Living Outside the Box of the Single-Family Home
When CBS producer Jeanine Ibrahim called from NY and asked whether they could film us for a “Golden Girls” segment on their CBS Early Show (link at end), I had no idea they would interview us over the phone first and then film us for an entire day. Nor did I know that it would be edited down to 3.5 minutes (aired on March 2, 2011. See link below). While Lotus Lodge, our community of about 9 people has always included men, at the time five of the women living here were in that age range (over 50). So four of us said yes!
Before the news crew converged on our home from New York and Atlanta, Jeanine called and talked with each of us, starting with me. “Yes, we are all quite independent, each with our own jobs and schedule, our own bank accounts, our own food, and our own private room, much like 'The Golden Girls' TV show.
“No, we’re not a commune, and no, we don’t even eat together much of the time, unless two or more happen to fix their own meal at the same time (3-4 times a week) or we have a potluck (at least once a week). We also garden and go on hikes together, have movie nights, and have many wonderful, rich conversations with lots of laughter. And yes, there’s plenty of privacy!”
Show host Michelle Miller pauses with director Jeanine Ibrahim and photographer/camera man David Gladstone during filming day.
While Jeanine was very engaging and listened well, soon into our conversations it was clear to me that CBS wanted to report a certain perspective — one that emphasized the economic advantage of “seniors” living together. I was determined to expand this perspective. Our conversation went something like the following.
“Most of the women moved to Lotus Lodge because they couldn’t afford their own place, right?”
“No, actually, everyone chose to be here primarily because they wanted the social support. This 4400-square-foot-place originally was a single-family home, converted now to a triplex. Everyone rents a private room within one of the apartments and we live some hybrid between being neighbors and family. Together we have very meaningful relationships that we all really value.”
“But is it cheaper to live together than on one’s own?”
“Oh, yes. And every one here chose to live collaboratively — as the preferred choice, even though we each could have afforded to live alone elsewhere. We all really value the comfort of having others around, and we value our relationship with the Earth — we appreciate living a smaller footprint.
“In fact, if we had the funds, we’d design a collaborative home from the ground up, and we’d make the whole site sustainable. Plus, we’d look to inspire a lot of others to live collaboratively — of all ages. I really think this is the beginning of a wave of the future.”
She didn’t seem interested, so I decided to let it go. Every media has its own perspective. In our phone audition, all four of us “Golden Girls” had done our best to share a more personal and philosophical perspective on why we live together. It was time to trust and get ready for the big day.
Emphasis on Relationship
Knowing that we were about to be interviewed for national TV had me much more aware of our interactions, our space, and how we support each other. Things around resident Sherry were particularly relevant.
Sherry had lived here for nearly three years, and just six weeks before the scheduled interview, she had suffered a bad fall while in California and broken her left hip in two places, her femur (upper leg bone), and her left shoulder, and had cracked three ribs on the left side. Sherry’s return home — just three weeks before the filming — involved major adjustments at Lotus Lodge.
First, we needed to move all her things from upstairs and set up a room for her on the main floor. For me, this was done gladly. I remember placing her various art objects and other keepsakes around the room, trying to replicate the arrangement she’d had upstairs. Putting her slippers on the side of her bed and hanging her nightgown and robe nearby made me smile.
“Golden Girls” Gaya and Sherry enjoying a breather on filming day.
On Tuesday, the day Sherry was to arrive, her son Josh came over to do the moving and was surprised to see it all done. I was surprised also that it hadn’t even occurred to me to call this strong 33-year-old to help! Still, he was useful: he installed a special elevated toilet seat and some rails on the tub, and we talked about what special needs Sherry would have.
Julianne, Sherry’s youngest, had flown in from the Caribbean to be with her mother during her the first week back. From all evidence, both women felt much love and healing. After years of difficulty, Sherry told me, she and her daughter now were closer than ever. And Julianne really appreciated the love and support her mother experienced at Lotus Lodge.
After Julianne left, Sherry’s other daughter, Jessica, drove in from Charlotte and stayed for several days. Then her oldest son Jake, also from Charlotte, stayed for a long weekend. By the end of that time, not only was Sherry closer to her kids, they all were in tremendous appreciation of her life and relationships at Lotus Lodge.
