From the Diary of an Aspiring Founder

From the Diary of an Aspiring Founder

One of the entrances to Christiania, Copenhagen

Many of the stories I’ve heard about the founding of established communities have an almost mythic quality to them. There’s a vision, heros, a struggle, and ultimately success. And after enough years of passing the story down the details become fuzzy or malleable, particularly as founders leave, pass away, or just get tired of telling the story and let other people do it. Sometimes it seems less like a question of how the community started and more like fate.

In theory, I know exactly how to start an intentional community. I’ve spent my life living and learning from well over a hundred communities about all the different ways to do all the different things that are involved with starting and maintaining the land, infrastructure, governance, economics, social dynamics, and culture that make an intentional community. I can lay out the strategies, the process, and the pitfalls. In theory.

Broadly speaking, as approaches go, on one end of the spectrum is the Developer Driven model, aka the “build it and they will come” approach; the other is the Group of Friends model, with the variation of the Charismatic Leader.  

Co-ops, Cohousing, and Coliving have shown that it’s possible to standardize a model where you have a person or team that does the early development work for a community, including building or remodeling the housing and infrastructure, gets together the initial core group and then works with them to fill the place.

I think there’s a place for developer driven intentional communities. But I think the kind of community I want to be part of has to come from a group.

This is where I look more to distinctive communities like The Farm, Twin Oaks, Dancing Rabbit, Earthaven, Arcosanti, Lost Valley, Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, TLC Farm, Songaia, Mount Madonna, Lama Foundation, Ganas, Sirius, Ithaca Ecovillage. I could go on. They all have unique, fascinating stories of a group coming together with a common vision. Sometimes this was catalyzed by a charismatic leader, which is a mixed bag, but it can be successful. But one way or another a committed and passionate group comes together to do the impossible and succeeds.  

The big question for me is, how did they find each other? Again, each story is unique, so it’s hard to generalize. And again, sometimes it seems like fate. But I’d rather not leave things to fate. Or, at least, I’d like to think I can influence it, or set up favorable conditions. I’ve made this audacious declaration that I want to help start an intentional community. How exactly am I going about this? Step one seems to be, find a group to do this with. How do I do that?

As I started thinking about this over the winter, it seemed like the first thing to do is get really clear about what I want in community. One of my goals in writing that down was to be very clear about what’s important to me so that I’m also clear about where I feel flexible. 

The next obvious step was to share it, which I did about a month ago, in a variety of ways. The feedback I’ve gotten has been encouraging. A bunch of people have expressed interest, and I’ve been in touch with a few groups in the early stages of forming and visioning.

A couple people have asked me if I’m organizing people to talk. I’m not, yet. I’m hesitant to take the lead in that way. Being a lead organizer with a personal agenda is potentially problematic, and, as I’ve expressed, my experience could be an asset and a liability. But I’m also considering that right now I have the time and energy to help organize, whereas some of the people interested don’t and might appreciate someone else taking the lead at first.

I’ve had a number of great conversations with folks who are or have considered helping start a community, or have given it a shot and are still interested, and who resonated with what I wrote. It feels like dating. It’s been great to talk with folks who’ve tried, or put some serious thought into trying to start a community, and who feel inspired to chase this dream. There hasn’t been any love at first sight yet, but I’m not expecting that. I expect this could take a long time, staying in touch with people, continuing conversations, cultivating relationships, looking for people who are at the right moment in their lives, waiting for the stars to align. Being open to fate.

I’m being a little flippant because, well, like I said, I have no idea if what I’m doing will get me to where I want to go. Maybe I’ll need to just face the challenges of taking the lead and do everything I know how to do to address the power dynamics. Or maybe some other strategy will present itself. Sometimes I think maybe I’m just not fated to be part of one of those mythic founding stories. Or, I think maybe there’s just no way to make it happen, and I just have to let it happen, if it’s going to happen. Staying open to possibility is hard. I have a daily wrestling match with anxiety. I have my daily existential crisis. But it feels clear to me that this is what I need to be doing right now. So I’ll keep doing it until it’s clear I should do something else.

What I’m also doing is blogging, continuing to put myself out there. It seems like one of the most likely key ingredients is to keep showing up as authentically and vulnerably as I know how to do, and maybe share some useful information and offer some inspiration to others along the way.

And right now, as I’m planting seeds, there’s only so much I can do to directly work towards finding a group to start a community with. I also have the privilege and good fortune to not have to work a job right now. This won’t be true forever. So I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity to focus on this. And I’m trying to find ways to be useful along the way.

I’ve continued to volunteer with the FIC since I stepped down as Executive Director last year, and I’m doing a little contract work right now. I’m glad to be able to continue to serve the movement in some way as I participate in it from a different position. 

I’ve been exploring a partnership with a community developer to do some kind of large scale intentional community conversion. The motivating idea is around small college campuses or boarding schools that are selling for low prices. This would be a developer driven approach. As mentioned, it’s not how I personally want to go about things, but who knows. I also think it has potential, even if it’s not something I end up living in, and I’m curious to see how I can leverage my experience.

I’m also on the organizing team for the Arcosanti Convergence again this year. The event in 2019 was amazing. I’m so excited that it looks like we can do this again! 

I spent 10 days at Emerald Earth in Mendocino County, CA. It’s a beautiful little off-grid community with massive potential.

I’m going up to Portland soon to interview for a spot at Tryon Life Community Farm. I lived there for a summer back in 2008 and would like to spend some time there again. I’d also like to check out the Portland area as a possible place to focus my effort to find a group to start a community with.

It’s a mix of stuff, but it’s all in the same sphere. I’ve started calling myself a Community Activist lately. It’s so easy for me to stop short and ask myself, what the heck am I doing? Having a way to encapsulate it helps a little.

2 Replies to “From the Diary of an Aspiring Founder”

  1. Following with great interest. I tried it here 13 years ago and got 15 people with no money where I needed 30 with as much bank as me to bet everything…
    I took an intensive at OAEC on building and sustaining an intentional community, which was extremely valuable.
    Godspeed Sky Blue my friend!

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