Feed aggregator

Laid Low Again

Laird's Blog -

For the second time in four months, I'm laid up in bed with debilitating pain. And I'm getting really tired of it.

For the last five months I've been trying to recover from straining my lower back unloading heavy cases of food products from the back of a pickup while attending a fair in St Louis. At first it was just being careful to not lift anything heavy. Then, after three weeks of that I went on the road for a month and had to cope with secondary pain from muscles that had become sore from holding my body so protectively (a phenomenon that my friend Harvey refers to as "self-splinting"). My body was clenched in pain a lot and it was often excruciating getting in and out of bed.

I made it home from that trip right before Thanksgiving and pretty much collapsed into bed rest for three weeks. I just wasn't well enough to carry on normal functioning, even though I was studiously avoiding any serious lifting. As my mind was still active I read 10 books in December, which was a stimulating consolation prize.

As the pain gradually relinquished its grip, I slowly became more ambulatory and could start to work for stretches at a time sitting at my desk (instead of propped up in bed, as I am now). I was well enough to travel with Ma'ikwe mid-January to NC to conduct a facilitation training weekend, and felt better at the end than at the beginning. I was gaining!

Then I embarked on a month-long sojourn in early Feb. While the secondary pain in my back had mostly migrated to my ribs, I suffered a major emotional/psychic blow three days into the trip when Ma'ikwe announced via Skype that she had decided to end the marriage. While it's mysterious to me how the emotional body interacts with the physical one, I have no doubt that they do and Ma'ikwe's decision was decidedly a complication in my continued recovery. 

I arrived in Los Angeles for a six-day visit with my son (Ceilee) and grandkids (Taivyn & Connor) and immediately contracted a cold. I may have gotten it from Connor's sniffles or I may have picked it up on the train ride out, but either way I got it. The cold was run-of-the-mill and not particularly draining in and of itself, but a cold invariable leads to my getting a lingering cough, and that was aggravating for my sore ribs—like a knife being jabbed into my torso.

The cough went on for two weeks (about average for what I experience with a cold), during which I dreaded coughing and could do practically nothing to stop it. It was awful and my sore ribs persisted.

Fortunately the cough finally relented about a week ago, as I was finishing up facilitating a community retreat in Colorado, and I thought I was seeing light at the end of the tunnel… but no such luck. I had a bad reaction to some body work done last week that left soreness in my sternum (breastbone), and the minute I stepped off the train in La Plata MO Wed afternoon, it flared up into something so tender that I could barely lift anything. It was all I could do to get home and go to bed—where I've been the last three days, riding out the inflammation at the center of my top ribs.

On the good side, I'm being wonderfully supported (with fire tending and meals) by my caring neighbors (thank the goddess for community!) and I'm getting more reading in again (I'm deep into A Story Like the Wind by Laurens van der Post). 

That said, I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out which gods I pissed off last fall and what it will take to finally to expiate them. It's been as trying a five-month stretch as I've ever experienced.

Cohousing, death and taxes: top 3 Vancouver stories from the editor, March 6 ... - Vancouver Courier (blog)

Cohousing News from Google -

Cohousing, death and taxes: top 3 Vancouver stories from the editor, March 6 ...
Vancouver Courier (blog)
Cohousing might be for you, as it certainly is for a small but possibly growing number of Vancouverites like Jack Brondwin. Naoibh O'Connor's feature about Brondwin's quest to form the second cohousing project in this city is one of the clearest ...

Knowing Your Passion

Laird's Blog -

Occasionally people ask me for advice about what they ought to do in life. When they do, I typically tell them to look for the intersection of what they're passionate about and what they're really good at. While the exchange often ends there, the other day I got a follow-up question about how you know where your passion lies.

Though my first response was "Huh?" (how could you have trouble knowing whether you're really jazzed by something?), upon reflection I realized that it was a more sophisticated question than I first thought. For people who are highly relational, who adapt easily to what's going on around them, or who have many interests, this can be a confusing determination—because they have to distinguish exterior voices from interior ones, and that's not so easy if everyone's singing in the same choir. Even though being well appreciated (or well compensated) for something can have a definite influence on how much you enjoy doing it, what you're good at hinges on how others assess the quality of what you do; determining your passion, however, is solely up to you.

