Broken Guest hurts Fallen Hero

i took a chance and got burned.  Or more precisely, i took a chance and we collectively got burned.

i share the recruiting and outreach managership with Valerie and our styles could hardly be more different.  Valerie gets hundreds of emails, responds to them carefully, tracks what she has written, creates stock answers for good questions so she can save time with future similar inquiries, enters information about people who are interested in the community in our database so we can remember years from now who these people are and what types of interactions we have had with them before.  She is organized, efficient and thorough.

i use a more “house on fire” style of correspondence.  Depending on the moment the inquiry comes in, i will dash off a reply and then completely forget about the correspondent or write something thoughtful and more complete if i am in the mood.  i rarely look back to see if we already know the person and even more rarely carefully save my answers for re-use in a future similar inquiry.

So it was with Jason, who was interested in the community and we started corresponding thru several different virtual media (guaranteeing fragmented records of our communication).  Jason was clearly smart, not just because he was a mechanical engineer, but because of the good questions and occasionally frustrating overly-intellectual responses i got from him.  He is a marxist transhumanist, most people are not thinking this hard about stuff.

Jason was interested in organizing a bike trip from Florida to Twin Oaks.  Student groups visit occasionally and we discussed costs and the best times to come (when there are no regular visitors here so there is housing space in Aurora) and planned his trip.  As is often the case the orginal group of 5 students shrunk and Jason started his ambitious bike trip with just himself and another friend.  Jason had an accident and his traveling companion decided to leave him.  This should have been my first clue that something was wrong.  But we had set up this visit and he was coming a long ways to make the trip, so i did not think much about it.

Jason hoped on a bus and completed the trip and because i did not know him well, i did an unusually good job (i thought) of trying to orient him.  This is a super complicated place.  You can smoke here, talk on cell phones there, be topless in these other places (where men and women are equally liberated or restrained).  Here you can sit at the table without asking, there you should ask before you sit, in thee other places please dont talk about work.  These buildings you can hang out in almost anytime, these buildings best to not visit until someone invites you in.  And much, much more.

Jason self portrait

i gave him the guesting fingerbook to study, i ran him thru the Friday night visitor orientation, which includes a discussion of how to get rejected as a prospective member (hit someone, dont work quota, be arrogant) .  He seemed like he was in student mode, taking it all in, asking good questions.

And at first it seemed to be working fine.  He was excited about how clever the average communard was, he appreciated the combination of a relaxed attitudes with the hard working manner of most members.

But then he started writing.  He is a prolific and somewhat talented writer, but not very diplomatic.  He wrote that he was happy to be in rooms with people who were as smart as he was, he thought this was a compliment and members here found it arrogant.  He wrote that he women we so attractive he was drooling, this compliment felt creepy to many.  Keenan posted some of Jason’s writing on the O&I and things began to unravel from there.

Jason member (not to be confused with Jason guest) told me that my guest had shown up in his room looking to socialize.  The thresholds of peoples rooms are not something you pass over without permission.  I told Jason guest, and he got it.  Several members asked me about Jason’s writings and expressed concerns about them, i suggested he be more careful, but it did not really work.  He was also argumentative.  He liked playing devils advocate.  This drove people a bit crazy.  When i told him that he was upsetting members, he wanted to talk with them to work it out.  He could not understand why people who lived her did not want to do a bunch of processing with my random guest.  If this is supposed to be some egalitarian paradise, then surely we should be working these things out.  No?

Before things had gotten too bad, i had arranged for Jason to go to Acorn to see what was happening there.  i thought Acorns more relaxed style and fewer rules would serve him better.  But the upset here was so great that by the time he was supposed to go there i pulled the plug on the visit, fearing a repeat at Acorn would damage their willingness to host guests of mine who really should be given a chance to see the place.

Instead i sent Jason to Shana’s for the day until his bus left for Tampa.  Shana is hugely compassionate.  i described the trouble Jason had created for himself (with my assistance) here and she took him in and he worked some for her and they got along famously.  i was unsurprised, though still relieved.

In our last conversations before he left it was important to me that Jason see what was happening here not as “Twin Oaks being over sensitive” (which we have every capacity to be) or him having “a girl problem” but that he was largely the author of his failed visit.  He waffled between being defensive and taking responsibilities for what happened.

After he left he wrote a long critical FB post about his experience, in which he seemed to take no responsibility for the problems he had and was petty and ungracious for our hosting of him.  i defriend him and blocked him.

And the story would end here were it not for my real friend Ron.  Ron worked hard for the clean energy/anti-nuclear movement for over a decade.  He worked at one of the groups which i helped manage and did lots of things for me, both personal and political.  He is generous in spirit and dedicated to a better world.  He is a talented musician and a reasonable organizer.  He is also a bit broken.

