, definately let me know!

If you want to learn alot more about what's happening nationally with cohousing go to the National Website. Several members went to the National Convention this summer and I think we are going to be getting DVD's of keynote speeches. Ask Wendy about this.

When I first got involved I looked for a project that I could take on and really make my own. I looked at something that could help take some of the weight off Sanna and Wendy and the Steering committee. Organizing Open houses and writing the press releases and posters seemed just right for me.

As you find out what is happening in the community see what area speaks to you where you'd like to participate and that is a good match for your skills. Steve saw the Website as a good place to bring his energy. Since he started he's add the Enewsletter, gotten us on Twitter, added videos and loads of gorgeous photos! In August, Coleen and I were simultaneously taken over with Farmhouse nesting instincts. She cleaned and organized and I found and hung art work. We met with Sanna beforehand, confered, checked over everything and then cruised.

We seem to be a community where people listen to what is next, check in with the right folks, and keep things moving. Our primary marketing focus is to create more ways to connect with families to give them a connection to our community is . Any thoughts, confer with Wendy and Denise!

The best way to strengthen our community and help us grow is to have fun together! A group of Cohousing families went sailing over Labor Day weekend, and two members worked on Sanna and Alan's boat so that it was ready so they could go sailing. Other members have gone kayaking together, gardened together, and moved heavy furnature into the Common house with speed, fun and efficiency! We'd played with Jeffrey's amazing bubble making collection of gizmos at the Belfast Street Fair and we have danced in the street together in the summer on Thursday nights as well as grilled hot dogs and cut watermelon to give away at the Cohousing booth.

If you want to see what our future cohousing homes look like you can peek at the spec house (our 1500 sq. foot house), designed and built by Geo-Logic, drive down Crocker Road (off Route 3) and see a new house just going up to the right down in a field. You can read on Geo Logic website information on their designs.

When I first got involved as an Exploring Member I felt that not only the community and vision had opened to me, but also the land. I got tall Muck boots (for tromping through tall wet grass last year) and started exploring the land every chance I could. I followed the Little River, explored the woods, found the two ponds, the gravel pit, the valley of enourmous apple trees (perfect for apple picking for cider pressing in October). I fell in love with the land, the flocks of geese flying overhead, and meditated next to the stream. In the winter groups of us cross country skied up the stream and snowshoed across meadows, and there was a sledding and skating party. A group of us met at dusk in the spring with Mike Shannon who taught us how to listen to the sound of the woodcocks' mating dance.

What's been great for me to realize, is that our cohousing community is not something I'm waiting for, it's something we are creating right now.

Since I wrote to Arielle to answer some of these questions, I lent them cohousing books to read, had a fabulous waffle breakfast with Arielle, Rob, Willa and baby Jem, and mentioned Wendy's dream that we have a blog some day. Arielle jumped right in and made it happen! Thanks Arielle and to all our new Exploring Members! Who knows what gifts you'll bring to the community!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cohousing and Marriage — Arielle Bywater

For some reason, a bunch of friends of mine have marriages in trouble at the moment. It's a little alarming to me. Even though my marriage feels very solid, it's hard sometimes to look around and see and hear all the talk about the impossibility of heterosexual monogamy and of the institution of marriage and not feel somewhat doomed. (I should say that although I am using the term "marriage," I am really thinking about long-term partnership of any kind.) Sandra Tsing Loh's piece about her divorce in the recent Atlantic drove this point home further for me.

And here is another way cohousing seems beneficial to me: cohousing can help us avoid so many of the pitfalls of modern marriage. Pitfalls like the isolation of living in the suburbs and waiting, alone and tired, for your partner to come home from work. The isolation of parenting solo. Cooking and eating and cleaning and gardening alone. Plus: the lack of models of good, long marriages. The lack of models of productive and compassionate communication.

I'm not naive. I know that living in intentional community does not solve all of life's problems, or guarantee a good relationship; in fact, living in community sometimes seems to facilitate "partner roulette." But when I think about it for myself, right now, I think that being around others who have good attitudes towards the work a long-term relationship, and focusing one's whole life on living better with others, seems like it would go a long way in keeping one's own relationship healthy and sustainable.
I found this quote on the subject:
"Cohousing takes a lot of pressure off the family. The modern family is over stressed-especially emotionally. A cohousing environment balances marriage and offers some relief to the emotional burdens on the modern family. Living in community provides an inherent support system. A mother with 2 children who desires a divorce must carefully consider the dramatic lifestyle consequences. Will it be too difficult to raise the children alone? Obviously, cohousing doesn't eliminate these problems, nor should it try to, but it does add to peoples independence. yet even though divorce might appear easier in cohousing, the statistics show that the divorce rate for people who live in cohousing is lower than for comparable segments of the general population."
--Niels Revsgaard, sociologist and member of Drejerban, from Cohousing-A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, 2nd Ed

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Holy Work" — Arielle Bywater

I attended a workshop this weekend with the Coho folks about facilitating meetings. Mundane topic, one would think--except that it wasn't at all. Instead, it was a group of folks from different backgrounds trying to figure out how to run meetings in which we can meet one another with compassion, curiousity, and good will in order to work toward a greater good. In the process of learning how to do this, we had such a meeting: lots of laughter, good food, friendship and ideas exchanged.

