A college student doing an independent study wrote to me a few days ago, asking a bunch of questions about life on the commune.  We get stuff like this all the time, and sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to answer the same questions over and over again.  We’ve finally compiled a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document and posted it on our website, so we can just direct people to look at that.  This student, though, asked some questions that aren’t included in the FAQ, and I took some time this morning to write back to her.  I thought all you Over the Edge fans might enjoy reading my answers…

I was wondering if you would discuss some possible pros and cons of living in a community? 
a quick list off the top of my head:

PROS
– deep relationships with the people I interact with on a daily basis (instead of passing anonymous people on the street or having vague superficial interactions with cashiers and other people whose work I depend on)  In community, I know all of the people whose work supports my life — and beyond simply KNOWING them, my work suppports their lives, too!  Our interdependency is vividly tangible.
– collective decision-making:  I have direct access to the decisions that affect my life instead of the decisions being made by politicians who have never met me and aren’t aware of the impact their decisions will have on my life.
– homegrown food, without pesticides or the exploitation of workers
– homegrown culture, without the commodification of women’s bodies and the glorification of consumerism
– parties where I know everyone
– not my job to worry about bills (someone else has decided they’ll do that work)
– access to valuable shared resources (woodshop, sauna, industrial kitchen, massage tables, pond, playgrounds…)

CONS
– collective decision making: I have to share decisions about what to spend money on, how many pets we’re going to have, car use, nudity norms, etc.  I don’t get to decide for myself, I have to negotiate with 100 people who don’t all have the same values as me.
– no weekends, there’s always more work to be done, and even if I choose to take a day or two off, all of the work that needs to be done stews in the back of my mind
– no escape from people you don’t get along with.  In a group of 100 people who all know each other and have lived together for years, there’s inevitably some folks who don’t like each other.  You’re in community meetings together, you get scheduled for work with them, you have to ask them a question about something they’re in charge of, you live in the same building as them…

a lot of these might be specific to Twin Oaks, and not so applicable to other communities (especially ones of different sizes)

What is the difference between a cooperative and a community? 
ahh, terminology…  I’m just making this up off the top of my head: I think of a cooperative specifically in terms of decision-making (there are food co-ops and worker-owned cooperative businesses).  A cooperative is a group where everyone involved works together to make decisions.   A community is a more general sharing, maybe more holistic (though not necessarily).   A community might share any or all of: land, values, common interests, projects.  The term “community” is a lot more vague.  We live in a “global community” because we share this earth.  There’s a “dance community” in New England who get together once a year for a dance conference.  I think it’s possible for a community to not be a cooperative, but I think any cooperative falls under the broad label of community.

Do you feel like you lose any personal freedom living at twin oaks?  If so, what?
Sure, it’s a sacrifice of one level of freedom in order to gain another level.  I don’t cook my own meals, so I don’t decide what I’m going to have for dinner.  I have to be quiet in my residence after 10pm.  I don’t have my own car, so it’s hard for me to audition for a play in town because I can’t be sure I’ll always have car to drive in for rehearsals.  The space I have as my own personal, private room is relatively tiny.

  Why twin oaks? 
When I was looking for communities to visit, I knew I wanted to experience a place that had been around for awhile and was relatively stable.  I wanted to experience a different way of life that was actually sustainable, not a pipe dream that was going to fail in a few years. When I came here for my 3 week visit, I met people who I felt a strong connection with and I enjoyed the work in the garden.

Are you happy there? What defines happiness?  What is happiness and is it different for everyone?
I could pontificate for days about the nature of happiness.  I’m not going to go there this morning, though I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.  The basic answer about my happiness here is that I feel fulfilled in some very basic ways.  I engage in emotionally healthy interactions most of the time.  My body is healthy and strong because of the work I do and the food I get to eat here.  I have a high level of freedom to express myself creatively without judgement from others.  When these needs are fulfilled, I’m happy.  And there are other ways that I’m not fulfilled here, and I’m planning to leave in January to pursue other things.  I want to have access to more of the world on a regular basis.  I want to travel.  I want to study sociology and teach college classes.  These are things I can’t do here.  I would have some unhappiness (though I wouldn’t necessarily be unhappy) if I stayed, because I would have unfulfilled dreams and desires that I wasn’t working towards.

What is religion and how does it manifest at twin oaks?
I’d say that religion is a set of beliefs about the nature of reality.  Religion is up to the individual at Twin Oaks, and I often wish that we had a more cohesive collective understanding about the nature of reality!  Religion and spirituality don’t play into our discussions about decisions very often, and I wish it did more so that we’d have a clearer sense of purpose and intention.

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Well, that’s been my morning today — thinking and writing about life at Twin Oaks while I look out the window at the clothes on the line blowing in the wind and the leaves on the trees chaning colors before my eyes.  Virginia has embraced autumn just in the course of a few weeks, and suddenly it really feels like fall!  With the time change last weekend, it’s now dark before dinnertime and we’re no longer eating at the picnic tables outside.  Change change change… everything changes, it’s the nature of this life.

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