He was trying to make it to a festival where he would be tabling to prevent Mountain Top Removal.  He had a ride with a woman who had serious PTSD and they got lost trying to come to Twin Oaks to spend the night.  She got upset with him, demanded they stay in Cville (the last place they got lost trying to get here) and she left him there taking his clothes, guitar and money (though he will likely get all these back eventually, it was not a theft really).  Sapphyre agreed to pick him up for me at DMV, but he was not there when she tried.  At nearly midnight he calls me having walked most of the 30 miles to Twin Oaks.

Ron quit his badly paying movement job because of the stress.  His marriage fell apart. He ended up homeless.  He has health and mental health struggles.  And when he finally arrived here, it was clear to me that what he really needed was a rest.  What was also clear was that the community was not going to be in the mood for another scruffy guest of mine who does not have a good sense of boundaries and babbles to himself and others who will listen.  I let him stay for two nights. feed him, got him some reasonable shoes, a pack of cigarettes and a bus ticket to Death City.  He connected a bit with a couple of people in his short time.

Ron is a fallen hero in my book.  He has given tremendously to help make things better for others, but the world has not given back much.  Sadly, this week because of my poor choices with Jason, my home has little to offer as well.

[After i wrote this post i took Ron to the bus station and realized that the post has a bit of the wrong feel.  i dont think Twin Oaks needs to rescue Ron.  He is doing fairly well.  Yes, he is homeless, but he is doing homeless activism in Asheville NC which is feeding him, he is performing regularly.  And while his playing is often benefit work, this is how he wants to show up in the world.  He lived on the street for the first time when he was 16 and he is proud to be able to not just survive, but actually thrive there.  He was very happy and grateful for what my community offered him while he was here.  i only wish i could have given more now.  But he does not need our charity, but he does appreciate our hospitality.]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

26 responses to “Broken Guest hurts Fallen Hero”

  1. Rob says :

    Paxus,
    You are a tremendously kind soul. You are not responsible for the choices others make. As in all cases when you are the advocate for others, you bare part of the burden for their bad choices. Continue to be such a bright caring soul and hopefully things will turn out better on the flip side. A lot of us have grown by our exposure and experiences with you, and haven’t turned out to be a bad choice. 🙂
    Rob

    • felarhin says :

      Rob: Nothing really bad happened there. I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t damage anything. Conversely, I worked my ass off when I want there: Cooking, cleaning, making hammocks, farming, you name it. The only thing that went wrong to my knowledge is that I said some things that people didn’t like. If anything is causing others to be inconvenienced, it is the melodramatic reaction to recent events, not my actions.

  2. quinn says :

    This post reminded me of home.

  3. Kasper Souren says :

    Erga always wants to see pictures before anyone can stay here. With the picture you post here Jason would barely be allowed over for a dinner party (and it’s not because of the tattoos). I think the picture is a really good reflection of the person you describe in your story. Slightly superficial but it actually does make a difference, next time you might want a critical opinion (and I think girls can be much more critical of iErga always wants to see pictures before anyone can stay here. With the picture you post here Jason would barely be allowed over for a dinner party (and it\’s not because of the tattoos). I think the picture is a really good reflection of the person you describe in your story. Slightly superficial but it actually does make a difference, next time you might want a critical opinion (and I think girls can be much more critical of imagery like this).

    Apart from that your story made me wanna visit your community even more 🙂

    • felarhin says :

      Kasper: Generally I prefer to stay with my own kind. That is to say as you would describe – “slightly superficial with tattoos”. I came out to for a different experience, though I don’t see how my picture (or tattoos) are relevant at all. There are plenty of other people (Paxus included) with tattoos.

  4. Jason Sharma says :

    I felt that everyone breathing down my neck about everything I wrote and said was too much. It felt like no matter what I said, there would be someone who wouldn’t like it, and then felt the need to go and complain about it to you rather than try to work things out with me directly. There seemed to just be a lack of an ability to have an honest and open dialog there because I think that everyone is so afraid of getting someone else upset (and getting possibly kicked out) that most people seem to just choose instead to stay silent or only engage in small talk. I suspect it is something you find just as annoying as I do. There were plenty of people who have said worse things to me, but I always chose to just let it go instead of trying to make a major issue over a light verbal confrontation (as I feel people should).

