i currently live in an interesting place. It is a place where people live together cooperatively, we share things and we basically trust each other. It is a kind of place which the media likes to claim is impossible. i promise it is not.
My first day
i woke up to the sun shining fairly high in the window
i have not gotten a clock for my room
i have mixed feelings about acquiring one
but i have nothing schedule for this morning
Tycho mailed me a color xerox picture
of my head D-locked to the bottom of a bus at a Berlin action
i stuck it up on my wall along with a poem
she wrote about the real Heisenburg principals
and i wonder a bit when i will be a full-time activist again
i threw my wallet into a sticky drawer in my dresser
we don’t use money here
my left pocket felt empty
going thru bags and boxes for other pictures to decorate my new room
(last night, i removed the puppy pictures on my wall -
the previous resident was 6)
i found a key ring with a few keys
i threw that in the sticky drawer
another antique – no locks here
i thought i would weave hammocks for my first work
since we do a lot of that here
the shop was empty
most people had taken the jigs outside to work in the sun
but i wanted to listen to an old Bruce Cockburn CD
from the large hammock shop library
so i slipped one of the many headphones
and did almost an hours work
shuffling my feet to “lovers in a dangerous time”
i e-mailed for the rest of my first official morning as a member
not creditable, of course
E. Europe & New England nuke stuff, fundraising, love letters, the usual
i grabbed one of the many “free bikes” and pedal to lunch
(basically the Am*dam white bike idea, only here it continues)
there is fresh lettuce and strawberries from our garden
(i had forgotten that strawberries actually do taste like something)
i choose the cuscus with broccoli and black beans
grab a glass of milk from our happy cows
i leave the bread and tofu (both of which we make) behind
Hawina and i sit in the sun at one of the half dozen picnic tables and eat
we are surrounded by perhaps two dozen dinners – ages 1 to 70
Sassafras, one of our youngest members,
crawls up onto the table and seems vaguely interested in my strawberries
she is so young, i think it is the color more than the taste which beckons
i play hackisack for a couple of minutes before i split
i have gotten much better since being here
still in the low tier compared to most folx who play here
but respectable enuf for me to feel okay
jumping into the games which spark up
perhaps every other sunny day
i walk down to the courtyard,
because my bike with a basket has disappeared
and while there are others, i have bunch of papers to carry
and there are none with baskets
Deborah is teaching me labor assigning
a complex, elegant and archaic art
which manages to take the requests of almost 100 people
the needs of all of the various business and households
and fuse them together in a nearly all volunteer system
we schedule community meetings and milk moves,
the popular garden shifts and dreaded dish washing
there are requisitions for hot tub dates and pagan sing alongs,
the team constructing the new warehouse,
pillow shop, rope production, sawmill, elderly care
sewage treatment plant monitoring, school bus drivers,
road cleans, health team mtgs, building maintenance, cooking,
recycling, visitor orientations and dozens of other activities
after 4 hours and a dozen notes we are finished
(tho Deborah worked it for a dozen before i showed up)
of the perhaps 300 assignments
only one “serf” shift is unfilled
(this is a kitchen or house cleaning)
almost all volunteer – i am amazed
then i spend an hour teaching Deborah
how to use a spreadsheet
it does not matter that the motivating reason she wants to learn
is so that she can sort songs and performers
for the small library of songbooks
which live in the compost café
our smokers lounge and live music hot spot
we are in the café when Kana shows up with pizza
our cheese, our tomato sauce, crust from scratch
and our former happy cows are ground up on top of it
my vegetarianism is waning here
Kana is a wild old man with a gray streaked father christmas beard
he spent some time in a monastery
i would not be surprised if they threw him out for laughing too much
now he is one of our regular cooks
makes beautiful walking sticks, which Deborah and i sold at a fair
and plays a mean guitar and sings with a gravelly voice
never thought i would appreciate country music
He has come down in one of the 3 or 4 golf carts we have
for people who have trouble walking the long distances around here
while he is delivering the pizza and chatting
Calypso (one of our few dogs)
eats most of his rice pudding which was in the golf cart
there is some chiding and laughing
At dinner small wooden signs mark the pizzas
“No dairy”, “No Onions”, “Meat” and more
i sit at the regular Thursday polyamory discussion
(what i used to call “open relationships”)
the group has been over a dozen people
but dinner did not get promoted this time
so just four of us chat
about the forming regional poly network
and whether it will work on the issues and support
or if it will be more for sparking new romances
Melissa brings up group intimate agreements
as she was part of at another community in NYC
just as the conversation gets interesting
we have to break up
i have a 7 PM movement support meeting
and i don’t want to be late
a video about the School of the Americas (SOA) is shown
(the newest residence has a nice video hall,
where there are movies and some taped tv shows
show three nights a week -
there remains no “live” tv anywhere on the community
one of the handful of prohibitions
which has lasted 30 years)
the short video is compelling
and several communards were arrested at SOA last year
there are plans to go again in November
and to continue lobby work for the upcoming house vote
we spend most of the meeting talking about
which projects we will support with our few thousand dollar budget
which is divided between supporting members activism
and giving money to existing groups
(tho the tax resistance protest we are involved with
gives about $10,000 mostly from Twin Oaks resistors to non-profit groups
but it is separate from movement support).
