When I was in 8th grade, all I wanted was a new pair of Umbro soccer shorts. This style is coming back into fashion, so it might be slightly easier to understand the desire today. But my adult self has been baffled for some time by the ardency of that 8th grade desire. It had nothing to do with utility or beauty. I didn’t play soccer, and these shorts were not beautiful. They were pure signifier: of means, of ability to use those means to knit myself solidly into the status quo.
"But we have also been well-trained to resist inconvenience, even of the mildest sort"
It's funny you should post this today as I'm sitting here on my couch apartment hunting. I'm currently renting a whole house in the suburbs that I've decided I can't afford if I ever want to actually pay my student loans off, so the hunt for something more reasonable has begun. This has come with a lot of questions though, about what I *actually need*. The cost of convenience is high.
The truth is that, even for this relatively antisocial guy, after a year of near total isolation thanks to the pandemic, I think what I want more than anything is to be somewhere that isn't isolating. I've become accustomed to my garage, and my lawn, and my washer and dryer. But I think I would be happy to give that all up for an "artsy" one bedroom in a walkable area of the city. I've *never* lived in the city. I've never parked my car on the street. I've never had to use a laundromat. But the isolation of the suburbs has become very ugly to me. I'm willing to sacrifice a lot of convenience to avoid living in some depressing apartment complex just because it's convenient.
There's opportunity in learning how to live a different lifestyle.
As someone who has dreamed her entire life of just being alone and has felt loneliness maybe once during this pandemic, I'll admit that my first response was to balk at this suggestion. Even though living alone has taught me how truly overwhelming it is to do everything for yourself! I think the big fear for many, but certainly for neurodiverse folks, is what I would consider the "interaction tax" of mutual aid. Sharing dinner with someone usually means having to put on a social mask for potentially hours, which can be exhausting, but this is not considered a "contribution" in kind and thus just becomes extra labor. It becomes overwhelming to imagine all of your physical needs being tied to social interactions that you find unbearable. That said, I work 8+ hours a day while masking my symptoms during meetings etc. in order to afford to live alone, so I do wonder if the net amount of "interaction tax" would go down. There's also the argument that these sorts of mutually beneficial communities can be built to accommodate a greater diversity of abilities, which is ideal, but I think we are a long way away from the general population having a strong enough understanding of disability that you can assume that of any community you move to (and certainly not any community you are born into). That said, I definitely see the appeal of this model! My parents couldn't afford a babysitter while they were at work on their own and so pooled with a few other families; I certainly have felt the call of "I wish all my friends lived in the same neighborhood" (or the same state at least); and I contribute to direct aid when I can because I know that "donation to big non-profit" =/= food on the table or bills paid. Definitely going to read Jezer-Morton's articles now - thank you for sharing.
I dunno -- in theory, I get all of this, and don't really disagree with the crux of it at all. But, personally, I just want my solitude for the most part more than anything else. I lived with someone (romantically) for most of my 20s, but not really because I _wanted_ to, it was kind of a situation that happened and then, like many things, it was difficult to end because there was no big reason to end it (other than...I didn't want to be in that kind of relationship/not alone). I've lived alone for the last 12 years, and also avoided monogamous entanglements for that long, and...I just can't imagine wanting to change either of those situations ever again. I've always been desperate to protect my solitude more than I ever crave company -- even with the people I love most -- and also I just don't ever get _lonely_. I miss specific people/feel lonely for them, specifically, at times, of course. But wholesale loneliness? I just don't get it, like I don't even have a concept of what that feels like. I travel semi-regularly (pre-COVID, obvs) and I have _always_ traveled alone -- the idea of taking a vacation with someone is basically horrifying to me. All the things I enjoy doing are things I almost always like doing better by myself. I'd probably describe myself as a near-hermit who just happens to be also pretty gregarious and really good with people? Like most people, I miss my day-to-day mundane loose interactions with strangers or vague acquaintances, that kind of thing (and of course I miss the option of sex/physical intimacy and also hugging my friends and all of that) but the solitude of the pandemic has in no way been the difficult part of the past year for me; living _with_ people in close proximity in a commune-ish way sounds ideal in the social-contract kind of way, but also...I'd go mad so quickly if I had to be in close proximity to others constantly, my god.
For years, my friends and I have joked about buying some land together, but it’s becoming less of a joke.
I wrote an essay about this a few years ago, after my sister and her family hit a financial wall and had to move in with us. It was *hard* and nothing any of us wanted. But it taught me a lot about the softening and adapting we have to do if we truly care about one another. In a society where we already understood that mutual care is a primary necessity, they wouldn't have been in the position they were in in the first place and we might not have needed the lesson. Living together for over a year sucked, we all agreed on that. We wanted our own space, our own routines, our own lives. But there is a vast territory between living commune-like or on top of one another (literally), and the isolated every-person-for-themselves idealization that North American society is prone to (and which our car-centric infrastructure makes very difficult to extract ourselves from). We now live next door to each other and are able to give mutual support (like shared dinners, impromptu child care for a couple hours in the evenings sometimes, or the inevitable "Do you have any powdered sugar we could borrow?") without having to be in each other's spaces day in and day out.
AH, you've outdone yourself with this column.
I've been asked to be part of a mutual aid association here in Mexico and what that will look like is very much on the minds of all of those involved. As you say: when you feel cared for yourself, it's easier to care for others.
I'm reading Sylvia Federici's "Re-Enchanting the World" right now and her explication of how capitalism keeps enacting new "enclosures" in order to extract wealth and labor applies to the atomization of personal life we're all experiencing. I dearly hope we'll come up with new and creative ways to share labor and resources coming out of this ... sadly, I'm seeing a lot of "the new Roaring 20s" which is not going to be that.