Here are some visceral clues that tell you that you're at (or at least within spitting distance of) your passionate core:

1. What gets you out of bed in the morning, raring to go?

2. Does the work energize you (rather than exhaust you)?

3. What puts a smile on your face just thinking about it? 

4. What do you dream about doing (nightmares count against it)?

5. Is there a spring in your step as the work approaches (good) or foot dragging (not so good)? 

6. What are you reading about recreationally? Hint: curiosity and passion often live in the same neighborhood.

7. Listen to your body. What's your immediate emotional response when someone brings up the topic of the candidate activity?

There are two main reasons this search is important. When you are acting in alignment with your passion it can profoundly affect: 

a) Your energy balance. Simply put, unaligned work is a slog and is delivered at a high psychic cost. You have to budget time for recovery and renewal just to get back to even. Conversely, aligned work is generative and sparkles. You start looking forward to the next day as soon as it's quitting time.

b) How your work is perceived by others. People know when someone is acting in alignment with their passion and they feel blessed by that energy. They pay more attention and they let it touch them at a deeper level. It's infectious in a positive way.

To be sure, passions can morph over time. That which floated your boat in your 20s may swamp it when you're in your 50s. Tastes change as does one's wisdom base, capacities, and sensibilities. So it's a good idea to occasionally (once a decade?) recast the net and see what comes back. Maybe the thermal vent to your soul has migrated to a new hot spot.

50 Shades of Consensus, Part I

Laird's Blog -

I facilitated the annual retreat for Heartwood, a cohousing community in Bayfield CO this past weekend, and Saturday night they had a no-talent show after dinner. In listening to some of the ideas for skits, I was inspired to write today's essay, as a take-off of the current box office hit, 50 Shades of Grey—only I'm going to focus on the dysfunctional nuances of consensus instead of the hidden eroticism of a successful businessman. (If you think this is amusing, you should have seen the group play Cards Against Community.)

I'm presenting this in two chunks of 25. Here is Part I.

1. Decisions Made by the Clock
It's late and everyone is tired and ready to go home. Out of exhaustion, you agree to the last proposal.

2. The Person with the Strongest Bladder Wins
With time running out and a decision needed, sometimes the views of the person most able to maintain focus (read least distracted by the need for a bio-break) prevails.

3. Conversations Derailed by Reactivity
When a group is unclear or lacks confidence in its ability to work constructively with strong feelings, they learn to steer clear of them—effectively allowing the person in reaction to control what gets considered.

4. Lukewarm Decisions
When groups are unsure of their footing in working with passion, or bridging between strongly held disparate views, the resulting agreements may lack pizzazz, decisiveness, or unifying energy. This is often the result when the overriding strategy is to minimize reactivity rather than maximizing excitement.

5. Arm Twisting Outliers
Sometimes groups put considerable social pressure on reluctant minorities to allow what the majority favors to prevail. Rather than trying to find a workable bridge between the majority and outliers, the majority gets impatient and starts leaning on the minority to cave in. While this may get you across the finish line, the cost in trust and indifferent implementation may be high.

6. Paint by Numbers Process
In any group there is a normal spectrum of those favoring less structure and those favoring more. If the high structure folks are ascendent, the process can be very formulaic. While this can provide a known pathway (read reduced confusion about what to do in any given moment), it can come at the expense of nuance and or the flexibility to adapt to emerging energetic needs. At its worst, the primacy of adherence to the process can become the enemy of the product—even though no one had that in mind.

7. Competitive Behavior Poisoning the Well
You don't tend to get good results from consensus unless you grok that it's based on a commitment to cooperative culture and that that's a fundamental shift from the way most of us have been raised. If people inadvertently bring competitive dynamics to the process, they'll battle over differences instead of being curious. Not only will the magic be lost, but the engagement can be draining and discouraging.

8. All Decisions Made in Plenary
When groups fail to delegate authority to committees and managers, all work has to come back to the plenary for review and approval. In addition to bloated plenary agendas, this often leads to the committee's work being second-guessed, which is very demoralizing. Subsequently, it's hard to get members to serve on committees (why bother?).