we cut several requests slightly
but fund most of what was requested,
likely creating a cash pinch later in the year
Marione will do prison trainings for women,
Stevik does tax resistance and gay support stuff,
Ione will meet a conservative rep and bark about SOA
Hawina is interested in the hunger group RESULTS
Nexus wants to go to a conference on communities and space travel
i will drag nuclear issues onto the agenda
we talk about restarting the letter lobby
i mention the success with stopping the FDA’s
proposed “organic food” standard
200,000 letters of protest – some from here
we finish with a quick evaluation
because i am a new member
i can get 2 hours credit for movement support
in the future this will be volunteer time
the movement support creditable hours
are generally dedicated to activities more direct than meetings
i walk thru the darkness back down to the courtyard
for my date with Alex
she is organizing one of the communities conferences
which is just about to start
we talk about using one of the expert outside facilitators
from the communities meeting
to run a Twin Oaks meeting we are having on business planning
she fires off an e-mail and packs up her work
we walk up to her room and decide to lay on her roof
looking at the stars we talk about idealism in the community
i want to take over her job as recruitment manager
and she has some concern about targeting young people
to bring our population back up
(we are down about 15 people from last year)
but most of our chat is more personal
we discuss the rumors
which have started
because we are skipping around together holding hands
but she is tired
so we crawl back into her window
and i realize i have forgotten my Tupelo “serf” shift
so i head back to my residence and clean the house till midnight
with the stereo blasting Ani
i try to decide if these crumpled crayon drawings
are trash or precious child masterpieces
[mostly my art patron side won this tussle]
(one of the reasons i choose live at Tupelo is because it has no “quiet hours”)
it has been a long day
but i am very satisfied
it ain’t paradise
but there are some similarities
Paxus at Twin Oaks Community
14 Bisons in Burma 1998
The middle history of Thanksgiving is curious. I am not talking about the poorly documented 1621 encounter between natives and colonists.
Thanksgiving as the holiday we know can be credited to the Christian feminist Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale has largely been vanished by the history books, but was an editor, activist, author, autodidact and lyricist. She helped discover and was an early promoter of several great writers including Oliver Wendall Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe. She wrote the lyrics to Mary had a Little Lamb. She edited a highly influenced magazine at the time for 40 years (an unusual occupation for a woman at the time). She also lobbied 5 presidents to create Thanksgiving, ultimately succeeding with Lincoln. Her intention was to create a Christian holiday that was recognized nationally, in this she failed despite Lincoln’s highly pious speech announcing the holiday.
In light of this and a couple of days late, i wanted to laundry list a few things that i am highly thankful for.
High functioning body – somehow with very little sleep and a poor feeding regiment i have energy to do all the engaging things i do.
Exotic and complicated family of choice – I don’t know anyone who has a successful poly family by design from before conception. Perhaps they are out there and i have not run across them. But having more than two parents plus a community is the way to raise a child. And i am thankful that this is what my life looks like.
Flexible and model life in community - My community work scene (like everyone who would like at Twin Oaks and Acorn) is extremely flexible. i can run away occasionally for adventures, i can work mostly on things which i am really inspired by, i can do several different types of work each day and generally do. And i can change my work scene if i tire of what i am doing. This is lovely.
Political freedom to dissent – I have friends who are activists in Russia and Egypt and honestly i dont think i could do it. I could not function with the constant low or medium level fear that i was going to get dragged away and possibly disappear. I have lots of critiques about the US, but it does permit me the broad political freedom i need to be a critic of the state.
