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You can use Funological grading scales on serious events.  You could argue that a current issue conference cannot get a B grade, unless it does something novel.  You could propose that a protest not get a letter A grade, unless it (hopefully positively) changed one or more of the participants lives.

reportcard grading system

Using this scale, the West Coast Communities Conference perhaps deserves an A+ (a grade i can’t remember the last time i gave it – maybe fuzzy tunnels).  Let’s consider a bunch of different metrics:

  • Success as a networking event
  • Intergenerationally integrated
  • Cross Cultural Connections
  • Significant Skill Shares
  • Novel presentation formats
  • Acid Test questions responses
people are the warp, collective houses are the woof - network weave

people are the warp, collective houses are the woof – network weave

Success as a networking event  At the heart of it, communities conferences are supposed to connect people interested in community with collective places they might live and also help communities find new blood, especially founding or floundering communities.  In this, WCCC was reasonably successful.  Both seekers found established communities and a forming community found a new key additional person.  These additions will certainly increase their chances of survival and success.  The event supported the movement directly thru recruiting and secondarily by introducing people to the depth and range of the movement.

drag kids WCCCCIntergenerationally integrated One of the things i take pride in at Twin Oaks is our success in mixing generations in work and play.  No one thinks twice about there being different generations represented for example in a community band.  “We need a drummer.  We don’t care how old or young they are.”  The Radical Faeries who run Groundswell Institute decided early on that the best way into introduce kids into this typically adult world was to be honest and give nearly full access to it.  So the kids made a bee-line for the drag closet and there were precious photo moments of kid princesses and mature queens.  We also had twenty and thirty somethings mixing with seniors and everything in between.  Age did not matter too much; young people facilitated, old people learned new things.  The event had a healthy, inquisitive, open feeling to it.

Communards meet Radical Fairies - metaphorically.

Communards meet Radical Faeries – metaphorically.

Cross Cultural Connections:  I have a story that the Faeries have things to teach the communards about being bold and asking for what you want.  I think the Faeries are a gateway to luxurious flamboyance and how to party big.  I think the communards have things to offer the Faeries around finding group mind and clean process.  I think the communards know how to share well and have effective tools and agreements for others less experienced with cooperative living.  The dance party at the fire pit was a high spirited, colorful mix of our cultures in celebration.   I think the communards and the Radical Faeries have similar agendas around tolerance, celebration of diversity, openness to new things, sustainability, self created culture and art and making the world a better place to live in.  We are obvious allies.

I saw these two groups dance well together and it made me hopeful for more events of both playful and serious content.

dont worry about itSignificant Skill Shares: Significant Skill Shares: My lover Tree came down from Eugene and facilitated a compelling workshop on Appreciative Inquiry It was a huge hit.  It changed Brittany and Billy Vulture‘s lives.  Somewhat new to giving workshops, these two had especially struggled with the guilt and hopelessness so many White Privilege workshops engender.  By using Appreciative Inquire instead of conventional “problem solving” techniques, they found that he walked out of the WCCC White Privilege Open Space session feeling really good about the group, about the communication, about people hearing this fundamentally uncomfortable message and not running from it but actually addressing it.  Tree was thrilled that her workshop was immediately applicable.  Me, too.

turtle plus houseNovel presentation formats:  We did the Communities in Crisis interactive theater workshop at the WCCC.  The idea was you throw non-communards into the deep end of community process.  They would try to facilitate actor-communards who were in the midst of trying to untangle a vexing and controversial community problem.  It was a great idea, but it worked out nothing like this.

For starters, of the 20 plus people interested in this workshop, no one did not already identify as living in community (apparently sitting in tricky community meetings is only attractive to people who think community is worth it to join already).  But more importantly, these types of  theater things don’t resolve and, were it not for Tree in the workshop to rein me in, i would have spent way too much time in the fun acting part and not enough on the harvesting of what we learned.

But people enjoyed it and said they learned things.  It is a strong enough and engaging enough format to try doing it again.

uncle sam - can you pass the acid test

Acid Test question responses:  I am the type of Funologist who believes in exit interviews.  I ask people if they enjoyed the event and learned things (they basically always say yes, since it is polite to do so) and then i ask if they would come back in a year and this often gives insight into their experience.  If you had a transformative experience – you fell in love, you found your tribe, you learned a new tool that will significantly aid you – then your reply is always “yes”, even if the chances of repeating exactly this type of positive change are very small.  If you just had a good time, you can be “one and done”.  When i asked people about coming back, almost everyone said yes.

By all these different metrics, the WCCC succeeded pretty famously.  But i must confess i am predisposed to falling in love with this beautiful Northern California place and this particular event because i got to work with amazing organizers on it and take credit for making it happen, when really i did quite little to manifest it.  I also got to organize with my talented co-dad, Sky, which always makes these types of things go better.

