One thing that is especially satisfying for me is to bump into an organizer who has complimentary skill sets with another organizer. So it is with Irena at Acorn. She is good at staying on task, which is definitely one of my weaknesses. We work together on several things: the Communities Conference, the mechanics of the Seed business and most recently on the UVa dumpster dive.
Irena kept pushing me to work with the gal who runs the sustainability program for UVa, and thus got us pre-qualified for Chuck It for Charity, which is UVa’s answer to the growing dumpster diving “problem” that they face at the end of the academic year. But to understand this “problem” you need some back ground.
UVa is a large affluent school in Charlottesville, the nearest “big city” to Twin Oaks and Acorn. The academic calendar is designed so that the last day of exams is the day before all the students need to be out of their dorm rooms. So of course all of the students carefully manage their time so that they get their studying done for their exams early enough so they can pack all their stuff in time for the move-out deadline. And if you believe this, you apparently never went to college.
Instead the students study non-stop right up until their final exam, take the test and then try to pack up everything in their dorm room in less than 24 hours. This results in them simply throwing out a tremendous number of valuable things, from furniture to food to computers to (my big find a couple years back) an entire unopened case of beer. And with all of this wealth going straight into the dumpsters, it attracts a significant number of dumpster divers trying to salvage this stuff before it goes to the landfill.
For a few years (say 5 years back and earlier) things were pretty okay. Students threw stuff out, dumpster divers rescued huge quantities of stuff and it was still wasteful, but on some level it worked. For many years Twin Oaks would send several vans and a dozen or so members into town to scavenge and rescue for the entire day. We would then display them up at Emerald City in the warehouse (our “industrial park”) and dozens of members, many whom would not be comfortable jumping into a dumpster, would come and free shop the rescued treasure.
But then things shifted. My story, which i have no evidence for, is that someone in the legal department at UVa decided that some dumpster diver was going to get hurt and then sue the University, and the campus housing division and campus safety should be stopping dumpster divers from getting stuff in order to protect the university from this liability. As far as i know, no dumpster diver has ever sued a corporation, and certainly no judge has ever ruled in favor of a dumpster diver over the corporation which owned the dumpster. But reality and logic are not driving forces in liability issues.
As a result, a few years back Twin Oaks basically stopped doing the UVa dumpster dive. Their crews got stopped in the act too many times. I was banned for UVa for a year at one point as part of one of the last runs. But not to be scared off, Acorn (in large part because of Irena’s persistence and initiative) went this year as part of the Chuck it for Charity initiative.
It was fun and slightly surreal. We went and signed up, and were told that what they did not want was for people sorting through bags of clothes and cherry picking what they wanted and leaving the rest behind. Of course this is exactly what we wanted to do. So we had part of our group working behind the building sorting the clothes we wanted to keep (which was a surprisingly large fraction) and then re-bundling them. Then we returned the clothes we did not want to one of the approved Chuck it for Charity sites, with markings on the bags so we would not pick them again.
Turns out no one wants rugs, so we got a lot of them for the rave. And micro wave ovens and full length mirrors and cubbies and lots of clothes. It seemed to me like we were more interested in the stuff than any of the other charities, but perhaps they came after we left.
And some from our party were not going to be satisfied without getting into a real dumpster, so we went to one of the large dorm complexes. We were immediately told we could not be in the dumpsters by someone from student housing, but lingered around more discreetly (much of our group looks like college students, especially after they have donned the clothes the students were leaving behind) and got lots of food, including a number of cans of corn, which i was excited about.
In the end, it was a long, exhausting and quite rewarding day.
i have long been slightly on the fence about going barefoot. i definitely like the way it feels and i also appreciate the foot protection and speed afforded by shoes. Today i fell off the fence.
“You know that there are studies showing there is a preventative effect on Alzheimer’s and other aliments by going barefoot.” Feonix said.
And i saw my mind decisively shift. Even if there was only a small chance that there were significant health benefits from walking barefoot more often, i live in places where i can often easily be barefoot. And on this day i was working at a craft fair on the beautiful Lyndhurst estate outside New York City, and i kicke doff my shoes. i carried them with me some, where they made occasionally convient detached pockets, but mostly this afternoon i was bare foot on grass. More generally on the commune it is fairly acceptable and accessible to be mostly barefoot, Rowan has modeled this behavior for his full 17 years of life.
Am i sure this is better for me? No.
And i dont need to be completely sure to try something which might be good for me and see how it works. And it also works for me to step out of shoe conformity, to test whether we have hurt ourselves by donning shoes.
And there is a kind of primitive appeal to the entire idea. What if this presumed benign technology turns out to be the source of a number of problems ? Have we heard this theme before?
The organizers made a deal with the forces which control the weather. “If you don’t really need it to rain, it would be great if you could hold off until after the celebration”. With this deal struck, the rain remained at bay until after the circle was open.
One of the things which is significant to me personally is that my son chooses to come to these rituals. Last year he played the role of the element of fire during the callings. When i was a kid, there was nothing about the spiritual or religious experience of my parents that i would choose to do.
