Response to Brain, Child Article
From: Margaret Graham (maggieriverrock.org)
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2004 20:57:11 -0700 (MST)
I recently read the article about cohousing printed in the winter 2004 
issue of Brain, Child, and I thought I'd share my letter to the editor of 
that publication.

To the Editor,
As a resident of the River Rock Cohousing community, profiled in the Winter 
2004 issue, I'd like to respond to Emily Wortman-Wunder's article.  For me, 
the article "Village People" does not accurately represent life at River 
Rock.  In fact, it says more about the writer than about our community.  It 
says that she is worried about being judged yet yearning to deepen her 
social relationships.  Readers hear about her hesitation and uncertainty 
about participating in a party and automatically resonate with this 
universal human emotion.  We identify with her and therefore adopt her 
opinion that cohousing would not be for us.  But we don't hear about 
Jonathan's dad's internal thoughts (in the interest of full disclosure, I 
must include the fact that I am married to him).  Jonathan's dad is worried 
about Silas choking or ingesting something unhealthy, but why?  Is he 
concerned about what the writer thinks of him or his surroundings, is he 
thinking back to a time when he witnessed a child choking?  We don't know, 
and since the writer doesn't give him the benefit of doubt, we don't 
either.

I want people to know what it's like to live in cohousing using more of an 
information base than about three hours' time on site and casual social 
conversation with about five of the over 90 people who lived here at the 
time. As someone who's lived at River Rock for over four years, I'd like to 
offer my perspective of why I feel lucky to live here.

At River Rock, we have types of people that anyone would find in any 
neighborhood or, indeed, any other group (religious, work, social, or 
otherwise).  We have social organizers, complainers, idealists, lost souls, 
perpetually angry people, unceasingly cheerful folks.  The difference, for 
me, is that I know these folks more intimately than I would in other social 
organizations.  With many of them, I go beyond the "Hi, how are you? Fine, 
and you?" interaction.  I know my neighbors' quirks, their passions, their 
hot buttons. Together, we have weathered painful milestones in one 
another's lives, offering comfort and support during times of stress or 
sickness or emotional strife.  Together, we have celebrated life's joys 
from the mundane such as shared laughter to the extraordinary such as a 
wedding or graduation.  It is time within this close proximity that forges 
these bonds.  While I may not like everyone who lives here (as I expected 
to do when I moved in), I understand many of them and can usually navigate 
around their (and my) issues.

I revel in living here because I've learned so much about my neighbors, and 
more importantly, so much about myself.  I've learned that I can work 
through conflict with people and maintain an authentic relationship with 
them.  I've learned that I can ask for help (before living here, I would 
have rather ripped out my own fingernails than ask someone to do me a 
favor).  I could have learned these things elsewhere, but here, with the 
infrastructure and the willingness of most of the people around me to work 
through these life lessons with me, I suspect it's been easier than it 
would have been somewhere else.

I don't think the people profiled in the article are very different from 
people who live in conventional neighborhoods.  If Jonathan's dad lived in 
suburbia, he would probably still be judgmental.  Cody's parents would 
still be on one end of the spectrum of parental supervision.  The 
difference is that in this community, we know that Jonathan's dad is a 
safety nut, prone to somewhat extreme paranoia around children and 
potential risks (it really wasn't about the writer and judgment of her 
parenting).  In this community, Cody shares his front yard with 33 other 
households, and he is supervised de facto by many other adults who not only 
know his name, his mannerisms, and his idiosyncranicities, many of them 
also care deeply about his welfare and make efforts include themselves in 
his life.

It is unfortunate that the writer didn't visit more cohousing communities 
because I worry that readers will develop opinions about
cohousing based on this one article that takes three hours without context 
and comes a rather strong conclusion.  Her approach is analogous to 
visiting one school in Fort Collins and extrapolating details from that one 
visit to apply to all schools of that genre across the country. Ironically, 
just as the writer felt judged during her visit, she judged our community 
based on very little information and without probing for additional detail. 
 I invite her and others who are interested in cohousing to spend some 
intensive time within a cohousing community before coming to any 
conclusions about life within them.
Sincerely,
Margaret Graham
Fort Collins, Colorado

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