Other communities, including Lost Valley outside Eugene, expressed interested in hosting the 2016 West Coast Communities Conference. So perhaps, unlike the east coast event which stays at Twin Oaks for ever, we have created something which will move around to different host communities.  Which would be cool also.

But it is not too early to mark your calendar for Indigenous Peoples weekend 2016. If history repeats itself, it might just be the best conference ever.

Keenan’s unbirthday

Just like when i was a kid, my friends are getting older.  Everyday.

And when they have birthdays, i ignore them, mostly.  Except with some regularity Facebook reminds me that i should be taking this day seriously.  So i write a quasi snarky love letter to these people.  Here is a recent one to Keenan

Sn internationalist and networker

An internationalist and networker

Forget birthdays. Instead i meditate on the long productive arch of your life. i know no one else who can build buildings with only chocolate chip cookies (okay, they were really good and fresh baked and all). Someone who sees that the joy of living in community is integrally tied with your ability to clean up messes you had nothing to do with making. i see a man who designed a home school curriculum which if employed nationally would not only end all wars and poverty but would result in fantastic bizarre playground construction from coast to coast. A man who successfully fights entropy and keeps old mills from falling to the river with some combination of cheerful intent, crafty asking for help and endless fortitude. You are a community hero and we are lucky to have you.

Part of a long line of silly people

Part of a long line of silly people

He is the son of a CIA turncoat who would come to Twin Oaks for a visitor period perhaps 30 years ago now and never left (tho he travels extensively).

I met Keenan years before i lived at Twin Oaks. He came to visit us at Paradox House in San Francisco.  He installed our shower curtain over our weird bathtub.  We called it “the Keenan” for years after he left.  Most people who called it that never met him.

And this is a bit his legacy all manner of unusual things which he created which other people use and enjoy, often without even knowing he is responsible.

Happy unbirthday my friend.  And many returns of the day.

Acorn Kids Double in One Day

On Wednesday of this week the number of kid members at Acorn doubled from two to four.  Stephanie and Sean’s two kids, Elan and Adira, were joined by newborn, Tullulah, and Sappho.

Fox, Talula and Oden on the floor.

Fox, Tullulah and Odin on the floor.

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

It is a big deal to go from one family with two kids a couple years apart to three families with kids ranging from newborn to eight years old.  It shows an interesting stability in Acorn, which has long been a culture dominated by more transient young people.

To my optimistic eye it harks the beginning of a golden age, in which Acorn uses its considerable resources to make all manner of enviable things happen here.  I’m game.

We wouldn’t need any law enforcement if

In 2004, Twin Oaks was briefly harassed by an unmarked black helicopter.

They say it was never below 500', we had it at tree tops.

They say it was never below 500′, we had it at tree tops.

A much nimbler Coyote rushed to his room to get a camera.  Remembering that without photographic proof there would be no story or media coverage of this event.  His picture is above.

One of Charlottesvilles local free newspapers at the time (the Hook) picked up the story and ran with it, ultimately discovering who was in the unmarked chopper.

Over the course of finding the culprit, the author of the article talked with lots of different military and law enforcement personal.  They asked them all about Twin Oaks and if they had any trouble with us.

From the article:

So are Twin Oakers big troublemakers? “I haven’t had any trouble with them,” says [Louisa County Sheriff] Fortune. “We wouldn’t need any law enforcement if everybody lived like they do at Twin Oaks.”

Just about the best advertising a community could ask for.

We ar ehappy to get ignored - Police in Ferguson 2014

We are happy to get ignored – Police in Ferguson 2014

Momentarily Viral – Don’t read the Comments

I wrote yesterday about the recent Yahoo Parenting article about the community.  Turns out this piece had over 3 million hits in the first 24 hours.   This generated so much traffic to the website that our web host server crashed. Even my blog, which is not mentioned in the article at all, got over 1000 hits in two days.

Does this hype actually go anywhere?

Does this hype actually go anywhere?

And the media contacted us also.  We got three requests from conventional news sources (including my first ever request for an exclusive) and two excited reality show producers.  We have considered working with Reality TV as an income engine for new community start ups and i floated it by the Point A DC folks, who rejected it overwhelmingly. This did not stop there being animated discussion about the possibility at Acorn last night at dinner.  The chances we will be able to work with reality TV are vanishingly small.

