Zadek and i are the two cross overs. The younger home schooling program at Twin Oaks is called Unicorns. Kid as young as Elan from Acorn (age 1) come and as old as Zadek (7?). There is a lot of sandbox, drawing and playing with toys time as well as read out loud books, words for the day and simple reading & writing exercises. Christie (an accepted Acorn visitor who has not arrived yet) put it most flatteringly.
I’ve been to dozens of pre-schools and day care situations, Unicorns is the only one which is doing it right.
Heroes is the fantasy role playing home education system that i games master with Zadek, Kaya, Evan, Willow and Rowan (ages 7 thru 17). They adventure similarly to a Dungeons and Dragons game, but when they role poorly for the outcome of an event, they can get another role by answering a question right. In the last game, Rowan’s character (Pesca the fallen god) actually died because Willow did not know what the Prohibition was (Evan did, but that was not enough to save him). Kaya’s character (named Sapphyre) was about to be married to Pesca, so she followed him to heaven so they could hang there. It is that kind of game.
i currently live in an interesting place. It is a place where people live together cooperatively, we share things and we basically trust each other. It is a kind of place which the media likes to claim is impossible. i promise it is not.
My first day
i woke up to the sun shining fairly high in the window
i have not gotten a clock for my room
i have mixed feelings about acquiring one
but i have nothing schedule for this morning
Tycho mailed me a color xerox picture
of my head D-locked to the bottom of a bus at a Berlin action
i stuck it up on my wall along with a poem
she wrote about the real Heisenburg principals
and i wonder a bit when i will be a full-time activist again
i threw my wallet into a sticky drawer in my dresser
we don’t use money here
my left pocket felt empty
going thru bags and boxes for other pictures to decorate my new room
(last night, i removed the puppy pictures on my wall -
the previous resident was 6)
i found a key ring with a few keys
i threw that in the sticky drawer
another antique – no locks here
i thought i would weave hammocks for my first work
since we do a lot of that here
the shop was empty
most people had taken the jigs outside to work in the sun
but i wanted to listen to an old Bruce Cockburn CD
from the large hammock shop library
so i slipped one of the many headphones
and did almost an hours work
shuffling my feet to “lovers in a dangerous time”
i e-mailed for the rest of my first official morning as a member
not creditable, of course
E. Europe & New England nuke stuff, fundraising, love letters, the usual
i grabbed one of the many “free bikes” and pedal to lunch
(basically the Am*dam white bike idea, only here it continues)
there is fresh lettuce and strawberries from our garden
(i had forgotten that strawberries actually do taste like something)
i choose the cuscus with broccoli and black beans
grab a glass of milk from our happy cows
i leave the bread and tofu (both of which we make) behind
Hawina and i sit in the sun at one of the half dozen picnic tables and eat
we are surrounded by perhaps two dozen dinners – ages 1 to 70
Sassafras, one of our youngest members,
crawls up onto the table and seems vaguely interested in my strawberries
she is so young, i think it is the color more than the taste which beckons
i play hackisack for a couple of minutes before i split
i have gotten much better since being here
still in the low tier compared to most folx who play here
but respectable enuf for me to feel okay
jumping into the games which spark up
perhaps every other sunny day
i walk down to the courtyard,
because my bike with a basket has disappeared
and while there are others, i have bunch of papers to carry
and there are none with baskets
Deborah is teaching me labor assigning
a complex, elegant and archaic art
which manages to take the requests of almost 100 people
the needs of all of the various business and households
and fuse them together in a nearly all volunteer system
we schedule community meetings and milk moves,
the popular garden shifts and dreaded dish washing
there are requisitions for hot tub dates and pagan sing alongs,
the team constructing the new warehouse,
pillow shop, rope production, sawmill, elderly care
sewage treatment plant monitoring, school bus drivers,
road cleans, health team mtgs, building maintenance, cooking,
recycling, visitor orientations and dozens of other activities
after 4 hours and a dozen notes we are finished
(tho Deborah worked it for a dozen before i showed up)
of the perhaps 300 assignments
only one “serf” shift is unfilled
(this is a kitchen or house cleaning)
almost all volunteer – i am amazed
then i spend an hour teaching Deborah
how to use a spreadsheet