Sherry must have mentioned this during her interview on filming day because Jeanine, the director, requested that Josh (the only offspring living close by) come to Lotus Lodge and be interviewed — giving his thoughts about his mother being here.
The day the filming crew arrived, interviewer Michelle Miller walked in holding her cell phone and looking distraught. One of her kids was ill at school back in New York, and she was trying to make decisions about what to do, who else to call, and how to manage it all from Asheville. I thought, “How perfect. She needs community!”
Throughout the day she screened her calls and answered several that were family related. I didn’t ask for details but felt a deep sympathy for her difficulty. It was one of the countless times I thought to myself, “Why are we so wedded to living so separately in single-family homes? Life could be so much easier and more fun if we all would collaborate more.” Again, I let it go.
Sound man Darral Johnson setting up the equipment.
Jeanine, Michelle, and the two men of the crew (Darrall who did sound and David the photographer, both from Atlanta) were wonderful and quite good at making us feel comfortable. From the beginning we all laughed together and teased each other. They were so friendly, in fact, that I had to keep reminding myself that what I said might be on national TV and tamping down my irreverent humor.
When it was my turn to be interviewed on camera — I was last — I was nervous; and so, instead of having too much humor, I got too philosophical. Somewhere in the middle of it I stepped on my soapbox and hopefully not on her toes when Michelle asked something like, “So you think that living like this is really beneficial, especially for people as they age and are on limited income, right?”
Recollections of her trying that morning to manage her child’s care from afar via the phone jumped out at me as I launched into a passionate lecture about how families with children need a collaborative lifestyle more than anyone. It went something like the following.
Buying Less, Having More
“It’s not that I think all people should live under one roof in the way that we do at Lotus Lodge,” I said.
“To me, adults living alone or with just a spouse in a single-family home is lonely, and it seems like a lot of work and money to maintain everything. Lawn mowers, sheds, tools, washing machines, vacuums, and many other things that neighbors buy separately can be shared.
“Together we can have high-quality tools and lawn care equipment in a shared shed, or an expansive library — with much less expense. And we can have much more fun doing projects like community gardens together. Living collaboratively, in whatever way that looks, is a way to downsize and live more lightly on the Earth, and still have it all — or even more.”
Lotus Lodge residents and neighbors dance after their in-house talent show (Gaya is in the middle).
Michelle inserted, “Especially for seniors, right?”
“Actually, I think it’s even more important to live collaboratively for families with young children. When you have kids, your whole life is about keeping up with the myth of the ‘independent’ single-family home as the ideal, and parents typically are scrambling to get everything done and to make ends meet. It’s exhausting! Many parents today, especially mothers, are taking antidepressants and other drugs to get by. A better way involves more connection, people of all ages contributing to each other. Raising children shouldn’t be so hard!
“Raising and educating our children is perhaps the most important job any society has, yet in the US, it is one with the least reward, financially ,and the most stress — for parents and educators alike. Divorce is high among couples with young families. I believe that two people just aren’t enough, and certainly neither is a single parent.
“We used to have extended families where older children, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers all were involved in the rearing of the younger ones. If a child became ill, many hands and hearts were glad to contribute. There was a whole group of people who knew, cared about, and taught each child what it is to be a caring, contributing person.
“Without this, look at what’s happening with our kids. Increasingly they are being diagnosed and drugged from kindergarten on. Many don’t see or connect with either of their parents during much of the day, and there aren’t grandparents or other extended family around. Young people need ongoing contact and meaningful connections.
“With so few adults involved in their lives in a long-term, personal way, kids increasingly turn to each other. Bullying and various forms of violence are big problems. Research has shown that both murder and suicide by teens are related to feelings of being unliked, lonely, and bullied for extended periods — including from middle-class, intact families, as the infamous Columbine shootings demonstrated.
“Helen Keller said that she wasn’t ‘human’ until her teacher taught her to communicate and relate with others. In other words, she wasn’t ‘human’ until she had meaningful relationships. We are relational beings, utterly dependent on each other for survival and for our humanity. It is from others that we develop our self-concept, our ideas about what’s possible, and our capacities to love and function in the world. We need to emphasize our relationships much more, starting from birth.”
Contribution and Self-Concept
Michelle added, “Yes, kids should spend less time with their electronics.” If I didn’t have so much compassion for her right then I might have felt a bit exasperated.