9. Separating Heart Work from Business Meetings
When groups are uncomfortable working with feelings, there can be an impulse to shunt emotions into special meetings (heart circles?) that are distinct from business meetings—where members are expected to participate rationally. This practice doesn't help the group navigate business topics that trigger strong feelings.

10. Hobbling Progress through Strategic Absence—Version I
If the group is not clear how to work a topic while still protecting the rights of members who miss the meeting to have input, it can lead to postponing engagement when key members are absent. Worse, members who miss early meetings on a topic may be allowed to monkey wrench progress with 11th hour objections. These disagreeable dynamics are fallout from the group not being clear about the rights and responsibilities of members who miss meetings.

11. Hobbling Progress through Strategic Absence—Version II
Sometimes a person who gets crosswise with the group will purposefully miss a meeting at which the challenging dynamics involving them are scheduled to be discussed, hoping to avoid the hot seat. While not easy to do well, it's important that there's a way to have that conversation even when the person in the spotlight tries to duck it. You don't want agendas held hostage to individual attendance.

12. Skipping the Opening
When groups are not in alignment about how to work with energy, it's not unusual for some portion of the membership to be uncomfortable with ritual or openings that are an attempt to align energy and provide a clear marker between informal social space and meeting space—where there are different standards of behavior. Voting with their feet, those ill at ease may develop the habit of arriving late to meetings, to purposefully avoid the woo-woo part. In consequence, the energy of the group is not aligned and there can frustration all around.

13. No Clarity about the Facilitator's Authority
When groups are vague about defining the facilitator's role, it's much harder for that person to interrupt repetition or to redirect people speaking off topic. The facilitator needs explicit license from the group to hold participants to its operating agreements. Absent clear authority, the facilitator's role tends to devolve into the impoverished position of simply deciding who will speak next.

14. Weak Minutes
Groups that do not do a decent job of capturing and archiving decisions regularly get in trouble recalling accurately what their agreements are. However, even if agreements are well-recorded, if the minutes do not also include a sense of what factors went into the decision, it can be hard knowing when requests to revisit a decision are warranted.

15. Block Paralysis, Version I
There are three essential process agreements for a consensus group to be able to work with blocks effectively: a) defining the grounds for a legitimate block; b) defining the process by which the block can be validated (does it meet the standard for legitimacy?); and c) defining the process by which the group will try to resolve blocking concerns, and being clear about the rights and responsibilities of all members in that process. When any of these three are absent and the group is unsure of its footing, there can be high anxiety about how to work with a block, resulting in a heavy overlay of fear when it appears that might be where the group is headed.

16. Block Paralysis, Version II
A different version occurs when members take advantage of the group's uncertainty and anxiety about blocks to threaten one when they don't like someone's proposed initiative or viewpoint. This can derail a conversation at the front end, long before it gets to the proposal phase and is a misuse of the concept. When you have a negative response to a suggestion or an approach it means there's something to work out—it indicates a need for more talking, not less.

17. Tyranny of Time
Meetings can take up a fair amount of a person's vital life energy, and it makes sense that people want that time used effectively. They want meetings to be efficient and productive. So far, so good. Unfortunately, some topics don't fit easily into the boxes into which they've been placed. Despite the best efforts of agenda planners to estimate the time a topic will take, sometimes they get it wrong and you have to choose between running long, tabling the topic as unfinished, or trying to push for a conclusion before its fully ripe. These are not necessarily great choices, and there are times when people will demand a decision based on the clock rather than because you've reached a unifying conclusion.

18. Starting with Proposals 
Some groups ask that items come to the plenary in the form of a proposal (at once identifying an issue and offering a solution). The motivation for this is to save time (in case the proposal works) and to force the people bringing the issue forward to have thought it through. The problem is that it asks presenters to invest in a solution before the group has had a chance to identify everything that the solution needs to address, and this can be a train wreck.

19. Commingling Discussion with Proposal Generation
In general, the two most important phases of tackling an issue in plenary are Discussion (where you identify and prioritize what factors a good response to the issue needs to take into account) and Proposal Generation (where you do your best to manifest a response that balances that factors that have emerged from the Discussion phase). They need to be done in the that order, and groups tend to be more productive if they're diligent about completing Discussion phase (which is expansive and can invite advocacy and passion) before moving into Proposal Generation (which is contractive, and features bridging and compassion). If groups are sloppy about this, the identification of a factor can be immediately followed by someone's well-intentioned offer of a solution. This often leads to considerable confusion about where the group is at in the conversation—not only are you jumping between phases, but it's damn hard to be expansive and contractive simultaneously (try it).