    You should think of my critical post as being a reaction to people always having such issues to anything I wrote, regardless of how diplomatic I attempted to be. I get frustrated when I can not speak or write openly, so finally being able to throw all the beans on the table was a mental release for me. I don’t think of difficulties of my visit as being anyone’s fault, but rather I suspect that there is simply a large and difficult cultural divide between urban Florida and the rural environment of Twin Oaks that we did not fully appreciate. It is customary here for vibrant and open discussion and debate to be encouraged, rather than frowned upon. I wish I could have everyone at Twin Oaks watch South Park and read 4chan just to desensitize themselves to debate and criticism.

    Having to censor my speech and writing to the sensitivities of others is very uncomfortable for me – So in essence I don’t believe that the failure of my visit was anyone’s fault, though I do I find your characterization of “getting burned” to be rather melodramatic. I would think that getting mildly annoyed should be a more accurate assessment.

    Still, I am glad that I had the opportunity to come and visit, and despite our difficulties, I feel you should know that I don’t bear you, or anyone else at Twin Oaks any ill will. I hope that in time we are able to look past any problems and misunderstands and repair our friendship.

  5. felarhin says :

    Also, if you had read my last thread (and the comments) more carefully, you would have seen that my assessment of the community was mixed rather than meant to be offensive in nature. There were some aspects of Twin Oaks which I loved, and others that I did not like at all. I could have broken it into pros and cons to clarify, though I doubt it would change anyone’s opinion of my perspective. I prefer honesty to politeness, and it was only till after I left did I feel that I could be committed to the later.

  6. Alex P says :

    Kasper,
    Determining an individual’s acceptance to visit community seems like a bad idea. It is an opportunity to let our biases run wild (which are certainly hard enough to keep in check when we have to vote on membership after three weeks). In the picture of Jason, I see a Myspace-style shot in which he is trying to look cool. Do you know how many pictures people take of themselves like this? It’s a lot. I look back at pictures on my Facebook and think “how lame”…. it would be a shame if that kept me from visiting!

    Jason,
    I want to help you understand why it is hard for members at Twin Oaks to deal with argumentative conversation from guests and visitors. The first thing to remember is that Twin Oaks is OUR HOME. It really sucks when someone comes into your house and tells you what you’re doing wrong. Now, it is important to be open to criticism and be working to build better community, but guests rarely have the perspective to contribute powerfully to those discussions. I think it is an important skill in general to be in a situation that one does not fully understand and be able to put your first impressions on hold. I will try to make an analogy with baseball, which is actually a sport I’m not that familiar with (so readers, bear with me in any mistakes I make).

    Imagine you’ve just been taught the rules of baseball and you’re watching an MLB game. You see a big hitter approach the plate, and the pitcher intentionally walks him, giving him a free base. You look at this person’s hit percentage, his RBI rate, and whatever else you might need to determine that, on average, pitching to him to normally will score the opponents fewer points than walking him will. You are baffled. But your friends, seasoned baseball fans, not to mention the pitcher/pitching coach/catcher/whoever makes these decisions (I don’t actually know), all agree that this is a reasonable play. There are so many other considerations in play — the momentum of the game, the relationship between the pitcher’s style of pitching and the batter’s style of hitting, the upcoming hitters, etc.

    Now imagine that you have just been taught the rules of the game and, for some reason, are getting to visit with / hang out with the team for a week. You see this play that, based on what you know, seems incorrect. Do you start arguing with the pitcher? Do you explain to the world how stupid your coach is? Even if the coach is really excited to share a deep understanding of baseball with the world, it will be really hard for him to explain exactly what’s going on here, especially during his day-to-day-life, and most certainly if it feels to him that you are not actually interested in learning the strategy of baseball, but rather want to have an argument.

    I hope the analogy stands on its own without further elucidation. And remember that the stakes are higher when you’re not talking about a game, but a person’s, a community’s, way of life.

    People have debate and discussion often at Twin Oaks, and it is often very heated. But we, most of the time, recognize when the right time to have discussion is, and do our best to put our ignorance in check.

    You seem to be bothered that people talked with your host rather than you directly regarding your behavior. Again, remember that this is our home, and you made it very clear that you’re interested in debate. What if I’m not up for a debate? Say I’m living in an apartment and I have a long day at work, followed by hours of childcare, followed by personal drama going on in my life… and I find that my roommate has invited over someone who makes me very uncomfortable. Am I going to have to debate with this guest about the way co’s been acting? No. I’m going to tell my roommate ‘hey, this person is problematic in ways a, b, and c. Could you please ask co to leave?’

    By the way, South Park is pretty popular here, and there are some people that regularly browse 4chan.

    • Rayne says :

      This was really well written, Alex. Thanks!

