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Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Membership Process

This is number 2 in the randomly occurring series which extends the answer provided in the Twin Oaks website FAQ section.  The first was on personal possessions.  And this post appends to the answer given about our membership process.  That answer is:

Basically, in order to become a member, a person needs to be willing to abide by the agreements of the community (e.g. no personal cars, our income-sharing agreements, and lots more). They also need to be able to fit into our social norms which, because we live so closely together, are quite particular (e.g. being sensitive to people’s “personal space”, being able to pick up social cues, being able to be cooperative and share control, etc).

The process for membership involves an interview with the Membership Team during a Three-Week Visitor Period. The interview consists of telling one’s life story, and answering questions about how one deals with various aspects of community living like conflict, anger, people with different values, etc. Then there is an input period during which all visitors leave Twin Oaks for some time, and have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and decide if they really do think they want to live here. During this time, each member of the community has an opportunity to give input on the visitor (Accept, Visit Again, or Reject for membership). If there are outstanding health (including mental health) issues those will also be taken into consideration. The Membership Team makes the final decision about a visitor becoming a member.

While generally a fine answer, there are all kinds of things missing here.  The first is the complexity of Twin Oak’s own visitor and membership process.  We have no less than three separate teams inside the community to deal with this process.

arms around the globe

Another thing missing from this answer is that pretty consistently for the last 4 years the community has had a waiting list.   This means if you are in a big hurry to live in community (a state i would recommend no one be in) then Twin Oaks might well be a poor choice of places to come.  Some communities permit accepted visitors to stay indefinitely after their visitor period waiting for a space to open up.  Twin Oaks is not like this.  If accepted, expect to wait 3 months to a year.

One of our stronger rules is that after your visitor period (if you are applying for membership) you need to leave the community.  Usually, this is for at least one month.  This is part of our “anti-cult” orientation.  We want you after your visitor period to return to your family and friends.  If they can’t convince you that the idea of joining a commune is a little bit nuts, they you can come.

Don't drink the Koolaid

Don’t drink the Koolaid

And while it is true 95% of the time that that membership team makes the final decision on accepting, rejecting or visiting again a prospective new member, the remaining 5% of the time is interesting to consider.  While i complain about the internal decision making process in the commune, there are numerous well designed components of it.  How do we deal with splits within the community around membership?  A minority of the membership can reject a visitor or provisional member trying to become a full member, but this minority can be overridden by the majority.  One of the clever aspects of this policy is that the larger the minority rejecting someone, the larger the super majority must be to override them.  At something like 27% rejecting a person, it becomes impossible for the majority to override the minorities decision.

One of the community agreements not explicitly mentioned in the above FAQ is working quota.  During your visitor period you will get assigned a bunch of labor, including an incredible number of orientations.  Including these, you need to work your 42 hours of quota a week.  There are all manner of areas you can work in as a visitor.  Reliably the kitchen has cooking or dish washing cleaning help to offer.  We used to train people in hammocks, because they could always fill up their quota in this area.  Though this is less true these days and some visitor groups don;t even learn how to make hammocks these days.  And we are a bit unforgiving in this.  You stay with us three weeks, if you are interested in membership, you better work 42 hours each week – or have some compelling excuse for not working (remember being sick is labor creditable – to a point).  Visitors not making quota consistently lose their ability to apply for membership on that visit.

Another thing to be aware of is the commune has a second process step for people who are interested in membership who are 55 or older.  One of the policies i most dislike is out Age Cap policy.   It comes from an understandable place, when the average age of the community exceeds 43 years of age, we slow our acceptance of older members to not pre-maturely age the community.  And the reason this is relevant is that Twin Oaks has a very clever pension system, which slowly decreases the quota of members over age 49 by one hour per year.

The other membership cap is around gender.  While i think the community is increasingly well educated in the fluidity of gender (strong gender binaries are so twentieth century) we still maintain an existentialist policy when it comes to capping lopsided gender balances.  Specifically, if we end up with more than 60% male, we cap our admissions of men until we become more balanced.   It would be true for females as well, but this is not really our problem or any of the other FEC communities.  For slightly inexplicable reasons, many fewer women apply for membership at Twin Oaks and of those who do apply, a significantly smaller fraction of those we accept decide to come.  On the positive side of this imbalance (again for inexplicable reasons) women tend to have longer memberships on average then men.

