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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NYC has changed me.
Two years ago, if i had walked out of the Richmond train station and seen three “traveler kids”, i would have headed the other way. But having spent time doing support work for travelers in Tompkins Square Park has shifted my perception of this fringe group that i had not been connected to before.
I walked out of the train from Baltimore and saw these three, i had a bit of time to wait and decided that this could be fun. I got a cheap pizza and approached my new friends. They were welcoming. I sat with them where they had found an open wall socket to charge their phones with.
They introduced themselves to me as: Barefoot – who claimed she did not own a pair of shoes. One Eye – who had a fine line tattoo pattern on the check of side of his face where he had lost an eye to a fight or an accident. Tex – who said he was from Texas. After i had been there for half an hour and they decided that i was at least interesting and perhaps okay, Tex told me “You should call me ‘Too Dim‘. My friends call me Too Dim, not Tex.”
The conversation rambled. They offered me beer and cigarettes. They played an animated guitar and sang in a raspy voices. They were generous, friendly and welcoming. All the traveler kids i have run across have been.
They train hopped from Jacksonville FL to Washington DC and discovered what many of us had experienced there. Washington is tough for outsiders with no friends in the town. They tried to talk to people, but no one had time for them. They played guitar and sang, but no one was generous. They tried lots of different types of places and nothing improved things. So they left.
They were hoping Richmond is better. I don’t know, but something makes me think it will be.
At one point Barefoot complimented my shirt. I asked her if she would wear it. She said she certainly would, then i offered to give it to her, but she would not take it as a straight gift, she wanted to trade – which is how i got the stylish skull tank top i am donning in the picture below.
After an hour or so of hanging out, i decided i need to be moving on. They were lovely folks, dressed in tattered clothes. I am thankful my previous prejudices are subsiding and i can connect with a greater array of people.
When i left, with no request on their part, i left a few bucks behind. One Eye called out after me, “You have restored my faith in humanity”. And strangely, i felt the same way.
The way i see it is, when it comes to the written word, there are basically two kinds of people in the world. The most common kind of person is an editor. You give them a page with a bunch of words on it and they read the words, tweak the words, tighten the meaning and the page gets better.
I am the other kind. I am a blank page kind of a guy. I depend on editors, not just because of my horrific spelling and grammar, but because i am sloppy and often other people need to make sure i am not making errors of fact or telling stories too far removed from reality. And while i also do a fair amount of editing, the place i excel is when someone is starting with nothing and needs a document to get somewhere.
Thus i do a lot of ghost writing for other people, especially in the context of the community. Twin Oaks requires written communication from visitors, long term guests and people who have run afoul of our occasionally labyrinth policies. Many people i talk with don’t even know how to start these letters. This is where i come in.
Typically, i can get someone to explain their situation to me at a meal, ask a handful of questions and craft a draft response to the community which they are very relieved to have as a starting point. Perhaps 25% of the time they can use my letter with only trivial modifications (like the above mentioned problematic grammar and spelling). Universally, people are appreciative for the help.
Someone might be upset by this, feeling it is somehow cheating and people should write their own letters. Nonsense i say. The power of community is that we help each other by sharing our diverse skill sets. I can’t cook worth a damn and will go nuts if i have to garden. But i need these things to survive. And while survival is not on the line with my ghost writing, i see it as part of our great skill share.
I’ll take care of you, you take care of me.
I live in a world that is slightly inconceivable to most people. I do a lot of work, almost all of it stuff I am super pleased to do. And I don’t get paid for it. Instead the communities I live in (Twin Oaks and Acorn) cover most of the costs of my living: Food, shelter, clothes, education, entertainment, medical insurance, dental insurance, and most of my travel.
Instead of getting paid in money, besides the services listed above, I accrue labor credits. For each hour I work, I get one labor credit. My labor obligation is 42 hours a week. It makes little sense, however, to compare this work quota to most people’s straight jobs. On the rare cases when I commute (like to a college speaking gig or a craft show) I get “paid” for my time traveling. I get labor credits for voting and going to the doctor, and some small fraction of the time I spend taking care of my son Willow is labor creditable. All the time I spend with Willow on home schooling, including the prep is labor creditable. When I clean our collective dishes, I get labor credits. If I were to cook for more than 7 people (which I never do) it would be also be creditable.
Some of the stuff I do is hard. I do mediation between people who are furious with each other. I work to stop nuclear power plants. I am trying to start income sharing communities in NYC, where couples committed to each other for life find it easier to not share income. I help find consensus when there is sharp disagreement. With some regularity people thank me and appreciate the difficulty of this work. When I am feeling clever or exhausted by my efforts I say, “That is why I make the big labor credits”, a silly knock off on the phrase “That is why I make the big bucks.”
