Book Review of Commune Living – The Notes from the Nethers

Notes from the Nethers  by Sandra Eugster

I read this book last year, a memoir of living on a commune. Since then, I have read Communities Magazines and in their first issues from the 70s and 80s. It was fun to see actual notes from the Nethers. It was a school and small commune formed by the author’s mother.  Here are the quotes that stood out to me.

From Page 157

“I see that I should have blocked consensus – that my voice was not mine alone, but was a voice for the whole group, as evidenced by our inability to actually eat the pigs. In trying to straddle, in trying to hold to my own convictions, bolstered by my own private protest, without becoming the focus of resentment or conflict or disagreement, I thought iIhad found the perfect solution, when in fact, it did no one any good least of all the pigs.”

It reminds me of how hard consensus is and how resentments do appear if you go against the crowd. For her, it was worse, she was a child.

From Page 195

One member of the commune got caught avoiding the Vietnam War and was sent to jail.  She said, “We tried sending him care packages, but life being what it was, immediate, absorbing and fast moving, we didn’t keep it up very long….There was a division of opinion about whether we were leading the revolution by keeping everyone out of the war, or copping out by not protesting more directly.”

I like this because it shows how busy you get living in an IC and the attitude most seem to have – we are changing the world, when in fact they are not. Plus, reading about communes make me realize that most were formed just to avoid mainstream society and the war. Not really needed nowadays.

From Page 252-3

They had a rat problem in the house. They went on and on proposing solutions and having consensus meetings. It is a hilarious description.  It made me laugh.  She sums it up by saying, “The rats won.  They eventually became a part of life – something we all hated, but with which we had to make peace.”

So true. All the consensus and pretending to care what everyone thinks usually means most things don’t get taken care of at all.  

From Page 285

“Why was she being so damned even-handed anyway? She was my mother and I had asked for her protection and help. Suddenly my bulldozer mother is too discreet to be direct?”

This breaks my heart. I’ve seen it – a leader of a school or association forgets they also have to take care of their own children. I see they want to be fair. I also have seen the care free life of parents where they outright neglect their children, especially in ICs.

From Page 308

“College was in a word, agony. Although i was vaguely interested I could not focus on the weather of academic learning offered to me. I could not wrest my anxious attention away from survival – real concerns. How do you talk to people?”

Growing up in an isolated commune with people coming and going (still happens today even in cohousing), she grew anxious and super shy. 

From Page 312

She is not too happy about her commune experiences and reflects:

“Sometimes I am angry and disbelieving that my dad just rolled over and let my mother do as she pleased. Wasn’t he, a professor, worried about my education? Didn’t he of all people know the hazards of my mother’s disdain for convention? Perhaps if he had stood up more to her I could have stood up more to him…..Oddly I am many things opposite to what I would expect from one who spent formative years on a  commune and I am reminded of the dialectic, how one extreme breeds the other. I am private and reserved to a fault present document notwithstanding which makes it hard for people to know me. I am ruthlessly disciplined, finding it no problem to regiment myself for work or pastime. I am deeply counter – dependent. It is very hard for me to let go of a fundamental, hard-won self-sufficiency. This is problematic in that it resonates more with my need to think that I am fundamentally self sufficient than the fact that I am…And finally, i am crushingly over-responsible, with one glaring exception” (she doesn’t visit her mother much)

And on Page 317

She cringes when thinks she would try raising her kid like she was

“The margin between freedom and endangerment is slim. I am very aware of how fortunate I was to have had eight years in conventional circumstances before being thrust into less protected ones. Although Nethers was hard and confusing, I had absorbed enough structure to ultimately be able to integrate the lack of it. Fanaticism of any kind is cruel and the counterculture had its full share of fanatics. The wish to return to innocence came with the thought that by removing the barriers between adult and child, the children could be the bridge back to innocence. But the force of nature goes in the other direction, and many children lose their innocence devastatingly early. I often think I was fortunate not to have been molested. But in a sense I was. My exposure to sexual matters was premature, as was my close contact wth extreme human peculiarities and ultimately the harsh reality of adults  doindgwhat was right for themselves as opposed ot their charges. Perhaps much of my self-protectiveness comes from a  too-early understanding of this ruthless human tendency for each to look after him or herself.”

This is the nightmare I realized at cohousing. Some adults forget to parent and protect their kids.  I hope this book helped with the author’s healing.

About CJ

I was a Spanish teacher for 5 years in the Public School system in 3 different states. I homeschooled and taught at a democratic free school. I heard about cohousing in 2010 and wanted to move in right away. I met a group building one in 2018 and got to move in the summer of 2019. It only took a year to want out.
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