As a funologist, part of my tool kit is games. And i like games. And recently i have been laughing quite a bit over a game called Cards Against Humanity, which i had never even heard of a week ago.
The game is elegantly simple. There are black question cards and white answer cards. You get ten answer cards and replace one for each question card read. For each question card that is selected by each player in turn you provide your best answer card. ”Best” is defined perhaps as the one which the reader (who selects the winner) will find most funny or thought provoking or gross. It is a relative of mad libs and the card game Apples to Apples, if you are familiar with those.
When we first started playing the game i searched (as i oft do) for a political slant. The game authors make it a bit easy because they go after Glen Beck in a couple of the answer cards. And there is no shortage of scatological, sophomoric and off color jokes. It is also often funny.
i wrote 50 answer cards tonight for the new internal version we are creating. [The Twin Oaks internal version is called Cards Against Community. Acorn does not have a name for our game yet.] The internal version uses the same format and refers to things which Acorner’s know about like Daniel’s moped gang and bacon that got cooked for 12 hours. My favorite card of my design (which is unusually long) refers to something that has not happened, but many people could imagine.
There is a story i often tell, about a dear friend and long time member, Kristen, who went a bit crazy here (Twin Oaks) some years back. It was not a scary kind of crazy, like my friend who punched me in the face while i was driving with him to get some food. This was a more of an Alice in Wonderland affair, where she wandered around the community, spoke German and French a lot (which she had studied years before) and was relieved of her commune work responsibilities while she was on this adventure (kid care, managerships, and other work areas).
Kristen had been institutionalized against her will when she was 23 years old in Kansas, and it was awful. Imagine a prison-like situation with forced medication and unsympathetic medical people. Even in her Alice mindset, she knew she was not going to go back to the hospital; nothing was as clear as this fact. So we carried her. Collectively: care teams were formed, child care was organized, her various work areas were covered by other communards.
Of course this is what Hillary Clinton means when she says “it takes a village”. [Permit me to quickly point out that Clinton does not have a village, she has instead a detachment of secret service officers, which is not the same thing at all.] You want to be able to take care of the people you love in the way they want to be. If Granny gets sick, you want her in her room, with the people who love her all around and her needs getting met.
But there is this terrible problem. Most people dont have a village, Granny has to go to the hospital or the nursing home, because i got stuff to do. There is school or work or what ever it was i filling my days with before Granny or my crazy friend needed any help. Most people just don’t have the flexibility of the village.
Kristen came down from her mania, and slowly took back up her responsibilities. And half a year after her landing, we collectively selected her as a planner and the president of the corporation – our highest executive position (planner that is).
The story comes to mind because a general contractor friend of mine went crazy a couple years back. He did not have a village, and he went to the hospital for a brief stay. But after he landed, the company which he worked for did not want him to come back. They feared that in his manic state, he might endanger the company and they thought they could manage the sales and marketing without him.
They were wrong, and now they are going out of business. I am convinced that my friend could have saved the company if he had been given control again; he had already managed it successfully for many years. [He disagrees and thinks the market is unusually difficult now and they might well have gone under if he had been at the helm].
But the point is, without the village and without the trust and support that the village creates, the fear of bad things happening if you reside too close to crazy people can engender exactly those bad things. Sometimes in tragic ways.
And if you are not lucky enough to live in community and are interested in a community of people exploring alterative ways to deal with mental health issues, check out The Icarus Project …
“a radical mental health support network, online community, and alternative media project by and for people struggling with extreme emotional distress that often gets labeled as mental illness. We envision a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework. We believe these experiences are dangerous gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world. Participation in The Icarus Project helps us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.”
“i appreciate the work you do around here, like fixing the floor in the smoke shack or the many times i see you up very late packing seeds. There is no doubt in my mind you are a good communard in this sense. ” i was doing my clearness with Bobbie who might be 35 and has been at Acorn a bit longer than i have. But this was not the important part.
“But when i think about you more deeply, i realize i have an enigmatic experience of you. i think i have a pretty good understanding of who most of the people who live here are and what motivates them. With you i am much less sure. i know that i like you and have enjoyed your company, but really what this clearness drives me to do is suggest we hang out more so that i can get to know you better.” She smiles and agrees and a few minutes later our clearness is over.
With Chubby Squirrels on my mind i am thinking a lot about what are the best practices we have in our communities, and the more time i spend at Acorn the more i fall in love with the clearness process. Put roughly it is a forced opportunity for intimacy. Not everyone takes it, of course. There are a fair few “Oh, we are clear” style quick clearnesses. But there is an opening at each one, an opportunity that i have tried to take seriously and every time i have felt better about my connection with someone.
