Joshua Heller is a writer, humorist and internet-meme-maker, based out of Southern Calfornia. Heller is currently working on his most IRL-based project yet, helping to coordinate “Summer Commune” , what is described as a “temporary, intentional community”, sort of a cross between adult life and a summer camp (Heller refrained from calling himself the “Leader” of the project, as it is, in his words, a leaderless movement.
Essentially, this summer, a bunch of “new adults” will descend upon Moscow, Idaho (pop 25,000) and live there for a while, hanging out together and having a fun, memorable summer. For the past six months, Heller has been working on Summer Commune, so I wanted to check in and see how it’s going.
First off, where did the idea for Summer Commune come from?
On a flight from Bucharest to London I was reading a Hunter S. Thompson anthology. I came across the piece where he describes running on a Freak Power ticket in Aspen. I thought it was a very optimistic approach to place, like, “Don’t just move back to San Francisco,” create the alternative kind of world that you want where you are.
I’m always striving to find a hip young creative community. I’ve lived places that are allegedly perfect, alternative neighborhoods like Bushwick or Kreuzberg, but it took a long time to find the right people to hang out with. Additionally when you live in those communities you have to deal with expensive rents and the specter of gentrification. So I figured, “what if we just found people first and then all moved to some random affordable location to create our own desirable neighborhood for the summer?”
It seems, somewhat, like it has antecedents in the communes of the late 60s and 70s, but for our generation, has there been anything like this before?
We intentionally chose to call our project a “commune” as a shout-out to the hippie communes of the late 60s & 70s, as well as the Paris Commune in 1871. Our thing is different, because they were into building long-term communities; we’re just in it for the summers. Temporary intentional communal living has been done forever and is happening right now in summer camps, punk houses, and co-ops. I don’t know if anyone has tried to exclusively crowdsource their participants using the Internet, though.
Is any of this inspired by that generation?
We are totally inspired by the movements of the past. Our aunts and uncles from the Woodstock-era made advances in progressing the culture in a positive direction. This is a contiguous movement, we’re trying to adapt those values to this moment and broadcast them.
So what’s the deal? Is everyone gonna live together on apple farm and play bongos and drop acid?
If we can find an apple farm… and some bongos… and some acid. Nah, realistically we’ll have one house for activities in town and hopefully people will be able to sublet or AirBnB their own places. That’s the thing that’s important to note – we’re not finding accommodation for other people, but we can point people towards resources to find it themselves. We are also intentionally living in a town and not the forest so we can interact with the people that already live there.
How did you pick the town of Moscow?
We were looking for a small college town with the luxuries of home (espresso + broadband). The population of college towns dwindles during the summers so we knew that sublets would be available. We chose three places (Moscow, Iowa City, & Hudson) and had our web peeps decide where they wanted to go in a poll. Moscow won.
Do the people of Moscow have any idea your coming? Has any outreach been made to the them at all?
We have someone doing outreach, and a few friends from there who’ve connected us with people. We’ll have a get-to-know-you party when we get in.
I have to ask, do you have a sense of how many people are coming? And have you set a minimum for what you’d consider a success?
Thirty people have committed to come for at least some part of the summer. We’re obviously hoping for more. This is just the first Summer Commune, so to me it’s a success if we can build a buzz this summer and get more people to come in the future, and/or to inspire other people to create their own temporary intentional communities.
Who does the idea of living in a small-town with a bunch of other rootless young people appeal to you, in your mind? And why?
There’s a media trope that focuses on millennials’/ obsession with nostalgia, like “Ahh what?T hey reblogged a DuckTales gif?” or “What? They drink PBR and have mustaches like their dads?”
I think that Summer Commune appeals to that same nostalgia, like “Remember when we used to ride bikes and go swimming in creeks?” I mean, I don’t remember that because I grew up in Los Angeles, but that’s the thing about nostalgia. You’re just pining for a past that never actually existed, so let’s just make that idea real.
What are some of the plans for the summer, beyond just setting up camp in Moscow? Any events or ideas?
We’re expecting pizza parties, poetry slams, barbecues, capture the flag games, post-structuralism reading groups, comedy shows, skillshare workshops, karaoke, basketball games, talent shows, story readings, treeforts, concerts, yoga sessions, whatever the community wants to do!
When you tell people about the idea, what’s the most common question they have, and how do you answer it?
People ask, “When can I come to Moscow?” and I say “From June 1st til early-August.”
Alright, where can people find out more.
Ah let’s promote the facebook & summercommune.com… also if people want to come they should fill out this form, and if they want to write about us and/or make a tv show about us, they should email us summercommune[at]ymail.com.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult. He is mostly nostalgic for the days when his parents let him watch 7 hours of TV a day.