CBS Came to My Community!
Living Outside the Box of the Single-Family Home
By Gaya Erlandson, PhD
One day late in 2010, producer Jeanine Ibrahim called from NY and asked whether they could film us for a “Golden Girls” segment on their CBS Early Show. They wanted four women, age 45 or over, living together under one roof. 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. So four of us said yes!
Before the crew traveled to our home from NY, NY and Atlanta, GA, Jeanine called and talked with all four 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 1 x 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!”
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 it is 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 leaving 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 it’s own perspective. Over the phone, all four of us “Golden Girls” to be filmed had done our best to tell of our more personal and philosophical perspective of 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 filming, had fallen (while in California) and broken her left hip in two places, her left femur (upper leg bone), her left shoulder and cracked three ribs on the left side. Sherry’s return home – just three weeks before the filming, involved considerable changes 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. Before she returned I moved everything, placing her various art objects and pretty things around the room in a way that was similar to how she had it upstairs. Putting her slippers on the side of her bed and hanging her nightgown and robe nearby made me smile.
On Tuesday, the day she was to arrive late, her son Josh came over to do the moving and was surprised to see it all done. I was surprised that it hadn’t even occurred to me to call this strong 33-year-old to help! He installed a special elevated toilet seat and some rails on the tub, however, and we talked about what Sherry would need. It was clear he loves his mother!
His sister Julianne, Sherry’s youngest, had flown in from the Caribbean and stayed the first week. 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) 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 looking distraught. Seems her 8-year-old daughter was ill at school – back in NY, 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 very much felt for her. It was one of the countless times I thought to myself, “Why are we so whetted 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.
Jeanine, Michelle and the two men of the crew (Darrall who did sound and David the photographer, both from Atlanta) were wonderful. From the beginning we all laughed together, teased each other and generally they did a great job of having us feel comfortable. They were so friendly, in fact, that I had to keep reminding myself that what I said might be on national TV, so as not to be too irreverent with my humor.
When it was my turn to be interviewed on camera, however (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?”
Images of her trying to manage her child’s care over the phone from afar that morning 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, washing machines, vacuums, tools 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, for example, or an expansive library and wonderful picnic area - 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.”
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 such as neighbors mentoring youth. Raising children shouldn’t be so hard!”
“Raising and educating our children is perhaps the most important job any society has, yet in the U.S., it is one of the least paid and most stressful - 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. Most agree it ‘takes a village’ to raise a child but we barely give children two adults.
“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 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 contribute 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 or 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 worthiness. 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 our cities of isolated single-family homes becoming caring neighborhood communities where the fences are taken down, people are working together to provide what is needed and where everyone is nurtured and supported at all stages of life. I see new forms of housing where several families share large kitchens, dining areas, sitting rooms, 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, as evidenced by the amount of drugs prescribed to both parents and kids and the resulting difficulties kids are having these days, I believe is a big elephant walking through our collective living rooms. Kids and elders – people of all ages don’t fit into the box of the single-family home. 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!
I realized from it all (again) that my thoughts on community are quite different from most folks – including most 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 that was aired on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011. 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 (see link below).
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 home place.
From the whole experience, I became re-inspired by my own passion for collaborative, caring lifestyles that I have lived, studied, taught classes on, encouraged people to live 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. People of all ages are needed for us to thrive and attain our human potential. It is time.
The CBS segment turned out to be 3.5 minutes long and was aired on Wednesday, March 2, 2011. Here's your link: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7358240n&tag=cbsnewsVideoArea.0
Gaya (aka Gayatri) Erlandson, PhD, founded Lotus Lodge in 2004, currently owns the property and is looking into turning it into a cooperative where residents own shares. A psychologist and visionary, Gaya has been encouraging people to live more collaborative lifestyles over two decades, to better bring out our human potential. She also teaches and promotes relevant classes such as on Dynamic Governance, NonViolent Communication, Conscious Communication and ‘The Work’ of Byron Katie. Certified as an Imago Relationship Therapist, she also offers relationship counseling, does groups and customized retreats at Lotus Lodge (see: LotusLodge.com). Contact her by email: gerlandson dot phd at gmail or phone: 828-581-9036.