Every forming community must ask itself “What are we going to require of our membership, what is our mandatory behavior?” Non-violence is often required, as well as some form of work commitment. Acorn also requires clearnesses; you must do at least two a year with everyone who lives there (your own clearness with each member plus each other members clearness with you). On the relatively short list of required behaviors this opportunity for intimacy has been selected.
And if you are going to force anything, this seems like the right thing.
A crew from Twin Oaks came over to help with the cleaning up of Acorns steel building which burned a couple weeks back. i ran around with a dust mask on mostly shoveling and moving wheelbarrows full of charred often indistinguishable items to the large rented dumpsters. We dutifully separated out copper and other valuable parts, which one day might be usable. But it was not until today that i really realized the magnitude of the loss.
A newly purchased vehicle was destroyed (despite Daniels heroic efforts to move it from the steel building inferno). A $2K table saw is now junk. Tens of thousands of dollars in seed inventory was destroyed (though curiously, some thousands of dollars of seeds which where were being stored in a deep freezer that was completely engulfed in flames may have survived – as did some ice cream).
And it leaves Acorn with the vexing problem of what to do with the hull of the torched Quonset hut. The structural engineer we employed to review it says that the building is probably structurally sound, but the galvanization which coated the steel has been burned off and if we want to use the building we should 1) paint it to prevent rusting and 2) store things in it which it is okay if the building collapses on it. Sadly we do not have enough stuff which can have buildings collapse on them and as an operating farm and agricultural business, we have significant storage needs.
We are faced with an odd problem: we are not poor–the businesses are pretty successful, so we are reluctant to ask for financial help from those who have offered it. And at the same time we can not afford to build a new building on this site (at leas this year), with the new seed building under construction and other business capital needs.
And while this is certainly a high class problem, it is a problem none-the-less.
Both of the intentional communities I live in have cottage industries. These are the economic engines which allow us to buy the many things we don’t make or grow ourselves. Most of Twin Oaks’ income comes from the hammocks business and the tofu business, over 90% of Acorn’s income comes from the seed business. I’ve been involved with tofu and hammocks for over a decade, but I’m just starting being involved with the retail part of the seeds business.
There are some highly desirable features to Twin Oaks’ Hammocks business, which i believe are part of the reason the community has been successful. The first aspect is that production is highly flexible. You can come in to the hammock shop at any time and weave or do other fabrication tasks.You can work for as long as you like, there is no “boss” telling you what to do although there are people who will train you and direct you, should you need it. You track your own hours on a trust-based system.
Despite there not being “bosses,” the hammock shop has a manager (my dear friend Shal) who is responsible for lots of things related to the work flow of the shop, especially ensuring that supplies are available when needed and that the multiple steps to make hammocks are balanced. If we need more harness makers, he encourages people towards that work (if they can do it), trains visitors to do it, and will bring in people to do it, if the group is falling behind. Twin Oaks uses behaviorist incentives during our busy season (which is the winter for production, because agricultural season is off, but we sell most hammocks in the spring and summer) — we set goals for production and we get rewards if we succeed and quota goes up if we fail. Hammocks management (which I was part of for some years) does not like quota increases being our “stick” to get people to work. We have tried several other approaches — treats, music and events in the shop, nice coffee — to get people to work in the shop and they have mostly been appreciated, but ineffective. Now we start with the behaviorist sticks pretty early and raise quota until we have filled the orders, then quota drops down.
The Twin Oaks Tofu operation is a much more classical assembly line structure. Frankly, I think we had to be a much more mature community to operate it. It has long been the case that a dedicated team of tofu managers (usually working quite hard in the tofu hut itself) maintain an esprit de corps for the large collection of workers in the hut. Unlike hammocks and seeds, the expectation is if you have a tofu shift scheduled, you will either go to it, or you will find someone to take your place. Because it is classical assembly line format, production requires at least one person at each of three stations and the pace of the workers influences the speed at which subsequent workers need to be moving. Specifically, a fast kettle worker (where the tofu management often works) drives the speed of the entire hut.
For years I marveled at the effective anarchist chaos of the Twin Oaks hammocks business. Lots of workers, almost completely unsupervised, coming at all different times, leaving little to no communication for subsequent workers, working short or long shifts as they liked…seemed to get all the hammocks made.
