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.
“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.
The new kids on the block are actually the old kids from the block, they are just back with a very politically potent offer which will hopefully be a new direction for the squatting movement – but i am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin at the beginning.
Freedonia is awesome. They have pioneered a new approach to squatting which makes it more resilient. They have tricked the police into giving them abandoned buildings. They host clever workshops, feed local and poor people for free and throw bad ass parties. All in an undisclosed location, in the shadow of serious urban decay, somewhere on the east coast of the US, far from anywhere Dick Cheney would think of hanging out.
An adventurous group of Freedonians (which is quite redundant phrase actually) set off on a bike tour to New Orleans. They called themselves the Vultures. There were puppet shows, there were narrow escapes from the police, there were complex polyamorous topographies – all the good things you would expect from our intrepid travelers. And there were lots of talks around open fires about how to step things up back in Freedonia.
Normal people would have looked at the impressive accomplishments of this full featured set of squats and said “well, we have done quite enough and we are already impressive and sustainable just the way we are”. But the Vultures would not know normal if it came at them with a knife (i’d bet on the Vultures in this fight though, normal don’t got a chance).
They decided they would kick it up a level and start income sharing. They returned from their bike tour, promptly broke into a house not far from their original places (which they had let others move into while they were on the bike tour and they did not want them to leave when they returned) and squatted it. And thus Vulture House was born.
They then offered to all of the other Freedonians to join them in this income sharing adventure. Readers of this blog will not be surprised that i think sharing and especially income sharing are instrumental in saving the world. We don’t know how many other local squatters will bite, but the Vultures are pretty compelling.
Stay tuned for more tales of intrepid revolutionaries from undisclosed locations.
The facilitator did not think it would fly. “How many people would help organize a sober New Year’s Eve Eve party?” But when more than half the room raised their hands in the Acorn Community meeting, the follow up question became obvious “How many people would attend such a party?” Almost the every hand went up in the room.
I’ve tried several times to organize large sober parties at the communes, there has not been interest or willingness to give up a major holiday for this experiment. But the case for New Year’s Eve Eve was pretty compelling. For starters, New Year’s Eve was not going to be sober, so it is physically draining to party hard this way two nights in a row. So a sober party first is an obvious fix.
But funologically sober parties bring a score of other advantages. One is talented people who don’t like to be around intoxicated folks so much jump at the chance to help make sober event happen. Purl performed a charming surreal puppet shows and enthused karaoke facilitation as part of the night’s complex mix of activities.
One of the things which i did not pull off at this event, because i was too busy driving shuttles to Twin Oaks, was a real new year’s resolution game. Using some as-yet undefined combination of appreciative inquiry and transparency tools, i wanted to craft robust resolutions that people would be excited about attempting, and compassionate with themselves around lapsing from. Just like Validation Day fixed Valentines Day, just like the communes institutional sharing fixes brittle agreements, i wanted to try to fix the generally reckless process of making a new year’s resolution. And at the center of this unfulfilled plan was sober, heady talk.
One of the things the commune does, which i deeply appreciate, is to throw multi-generational events. At this party it meant having littler kids in the early stages and the teens show up when the Magic card game started around midnight. Willow was the youngest, i was the oldest. And what was clear was that it did not really matter what your age was; what mattered was how you played, and age held little advantage in this deeply competitive game (i was one of the first eliminated).
One of the things i realized only after the event was that while the communes tend to run in the hippie direction in terms of membership, many of our friends who came to this party are punks. The punks are, because of their culture and because of the differences, inherently more edgy. Pulling intoxicants out of the mix made it more comfortable to have edgy, different people in our midst, especially for those who had never met them before.
People seemed to enjoy this well attended event, with a bit of luck, it will become and annual tradition.
One of the best parts about the Point A project is the lovely people who are in fairly close orbit to it. The DC Point A group includes Connor who i barely knew before the project but i have grown a deep affection for. This last evenings meeting was at his group house in Death City which he shares with his sister and several other charming housemates.
There was a lovely, chaotically structured pot luck dinner type thing which happened just before the Point A meeting. Part of which was the creation of homemade donuts. They were in a word, epic donuts.
The Akashic Record is a quasi mythical place in which all history of all things is being recorded in real time, using a complex combination of high speed digital technology, ancient hand scribing arts and indecipherable magic. This is not some giant flat bureaucracy. The Akashic record has a number of different divisions to help users figure out which the most important events are and how it is they are best represented.
One of the special forces groups of the Akashic Record is the Sonnets Division. For powerful historical events, when they need something really compelling and rich to capture the importance of an event, they call in the Sonnets Division.
Tonight, for these donuts, the Sonnets Division is working overtime.