Friday, August 19, 2011

Naked Hippies Don't Wear Panties

A few days ago, I updated my status on Facebook to say something like this: Everyone I know is having money problems. We should live in a commune. I'll be the writer/cupcake maker/historian.

I expected a few people to 'like' it, mostly just the Serial Likers who push that button But I was surprised to have quite a few comments, especially from those whom I don't normally hear from, like my spouse.

I decided that the subject of communal living, with all the stigmas and craziness, was something worth talking about.

We all live in some form of community, at least in the general sense. Some experience the community of neighbors, even just in the 'nod and wave' way that seems to be the Unspoken Rule on my street. Others have work or church or gym communities, or all three. Considering that this is a blog post, you should recognize that you are participating in an online community.

The importance of community is recognized. Humans are meant to live in communicative proximity of other humans. It is ever so much richer when we like those other humans, but it isn't a necessity. When all else fails, we just need to know that someone is near. We don't have to talk to, acknowledge or even understand the other person. But we need them, just the same. You probably already know this, though. You are reading The World's Finest Blog, which is a sign of your good taste and wisdom. We have decided that community is essential to life. What comes next?

Real community, hopefully.

While I can wave at my neighbors and swear under my breath that they need to burn all their tacky lawn ornaments, I am in desperate need of interaction at a deeper level. The neighbors won't notice if my daughter gets a haircut, remember my birthday, or record a new Dora the Explorer for when my kids visit.

Again, you probably already know this. You know that we just don't do well without personal interaction that pushes us to grow and change and question and appreciate. I need you to watch my kids when my mom is in the hospital, and you need me*stares into space* you justify another Philosophy shower gel purchase, endless cupcake indulgence, and internet-stalking your ex. We need one another. I'm actually going to write about this in another post. Today, however, we move in another direction.

It is my impression that all the comments were in relation to the mention of money. Here's the truth: recession is a Mean Lady and she is whoopin' up on all our tails. I don't know a single person who is untouched by the financial changes in our country. Even those that are doing well, even really well, are losing money in their billion dollar stocks. I feel really sad for them. Really, really, sad. So sad I can't sleep at night for thinking of their billion dollar problems.

In Times Before, when financial problems showed up for dinner, families and communities pulled together. No food in the pantry? Walk down to Aunt Bessie's house. You'll have to help set the table and listen to her talk about her new sewing circle. But Aunt Bessie isn't going to let you go to bed hungry.

My great-great-grandfather owned a general store during the Great Depression. When people came in without money, needing laundry soap or bread, he let them get what they needed. Was he out money? Yes, but he had things that people needed, and that was the bottom line. Some people call that a handout, but some people have never needed such a thing. There are times in life when, despite working or looking for work or offering to work for very little, you still don't have what you need. There are times when you find yourself without food, a place to sleep, or shoes to fit your kid. These are the times when community puts its stamp of approval on your life.

I know, it says. You've done a good job and life isn't fair. We'll take up some slack for you. It won't be fixed, and it might not be the way you've dreamed it would. But we won't let you go, and we won't let you down.

During such times, the community gets communal. And now we are at communal living. It doesn't have to mean naked people eating mushrooms, though those kinds of communes are indeed available. I totally want to visit one, in case you care to join.

Even when our ancestors lived in separate homes, they generally still had a commune mentality. Every single person didn't have to own a truck, as long as someone did. You could borrow it, others could use it, it was part of the communal stock. If someone needed your scissors, your ladder, your paintbrush, they could use it. Belongings were less personal than they are now, and those items that were truly personal were few and precious.

We know without being told that we have too much stuff. Some of it is because we are greedy and like pretty shiny things. Some of it, however, is because we are a less communal people. I have scissors and a ladder and a paintbrush, and so do you, and so does everyone you know. You generally don't ask to borrow things besides DVDs or cocktail dresses (Note to self: return both these things to various friends).

Really though, how many of you would be comfortable calling a friend and asking (without shame or awkwardness) if you could borrow 6 extra bowls because you were having 6 extra people over for dinner? Most of us would go buy some or not have the friends over. There is an embarrassing stigma associated with not having enough, and we go to extremes to avoid being discovered.

I think that people are finding out that this kind of lifestyle is stupid. Sure, we need to not borrow panties (though if living in nudist commune, is a moot point) and there is nothing wicked about having a special necklace or book or teacup. Special treasures give great joy, and it should be celebrated. But I take no joy from having a hammer. I have one because once a year when I find a spider in my house and can't locate a shoe that I want to have spiderdeath on it, I use the hammer to send the nasty arachnid into the hell from whence it came. I don't need my own hammer. Someone who does hammer-type things should have their own, but that someone doesn't live at my house.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Everybody has something to offer, even if that something isn't immediately apparent. You don't think much of the talents of the general store owner until he lets your kids get a bottle of milk without paying. This isn't to point fingers, as we all overlook the abilities of others. Even if I know someone who fixes toilets, I might not care all that much until I don't have a place to put my...stuff. Suddenly their knowledge is essential to life, and I am reminded how I cannot live without other people and the companionship, expertise, and insight they have to share.

It seems as if I'm not the only one that feels that way, which I found pretty interesting. I was surprised to hear that I am already surrounded by people who want to live in such a way as to cut down on things we don't need, offer help we have to give, and appreciate and take care of one another. Either that, or my friends just want me to make cupcakes and talk about my excessively thorough knowledge of England circa 1600.

(Props: These thoughts were devloped over a conversation 6 years ago with Austin Cagle. He had just finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig and we found the ideas pretty inspiring.)


Pastor Austin said...

I love this blog! I would move into a commune today if I could. The idea of a community this knit together is more appealing than any other form of living I have seen. Of course, now I want to hear your thoughts on communities gone wrong! The horror stories of these places and our own experiences with mean people are what keep us from living this way.
Well said Bea!

Melissa said...

I was told that I must come read this post by your lovely sister in law, Ashley, after spouting some of my favorite political theory at a party last week...she was right, I love it:0)

Beatrice Blount said...

I didn't even know Ashley read my blog, but I'm glad she sent you my way!