Affluent class background and white privileged - at the risk of getting lectured by someone who feels like i don’t understand it well enough or am not doing enough to correct the oppression it represents, i am thankful that i don’t have to worry about being questioned and harassed by every other cop who passes me by or the dozens of other insults afforded non-whites in this often subtly racist culture. I don’t pause before i charge through a ritzy hotel lobby or ballroom, despite my preposterous appearance. I get that this privilege is unearned, i get that it comes with significant responsibility to push back on this oppression, including deep self reflection. And i am still thankful for my station.
Every gift is an obligation. I have a lot of work to do, give my good cards. Work i am happy and thankful to do.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
My father was an unusually honorable man. He tried to steer me this way. He explained to me once that he would not go out and eat lunch with his secretary unescorted. The reason was not that he was concerned any romantic or otherwise inappropriate activity might take place, but rather that someone else seeing them together might think this was happening. In the summer of 2000 i wanted to get closer to my father so i took an internship job for his architecture firm in Boston. i did some analysis of the company website, wrote a report and was overpaid for this work (the money actually went to Twin Oaks – which was easy to do because i was living with my parents with very few costs).
Over the summer i got involved with my dad’s part-time secretary, Jaz Tupelo. She came to visit me a few times at Twin Oaks. And one day while she was walking through the woods to a work shift on a crisp morning, she said to herself, ”I can go back to Boston rush-hour traffic or walking down this beautiful path could be my alternative commute. I think i will move here.”
She did not arrive with the name Jaz. It was selected at a naming party. And as these parties sometimes go, the person who is being named does not have the same first choice as the group. Both Jaz and i were vying for Emma, there was even a tug of war in the hammock shop between the last two names – Emma and Jaz. We lost.
Jaz came to Twin Oaks, but her first love was music. After a year of regular commune life she decided she wanted to work for the local NPR channel in Charlottesville as a DJ. Turned out that the group had chosen the right name despite our initial objections.
So here is the corrected version of the story from Jaz herself. i like my version also, so i am leaving both in.
The origin of the name Jaz is much more interesting, I think…and you can either rewrite your post to reflect this, or add my notes in as part of the post, or as a postscript. It is how I tell the story of my name.
My birth name is lovely and unique and always pronounced incorrectly, when it’s remembered at all. There was already someone at Twin Oaks with a name similar to mine, and we were already starting to get each other’s mail. Finally I said, “I just moved to a commune: what better time to come up with a new name?” My mother, who was not happy with my decision to move to a commune, was even less happy that I was allegedly ditching the lovely and unique name she chose for me. “What are you going to name yourself, Jasmine Peaceflower?” she snarked. I told a friend this story, and she added “Jasmine” to the list of suggested names. During the naming party, Leila suggested we change it to “Jaswomyn,” and then Tom suggested “Jaz. With one Z.”
“Jaz” actually got voted down. The two remaining contenders were “Emma” and “Satiya.” I had been leaning toward “Emma.” But when the moment of truth was upon me, it just didn’t feel like it fit me, really. So I exercised my ultimate veto power and chose “Jaz.” That’s the important thing to remember…that I did choose “Jaz.” Just as I chose my path to Twin Oaks, and I chose my path to the radio station – where the name turned out to be an incredible asset.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Here are three of my favorite moments in Piper’s passing and our funeral/memorial service:
-I got to see Piper’s body when she came back onto the farm and was already lying in her coffin. She was wearing her purple glittery party dress, which she last had on at the Halloween party, when we danced together. She looked very peaceful, her face had a slight smile, she seemed both very much like herself and very different at the same time. The body really does not look the same when the spirit/soul is no longer in it.
Then I noticed that Piper still had her hearing aids in. Back in the late spring when I first got involved in conversations with Piper and others about her maybe dying soon, I was told that her hearing aids had been very expensive and were meant to be re-fitted and used again by other members after her. So I knew I shouldn’t let them go into the grave with her. It felt a little scary to be touching her ears and trying to pull them out, she was so cold from having been kept on ice at the funeral home for 2 days. The hearing aids didn’t give or budge at all when I gave them a light tug, and I worried about how frozen or stiff Piper might be on the inside.