20. Facilitator Roulette
Some groups assign plenary facilitators well ahead of time, which helps settle people's individual calendars (think vacation planning, for instance). The problem is that it's crucial that the facilitator have sufficient neutrality and appropriate skill to be able to handle the proposed agenda and you can't assess that ahead of knowing the agenda.

21. Consensus Versus Unanimous Voting
When groups get it that consensus only thrives in cooperative culture they will nurture an attitude of collaboration (looking for ways ideas can work for everyone) and curiosity (in the face of different viewpoints on non-trivial matters). People are oriented toward saying "yes." This is completely different from problem solving in competitive culture where the model is that the best idea will be the one that emerges after being tested through vigorous debate. If you try to use consensus in competitive culture, you're really talking about unanimous voting, which is a very high bar.

22. Not Screening for What's Plenary Worthy
When groups fail to be clear about what kinds of topics are appropriate for whole group attention (with the assumption that lesser matters can be handled on the committee level) there tends to be quite a bit of topic material that wanders into plenary that doesn't belong there, which contributes significantly to the phenomenon of meeting fatigue. If you haven't clearly defined the boundary of what's appropriate it's damn hard for the facilitator (or anyone else) to know when you've crossed it and are working on a level of minutia that should be handed over to a manager or committee.

23. Working Complex Topics as a Whole
Some portion of the topics that plenaries address are multifaceted. Not only can it be hard to figure out where to start, but you can end up chasing your tail when a member is reluctant to agree to a proposal about one facet until they know what the group is going to do with another. Groups need a protocol for how to handle hair ball topics in a piecemeal approach. Lacking that there's a tendency for the plenary's energy to be exhausted on the shoals of complexity (because it's too hard to find a unified field theory with everything on the table at once).

24. Blowing by Distress to Get to Problem Solving
When groups are paralyzed (or at least lack confidence) in their ability to work constructively with emotions and reactivity, there's a tendency to try working around it and hope for the best. While you can sympathize with where that comes from, it may be a false economy. If the emotions are directly related to the topic at hand, you're better off getting those out in the open and worked with at the start, rather than trying to cope with their leaking into the considerations, distorting and distracting how information and viewpoints are being understood.

25. The Identified Problem
It's not unusual for groups to struggle in a patterned way with particular members. Perhaps the person in question has an aggressive style, a fearful nature, or a victim attitude. Maybe they rarely follow through on commitments, yet have a self-image of being under-appreciated. Whatever it is, if the group does not meet with early success in laboring with the person about their challenging behavior(s), there's a marked tendency for the group to label the person as an Official Problem, which leads to marginalizing them as a member of the group. The ugly side of this is the potential that the group can then get smug in its analysis and stop looking at how it's actively contributing to trapping the outlier with a pejorative label. By failing to see the aspects of the dynamic that are a system failure—where everyone is playing a role in sustaining the dysfunctional dynamic—no movement is possible yet the group blithely lays full responsibility at the feet of the Identified Problem.

Minister signals start of unique cohousing scheme in Barnet - 24dash (press release)

Cohousing News from Google -

24dash (press release)

Minister signals start of unique cohousing scheme in Barnet
24dash (press release)
Work has begun on a ground-breaking housing development in Barnet, north London – the UK's first purpose-built, senior cohousing scheme exclusively for older women – developed by Hanover. Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet and Secretary of ...

Gainesville Cohousing looking for young families to fill spots - The Independent Florida Alligator

Cohousing News from Google -

Gainesville Cohousing looking for young families to fill spots
The Independent Florida Alligator
Cohousing is nothing new to a group of 80 UF and Santa Fe College students living together at the student-run Cooperative Living Organization. Located behind Chipotle on West University Avenue, the dorm-style housing charges $350 per month and ...

Aging in Place in Community

Laird's Blog -

Increasingly, I've been asked to facilitate community conversations about coming to clarity about how much a community can stretch to accommodate members aging in place.

