Spoiler: This post has no descriptions of graphic sex.
“Can I kiss you?” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. It was asked across a cuddle pile in the midst of a party up at the conference site where several people were making new romantic connections.
“I don’t really know you very well.” Was the reply I was slightly surprised to hear. But then something really powerful and slightly profound happened. Nothing.
The mood did not change. No one got embarrassed and felt like they needed to leave. No one laughed at the rejection or felt sorry for someone. The party just moved on.
We think and talk a lot about consent culture in the communes. We do orientations for visitors and guests so they don’t make cultural mistakes around initiating intimacy, which is easy to do if you are just mimicking what you see others doing. We explore new types of agreements around boundaries. And the reward for our efforts is we get to take some types of risks, like my friend who got rejected from the make out session.
What this does is create comfort and safety. It makes people feel like their boundaries are going to be respected. This in turn often helps them to push limits out. This reveals new possibilities and new connections.
And thus the party drifted right up to the edge of becoming an orgy. As a funologist, this is something I want to understand. For when you push aside all the sophomoric jokes and embarrassment about what orgies are, assuming they are done in a healthy consent environment, they are daring and liminal events. They change peoples lives.
And in this case, the “almost” does not really matter. Everyone could feel the possibility, we had created the space that was that safe and daring.
If you live in community for a while, traditions form around you. And so it is with Hawina’s birthday. Part of the evenings festivities will be us singing the English translation of the Dutch birthday song. This is a song that is only sung this way here, Hawina imported it herself by accident many years ago when someone asked for her tradition to be adapted to local culture.
Werewolves is another birthday favorite game. Some people call this game Mafia. It is a good birthday game because it requires at least 8 people to play. In our first pass, we had 15 people and Sky played god. I was the first person killed. I did not even get a chance to accuse anyone else before i was silenced. I did not take it personally. Hawina won (except the last towns person (new member Emily) was “the Hunter” role, who gets to kill one person as they die, and thus killed Hawina who was the last surviving werewolf – so no one won).
In the second round of werewolves, i got killed in the first “evening” again! Now i had to take it personally. Hawina won again with Emily as her “lover” and they survived all the werewolves. [If you are unfamiliar with this game there is an interesting and exhaustive article on wikipedia on it.]
Part of the power of collective living is that we get to create our own holidays and rituals. After nearly two decades of doing birthdays, Hawina has this one just where she wants it.
The housing situation in NYC is intense. Gentrification has struck the big apple like a Mac truck hits a butterfly on the expressway. Housing is expensive, unstable and uncomfortably competitive adding to the other stresses of the city. New York City is not for the faint of heart.
When i was told there was a place in NYC that had below market rents, was a community which provided social events, food, and housing i was surprised. When i heard they had a very minimal selection process and you just signed up and got on a list i was blown away. How is this even possible, without them having a year’s long waiting list?
Part of the answer is that Ganas Community is on Staten Island. New Yorkers are fiercely territorial and many think that Staten Island is not really part of the city. It perhaps a lost county of New Jersey or its own autonomous regime. But a 25-minute free ferry ride puts you at the southern tip of Manhattan and into the best subway system in the country.
But it is more than the accessible services that make Ganas an important place. Ganas is daring. Having a very open admissions process permits people to join the community recognizing in advance it might not work out and while they are figuring out they will get a chance to be part of it. This is not what most communities do. Instead, we (in the Louisa communities) have a highly controlled visitor program, and if we are worried we can’t accommodate your needs, then we don’t offer you a place. Even though Ganas is not an egalitarian community, there is something deeply fair (as well as daring) in this approach.
Perhaps a decade ago i ran into one of the most inspiring pieces of Ganas culture. I was in a conversation with an Oaker who had lived at Ganas for some years and they were being criticized by another person. I did not feel like the critique was justified and actually thought (were i hearing it) it would be hurtful. But this Ganasian was not just taking it in stride, they were asking for the person to elaborate. And with all sincerity were basically saying “Tell me more about these things you think are wrong with me.” Culturally, Ganas does not fear criticism, instead, it embraces it. New Yorkers are often frank with their complaints, and in this way Ganasians are typical New Yorkers, they are going to tell you what they think you are doing wrong with you (i was told at one point during Ganas planning that i was “acting like a spoiled teenager” which made me reflect on how i should be more grateful for the things which were being offered to me).
One of the big differences between most small communities and most large ones is that small communities can afford to be “exception based” and larger groups usually rely on policy. When the group can comfortably meet together and work things out, then it is fine for some member to come with their exceptional situation and for the group to work out a collective fix. But when you get much over 30 people, this can be exhausting and time-consuming. Instead, you gravitate towards designing good policy which can be applied broadly to the membership, instead of doing lots of exception handling. Ganas at size 80, pretends it is a small community which can listen to the special needs of its members and adopt collectively to try to accommodate them. And once it has found a path to taking care of its members, Ganas goes the extra mile to make it work out.
The Point A project is indebted to Ganas. About every other other month for the last three years, activists from Virginia have come up to NYC and stayed at Ganas where they have welcomed us in and fed us. They have asked for nothing for this, and when i bring it up they tell me that this is their contribution to the communities movement recruiting and expansion work that we are doing.
Ganas is media shy. I’ve written a couple of flattering blog posts about the community in the past and they have asked me to respect their privacy and not post them, which i did. I did get permission to post one on the food line. For most of the past several years there has been a waiting list at Ganas, but recently it vanished.
If you or your perhaps one of your friends has always wanted to live in NYC, but were discouraged because of crazy high rents or the isolation of the city, now might be the time to try. Write to email@example.com or come to dinner on Friday at 135 Corson Ave, Staten Island, just a 20 minute walk from the ferry.
This post originally appeared on CommuneLife Blog.
We got to Binghamton via MIT. It was one of the first presentations of the Communities in Crisis materials. It was a small crowd, perhaps half a dozen people not affiliated with the Point A project in the room.
“But they are the right people,” Raven said, and not knowing much about the Boston coop scene, I was happy to defer to him. Turned out he was right.
Rachael from the audience said we had to talk with Maximus and put Genome Collective on our agenda. And with Genome came our growing connection to Binghamton University and David Sloan Wilson and the birth of the Chloroplast Research Institute.
It is from these connections that we have started seriously exploring the thesis that living in community is more sane than not and that people who join heal with time. A radical, if not obvious, notion. There is quite some chance that Maximus’s PhD thesis will be working with the income sharing communities in an effort to prove this. Which would be wonderful for us.
We have been working with Genome Collective in Binghamton for over a year, with several Point A visits. We did some strong group process work in our early visits to Genome and, at one point, even hoped they would morph from being a group house into being an income sharing community.
The house itself has a number of positive attributes. A large separate meeting space over the garage called “the temple” is ideal for workshops, meditation or yoga classes. The house has the beginnings of a thriving culinary mushroom business. Genome has both numerous bedrooms and a top floor which can host several sleepover guests.
Maximus gave us a full schedule of classes and workshops while we were there. We presented on a number of topics including climate change, polyamory, income sharing communities and sustainability. Our classes spanned the range from large freshman lectures to small grad student seminars. What was universal was that we got thoughtful and insightful questions from every group of students and several students interested in visiting and/or studying our cultures.
It is also clear that, while we are welcome in Binghamton to do more speaking gigs at the university and to stay at Genome, the house has decided that they will be a group house instead of an income sharing community, and will not be needing the services of Point A to help them go in that direction. Our future visits will be more connected to the Twin Oaks Academic Speaking Tour (TOAST) instead of Point A work.