There was a time before the internet. Many of my younger friends have some difficulty believing this is true or at least understanding how it might work. There is a story i often tell about a particularly dramatic job offer i got and then arriving at work before i got my job offer by crossing the international dateline. To buy that airplane ticket, because there was no internet and because i was in a hurry, I went to the Sydney airport and walked around the ticket offices until i found the next flight out.
While it is inconceivable to consider how we would run small business these days without computers, but early in the life of Twin Oaks, the decision to computerize our businesses was internally quite contentious. These days we are regularly looking for ways to use software and hardware to reduce or simplify our human labor.
This year Twin Oaks Validation Day made the jump to automate the six creatures game. If you are unwilling to click through to these links, let me summarize these cultural constructs you are possibly unfamiliar with. One of the best parts of big complex full service communities like Twin Oaks is we get to completely redesign holidays. Valentines day is a horrifically flawed event, so we redesigned it. Specifically, we made it principally about affirmation (which can be given to everyone) and secondarily about romance. This helps make the event inter-generational and accessible to all. We create validation day cards, which are like love letters from many people sharing the same collage container.
While it hardly seems daring in the age of Tinder, the 6 creatures game is a way people who are attracted to each other to find each other without indicating their attractions. The way it used to work is the players would fill out ballots for which of 6 different types of dates you are looking for with the people on the ballots. The creatures/date types are:
1 ) Ants – work dates
2) Puppies – play dates
3) Kittens – cuddle dates
4) Fish – kiss at the party
5) Rabbits – Sex date
6) Doves – Long term relationship
After the ballots are all gathered a trusted member (named iron lips) finds all the matches and lets people know of only their matches. Iron Lips is selected because they are very good at keeping keeping secrets. This game has sparked quite a few new romantic relationships.
This year the person of Iron Lips was replaced by an app. The six creature ballots were never seen by anyone other than the people who wrote them, their shared matches were spit out and given to members who were excited to see what shared possibilities exist.
The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game. You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event. But this is not the whole story. Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it. Let me explain further.
Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm. There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television). There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.
But sports are somehow different. People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening. I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important. And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers. So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution. Watch the Super Bowl a day later.
This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television. And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.
Back in 2004, we were less into sports. I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?” No one did. Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.
Architecture shapes culture, so a guiding principle of Cambia is, if we can make it beautiful, we do. Architecture is unique as an art form because it integrates function with form. This includes landscaping and outdoor play spaces.
Stepping stones are interesting because they have multiple functions; for example. they can protect clover, especially in the winter. The form also affects our local culture: when you walk on stepping stones, you are called to a child-like stance.
You can walk with your hands hanging down by your sides, and what tends to happen is that your arms raise up to maintain your balance. The stepping stones can draw you into being playful and childlike. As your hands go up, you are more likely to skip and as you start to skip, you are more likely to smile.
Cambia also boasts a trampoline. The trampoline draws kids from the surrounding communes. We recently replaced our broken one, in an assembly effort which was guided by a gaggle of giggly kids.
The German modern architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for two sayings, both of which are applicable. “Less is more” is the argument for minimalist architecture to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture.
The second aphorism is “God is in the details“, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly because details are important.
Cambia is a handcrafted commune, in sharp contrast to the grandmother commune, Twin Oaks, just down the road. Twin Oaks is a large place which includes industrial spaces, warehouses, tofu production facilities, rope machines, gang drills, and sawmills. All the spaces are closer and on a more human scale at Cambia. Some of the art is tiny and temporary.
Handcrafted means focusing on details: doorknobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, tiny signposts, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool. It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.
Other Blog Posts about Cambia:
I’m lucky. My upbringing was affluent and comfortable and basically trauma free. I come from an advantaged class background. I am white and male in a world which has been designed to privilege these attributes. I have a low maintenance body and fairly good genes. I went to fancy schools and learned how to play some of the games which support the existing power structures and inequitable distribution of wealth.
