Musings: The Community Tax

Cohousing is a hoot – it really is. When I walk onto the site after a hard day at work and chat with a couple of the 37 kids, or see cutie one-year-old August smiling in his mother’s arms, well, it makes my life worth living. When I walk into the common house an hour before dinner, and Dyann and Frank tell me they can easily accommodate my Danish guests (who fed us seven nights a week when we stayed in their cohousing), sometimes it seems just like one long party.

I appreciate all the hundreds of times that a neighbor has watched my kid so I can go to the store, to a movie, to a basketball game or to work. For all the times someone knew just the right earache antidote, cheap airline tickets or the best place to buy organic potatoes. It’s the Scrabble game, the billiard game, a neighbor coming over to show me how to bake his savory bread that I so enjoyed. The eggs, the milk, the TV so we could watch the Olympics or the election returns. The neighbor who gave me so much hope for our species by spending quality time with another neighbor’s 12-year-old who was having trouble at home. Hope is a wonderful yet sometimes rare currency necessary to get through the day. For all this I am grateful.

Some days I feel that
living in cohousing
is analogous to
driving a zippy
little red convertible.

A Zippy Little Red Sportscar

Some days I feel that living in cohousing is analogous to driving a zippy little red convertible. But instead of transportation as entertainment, it’s more like neighborhood as entertainment. There’s always an interesting conversation at the pool or after dinner in the common house. Whether it’s politics, sports, health, family, the economy, art, music or gardening – there’s always something. And after dinner, if you’re bored with one discussion, just move to another table. The beer-makers often either share their wares or know the best to be had from the local microbreweries. In any case, it’s endlessly entertaining.

Last week I spent three days at a cohousing community just north of Vienna, where I was honored to be a speaker at the Austrians’ annual national cohousing conference. At the cohousing community that weekend, 15 people played volleyball for 5½ hours on Saturday and a bunch of others for six hours on Sunday. After a great dinner on Saturday was the monthly dance – with a collection of the most danceable world beat tunes I’ve ever heard.

The Small Price You Pay

While there, one resident rolled his eyes at a neighbor’s comment (you know, one of those micro-controversies) and I said, “Well, you know of course about the cohousing tax.” In other words, it’s those little annoyances that you have to put up with to enjoy all the other gifts — the price you pay to enjoy the rest. That one discussion that, for a few moments, is annoying.

It’s those little
annoyances that you
have to put up with
to enjoy all the other gifts.

It’s the gift tax, the community tax. We all have to pay taxes; that’s a given. Cohousing is no different. The tax for all the gifts we get day after day, big and small. Big ones as in our being able to have only one child because she wouldn’t be an only child with so many soulmates around her, to small ones like the smile 90-year-old Meg is wearing when I pass her sitting on the common terrace.

Another way to look at it is the “frown factor:” 40 to 50 warm smiles, sometimes hearty laughs, gentle cajoles, every day. When I run into a neighbor onsite, offsite, around the site. When I’m trying to figure out which house my kid is in, when I run into cohousing friends in town, and when I go to common dinner. Then every month or so there’s the frown. “Boy, Chuck, your suggestion about the chicken coop was ridiculously expensive” Some days you’re awesome and once in a while you’re ridiculous. Oh well, that’s the community tax.

A Long Gift List

No one likes taxes – ideally, everything should be given to us outright and we shouldn’t have to pay for anything. But for those of us resigned to taxes, the occasional frown is a small price to pay for having someone to teach my kid to sing; for common dinners six nights a week; for being able to borrow a car occasionally (so that for 10 years we only needed to own one car for our family of three): for great homemade beer, sauces or cookies; for incredibly rich and wonderful conversation that grows richer and deeper over time as you get to know these people better and better. A small price to pay for landscaping I could never do; people to paint the garage doors; someone to go to the movies with at a moment’s notice. A small price for neighbors so willing and capable to work together, to live lighter on the planet (my electric bill is minus $77.50 for the last 10 months), and such a small price to pay for the personal growth (I’ve learned that there is no good reason to ever hold a grudge), among so many other intangibles. Two days ago, three young friends – a 6-, 7- and 8-year-old – came to get me to watch the meteor shower with them. Last night four kids came to get me for relay races in the pool. That’s what makes my life worth living.

My neighbors may not have set out to do this, but they have managed to make our lives more practical, more convenient, more economical, more interesting and definitely more fun. And for that I will endure the occasional thorn: the blackberries are too sweet to do otherwise. What I call the community tax – sometimes also know as the “pain in the butt factor” – is the thorn.

In community,
Chuck Durrett