Sacred Cows disguised as 4 walls
The community has been at our population cap (93 adults) for about two years now. This has been somewhat problematic, because it means we have a waiting list and members who have gone on leave want to return have had to wait some weeks or months for a space. But then about 3 and a half months ago a strange thing happened. Everyone stopped leaving the community. I am pretty sure these last 100 days have been the longest period in my 13 years here in which no one has dropped membership or even gone on leave.
In a typical year we lose between 18 and 23 members. Some return but most members who leave dont come back. And while it is definitely the case that we have more people leave in the late spring and summer, even in the slow times of year we typically have at least one member drop each month. For the last 3 plus we have had nothing, nada, zilch. And there are at this moment no prospects for departures until January, when both Caroline and Angie will leave (much to my sadness – but they are going on to things they are both really excited about).
So what has happened? We discussed the possibility that why we were bickering about the latest community drama we had inadvertently become paradise and no one wanted to leave anymore. Others argue that the mainstream world economy is so bad that no one dares return to it – an argument i find stunningly uncompelling, because when i talk to people who are leaving their reasons are almost never economic (change in relationship status being the most common reason for people departing) . So at the moment we dont have any good theory and what it means to have a static population and we are acutely aware of how full and stable we are.
One of our more common jokes is “We dont have TV here, so we create our own dramas” Or pocket dramas as i like to call them. The current drama is around appropriate housing for the new families we have. In this room compressed situation, the needs of new families are not well taken care of. So we are scrambling around trying to figure out where to put one of these families now, because Tupelo, the residence they moved into is not working well for them. As a house Tupelo itself recently tried to solve this problem, but this is nearly impossible to do because multiple buildings are involved, most of which have waiting lists and their just is not enough slack. The Tupelo Plan, which was seen by that residence as a wonderful solution, arrived at in a way the members of the house were largely proud of and happy with – now merely two days after its design lies in ruins with several members upset about the proposal.
Part of the problem is while we dont have many guarantees here, control of your room is one of the few you can exercise fairly easily. With the exception of people who have moved into a room reserved by a member on leave, who then returns and “bumps” the person out of their room, i have seem nothing like an eviction, except when we are expelling someone for something which has nothing to do with their room. And we are unwilling to push on any of a collection of sacred cow situations. We have kids who have grown up who dont count as kids or as members, but are taking room. We have a pair of kids who are very rarely here, but we cant consider combining their rooms. We have a teen who went off to college and it did not work out and moved back, who will move on but we have already allocated her room to an indexing office and we are unlikely to reconsider this, even tho we have a serious member room shortage. And we have detached living rooms or the science fiction library which could be member rooms, but the residences dont want to give up the space. We have mothers of grown kids in “nursing Mother suites” because they dont want to move. And of course there is an entire under utilized building called Degania, which we dont want to put families back into in part because of mold issue, but more because it feels too much like a single family housing unit, which is not who we see ourselves as being.
My big disappointment with Twin Oaks is our institutional fear of change. If we have not tried it before, we are generally (certainly not always) unwilling to try it for the first time. I understand where this comes from. 19 out of 20 new community fail within their first two years. 19 out of 20 new businesses also fail within their first two years. So the chances of a place like Twin Oaks surviving, where we are both a community and a business are 1 in 400, it makes some sense not to change a successful recipe. But we are no longer in danger of failing and we have long stopped being an experiment. We are a big successful institution. We have several successful and growing businesses, we have over a million dollars in the bank, we have a productive and healthy membership. We could take some chances, we could shake things up a bit. And a number of people who live here dont like that i think this way.
And so because of a large collection of these sacred cow room situations and our unwillingness to be a bit daring and experimental, we find ourselves doing a poor job of taking care of the needs of especailly one new families who live here. And sadly, it is exactly this which may end up driving some people to leave.