it does not matter that the motivating reason she wants to learn
is so that she can sort songs and performers
for the small library of songbooks
which live in the compost café
our smokers lounge and live music hot spot
we are in the café when Kana shows up with pizza
our cheese, our tomato sauce, crust from scratch
and our former happy cows are ground up on top of it
my vegetarianism is waning here
Kana is a wild old man with a gray streaked father christmas beard
he spent some time in a monastery
i would not be surprised if they threw him out for laughing too much
now he is one of our regular cooks
makes beautiful walking sticks, which Deborah and i sold at a fair
and plays a mean guitar and sings with a gravelly voice
never thought i would appreciate country music
He has come down in one of the 3 or 4 golf carts we have
for people who have trouble walking the long distances around here
while he is delivering the pizza and chatting
Calypso (one of our few dogs)
eats most of his rice pudding which was in the golf cart
there is some chiding and laughing
At dinner small wooden signs mark the pizzas
“No dairy”, “No Onions”, “Meat” and more
i sit at the regular Thursday polyamory discussion
(what i used to call “open relationships”)
the group has been over a dozen people
but dinner did not get promoted this time
so just four of us chat
about the forming regional poly network
and whether it will work on the issues and support
or if it will be more for sparking new romances
Melissa brings up group intimate agreements
as she was part of at another community in NYC
just as the conversation gets interesting
we have to break up
i have a 7 PM movement support meeting
and i don’t want to be late
a video about the School of the Americas (SOA) is shown
(the newest residence has a nice video hall,
where there are movies and some taped tv shows
show three nights a week -
there remains no “live” tv anywhere on the community
one of the handful of prohibitions
which has lasted 30 years)
the short video is compelling
and several communards were arrested at SOA last year
there are plans to go again in November
and to continue lobby work for the upcoming house vote
we spend most of the meeting talking about
which projects we will support with our few thousand dollar budget
which is divided between supporting members activism
and giving money to existing groups
(tho the tax resistance protest we are involved with
gives about $10,000 mostly from Twin Oaks resistors to non-profit groups
but it is separate from movement support).
we cut several requests slightly
but fund most of what was requested,
likely creating a cash pinch later in the year
Marione will do prison trainings for women,
Stevik does tax resistance and gay support stuff,
Ione will meet a conservative rep and bark about SOA
Hawina is interested in the hunger group RESULTS
Nexus wants to go to a conference on communities and space travel
i will drag nuclear issues onto the agenda
we talk about restarting the letter lobby
i mention the success with stopping the FDA’s
proposed “organic food” standard
200,000 letters of protest – some from here
we finish with a quick evaluation
because i am a new member
i can get 2 hours credit for movement support
in the future this will be volunteer time
the movement support creditable hours
are generally dedicated to activities more direct than meetings
i walk thru the darkness back down to the courtyard
for my date with Alex
she is organizing one of the communities conferences
which is just about to start
we talk about using one of the expert outside facilitators
from the communities meeting
to run a Twin Oaks meeting we are having on business planning
she fires off an e-mail and packs up her work
we walk up to her room and decide to lay on her roof
looking at the stars we talk about idealism in the community
i want to take over her job as recruitment manager
and she has some concern about targeting young people
to bring our population back up
(we are down about 15 people from last year)
but most of our chat is more personal
we discuss the rumors
which have started
because we are skipping around together holding hands
but she is tired
so we crawl back into her window
and i realize i have forgotten my Tupelo “serf” shift
so i head back to my residence and clean the house till midnight
with the stereo blasting Ani
i try to decide if these crumpled crayon drawings
are trash or precious child masterpieces
[mostly my art patron side won this tussle]
(one of the reasons i choose live at Tupelo is because it has no “quiet hours”)
it has been a long day
but i am very satisfied
it ain’t paradise
but there are some similarities
Paxus at Twin Oaks Community
14 Bisons in Burma 1998
The middle history of Thanksgiving is curious. I am not talking about the poorly documented 1621 encounter between natives and colonists.
