In case you missed it, I recently wrote about the dangers of corporate purgatory and to possibly combat the inevitable dead-inside feeling by obviously, joining a commune. As promised here is the second part of that post. Mostly when I think of living in a commune I think of naked frolicking so I decided to interview someone who has actually experienced it first hand. Turns out there was some of that, but other stuff too.
The uber cool lady I interviewed, let’s just call her Sunshine, started and lived in a commune called the Chicken Coop. This was 1974. She made it clear that there was not some political or ecological reasoning for starting the commune. It was her husband’s idea and being the groovy laid-back lady she was in her early 20’s, she figured, sure, why not? It was just a group of friends or soon-to-be friends living together. Like a non-lame version of a frat or sorority. They weren’t doing weird stuff like dancing around a fire naked . . . okay maybe a little. But nothing weird like goat slaughtering. Okay, there was some of that too. But it wasn’t a sacrifice or anything, it was just for food. On starting the commune Sunshine says, “I don’t think we had any glorified ideals or anything like that. I think we just all thought it sounded cool.”
The Chicken Coop was named so because, well, it was a chicken coop. Or at least it used to be. Apparently one of their friend’s parents owned some land with a chicken coop. They raised chickens for many years but for one reason or another they stopped and the coop stood there empty. It was 2/3 the length of a football field with three stories. They had to of course do quite a bit of work before it was livable. Originally, there weren’t really any walls, it was all open but with a roof. So they started building. “But first we had to shovel out, like, four inches of chicken shit.” Gnar bags. The first floor was the common area with a kitchen, a laundry room, and a library which Sunshine affectionately remembers. There was even a sauna. The second and third floors were divided in sections so each person or couple had their own room. There was no TV but yes, there was electricity and running water from the spring nearby. They had a “beautiful outdoor shower. I mean, it was wonderful to go out there.” A while after they left the commune “somebody who was very modest enclosed the shower and we all felt like that was kinda sacrilege.”
So let’s talk about the nudity. Obviously, with the open outdoor shower, they couldn’t be bothered with modesty. Lots of gardening in the nude. Skinny dipping in the river. Why not? We (as I interviewed Sunshine, we drew a little crowd) were concerned about dangling genitals and things getting caught in machinery or scraped by blackberry bushes. Others seemed more concerned about hygiene. “That’s why we went skinny dipping in the river with our Ivory soap!” Sunshine exclaimed. The neighbors weren’t too thrilled with their skinny dipping and the cops were called a couple times. But Why? I whined. What’s wrong with nudity? “Oh I dunno, they’re just prudes.”
She continued, “I don’t think it’s like we were all thinking oh let’s be nudists. I don’t know, it just sorta came easy to not have to put your clothes on for everything you did . . . I honestly never ever would have classified myself as a nudist. But you know, turns out we did a few things in the nude.”
And then there was the toilet. Oh, the toilet.
Her husband decided to build a Swedish Clivus composting toilet. There was no real toilet of course, it was a squatting kind of situation. “And I think we had a curtain.” It’s a bit difficult to wrap my head around but the tank reached up to the second story. There were different compartments so you could put organic materials and sawdust in it. Yes, they actually composted with their own poop. “It was a luxury compared to what we had before.” I won’t go into it but I think it involved a bucket.
The first person to live in the Chicken Coop was a hitchhiker that none of them had ever met before. They picked up a guy who became a life long friend. He was from out of town and needed a cheap place to live. This of course would never happen now, but this is how many people came to the Coop. From here or there, and none of them were murderers. Crazy! The Chicken Coop held about 15 people, all adults, some couples and no children. There were communal meals. “You saw what needed to be done and you did it.” Whether it was gardening, canning, or cooking, everybody just pitched in.
I started to realize that there seemed to be a little hitch in my plan of commune living. Sunshine had to have a real job. She ended up waitressing in town. However, she slowly started to remember that she seemed to be one of the few that did work outside of the commune. “Maybe I was the only person who had a job.” The only utility they had was an electric bill and possibly the property taxes. I asked the group of us if there was anyway to do it without money, so essentially, without working. No, they responded. But it also mattered at what level you wanted your life to be. Like rustic or really rustic. Like Amish rustic. “Maybe you could barter,” Sunshine reasoned.
Well, eventually the party had to come to an end. Sunshine and her husband lived there for three years and left when she was about three months pregnant. Not surprisingly, the Chicken Coop was not a great place for pregnancy and raising children. The commune went on without them. For a long time actually. One of their Chicken Coop friends bought the commune, a different one bought it from him later. Since then, the building has been torn down, someone put a house there.
So did you like it? I asked her. “It was interesting. I’m glad I had that experience to live in the Chicken Coop. I’m glad it was only three years.” She went on, “I didn’t know who I was back then. I just kinda went with the flow.”
When asked if she would do it again. Sunshine quickly responded, “No, I don’t have the temperament for it,” with a laugh. When asked what she thought the good parts of it that you couldn’t get from conventional living, she eloquently said that for better or worse, there were always people around. Whether you wanted help with a project or just wanted company, there was always someone there. While I was conducting this interview we were at a BBQ at her house. Somebody else was doing dishes, others were outside by the fire pit. I slowly started to realize Sunshine had already taken the point of commune living– community, and incorporated it into her life. Sunshine’s house now is the party house. People gather there and friends and family are always coming in from out of town and visiting. We play games together, drink together. Best part, there is almost always a beer keg on tap. For better or worse, there are always people around.
So money wasn’t really the point. Sure, it was a cheap place to live, but it wasn’t about that. It’s about working together and making everyday tasks more enjoyable. So do I still want to join a commune? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t mind living a chateau in the French countryside with my friends and family. Honestly, it seems more natural to do things in a group. Our corporate American lives are so lonely. I think that’s the worst part. You’re in your car by yourself, you go to work and sit at your desk with your headphones, then you drive home by yourself. When you’re home, you’re too tired to do anything social. Like Sunshine said, there were always people around to help you with a chore or just hang out. Sounds great! As long as there’s a toilet. Like, a real one.