    • felarhin says :

      It isn’t like I would ever just walk up to people I didn’t know, and randomly decide to enlighten everyone about everything I didn’t like. I just tried to participate in casual work and mealtime discussion and internet talk (which is mostly intended for my friends and family back home to read, rather than Twin Oaks). If I said I liked something, someone would have a problem with it. If I said I didn’t like something,,, someone had a problem with it. From my perspective it felt like virtually anything that I said would cause me some sort of trouble, and that is the main issue that I had that there that was starting to make me very uncomfortable. I was just trying to relax and make some friends, but there were people there who I thought were trying to make that very difficult for me by acting this way. From my perspective, it felt like there were people who were just looking ways to try and make my life difficult.

      If people don’t want to talk, they could simply have just not talked to me rather than decide to make a major issue out of it. It seems to me that some people have a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill.

      • Dan Kappus says :

        Jason, as someone whom the Twin Oaks Magical Sorting Hat put into Reject House, my unasked for advice is to let TO be, and realize there is no justice or logic to it. If they don’t like you, they don’t. It’s breaks.

  7. Angie Tupelo says :

    Ditto basically everything Alex said.

  8. Rayne says :

    I didn’t have any negative interactions with Jason, but, from what I heard about other people’s interactions with him, I understand why it wasn’t working out for him to be at Twin Oaks. I have a small sadness, however, that we, as a community, seem defense about criticism from outsiders. I get that Jason made mistakes, AND I also think that we could do more to hold with care view points that are different from ours (even in our own home).

    I felt disappointed in myself two weeks ago on a garden shift when there was a male guest (not Jason) who said, “I don’t like to use words like ‘patriarchy'” and then went on to make the argument that he thought we should concern ourselves with local and not global issues because they are more concrete. I felt like I didn’t have the energy that morning to listen to a view that was so radically different from mine, so I told him that, if he was going to continue talking about his politics around patriarchy, I needed to know so I could work somewhere else and not have to hear the conversation–effectively telling him to “shut the fuck up.” And it was really easy for me to do this because we were working with two other women who were also quietly offended to hear a man (an TO outsider) tell them that ‘patriarchy’ is not a helpful word. But I felt gross about myself because I was acting just as assured of my own rightness as the other person (perhaps more so), and coming from a point of privilege as a member and cultural insider.

    I think my point is that we, as a community, could have more compassion and empathy toward guests and not expect them to speak in line with our ideologies or not speak at all. I hold this as a goal for myself, and, as on my garden shift a few weeks ago, I often feel too tired to deal. As Alex said, many of us have interpersonal drama going on. But what I have learned from Jason’s guesting period is that I need to work on being more diplomatic and respectful toward guests and visitors, even when I feel like the community would back up my beliefs and not theirs.

    • felarhin says :

      Rayne: I thought you were very quiet. I would have liked to talk to you more, but I guess there was not much opportunity. I’m not sure that would have appreciated it anyway. Culturally there are massive differences between the USF area and Twin Oaks. I am a very inquisitive person, and I prefer direct confrontation over indirect gossip. I often throw new ideas around that are not always fully researched or thought out, just to have the input of others. I view it as pleasant conversation. It isn’t enough for me generally speaking to just know how people live – I have to know why as well. Debate is the primary mechanism I use to understand and bond with people, and the idea that people would be offended by that is completely foreign to me. It is an aspect of Twin Oaks I found it to be very uncomfortable. I tried to apologize every time I had misspoke or upset someone, but my efforts seemed to do little to placate anyone, especially considering that in regards to the sensitivities of others at Twin Oaks, it would not be an inaccurate analogy to describe me as a bull in a china shop.

      Also, strangely enough, I got in trouble for nearly the exact same thing as the scenario which you described. There is a dominate ideology of old fashioned radical feminism that is prevalent within the community, and for me to share with others that I felt that the idea that there was a patriarchy that preventing women from being treated fairly and realizing their potential was not very relevant in modern society among my peer group in which women make more money and receive a higher proportion of college degrees relative to men was not well received. The reaction to my ideas in regards to the concept of male disposability were downright hostile.

      • Rayne says :

        Jason:

        A few things:

        I don’t think that people here are generally closed to questions about why they do things, and I wonder if the problem wasn’t with the way you phrased things (I’m just guessing, since I didn’t personally witness any of the negative interactions you had). For instance, there is a big difference between saying, “I’m curious why the women here don’t shave. Can you tell me more?” and “I think it’s weird that the women here don’t shave. What’s up with that?” I think people at Twin Oaks are also especially put off when they think that a guest is speaking from a mainstream ideology that they were hoping to avoid by moving here. Does that make sense? Like if someone moved here to avoid being around people who hold conventional notions of beauty, they might get triggered if a guest says something about preferring women who wear make-up. It is definitely true for me that I am sometimes in the mood for political conversation and I am sometimes *really* not, and I often save my political conversations for my good friends. I think at Twin Oaks it is a faux pas to engage someone non-concentually in a conversation about politics or religion (for both members and guests).