Thanksgiving as the holiday we know can be credited to the Christian feminist Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale has largely been vanished by the history books, but was an editor, activist, author, autodidact and lyricist. She helped discover and was an early promoter of several great writers including Oliver Wendall Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe. She wrote the lyrics to Mary had a Little Lamb. She edited a highly influenced magazine at the time for 40 years (an unusual occupation for a woman at the time). She also lobbied 5 presidents to create Thanksgiving, ultimately succeeding with Lincoln. Her intention was to create a Christian holiday that was recognized nationally, in this she failed despite Lincoln’s highly pious speech announcing the holiday.
In light of this and a couple of days late, i wanted to laundry list a few things that i am highly thankful for.
High functioning body – somehow with very little sleep and a poor feeding regiment i have energy to do all the engaging things i do.
Exotic and complicated family of choice – I don’t know anyone who has a successful poly family by design from before conception. Perhaps they are out there and i have not run across them. But having more than two parents plus a community is the way to raise a child. And i am thankful that this is what my life looks like.
Flexible and model life in community - My community work scene (like everyone who would like at Twin Oaks and Acorn) is extremely flexible. i can run away occasionally for adventures, i can work mostly on things which i am really inspired by, i can do several different types of work each day and generally do. And i can change my work scene if i tire of what i am doing. This is lovely.
Political freedom to dissent – I have friends who are activists in Russia and Egypt and honestly i dont think i could do it. I could not function with the constant low or medium level fear that i was going to get dragged away and possibly disappear. I have lots of critiques about the US, but it does permit me the broad political freedom i need to be a critic of the state.
Affluent class background and white privileged - at the risk of getting lectured by someone who feels like i don’t understand it well enough or am not doing enough to correct the oppression it represents, i am thankful that i don’t have to worry about being questioned and harassed by every other cop who passes me by or the dozens of other insults afforded non-whites in this often subtly racist culture. I don’t pause before i charge through a ritzy hotel lobby or ballroom, despite my preposterous appearance. I get that this privilege is unearned, i get that it comes with significant responsibility to push back on this oppression, including deep self reflection. And i am still thankful for my station.
Every gift is an obligation. I have a lot of work to do, give my good cards. Work i am happy and thankful to do.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
We have lots of different types of radical friends. And some of them are fully public in all the things they do and others have to operate slightly below the radar so they can keep doing what they do. In my travels over the last few months i have had the good fortune to visit a couple of inspiring places i have not been before. There exact locations are not important, what is critical is what they have learned and what they can teach others who are interested in some aspects of their work.
Let’s call my comrades place Freedonia. Imagine it in anyone of the urban centers which have seen hundreds to thousands of houses abandoned over the last couple of decades. The precise location does not matter.
Squatting 1.0, which i learned in Am*dam and Barcelona goes something like this: You find a group of friends who need housing. It is great if at least a couple of the friends are local to the area you are trying to move into. Then you search – you look for the right place to move into. The right place is one which is abandoned, unlikely to be used for residential or commercial purposes soon (perhaps because it is run down), but not in such bad shape that parts of it can not be heated (if you are in a climate that requires heat in the winter).
Then you break in. Once inside you do the opposite of what thieves do. Instead of looking for things to steal, you look for things of value which someone else might come back for, because if there are too many valuables, someone will come back for them and you will loose the place. We are not looking to steal treasure, we are trying to use space which is idle to satisfy real housing needs.
Then you settle in. You find cheap plates and flatware. You wire electricity from a near by light pole. Some people drop out, perhaps a new person or three join you. You figure out security so people can get in and out and if needed not be seen.
But there is a problem with old style squatting, especially in the US, where laws are designed to protect property holders, even owners who have are not paying taxes, abandoned their properties or are simply speculating. The problem is the police or private security will come in and throw you out and then secure the place in a way which will make it hard for you to get back in. Your group with no place to go falls apart and drifts off to other places.
Freedonia has things we have seen at other great squats, like Can Masdeu in Barcelona: there is a bike repair shop, a printing press, ovens (bread ovens at Can Masdeu and pizza ovens at Freedonia), public workshop and performance space, public gardens, zine publishing, an anarchist library, dedicated volunteers, support from locals in the area and more.
But what Freedoonia has that her European counter parts have not figured out is a technique to avoid the group falling apart when they are busted by the police or hired thugs. This is the 2.0 part.