“That might help. And it is a shame for a parent to use television and video games as baby sitters. But sometimes there is little choice. She needs time to study her college courses or do other adult things. If there were more adults or older responsible people around — such as teens who contributed meaningfully, and grandparents — she wouldn’t have to choose between her own and her child’s needs. It can be a no-win situation.
“And think about it. For all the times she chooses in favor of her child at her own expense, don’t you think that on some level she resents the child - and that the child feels like a burden to her? In situations like that, he is! I believe, at some level, that whole conflicted dynamic gets figured into the child’s deep sense of self-worth — or lack thereof — and it’s well known that many of our youth today have low self-esteem.
“Something that could be done immediately is to expect much more from our children. If they were taught from an early age how to clean and manage the home — to whatever their capacity, including such things as doing their own laundry, meal planning and preparation — everyone would benefit. Expecting kids to contribute at home and in the community isn’t child abuse, it’s establishing a relationship that tells them they are important, that they are wanted and needed, that they make a difference.
“From an early age, children want to help. We all want to make a difference. I think it’s a basic need that is grossly under recognized. Contributing is perhaps the most rewarding way we connect with each other and feel a sense of belonging and worth. But it takes time to teach young children how to sweep the floor well, to set the table, clean the bathroom, care for the dog, water the garden, and make meals.
“Again, we are social, relational beings. We need each other. The more we look to encourage contribution and collaboration from our family members, our communities — including our children and elders — the better for all.”
To help me wrap it up, Michelle commented, “So you see a big change in how everyone lives.”
“Yes! I see a housing revolution! I see neighborhoods of isolated people being catalyzed into caring communities where the fences are taken down, people are working together to provide what is needed, and everyone is nurtured and supported at all stages of life. I see new forms of housing where several families share large kitchens & dining areas, rooms for children, libraries, media rooms, garden and outdoor areas, and yet each person and couple has plenty of private space.
“The difficulty we have in raising our kids and the resulting difficulties kids are having these days, I believe, is a big elephant walking through our collective living rooms. Kids, parents and elders — people of all ages — aren't supported adequately. We need to get out of the box of the single-family home! We need to connect and collaborate within our communities. Our kids, our humanity, and our future depend upon it!”
At the end of the day, it was almost sad to see the crew go. I would have loved to talk with Michelle more about her parenting situation. It’s amazing how quickly we can feel connected with others!
Lotus Lodge residents hanging out the windows, pretending they are on the old “Laugh-in” show.
I realized from it all (again) that my thoughts on community are quite different from most folks — including many of those in the “intentional community” movement. I find it interesting that of all the people CBS could have contacted in the country, they landed at my doorstep here in the Asheville area where many are exploring new options and innovations for better living.
As it turned out, the full day of filming was edited down to a 3.5-minute piece. While it didn’t include any of the complexity or depth of what was discussed or what went into creating our community at Lotus Lodge, they did capture the fun of living here. Several times they captured us laughing uproariously, as you’ll see below.
The CBS segment was aired on Wednesday, March 2, 2011, and can be viewed at this link. Even though the Early Show didn’t give our contact information, several women from around the country found us and called saying they were very inspired to consider collaborative living. A few of the women were quite passionate about it.
One talked non-stop for the first 20 minutes, telling me how it was my “destiny” to go out and help women live harmoniously in collaborative homes, or to live more collaboratively with their neighbors, and that I “must” do it! While a few inquired about living here at Lotus Lodge, most were interested in learning how to create some version of the concept in their own abodes.
The whole experience reignited my own passion for collaborative, caring lifestyles — something I have lived, studied, taught classes on, and written about for many years. What I realized is that it was time for me to write my message, my perspective — in all its complexity and, hopefully, with clarity — in my own book. It is time.
Link to the 3.5 min video on CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/real-life-golden-girls-find-group-living-w...
Rev. Gaya Erlandson, PhD is a counselor, writer, teacher, social architect, and community consultant. Certified in Imago Relationship Therapy, she loves to coach couples, facilitate groups, and offer trainings related to conscious relationships and living in community. Gaya lives in Lotus Lodge — a shared home near Asheville, NC, which is situated on .7 acres with large trees and organic gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 581-9036.