        Also, I don’t think it’s the case that Twin Oaks shares a monolithic view of feminism. The fact that we have a women’s only SLG, for instance, is a point of contention within the community. Some people are attached to it, and some people think it represents a form of retrograde feminism. You are not the first male guest to criticize Twin Oaks for being “anti-male.” At university, I have read the same statistic as you–that college enrollment is 60% female and 40% male, but you are leaving some statistics out. Women still make $0.76 for every dollar that a male makes in the same position. Contemporary theorists believe that the reason more women go to college than men is because it is easier for men to find jobs with living wages without a college education (like construction work). So women are making comparable wages to men only because they are getting more skilled jobs by getting higher education. Also, it is my understanding that Twin Oaks’ most prevalent strains of feminism come from contemporary scholarship / theory in the humanities. I believe your degree is in the hard sciences? When I graduated from my master’s program in literature two years ago, texts were discussed primarily in regards to race, class, and gender issues. The fact that patriarchy exists was a given. I don’t think this has changed within the last two years. Many of the twenty-something women here are fresh out of university (Brittany and Joanna also got their master’s degrees right before moving here). We’re all conversant with contemporary feminisms, and the feminisms in the humanities are so-called “radical” feminisms. People in the humanities don’t think that anything less could still be called feminism. I am not saying that you have to agree with this perspective, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that it is right for people to treat you with hostility just because your point of view is different from theirs. But I don’t think that Twin Oaks is a graveyard where out-moded feminisms come to die.

      • felarhin says :

        Rayne: I feel that there are other extraneous variables that are not taken into consideration, such as the tendency for some women to focus less on their careers and more on their families and children as they age that may skew statistical data to support a philosophical view that may not be entirely accurate.

        For example, if only young, single, childless women are taken into statistical consideration in order to account for these variables, there are many studies that support the idea that women today are making significantly more than men in our age bracket: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2015274,00.html

        Which is one of the reasons that I feel that the view that there is a patriarchy that systematically discriminates against women is not entirely accurate. Also, I mean sure, men make up the majority of construction workers, but they also make up the majority of war zone combat fatalities, the prison population, and the homeless population. Women aren’t represented as much not by discrimination, but because these are areas of life which women generally want to avoid rather than aspire to. I believe that this is just more supporting evidence to societies attitude of disposability towards men.

        I don’t recall ever having given unsolicited political guidance at Twin Oaks however. I made the mistake of thinking that an ongoing political discussion in front of an open group was something that anyone should feel free to share information and ideas with, rather than to propagate the dominant ideology and meet any opposing views with hostility. I am glad to hear that you are generally open to discussion. It is unfortunate that I did not know how to differentiate from people who are more accepting and open from those who will react negatively to opposing ideas. I am very disappointed that such an attitude has contributed to my getting thrown out, I would have loved to stay to get to know you and others better.

    • Dan Kappus says :

      You didn’t ask, but I’m brash. I say “screw that.” What I realized from being sorted into the reject pile several years ago by y’all is that TO is a specific place with a specific culture. If a person doesn’t hack it with that culture, or runs afoul of whatever is going on, that person probably just doesn’t belong. The system works, and is why you still exist after 30 years. There’s a wisdom about being narrow.

      I don’t think you should suspend judgment. It _is_ your home, and a person who is annoying to you is just that. There are plenty of people who will abide by y’all’s expectations: stick to those folks instead.

  9. Angie Tupelo says :

    I am really confused- are Jason and felarhin the same person?

    • felarhin says :

      Yes, Felarhin is my internet alias.

      • Angie Tupelo says :

        @Rayne- Rock on with the feminist theory! And as I’ve recently been reminded, the “Women still make $0.76 for every dollar that a male makes in the same position” are the numbers for white women vs white men. The numbers for WOC are universally lower, for MOC vary (some higher and some lower), and I’m not even going to guess at how dismal the numbers are for trans* people. (Sorry if this is a derail, but I think it’s an important issue to address- that economically women are not monolithic.)

  10. Lina Shah, Esq. says :

    Jason,

    After having read all the comments and your responses, seems to me that you stand out b/c you’re different in a way that some people don’t like–but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like your picture and don’t think that you’re “trying to look cool”–throwing up deuces on one hand while holding a drink in the other, now that’s a “Myspace shot.”

    Lina Shah, Esq.
    Attorney at Law

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    Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve included you guys to my personal blogroll.

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