The post where I tell you my actual life dream while exploring decision-making

I knew when reading this prompt that the most logical “goal” to pick would be starting CPA in LA, but I already did a blog about my goal related to CPA, and I’ve shared extensively about how I’m approaching this from a fairly detached, curious, open posture. So naming it as a core goal that I have multiple routes to would feel at best a bit boring and at worst slightly disingenuouse.

Our #teamtuesday did a good job using this prompt to spur collective dialogue about how we might go about achieving a collective goal of “Formalizing the relationship between CPA-affiliated organizations which enables shared learning, equitable development, transparency and collaboration.” (Your contributions to this question are welcome!)

So I will give you all a break from CPA for this week and try to practice this decision-making methodology by examining the various paths to a core goal (which encompasses a small ecosystem of goals) I have for my life which I have yet to achieve. The prompt encouraged us to go big, so just so you understand, this goal has since college held a greater appeal to me than marriage or any particular career goal, which is just to say: I’m not messing around.

Name the goals:

  1.  Live in community, within a shared house, neighborhood, or series of apartments with 4-8 friends who are themselves committed to the community and sharing resources and time together.
    1. This community should be multi-generational, multi-racial, ideally international, socio-economically diverse and unified around values of mutual care, hospitality, and justice.
    1. This community should be collectively owned, include regular practices of gathering and sharing, as well as freedom to pursue individual passions and work.
    1. This community should be porous and be a blessing not only for itself but for those that live around it, and who come to visit it.
    1. This community should be rich in plants, music, art, organizing meetings, and potlucks.

Possible choices to get there:

I have been working on the “plan a” version of this goal since college. Plan A includes attempting to save money for an initial capital investment in property and encouraging my closest friends from college who have a similar vision to do so as well. One way to achieve the goal would be to eventually return to the east coast and buy property where there are enough of us (likely 3-4, including partners) to purchase a house in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisonburg, Durham, or Charlottesville and begin to form the community. This option requires remaining flexible to where my friends, who are currently finishing masters’ degrees, scattered, or overly burdened by student debt to be thinking about investments yet, land.

  • Stay in LA for several years and then move to the east coast.
  • Convince everyone to join me on the West Coast.

Another option is continuing to tell everyone I meet my vision and keeping my ears and heart open to joining a community-living project already underway. For example, here in Los Angeles I have already met three women who have shared with me their desire to live in a similar kind of community, and I have found a life-partner who shares a similar vision as well. None of these women were at the stage of genuinely being on the brink of investment and needing a final individual to catch the vision, but it was a reminder that such an opportunity might arise and the limiting factor to achieving my goal would be my (and really in this case, our, since my partner would need to be onboard) ability and willingness to embrace this iteration of the dream and place both my money and my commitment in it.

  • Don’t make professional or relocation decisions based on this goal at all, instead save aggressively and discuss with your partner the minimum conditions under which you would agree to join an existing community and plant yourself wherever you find it. Practice holding the place where you currently are close, as if it is the forever place, and keep speaking your goal and intention to those you build relationships with. Seek and ye shall find.
  • Set a specific time-line by which if this method hasn’t worked I switch to another one.

I could start this community in a modular way. That is to say, I could start with my partner and build out pieces of the vision – the practices of hospitality, of sharing meals, of sharing music, of investing in the local community and add individuals who share this vision one at a time. They might not live in the same house but they could be neighbors, and if they are neighbors with whom we share meals and work and time long enough we can build up to co-ownership down the road and keep looking for those who will join the vision.

  • Think of my current 3-bedroom apartment and the two roommates I will have as the beginning of this community. Start building the practices now.
  • The next time my partner and I need to move (likely by next December) we could consider whether purchasing a small property somewhere the “modular” version of this community could arise makes sense.

I could make enough money to buy a large property on my own, start with regular renters, and gradually shift from tenants to community members (sometimes with the same individuals, sometimes by having friends or people who catch the vision move in and/or become part owners) over time.

