While on the recent Point A trip, a hybrid group of Catalonyians and Acorn-affiliates met in the cozy basement room of a bodywork studio in Brooklyn. Paxus introduced this group of charismatic New Yorkers and communards to the transparency tools.
The Catalysts are an incredibly clever bunch. These folks know that if they do a good job crafting their agreements and cultural fabric, they can create an amazing eco-village. And while they are a fundamentally fun loving and playful crowd, community building is difficult work and they have been hard at it. Especially drafting written agreements- for everything. For land ownership, for the membership process, for the types of cottage industries that might happen, the mission statement- the tasks go on and on. Important, complex and often slogging work.
This is not actually what this group of people wants to be doing. What they want to be doing is falling in love. This is where the transparency tools come in.
I have experience with some of the transparency tools used, as I used to be part of a meditation community in DC in which we met 2x a month to have a sit followed by a discussion.
Often in this format and during retreats (which happen twice a year) we used the “If you really knew me…” and Hot Seat tools. I’ve already witnessed how effective they can be in bringing a group together, and it was no different with the Catalysts.
Frequently when starting, it takes a round or two of “If you really knew me” statements for everyone to start to open up. What was so beautiful about this night in particular was each person became transparent almost immediately. People were sharing their stories with each other so willingly and with so much faith that the group wanted to hear them.
We transitioned from “If you really knew me” statements to Hot Seats, the Catalysts asking questions and Paxus explaining the benefits of the many tools.
Due to the wacky Point A trip agenda and time constraints, we were only able to fit in three 5-minute Hot Seats. The group did an excellent job being clear with their questions and answers, and everyone involved continued to be engaged.
To wrap up the evening, Paxus began to explain the tools that go beyond being personally transparent and begin to create transparency in relationships. Specifically, these tools are Unsaids and Withholds. These tools can create space for resolution of conflict as well as giving members an opportunity to appreciate one another. They are also notoriously tricky.
This point in the evening is when things really got interesting. Despite Pax expecting to solely explain Unsaids/Withholds and not try to do any that evening, members of the group began to use the tools without any hesitation. Several conflicts were put on the path to resolution within ten minutes, with the tools used practically flawlessly.
What then evolved seemingly naturally- after what could be seen as complaining or criticism of the Withholds- was the graceful move into appreciations, which were equally rich and revealing. As we left it was clear the group wanted more. The Point A crowd- which are in some sense carpetbaggers from Virginia trying to build community in NYC- felt like we had really done our job.
It is busy season.
Most of my days start the same way. Jah and i find each other somewhere between his blueberry pancakes (he often does a breakfast shift, despite the fact we have no agreement anyone will cook breakfast) and the smoke shack at Acorn. We go into the seed picking room and stare down a huge collection of orders. Then, we sort them, taking the smallest ones (typically 5 items or less) and put them in one pile the rest in another.
Now our dance begins. Jah and i spin around the seed picking room, grabbing orders and dodging each other. Jah is especially good with large orders, strong solid picking. The nature of small orders is that you are running around the room a bunch and (if you are like me) trying to fill several orders as once, so you can avoid doubling back.
Jah is the elephant knocking down huge trays of seeds. I am the bee, buzzing around him and flying around the room. We move with haste, people get bumped into occasionally and brushed up against all the time, it’s is just what is happening in the busy seed picking office early in the morning. We are regulars, but there are lots of people in the picking room these days. The late night crew picked orders at 2 AM this morning. Aster, Sunshine and Jah were part of that. Para and Lola were in this morning with us. Picking seeds for orders is the beginning of our order fulfillment process.
Anyone who has worked in the tofu hut (or has studied industrial engineering) knows that the first step of the assembly line is the heartbeat of the entire process. The full line can’t go any faster. And the speed of the first step often drives the speed of the entire line. We want to pick everything that comes in during the say the same day. This insures that the shippers (who make custom bundles for mailing of our picked orders) are always busy, if there is anything for them to process. Jah and i are determined to keep the picking room heartbeat thumping right along.
Sales are up. We are picking and packing much faster (in part because some packing is being done by the new seed packing robot, which some of us are referring to as HAL) than previous years. Almost all the varieties are in stock. Ken and Irena and Charlotte are making sure all varieties are packed and ready for us (which is why there are so few numbers on the daily Unpickable Seeds sheets depicted below). It feels like a well oiled machine.
And it feels like an anarchist Utopian dream. Almost all the workers are self assigning almost all the time. There are people, like Irena, Ira, Ken and myself who almost always have tasks which people can help with. Sometimes we are approached, other times we approach people. And especially during this season, when everyone is hustling, almost everyone says “yes” most of the time when asked if they can help. [Ken points out that accountability of task work also helps us maintain quality. At each step the worker records what they did so that workers further down the chain can gently inform folks earlier in the process about mistakes they made. ]
The structure is almost as flat as it can be. It is trust based, so there are no time clocks. It is trust based, so no one is telling you to work faster or longer. It is trust based, so you need to do your own quality control. It is trust based, so for most people the only person who really knows if you are doing your share is you. And it all mostly works.
People work because it is clear there is lots of work to do. People work because we make most of the money the community needs and uses in these few months. People work because the work is super pleasant and relaxed and better than any light physical work than anyone ever had before they got here, and there is this distant fear that if we don’t all do our parts here, some of us might end up back there in jobs which were considerably less wonderful. People work because they can stop when they like and switch jobs when they want to. People work because they want to show up in community as a contributor to this thing that they believe in.
Turns out the money thing is not all it is cracked up to be.