It was not until I got to Acorn that I realized that there was an even larger step-up in the self organized workplace. The seed business also has three production stations, which are not a classical assembly line, because each step is temporally independent. Packing the seeds in little packets, followed by picking the seeds for each order from the storage room where all the varieties are represented. Finally, the shipper takes the picked order, checks to make sure it is correctly filled and then creates a mailing package for it (occasionally a custom one for oddly shaped orders) and puts it in the post.
There are lots of other parts to the seed business work here at Acorn — processing back orders, dealing with customer calls, prioritizing orders when the customer has paid extra for this, contracting seeds with farmers, germination testing seeds, deciding which seeds to carry, attending trade shows and much more.
During the busy season what most of the people at Acorn are working on are these three order filling steps: packing, picking and shipping. Hundreds of person hours go into this work, and the amount of management, supervision, training and planning which goes into this process is the lowest I have seen for any of the many business operations i have ever been involved in. It is, as I have been slightly shockingly referring to it recently, an anarchist’s wet dream.
Because there is so little supervision/management instruction from above, combined with a very high feeling of affinity and connection to the business from the line workers, there is a high level of conscientious behavior on the workers to make sure that the right things get done, and that the right mix of work happens.
My personal experience is that I have come into the picking room, done a bunch of organizing, and taken over the management of that part of the operation without asking anyone. And we are definitely more on top of things than before I stepped into the picking room. There is better communication about out of stock items and back orders. But I hold no illusion that if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, we could not return to the old, less centrally-organized approach and things would function just fine.
And from an anarchist perspective what is most important here is that the line workers are empowered to take responsibility. They do not feel oppressed by supervisors or managers and they are happy and proud of their work. Something that exists far too rarely in my experience.
25 Arrested at Keystone XL Pipeline Protest in Massachusetts
In the latest protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, 25 people were arrested after handcuffing themselves together inside a TransCanada office in Westborough, Massachusetts. More than 100 students, mothers and clergy members staged a “funeral for our future,” saying TransCanada’s pipeline would spur devastating climate change, pollution and potential spills.
Protesters: [singing] “They are digging us a hole. They are digging us a hole, six feet underground, where the pipeline will go.”
The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands crude from Canada to Texas. A decision from President Obama on the project is expected soon, after a State Department review found it does not pose a serious threat to the environment. (this is from democracy now)
Craig and i lived together at Paradox in the late 1980s. This sprawling group house was in the Castro district of San Francisco. While we were not close, we were certainly friendly. We shared a razor, which would not be a big deal, except that Craig is HIV positive.
Before you start ranting about how crazy this behavior is, remember what San Francisco was like at this time. HIV was a death sentence then and the Castro was the center of the epidemic. Which means we knew more about AIDS then than most people do even today. We knew the virus died in 90 seconds at room temperature.
Craig’s first story tonight was in part about passing trucks on the curve. It is not so much about a reckless style of living as it is embracing the idea that if the odds are against you then you make sure there is a lot of life during your days. Long before he got HIV from a blood transfusion, Craig was supposed to die of hemophilia. Turns out he is good at not dying on schedule. His first story got me choked up. Craig is far more personally daring as a story teller than i am.
And he is much darker. It turned out to be quite a good balance with us alternating tales. My stuff tends to be upbeat, hopeful or funny. Craig’s stuff tends to be heavy, somber and deep. He told stories about trapped chimps on tiger ranches. I told radical fairytales of feisty princesses and juggling paupers. Craig told inspiring stories of his daughter’s struggle looking at two parents who were supposed to die. i balanced with a number of Willowisms.
i definitely felt my skills sharpen listening to Craig. His prose is rich and descriptive, his timing more polished than mine. The audience seemed engaged and pleased. We’ll do it again when i come back through, perhaps on a bigger stage than the co-housing common room.
You can find more of Craig’s stories on his blog.
I’ve been telling stories about Willow the last couple of days.
At age 2 Willow said, in response to me asking where some toys were “i assume they are under the tower”
At age 4 when asked what he thought about having two dads he replied “i guess i lucked out”
At age 6 when asked what he would say to the police if the car was stopped and he was not in the required car seat “i dont have ID, i will just lie.”
At age 8 after i told him he needed to clean his room he replied “With what authority do you tell me this?”
At age 10 on Dec 21, 2012 at the mythical end of the Mayan calendar when was asked his thoughts on the pending end of the world, he responded “I am disinclined to believe any religious text that is found written on a wall”