So if one cares about fairness, how do you justify this unfair advantage? Some of my peers, like Sara, do anti-oppression work. Decoding their class privilege, calling out racism, classism and sexism where they see it. I’ve done a small amount of this work, but it is hardly my focus. And sadly, I am aware because of regular mistakes, I am still not getting this stuff.
Instead what I try to do is to look at this set of gifts as set of obligations. If I have been lucky, much of my work should be focused on giving back to others. Early on this drew me to activism. I selected anti-nuclear activism because it requires a certain unlikely combination of attributes. You need to be able to argue with people who come from these advantaged class backgrounds about technical and financial things. You need to be able to pour energy into long campaigns, which you are almost certain to lose and then you need to not get discouraged and keep on doing it, and even encourage others to join you.
One of my gifts is optimism. It is easy to have it, given my background. And the obligation (in my thinking) around this gift is taking on nearly hopeless causes. Not because you want to waste your time, but because there is social and cultural value to fighting the good fight in a world where the bad guys often win.
Some of the Point A folks went to NYC recently. It was quite an educational trip for me. And at first on it I was quite discouraged. If seemed like the idea of starting urban income sharing communities was nearly impossible.
On one hand you had the real estate developers. Especially in New York City, real estate prices are so out of control this often unsavory profession takes on especially monstrous dimensions. They have money to invest, tremendous motivation and their eyes everywhere for a bargain or opportunity.
On the other side you have the ugly force of gentrification. This is where often well meaning folks looking for inexpensive space inside the urban environment set up their artist’s lofts in economically disadvantaged areas, only to make these areas desirable and trendy. This in turn raises property values and ultimately they get themselves and, more importantly, their poor neighbors kicked out by the real estate developers described above.
I did not see a way around these vexing forces when we started talking with folks about the Point A project. And while I am nothing like confident we can figure this out, I am now feeling more optimistic about doing something we can be excited by and proud of.
[This was written over 3 years ago, since then the Point A project has made quite some progress in finding real anti-gentrification allies. More on this in my next post.]
One way to think about community is as an antidote to the problems of contemporary society. A strong case can be made that deep sharing mitigates most climate disruption contributors. We see that highly intentional community helps heal some people’s mental health challenges. But the real allure of community is something larger.
If we look at living together and sharing our lives as a long lever for creating culture, then isn’t it possible to design a community in which the members become well harmonized and deeply mutually supportive? Community asks the question “How might we come up with a way to live together in which amazing, healing and transformative things are accessible to the people who live this way? How could we develop a set of rituals and communication patterns which helps members of these communities manifest their dreams? And if this is possible, what do we know about these types of successful cultures already so we can experiment with them?”
One of the things we know for sure is we can not be supportive without being communicative. And the more we can trust, the more we can share what we find to be true, the more profound our ability to advise and ally with people.
Cambia is reviewing how we dream and vision. The community is small and reforming and old traditions are being reconsidered by new members as well as founders with new eyes. For me the piece of greatest interest is the exploration and manifestation of personal dreams. I believe this is a rich place for meme craft and hopefully deep personal satisfaction.
We are tinkering with the parameters of a dream alliance. The basic idea is simple, I tell you my dream and invite you to support it and then we switch roles. If you don’t have a dream, or it feels incompletely formulated (“i want more music in my life”) then your ally will guide you through an exploration to help refine and define it more.
If your dream is ambitious (“we need to deconstruct industrial capitalism”), your dream ally might help you identify the next piece (“let’s start a worker coop”). If your dream is sprawling (“i want to get people to think!”), then perhaps your ally makes you look on a focused part (“let’s start an inspiring book club”).
But more important than suggestions from your ally is a willingness to help manifest. “I would cook and drive for a local Food Not Bombs chapter, if that was your calling” or “You need to stop Trump, I will go door to door with you before the next election”. Or perhaps simple logistics “I’ll watch your kid while you meditate/exercise.”
