There are a number of minor parts of the reporting that are wrong. They mess up the sequence of the visitor period and acceptance process. They also said we had a waiting list, which as of recently, is not actually true.
But overall, it portrays the community accurately and is mostly upbeat.
Whenever the mainstream media comes, it attempts to exotify us. The reporter said basically, “You can live in this comfortable paradise, but you have to give up most of your material possessions.” What is true is that you can bring whatever fits in your room and a bike. You can bring larger furniture items if you are willing to lend them to the community (you can take them when you go if you want) for use in the common spaces.
For many people, this represents a significant scaling down of what they have. No one says, “You have to give them up.” It is not a mandate from the community. If you move to a smaller place, you shed things.
The video makes a point of mentioning that Scott, who is running the saw mill, used to be a computer programmer. It implies that he gave up programming to do this lower paying work. However, Scott does not think about it this way.
Perhaps in an effort to make home viewers comfortable, the news people talk about how this would not work for them or how they can’t imagine seeing their colleagues at a place like Twin Oaks. The terms “hippies” and “communists” are thrown at us and quickly batted away. You can try to see it as stereotypical or comically diminished, but really what is happening here is more complex and i would argue more important.
The organizer’s prerogative is to travel light. You don’t need to bring everything if you can talk others into lending or giving it to you. They might do this in service of the revolution or because you are cute or pathetic.
I was coming back from a tour of Europe. The customs agent was looking at my small handbag.
“How long have you been traveling in Europe?” he asked.
“Three weeks,” i confessed
“Where are the rest of your bags?” says the skeptical border control agent.
“This is all i have,” i said, again confessing.
“I don’t believe you,” says the guard and there is this impossible moment which flashed between the two of us.
I put my hands across my chest and look curiously at the agent, asking, “What are we going to do about that?”
The agent waves me through.
I personally name many months of the year. Sometimes this is prophetic, when i think i can guess the future. More often it is simply a memorable event, like the birth of a friends child or the collapse of a foul dictator.
This month after much discussion and a fair amount of throwing stuff into a rented dumpster we knocked down the building we called “The Falling Down Shed” See the above video for the dramatic moments with Mike on the tractor.
Now the curious thing is that this month naming tradition did not start with me, it is actually a Slavic tradition, where they named the months after things which are actually happening in the physical world at that time, rather than unimportant gods. So for example August is Harvest and March is Pregnant Animals
Curiously in the warmer Slavic countries (like the Croatia) it is the month of October which is called “Falling Leaves” or Listopad. .In the cooler Czech Republic and the Ukraine, this is the month name for November. Because we knocked down the “Falling Down Shed” in November, i am calling this month “Fallen Down Shed”. It served us well.
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.
- Success as a networking event
- Intergenerationally integrated
- Cross Cultural Connections
- Significant Skill Shares
- Novel presentation formats
- Acid Test questions responses
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.
Intergenerationally 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.
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.
Significant 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.
Novel 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.
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.
We have been hearing about climate change (or what activist and experts working on the issue prefer to call “Climate Disruption” or “Climate Crisis”, because climate change sounds of safe and possibly even positive) for a long time. Despite Republican denials, it is really happening. Sometime it is sparking huge international political changes, without getting the credit for them it deserves.
And the urban centers already had water and unemployment problems. The Assad government largely ignored this situation, which lead to protests, arrests, torture of demonstrators and increasing calls for regime change. A recently released WikiLeaks document shows the US was considering fostering an ISIS-like group in Syria, years ago, in hopes that Assad would overreact. He has. The country is now torn by war and half the country (over 9 million people) have been displaced from their homes. Most will never return.
California is in the worst drought of decades, leading to wild fires destroying property and habitats. A recent fire destroyed Harbin Hot Springs, which was a spa that Hawina and i visited a number of times. Losing a spa is not the same as losing your country. But in both cases people found themselves homeless and surprised by that.
While the struggle in Syria is generally not attributed to climate disruption, the California fires are. This abstract idea of climate disruption is going to start influencing people who thought either it was not real or they could comfortably ignore it.
Climate disruption is already happening and you are going to get hit by it.
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
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.
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.
CNN did a curious piece partially about Twin Oaks recently. It was odd because it did a fairly good job of representing the commune in the text portion of the story, much better than ABC Nightline did, but it mixed in a video about the San Francisco Co-Living movement.
The article is called: Utopia: It’s Complicated – Inside Vintage and New Age Communities. We are clearly the vintage part.
Taking this apart a bit, let’s consider the clever title. Utopia is a slightly charged and especially foolish word to use when describing a real life living situation. We are not perfect, nor appropriate for everyone. We never claim to be, though academics and the media love to throw that label on us. What we do claim is that our living situation is far better than most and some (including myself) claim that on a good day, we can see utopia from here.
But this is a detail, really. What is more peculiar is lumping contemporary “co-living” spaces with income sharing communities like Twin Oaks. It is something like grouping tug boats with hover crafts.
In both circumstances there are people living together and sharing things and selecting each other (this is my definition for intentional community.) But if the affluent residents of co-living circumstances are disagreeing about maid service, it is about how often it is necessary. Maid service is inconceivable to most income sharing communes, not just because we don’t think we can afford it, but because we feel responsible for cleaning up our own messes.
As GPaul points out in “We are not selling a product,” the differences only start here. Co-living replicates the landlord/tenant dynamic, FEC communities largely own their own properties which are land trusts. Think corporate hover craft and co-op tug boat. Sharing income means you need to listen to those you live with about what their needs are and the survival of the community depends on trust building. Sharing an expensive group house means you stay until you have a serious fight with someone living there, are bored, or find a better offer and you are constantly on the look out for that offer.
None of the co-living situations I have seen or read about have children. Mostly what we see is twenty-somethings appearing to live the good life. Nothing wrong with that, but for me the good life is multi-generational.
So there is no utopia. And the differences between different approaches to the better life are significant. I am glad CNN got so much right about us. I am sad that they decided our neighbors in building a better world were mostly affluent people who are likely making gentrification worse.