Fortunately, in the 16 years i have been hanging around Twin Oaks, we have never hit this 60%/40% ratio, so unlike the age cap we have not implemented a gender cap to membershiping visitors.  Unfortunately, East Wind has not been so lucky and has had well over 60% male membership for a long time, which gets in the way of the problem correcting itself.

 

Our membership process is more complex

Our membership process is complex and carefully balanced

For a look at some of the other restrictions Twin Oaks puts on it’s member, take a look at this post on our most controversial approval.

 

 

The Other Way to Play

The game of Dominion is fairly popular at the commune.  It is a dynamic card game, and a sister of Magic in that you build decks and the rules are changing all the time.  These kinds of game are pretty complex and they are part of our informal home schooling curriculum.  The fact that our kids want to play, because our adults are playing and because if they play well they can be peers to the adults, are big pluses.

Don't worry if you can't understand it.

Don’t worry if you can’t understand it.

When i first started playing Dominion with Sami he was not yet 5.  Despite being involved in his home school efforts, i dont keep track of where kids are in the educational process by what age they are at.  It is just not something i think about.

One evening Sami and some older kids wanted to play Dominion.  We each choose some of the perhaps 200 different card types we have in the various expansions so we could create a game.  Sami choose a couple of card types he liked as did everyone else.  There was a bit of negotiating to get some better game dynamics on the board.  All friendly negotiations.

Sami at Unicorns Today

Sami at Unicorns School Today

Sami played well, i barely beat him and i was the overall winner.  He got more points than several other kids and adults.

I was talking with Ezra, Sami’s dad, the following day (who Sami had recently beaten) and complimenting his clever kid.  “Yeah, it is pretty impressive.” Confessed Ez.  “Given that he can’t read the cards.”

“What?” i said

“He can’t read yet.  But he really wanted to play.  So he memorized all the cards so he could play.”  Ez explained.

“But there are like 200 different cards, and some are crazy complicated.” i was amazed.

“Like i said, he really wanted to play.”

Ezra, Sami and Zadek and NYC skyline - Circa 2014

Ezra, Sami and Zadek and NYC skyline – Circa 2014

 

 

 

“Any way they can.”

It was the bad old days of the Reagan Administration.  i was living in Santa Cruz and rapidly ditching my liberal Democrat roots and becoming an anarcho-feminist.

 

fall in love not in line

Reagan wanted to reward his campaign contributing oil company friends.  So he proposed permitting off shore oil leases on the California coast.  This was fantastically unpopular among Californians.

free fools voltaire

Still Reagan wanted to pretend that there was concern for the public’s opinion and he sent his secretary of Interior, Don Hodel to talk with the people of Santa Cruz.  Hodel brought with him some oil company PR flacks who showed how this oil 1) was desperately needed and 2) how the major oil companies had a great record with safe recovery of oil from off shore and 3) had no real alternative.  The audience was totally not buying it.

 

Prof Rabbit and Brother Rabbit

Prof Rabbit and Brother Rabbit

At the last minute Rabbit and i decided to go to the public hearing.  It was jammed.  So was the list of people who wanted to comment critically on the presentations of the oil companies and the secretary of the interior.

Rabbit was not deterred.  He went up and spoke to the moderator of the event.  He promised he would talk for less than 30 seconds.  He would wait for his moment and when the moderator signaled him he we jump up quickly.  The moderator being a flexible Santa Cruz type permitted this extraordinary action.

When Rabbits 15 seconds of super stardom was signaled he jumped to the podium.  “Secretary Hodel, as you can tell by the comments in this room the plan for off shore oil drilling is fantastically unpopular here in California.  So i have just two things to say to you.  1) There are some people in this room who will stop you any way they legally can”

common way to give up power - ALice Walker

“2) And there are other people in this room, who will stop you anyway they can.”  Rabbit bounded from the room and it took the moderator well over 30 seconds to get the room to calm down.

No additional oil drilling took place off the California coast.

 

 

 

The Anarchists and the Bankers

By GPaul Blundell
If you really want to learn how to make organizations work, try organizing demanding and productive consensus based organizations composed of feisty and opinionated anarchists.  Rewards, punishments, and hierarchies are convenient crutches that you just don’t get to use.  This is our theory on why the FEC communities generate process consultants and facilitation trainers.  It’s like Frank Herbert’s theory of the Sardaukar but with group process.This summer I had the pleasure of visiting Las Indias, an anarchist transnational cyberpunk commune currently based in Bilbao.  Delightful folks, really.  They, like many other modern communards, have gotten into the organizational consultation business and operate a worker coop providing consultation.

