I suspect I was like many, witnessing my life change on or near Christmas 2001. Every person is different, but I believe that in my case, it was directly because of The Shire scene in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring. As trivial as a movie may sound, it was the visage of that place with Frodo reading a book under a great tree with birds chirping in the background, to the well worn paths, vibrant green grasses and happy, busy members of the community puttering away at their errands. Magic and mythology aside, just the visual details of the place slowed my pulse and animated my mind like excited fireflies.
At that time, I was in the 10th grade and so woefully ignorant of the challenge ahead of me in the cognitive realization of this dream that it is a classic case of “if I knew then what I knew how, I would never have started”. As luck would have it, after hearing the same nonsensical madness for, perhaps, the sixtieth time, my father mentioned that we have a block of land “somewhere in St. Fintan’s”, just a few kilometers from my ancestral home. No one knew where it was, other than “on that half of town”, somewhere, along this stretch of asphalt. It took a few years of google earthing, asking neighbors, and studying historical data but I discovered it’s location to within a meter or so in each direction; having had to convert an old survey map circa 1910 to something a little more first-world, “In the Name of Our Most Holy God & King Henry”, of course.
So I had a grand ambition and actually had physical land to realize it upon. The property was 35 acres, and 264’ wide by 1 mile in length (80m x 1601m = 14.164 ha), it’s length running approximately 45’ south-east to north-west, away from an asphalt highway with grid broadband internet and electricity on power poles, but no water or sewer infrastructure to tie into. For my purposes of an off-grid community, this suit me fine. What suited me even better was limited-to-no building inspection, building codes or property taxes in the local service district. The heavily (black spruce) forested grounds provided many options, and the slope of the land was 5% across it’s width and 2% across it’s length. Discovering the soil is quite rocky, high acidity and had spots of standing water, I had a body of information from which I could grow something wonderful, at least on paper, and at least at first.
As we fast-forward 17 years, imagine a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Gosse-ling like myself feeling consumed by the passion of building a community in which I’d wish to live. My whole life during this span of time has been exploration and study of the world in such a way to provide me the tools to realize this dream. Two years in the army, two dozen part-time, summer jobs and 11 years in post-secondary was a great start. I have academic courses in computer science, civil engineering, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, folklore, environmental studies, chemistry, fisheries, wildlife, political science, and agriculture. All these things make me just qualified-enough to have a scary resume, but not really qualified-enough to work in ANY of these fields. That, at the time, made no difference to an autistic kid so blinded by passion for a single goal to lose track of the forest for the trees. Yes, pun intended.
Elements of the community project, as it exists in it’s current draft, could have their inspiration drawn from various parts of my life. The importance for an active communications infrastructure, for fore-planning and preparation for various contingencies, for taking the human condition into design, and to weave the whole thing out of whole cloth, taking inspiration and feedback from literally hundreds of minds over nearly two decades. The result is a micro-economic model based upon corporate holdings, legal armour and some clever phrasing of purpose to skirt codes, laws and legislation that is meant to restrict such projects after several failed examples of similar missions during the tumultuous 1960’s.
After various generations of the project in an “online” context, including an IMVU 3D chat room, half a dozen BBS and message forums, a couple of websites and similar adventures, I was slowly getting my head wrapped around some of the less obvious, yet most crutial challenges facing a project like mine. These were the makes-or-breaks. The facts of which were strictly legal, which could land me in prison, and less about the colour of the flag or the herbs in the locally grown meals. Like so much else, the tip of the iceberg is basked in sunlight, clearly visible and the most obviously seen component of a large entity, but it’s that which lurks in the darker depths of the greater world, where the scarier and more profound interactions occur, is what sinks our mightiest ships.
