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Life Dream: Here's mine, what's yours? - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Dec. 7th, 2003

02:31 pm - Life Dream: Here's mine, what's yours?

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Over on the notesfiles someone asked about our Life Dreams, what we'd be doing if we were living our dream right now. Here's what I said. What is your life dream?

I would be sustainably unemployed living and working as part of an "urban commune", a group of people working and playing together to sustain their mutual unemployment, build their community, do activist work, grow food, be off the grid, cook and clean together, raise some kids, and throw lots of parties.

The commune would be made up of adjacent properties all bound together into a community land trust sharing land for collective gardening/farming. The commune would produce organic food, solar electricity, biodiesel, and ethanol. The commune would have a few shared vehicles (a converted school bus for mass transit and long term travel, a pickup truck for agricultural and construction needs, a fuel efficient economy car for trips that bikes and trains won't serve for) and lots of bikes. There would be a performance space, a guest house, several workshops and studios. The commune would be allied with a number of local organizations (food coop, farmers market, housing coop, IMC, etc) for resource sharing. Misc. monetary needs would be covered by sale of surplus production through cooperative enterprises.

Though unemployed, we'd all be working hard but it'd be on our own terms for something we care passionately about.

The thing is, I honestly think something like this will come together in this town within the next 10 years. This isn't just a dream, it is a goal. There are people who live like this. I know I can join them. I intend to spend some time over the next few years visiting intentional communities around the country and learning how they do things, the troubles they have, how they got started, and what they do well.

The only real obstacle for me is getting my student debts and a big hunk of my mortgage payed off. As long as I owe money, I have to earn money. There's also a significant need for startup capital which has to be built up/saved over time. Hence why I don't think it can happen immediately.

And this was my answer to a clarifying question about whether people could hold outside jobs if they wanted to.

There's all kinds of ways that membership in the commune could work. Different groups do it different ways, and that is one of the things I'd like to study at existing communities.

One thing to keep in mind is that every commune needs money and individuals in the commune need money. No matter how off the grid you are there will be things you need cash for. Property taxes, going to a cool local concert, new parts for the bus, new roof for the house, a trip to visit family or friends, contributions to charities, splurging on some exotic food, etc. I have no interest in giving up the ability to interact with the rest of society, and that takes money. If I wanted to be isolated and live in the wilderness I wouldn't bother with an _urban_ commune.

So my thinking is that the goal is to set up the cooperative structures in such a way that people are provided, through common shared labor, with the necessities of life and that the labor required to do that be something like a half-time job or less. Members would be expected to share in that work in some way or other (there would be some division of labor issues to work out). Doing that work earns you a place to sleep, food, energy (biofuel and solar), and possibly other shared services like childcare. Beyond that you are welcome to do whatever you wish. You can work another job and any money you earn would be yours to do with as you please. You can take on work when you need extra money but have the safety net of basic neccessities being met if you choose not to work an outside job.

There's also the possibility of having associate members to the cooperative. These would be folks who maybe live in the shared housing and pay rent and have regular jobs rather than being long term sustaining workers. Or these could be people who participate in some of the work and enjoy some of the benefits but don't live in the housing. Exactly what different kinds of membership exist and what different benefits different levels have are all going to depend on the people and communal resources actually involved. The key is to have a group of people committed to making democratic (probably consensus based) decisions about the cooperative's resources, the rest is the details.

I imagine this thing growing organically and maybe being a federation of lots of smaller cooperatives. For instance a group of people might band together to create a biodiesel coop, another group might create a converted school bus coop, another group might create a tool sharing coop for homeowners, another group might create a bakers coop, another group might form a vegetable growers coop. If these things were all coordinated within a community setting, if they were all accessible to each other, then as each coop matures they can start to work together and federate. So my plan isn't just "wait 10 years and then conjure a coop out of my ass", it is to constantly explore ways that I can a) reduce my monthly expenses and debts and live with less consumption b) pool and share resources democratically with my fellow community members for the benefit of all. Right now my work with indymedia is my central focus. I see the purchase of a large building for indymedia as a MAJOR shared resource for the community that could end up being the seed for much of this organizing. I also have plenty of vision for my own home and land so continuing to build equity in that fits in to the plan.

Comments:

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From:herbivorous
Date:December 7th, 2003 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Count me in. I'd totally be down for something like that.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 7th, 2003 04:12 pm (UTC)
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When you move back to Urbana you can help me out with getting it rolling! :)
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From:boannan
Date:December 7th, 2003 04:59 pm (UTC)
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Could Chicagoans be honorary/periphery members? :) (we don't live there, but maybe we help out in other ways -- and come to parties!) I do miss La Casa in a lot of ways....but I like having my own house. :)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 7th, 2003 09:46 pm (UTC)
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You could be on retainer for when we have to fight the city! We'd give you all kinds of free parties and meals for that. :)

If you wanted to live with us in a place of your own you could live in a yert in the back yard. :)

(Seriously though, local people who opt to have housing "off campus" could totally have a patry in many of the cooperative ventures. I imagine the whole thing being somewhat decentralized.)
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From:boannan
Date:December 8th, 2003 10:41 am (UTC)
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Just point me at the courthouse and make sure I've got my bar card in my wallet! ;)
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From:assclouds
Date:December 8th, 2003 08:49 am (UTC)
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As long as I owe money, I have to earn money.

I admit to not reading this whole post, but I wanted to comment on this.

How much serious effort have you put in to paying off those debts? You talk about sushi runs all the time, and I know you've picked up a handful of new toys lately, so I'm a little curious as to your frugality.

The only reason I didn't quit my job when the company sent me to DC was because I saw it as an opportunity to earn some more money, spend a lot less, be careful with my expenditures, and use it all to pay off my debts. And I did it - five months and I paid off both credit cards and my car loan. Thats what has allowed me to quit my job now and work towards making Acorn Active Media something uber-rad.