Somewhere in Bilboa

Somewhere in Bilboa

Over the years, they’ve been hired by a long list of impressive and, for an anarchist collective, unlikely seeming clients.  Then, in 2006, they were approached by one the biggest banks in Latin America and Spain.  It was suffering from organizational malaise and wanted help for fueling innovation in its ranks.  Las Indias took the job and, after analyzing the situation, decided, like the good transnational anarchists that they are, that the bank was suffering from two major ills: they had too much hierarchy and they were too divided nationally.  The prescription was simple and radical.  They insisted that the bank stuff -more than 120,000 workers- should learn to talk and work out of the hierarchy with a focus in internal open conversations rather than communication segregated by nation or department.

And so they built up the first internal blogsphere used by a big multinational corporation.  And what did they see?  According to Las Indias, the new open transnational space immediately started fostering innovation and quickly six new products where designed by volunteer teams. What is probably even more important: the conversation changed the atmosphere and allowed a collective and wider reflection on including differing perspectives.

eyes surreal

As part of this wave of rediscovery, with workers rediscovering their own environment and the future living inside and around it, the bank financed the first book series of collected of essays by living authors released under Public Domain in Europe. The books, on such at-the-time arcane subjects as P2P systems, the sharing economy, and workers’ transnational cooperativism, were both free for download as ebooks and as a paper edition. The commercial success of the print version was a rare and surprising success in the Spanish editorial scene: even though everybody had the option to have them for free as e-books, thousands of copies of every single title were sold in traditional bookshops.

However, anarchist transnationalist organization was a bit too much for the bank in the long run. The “Innovation Department” who contracted las Indias closed (their members were all promoted) and the bank turned progressively towards a flashier policy of buying dotcom businesses and trying to integrate them into the existing organization. Emphasis on internal conversation was decreased and emphasis on promoting external blogs and marketing was increased. In 2010, after a few years as a successful but then orphaned experiment, they closed the internal blogosphere, the first massive conversational space in a big worldwide organization.

monkey with gun

The bank weathered Spain’s financial crisis in 2008 relatively unscathed. Las Indias suspects that the reflection and innovations fueled by the open conversations had outside of the structure of the hierarchy helped them to avoid dangerous policies then common in other banks. Las Indias walked away from the project, but with a recognized and salable experience that later opened doors for them to more big institutions and businesses of the European Union and Latin America.

“You should definitely do it. It will never work.”

We are returning for another Point A trip to NYC.  We in this case is Belladonna Took, Aster, Gpaul, Angelica and myself, all from Acorn or Twin Oaks.  On the way up i am reminded of our recent trip and the tales tangled with it.

One of my favorite stories is the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  It has a contemporary Alice through the Looking Glass feel to it where figures of speech become characters in the story and a fair morality is woven among amusing chapter long vignettes.  If you have a kid you read to and you have not read this story to them, you should share this together. Central to the story is the idea that main characters have a secret which they are not telling Milo, the hero of the story, and they will only tell him when he returns from his quest.

Dogeared Book cover

Dogeared Book cover

When Milo returns from his harrowing quest they reveal the secret about his mission which is “It was impossible”. But he could not be told this at the beginning of his quest for it would discourage him.  Our experience of NYC is sort of the other way around.  When we explain the Point A project to people some excitedly tell us “That is fantastic, you really should do it.  And it is completely impossible.”

Consulting with Rhyme and Reason

Consulting with Rhyme and Reason

i am only beginning to understand this mentality.  It comes in part from long term urban activists seeing all the wonderful institutions they love vanish with time.   At the front line of chronicling the demise of the city is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.  This blog‘s subtitle is  The book of Lamentations: A bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct. This blog is also one of the best sites i have found describing gentrification (which is actually dead) and hyper-gentrification (which is the current genetically modified version of the problem).

When i asked one of our NYC allies what this meant, they briskly proposed this translation.  “It means they are not going to help you.”  Further elaborating they said “They don’t want to be discouraging you, but they are presumably busy with ideas which might work, so they won’t be wasting time on your plan, which won’t.”