It was about midnight at the fabulous Validation Day party. Willow and the gaggle of friends who had come up for his 13th birthday were no doubt safe killing zombies or the digital equilvalent somewhere on our 450 acre campus. Sky and i caught each other between songs on the dance floor.
“Do you have Willow tonight?” i asked
“He does not need us, he is a teenager now.” Sky quipped
And while it was mostly a joke, there was some recgnition that even in the insular world of the income sharing intentional community, our son was becoming more independent, more self reliant and less in need of direct supervision or support from his flock of parents.
Sadly, we retreated from the lovely complex rules of Capture the Flag 2.0. It was deemed too hard to teach and we were in a hurry to get out into the cold and get playing.
Willow’s team won twice before the cold overwhelmed the group. [Pro tip – attrition. Wait for the other team to have too many members in jail and then overwhelm their strained defenses.] This game had lots of running through the woods which makes it easy to wipe out and out maneuver your pursuer. The kids seemless intergrated in the small handful of Acorners i brought over for the fun.
Willows friends almost all either live in the commune now or did at one point. One of his best friends is Adrian, who left the commune when Willow was 2. Adrian is now 17 (Willow is 13 if that was not clear). But like many kids who grow up at the commune, there is some special home like aspect that brings them back to visit and maintain friendships. A dozen years ago Adrian did child care for Willow. Now they team up to take on zombies or their digital equivalents via online chat.
The parents will stick around for a bit longer, in case he needs us for something.
One of my favorite commune “out of it” stories comes from the Super Bowl of 2004. Since you have likely forgotten, this was the year of the famous “Wardrobe Malfunction” which apparently helped spawn YouTube. I was in Morningstar kitchen and there were a dozen people there. It was two days after the Super Bowl in question and i said “If i were to say to you Janet Jackson’s left breast, how many of you would know what i was talking about?” No one could answer (i did not know if it was left or right, but i knew it would not matter). This year, like every year, there is a Super Bowl. Apparently the teams are quite close as far as the bookies are concerned. And supposedly they are some of the best teams in the game. I dont care that much, but i still hear these things. What i also know from indirect experience is that almost everyone thinks sports needs to be watched live. When i asked my sports fan friends about re-watching old games, even very exciting or close ones, they are nearly universally dismissive of this idea. Often saying strange things like they would prefer to watch a terrible live game than a brilliant one which was recorded even very recently. Often it is explained to me that i simply dont understand sports if i cant understand why this is true. Perhaps my ignorance is contagious. A whole collection of Oakers are planning on watching the game tomorrow. They have recorded it (probably without the $4.5 million dollar 30 second ad spots) and are going to show it on the digital projector with a bunch of people watching and pop corn and beer. But wont it spoil the game if they already know who has won? This is the lovely part, they are not going to know. Or at least they are going to try not to know, with a voluntary media and internet black out for about 24 hours. In the mainstream, it would not even make sense to try it. In the commune context, with a few strategically placed notes and requests to some of our more opinionated members who will have seen the game at the “proper” time this is actually possible.
Maybe i will watch the big game tomorrow in a place where time does not matter.
Update: There was a grand event in Degania (which i missed) with pizza and happy communards, until 3 minutes before the end of the cliffhanger game when the video failed and no one knew how it turned out. Yikes.
“Is this a friendly game?”
This question gets asked with some regularity where i live, and it has a unique and very specific meaning here. For most of the games we play, it means that we are going to be forgiving when people make mistakes or want to change their move/play. Specifically, it means that if no other game decision has been made by another player, you can go backwards and fix your play on your turn and not be penalized for it.
Occasionally this is frustrating, especially in a game like Dominion, where you might have preferred the inferior play of your opponent, before they got help with their play (either by figuring it out themselves or thru a helpful co-player). And this begs the question, what is the role for “friendly” in competitive gaming culture. i would argue it is huge. In fact, it is more important that people feel good about the game, especially after it is over, than it is that we play by especially rigid rules.
And for “serious gamers” the situation gets worse in games like Magic, where we have Armenian Rules. At the risk of being deemed racist, this rule is at the center of much of the “friendly” play at Twin Oaks and Acorn. The way the Armenian Rule works is if you are manna starved in a particular hand in Magic, you can, by your own determination, draw a land instead of your normal card from the draw.
We also permit the “paradise Mulligan”. Some games permit players who draw a poor or initially unplayable hand to shuffle the cards back into the deck and draw a new hand. Normal Mulligan rules in Magic, for example, are that when you draw your second hand you get one few card. This is a tax for your bad luck or poor deck design. In friendly games we are not interested in bad luck taxes, so you can just draw another full seven card hand. And if you bad luck continues you can draw another one, and so on.
Serious gamers retort that these types of rules are just an excuse to build a badly designed deck, and that if people built better decks this would not happen. And they are on some level right. And since Magic can be an expensive game to build decks for, by using Armenian rules and paradise Mulligans, poor communards need not invest hugely in specific cards that might make the deck work better.
But more importantly, as with most games, Magic is more fun if the score is actually close. Having one player stuck early in the game damages the game for everyone: it degrades the win, it is harder to learn anything, it can discourage you from future games.
We have something of a mix here at Twin Oaks and Acorn. Some folks are uninterested in who has the most points, but rather are in the game so that they can they play some lovely combination of cards or strategy. Most players are excited about a close game, where you have to think hard or get lucky to pull it out in the end. Some folks believe that adhering to the rules makes the games more fair and a truer test of skill.
And in the end it brings up the more philosophical questions as to what is the purpose of games. Some will trivialize them as a waste of time, others will point to them as a social lubricant, i use some games pedagogically. I think most players simply enjoy them, which might just be enough all by itself.
Check out these pictures of the back to the land movement in the late 1960s.