I was excited about this thinking and I brought this rough idea to the Thursday night book club at Cambia. We are reading Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible”, one chapter each week and talking about it. And after my enthusiastic description of dream alliances, Craig was uninspired. “I am not excited about exploring people’s individualistic dreams, what would make this interesting to me is if we were seeking and building our shared dream.”
This is consistent with Eisenstein’s thinking. That we need to move past dualism and find a new story which connects everything. Craig gets this, which is why he has been pushing this book, and the concept of InterBeing. InterBeing, as close as I can tell, is a sort of secular enlightenment, where you feel and react from a place of being connected with everything and seeking some type of harmony with it all.
I don’t get it. I am a dualist. This is slightly challenging to the book group I think. Perhaps it is a bit like having a libertarian in your anarchist discussion groups. You are all talking about getting rid of government, but are way out of line when it comes to what happens next.
And even though I don’t quite get it around Interbeing, Craig’s challenge feels like a friendly amendment. There is something very powerful about seeking our shared dream together. The alliance is richer, when it is our dream instead of you supporting mine in exchange for me supporting yours.
And I am again grateful for Cambia which thinks these are the questions we should be pondering and energy well spent exploring and cultures worthy of our efforts to design them. I think a carefully constructed dream alliance could be super memetic. And that is my personal holy grail.
There were three different parties last night as warm ups to tonight’s New Years Eve event at Twin Oaks.
- Acorn’s Annual New Years Eve Eve
- Cambia’s “Quite Party” and hot tub
- Christian’s Going Away Party in the Compost Cafe
Acorn had a small sober party with a new puppet show by Purl and live music by Acorn artists. There was a vast cash of cookies from a members prolific mom.
Just as i was driving the last (but early) shuttle away from Acorn a minivan full of Oakers showed up and tilted the party just the right way.
Because Acorn did not want to be over run by all the unknown (to them) guests who are already here for the Twin Oaks New Years Party, they understandably asked that their New Year’s Eve Eve guests be folks who had been there before. But this left us with the high class problem of needing another “open” party for all the lovely guests who are already here.
Cambia stepped into the breach. Since many of these unknown (to Acorn) guests were Craftees from Tufts who were already staying at Cambia or Simple House, it made sense to have the party here. There are a dozen Craft House affiliated folks coming to these events. If you are wondering why all these students and ex-students, the current manifestation of the feeder school strategy.
Three Generations of Feeder Schools: The idea is over a decade old, but we never have been able to pull it off with any longevity. The idea was to find a cool school, a college or university, where clever progressive students were already enthused about students coop communes and select this option over corporate America, because it was more fun and lively, despite the terrible pay.
It started with GPaul who was at Saint Mary’s and excited about the communes. Over time 3 other St Mary’s grads became members of Acorn or Twin Oaks. But then we sort of lost contact with the school.
We then did an infamous TOAST gig at McDonough prep. Three different members/interns came out of this visit, all of whom happen to be here for this New Years Eve party.
We deepened our relationship with the Craftees this fall by attending the Honk Festival largely with them. It was then we started lobbying the Craftees to come to New Years. I thought “Let’s add a bunch of young, sexy, colorful, non-conforming, high energy, artists and musicians into your party mix” – What could go wrong?
The last party I attended last night was Christian’s going away party in the Compost Cafe. This is a tiny smoking lounge off the main courtyard at Twin Oaks. The space is so small that 6 people can barely dance in it and we have well over that at points. This was a loud, excited party, with Christian spinning his favorite classic tunes and lots of singing, not all of it on key.
My room is filled with most lovely guests, now after too long, but too lovely a day, i will go find a suitable couch.
Below is the program to the most elaborate New Years Eve system of parties we have ever attempted. Don’t ask if you can come, you can’t. If you were not already planning on attending, this is not your year.
NYEE & NYE Celebrations – A cross-community NYE project
7 to 9 PM Transparency Games – TCLR at Twin Oaks – This is a facilitated collection of exercises which are designed to help people reveal more about themselves, build empathy and trust with others in the group. These games are simple like “if you really knew me _______” and “i have a story about you” and participants are always at choice about being involved.
