“Looks for the place with the canoe in the front yard.” It is pretty safe to assume that another canoe was not going to make it into another yard in downtown Columbus OH on Halloween. And we were already warned that this was not going to be a “normal” visit.
By most measures the Midden is a fantastically successful community. And one key to their success is in their name.
A midden is an intriguing or marvelous rubbish heap. Pack rats and octopi make middens—so do ocean currents and human civilizations. We call our house The Midden because we make use of the artifacts (groceries, furniture, shoes) thrown away or overlooked by mainstream society. And all the while, we’re using this stuff to build more whole and meaningful systems to provide for ourselves. [All quotes from the Midden website]
We arrive in time for dinner. Much of the house is not here this evening. Some doing their political works, others touring, still others will be back later. The house is a lived in construction site, but most of the bed rooms look well lived in and are decorated with political posters and exotic art. We have arrived with the intention of working with them on our way back from NASCO, and we can already see that we will be working on blown cellulose insulation. I have a long love affair with insulation materials.
We also love to care for each other, share our skills and ideas, and do what we can to confront systems of oppression that bring us all down. We’re eco-activists, prison abolitionists, housing justice advocates, writers and theater artists, adventurous human beings and more.
They are also charming, dedicated, sarcastic, spunky, counter culture kids who are the newest member of the egalitarian community movement. They were great hosts, embracing us not just as guests but as valued co-conspirators in making things better. The refrigerator rivals a suburban fridge for high end fare, the only difference is much of it made a brief stop in a dumpster first. Amazingly they have only spent $340 on food for all 7 of them since the first of the year (excluding coffee). The kitchen sink is a perfectly positioned bathtub.
We believe in things like: doing it ourselves, anti-authoritarianism, using (and re-using) our resources responsibly, friends and hanging out, dumpstering, caring for each other and staying solid. You can read more at http://themidden.wordpress.com/.
While a couple housemates tell me that all the members like and respect each other, what really holds the place together is their shared commitment to political change. We try to kidnap Cole and get her to come to NASCO with us. She wisely resists, thought she was tempted by the idea of doing her own guerilla skill share.
We’re solid. We defend space that is safe, secure, and reliable for ourselves and our friends. We know where we stand in relation to the neighborhood, the city and the community and we own and shape that position. We practice security culture. We protect ourselves (to the best of our ability) from crisis both within and outside the house. We hold practices and policies that keep us stable, effective and creative as individuals and as a group. By pausing to think about what we think, want, and need, we make ourselves resilient and able to adapt to change.
We do end up spending a day helping install insulation. Billy from the Baltimore Free Farm scrambles thru the crawl spaces pumping fire resistant paper into the hollow spaces between ceiling and roof. We put in a long day of insulating and shlepping the heavy blower machine to the third floor. And we are satisfied that the house will be much warmer this winter for our efforts.
The Midnights (as I like to call them as a compression of Midden-ites) are game to guerilla workshop material to NASCO 2014. When I say we are going to run 24 new workshops, Alex instantly replies “We will do 6 of them.” We have met our partners in crime, and they live behind the canoe is Columbus Ohio.
Paxus has been asking me to write this for a while.
What is it like to be an artist living in community?
I should first state that I live in an intentional community, or commune, as the out of the know folks call it. Here I must work 42 hours a week doing various tasks. Generally, I answer phones calls from customers with thick accents insisting that "send 'em their dam sweet potatoes" and that I gladly do.
Early this morning Piper Martin passed away; she would have been 90 years old in December. Piper came to Twin Oaks over 30 years ago and has been a constant booster of community life and fierce advocate for children’s rights to read.
Piper believed literacy was a stepping stone to world peace. She saw it as the cornerstone of greater understanding and compassion. She very fundamentally viewed her literacy work as peace activism.
Piper was a behaviorist. Her Reading Window School used a technique which she developed that rewarded kids for trying. B. F. Skinner would have been proud of how well the kids responded to this technique. My own son Willow arrived at Reading Window School both unwilling and claiming to be unable to read. Six weeks later he was pleasure reading and a year later he was reading Harry Potter alone. She changed his life. She changed lots of young people’s lives.
Calling her gift “magic” would take away from both the mimic-ability of her work and the tenacity of her commitment. Piper was concerned about her legacy and the perpetuation of this technique she developed. When i wrote to Sherri Rossiter who had taken over the Reading Window School, she pointed out that Piper had achieved her lifelong dream, that the school and the methodology she had developed will live beyond her. Sherri thought about cancelling her literacy tutoring today, but decided that would not at all be how Piper would have wanted to be remembered.
