For almost twenty years, I was a co-owner in a cooperatively-run bicycle shop. We had as few as 8 owners and as many 16 during my tenure. In that time, I learned a lot about how to facilitate meetings, what it means to build consensus, and the importance of checking in with each other before embarking on a new project or making changes to the business that would affect the collective.
I also learned a lot about why cooperatives set up in a socialist style almost always fail past a certain size and/or point in history. Because although we love the idea of cooperation and a collective cause, we've all grown up in a world with a capitalist way of thinking. Past a certain point it's hard for capitalist-minded humans to be altruistic, or to at least think of the others in the group.
Finally, I learned a lot about myself. When my time at the cooperative bike shop came to an end, I recognized that the experience had changed me, too. I was no longer interested in spending half my working life in meetings to process about the work I was doing. I was someone who preferred to just do, to fix, to make, to get things done; and couldn't be bothered with having to check in every time I had a question or an idea. When my time at Citybikes came to an abrupt and unhappy end six years ago, it was in large part because I'd kept trying to invest and believe in the process, and in a group of people with whom I'd done good work over a long period of my life; and in the end they made it clear that they didn't really need me anymore. So I left.
Over the succeeding six years I've grown used to working alone; to owning my mistakes and correcting them myself (or at least learning from them if I couldn't undo the damage); and taking my own risks. Being married, I'm devoted enough to my wife that I happily check in with her before jumping off to my own next adventure, and when we decide it's not prudent I hold off. But as far as working with larger groups in cooperation again, that's not something I'm likely to do going forward. Especially if I don't have to in order to get or keep a job.
So when my synagogue redesigned its cooperative model last year to include still more committees and liasons and chairpeople, I got worried. When my faith community began dropping large hints that the way into community involvement would, going forward, be committee involvement, I watched myself rapidly losing interest. And when they made official the years-long policy of not paying members for services to the synagogue, so that no one would be paid for leading worship or music except the Rabbi, I felt myself completely deflate.
Still, I hung in there. We all need community, right? I know I do. When I came up with an idea for a small, informal gathering that just needed time and space at the shul, I was brought up short with the new reality of the expanded committee system. I was told that from now on, everything would have to be run through that system in order to move forward. Everything would have to be processed in meetings, even my small gathering of folks who would just get together for an hour of Adult Coloring.
And that's when I lost it.
I've been forced to recognize that, after twenty years at a co-op bike shop, I ended up having nothing to show for it besides my pain and my experiences. Now, sixteen years into membership at my shul, I feel that feeling coming on again, and find myself pondering the very real possibility of going on without affiliation at any synagogue, anywhere.
That's not to say I wouldn't have a sense of community. I know lots of people in Portland, and my wife and I have made a nice simple life together here. I don't see that changing. But I do sense that the older I get, the less inclined I am to be patient with process, and with people who love to process. Life is too short for me to just sit around and talk about stuff anymore. I want to just DO, MAKE, LIVE. Don't bother me with another fucking meeting about the meeting we had last week to process the meeting we'd had before that.
If that makes me the lonely long-distance biker, then I guess that's what I am.
When the air quality clears up I'll go for a bike ride and think about what it means to gain clarity.
In the midst of all this noise, I find that I am grateful.
Grateful for the chance to know myself better, to own my shit and to not hate myself for having the quirks and imperfections that I have now.
I mostly ride alone these days on my bike. So it stands to reason that most of my other rides will be less peopled as well. There is loneliness, to be sure, but there is also a great deal of spontaneity and freedom. I've given up enough of the latter two long enough. I'll enjoy them now, and live in a larger circle of friends where the boundaries are more vague and fluid, and I feel freer to simply act.