I’m Nathan Mackenzie Brown. I was born on June 14th, 1980 in San Antonio, Texas. I was born at home, breast fed until I was about 2 years old, and I grew up eating things like tofu, rice cakes and carob. These are somewhat common practices now, but in the early 80’s in Texas, our family had about as radical a lifestyle as you could get while still living in the suburbs in the Lone Star State.
My dad is a college professor at Trinity University, a non-religious liberal arts college in San Antonio, Texas. My mother was a stay at home mom until my parents got divorced when I was in middle school, and she now is self-employed working as a group facilitator and organizational development consultant in Austin, Texas.
An Experience of Social Injustice Shaped My Future
I grew up in San Antonio until eighth grade, at which time my mom and I moved to Austin, Texas. This move probably had one of the biggest impacts on my life. I moved out of a school that was about 50% Hispanic, and where I was fairly popular, into a school with a student population that was almost entirely white, with a strong culture of entitlement, racism and bigotry. In this environment I was immediately treated as a social outcast simply because I had an earring. This was the first time I ever had direct, personal experience with this kind of social injustice. Although it was certainly minor compared to what it must be like to experience racism or sexism, it impacted me significantly. As a result of this experience, I have been far less inclined to accept the consumer culture’s values, ideas or cultural norms simply because of their prominence. I think it is fair to say that the experience of being treated as a social outcast in middle school created the fertile ground within me to eventually choose a lifestyle that is radically different from the majority of the industrialized world.
My First Steps Exploring Life in Community
After a few years in Austin, my mom and I moved back to San Antonio when I was in eleventh grade (this time with her current life and work partner). I finished high school in San Antonio and attended college at Trinity University where my father teaches. At first I enjoyed the extra freedom college provided, but I was soon frustrated with the way I was being taught, and I began to realize I wanted more power to determine my own learning path. I struggled for a while being very unhappy and dissatisfied in college before deciding to take time off to figure out how I could live a life that would contribute to the well being of humanity, while avoiding employment and debt.
It was during this time that I found Dancing Rabbit and I decided to apply for an internship at DR. I was not accepted for the internship, and ended up going to Twin Oaks instead, where I stayed for 3 months as an “eco-intern.” After my time at Twin Oaks I visited Dancing Rabbit for a week before returning home. I was very impressed with DR, but didn’t think I could handle staying in a tent while I built my own building (something a number of people were doing at the time). I hoped that DR would continue to grow and prosper so that I might sometime in the future feel comfortable coming back to live here. Despite this hope, actually living at Dancing Rabbit seemed like a very distant dream. After my time at Twin Oaks and my visit to Dancing Rabbit I seriously considered dropping out of college. However, I eventually decided to return to college, largely because of the fact that I received free tuition since my dad was a professor at the school I attended. It seemed at the time like a bad idea to pass up a free college education.
I was Inspired to Make a Difference
In spite of the fact that I didn’t want to pass up a free education, I was worried that when I got out of college I might fall back on getting a full time job, which I felt would limit my ability to have the kind of positive impact that I wanted to have in the world. I told myself I was finishing school not to get a degree that would help me get a job, but to learn how to change large, stagnate institutions into dynamic sustainable ones. I decided that trying to change my college to be more sustainable was one of the best learning opportunities I could ever have in this respect. As a result I set about to change my school, and in many ways I succeeded. I think one of the most impressive examples of the success I had was changing my university’s curriculum to let students create their own interdisciplinary majors. In addition, along with a friend of mine, I co-designed and co-facilitated an interdisciplinary class on sustainability. Two final projects from this class continued to influence the university for at least 10 years. One project establish a cooperative vegetable garden on campus and the other convinced our food service provider to sell fair trade coffee.
However, during my time at Trinity, I also didn’t achieve everything I set out to do, and I learned two very valuable lessons in the process:
(1) If I try very hard to achieve my goals, I’ll do things that many people say are impossible.
(2) Just because I try very hard to achieve my goals doesn’t mean I’ll get everything I want.
Exploring Cohousing & Developing My Online Business
After graduating from college I had a few months of house sitting and a few months staying with my mom while I figured out what to do with my life. By this point I knew I wanted to live in community, and I had an interest in seeing how cohousing compared to the other kinds of communities where I had lived or visited. I also knew I didn’t want to have to buy into a cohousing community, I didn’t want to own a car, and I didn’t want a full time job because I wanted to have enough free time to develop my own online business.
I eventually decided to explore living in a cohousing community in Washington, D.C. called Takoma Village, where I worked as a live-in nanny part-time. This allowed me to experience cohousing without a job, a car, or the need to purchase property. I lived there for a year and seven months and I learned a lot! I realized I loved community, but I also wanted a community with more of an environmental focus and with people both living and working together (not just living together as neighbors). I also got to spend a lot of time with kids and realized not only that I love spending time with them, but I also really like having the freedom to send kids back to their parents when we’ve finished playing together.
