19 November, 2014

Syndicalism and propertarianism

(A mental experiment in balancing sojourner communalism and homeownership, part the first.)

We're a five-bicycle household now. In addition to myself and two tenants -- who i strive to think of as homemates -- we have a long-term couchsurfer  turned short-term homemate, who's been crashing the backyard couch, a popular choice among the surfers i've hosted, and started chipping in for utilities. From the outset he joined our kitchen communism, and offered his truck when i mentioned the prospect of making a Costco run. I held the membership card; everyone added needs to the shopping list.

Reflecting, i'm reminded of previous incarnations this impulse toward syndicalism took. Dormitory life in Ankara was a glowing chapter of it, and two months in a Brooklyn apartment with four Turks and a Mauritian doubled down on sharing, as we pooled our grocery money and rarely made the half-block walk to the nearby grocery alone. The uncanny similarity between Turkish names and the Odonian ones i'm trying to keep straight -- Shevek, Bedap, Tirin -- has muddied my recollection of former roommates' names, but i shan't forget their personalities, nor the quality of one's karniyarik, or the regular and competitive tavla (backgammon) games, always accompanied by tea and küp şeker.

Hola, memoirist tendencies. So much can change in twenty moons. Instead of working in a refrigerated warehouse in Red Hook, i'm sitting at a sunny picnic table in Baja Arizona. Nearby there's a blooming Justicia spicigera, a century plant, potted herbs that belong to a homemate. On a trellis of bicycle wheels the home's previous owner left behind, an Antigonon leptopus -- a member of the buckwheat family with pink blooms known around here as coral vine or miguelito -- is dying back for what winter we have.

Antigonon leptopus in September

I wake, and drink coffee outdoors as the night chill gives way to a perfect desert day. This morning, our couchsurfer left his french press on the counter with a cupful for me. Before making oatmeal, i devour another two chapters of Ursula LeGuin's "The Dispossessed," on loan from a homemate, and settle into what's beginning to resemble a long-sought sense of equilibrium, routine.

This Saturday marks one orbit since my flight to Tucson with naught but two backpacks. Little did i know when i booked that flight that within eight months, i'd take out a mortgage. Now Chloe's sourdough starter, and water kefir -- a gift from my sister -- ferment in the fridge, and compost cooks in a repurposed old Tucson barbecue. More than the mortgage, the compost pile is what makes this house my home, the place i've chosen, or that has chosen me, to conduct this experiment in rootedness, in making every day an effort to build living soil.

Little cairns of existence aside, being a homeowner with a communal bent has enlivened for me an inner conversation, perhaps even a moral one, about syndicalism versus propertarianism, to borrow LeGuin's terms. I find myself reflecting on interactions with homemates, asking whether i feel more like a homemate, syndic, or like a landlord, propertarian.

As a homeowner, certain responsibilities fall squarely on me; that said, negotiations between the two modes arise with surprising frequency. How to ensure kitchen cleaning duties are equitably self-assigned, for example, or where the line between participation and exploitation lies when Chloe offers to share her fresh-baked bread. We're more stringent in our accounting than the easy kitchen communism of my Turkish sojourns; a nifty online tool helps calculate our respective contributions to the shared elements of home economy. To me, though, the unspoken daily negotiations are a microcosm of our mode in society. Are we here to be owners, profiteers, or here to realize the existential truth that "to be whole is to be a part?"

Last night i broached the subject of that interior back-and-forth to Amanda. Does she feel more like a homemate, or a tenant? "It's rent day," she observed with a laugh.