While most intentional communities are careful to not make the claim that they'll provide full end-of-life service (no matter how beloved someone is), there remains considerable nuance and delicacy about determining exactly where the limits of support lie. That is, when is it time for an aging member to move to a nursing home or assisted living in another setting?

Like a lot of hard questions, this one is typically put off until the community is in the situation where it needs to apply the answer, and the conversation is skewed by all the feelings associated with the particular person whose failing health begs the question. This can get messy.

To be sure, some people die in their sleep or get hit by a truck and the question of long-term support never enters the equation. Also, some aging members decide on their own that it's better to shift where they live (perhaps moving in with their adult children), obviating the need for the community to wrestle with this question. So it's an occasional need and doesn't apply in all cases.

Still, it applies in some cases, and it's prudent to be ready for it.

In addition to it generally being less expensive to continue living at home for as long as possible, it's what's most familiar and comfortable—two important quality of life factors. Further, in most cases there is the opportunity—which tends to be peculiar to community—for seniors to contribute meaningfully to the lives around them even as their overall capacity to do so diminishes. This too, contributes to quality of life and you can appreciate why people who have enjoyed the connections and sensitivity of community living are reluctant to leave it for institutionalized facilities.

As if that weren't enough, there is ample evidence today that living in community is itself healthier beyond the claims above. Witness what gerontologist Bill Thomas discovered when developing the Green House Project as a radical alternative to long-term care.

And yet, for all of the reasons that it makes sense to keep people in community as long as possible, the time may come when the community can no longer handle the load of support. How far is the community willing to go to support people aging in place? What are the markers that indicate the community may be at the edge of what it can do and it's time for the aging member to get additional support outside the community? Following are some things to discuss:

o  Deteriorating cognitive abilities (can the person follow conversations and contribute thoughtfully and constructively in meetings; is it safe for them to drive).

o  Personal care needs that exceed the capacity of volunteers to handle (bathing, dressing, laundry, shopping, grooming, feeding, cleaning, incontinence). To some extent these things can be covered by part-time professional assistance (which may or may not be provided by a member of the community), but there are limits.

o  Deteriorating physical capacity (can no longer walk, is susceptible to bed sores, can't lift anything more than a glass of water, can't climb stairs, shaky balance).

o  Compounding health concerns (diabetes, obesity, Parkinson's, loss of hearing, loss of sight).

o  For how long is it anticipated that assistance is needed (helping a 55-year-old recover from a broken leg is demonstrably different than an open-ended commitment to a 70-year-old in frail health; on the other end of the spectrum, the community may be willing to rally for a two-week stretch of concentrated hospice care—something that is only possible because it's short-term).

o  Special challenges (for example, is the person becoming belligerent, or prone to violence?)

It's important that volunteer support (perhaps organized by teams, so that it doesn't fall too heavily on too few) not be extended beyond what can be given freely and without resentment. Propping one person up while the quality of life for several others degrades is not a good long-term choice.

I recommend that communities establish a Special Needs Committee who's job it would be to:

A. Discreetly explore with members (or the loved ones of members) their need for assistance to continue living in the community. Note that this is not limited to seniors—it's open to anyone needing assistance. This would include both what the member might need in the way of support, as well as how that member can reasonably continue to contribute to the maintenance and well-being of the community. For this to work well, it's essential that the committee receive accurate, current information about the member's health and capacities, along with a commitment that the committee will be apprised of any significant changes in the member's condition.

B. Based on guidance established by the plenary (in answer to the above questions, defining the limits of what the community might be willing to offer in the way of support), the committee will see if they can put together a support team of volunteers in the community to meet the requested needs. Any team created for this purpose will exist for a specified length of time. If needs extends beyond that time, an extension may be considered, or another team may be put together—though this will be considered on its own merits and will not be granted automatically.

C. In consultation with the member (and perhaps the member's family) the committee will craft a communication to other community residents letting everyone know what's happening.

D. The committee will be available to receive information or complaints about how this support is going, troubleshooting and adjusting as appropriate.

E. If the committee believes the member's needs are exceeding the community's capacity to provide support, it will be their task to inform the member (and their loved ones) of that limit and the possible suspension of support.