There were over 500 comments to the Yahoo article.  There were quite a few positive ones, some from people who had lived in community which worked for them or they appreciated, some from folks who had visited us at some point and felt the need to dispel the false statements which were being made.  But perhaps half the comments on this Yahoo article were negative or critical.  They came in a few flavors:

Communism is Bad:  My favorite of this ilk was “Why hasn’t someone called the National Guard to rid us of these communists?”  Unlike past articles i have read, there were not any direct “Go back to Russia!” suggestions.  Many came from Libertarians who feel a need to attack anything which does not look like their version of free market capitalism. Libertarianism Cartoon There was our personal chapter of the endless Tea Party debates in which all ills are blamed on Obama and each of the two main political parties are attacked for the Democrats being Communists and the Republicans (in the long run) being anarchists.  News flash folks, there are two pro-business parties in the US.  Look at who funds their campaigns. There are also a whole slew of comments contenting that we 1) Don’t pay taxes.  In fact we are the second largest tax payer in the county. 2) Are on Food Stamps and Welfare. In fact none of the membership uses these government assistance programs.

Polyamory is wrong: There was the expected amount of slut shaming and name calling. I should not have been surprised at the frequently expressed concern that pedophiles would have easy access to our kids, when in fact the opposite is the case. polyamory_is_wrongThere were a refreshing number of people who felt like this was an acceptable choice, only not right for them personally.  For many critics this simply feed their notion of moral decay on the commune.  There was a prevalent opinion that this reflected an easy way to have lots of sex partners, when actually the form of polyamory most often practiced in the communities requires lots of discussion, negotiations and process.

Too often too true

Too often too true

This can never work:  Despite the article mentioning that we had been around for nearly 50 years, there were a surprising number of comments predicting our imminent demise or our failure in the long term.  I chalk this up to people not wanting the story to be true, so they lash out against it in ways that don’t make much sense.  Because the article was focused on parenting and not pension, there were many comments about what happens when people reach retirement age.  In fact our pension program is far more robust than the default one in the mainstream.

Applying for Pregnancy !?!?! It is true this is very odd and i totally get why this flips people out.  And when you read why we do it, it will make a whole lot more sense to you.  This linked article also has the bonus section that it includes the only (to my knowledge) exhaustive list of Twin Oaks prohibitions.

Eeww you have Lice!:  Apparently, only the community suffers from lice.  Every couple of years we have a lice outbreak.  We fight some, internally, about the use of chemicals to push it back.  We clean a ton of laundry, some people dramatically shave their heads to avoid having to treat or retreat.  Frankly, they are more psychologically problematic than actually physically problematic, but try telling that to someone who is freaking out.

One way to solve the problem

One way to solve the problem

While i had a good time going thru the comments and correcting people misconceptions and laughing about the haters, i counseled everyone who was actually in the article not to read the comments.    They don’t yet show the thoughtful dialog we would hope to find on the digital pages of the internet.

What the article did not mention is that:

1) Twin Oaks has had a waiting list for more than 7 years now.  So if you are in a rush to find a new place, we are a poor choice.

2) It is far harder for families to become members than individuals.  In the last 10 years there has only been three families accepted (and perhaps a dozen who have tried to come).  The visitor period is longer, the waiting list is tougher and every member of the family must be accepted or none of them can come.

Shrink to fit

by Emilia Plater

Before discovering the communes I thought a lot about getting a tiny house, one of those adorable little things that you can pull on a trailer, like a modern gypsy wagon. I wanted the small environmental footprint, a way to minimize my impact. But I had all this stuff, a three bedroom house full, and I couldn’t fathom getting rid of it all. My books, 9 large bookcases full? No way. Spinning wheels and sewing machines? Bins of yarn? Historical gowns that I’ve been collecting since I was a teen? I couldn’t fathom life without these things. So I stayed in my big house.

When the idea of moving to a commune came up last summer, I knew I had to do it. It’s perfect for me in every way. The stuff problem was still there, I’m going to have to shave my life down to a single dormitory sized room – with no closets! But now it’s not optional, this has to happen, which puts a whole new perspective on the task.

Which way to go?


I started the process about 6 months out and have approached it with repeated combings through the place. The first time was hard. Maybe I can let go of the Victorian Savonarola chair I wanted all my life and finally splurged on a few years ago. But my mother’s hand-blown Israeli wine glasses? Impossible.

But by the second pass it was easier, and the third and fourth easier still. Why do I really need those glasses? So I can take them out once a year, say ‘aww’, and put them away again? So I won’t forget my mother? I don’t need wine glasses to keep me from forgetting her. I found a lovely young woman just setting up her home to whom to give them and the pleasure I had in giving them to her was far greater than any I ever got from owning them.

And so it goes, letting go one thing after another, and with each release I feel a little lighter, a little freer. The temptation to acquire new things has vanished entirely.