  • This option requires maximizing my potential income for at least a period of time (2-4 years) in order to be able to afford the initial investment in a community space. Given my professional background this might ironically entail some kind of international civil service or UN posting, or theoretically (though not actually, since it’s entirely unpalatable to me, with all the respect in the world for Jonathan and Juan <3) the consulting route domestically.
  • Alternatively, instead of increasing my income, I can increase my purchasing power if I start this community outside of the United States (particularly in a French or Spanish speaking place where I have history and/or connections) where property values are lower. This option appeals to my sense of self in that until I was 23 or 24 my assumption was always that I would live long-term outside of the United States, since my experience growing up was that the United States was the place we decided to live only when duty to family required it. Some possible places to consider would be Senegal, Colombia, or Guatemala.
  • I could meet the individuals who are interested in this kind of living situation and able to commit to it through exploring a potential CPA LA expansion and diving into the world of cooperatives.

As I write these various options out I’m struck by the idea that while my goal is crystal clear, it is the very fact that I’m aware of these various paths to my goal that becomes its own choice. What do I prioritize? The people or the place? When do I absolutely need this to happen? What am I willing to sacrifice in order to get it? Is this community-vision my version of the “sacred-object” which Peter Rollins warns us about? I’m not sure. But I think at the very least it’s helpful to keep track of where I am in the world of choices I have generated for achieving this goal. Being aware of the stage I’m at, the choices that I’m making (including the choice not to chose between approaches for a set time) are all important information to track.

Finally, please let me know if you’re interested in founding this community with me. In your application please list your financial and geographic limitations and preferences as well as any dietary restrictions or unsavory political views. 😉

_________________

Reflection Script

It’s exciting and fun and humbling to have you all read this. Felipe, I’ll certainly give you a heads up if Durham is in the plans.

I want to try to answer Carrie’s initial question of why this goal/vision/desire is so important to me.

Basically, this vision synthesizes most of my deepest-held beliefs (spiritual, political, social and otherwise) about who we are as humans, how we ought to treat each other, what is necessary for human thriving, and the shape and texture of what the “Kin-dom of God” looks like. I truly believe that *so* many of our deepest societal problems (from mental health issues to climate change related issues) stem from isolation, loneliness, and people of different groups not being in genuine, sharing relationship with each other. I also think the meritocracy is a farce and the reason one person makes 30K and another makes 200K is so often unrelated to the true value of what they produce and unrelated entirely to what they “deserve”. I also believe from a virtue-ethics perspective that if we want to be improving as people we need to do better than just learn how to be decent and loving to people it’s most comfortable and easy to relate to daily. And I think being intentional all the time is hard and unrealistic and exhausting, so we have to build our private lives in ways that facilitate rather than resist the world we want to see existing. Which ironically requires a ton of intentionality on the front end, but with the goal of having less resistance continually. (For example, the first time you have to figure out the bus route and it takes longer to get to work than just hopping in your car is work, but the benefits of not having to sit through traffic and pollute and being free to take public transit because you now know how it works are longstanding.) I know that I tend to be selfish, and lazy, and that behavioral economics confirms that if I want to make it more likely I have practices of generosity, mutual care, justice, and sharing in my life I need to make injustice, isolation, greed and selfishness things I have to actively opt into rather than forcing myself into a life where every decision has to be one to opt-out. If that makes sense.

I’ve been building this theory/idea for a while but it was viscerally illustrated to me when I was 23 and living in Colombia as part of a program with Mennonite Central Committee. I had my first serious adult relationship with a brilliant, funny, theologically and politically inquisitive and knowledgeable Afro-Colombian man 11 years my senior who also happened to be the father to a 16 year old, victim of the armed conflict, and impoverished. It wasn’t the right relationship for me for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here, but the experience of being in love and in relationship with someone whose life circumstances were so different from my own gave me an entirely different perspective on social change and economic justice issues. As I work in the world of social services now with its legacy of institutionalized racism, its language of “clients”, its broad categories and implicit assumptions I’m struck so often with how social segregation at the personal level leads to bad policy at the macro level.