As of now, Robin Gosse Enterprises will lease the land from me, Robin Gosse. Upon that land, a research project with ongoing data collection will be conducted, completely open to the public with all plans, records and efforts published in real-time (or as much as possible) on our website for transparency. This project is an experiment in a new type of micro-economy, in which volunteers sign contracts, waivers and affidavits to live in and explore this world we’ve created. It’s all private property, the whole 35 acre (14 hectare) site, and all members of the project are simply participants in the study. They are rewarded with regularly issued (though variably-sized) stipends, though their needs are taken care of by the community. With pages taken directly out of the Canadian Armed Forces, there is a public kitchen which prepares and serves the food, all clothing is issued to each person, they are quartered in housing provided by “the study” and they are trained to produce goods for internal use and external sale. There are no employees, no rental agreements, no one is getting paid and no money changes hands. It’s closer to a living history exhibit showcasing a feudal mode of government, economy and lifestyle adjusted slightly to our own ends.
“The Experiment” is whether or not human-intensive craft goods can sustain a project like this. Can a micro-economy of people doing what they love (pottery, blacksmithy, woodworking, hordiculture, herbalism, cooking, etc) and supporting one another in a way that many city-slickers can never understand be viable in today’s global village? We think it can.
There is no “head” of the town, no mayors or owners, though there is a hierarchy of sorts by way of seniority. There is underway a “Policy Document” that sorts out rules, regulations, bylaws, codes of conducts, rights and privileges, dispute resolution, etc, etc. It sorts out probationary periods, responsibilities, processes and procedures so that our little micro-community of 25-30 people won’t require policing or directed totalitarian leadership. If “the book” cannot resolve the circumstance, a committee can be convened and resolve the matter with the power that such a process grants them.
I, the project’s creator, founder and functionally the overarching corporations owner, would have no more rights than anyone else inside the community. The “Policy Document” will not make any reference of any kind to age, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc, etc, and nor should it. The entire purpose is to make the best possible use of a person’s passions, within their physical and psychological limitations, for their benefit and the benefit of the whole community. Infractions against the codes have been exhaustively planned, predicted and prepared for insofar as possible, to cover most cases. The codes and policies would be regularly reviewed and updated based upon consensus-based decision-making for revisions, requiring signatures of all members of the community as a form of consent.
Accepting that I may never experience this dream myself, not first-hand, I have decided to make the latest generation, iteration and incarnation of this project in the form of a fictional novel. I feel that there’s only so much progress that can be made by blindly hammering through thousands of sources and tens-of-thousands of pages of reports, designs, bulletin board discussions or youtube videos before I begin to spin my wheels, as I have in recent years. The best way to proceed from here is to simply do it. I decided to begin the project, to design and populate the village with human beings with hopes and dreams, with origin stories and their own traumatic pasts who ended up in the village for all of their own reasons. I designed 25-30 characters, each as the hero of their own story, build a network of minds each and every one with their oars in the water, rowing together. The story is told from a single personality, told by an outsider trying to comprehend this place in all of it’s subtly and mystery and majesty. It’s told in the form of diary entries, detailing a personal account of her adventure and recording the changes to her life, her view and her expectations about a world she never imagined.
The research project, just like the town, is called “Tabula Rosa”; a name mating “Tabula Rasa”, Latin for “A Clean Slate” and the “Rosa”, Latin for the family of plants which includes roses, and citrus fruiting plants like lemons, limes and the project’s botanical mascot, apples. Insofar as iconography, we went with the Robin, since I couldn’t think of anything more pretentious and self-aggrandizing while holding at least a sliver of humour, and the apple blossom which has been our emblem from the beginning. As much as we are deviating from so many traditions, and creating our own, this is one throwback from the early days of the project that has endured; a tradition of our own.
It wouldn’t be difficult for a person to put himself or herself in Alison’s shoes, of being torn from her urban life, one she hated and a world she resented. The story covers her transition from that world to one that was inspired by The Shire of Middle Earth, where people never lock their doors, where there is no fear of hostility or violence, where everyone knows how hard it was to become a part of this community, of this research project, and they know that at failure to perform their duties means they get “voted off the island”. This place has become a second chance for every member of the grounds, it’s become their new lives, it’s become their “Tabula Rosa”.
The novel is in the planning stages, with various plot elements currently being worked out. Please check out the blog (https://robingosse.ca/tabularosa/
) for updates.