Through this process I find myself wondering about the human urge to acquire and hoard. The explanations we give – I need two couches and seven bookcases and three televisions because I have guests, they remind me of grandpa, whatever – seem to be quite false, though we believe them ourselves. Somehow we feel safer surrounded by objects, as if they make us more real, give us more legitimacy in the world, perhaps help to stay the hand of the Great Separator. But in fact what they do is use up the already scant resources left on this planet, take from those who truly have need, and give us who are wealthy enough to hoard a shield from seeing those who have nothing. We cling tightly to our precious things and do not ask at what cost they are accumulated.

Persephone_Hades_BM_Vase_E821 (1)

Letting go...

Letting go…

The more I let go, the more clearly I see these things, and see my own criminal complicity. I have a closet full of coats while passing freezing people on the streets, I heat my three bedroom house with fossil fuels, I drive my car and let its poisons fill the air. And I didn’t think there was any other way.

Finding the communes finally opened my eyes. I can live with great comfort with one room’s worth of personal possessions. And for the rest, I can share. Share cars, share a kitchen, share computers, share bicycles, almost everything. And by doing so I can live better than I do now, work less, play more, have access to more, have more community, more help, eat better, and feel far, far better about it than I do now. It’s a prospect of so much wealth that I almost feel guilty.


Emilia starts her visitor period today.

StrangeFolx: Infinite Pizza

Brittany ran to me as i was walking through the Ash Street gardens of the Baltimore Free Farm. She was clearly excited to see me.

“I am so glad there is an old person here now!” was the first thing she said to me

I cracked up laughing.  She explained that the party was full of 20 somethings and she thought my experience would be a grounding effect.  Most people don’t find me grounding, but i was still totally flattered.

Brittany dances with chicken at StrangeFolx 2015

Brittany dances with chicken at StrangeFolx 2015

Many folks say they are busy, but you make time for what is important to you.  I really wanted to go to StrangeFolx, the Baltimore Free Farms anniversary celebration.  I wanted to go because i had missed the protests that BFF had played an amazing supportive role in.  I wanted to go because i am regularly impressed with daring, tenacity and street smarts of these punks.  I wanted to go, because i wanted a big, political party that someone else had organized.

StrangeFolx Invitational Poster

StrangeFolx Invitational Poster

On the way to the event i stopped at a roadside stand and got a flat of strawberries.  I was handing them out to the perhaps 100 people who were already at this event by 1 PM.  I walked by Billy who was pumping out pizzas.

Over 100 oizzas came out of this oven that day

Over 100 pizzas came out of this oven that day

As i approached the oven, there was a metal stake sticking up in the middle of the steps which dozens of people would soon be walking.  “Fix that!” i barked at Billy pointing to the offending stake, in the way busy organizers sometimes dispense with pleasantries.  A nearby anarchist reminded me, “You could fix it.”  Billy soon put a purple cup over the stake and pronounced it fixed.  Safety isn’t first with this crowd, otherwise they would not be rioting with the police.

Billy suggested that i change my thinking about pizza.  Moving away from the idea that it would be a point in time in which one might have pizza, to more of a continuum or infinite span of pizza.  And he made quite good on his promise to deliver unending pizza.  Recently toughened up by the tremendous cooking effort done to support protesters of police violence in Baltimore, the Free Farm kids prepped for this 8 hour long anniversary party of a few hundred people.  GPaul asked for a vegan pizza, and in moments it was there.  The advantage of these real pizza ovens is they can cook a full pizza in just a couple of minutes.

A protester throws a tear gas canister back toward riot police after a 10 p.m. curfew went into effect in the wake of Monday's riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray,  in Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A protester throws a tear gas canister back toward riot police after a 10 p.m. curfew went into effect in the wake of Monday’s riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

When Billy finally took a break he greeted me warmly and gave me an illegal piece of riot swag.  I was touched and i looked at him curiously.  “We could not have done it without your cooks. It was amazing to have all this help and we desperately needed it.”  When Baltimore exploded, Billy called me.  He asked me to put out the call to Action: Baltimore needs cooks.  So i blogged about it, copied it to few facebook pages and crossed my fingers.   I got great reaction, with cooks responding to the blog post wanting to help.  Many had minor logistical problems (like little money and no car).  I cobbled together ride shares and other minor logistics, but folk were resourceful and wanted to get to Baltimore.  In the end about a dozen cooks ended up volunteering at BFF.  And i felt some pride around networking effectively.

But as though my ego were on some type of zen roller coaster, shortly after this i got schooled by Brittany on how unworkable my clever plans were to try to build coalitions with people of color (POC) activists.  She was clear and firm in telling me that the internship scheme i was proposing would not fly culturally.

Instead Brittany and Billy agreed that the best thing for white allies to do these days is be consistent in providing the type of food services for protesters that BFF and Food Not Bombs have been providing.  And be patient.


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