A Scottish traveler and activist shares his recent experience of community microcosms.
“…I never felt at ease, and was quite happy to make a sweeping passing judgement on those sweet old hippies just wanting to retire in peace. Can a community die of old age?”
It feels like this has been a long time in the making. There were a few mini drafts I wasn’t happy with and then I simply ran out of time. If quarterly is three months then this is more of a thirdly review and that simply means I have more to write about and less space to do it in.
My main problem at first was that I couldn’t possibly think of what I had done communally. For me community has always involved the stereotypical version or travelling with people, and being back in Scotland I couldn’t imagine when I would come across these ways. In the end I did of course and much more. My time recently has been about seeing community in so many unexpected ways and not at all in those I would have thought of originally. It was the aspects and stages in communal evolution I enjoyed observing though. There’s a lot to learn from every moment.
I start with my time volunteering for a native re-wilding tree charity up in the Highlands of Scotland. I call it volunteering but in truth it was glorified wwoofing, which probably suited my needs. I learnt so much about trees and about native re-wilding projects, and while interesting, now is not the time. This though was probably my most communal in the last six months. We were six people in a house and we had to get on, which we did generally but it was interesting to view interactions and how one new person coming in could completely change the harmony of a place. It made me think of how the same can happen in long term communities; how one persons parasitic self-interest can have such an enormously detrimental affect on the collective morale. By the end of our time we were desperate to leave and while that was partly down to having enough of the goldfish bowl; escaping bullshit was certainly high on the agenda. What do communities do long term though. For us all was temporary and if you had a problem you could just leave, but had that been our home there would have been some serious actions needing to be taken. For me it simply reaffirmed the complicated side of communal life that I have seen previously and which has in the past put me off that way of existing. How does that compare to the ‘real world’ then, because seemingly it is easy to avoid people by simply shutting your door. But what kind of life is that. It could be that I was just experiencing an intense version of sharing accommodation with people, a normal thing done by millions everyday, but is something so distant in my memory that I have created some kind of glorified communal experience out of it. Either way, it was interesting to observe something that at times felt like a social experiment; people really can be shit to each other.
The charity I was working for had links with Findhorn, the shining light of community in this world and in particular just outside of Inverness where it is located. I had heard of Findhorn when travelling around Australia and then later discovered my mother had gone there a few decades past. To go there with a group connected with the community was therefore a great way of seeing the place I thought. My highlight of the day was the free cake the charity bought us. The rest of the time we explored a flamboyant retirement village which now has house prices far higher than anywhere else in the area and unsurprisingly a rapidly ageing population. Is this the future of communities, an eccentric hub of rich geriatrics eating expensive cake while sitting in drum circles and humming? While I don’t doubt it has bought a great deal to the local area, I never felt at ease, and was quite happy to make a sweeping passing judgement on those sweet old hippies just wanting to retire in peace. Can a community die of old age?
This is were I should have written my quarterly review but somehow got caught up in that unfortunate habit of working for a living. I taught English for a month and while I really enjoy teaching; I certainly don’t want to spend nine hours a day doing that for the rest of my life. I also lived at home and as my parents were away the whole time, got to experience living alone for the first time in years. I liked the space but I sometimes missed having people around and was more than happy to avoid returning to solitude if the opportunity arose. I imagine that if I were to live alone I would be out and about more often than not. It is hard finding that balance, I have realised over the years the importance of my own time and space, but I really enjoy being around people. The importance of human interaction and the happiness it can bring should not easily be dismissed, there is a reason the old hermit in the cave is slightly crackers. My search for perfection is therefore still going strong, that dream balance which continually alludes me. My own personal space in a communal environment? Most likely that would do it for me, but what is it in reality. The present incumbent of my dream is my new van, who hasn’t been granted a name yet, but who I think is female. Is she the answer, probably not, but she’ll certainly go a long way to helping me enjoy the journey. Let’s see if I can find some passengers. I’ll let you know how I get on in three months, or should that be four?
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