But I had known Piper for many years as a frugal and thrifty person, who was always saving coupons to get good deals, and I was convinced that she would want these hearing aids to not go to waste. So I spoke to her and said: ”Can you help me out here, Piper?”. After that, they both slid out easily and comfortably with just the slightest pull. With this feat accomplished, I slipped some pennies into her sleeve, so she’d be able to pay the ferryman. And ex-member HLH (who worked with Piper on Reading Windows for many years) put a Flashcard with Reading Words into her hand.
-I got to share my story about Piper’s plans for after her death when we were all gathered around the grave-site. Back in the late spring she and I were speaking about what happens after you die.
Piper said: “I’ve always thought that when there is no proof or evidence telling you what the truth is, you are free to believe whatever you like. Don’t you think so? So I choose to believe in reincarnation. Being born again sounds good to me, I have more things I want to do here but this body is too old and failing me. I’m ready to come back in a different body and do more things. I think that for my next life I would like to come back as a black child. I would like to be someone who takes on racism, and accomplishes a lot in breaking the stereotypes and false beliefs that so many people hold about race. I’d like to really make a difference there. So I plan to come back as a little black child.”
I look forward to that, Piper. Goddess knows we can use someone with your persistence and determination tackling that important issue. And I hope I get to be around again and have some of my work overlap with yours.
-After having come down the hill from the graveyard, I went to the memorial dance at ZK. It felt good to be celebrating Piper’s life by dancing in her honor. I had loved Donné’s story about how Piper helped her get her dancing shoes back. Donné, mother of one of our members, was newly guesting at Twin Oaks 6 years or so ago and feeling a little awkward sitting at the side during a dance, yet feeling hesitant to join in. When she saw Piper walking in she thought: “O, great, an older person, who will sit with me”. Yeah, right….
But my favorite part of the dance at ZK was the large pot of hot cocoa standing off to the side. One of the very last things Piper let herself enjoy on this earth and here it was, in huge abundance made available to us all. Thank you, party prep people, for this sweet and meaningful detail!
Early this morning Piper Martin passed away; she would have been 90 years old in December. Piper came to Twin Oaks over 30 years ago and has been a constant booster of community life and fierce advocate for children’s rights to read.
Piper believed literacy was a stepping stone to world peace. She saw it as the cornerstone of greater understanding and compassion. She very fundamentally viewed her literacy work as peace activism.
Piper was a behaviorist. Her Reading Window School used a technique which she developed that rewarded kids for trying. B. F. Skinner would have been proud of how well the kids responded to this technique. My own son Willow arrived at Reading Window School both unwilling and claiming to be unable to read. Six weeks later he was pleasure reading and a year later he was reading Harry Potter alone. She changed his life. She changed lots of young people’s lives.
Calling her gift “magic” would take away from both the mimic-ability of her work and the tenacity of her commitment. Piper was concerned about her legacy and the perpetuation of this technique she developed. When i wrote to Sherri Rossiter who had taken over the Reading Window School, she pointed out that Piper had achieved her lifelong dream, that the school and the methodology she had developed will live beyond her. Sherri thought about cancelling her literacy tutoring today, but decided that would not at all be how Piper would have wanted to be remembered.
Piper was a tricky indiviual. Her drive was not welcomed by everyone she came in contact with. She frequently requested things of people, especially people who had already done things for her. To have a successful relationship with Piper one needed to know how to say “no” to her and remain connected to one’s affection for her. She was personally always driven to do more and help more, for which she often sought other people’s assistance. I did fundraising work on and off for Piper for most of the last 15 years and i was constantly reminding her that i only wanted to do the things for her that she could not find someone else to do. Having good boundaries was central to my successful dancing with Piper.
Piper was colorful and lively. I hope to put up pictures of her taken last weekend at the Halloween party in which she was dressed in a racy outfit and was stepping in and out of a coffin, with lots of other folks. Piper and i often danced together at community functions, and i appreciated that she was so active even well into her 80s.
Piper died with a piece of chocolate in her hand, which to me was strangely fitting. She lived a long full life. She touched and helped many and for this and more she will be missed.
Piper’s funeral will be this Saturday at Twin Oaks. If you want to come and have not been to Twin Oaks before please contact me first.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
The Star Family loves The Last Airbender cartoon series.
It is part of the dual track entertainment which is designed to work both for kids and for adult (like the Incredibles and Monsters Inc), and in this case quite wonderfully succeeds. The hero is a 12 year old boy who has extraordinary elemental powers over air, and must learn the other elements.