Before they broke in, they moved in. They took advantage of the high number of abandoned buildings in close proximity to each other, they scoured newspapers, public records and local inside knowledge to find a place they could occupy legally, a base of operations. In the case of Freedonia, they found a place which was available for very little money, borrowed what they needed and moved in. They talked with locals and convinced the owner of a neighboring warehouse that in exchange for fixing parts of the roof and keeping the place secure they could occupy the warehouse, which most of these pictures are taken in. Well before squatting, they set up a stable, legal, large base of operations, for very little money.
When they moved into their first squat, they successfully occupied it for 6 months. They were like so many 1.0 squats before them busted. But instead of falling apart, they pulled back to the legal space. They were tight for a while, they looked for other places to occupy, but then after some months they established that in fact the best place to go, was the place they had already been thrown out of. They returned, corrected the mistake that got them thrown our the first time and have been there successfully for almost two years now.
The other clever thing they do in Freedonia is that they brew beer. They don’t sell it, but they do give it to volunteers and bring it to parties. Beer is not new. But it is socially very powerful. Combined with their high temperature pizza oven which can cook a pizza in less than 100 seconds. These innovative, dedicated urban dwellers may just re-ignite a viable squatting movement in this country.
My friend Lotus has a blog. She wrote recently about writing more and i gave her some advice from my experience. Below is what i wrote.
Yeah! more blogging. So here are my hints.
1) Run a constant low level thread in your mind “what would be interesting about this circumstance which would make a good blog post?” When you think of something send yourself some type of message – write on your hand, text yourself, put it in the cloud somewhere.
2) Create a queue of topics – separate blog ideas from full blog posts and keep a list of things you want to write about. Arguments are rich for materials, things that you see which can be made better, strongly held beliefs you see around you that are inspiring.
3) Don’t be seduced by “long”. Short blog posts are not only acceptable, but often exactly what your reader wants.
4) Don’t be seduced by text only. What your readers may well want are interesting images from your life. I am starting a “commune snapshot” series once a month where i just put up a handful of pictures, sometimes without even captions.
5) Find an editor or guest authors. I got Judy from OKCupid, but when you make the blog bigger than yourself it starts to take a life of its own. You don’t need it to be just your ego driven material. There are lots of clever people you know – showcase them on your blog and it will draw traffic.
6) Remember, it is only a blog. If you miss a week or three, that is fine, don’t beat yourself up about it. At the point when you are getting 1000 hits every day, we can talk about monitorizing it and it being an income engine, but before that it is just a time expensive hobby and should be seen as such.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
It is my last couple of weeks as planner and i have quite enjoyed the communities highest executive position. One of the last things i will be doing is running (with a great group of advisers) the communities overall budgeting process. There are lots of different budget lines and significant knowledge within the group about each one of them (some from the area manager, some from the member survey we have taken, and some from the diverse knowledge of the perhaps 10 people in the room who are designing our budget game).
We look at whether we can raise population to cover the requests for sabbaticals and if this will create a room crunch or a labor problem from doing this fix. We speculate on whether good managers will return (often saving us money, but sometimes costing us labor) or poor ones will drop the job and perhaps the community. Are we budgeting or are we forecasting? We need to cut $17K from the money budgets, we need to cut 7000 hours from our work area labor budgets. It is a lively, complex and high impact discussion.
At Acorn the painters are nearly finished. We just need to move some boxes and bookcases and we can clear the last hall for cleaning and priming (ok, “some: is perhaps an understatement – hundreds”. i try to do this with a guest who is struggling with mental health problems and they are unable to follow the simplest instruction for more than 30 seconds. Tim (pictured below) stepped in and took their place.
In the space of half an hour i have gone from our highest executive function, to some of our simplest manual labor. This is not unusual however, many members of the budget team go from our spirited negotiations to gardening or tofu or hammocks making, this is what life on the commune is often like.
It is actually one of the things i love about community, the differentiated social status of different jobs being significantly compressed in the community context. i already have some guilt around feeling like i manage/organize too much and dont do enuf “real work” which is more physical labor. And the rationalist part of my brain tries to justify this by considering the money saved or the work that gets completed (by others hands typically) which would not if i had not been pushing. And there are times when i feel like perhaps all the organizing and bottleneck fighting would get done by someone else and i could spend more of my time just helping clean the floor like almost everyone else.
