Fwd: Through the looking glasses?
From: PattyMara (PattyMaraaol.com)
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 17:27:51 -0700 (MST)
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Return-path: PattyMara [at] aol.com
From: PattyMara [at] aol.com
Full-name: PattyMara
Message-ID: <e3.5dca88.25b8a8ef [at] aol.com>
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 13:07:43 EST
Subject: Re: Through the looking glasses?
To: Zen [at] iinet.net.au
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In a message dated 1/20/00 12:26:05 AM, Zen [at] iinet.net.au writes:

<< How easily we can dive into our pain - the need for a tenant in one of
 the newly finished houses has divided the community.  There are all
 sorts of assumptions flying about - it's like a snowball fight.  After
 having caught a couple in the back of the head I've started ducking.
 Good people doing dumb things.  How does this happen?
  >>

OK, Zen, spill.  The rest of the post was the good feeling stuff (kids and 
carols) which is entertaining and warm and fuzzy.  But.  One of the 
aspirations of my original "Through the Looking Glass" posts was to comment 
not only on the warmfuzzies, but to reveal the "warts and all" of community 
life.  

I suspect that you minimized your comments about the tenant "snowball fight" 
because the issue is too intense at the moment.  So I'll contribute a story 
from Tierra Nueva that involves a renter which happened over six months ago.  
At the time it occurred, emotions were running so hot that I felt uneasy 
discussing it on the list.  

Tierra Nueva, on the central CA coast, has 27 homes.  25 are owned and 
occupied by members.  The remaining 2 are rented out to tenants.  One of the 
owners is local and involved actively in community life: business meetings, 
meals, work days etc.  The other owner lives out of town and has not 
integrated into community life, but plans to once she retires and moves here 
in the next 5 years.   After six months of her unit remaining empty because 
her real estate agent had trouble finding renters, she finally found  a 
tenant, a middle aged woman from out of town who integrated slowly into the 
community.  After a couple of months this first tenant  found a second tenant 
to live the downstairs portion, a single man in his thirties, from out of 
state, new to the area.  

Within a few weeks, this new person, Pete (not his real name), was the topic 
of rife speculation among the mothers of young children in the community.  
Pete spent a great deal of time hanging out with the kids in the village 
playground, throwing the frisbee around, playing soccer.  He didn't seem to 
be employed and had lots of free time.  He did not attend meetings or meals, 
even when invited and encouraged.  When engaged conversationally by various 
folks and asked about where he moved from, he would answer that he was just 
released from a prison...then laugh about it, jokingly.  Pete had a knack for 
trying to joke about inappropriate things, including sexual innuendoes to 
members and guests in the common house.  At the same time he was not getting 
along with his house tenant.    

After a few weeks of this nebulous interaction with adults and increasingly 
ardent playtime with the kids (mostly the 3-6 year olds) the mothers of 
Tierra Nueva were in a lather.  Kids were not allowed to be with him alone, 
supervision was amped up, and talk soon spread to doing a backround check on 
Pete.   Some were uneasy confronting him but others took it upon themselves 
to have a sit down with him and try to diffuse the tension.  This went on for 
a few more weeks until it reached a fevered pitch.  At this time most of the 
community members had been living on site less than 3 or 4 months, and some 
were still not moved in.  It was a time of fatigue and over-extension.  We 
saw the need for a community meeting...and decided to use the Open Space 
process (Harrison Owen) to see what would percolate up from the group as 
needing to be discussed.  Sure nuf, it did get put up on the topics board as 
"Owner-Renter Relations" along with other topics like ping pong vs. pool 
table, community meal menus and who gets to use the workshop.  It was heavily 
attended, lasted over 2 hours and was intense but honest.  Pete hung in there 
for the whole time as parents explained to him how inappropriate his behavior 
*appeared* when he spent time with the young children without establishing a 
trust level first with the adults.  There was a flurry of support for Pete by 
some of the men who suggested that accusations were gender related, because 
he is a single *man" and therefore stereotyped as dangerous by the women and 
mothers.  

Hoo baby.  It was good stuff...difficult work and of course, just the 
beginning.  After the meeting one of the moms made this comment privately to 
me:  "Well,  Pete's not a pervert, he's just a dufus".  Tensions were 
diffused in the short run.  Personally I made a promise to him to speak to 
him directly when I witnessed behaviors that were questionable or comments 
that were in poor taste.     I have had to do this on a couple of occasions 
when Pete's "jokes" were inappropriate.  He seems to be getting it slowly.  
Finally I suggested that he simply not make jokes with the women here.  He 
stopped hanging with the kids, seems to be getting to know a few of the 
parents and attends meetings and meals occasionally.  

It has been a most interesting experience.  I was surprised by the intensity 
of the distrust, the capacity for gossip to run rampant and the subtle 
expectations placed on renters to "fit in".  Well, not everyone who comes to 
community does fit in, and it remains to be seen if Pete will stay.  But it's 
not just renters.  Some of the buyers have also had some difficulty settling 
in as well.  

We're working on a set of behaviors which we found in a Community magazine 
article called "Respects and Responsibilities" and some conflict resolution 
agreements.  But it has taken us months of discussion.  There is a reluctance 
to codify behavior.  One of the best agreements we did consense was the 
children's version of R and R's   So progress has been made.   I'm going to 
bring up the R and R's for us "dults" at tonight's meeting, since I'm 
thinking about it.      

So that's my renter story, only able to tell it after six months of cooling 
off.

Anymore stories from the naked city?  Warts and all.    

Coheartedly,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva, cen CA coast,  where after months of clear skies it is finally 
raining and we may miss the full eclipse tonight.  But we do need the rain.  
I'm holding out for both seeing the eclipse AND getting more rain.    

  

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