This is one of those “you either get it, or it just looks nice” ones. Willow went with peer Twin Oaks kids Kaya and Evan and their mom Sapphyre to the UVa dorms for trick or treating. Some of the people who saw Willow were so impressed they gave him double candy for the costume.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
- “If Hillary is elected, I will move to Texas and succeed from the United States.”
- “You work with homeless people? Don’t you get tired of how entitled and draining they are on our economy?”
- “Any woman who works in a titty bar is looking for her daddy.”
- “What do you mean the entire pay scale of men goes down in a profession when a chick enters the male dominated workplace? Y’all have had equality for awhile now.”
- “You like girls too? Fuck yeah a threesome!”
- “Racism is bullshit, I see reverse racism all the time.”
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Hawina is out for the week so i am doing far more Willow homeschooling time than i normally do. What i normally do is a fantasy role playing game with Willow (11), Kaya (9), Evan (13) and Rowan (17). It is a cross between Dungeons and Dragons and Trivial Pursuits. Except the questions are Significa instead of Trivia. We do geography, math, history, as well as some limited biology and other topics – with occasional Mensa questions thrown in for good measure. The game is called Heroes and largely they design their own characters and i build the world around them with riddles and tricks and traps and puzzles and as much pedagogic value as i can squeeze into it and still have it be something they are excited to do.
In addition, this week, Willow and i have had other educational times together, just the two of us. We have read some, but mostly we have been watching these brilliant educational videos, The Skeptics Guide to American History. The guy who does it is a really good lecturer, despite being very “no frills” in his presentation and dressed in a suit and tie. We learned the American Revolution was neither American nor a Revolution in its inception. Stuff i did not know:
- In 1763, the colonists saw themselves not as Americans but as proud members of the British Empire.
Radicals in the First Continental Congress argued that Parliament had no rights in thecolonies, but moderates disagreed. And the moderates overwhelmingly controlled Congress.
- Even after the fighting began in Lexington and Concord the moderates sent an Olive Branch Petition to the King of England who rejected it, basically forcing the colonies into war.
It is not the Peoples History of the United States, but Willow and i have been enjoying our conversations and bringing history to life.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Kat’s final book is called “Is it Utopia yet?” The title has always struck me as especially clever, because it hits at several different points at the same time. The first and obvious one is a self mocking look at intentional communities. We are trying to make something better with an eye towards making something really fantastic and Utopian. And we know we will not “make it”, we have flawed members, too many disparate goals, and occasional disruptive outside influences and interventions. This on top of the face that we dont even agree on what utopia might be.
But there is a second level in which Kat’s title is biting. This is the question that many people ask the intentional communities they visit, because when the answer is “yes” or close enough, then they will consider joining. What Kat was hitting at with the title is the sentiment that “Once you all have done the hard work of building utopia, then i (who has probably done nothing to help) will consider leaving my circumstance and join you, so i can enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
It must have been a slow news day at the Huffington Post because they kicked out a retread of their 2011 slideshow on communities, which featured Twin Oaks as one of 7 “Modern Day Green Communes From Around the World” In yesterdays article we are we are the answer to the question “Want to Escape the Modern World? 9 “Utopias’ That Really Exist.”
So i have met folks from and been to over half of these places. The Farm in TN does it’s own Communities Conference, which i have attended. Arcosanti was one of my original community inspirations and i visited there in the 1980s. Erica and Matt from Finca Bellavista – the amazing Treehouse village in Costa Rica – spent weeks at Twin Oaks researching before they went down to start their community. i’ve talked to and toured guided folks from Yogaville and i have visited the EcoVillage at Ithaca. No one from any of these places calls their community utopian. This is just HuffPost hype.
Calling yourself utopian is foolish actually. It immediately puts the listener on the defensive and all but guarantees they will start focusing on what is wrong with your place. Even the idea of “Escaping the Modern World” is actually not what most of the people in most of these places are striving for. 7 of the 9 communities profiled can read this article on line (i dont know about Polestar).
The more appropriate title “Want to escape the worst aspects of industrial capitalism.” But perhaps this does not play to the Huffington Posts target audience as well.
It is certainly not utopia yet. Nor is that really our aim. But on a good day, and we have a fair few good days, you can see it from here.