Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Communes!

with 4 comments

Would you share a farm with this girl?

(In Which I Declare What I Could Have Said A Lot Less Complicatedly As An 8th-Grader Who Idolized Hippies …)

It started with reading this Sandra Tsing Loh article in The Atlantic, I think.

Loh notes that today’s “creative class” mother – with her flexible, creative job; her city life; her egalitarian marriage and child-rearing ideals – actually has it worse than her previous-generation counterparts, because of the absence of a built-in family and community structure.

Working for the AARP, I come across a lot of things about multi-generational households, and I’m convinced that they offer a lot of benefit, for all parties involved; that our nuclear-family model of housing and living (which was, in so many ways, engineered in early- to mid-20th century America to push housing sales and create demand for railways and street cars)—our method of splintering off into smaller and smaller household units, of aging parents on their own back in Midwestern cities and suburbs, or shuttled off into nursing homes and retirement communities, of modern moms and dads raising kids in isolation—is all just a mess.

At this same time, I’ve been reading Laura Kipnis’ Against Love: A Polemic, which rails against the modern conception of marriage and monogamy on its own merits (or lack thereof). It’s a fascinating book that looks at what, exactly, is supposed to sustain marriages now that property ties and lineage concerns and gender roles aren’t all tied up with them; how marriage, as it stands, is a failing institution; how our conceptions that our spouse (or boyfriend/girlfriend/lover) is supposed to be everything —friend, lover, domestic and child-rearing partner, therapist, creative consultant, etc.—is ruining our lives.

Kipnis gets into this whole explanation of earlier revolts against marriage (or examinations of it, at least) in the U.S.—of the pamphlets and townhall meetings and intellectual discussions about the issue in 1800s America; of the transcendentalists and others who sought alternative forms of marriage or companionship and domestic life. These ideas used to be taken seriously, she writes, but the whole 1960s commune/free-love movement and the subsequent backlash and mockery that created have relegated any questioning of this sort into a hippie cliché.

Flash to last night, and I’m talking with my friend Morgan about yurts. Specifically, that her and her roommate, Sam, have been, for years now, looking into and researching and dreaming about getting a lot of friends together on a farm, out west, or in a college town, and living in yurts off a main house and practicing communal farming and living, etc.

And I laughed, because this is exactly the conversation that keeps playing out, over and over again, amongst me and my boyfriend and my friends in Brooklyn. We have a few friends who’ve actually started, who’ve left the cities (New York, Cincinnati) behind and ventured out to California, to Alaska, and started apprenticing at farms. We have other friends with family ties to maple farms in Scandinavia, avocado farms in SoCal. We’re tentatively and dreamily exploring our options. We’re starting with hallway gardens and kombucha brewing classes and volunteer sessions at the Greenpoint Rooftop Farms. We’re engaging in grand conversational fantasies with one another whenever we see things like a 15-room hotel for sale in upstate New York. We’re discussing these things with friends in other cities—like Morgan and Sam in Chicago; but also friends in Boston, friends in Cincinnati, friends out in California already. Everyone’s feeling this vibe.

From the yurt conversation, Morgan and I got on the topic of marriage, of children, of monogamy, spurred by the fact that the reason I’m visiting Chicago my best friend from college having a baby. She’s the first person Morgan or I are friends with —real friends, not high school friends, not the kind of friend who’s still in your home town and whose life bears no real connection or resemblance to your own—who has been married, and now, who’s having a child. Morgan and I were pondering the implications of this.

And then and there, I developed a philosophy on life and love and marriage and children and society (one that I didn’t even know I felt until I was espousing it to Morgan as if it was a long-held system of beliefs).

The only way, I realized, that all of this would work in my life is for it to take place within a multi-adult/couple/family communal living situation.

I’m not totally averse to monogamy, to marriage, to children even; but I also could never do it as part of a totally secluded nuclear family unit. I think a lot of people my age feel the same way. For whatever reasons, though, it’s not totally feasible or desirable to move back to our hometowns, to create multi-generational, communal households within our own extended families. But it may be feasible to do so amongst friends?

What if, as we age—as we reach that inevitable stage where people really do start wanting to pair off, to maybe make relationships legally and economically sanctioned, to start forming families—my friends and I all did it together? And combined it with our collective desire to be a part of the land, to create food and art together? How wonderful would it be to have those things—a life partner, children if you lean that way—without the confines of having to rely on the totally illogical goal of having one person meet all your needs in life? You could serve as each other’s companions, creative partners, domestic helpers, chefs, housemates, and friends. You would, of course, still get some of all of this from your primary partner. But you wouldn’t have to rely on them exclusively for all these things, and thereby diminish the primary love/sex bond you have with them.

I’ve pretty much decided in the past 12 hours that it’s the only possible way for me to live, create and grow old.

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Written by Elizabeth

December 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Liz, when did you start reading my mind?

    erinelizabeth

    December 17, 2009 at 7:16 pm

  2. haha. so you’re in?

    Elizabeth

    December 20, 2009 at 10:07 pm

  3. hey my mom lived on a spiritual commune in the 60s. you should ask her about it.

    Johnny John John

    December 20, 2009 at 11:52 pm

  4. Good post. This part: “And I laughed, because this is exactly the conversation that keeps playing out, over and over again, amongst me and my boyfriend and my friends in Brooklyn. We have a few friends who’ve actually started, who’ve left the cities (New York, Cincinnati) behind and ventured out to California, to Alaska, and started apprenticing at farms. We have other friends with family ties to maple farms in Scandinavia, avocado farms in SoCal. We’re tentatively and dreamily exploring our options. We’re starting with hallway gardens and kombucha brewing classes and volunteer sessions at the Greenpoint Rooftop Farms. We’re engaging in grand conversational fantasies with one another whenever we see things like a 15-room hotel for sale in upstate New York. We’re discussing these things with friends in other cities—like Morgan and Sam in Chicago; but also friends in Boston, friends in Cincinnati, friends out in California already. Everyone’s feeling this vibe.” is so very hipster-ish, twentysomething Brooklyn that it’s a bit of an eye-roll, but I get cha. One of my friends has spoken very fondly of her multi-generational experience, and it sounds ideal–you grow up with comfort, security, and an innate sense of a community and what really matters, which is something that a lot of people, myself included, really need. The problem is, as you noted, the pragmatics of the situation. I don’t really want to live down the street from my parents. Friends is nice in theory, but doesn’t that only work if there are designated roles? If everyone is working (or hustling) in their creative jobs, who has time to raise the kids? Do you really want to have the awkwardness that could ensue?

    Food for thought, all around.

    MediaMaven

    January 10, 2010 at 2:09 am


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