A Living Community
Interview by G.J.Villamizar
Life in a mountain town is desirable, and because so many of us want to be here, housing is an issue. This is the second in a series on alternative housing and living, Bonedale-style.
Jack and Cara relocated to Aspen from the northwest to start a spiritual center in a beautiful setting. Their Facebook feeds are filled with many celebrations— of people and friends, of nature. Cara loves the striking patterns and details of sentience: sunlight in water swirls, an unfurling leaf. Mountain living provides the connection to nature they both desire for grounding. A few years and shifts later, they now live in Carbondale on a quiet street in a neighborhood full of friends and kids. Everyone knows each other, even the dogs. This home is large, with an unassuming but sweet front yard (think of a Hallmark card). A collection of heart rocks greets you at the door. Plants and art fill space, stretching to cathedral ceilings, meandering along furniture surfaces. Cara and Jack live in community with two other couples and are currently navigating consensus in the desire for new cats. Housemate Henry joins this conversation.
B|A: Why live in community?
Jack: To me, community is collaborating, creating an environment for everyone to be in. I enjoy being around people. I enjoy the creativity. I enjoy watching my buttons get pushed sometimes. It’s usually just what’s going on inside my head. It has very little to do with what’s really happening.
We’ve all got an agreement here that if anybody has any challenges with each other that we’re going to mention it. If someone has a challenge with me, I’m going to open it, welcome it. Be curious about it, and talk about it. It’s been pretty cool. It’s a good growth experience for all of us.
Having grown up an only child, I lived most of my early childhood in solitude. It was pretty isolating. I spent so much time inside my head. I haven’t always been an extrovert. I was an introvert a good portion into my adult life.
Cara: The older I get, the less I want to be alone. I like having friends; someone to take a quick walk with or cook together— to do something with someone is really sweet. And I learn a lot with this variety of Beings in the house, and all the friends they bring, too. We have a multi-ethnic group as well. Different perspectives and different personalities. That’s pretty special.
A lot of my life was a lot of alone time. I really don’t tolerate that very well any more. A little bit’s nice, so finding a balance, creating solitude for myself— the house is built in a way that we can make that happen sometimes, or I can sort of escape. But when I want to say ‘hi’ to somebody, there’s usually somebody here.
And living in community, we’re able to have a bigger house! We have space for making music and doing art, cooking together. There’s room for a lot of life here.
Henry: In this house we have both introverts and extroverts, so we have different needs when it comes to how much contact we need from each other. Introverts need only a handful of close friends, but extroverts like to have legions of friends. [My wife] and I are primarily introverts, so large groups of people, while we love them and almost always join with them, can wear us out. Sometimes the house is filled with gatherings of our roommates’ friends. We love that we have roommates who provide a large, ready-made community of friends with whom to gather, but it can be exhausting after a while. We are lucky that we have a large bedroom where we can go, chill out for a while, and then return to the gathering with renewed vigor.
B|AM: With inherent differences among you, how have you been able to maintain harmony?
Cara: The people that we are, and the people we’ve invited to live with us, there’s a certain level of consciousness where there really aren’t conflicts. Everybody’s reached a certain level in life where we know to be kind, we know to be helpful. We know to have fun! We know how to create family. Those are basic rules for us: be kind and have fun. It feels like the other two couples, that’s how they live as well: kindness, play, creativity, respect. All those things are the basis. So conflict doesn’t exist—
Jack: —in this configuration, I don’t see any conflict whatsoever.
Cara: When someone’s cranky or having a tough day, those persons have been able to say “Hey, I’m just feeling like this______.” They don’t take it out on anyone; they do their own work with it.
Henry: We each bring our own strengths and abilities to the house, and we’re lucky that we don’t all have the same strengths or weaknesses, so everything gets covered by someone. I’m a writer, singer and musician, so that is the type of energy I bring. I’m also good at all types of yard work, I know how to fix a few things, and I know my way around the kitchen pretty well. We also have artists in the house of all kinds: people for whom cooking is an art, people with gifts for the healing arts, and traditional artists – painters, drawers and crafters. We have a couple of people with green thumbs who keep a jungle’s worth of houseplants happy, and everyone pitches in on the cleaning chores, especially after we throw a party. I think the most important thing is that we’re all generally aware of our own impacts on the house, and we have an unspoken bartering system that involves us each taking care of the things we’re best at doing.
Jack: And I think that agreement I mentioned— that you’re going to talk to somebody about it— if we’re having challenges with anybody else, it allows us to work it out, not have the stories running around in our head. If I walk into the room, and someone’s not talking, first thing that pops up— Oh, I must’ve done something wrong— I can just watch that one go by, because it’s never the case.
B|AM: In this Western tradition of territorialism, autonomy and privacy, what enabled you to make the switch to community and sharing?
Jack: I’ve never had that territorialism. I don’t know what the others are going to say, but I know that there are boundaries. Both of their rooms, they’re quite large. They’ve created living areas and they’re comfortable hanging out there. And that’s their sacred space.
Henry: The biggest challenge to living so closely in a community of people you’ve only known for a short period of your life is learning to understand them, and helping them to understand you. That challenge is made somewhat easier by the fact that we all liked each other right away, so the barriers to understanding were easier to cross. Still, dealing with each other’s quirks has been sometimes challenging. Quirks, after all, are in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder— they are the behaviors in others that are outside our own realm of experience. Those behaviors may make us uncomfortable or confused, but if we seek first to understand, (which in some Native American cultures is the very definition of love) those quirks become much easier to accept as a learned part of that person’s personality.