Maybe now is the time to be a little more conservative with your income? I'm just suggesting.

For what it's worth, I'd like to see the house become a bit more than it is now as well. I'd also like to see a certain of our roommates wash some dishes like the rest of us do. I'd also like, once the spring comes around, to do some serious yard work - pull out those little devil trees in the back yard and do something with the back-backyard. Radalicious.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 8th, 2003 10:42 am (UTC)
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Last year I eliminated over $20,000 in debt and refinanced my house to a very low interest rate. I have also earned $20,000 in equity in my house over the past 2 years due to property appreciation. This is what has allowed me to go to half-time at my job.

My only remaining debt is my student debt and my mortgage both of which I make more than the minimum payment on every month. Both of these debts are extremely low interest and not a burden.

I have also donated thousands of dollars to the IMC, in part because I believe it plays a key role in the realization of this dream.

I am also working to support Acorn because I believe it plays a key role in the realization of this deram.

I eat Sushi no more than once a month. Last night was my first Sushi run in about 3 months. Last night's sushi run was a gift to Jane for her birthday and Arun for his completing his masters. I give a lot of gifts, I think that it vital to community. I spend money on gifts and parties, I don't think that is a bad thing.

I travel a lot but I do it pretty frugally. Miami was an exception but generally when I travel, I stay with friends, I ride cheap busses or trains, and I eat on the cheap.

The toys that I've been buying have all been for the direct benefit of IMC projects and media work in general, which is my primary obsession right now. As far as I can tell, I'm done with that stage of toy buying. The computer stuff I've bought is an investment in the sense that I expect the Groogroo project to become fully self sufficient (and thus never have to pay a DSL bill again) once I get everything really stabilized and super fast and can pitch to our clients to make donations to support the newly built stability.

My finances are better now than they've been in my whole life and occasionally I like to actually treat myself to a trip or a good meal. I don't think that is so wrong.

I believe I strike a good balance between steady debt repayment and occasionally splurging a little.

I don't know what to do about our current house situation. The low level of cooperative energy is really draining to me. It doesn't help that I haven't been home to be plugged into the dynamic. Now that my manic traveling phase is completely over (I have no vacation left for a year), I hope to provide a little more leadership/encouragement/energy for the house.

I would love to do some yard work in the spring. Scott is down with it too. This last spring and summer I did ZERO yard work because I was so damned busy and no one living here really cared about it. I went to half time so that I could do stuff like this. Between August and this New Years I'll have finally spent the last of my manic traveling and partying energy. I've reduced my IMC commitments. All this winter I expect to spend organizing my inside the house life so that in the spring I can work on the outside. I'm very glad you're interested in helping.

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From:assclouds
Date:December 8th, 2003 12:38 pm (UTC)
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Just goes to show how I should sometimes trust myself when I think I should be holding my tongue. My frame of reference has been fairly short (3 1/2 months), so my interpretations have been skewed.

But I'm glad regardless that you're comfortable where you're at. That's the best place to be at.
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From:marezcharz
Date:December 9th, 2003 04:40 am (UTC)
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Dude, never question a work-aholic. *giggles*
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 9th, 2003 07:26 am (UTC)
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No way, I'm NO workaholic. THAT is stretching things. I'm a lazy bastard. I just happen to make a decent amount of money.
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From:marezcharz
Date:December 10th, 2003 01:24 am (UTC)
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you can't tell me you don't work hard. I'm not saying yer a work a holic for real, just have a good work ethic, you understand that to achieve you need to put something forward

Or have I miss-guessed you?
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 10th, 2003 10:44 am (UTC)
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I have a good work ethic when it comes to stuff that I'm passionate about. But I slack and procrastinate a LOT when I'm bored with a task.

If you can count the tireless volunteer energy that I put into creating parties as "work ethic" then I'm your man. :)
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From:nomadwolf
Date:December 9th, 2003 06:15 am (UTC)

Sushi?

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Dude, move here. I gorge myself on sushi (OK, it's a sushi bar, but still good enough) for NT$300. Almost US$10... almost. ;)

Xin Ming -- The Paean of Xin Ming
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From:marezcharz
Date:December 9th, 2003 04:39 am (UTC)
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For great ideas on making architecture work for you, check out Arcosanti.

The buildings are designed to use passive solar, getting more sunlight in the winter. I visited this past summer. The buildings, with no AC were at least 10 degrees cooler inside, probably more. They're nice on the eyes as well.

I recommend a visit.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 9th, 2003 07:29 am (UTC)
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Yah i'm all over checking that place out. I'd also like to check out Gaviotas if it still exists (a friend of mine theorizes that Gaviotas is all in the authors imagination) if I could ever get to the wastelands of Colombia without getting killed.

And then I'm visiting all of these.
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From:marezcharz
Date:December 10th, 2003 01:29 am (UTC)
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All of them? Holy moly, you won't need a place to live, you'll be too busy travelling.

Lemme know if you find Gaviotas. Sounds very interesting.

yer kool!
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From:zarfmouse
Date:December 10th, 2003 10:43 am (UTC)
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Well as many of the cool ones as I can manage. Certainly not ALL of them. :)
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From:celaenos_aerie
Date:January 8th, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC)
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You may also get a kick out of reading the livejournal of my Friend muse, who lives and works at Arcosanti right now. I think she lives in Illinois when she's not in Arizona, so for all I know, you know her already. *grins*
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From:marezcharz
Date:January 8th, 2004 10:18 pm (UTC)

Noted

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many thanks
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From:cassiopia
Date:February 13th, 2004 10:00 pm (UTC)
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Wow...you were invading my head even before we met!
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