10 PM meet at Cambia – Applied Dumpster Diving Workshop: Maximus will lead a group of intrepid dumpster divers to Short Pump and the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods dumpster. Dumpster techniques will be critiqued on a 28.6 point scale. (extra points for creativity).
2 to 4 PM at Acorn – Regenerative Agriculture Workshop: Rachel from East Brook Community Farm will present on ECBF’s efforts to repair soil and reverse climate change. To rebuild soil takes more than simply avoiding pesticides. Presentation and questions and answer. Acorn asks that people attending this workshop either be FEC affiliated or have an Acorn host.
4 to 6 PM in the Bijou at Twin Oaks – Consent Workshop: The Louisa Communities have a strong Consent Culture orientation especially at parties. This workshop is designed to help participants at these parties understand fully and participate comfortably in saying what is true for themselves, protecting themselves without apology and connect intimately and/or romantically in a way which is safe. Anyone who has not been to a consent workshop before or who is new to this idea is strongly encouraged to come.
5 to 7 PM at Cambia – Video Editing for the Revolution: Maximus from Cambia will facilitate a discussion and presentation of community-focused video making and distribution. How to edit videos effectively and inexpensively. Making a youtube channel boosting its popularity.
Dinner at Cambia 7 to 8 PM – a big meal in a little place. Dumpster and donated food expertly prepared will feed as many people as show up.
8 PM to whenever at Acorn – New Years Eve Eve party at Acorn: If you really want to enjoy the New Years Eve party you need to pre-game for it by staying up late the night before at a different lovely event and then sleeping in the next day. [The TO NYE party goes unusually late for the communes]. Acorn throws a New Years Eve Eve sober party which has all the kick of significant festivity without the alcohol. Come enjoy live music, puppet theater, dancing and more with the anarchists from Acorn. If you have never been to Acorn before you are encouraged to go to the quiet party at Cambia instead.
8 PM til whenever – Quiet Party at Cambia: Cambia is hosting a number of people who are new to the area and some long experienced folks as well. But don’t confuse “quiet” party with not fun. Cambia has been the host for numerous interesting and enjoyable events. Stories, party games, and other kid friendly activities will go late into the night.
10:00 to noon at Appletree at Twin Oaks – Canadian EcoVillages
Jacob is from Manitoba and started the EcoVillages.CA website, newsletter and network. He has been involved with Myriad Village in Manitoba and has toured extensively examining sustainable intentional community solutions and has presented an EcoVillages 101 workshop in various places. This will be a more advanced workshop, looking at sustainability successes and obstacles, especially in Canada.
10-:30 – noon Bijou at Twin Oaks – The Last Day Singing Soirree facilitated by Cleo & Craig in the Bijou
Let’s get our voices hearts and minds in tune and in rhythm for the New Year! Craig and Cleo will lead songs about cycles and seasons, beginnings and endings, changing and returning. This is an inclusive vocal convergence. If you’ve got a song to share in this spirit, come ready to lead it.
1 -3 PM TCLR at Twin Oaks – Foolery Presentation
Spot (X Acorn, X Woodfolk) is a multiple who practices and shares comic arts often with a political twist. This Foolery workshop has an emphasis on Fetch u, personification, paradox and paraphilia. This workshops starts with presentation and then moves to question and answer.
1 -3 pm Bijou at Twin Oaks – Co-Authoring a More Beautiful World, with the Imaginarium Consort
This workshop will be a brief yet memorable foray into the art and science of co-authoring our lives. With stimulating prompts, queries, conversational interludes and communal reveries we’ll exercise our higher callings. By boldly expressing our aspirations we’ll build alliances and generate the courage needed to bring forth a more beautiful world in 2018.
The Imaginarium Consortium is a group of activists and gadflies drawn from four central VA communities. We’ve been meeting weekly for 3 months to discuss Charles Eisenstein‘s book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.This workshop is an expression of insights and inspirations we’ve gained thru our reading and conversations.