One highlight for me: Dyan, the woman who led our training, asked everyone to get into "spectrum" formation over an issue as an example of how to use this meeting technique. (It involves people lining up according to where they are on a "spectrum" in terms of their feelings about a certain issue.) The issue she gave us was how we felt about firearms in the cohousing community. As someone who has lived mostly in major urban centers--New York City, Boston, and Chicago--my adult life, and who has never hunted (I don't even eat meat!), I sort of assumed that a room full of eco-minded progressives such as we have at Belfast Cohousing would all be of like minds: "Firearms in our community?! No way!" Little did I know! The "spectrum" line ran the gamut, and soon I was paired up with another Coho person who was as pro-firearms in the community as I was against.

And guess what? After only a couple minutes of discussion on the topic, my mind was changed. Absolutely changed. While I like to think I'm open-minded, I am also opinionated and pretty reactionary, so it was utterly refreshing to see how easily and smoothly my mind could be changed...and with zero conflict. This happens all too rarely in my life! In place of conflict and stubborness was a genuine willingness to listen, on both sides, and the result was that I walked away from that day with a new understanding about the culture and belief around firearms in rural Maine...and my own ignorance on the matter.

And this was just a sample exercise, to demonstrate how to use a technique! We weren't even really discussing firearms in the community!

Dyan called what we were doing that day, gathering to learn how to be better at facilitating and participating in our group meetings, "holy work." It struck me that this was not an overstatement at all. There is something deeply spiritual about trying to form an intentional community. It reminds me of meditation, or other difficult, worthwhile spiritual practice.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wisdom of the Lost Boys — Steve Chiasson

We just saw a powerful movie about the Lost Boys of Sudan called "God Grew Tired of Us"
The film follows a handful of the Lost Boys — young men from age 5 to 15 or so — who were forced by civil war to flee their homes in Sudan, ultimately to be resettled in various parts of the US. One of the things that really struck me about this film was that, despite their gratitude for the opportunity they'd been given, they deeply missed the community they left behind in Africa. All their material needs were met (and then some!), but the kind of community they were accustomed to — full of shared experience and genuine interest in each other's welfare — didn't exist for them here in the states. It was an interesting and right-on observation — one that cohousers, too, are well aware of and working to remedy…

Friday, August 21, 2009

Shifting Consciousness — Elizabeth Garber

Good morning, Arielle. I woke up thinking about your dream and wanted to tell you how this first year of being involved in the Cohousing community has been for my urgent self, like yours in the dream.

I, too, had very headstrong parts of me that were quite nervous about joining a group that would be designing and creating a place where I would live. What if something that was really important to me didn’t happen? Would I have to work hard to “make” something happen? What if it didn’t go the way I wanted? I think of the wise statement about a new relationship that we bring our old patterns but we have the possibility to heal ourselves or we can harm ourselves. I came to cohousing with my old patterns on alert from being in groups, which are certainly complex layering of many relationships. I remembered arduous discussions of Robert’s rules at Berkeley Free Clinic meetings in the 70’s, and exhausting board meetings for the parent-run Toddy Pond School in the 90’s. After a year with Belfast Cohousing, I can say this has been a remarkably healing year where I have come to trust the wisdom and magic that happens with this mature group of individuals working skillfully in the process of creating community together.

I think I have experienced a major shift in my consciousness as I have come to trust our group decision making process. I hear other members repeatedly remarking on this happening for them as well. So many times we have come in with a strongly held belief, and then over the space of the meeting and discussion, so much information and many points of view are expressed and heard. Somehow a common understanding and resolution seems to arise out of our talking together; a consensus agreement becomes almost effortless, taking most of us to a decision we might never having imagined making. We sometimes talk with wonder about what happened afterwards. I sometimes feel like we come to a river with all our personal little boats of different ideas, yet something happens when we get into the river and begin sailing together. In this process of coming to understanding every aspect of a decision, we often end up in a beautiful schooner all sailing together.

There are so many stories of particular moments I could tell. We could sit around talking for hours to do that. But for now, here is a glimpse of the astounding day we realized we could live wisely, better economically, with more energy efficiency, and with less impact on the land, if our homes were duplexes. Most of our members have been living in individual houses, many on vast farms with no other houses in sight, and at the beginning of the meeting duplexes seemed unimaginable. But by the end, something had shifted in us so much that it was as if we were breathing differently, yes, as if we breathed together, yes, we can do this because it makes the best sense for the whole project, for the whole community. Other decisions, like the pet policy, we are developing slowly, with many discussions so that we can come to something we can all live with, seeing our pets in the context of a whole community as well as in terms of the impact on the land and wild animals.