Part of what gives people confidence to try climbing the poll after the dance is complete is that even if you don’t make it, the crowd cheers for you. It is not about success, it is about being willing to take a chance and try.
On the surface this might appear quite mundane, just moving food from place to place. But this is more like a complexly coordinated dance, where some participants need to opt out of heavier packages and people who are on top of it are always moving.
But using this approach no single person is burdened for very long, there are lots of short treks and you can always extend your rest by stepping out of the queue or by taking on another job in the unload. And there is a beautiful self-correcting aspect to these lines where people move closer to each other or further apart depending on their enthusiasm and ability.
And as Confucius once said “Many hands make light work.” We were done in less that 20 minutes, moving food to feed a couple hundred. A handful of introductions and some sweet conversation later, we were back in the dining room finishing up other conversations.
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.”
Crystal asked me to shock his Social Movement students at Cal State Monterey Bay. This felt like a high bar, so i offered to entertain them and provoke their thinking.
i presented about all the folks who had said the world was going to end unless we dramatically change our behavior (Club or Rome, Carl Sagan and nuclear winter, Rio 1992 and sustainability, the Peak Oil kids and now climate change). i put them in small groups and asked them to discuss what things they could do a better job of sharing.
But it was (predictably) the second part of the class which got the most eyebrows raised. I talked about polyamory and the astronomy of the Star family (and bragged about various Willowisms). The group exercise was to talk about their relationship with jealousy and report back on if they liked it and how they might change it.
But the thing that Crystal was most excited about was the idea that polyamory was a minority relationships model and as such was discriminated against in most peoples thinking. i pointed out that if you get involved in a poly relationship and it does not work out, you are quite likely to say “Polyamory does not work” or perhaps “Poly does not work for me”.
But if you are on the other side of a failed monogamous relationship you are more likely to say “Joe is an asshole”. It is quite possible that your poly relationship failed because Joe is an asshole, or because Joe is not even poly. We rarely say “Monogamy does not work”
[80% of students reported being shocked.]
There are many different organizing styles. The one i am currently using in my experimenting with creating a new community is to dream up (often with others) interesting new ideas and see who gets excited about them.
The idea which has been getting a surprising amount of support, as in “tell me when this is happening and i will come up and work with you on it” support, is mass dumpster diving in the Death City area. What we currently have is DC based dumpster divers who leave lots of food behind, because there is a limit both on what they can consume and what they can handle processing in the same night.
Enter the banana brigade. Communards who are interested in helping can join trips up to DC and participate in food processing after late night dumpstering so as to both increase the yield of food captured by dumpstering and increase the amount that is taken from each dumpster, because there are more people eating the food.
It is easy to imagine a group of cooks and food processors who would help cull the bad bananas from the ones which can be used in banana bread. We will start with this monthly in March and see how it goes.
One of the most powerful advantages of the Acorn flexible work schedule is you can sleep when ever you like and for as long as you like, or in what ever strange configuration of ways you might like to.
There are a couple of technically inclined members who are sleeping as their bodies see fit and this results in approximately 30 hour cycles. This throws you off of the regular 24 hour clock that the meals are cooked on and meeting are head during. But more than many places you can do very few meetings here and get food when ever you like.
Even more interesting are the currently 2 Uberman sleepers, who sleep for 20 minutes every four hours. This means over the course of a day they only sleep a couple of hours. This is what one site says:
How & Why It Works
Over the course of a normal eight hour sleeping period, your body moves through a continuous cycle of five distinct sleep stages. Of these, stage 5 REM sleep has been found to be the part of the cycle that provides the benefits of sleep for your mind.
Essentially, the trick of the Uberman’s sleep schedule is to trick your mind into entering REM sleep as soon as you drift into a sleeplike state. Unfortunately, the only real way to do this is through sleep deprivation of sorts.
Under the listed benefits, beyond more waking time (after your body adjusts), you also supposedly feel healthier.
i will let you know what i see, they are about 5 days in now and it takes 10 days before your brain balances the types of sleep it needs (not just REM, but also stage 4 deep sleep). In the meantime, there are some slightly bizarre conversations at all manner of time of day.
Part of the cultural make up of Acorn is the smoke shack.
While i dont smoke cigarettes, but the social scene and the liberated zone feeling of the place make me a regular visitor. The conversation is occasionally precious and exciting to me. We have been talking a lot about new communities recently. In part because i bring up Chubby Squirrels all the time and because a number of people here want to help new communities get started.
“She had me at ‘no meetings’.” One member is leaving Acorn, because a smaller sexy community in Missouri is offering a culture which is free of meetings. Members make decision on the fly and informally. This is great for a group of 4 or 6, but at 28 (Acorns current membership) or heaven forbid 100 people (Twin Oaks is this size), this gets much harder.
Devon is a tattoo artists who was previously living in Baltimore. He was hanging in the smoke shack and explaining to me that central to his decision to leave Babylon and move to the commune was he wanted to move away from money. They will happily do trades for their skills (which include tattooing) or participate in a gift economy. And while i applaud people who are giving up meat or boycotting Walmart, the people who are moving away from money have a heroic stature in my mind.