1 to 4 at Modern Times at Twin Oaks – Art Bike Workshop: Converting broken bikes into something fun and beautiful. Kunle from Boston has created dozens of art bikes and will facilitate this workshop. Come and stay for any amount of time and create something beautiful or bizarre.
4 to 6 PM at Cambia – The Future of Urban Communes: There are Point A influenced communities which have started in DC and Queens. How do we support these new entities and where does the effort to bring income sharing to east coast cities look next? Baltimore? Boston? Philly? Folks from the Point A Circus will wrangle an engaged discussion about how to move forward.
4 to 6 PM in the Bijou at Twin Oaks – Consent Workshop: This workshop is a repeat of the one the day before. The Louisa Communities have a strong Consent Culture orientation especially at parties. This workshop is designed to help participants at these parties understand fully and participate comfortably in saying what is true for themselves, protecting themselves without apology and connect intimately and/or romantically in a way which is safe. Anyone who has not been to a consent workshop before or who is new to this idea is strongly encouraged to come.
6 PM at ZK dining hall – Full Circle Community Intro: A forming new income sharing community committed to elder care adjacent to Twin Oaks? This is more than a dream a few of us have had, this is increasingly becoming a reality and if this is a project you are interested in or want to join, come and talk with Corb and Aurora over dinner. Participants will be encouraged to share their visions of building a Full Circle Community
6 – 7 PM at ZK dining hall – Angel Training
So you want to be an Angel? Angel’s make sure everyone is comfortable and happy at the party. Angels wear wing arm bands, when they are on duty. Angels work as a network and take care of three types of problems. 1) A party goer is having a bad time and need to talk to someone and perhaps chill. 2) There is an altercation and the Angel may separate people or take someone out of the party space. 3) There is an emergency which requires driving. If you can do anyone of these three tasks for some part of the party, come and get oriented and get your wings. Angel work is labor creditable.
8PM in Temple of Oracles (Tupelo upstairs North Wing): Ritual casting Sacred Space. In this ritual we’ll set intentions for what we hope the party will bring us and will cast sacred space and grounding energy for the party. Open to all who like ritual, singing and being intentional.
8:30pm until late: Temple of Oracles (upstairs North Wing)
The intention of this space is to foster self-exploration, and create a quiet space for reflection (in the bustle of the Twin Oaks New Year’s Party) where anyone can consult the oracle, formulate a question and get external mirrors that help clarify feelings, thoughts, fears, resistances, hopes, dreams, intentions and future plans.
8 PM until whenever at Tupelo at Twin Oaks- New Years Eve Party at Twin Oaks: With a bit of luck this party will change your life. Perhaps it will be at the kissing workshop or connecting with someone new in the cuddle loft. Perhaps you will be transported by the music of our talented DJs or the live shows in the Music Room. Including puppet shows at 8:30 and Handpan. \ Perhaps the theme and decorations will teleport you to exactly where you need to go. You might finally get to express yourself at the 2 AM burlesque show. Or the Infinity Room will allow you to see yourself in the midst of all things. All manner of experiences and exotic treats await you at one of the reliably best parties of the year.
Kissing Workshop – Cuddle Loft 11 PM? Janel will facilitate this tutorial on technique. Bring a partner on not and lower your inhibitions. And this is a high consent space, so no surprises
Burlesque Review – 2AM main dance floor – Belladonna will MC a burlesque review. Party participants are strongly encourages to don their sexy undies and be prepared to strut and shout. If you are interested just come and if you want couching or more info find Belladonna at dinner at ZK on the 31st
Open Mic – We are blessed at this event with a number of folks who live or have lived at Crafts House which is connected to Tufts University outside Boston. Crafts House manages a free art space on campus and is rich with artists and performers. They will run the Open Mic in the Music Room, beside the Infinity Room
Whenever you can make it after the party. At Tupelo – Clean Up: Start the new year putting back together the residence which hosted the previous night’s bash. Don’t worry that you don’t know the place or where anything goes. Helpful Oakers will direct you and make you feel useful and righteous for having returned to normal the house which was converted temporarily into a most fantastic space.