I think of Coleen talking about how we are going to have to make a shift in consciousness in this millennium, in how we think about living in groups and to create small households. We have to shift in our attachments to our ‘stuff’ and expand in how we are with each other. We have to become aware of the arrogance of our expectations from the privilege that we assume as Americans. I am aware of the process that is unfolding as I am involved with this group. I came in a year ago as an individual thinking about how I want My House, and My Gardens, and I now think about what I want to share and bring to the Common House and Common Gardens before I think my cozy little house.

I know there will be many thresholds of developing trust. I know there will be honeymoon periods and other times in the trenches of hard work together. I know the shadow sides of all of us will rear, and hopefully our dreams will help us understand those sides. But in the meantime, I see how I am healing from this journey. I am trusting the skills and willingness to learn and grow together that is happening in our community.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dreaming of Cohousing — Arielle Bywater

A few nights ago I had a cohousing dream. It was, of course, about consensus decision-making. In it, a group of folks were trying to decide on a name and signage for a retail store we were doing through cohousing (on site?). There were three guys who wanted to name it after and use the image of a goddess, which for some reason I thought was a terrible idea. (Interesting that it was three GUYS aruging FOR a goddess which I was AGAINST...but that's fodder for a different kind of blog.) I finally realized I was not going to get my way and I had to stand aside, which was not easy for me.

All of which is to say, I guess, that I'm realizing that cohousing is not just buying a house in an established community and getting to know your neighbors well. It's not even just planning such a community. It's working with and establishing that community from the beginning, which, like parenting, partnering, or any other difficult and long-term and complicated relationship, requires real work and one's best self.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I'm Considering Cohousing — Arielle Bywater

One of the members of the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage recently suggested that we use this blog to explore some of the reasons why we're considering this option as candidly as possible. She made the point that many Americans respond with fear to the idea of their individual needs being met. I admit to often being one of those people!

Anyway, as a first stab at this enormous topic, here's what I wrote for the BC&E e-newsletter:

Ever since I can remember, I've been fascinated by countercultures and subcultures. (Watching the documentary Woodstock on video twenty years after it took place was enough to reduce me to self-pitying, born-in-the-wrong-time tears.) As the suburban kid of religious Jewish parents who were also sort of hippie ex-urbanites who also loved tent camping (and took me to Acadia when I was still in diapers), I was brought up in a wealth of interesting dichotomies, and have always been most at home outside the mainstream culture.

Now that I have a family of my own, I am constantly thinking of how best to live a life that reflects my values and satisfies my desires — which, like my childhood, are full of dichotomies. I want quiet (I write poems) and fellowship (I'm pretty outgoing, especially for a poet). Interdependence and independence. Simplicity and challenge. Freedom and responsibility. Like many people I know, I am striving to live a slower, greener life, but don't have the skill-set or time to homestead — and don't want to spend one more second in a car than I have to. I love pedestrian-friendly, in-town living — heck, I love big-city living! — except when it feels crowded and noisy and unfriendly. I want a life that is affordable, sustainable, and connected to the seasons, the landscape, and the people around me in deep and meaningful ways. Oh, and I want community with like-minded souls who will teach and inspire and enrich me. It's not too much to ask, is it?

To me, the idea of cohousing offers both a very old-fashioned, wholesome vision — kids running through the grass in wild packs! Baking chocolate-chip cookies for sixty people! Car pools!--and a genuinely radical experiment in living, one which offers a downright revolutionary antidote to many of our accepted but misguided American notions about house and home. Even what worries me about cohousing — how I think I would have to learn to be a better listener; how I would be forced to own less and share more; how, as a parent, I might not know where my children were every minute of the day — excites me, because I can see how much I'd benefit from those lessons.

I hope others in the group will chime in here about their hopes and fears!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Instigating" — Arielle Bywater

Steve's nickname for me is so much more revolutionary-sounding than I feel! I will aim to live up to it, in a good way.

My idea for this blog was that it could be a way for those of us participating in the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage community-in-progress/process to chime in about it as we go along in an informal, as-it-happens sort of way. Maybe it can serve as another log of our experiences as they happen, and hopefully others out there interested in intentional communities will listen in. It seems like there will be multiple authors to this blog, which will make it all the more diverse and rich in its perspective.

For now, though, I'm off to bed (the dog was sick last night, and kept us all up--we're wiped out). So goodnight. And bye, Sanna and family! We can't wait to hear about what you discover while abroad!

Heading to Denmark — Sanna McKim

Our bags are packed, kids are finally sleeping after much excitement about tomorrow's plane flight (it's not Denmark they're excited about as much as the flip down tables and free movie!), list of Danish cohousing communities in hand, and we're off to visit my mother's homeland tomorrow morning. Hoping to see Jernstoberiet, Tinggarden and Munksogaard (Danish bofaellesskaber) at a minimum, after several days of riding ancient bikes along the north coast of Sealand. Stay tuned! (I'm open to ideas of rural communities to visit when I'm there, so surf the web and post suggestions!).

A new outreach tool — Steve Chiasson

Many thanks to Arielle Bywater, AKA "The Instigator" for putting her shoulder to the wheel and providing the nudge that was needed to get this particular vehicle moving. Looking forward to it! — Steve