F. Throughout, the committee will be expected to hold information about a member's condition and needs in confidentiality, excepting as it's appropriate to complete C above.

G. If the committee believes there needs to be any adjustment to the limits of what the community can offer members in need, it will see that this is brought to the plenary's attention for consideration.

As is implied in the job description above, it's important that care be taken in how members of this committee are selected. While the Special Needs Committee will (hopefully) not have a lot of work to do, when needed the committee will be well positioned to handle a sensitive task with discretion, dignity, and decisiveness.

Gilingham Cohousing Community needs help to 'Permaculture' the garden - Blackmore Vale Magazine

Cohousing News from Google -

Gilingham Cohousing Community needs help to 'Permaculture' the garden
Blackmore Vale Magazine
The Threshold Cohousing Community near Gillingham has decided to 'Permaculture' the garden – and they need your help! After working with the same traditional-style straightline straight-edged raised vegetable beds for more than seven years, they plan ...

Family Renewal

Laird's Blog -

Back on Feb 6 my wife told me our marriage of seven-plus years was over. While I knew from mid-Jan onward that she was wrestling with the question of whether to continue with me or give up, it was a unilateral decision that I deeply didn't want her to make. My wishes notwithstanding, it was what made sense to her and the die was cast.

As you might imagine, the reality of her rejection and my loss have never been far from my consciousness since her announcement. While I've experience waves of sadness as I picked my way through the boneyard of our marriage, it has been a balm to me that I've spent the last 12 days with my two adults children: first six days with my son, Ceilee, in Los Angeles; followed by six days with my daughter, Jo, in Las Vegas.

While I thought I'd made the strongest relational commitment possible to my wife (both when we first married April 21, 2007, and again when we re-committed to the marriage July 14, 2014), I realize now that the bond I was able to create with Ma'ikwe was not nearly as strong or elastic as what I've created with my children. The potency of a relational bond depends on what each person contributes and, in the end, it was clear that the Laird/Ma'ikwe commitment did not have the resilience that I was looking for. While I am the same flawed guy for everyone, my kids have stood by me even when my wife walked away.

To be sure, Ceilee and Jo have their own households today and have long since stopped living with Dad. While they both welcome me for visits, it's not the same as living with me every day—which Ma'ikwe grew weary of. Nonetheless my kids' love for me has never been more precious than now, as I cope with Ma'ikwe's rejection. Ceilee and Jo's loving care for me have been two oases of nurturance in a desert of rawness.

A friend of mine (who had his own experience with being left by his wife), asked me what I was doing for self care right now. A good question. 

o  I'm taking full advantage of the time with my kids to just be with them. That means doing less work and immersing myself in their lives for the time we have been together.

o  I'm not overindulging, whether that means eating, drinking, watching television, or surfing the internet—I'm doing all of those things sparingly. And shopping doesn't interest me at all.

o  I'm getting plenty of sleep, but am not using it to escape.

o  I'm still focusing on recovery from back strain, which (unfortunately) means dealing with the ongoing aggravation of sore ribs as I work through a cough associated with a cold I contracted last week in Los Angeles. (It's like someone is gouging me with a knife every time I cough.) While it's just a run-of-the-mill cough, the pain is exhausting.

o  I'm not rushing to decide what's next for me (where I'll live, or with whom). I'm not trying to open up a new romantic relationship.

o  I'm giving myself full permission to grieve, while steering clear of the cesspool of major reactivity (wallowing there is not helpful). I'm sad a lot, but not particularly angry, and that feels good.

Does all of that add up to adequate self care? I'm not sure. But I know I won't die, I know that I have useful things to still do in the world, and I know that I yet have joy for living. Maybe that's as good as I can hope for this soon after losing my wife.

The Essence of Home

Laird's Blog -

For the first time in over four decades, I'm unsure where I'll be living next month.

When I moved in with my wife in November 2013, I left Sandhill (my home since 1974) and thought I'd be with Ma'ikwe for the rest of my life. But it didn't turn out that way. She decided the marriage was no longer working for her and I got my walking papers. 

In the past fortnight I've been thinking a lot about where it makes the most sense to walk to—which has gotten me thinking what "home" means to me as a single man of 65.