Silly, because all labor credits are exactly the same size. One hour is one credit. It does not matter how hard I work in an hour to the accounting system (though other members certainly appreciate and celebrate anyone’s hard work). The labor credit I get for an hour of preparing space for a party is the exact same size as the one I get for hour I spend getting a drunk and belligerent guest out of the party. The labor credit I get for folding mail in the sun while talking with charming visitors is the same size as the one I get for counseling and talking down a manic or suicidal member.
I don’t need to get a bigger labor credit for the harder work. Turns out when my basic needs are met, I am pretty well off. The communities are poor. The people who live there have legitimately calculated taxable income below the poverty line (or at least in the case of Twin Oaks–Acorn is higher but still below the national average income). What this radical sharing we deploy does is to permit us to live like kings (or at least like the upper middle class), while we live in technical poverty.
If you are thinking to yourself “Wait why doesn’t everyone do this? We could eliminate the awful effects of living in poverty without having to make any more money,” you would be on to something. Besides stopping climate change, we would be saving millions of lives from the sharp edge of poverty.
What stops us is we don’t trust each other enough to share what we have, almost all of which is sitting idle almost all the time.
Post Script: I should clarify this thing about traveling, since it has sparked a bunch of questions. Perhaps half of these trips are paid for by the communities i live in. These include craft fairs trips with Hawina, college speaking gigs, hammocks sales trips and almost monthly trips to DC/Baltimore and NYC for the Point A Project, With the possible exception of Ira from Acorn, no one at either Twin Oaks or Acorn travels even close to this much. And i travel more than this.
I visit my mother at least two or three times a year, often in Florida, and she pays for this travel completely. I also travel with the Star family (my family of choice) and i pay for this out of money i earn outside of the community. I am also fortunate to have romantic intimates who pay for me to come and see them in all manner of curious or exotic locations.
As regular readers of this blog know, we are trying to start urban based income sharing communities in cities in the Northeastern US, specifically NYC, Washington DC, Baltimore and Richmond VA. We have different strategies in all these towns and friendly competition between the organizers as to what the best approach is to get these new communities off the ground.
In NYC, where we knew fewer people who were interested in this lifestyle, we have been doing public events for the last year. We have one coming up the weekend after this one called Community Matchmaking. Please consider coming if you are excited about intentional community in the NYC area.
In Washington we have a group of people who are willing to seriously investigate this style of living. Cities make things more complex and for the last year this DC group has been working on its agreements, strengthening its social fabric and doing the first round of recruiting to people inside our networks. DC is now ready to step up its outreach efforts and is having its first public outreach effort on March 24th. If you are in the Washington DC area and have a strong interest in intentional communities, this is certainly the place to be. Dinner and introductions start at 6PM.
What you should know about this ambitious DC group:
- The plan is to launch this new community within a year.
- There are 6 to 8 people planning on being income sharing members and another dozen and a half who are considering it.
- Most of these folks are currently living in group houses in the DC area.
The event on Tuesday is reaching out to people with collective living experience. Later events will focus differently and reach out to different audiences. Do you find collective living enriching and strengthening? Want to talk about ways to make collective living a lifelong option for more people rather than the transitional living situation that it so often is? Want to talk about ways to accentuate the positive and ameliorate the negative of living with a bunch of people in close community? Come out on Tuesday and join the discussion!
Crow screwed up. They recently acted out in a way that had made people feel uncomfortable and some even unsafe. It could have been any of a number of kinds of things: An intoxicated incident, a minor consent violation, a petty crime, even an especially poor choice of guest. The specifics don’t matter. Crow knew that they had created a problem for themselves with Acorn and they were coming to me for advice. What could they do to make things better? How could they mend their frayed relationships with other members? At Acorn this answer is easy, you do what we regularly do, you have a clearness.
And it turns out that this is a very good thing. Many communities have self care mechanisms that feel punitive. As i have written, the Feedback system at Twin Oaks very often feels punishing, even though it often need not.
But because Acorn does regular individual clearnesses, adding another one to normal rotation almost always feels accessible. The clearness format is the same as a routine clearness (meetings with each individual member, checking in about their experiences of each other, and then a group clearness which summarizes all the individual clearnesses).
The lesson is clear here. When you are designing self corrective systems within a community, you need to consider how they feel to the users. It is not enough to insure the community is taken care of, these systems need to feel non coercive to the members who are going through them. The best way to have that effect is to have a familiar and non-threatening group communication facilitating tool. I think the clearness process is one of the better ones.
A week later i talked with Crow. They had done a bunch of clearnesses and felt much better about their connection to the community. They felt better understood.
The most common complaint about community clearnesses is that they take a lot of time. “Do i really have to talk to everyone else in the community one-on-one?” Only if you want there to be cohesion in your community. Only if you want to be able to fix significant mistakes people make and successfully rebound from it. You only need to do this if you want a healthy community.
For many people this is too much work and i think this is central to why so many communities fail.