My father was an unusually honorable man. He tried to steer me this way. He explained to me once that he would not go out and eat lunch with his secretary unescorted. The reason was not that he was concerned any romantic or otherwise inappropriate activity might take place, but rather that someone else seeing them together might think this was happening. In the summer of 2000 i wanted to get closer to my father so i took an internship job for his architecture firm in Boston. i did some analysis of the company website, wrote a report and was overpaid for this work (the money actually went to Twin Oaks – which was easy to do because i was living with my parents with very few costs).
Over the summer i got involved with my dad’s part-time secretary, Jaz Tupelo. She came to visit me a few times at Twin Oaks. And one day while she was walking through the woods to a work shift on a crisp morning, she said to herself, ”I can go back to Boston rush-hour traffic or walking down this beautiful path could be my alternative commute. I think i will move here.”
She did not arrive with the name Jaz. It was selected at a naming party. And as these parties sometimes go, the person who is being named does not have the same first choice as the group. Both Jaz and i were vying for Emma, there was even a tug of war in the hammock shop between the last two names – Emma and Jaz. We lost.
Jaz came to Twin Oaks, but her first love was music. After a year of regular commune life she decided she wanted to work for the local NPR channel in Charlottesville as a DJ. Turned out that the group had chosen the right name despite our initial objections.
So here is the corrected version of the story from Jaz herself. i like my version also, so i am leaving both in.
The origin of the name Jaz is much more interesting, I think…and you can either rewrite your post to reflect this, or add my notes in as part of the post, or as a postscript. It is how I tell the story of my name.
My birth name is lovely and unique and always pronounced incorrectly, when it’s remembered at all. There was already someone at Twin Oaks with a name similar to mine, and we were already starting to get each other’s mail. Finally I said, “I just moved to a commune: what better time to come up with a new name?” My mother, who was not happy with my decision to move to a commune, was even less happy that I was allegedly ditching the lovely and unique name she chose for me. “What are you going to name yourself, Jasmine Peaceflower?” she snarked. I told a friend this story, and she added “Jasmine” to the list of suggested names. During the naming party, Leila suggested we change it to “Jaswomyn,” and then Tom suggested “Jaz. With one Z.”
“Jaz” actually got voted down. The two remaining contenders were “Emma” and “Satiya.” I had been leaning toward “Emma.” But when the moment of truth was upon me, it just didn’t feel like it fit me, really. So I exercised my ultimate veto power and chose “Jaz.” That’s the important thing to remember…that I did choose “Jaz.” Just as I chose my path to Twin Oaks, and I chose my path to the radio station – where the name turned out to be an incredible asset.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
This Acorn’s first crowd source fund raising exercise. We started not long after the fire, but it has been hard to prioritize working on it with everything else going on. i enjoyed working with Belladonna Took, Irena and Ira on pulling this together. It is the first appeal i have worked on with premiums (presents you get or donating money to your cause). And while i did almost nothing with these premiums, it is perhaps the most interesting part of the application (especially if you read this blog already and know about the fire).
Our current guests Tamer and Armand shot and edited the video which is included in the crowd source appeal. So here it is:
So here is what would be good. Think for a few moments about someone who really likes the idea of community, but is perhaps not very well connected to them. Especially if this person is financially successful, you should send them this link and encourage them to check it out.
We did extended check in’s this evening at the community meeting. It was clear that while the fire is long out (6 weeks now) the disturbing psychological effects are still strong. Several members reported regular furnace and fire checks on buildings. Some are still unable to return to their rooms and sleep comfortably. One members trust in strangers was shattered.
At the same time i am surprised by the communities resilience. We have painted over a dozen rooms and are on the last two. We have pulled up the burned or damaged floor boards and blown insulation for the new walls and floors. Fixed the plumbing and re-sealed the building for heat. Did i mention that we were simultaneously building a major straw bale demonstration wall on the new seed building. We have multiple crews everyday, which are increasingly volunteers.
So plz re-post the appeal on your facebook wall, or blog about us. Help us yourself if you can. This is what you can do for the sustainability movement, right now.