Through the Looking Glass #5
From: PattyMara (
Date: Fri, 23 Oct 1998 10:03:33 -0500
After 8 weeks in residence here at Tierra Nueva (Central California Coast) big
lessons about living in community are bubbling up to the surface.  Households
continue to move in at about one or two a week now, so we are up to 8, with
two more homes closing escrow this weekend.  

When a new household arrives we've established the pattern of cooking dinner
for him/her/them during the moving chaos.  A sort of welcome home, put-your-
feet-up-for-a-minute-and-relax gesture.  This past week, three of us planned a
dinner for two households, and since none of us had room to seat 15 people in
our individual homes, we naturally decided to use the common house upper deck.
I made a point to invite the other residents so there would be no sense of
exclusion.  On the evening of the dinner, a committee meeting of several
members took place on the lower deck of the common house.  Some of these folk
were residents, others were not.  When they saw us making preparations to eat,
they got ready for another wonderful meal together.  To further complicate the
situation, one of the residents who we had invited earlier, arrived with her
plate and silverware and announced to the committee "There's a dinner group
tonight.  Where are we eating?"  

So we called her upstairs and up comes some of the committee, ready to eat.  I
was faced with the dilemma of telling the truth--we had prepared enough food
for 15 or keeping quiet, trusting in the miracle of the loaves and fishes that
there would be enough for all.  I chose to tell the truth.  One of the non-
resident committee member turned around and went home, hurt and angry.
Another stayed so we could process what had happened, and discuss the larger
issue of when events occur in the common house, are they always open to
everyone?  We ended up encouraging the non-residents to stay and eat with us,
after calling up the one who walked home.  We had a good meal together, there
was enough food for all, and the two new households felt welcomed.  

For the three of us who did the planning and meal prep and cleanup, there were
some mixed feelings.  One of us was insistent that we must support the notion
that sometimes not everyone is invited.  That small gatherings can be planned.
That we cannot be expected to feed or entertain everyone in the community all
the time.  When there were a smaller number of us living here, one of us could
make dinner, wheel it over in the garden cart and serve it to the new family.
Easy.  Now that there are more of us, I feel inclined to include everyone
here, and that is probably my mistake.  It led to the misunderstanding that it
was a dinner group kind of event, which we do now, sometimes twice a week.    

I realize that this is all part of the boundary work that seems to be one of
my life issues.  I tend to feel responsible for everyone's sense of belonging.
I hope to learn how to set better boundaries, and not feel the obligation to
include everyone all the time.  With clear communication, I hope that any of
us can plan a meal or event that can be for some of us, and not have hurt
feelings from those of us not included.

But the larger issue of common house usage still has lots of discussion around
it.  At last night's business meeting (in the common house!)  we were
presented with a detailed process for scheduling events in the various rooms
and reserving the guest rooms.  It was complicated and overwhelming, and had
provisions for setting dates for events through the year 2000. No kidding.  It
felt just too overwhelming to many of us.  After a long discussion we decided
to let it simmer for a while, until we had a better sense of what kinds of
usage our common house will get, and how we relate to it as a personal space.
There was resistance to opening it up to the public.  I was part of this
group.  We have worked so long to create this place.  I want to hunker down
and get to know it, enjoy different activities, sense what the rhythms are and
make it our own.  One member called for a time of gestation, nine months of
letting it be our own space.   And I like that concept.  A time of waiting and
growing into this new place, this shared vision. 

The public meetings that could occur here are all deserving events, and have
one or more members involved in the groups, like the local N.O.W. chapter
which wants to throw a holiday party here, or the Braille Group of parents
with vision impaired children who need a place to meet.  All very deserving.
But with these kinds of events come the issues of parking (very limited on
site and restricted off site) and (get ready for a lawyer word) liability.  

So we have lots to discuss.  I suspect that after a time of gestation, we'll
create a compromise that will feel right, with a good balance of
personal/community use and public use.  

I wonder how other groups have responded to these issues?  What kind of common
house usage occurs at other cohousing communities and what policies seem to
work for you?  

And, how do you throw a private party in the midst of community?

Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing
Where we are packing up for our 7th annual Big Sur campout up the coast.
Hoping for clear skies, warm water at Sand Dollar beach and long hours around
the campfire under the stars.


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