Cultural translation is often tricky

Cultural translation is often tricky

We are definitely outside agitators.  i find myself taking a crash course in New Yorkers.  They often show up late, they have crazy busy lives (i have heard people – including myself – saying they were “double booked”, it was not til i spent time in NYC that i heard someone say they were quadruple booked), they have complicated housing situations.  Many identify as artists and a surprising number express interest in having more community in their life.

Any insights into this crash course in urban culture i find myself now taking are appreciated.  The best place to talk about them is this excitingly unfolding Community Matchmaker event in Brooklyn on Oct 18th.

An opportunity for your dark green friend

Perhaps there is this type of person in your life, they are unusually principled, comfortable with hard work and they likely think most people are not going far enough to personally work on saving the environment.  They might have principal objections to flying, a vegan diet or live off the grid.  People and groups which adopt these reasonable, but oft seen as extreme positions i sometimes refer to as “dark green“.  I worked in a Czech dark green groups office.  It was many floors of steps to walk up, i did not know for 3 years that there was an elevator in the building.   You know the type.

Living Energy Farm is an ambitious and challenging project.  Essentially preparing for a post petroleum world, while it can still be done relatively comfortably.  However they are using a prefigurative approach, in which we model the practices which will be used in the resource-scarce future.  This means lots of things by hands, living closer to the seasons and nightfall, and thinking about how to reduce one’s impact seriously.

Below is Living Energy Farms latest Newsletter.

21st century camp fire

21st century camp fire

Living Energy Farm
July, August, September 2014 Newsletter

Living Energy Farm Needs You!

Have you ever thought about helping Living Energy Farm? Well, now we have a warm, dry place for you to stay. After the relentless cold and wet of last winter, facing the prospect that our project could come to a halt this winter, we worked with our supporters to gain the use of a house in the town of Louisa, one mile from LEF. (We call the house Magnolia, in honor of the massive Magnolia tree in the yard.) This will allow us to keep the project moving through the coming cold months. If you have any carpentry or mechanical skills, that’s great. If not, we can still use your help. Now we can offer you a warm bed. Much better than a tent in winter!

We are, in all honesty, stretched pretty thin right now. With Debbie and Alexis expecting their new baby any time now [Nikita has been born and both mom and kid are healthy - Paxus] we are trying to bring in the harvest, keep construction moving, and take care of the daily necessities of life. In our last newsletter, we put out a call for support. The response was tremendous. We have had numerous people come by and pitch in. That has been a huge help! Now with Magnolia in place, we can support more people through the winter. We have a lot to learn from each other. Consider giving us a visit! If we are slow to communicate, be patient. We have our hands pretty full.

Barn Raising, post petroleum style

Barn Raising, post petroleum style

Earthheart

Our main house at LEF, Earthheart, is coming along. We have it “dried in,” meaning the roof, windows, doors, and sheathing are done, so the building can go through the winter without damage. Thanks to some glorious volunteer crews from our local Louisa Baptist Church and the APO Service Fraternity of UVA, the first coat of exterior stucco is largely done. The interior framing is complete. Most of the wiring for our DC electrical system is done. We still need to do some plumbing, and get the ductwork in place for the solar heating system. Once those utilities are in place, we can put in the ceiling, and the strawbales, then push to completion! We will have a strawbale workshop sometime in the next few months. We will post a note to our lists when that time comes.

Seeds

Our seed harvest is almost finished for the year. This year our crops included corn, okra, watermelons, peppers, squash, and eggplant. We have “contracts” for each of these crops. These contracts are a non-binding agreements we make with the seed companies to produce a certain amount of seed. We will make almost all of our contracts this year, and we will have a significant surplus of some crops/ seeds.

Right livelihood, close to the earth

Right livelihood, close to the earth

This year we also contracted with seed companies to do variety trials of sweet corn and tomatoes. A variety trial consists of growing many different varieties (usually a few dozen) under identical conditions to compare yield, flavor, disease/insect resistance, and other factors. Our trials included many heirloom favorites, a few hybrids, and some new varieties coming from open-pollinated plant breeders across the country. Variety trials are a new and exciting line of work for us. They are the first step in the research and development of the best quality open pollinated varieties for organic conditions in our area. We are excited about pursuing this work in more depth next year, and maybe doing some breeding work as well, in cooperation with our friends at Common Wealth Seed Growers (www.commonwealthseeds.com).