An Unexpected Lesson From Life in Community
Prior to my time in cohousing I had assumed that I wanted to have kids, but now I’m not so sure. Knowing that children can be a very significant and important part of my life when I’m in community, without having to raise them myself, has caused me to think long and hard about whether I really want to have kids of my own. I have not come to any conclusions for the long term, but it is now a question for me instead of a given, and I know I need more time to decide if I really want to be a parent.
Returning to Dancing Rabbit
After I had been in Takoma Village Cohousing for about a year I started to feel anxious and realized that I was ready to move on. I was considering my options when I came across Dancing Rabbit again, and I was extremely pleased to see that Dancing Rabbit had, in fact, continued to grow and prosper. It soon became clear to me that I might be able to live at Dancing Rabbit without needing to live in a tine while building my own home. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the cost of living at DR was so low that I could easily support myself with the income from my online business. I decided to visit DR in the winter of 2005 to make sure I could really handle the DR lifestyle in a Missouri winter (remember, I’m from Texas!) — and as a result of this good experience, I decided to move here.
My Asperations for My Future at Dancing Rabbit (As Of 2006)
I arrived at DR on July 28th of 2005, and although I’ve had some complications with my housing situation, I think I’ll get everything worked out before the summer of 2006. After being here five months I feel like I’m just starting to get really settled in and become more involved in the life and work of the community.
I am now supporting myself entirely from my online business, and I’m excited about expanding my online business activities in ways that I hope will help DR achieve its mission, while providing lucrative income earning opportunities for myself and others in the community. Last of all, I think it is important to note that when I first arrived I thought I’d want to stay at DR for about two years and then move on to another intentional community, possibly an urban community with a mission similar to that of DR. However, after less than half a year hear, I’m seriously reconsidering staying longer. I love this community, the work we are doing in the world, and the friends I’ve made. I’m not sure what the future has in store for me and Dancing Rabbit, but I’m so happy and fulfilled here that I shudder to think what I’d be doing with my life if I hadn’t found this place that I now call home.
Update: June 2011
I have now been living at Dancing Rabbit for almost 6 years, and I intend to live here the rest of my life.
A lot has happened since I moved here six years ago:
- The community has more than doubled in size.
- Our population was around 25 when I arrived, and now we have over fifty people living at Dancing Rabbit.
- I happily bought a home in 2006, but the excitement quickly wore off.
- After the 2006-2007 winter I became very disappointed with the energy performance of my home. Since then I’ve done a lot to improve the performance of the building, but I’m still in the process of retrofiting it to make it more energy efficient.
- I struggled with disabling back pain for two and a half years, but was transformed through my recovery.
- I eventually got rid of the back pain through a practice called Coherence Counseling. My physical pain taught me a lot about myself, my emotions, and my relationships with other people. Providing emotional support to facilitate this sort of learning and self-discovery is now a central part of my life.
- I became the secretary for our community currency and spearheaded the revival of our relatively inactive local exchange system.
- When I arrived there were fewer than 10 transactions a month using our community currency, with under $5,000 worth of the currency in circulation. Now we have over $15,000 worth of currency in circulation, and it has grown to become the community currency for not only Dancing Rabbit, but also our neighboring communities: Red Earth Farms and Sandhill.
- I became the targeted recruiter for Dancing Rabbit, with the goal of bring to our community people with the skills we need.
- In the fall of 2010 our first building recruit came as a resident, and his membership was approved this month. I’ve also helped bring numerous building, engineering and gardening interns and work exchangers to Dancing Rabbit.
- I’ve become actively involved in bike activism in Kirskville, the closest college town to us (population of about 18,000).
- I worked with Truman University students to help start the Kirksville Critical Mass bike ride that happens the last Friday of every month. We used the ride to help galvanize support to get Truman to open a student run bike co-op on campus.
- One of my closest friends at Dancing Rabbit recently died, leaving a painful hole in all our lives.
- Tamar Friedner died from pancreatic cancer on September 12th, 2010. I spent the last 2.5 months of her life in Massachussetts supporting her and her family. I was at Tamar’s side when she died, along with her family. I drove Tamar’s body back to Dancing Rabbit with her father. As Tamar requested, we buried her body at Dancing Rabbit near Main Street, with an Asian pear tree planted at the foot of her grave. She is deeply loved and sorely missed.
- My business has expanded and is doing well.
- I provide consulting and brokering services in for professionals in the Internet Marketing niche, and I also provide sales consulting to the personal growth industry, and I’ve expanded into the green market with my website dedicated to educating people about global warming.
How My Time at Dancing Rabbit Changed Me
My time at Dancing Rabbit has contributed to a radical change in my own lifestyle as well. I no longer fly in planes, I don’t eat factory farmed animal products, unless they are going to be thrown out. I also avoid initiating car travel for myself, except in rare cases: medical emmergencies, delivering firewood, and picking up construction materials. I am now fairly certain I will not have kids of my own, though I still love to play and work with the kids in our community. My life has changed in ways I would have never predicted, and yet Dancing Rabbit is now my home more than ever.