To be sure, I have possibilities, including a number of friends who would have me as a neighbor in their community or who might share a house with me. But what do I want? What matters to me most when I contemplate home? Here, in no particular order, is what I've come up with:

1. Near friends and family
As I have friends all over the country, there are many locations that would meet this criteria. And given the amount that I travel, I have reasonable expectations that I can get to those friends I don't live near.

There is a deeper level of this though: how important is it to me to live with close friends, not just near them? What I've discovered, for myself, is that the essential challenge of shared living is that the group is sufficiently: a) clear about common values; b) committed to creating cooperative culture; and c) skilled in communication. I've discovered over the years that housemates or group members don't have to all be best friends to meet these standards. To be sure, I'm not saying that living with close friends would be a drawback; only that it's not essential.

2. Shared living
I travel 40-50% of the time and expect this to continue at least into the near future. Home needs to be a place where I can leave for long stretches and I can come back to. That suggests shared housing—both because it doesn't make sense to pay full boat for housing that is only needed half the time, and because it's much easier to keep day-to-day operations humming along when people cover for each other (you never have to worry about the pipes freezing or the dogs being fed).

Also, with shared living it's easier to plug in usefully for short stretches between trips. While it's hard to take on management responsibilities, there are any number of maintenance tasks and special projects that can be handled by people only in residence part time, and I have a good idea distilled from my prior decades of shared living how to be minimally disruptive and maximally contributive.

When you live alone you have full control, but along with that goes all the domestic chores and all of the cost of maintaining the household. Yuck.

3. Suitable place to read and write
I need a room where I can do these things comfortably in any season and at any time of day or night. I need a comfortable chair, a work surface that is mine to control, a reliable high-speed internet signal, close access to support materials (such as books, files, and implements), and with a modicum of acoustical control (I can tune out conversation or background music in the next room, but fire alarms, children in pain, or headbanger concerts are over the top.)

Quite a bit of my time these days is devoted to writing (and it's only likely to get more that way): blog essays, reports, magazine articles, proposals, correspondence—you name it. Recognizing how central this is to my daily routine, I want to be doing this in a congenial setting.

4. Values alignmentBeyond creature comfort is soul comfort. I want my home and the way I live to be a manifestation of my core values around resource use and cooperative culture. Given that my favorite two-word phrase for what I've been doing with my life is "community builder," it makes a lot of sense for me to live in community, where I get the opportunity to try to walk my talk every day. 

Mind you, some days I'm more successful in achieving that goal than others, yet there's high resonance for me with making the attempt. It's important to me, for example, that I try to consciously live a life that is within the means of anyone else to replicate, if they desire it. It's hard to picture satisfying that test in any way excepting through community.

5. Aging in place
While my health is generally pretty good (despite my slow recovery from lower back strain last fall) it's prudent to think about my home being a place where people support each other through the trials of health challenges. While this can touch a person at any age, we expect to face more health issues as we age.

While my physical capacities are unquestioningly in decline, I am not decrepit and am still highly productive. I also possess a wealth of practical skills that I can make available to guide or teach others even when I am no longer able to do a thing myself.

Though I have been purposefully divesting myself of some significant responsibilities over the last decade (it's time to give others a turn behind the wheel, and it affords me more time for reading and writing), I am still enthusiastic about my work as a process trainer and consultant. Fortunately, this work also happens to be the most remunerative thing that I do and what I believe to be my best avenue for social change work—my efforts to make the world a better place.

Thus, immediately in front of me I have decent prospects for generating more income than I consume. Though this won't last indefinitely, at least I won't be approaching a group living situation with hat in hand.

6. Familiarity
I was born in the Midwest and (excepting two years after college when I lived in DC as a junior bureaucrat for the US Dept of Transportation) I've always lived in the Midwest. It is a climate and culture I know and therefore feels like home to me. 

I know the rhythms of the seasons and the unpretentiousness of the people. I know the trees; I know the lay of the land; I know when flowers bloom and when vegetables are ripe. I know how to layer my clothing for comfort when splitting wood amidst the gusting North Wind in January, and how to function in the humidity of August when canning tomatoes by the bucketload.

Sure, I could learn a new culture. But I'd rather not.


Subscribe to The Cohousing Association aggregator