There’s a lot of “why”s. I’m also an extrovert who grew up in Europe, West Africa, the Middle East and around Mennonites so more communitarian set ups may also just appeal to me personally more naturally. But I think the truest whys are linked to what my freshman college seminar called “Ruling Ideas”. I just think it’s a normatively and existentially better way to live than most. 😛

I’ll also briefly touch on Carrie , Alessandra and Felipe’s questions of the common thread, what holds the vision together in all the various iterations of it I’ve described.

There have been several moments I’ve looked around my life, seen that this vision was not yet within my reach and felt a deep sense of mourning, and anxiety about it. In the wake of such moments I’ve had to reframe and name the fact that every time I chose my living situation, every time I chose a partner, a job, a next step, this vision is weighing in and influencing how I make those choices. I could afford to live in a studio or maybe even a 1 bedroom in Los Angeles and instead I’ve chosen to consistently live with roommates, and consistently attempt to share life with them in increasingly meaningful ways. I chose to move to Los Angeles because I wanted to be near my sister and not become a near-stranger to her. I chose my current partner in part because his vision of church (he’s going to be a pastor) is one that holds within it so many of the aspects of this community vision I have. I feel that I am orienting myself towards this intention and that I’m trying to inhabit a “not yet but already” mentality about it.

I hope and pray and save money and will likely make a discreet serious choice someday that will make the co-ownership a concrete reality. I will only do that if the people I’m co-investing with share a vision for our community (whether it’s apartments, micro-neighborhood, large shared house, or other) to be a space for hospitality, shared life and care, art and organizing. I’m not going to artificially impose racial and socio-economic diversity, but I believe that if I continue to stay involved in the issues I’m passionate about, and if I hold to the intention of that diversity, I won’t have to impose it. Similarly being multi-generational will come when people have babies, or when parents need housing, or when someone from our local church finds themselves precariously housed, or when the lgbtq community has yet another member kicked out from a conservative family. The important thing is to have the space and intention and practice of hospitality, or letting go of a purely wealth-maximizing mentality, or of accidentally creating a community that isn’t porous enough for people to enter or to feel free to leave.

Anyways this is far too long. And late once more. But there it is. If you made it this far, thank you.


7 thoughts on “The post where I tell you my actual life dream while exploring decision-making”

  1. Coooool! This is something my friends and I have discussed in varying degrees of hypotheticalness, so it’s cool to hear you really taking your vision down-to-earth and working towards figuring it out. Something I’m curious about is the “why” behind all this for you. I really appreciate how simultaneously dedicated and open-minded/flexible you are – considering the many forms this can take. I’m curious what the threads are that hold all these ideas together. What’s the essence of what you’re searching for/working to build?

    Like

  2. Jessica, I appreciate how you end your post asking yourself about your priorities! Given how intentionally you established the criteria for your life dream, it makes sense that you would question how important different aspects are to you, from the people (and their demographics), to the place, and the timing. Do you think all options lead to the same intentional outcome? Does it matter to you how you get there? Are you more interested in feeling like you are working towards your dream, regardless of how close you are to the vision of it? I hear some of this curiosity when you ask “What am I willing to sacrifice in order to get it?” My next question is whether any options might sacrifice parts of the dream to make progress, and are you willing to make that compromise?
    Your Dream is beautiful and I love all parts of it!

    Like

  3. For two months this summer my girlfriend and I lived in a house with another couple. It was so much fun! The four of us drank beers on the porch, had backyard BBQs, played board games once or twice, and each week every person would cook one meal for all four of us. Family dinner has never been so much fun! I would find lots of joy living in that way for an extended period of time. (It helped the other couple are some of our best friends – and did not smell too bad.)

    I like your instinct on this idea of you plus partner plus two roommates is the MVP version of this. Another set of two couple friends in Cleveland rent a 3 bedroom apartment together. One of the couples just had a baby, and co-housing is going strong.