Brunch: at the ZK dining Hall at Twin Oaks [Time not confirmed]
1pm Closing ritual in temple of oracles (tupelo north wing -upstairs). We’ll ceremoniously close the circle, reflecting on our gifts and lessons. Then we’ll devoke and clean up.
2 PM to 4 PM at Acorn – Can pirate radio save the world? Come explore the limits of internet media and radical propaganda. Belladonna Took is the host of What would save the World? on Radio Free Brooklyn. How to operate a radical radio show without a budget. How to promote your podcasts and land interesting interviews. What are the limits and possibilities of pirate radio. A lively and interactive conversation.
4 to 6 PM at ZK dining hall at Twin Oaks – Funological Review: What makes a good party? What could we do differently in the future to make it be a better party? What aspects were pulled off well and what got forgotten or underworked? Did it change people’s lives? Did people fall in love or decide to quit Babylon? Come review the event and help figure out how to build the better party.
7 to 9 PM at Cambia or perhaps in the Bijou at Twin Oaks – Crafts House Performance: The gifted and talented kids from Crafts House at Tufts will do an edge exotic theater piece for the delight and thought-provoking amusement of the local communards.
10 AM to noon in ZK at Twin Oaks – The Future of Commune Life Blog: This prolific blog has been running for over a year, producing 3 blog posts a week of visual and written works from all the FEC communities. Who are the new writers and editors for this potentially potent piece of digital media.
1 to 3 PM at Cambia – East Brook Community Farm: The newest FEC community in dialog is expanding its membership and its successful CSA business. Come learn about this new rural commune and opportunities for working there this spring (and beyond).
Milo MacTavish has gone to the other side. He was an extraordinary man.
Over the life of this blog, I have written about him several times. About his work as a wandering electrician and his taste or highland Scotch whiskey. He was part of the crew which started the Karass Inn. And there are several tales we are not allowed to tell about this old friend.
What is well known about him is that he helped out the communities movement a whole bunch in a number of places. I worked occasionally as his travel agent, getting him from worthy project to ambitious startup. He went to Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Vermont and New York on his nomadic crafts person adventure. Never by plane, mostly by train. He preferred to do things right, but he could always work within the budgets of these sometimes struggling entities. This versatility was a big part of why he was so valuable. All he would ask for, besides our regular room and board was Scotch whiskey.
As important as his work was, Milo will be remembered for his slightly larger than life character. He was a wild card – “a disrupter” long before that term was popular. Cantankerous and boisterous, he always had a story (often of Kenya where he came of age or Her Majesties Merchant Navy) and time to listen to yours. He was also an excellent teacher and shared his skills with numerous communards, some of whom required a fair bit of patience to train. He was a hard-partying, proud pagan. Milo had loud opinions about many a thing and had no fear in telling you how uninformed you were on almost any subject where he knew more than you, which was likely most topics.
Milo was a missionary. He rescued a failing health food coop in Norfolk and managed it with his then-wife Susan. They ran it together for 5 years. He canvassed for the Rain Forest Action Network and CalPIRG. He even worked with the Dolfin Research Lab in Florida. He had been a cop and occasionally on the other side of the law. He complained loudly about what he called “the 3 monos of the world”: Monoculture, Monotheism, and Monogamy.
Milo was often the life of the party. And with his passing, some of that party is gone as well.
But Milo would not want us mourning his passing, he would want us to party harder. There will be one this weekend (12/16) in Norfolk and next weekend (12/23) at the Pizza Stone in Chester, Vermont to remember him. Contact me if you want more details on these events.
[Milo’s family of choice is trying to get in touch with Milo’s Scotish family to inform them of his passing. If you have any leads on this, please contact me by email (paxus at twin oaks dot org) or comment on this blog post.]