Piper was a tricky indiviual. Her drive was not welcomed by everyone she came in contact with. She frequently requested things of people, especially people who had already done things for her. To have a successful relationship with Piper one needed to know how to say “no” to her and remain connected to one’s affection for her. She was personally always driven to do more and help more, for which she often sought other people’s assistance. I did fundraising work on and off for Piper for most of the last 15 years and i was constantly reminding her that i only wanted to do the things for her that she could not find someone else to do. Having good boundaries was central to my successful dancing with Piper.
Piper was colorful and lively. I hope to put up pictures of her taken last weekend at the Halloween party in which she was dressed in a racy outfit and was stepping in and out of a coffin, with lots of other folks. Piper and i often danced together at community functions, and i appreciated that she was so active even well into her 80s.
Piper died with a piece of chocolate in her hand, which to me was strangely fitting. She lived a long full life. She touched and helped many and for this and more she will be missed.
Piper’s funeral will be this Saturday at Twin Oaks. If you want to come and have not been to Twin Oaks before please contact me first.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
If we are honest, we must confess that we are in the business of trying to change peoples minds. If the intentional communities movement is a model of what some part of what a better world looks like, than we (the people who speak for the movement) are some kind of ambassadors. Alternatively, you could call us propagandists.
adder, Billy from the amazing Baltimore Free Farm project and i all arrived in Ann Arbor for the North American Student Cooperative Organization (NASCO) Institute. There will be about 400 attendees including “faculty” (like the three of us who are presenting) at this years event.
What we have been doing on and off for long while now at these types of events is create fingerbooks that are event specific. Typically these include descriptions of some of the income sharing communities, some stuff about the movement in general and descriptions of workshops we are involved in.
When we are lucky, there is some space set aside by the event organizers for guerilla or wildcat workshops. These are ones which are scheduled by presenters, but not recognized by the organizers. They happen at the venue, they are related in topic to what is part of the general conference, but they are not “officially” part of the event. NASCO set up one small class room for guerilla workshops, we occupied it for half of the workshop slots, frequently having to roll over into the adjacent classrooms, because our unofficial workshops were quite popular.
Sadly, the folks from the Midden could not come to NASCO this year. But when they heard about the guerilla workshops, they got much more excited about next year. The joke was that we would take over the 4 classrooms which surrounded this years guerilla workshop space and offer 24 unofficial workshops at next years institute (4 workshops times 6 slots) and the prolific folks from the Midden would offer 6 of them. Below is my fantasy of what some of this full alternative conference at NASCO 2014 would look like:
Urban Dark Green Ecovillage Thread
1) Squatting and Salvage
2) Dumpster philosophy and practice
3) Shared House/Shared Campaign
4) Hitchhiking and train-hopping
Applied Commune Thread
1) Income Sharing and Cottage Industries
2) Radical Resource Sharing
3) Consensus and its Discontents
4) Viral expansion of the communities movement
1) Building Better Memes
2) Funology and crafting the better party
3) Trust based cashless systems
4) Make sharing the new religion?
Healthy Relationships Thread
5) Love Letter writing
One of the more famous crazy guests stories is about Ursula the Performing Bear. Ursula was a human, who had a large bear head and certainly did perform both with it on and not. But that is a different story.
Ursula had many talents, besides infuriating her hosts, by not leaving when she was asked to leave (but this is also another story). She was quite an accomplished tattoo artist and did many free tattooing sessions while she was here.
She did one session with a member who i will call Jane. Jane wanted a number of tattoos, and Ursula did them all. And they were having such a good time, that they decided to continue.
Ursula: What tattoos shall we do next?
Jane: Oh you decide
Ursula: Really ?!?
This is a conversation you are not supposed to have with a mentally unstable person with a tattoo gun in hand. Ursula proceed to put a giant tattoo on Jane’s fore arm, which looked vaguely like:
The only thing was there was no Andrev in Jane’s life. Nor had their ever been. So now she had a monster large tattoo of a name that refers to no one. she knows. Jane was unconcerned. She herself was a bit neuro atypical.
But Jane did have a boyfriend who was born named Steve. But we had a Steve at Twin Oaks already, so he changed his name on arrival to Sven. Which sort of worked and sort of did not work as a name for him. When Sven saw the tattoo, he decided to change his name to Andrev and thus he would match the tattoo.
The Star Family loves The Last Airbender cartoon series.
It is part of the dual track entertainment which is designed to work both for kids and for adult (like the Incredibles and Monsters Inc), and in this case quite wonderfully succeeds. The hero is a 12 year old boy who has extraordinary elemental powers over air, and must learn the other elements.
This is one of those “you either get it, or it just looks nice” ones. Willow went with peer Twin Oaks kids Kaya and Evan and their mom Sapphyre to the UVa dorms for trick or treating. Some of the people who saw Willow were so impressed they gave him double candy for the costume.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]