    It could grow from there. May you have other friends who want to join, and as soon as the apartment next door opens up, they jump in?

    Have you thought about every small MVPs? What about friend dinner nights rotating at different places where you discuss this idea? You could begin to build the community before the structure comes into place. One perk is that if the group is together, and local, the finances become a lot easier.

    Limited equity coops have the ownership angle, though often not the communal living angle.

    Like

  4. Jess — thanks so much for wrestling with this here. So real. So honest.

    What did you learn? Is there any new insight (or constraint or contingency) that you could see by going through this process?

    Is it the place Or the People? Or the shared praxis (shared meals, music…) so that the people become your people?

    Are there any fears you didn’t share about here?

    If you imagine yourself in your 70s and looking back on your life…. what will you want to be reflecting on? What do you see? Any new insights from that

    This post resonates deeply for me. The group of friends from college that I’ve stayed closest with (we gather 1-2x/year) continues to bring up this exact “community vision” almost every time we meet. Many of us have families now… so the fervor seems to have cooled… but my experience of co-housing in Cambridge MA in a big community house and a couple other years living in intentional community helped me appreciate how rich and deep sharing life in this way can be. For me, I sometimes feel — how else do I integrate and embody the ethic and values I aspire to most? Then I find myself doing most of the same thing that others do in a traditional single family situation…. I wrestle with this regularly.

    If Durham’s seriously on your map, let me know…. I can get a real estate agent to create an automatic search with our desires specifications… I’m ready to invest in this kind of shared community vision — both with time, energy, and financial resources…

    for my partner — it’s all about the people — so I guess she’d have to meet you first 🙂

    Like

  5. Jessica,

    I loved your thought process. I had a conversation with someone yesterday who is very interested in developing a housing co-op here in Denver. She already has a house. She is now looking to recruit people and find ways to transition it to shared ownership. So, a quick question for you, do you want to move to Denver and help start CPA? I should also mention that CCWB has a job opening (http://bit.ly/DE_Director_Position). By the way, did I mention that you can help start CO CPA? 🙂

    Half joking aside, what can you do now to identify the intentional community members? What’s holding you back?

    Regarding your options, what aspects make the potential of consulting unpalatable? How do you feel about the options you identified? Does the sunk cost play a role when considering these options? What are you sacrificing with each option? What are you gaining? Did any of these options surprise you? Did you learn anything about yourself during this process?

    I look forward to reading your reflection of this process.

    Like

  6. Hi Jessica! I admit I LOL’ed at work when I read your nudge to Jonathan and myself haha! No offense was taken. I sometimes find a machiavellian sense of pride in having been a robotic corporate consultant feeding the system just to do a 180 and go work for the good guys!

    I love this idea and love how meticulous you were in thinking through so many of the aspects behind this decision, but it just feels so large and multidimensional to constrain to a blog post. This post reminds me so much of Emerging Strategies! Did you end up reading it?

    I also LOL’d at Yessica’s comment (half-joking, sure 😉 ).

    My reflection fodder for you is: why is this goal so important to you and how can achieving it sooner than later help you achieve and catalyze the change you want to see? This doesn’t seem like the kind of decision that should be put off in terms of preparations. While you don’t have to find the property any time soon, if this is really important to you it behooves you to at least save up the resources so that executing it becomes an option (as opposed to the option being to begin saving up the resources). Worst comes to worst, if you change your mind you’ll still have those resources to direct elsewhere.

    With deep love,
    Juan

    Like

  7. Jessica, this a beautiful vision and I resonate with your beautifully articulated insights about social isolation, income inequality, and love. Thank you! You may already be aware of this group, I don’t know, but I wonder if the Los Angeles Ecovillage could be a resource for you? http://laecovillage.org/ I knew a woman in LA many years ago who lived there. Not sure what the feel/focus of the community is now, but may be helpful?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s