This really ties in to what I've been thinking about aaaaaall weekend. Thank you, AHP. It also reminds me how often people get all snippy about how Thoreau really wasn't isolated, that [insert snotty voice], "His MOM did his LAUNDRY!" But isolation wasn't his point, living intentionally was. He remained part of his community. He was a surveyor for people. A babysitter. He enjoyed visitors. He wanted something not so different from what you are talking about, where people (a product of his era, it's man this, man that, meh) aren't enslaved by unnecessary toil, and for what?
I'm really worried about so many of my friends. It's what I was planning to write about next week anyway, now this has solidified that for me. Thank you.
This is such a good subject! I have been in a sort of “quasi-commune” since august when our school announced they would not open in the fall. A pod with a family we casually knew, now we are some kind of “reliance-kin.” We share childcare, remote learning, making dinner for each other 2+ meals a week, muddy and snowy kids clothes getting passed back and forth... now we know how to do the dishes in each other’s kitchens and put them all away, where the broom is, etc. Our kids love each other and sometimes don’t. We know the emotional ups and downs of all the adults. It’s messy, and loud, not always convenient to my own need for personal space, but for that there is usually wine ;) there are gifts here and also challenges. At dinner, in our bubble, we wonder what parts of this will we continue. If we can once again rely on anyone, will we lean on others less?
Thank you. “I’ve figured out how I’m most comfortable, and I’m unaccustomed to bending my desires towards others.” is something I've been trying to articulate for the last few years. The best I could do was "people want community, but they don't want to do the work to create a community" which wasn't quite it. This shows up in the large ways you mention but in small ways as well. For many years our shop at work threw a giant all school holiday party. The shop provided some basic dishes (a turkey, a ham) but mostly it was done by pot luck via a sign up sheet. Then slowly over a few years people didn't bring as many dishes, so we started subbing in catering which had budget limits, and students started coming in, piling up giant plates and leaving immediately. Which, fine they are poor students looking for a free meal but part of the joy was interacting with members of the community you might not spend time with regularly. Eventually it was such a stressful burden we stopped doing it entirely much to everyone's disappointment. I'm still not entirely sure how the attitude changed from "a community event organized by our shop" to "a party thrown by our shop" other than people not wanting to inconvenience themselves. And hey, I get it. I definitely tossed down a plate of cookies at the last in person charity Holiday Bake-Off with an attitude of "Here's your goddamn cookies. Quit bugging me." It's just a shame we all seem to be in an I-don't-want-the-inconvenience headspace as opposed to being able to take turns with community labor. Which despite being a hermit, I am usually down for.
I’m excited to read this and more of Jezer-Morton’s work. I think graduate student married student housing has come the closest to commune living in my life and it was wonderful. Living in cinder block one and two bedroom apartments on the outskirts of campus, sharing playgrounds, community center and gardening plots. I depended so much on my neighbors for help, entertainment and friendship.
This was a great piece and I do really love thinking about communes...I went through a phase where moving to The Farm was a dream of mine.
But one thing that’s left out of most narratives about communes is how your worth is tied to your ability to work.
You do bring up childcare and eldercare which makes sense in commune ideology...children WILL be able to work one day and elders DID work so now they get care. You also bring up how it’s can function as a safety net if you get sick but to me that reads as a temporarily disabling sickness.
But in reality communes just aren’t set up for disabled people. I think the sticker for me comes in this resurgence (thanks to the pandemic and work done by you, AHP) in realizing our worth is not tied up in our productivity but communes are set up in exactly that manner.
So I don’t know, just some things to think about!
This is something I’ve thought about a lot. Pre-pandemic, my close friends and I discussed a "someday" pooling of resources so that we could make a life together as we got older.
Then the pandemic hit. I was alone in my studio apartment, separated from my fiancé by a closed border, and it seemed natural for my best friend and her husband to ask me if I wanted to stay in their spare room for the duration. So for the first time in ten years, I had housemates. And...it was easy, well, easy-ish (there was a pandemic and we took turns having depressive fall-aparts).
There are always enough people to split up the household work, in ways that no one has to do too much or things they hate. (I do most, but not all, of the kitchen stuff, and never have to touch a vacuum cleaner, and for me that is the best and happiest of divisions of labor.)
I think it helps that all three of us are introverts; that the house is big enough that we can have space when necessary; that we are all people who try to choose kindness; that my best friend and I have been friends for twenty a couple of decades and have worked through mutual exasperation and periodic incomprehension and come out the other side into abiding affection.
As I think about the future one of the things I fear is losing that sort of community. I don’t necessarily want to live with them forever (see the aforementioned fiancé in Canada), but losing that interconnected intimacy, where there are always enough hands, and the sense of safety that comes with it,
I'm someone who feels more comfortable one on one and in small groups, and often feel like when I'm in larger groups, it's harder to form genuine connections without feeling like you're excluding other people, or feeling excluded when other people do. An idea of a commune sounds good in theory, but I don't think it's so easy to shake the dynamics that come into play.
I can't read this and not think of Rutger Bregman's book, HumanKind, which deals pretty extensively with the dissolution of mutually beneficial societal fabrics (and the subsequent birth of cultures of violence) as part of the rise of property rights.
I love this piece so much. I have long wished to set up quasi-communal living with close friends. I live in the Bay Area where housing is prohibitively expensive and it always seems to be a natural solution to the problem. It surprises me that families haven’t taken on this solution but I think it’s largely that the existing infrastructure doesn’t supported and new construction is so expensive. Thanks for sharing this perspective!