i live in a communal house.

Communal is one of my favorite words. Maybe because it sounds like urinal, and I've always had good luck with those. But also: I go into the bathroom, and on the windowsill: Communal Condoms! awesome. Communal Bath Bombs! Well... it's good to know they're there... I guess. Communal 'zines! Wait, those are mine...
Downstairs... we eat together from common food, we share plots of garden space with unlucky apartment dwellers... there are milk crates full of old bike parts in our bathroom. When my bike seat was stolen from Bay St. (what the fuck? Some drunk banker stole it?) I just dove in and built myself a new one. Most days I'm incredibly thankful for cheap rent, and the chance to live what I preach. 'Cause it is, this is anarchy... barebones and lazy but functional. We're not all anarchists in name, but that's only a word, and the deed speaks louder than words.
When the time comes, and a roommate moves on, we run an ad and choose a new one. This is where tensions come into play. This anarchy we have, it's quiet, usually unspoken, operating on deference. The system doesn't operate very well on a deadline, which is what the first of the month becomes. Anarchists, overt and otherwise, usually hate deadlines.
Things that might usually be handled quietly by one individual become important to the group. For example, this time the wording of the ad became contentious. One person wrote it, but in a way that the group wasn't thrilled about. Especially when we didn't get enough applicants that we could agree upon.
For the past two weeks, interrupted by my whirlwind crosscountry tour (six hours in Winnipeg, three days in Vancouver), we've been interviewing potential roommates, debating their merits, reiterating how we are supremely fucked because we can't agree on one. I suggest you never witness an anarchist trying to conduct an interview, because the results are painful. (I'm speaking with myself in mind, here.) K. gets nervous, conducts the tour of the house, gets jumpy and excited and repeatedly asks if they like the room, if they are still interested. I forget all my important questions and ask if they are allergic to cats or ferrets. B. turns ice, peers deep into their souls and asks the hard questions of compatibility. P. selects people solely on how bad he would feel turning them down. His daughter technically gets a veto, but she's usually watching television and gives a quick thumbs up or down.
As the storied masses in and through our house, the whole process becomes hypersensitive. In everyone we are searching for signs of extreme psychological distress. We pretty much vetoed one guy because of a bad joke. Scene:
Me:"So, uh, how do you feel about noise?"
He:"oh, noise doesn't bother me, the only noise that bothers me are the voices in my head." (nervous chuckling)
Me:"Uh huh."
He:"Yeah, but I got alcohol and weed to stop that." (more nervous chuckling)
Incidentally, now he's dating one of our roommates. But not living here.
One thing I'll admit is that this batch of applicants has some of the neatest lifestories I've ever heard. Unfortunately, there hasn't been one that has been acceptable to everyone.
What has surprised me though is how easily a little flame will heat up our house. We are usually very affable people, but there has been just a whiff of tension, just a few short words. And the temperature jets up when things are not communicated plain as day, What we are doing next, How we are doing it, and When. Just think! We are all very familiar and experienced with communal activities, whether in houses or projects or activism or whatever. And we still let this thing called communalism fly out of our grip!
My point is this: anarchism for me has meant less and less Revolution, and more of learning to just get along. I know it seems obvious. But for me, I spent a lot of time convinced that I would be shot during the final orgasm of unrest before government was put to sleep. And then: holy shit, the world's changing, these things I thought I was wishing for are suddenly coming true, and I've never even fired a gun before! What am I going to do when they come for the Anarchists?
And just as suddenly: holy shit! What am I thinking? Are people really going to 'get' this solidarity thing right smack during martial law? Are housewives really going to break curfew out of defiance? Like, when they start shooting down news choppers and airing twenty-four hour soap opera marathons instead?
What makes us think everything will figure itself out after the capital-R Revolution? We've been out of practice for so long, how can we believe that we can co-operate when we have ourselves and our children to feed? Who is going to spay our cats??! Revolution might be fun for macho youngsters, but it's going to be scary for a lot of people. You tear down a dead tree, and all the soil washes away in the next rain. What's there to hold it?
I think it's defeatist to think that we can only start making revolution after The Revolution. Our society is notable in its wastefulness. There's plenty lying around, waiting for idle hands. I used to suffocate, waiting for el Revolucion, waiting for it to claw back the smog and fences. Human relations were never my strength; it seemed it would be much easier to make solidarity when Revolution came with its banners and festivals and shooting in the distance. Revolution would drain us into the streets and let us meet each other. It was so goddamn beautiful that I knew it had to be false.
Government will do what it's always done, when there was smoke on the horizon: empty the prisons, hand out guns, hire militias, minutemen, rapists, contras... nothing spoils a party like a lynching. Sure, there are stories of wartime camaraderie. It's a powerful glue. That's why governments strive to impose war on its own soldiers, and terrorism on its enemies... Terrorism disintegrates solidarity. That's why we'd better get familiar with our neighbours' faces now. And how often have college activists been good neighbours? I'm not accusing, just thinking back... no, I guess I wasn't a very good neighbour. Those 3am 'fundraiser' parties. Oops.
And there's something else. Anarchy works, but only voluntarily. We don't let just anyone crash on our couch. For our house to work, we must hear a resounding 'Yes!' We can't assume a yes, and then impose authority on our roommates. Governments have always seized power, and then assumed consent. To hold out for Revolution is to do the same, to hold people hostage to political forces they don't control. Scene:
From your neighbourhood, you hear explosions all day. Then in the evening, masked men with assault rifles in a commandeered police car (covered in circle-A graffiti) roll slowly up the street. "Congratulations!" they shout. "You are now all anarchists!" Who's fooling whom?
Don't get me wrong. Governments fall. Often spectacularly. Men have failed to build perpetual motion machines, and they fail to build their cherised dystopias. Government will fall, and if we're there to witness it we'll name it Revolution. But I've been trying to build my own, baby-r revolutions in how I live. Turns out that they're pretty banal revolutions. It's hard, because I've always had giant daydreams. I can't go to bed excited about mending my socks tomorrow, starting a bike collective, joining Food Not Bombs... not the same way I can get terrified and excited about getting my dumb ass shot in the street. But I have moments, flights of fancy, when I say to myself: "Congratulations! You are an anarchist!" And I can feel the "Yes" deep under my ribs, held under my lungs like fire, and I'm smiling as I walk down the street, catching curious glances...


At 1:26 p.m., Blogger nico said...

This is an interesting entry. I also live in a communal house, and was searching for things to read about others'. I appreciate your views on revolution vs. Revolution. I agree that co-operatives, communal endeavours are the way (realistic, more accepted by all, less fearful for many, less wasteful, less destructive to people's health).


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