I undertook an experiment awhile ago. It didn’t start consciously but it ended that way. I decided to get to know different parts of Los Angeles by moving to a new part of town each week. Isn’t airbnb great? It was a way of getting to know the city more deeply, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and probably distracting myself from a bad breakup. Unexpectedly, the experiment morphed from one on WHERE to live to one on HOW to live. About progressively becoming closer and closer to others with each move. I have always had an innate interest with infusing a community element into how I live.
When I started college I was drawn to live at Collins Living Learning Center (aka Collins Living Learning LOVING Center) at Indiana University. I was living on Grateful Dead tour and at Rainbow Gatherings and people in the region told me Collins had a reputation of being the hippy dorm that promoted a more experimental or experiential modes of living. Wonderful – just the place for me! And it was. I loved the communal meals. So different than the impersonal dorm cafeteria experience which had a lonely in a crowd vibe. We tried all sorts of things, including a nudity bicycle ride in funny disguises through campus during the busiest part of the day. I learned something from that. I thought people would be shocked. Instead, they thought it was hilarious. Maybe things are not as serious as we make them out to be? There’s much more to the Collins story which deserves it’s on post.
After college I was living in Los Angeles and learned about a place called Sunset Hill from documentary night at the Unitarian Church. Fun fun. Sunset Hill was a communal retirement home for activists. How wonderful! Most 24 year olds aren’t look forward to moving into a retirement home but I thought it sounded great. I found a sense of comfort in having this plan. But unfortunately, lefty senior citizens are not well resourced and the place shut down. When I found that out, my heart sank. Oh no! What’s the plan now?!?
Okay, the Airbnb experiment…
It started by renting a bungalow in the Topanga. It was private and serene. The owner lived up the hill and might have been engaged in some sort of rituals since every time I saw her she was wearing kimono robes and burning lots of incense. Or maybe that’s just how she hangs out.
Next was an urban farm on Melrose. I will never forget how everything was painted in the brightest colors imaginable. It made my eyes happy. And the pigs. I am pretty sure you can’t keep pigs – or a donkey – in the city but they did anyway. No one seemed to mind. While my unit had a private entrance, the farmhouse had communal spaces that were lively centers of activity since they seemed to be using Airbnb to fill every room imaginable; including renting out a walk-in closet as a studio.
It reminded me of the time when I lived in a sleeping bag in small cubby space in between a banister and a wall at the top of a stairwell after college. It was a place on Wilton Blvd in Hollywood that we called the Wilton Hilton since people would come and go so quickly. I realized I was getting closer to people with each new arrangement. It wasn’t intentional but it was happening. I wondered what it would be like to take this experience all the way to it’s logical conclusion.
So the next place was a bedroom in a high-end Balinese home in the Hollywood Hills. The walls completely opened-up to let sun and air pour inside. Wow. The owner was a charming, kind and strikingly handsome British photographer with a good natured dog. I’m not sure which I liked best – the house, the owner or dog. It was probably a tie. They liked me too. Since we shared all the living space, we got to know each other quite well. We went on outings, made dinner and the photographer took pictures of me. We even walked to a holiday party down the street hosted by my friends from the Unitarian church who happened to be his neighbors. I probably could still be living there. But I was relieved when the week drew to an end because it felt a little too cozy. It was a good life but it wasn’t not my life. The photographer was fabulous – deep, sensitive, sexy, cultured – but not for me. I don’t know why. The heart wants what the heart wants. Human emotions entered the picture with increased closeness.
The next stop was renting a couch in a couple’s living room in a loft in downtown LA. This didn’t go so well. Interestingly, it wasn’t the couch or lack of privacy that was the problem. The woman’s lover/husband/whoever seemed very self conscious by me being there which made me feel self conscious for some reason. I was glad to get out of there. So my experiment didn’t end so well but I’m still glad I did it. I try to still practice this in many ways.
Each time I go on a retreat I make a conscious decision to have a roommate as an opportunity to get to know someone more deeply while I’m there. I also want to observe my own reactions to see how I process the experience. I don’t like an office. I just travel with my laptop and work wherever – even at the office suites I rent for my business.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about how we gain somethings but lose others by becoming hyper-independent adults. Maybe these are some of the things that aren’t felt as strongly with walls? But some of the beautiful things aren’t felt because of the walls between us either. We can avoid anything that even threatens our own comfort level. As a child you didn’t have this luxury. You made the best of things – all together. This is how you got to know your family and your neighbors. You spent time together. Live together. Now you can just walk away. Or more likely, not even let the bonding process get underway. It’s easy to do everything on our own terms. But there can be too much of a good thing. I heard recently that the most googled words between the hours of 9-11p are “loneliness”, “depression” and “porn.” This makes me sad. Maybe past a certain point, so much independence comes at our own detriment?
I regret walking away from something recently. I became uncomfortable. I felt vulnerable. So I left. At the time, I felt relief amidst the confusion. Now I feel loss. When someone is important to us we need to rise to the occasion and find a way to remain as present and open as possible through the discomfort. I walked out on a big opportunity there. And I might have harmed the relationship in a way that can never be undone; although I will try.
Maybe our independence have allowed muscles to atrophy we need to rebuild? If so, seems like we need to make it a practice to reach out in our daily lives. Make an effort to stay connected. Resist the temptation to walk out when we’re squirming. Try new things. Express curiosities and desires. Sometimes it will work. Sometimes it won’t. But we can’t give up. Making it a habit to retreat to comfort and safety would be cowardly, lazy or both. By all means, let the grand experiment of life continue.
I remain passionate about community living. The lofts I chose have several community elements, my favorite is a yoga class for neighbors which we hold in whatever units are empty. It’s special. About 3-5 people go to each session so it’s intimate. And the woman who teaches it is beautiful spirit like a fairy. We met quietly crossing paths at night around 11.30p at night. I said “good evening”, she stopped and we quickly recognized each other as kindred spirits. We hugged. Think about how unusual that is for a second. Two women who are total strangers crossing paths in the night stop and hug. And now I’m lucky enough to see this beautiful spirit each week. What a joy.
But I’m ready to take the community thing to a whole new level. Am thinking about moving into an intentional community and if I’m successful enough in life, create one. I have been researching them and it seems each community has a unique personality, like a person. I bet this journey will become even more interesting!