Persimmons
We started picking our first cultivated fruits from trees we grafted on the land just 3 years ago. The photo is of Rosa, our youngest member, holding Yates persimmons. The Ruby persimmons also made a good handful of fruit this year, though they are not ripe yet. Yummy!

People’s Climate March — New York City

Several of us from LEF went to New York City to attend to the People’s Climate March on Sept 21. (Lovely train ride.) We tried to get near the front of the march to hand out flyers and talk to people as they marched by, but we never found the front of the march. After many hours of handing our flyers and talking to people, we never saw the end of the march. Any guesses about number of people attending can only be guesses. Manhattan was swarmed by protesters. One of our supporters in the city made us a beautiful banner and sandwich boards. (I wore one that said “I am Building a Community that Runs Without Fossil Fuel.) A LOT of people were interested in our project. We conducted more than a half dozen interviews with independent film makers, handed our flyers, and spoke to hundreds of people.

PeoplesClimateMarch-balloon.jpg.650x0_q85_crop-smart

The march was huge, diverse, impassioned — a beautiful display of the desire for a better world. As throngs of students, religious groups, and countless organizations chanting slogans about ending fossil fuel dependency passed by, I was deeply struck by how little understanding exists among the public of exactly what that means. After the march, numerous commentators have made the point that while it is was clear what the march was opposed to, it was not clear what it was in favor of. We feel like LEF is a answer to many of the problems caused by fossil fuel, and that is not a small matter. But we cannot expect important truths to magically transmit themselves. Corporations sell their products by communicating in multiple medias at the same time. We have to do something similar — keep talking about our important truths, over and over again. The most important thing you can do is to start taking your own life in the direction of fossil fuel sobriety, and talking to your friends about it. If we can help you do that, let’s see what we can teach each other. Life without fossil fuel is not hard, but we have to show people. We have to convince them. We will have to keep working on that for a long time to come.

Living Energy Farm is a project to build a demonstration farm, community, and education center in Louisa County that uses no fossil fuels. For more information see our website www.livingenergyfarm.org, or contact us at livingenergyfarm@gmail.com. Donations are tax deductible.

Community Matchmaking – Oct 18th Brooklyn

If we are honest with ourselves, we are just guessing.  Guessing what it will take to start new communities and especially what it will take to start new income sharing communities in NYC.  What we do know is that we are making lots of friends and allies and there are a bunch of people who are willing to help, or listen and consider these wild schemes.

We know that there are not many other groups who are doing the community promotional work we are doing, and the handful of events we have organized since the beginning of the year seem to have had a disproportionate effective – jump starting forming communities which were stalled in their launch, recruiting new people to existing NYC communities, deep advising and support for communities which are going through restructuring.

community-services

It is not the work we thought we were going to be doing, but it is quite satisfying and important work.  [The current Point A collective has decided not to chase the much hyped "sharing economy" as our Plan B if we can't start new communities soon]

What we are guessing this month is Community Matchmaking is the trick.  We have not yet figured out if we are going to do a speed dating-like thing – or just stick to the more conventional “meet the communities” open market place of projects (after each gives a one minute self reflective presentation or some other format).

Speed-dating-night

We are returning to the BUZ on Saturday Oct 18th to network, educate, discuss and debate intentional communities in the New York City metro area.  We are hoping to hit at several different aspects of community life including: children/families. supporting activism, enabling sustainable living, sharing work and living space.

And we are looking for presenters (though we already have some in-city ringers lined up) for workshops.  And of course, we are especially seeking seekers.  People who do not yet have  community but are seeking it are encouraged to attend.

If you think you are going to come then please RSVP on Facebook (if you have not already dropped out of FB).

SONY DSC

The BUZ is a very big space, come share it with us.

Further Event Information:

This is a networking and educational event for people who are looking for intentional community or are forming new ones as well as residential communities seeking new members. People interested in supporting collectives in the city, but not necessarily living at one, are also welcome.

A collection of workshops and interactive events will assist participants in finding allies and guides to living more collectively. We understand how difficult it is to live cooperatively in and around the city. Yet there are important examples and opportunities for people interested in activism, sustainability, collective child care and education and shared living and working spaces.

Current Format

10 to noon Pot Luck Brunch – informal discussion and networking
12:30 to 6PM Workshops, community presentations, structured networking.

This event is hosted by the Point A project (see http://www.FromPointA.org)

Cost: Sliding Scale $5 to $10 – no one refused for lack of funds.

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