Thursday, July 12, 2007

House Meetings

At Big Gray, communication was crucial. No one wanted to feel like they were left out of decisions, so it was important that everyone have their say about anything that went on. That meant we had to get together and discuss issues. The dreaded House Meeting was our venue for these discussions. We went through a few different methods for calling and conducting meetings, but I won't bore you with the details. The way we finally decided to do it,anyone who wanted a meeting would post a request on the kitchen chalk board (one of two boards in the house-the other, on the second floor,was chiefly for political cartoons) Then, we would get everyone to sign up for the meeting (it was really pointless to have meetings if we couldn't all attend) and post an agenda. Anyone could add to the agenda. On the night of the meeting the chairperson (we rotated the job) would read the agenda and decide how to mediate the discussion. Obviously, some of us were better at this than others. Mediation, however didn't mean parliamentary type discussion of issues.The last point on the agenda was reserved for the Book Keeper who would inform us of our fiscal status. That was it in a nutshell. I mentioned we often held a Drum Ceremony after early meetings . Now you may think that we were the epitome of New Age "togetherness" from that description. You would however, be wrong. House meetings were sometimes hellish affairs with raised voices, hysterical crying and wounded egos. As the peace chief, I did try to temper these bouts by meeting behind the scenes with some of our more "outspoken" members before meetings. Having a lot of group therapy experience sometimes helped, but often didn't. Things we fought over? "You didn't do your chores last week". "You owe $200 to the house". "You left the dishes on the table after you ate." "You are tying up the house phone with your phone calls". Simple stuff. The kinds of problems that most families face. Our meetings were useful because they got everyone involved, but they certainly didn't solve the problems. In 21 years and 55 people, we only voted four members out, but we had a lot more fights. Every generation remembers one or two people who seemed to be always behind in their money or their chores, someone who lacked a sense of consideration for others. I saw it all. I loved Big Gray. I loved that we met but hated many of our meetings, and I loved most of the people who lived there. However, there were clearly some who ought never have applied; some who were far too self involved to live with other people. I developed a theory about it. If you had problems within your own family and never successfully dealt with them, then the experience of living at Big Gray would bring those problems up again and again and again. House meetings were where all that karma came to a head.

Richie, Jaime, Donna, Steven, Matt, Dan, Sam and William were the principal Fire Chiefs-the trouble makers who pushed others to shape up or who campaigned for changes like, "we should paint the Library", or "build a back porch", or "get a second refrigerator",or "fix the washing machine", or" put in another phone", etc. On most big decisions, we achieved consensus. If we didn't, you either gave up, or did what you thought was right anyway. Hey! It wasn't Congress and we had no Constitution. As I said before, there were the doers and there were those who went along without doing much. No matter how much you tried to probe the motives of prospective members, you could never predict the chemistry of 8 to 10 people living in close proximity.I think it was Dan who objected to my calling Big Gray an "experiment in communal living". But that's exactly what it was, an imperfect, ongoing experiment.

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