Cara: Don’t sweat the small shit. We mature in our relationships. It’s like, yeah, I can apologize, I forgive you. We’re all human. This particular group, we’ve all done a lot of work over the years. We’ve all had horrible relationships and we’ve grown. We’re all on a spiritual path. Okay, there’s this little niggly thing. Go apologize for it! Let’s talk it out. It doesn’t get out of proportion. There really aren’t conflicts because of that.
Henry: I think of my roommates (who I sometimes call “roominoids” as a way of acknowledging that we’re all from our own planets) as my adult brothers and sisters. But the experience of relating to them in our house is quite different from the experience I had with my own siblings when I was growing up. Obviously in my own family we were children and just learning how to get along with other human beings, but the experience of relating to and getting along with roommates is, in some ways, more difficult. We all come from different backgrounds, so we all came to the community as fully-formed adult human beings. We mostly share the same values – we are an inclusive, open-minded group of people – but we sometimes feel differently about certain issues.
I think the key to the harmony we’ve created, though, is the type of energy we put into our feelings. I’ve always believed that it’s more important to be kind than to be right, and I believe everyone in the house feels the same way about that.
We are all very different, though, so sometimes it’s important for me to go within and lecture myself about how to deal with those differences. I grew up in a house full of introverts, so there wasn’t a great deal of deep communication, and we all valued our alone time and independence. I still am fiercely independent, so learning to cooperate on house projects, and ask for help on them, has been a big learning experience for me.
Jack: We’ve moved through some roommates, and there were times that weren’t so pleasant.
For me personally, I use every situation as a way to grow. Without exception, that’s where I go. And I look for those places where I’m triggered and allow for those places to instruct me on how to let go. We had a couple of nightmare situations, you know— I can’t believe this is happening. Click your heels together and take me somewhere else— I got so much out of those!
Cara: (drolly) Eventually…!
Jack: Well, it wasn’t easy! We had a some tough moments.
[Jack goes on to describe a housemate that was struggling. Adherence to agreements went to the wayside. Tension grew and the housemate chose to move.]
B|AM: You are really kind. You didn’t let that show at all. I was here. That was right about when I met you all, their last window of time here.
Jack: I have a lot of compassion for [this person]. [They have] some complex history, a tough childhood.
Cara: We weren’t expecting so much difficulty with [a friend].
B|AM: What are your favorite parts to living in such a unique situation?
Jack: We all work so much we don’t actually get to see each other all that much. So when we do, it’s a thrill for all of us! On Friday mornings we get to stand around and talk. ‘Cause you know, we’re all older, we’ve all got so many stories. We know very little about each other, really. Even though we’ve been together all this time, there’s always new stuff to reveal.
I come home from work, and there’s a lot of dishes in the sink because everyone is making a meal and jetting out the door. There’s this new part of me that just digs coming home to a kitchen full of dishes—
B|AM: Full of life—
Jack: Yeah! And then I get to clean everybody’s dishes, empty the dishwasher— and I’m just so full of gratitude that there’s life here—
Cara: —we get to be of service to each other.
Jack: Yeah! It just feels so good to be able to do it without any resentment whatsoever. Beyond not having resentment, but to be in gratitude to be able to do it. It’s a new thing in me.
Cara: I love the little special love notes and things, like a card from someone, or flowers. One of the girls will make a bouquet. There’s sort of ‘I’m not the only one interested in beauty and color,’ you know? Most everybody’s a great cook. It’s just sweet to see all the creativity and the desire to make this really homey and all those things that are going on in that sense. It’s pretty cool. I’m not the only one nurturing this space or nesting. I am so not a green thumb and to have these other two women that are like plant goddesses! It’s pretty cool, in a sense, to let other people come through that way. My life used to be like, I was The One. My previous husbands—
B|AM: —plural? Husbands?
Cara: I’m on my third. Henry is on his second and Bella’s on her third. Alfredo and Valerie are on their second. We’ve all had previous experiences. We’ve all learned, not necessarily the easy way!
Jack: Like Cara said— I enjoy the creativity, the color splash. When we first moved in, Henry and I stood around, said ‘Okay, how can we do the furniture?’ It never felt right, but it seemed like the only way the furniture could fit. I think we had gone camping one weekend and came home to a completely different configuration. I’m like “Holy shit, this is brilliant!” Valerie just took it upon herself to do it. She didn’t feel like she needed to ask.
B|AM: If you’re nurturing a space and you’re creating a space that’s inclusive, and it flows— what’s there to apologize for?
Cara: And there’s your flow. Things need to shift and grow.
B|AM: Any parting thoughts?
Cara: I see a lot of people seeing what we’re doing, and they yearn for it. “I would really like this.” I notice a growing trend towards living in community.
B|AM: Growing your sense of ‘tribe.’
Cara: It’s there absolutely. It’s there and how do we get people to trust that, and be willing to look at themselves. It’s all about our own suffering, our own work when we come into this. If something is triggering me, what’s my part? What do I need to look at?
Jack: I think that being in relationship is really the only way that you can grow to the next stage. If you’re in a cave or in isolation, in the harmony of nature, you don’t know that there’s all this other stuff happening until someone intrudes. That creates a contrast. Relationship is the pathway to enlightenment. How liberating!
B|AM: We’re all able to ‘talk the talk.’ But when shit’s happening, and you’re not able to come to grips with it, you realize that you have to keep learning these lessons over and over.
Jack: The Universe is very efficient that way. It’ll keep bringing it back over ‘til ya get it. Isn’t that great?
Much laughter. A marvelous interview.
The Housing Series will continue to explore iterations in living throughout the season, including multi-generational living, the divorce/single parent lifestyle, and affordable housing models currently in Carbondale. Pitch your story if you feel your living situation offers alternatives to the status quo, expanding our housing toolbox in Carbondale.