When you create community, part of what you do is create language. Here at Twin Oaks, we have a tremendous collection of acronyms for places and things: OTF, CMT, TCLR, TOAST, OTRA, MHT, CPs, Hx, CVP, and there are much more.
Part of the reason we need to abbreviate and contract is that we need to write down these things for other people to understand thousands of times a week, literally. One of the people who have to do this the most is the labor assigner.
Twin Oaks has an amazing labor-scheduling system. A single person, with the help of every other member, assigns the labor the community does for the coming week. This job takes about 20 to 25 hours each week. It starts on Monday; people turn in their labor sheets and the tofu assigner (which is a different person) gets the first crack filling the 88 shifts which make up a full tofu production week. Some members have regular shifts: Saturday – start up Kettle at 5 AM or Tuesday – late-night tofu pack at 9 PM, for example. Most members, however, instruct the tofu assigner as to how many shifts they are willing to do this week. Most of us, including me, take only one shift.
After tofu is complete, the regular assigning begins. Two large notebooks; 91 labor sheets for members, guests, and visitors; dozen-plus masters and 40 or so requests for labor drive this process. When it is done, 49 dish-cleaning shifts, bread-making and cow-milking shifts for every day, dozens of childcare shifts, hundreds of visitor-labor and orientation requests will have been assigned—thousands of assignments in total. The labor assigners will make the first pass and then, at dinner on Wednesday, return the sheets to members for “revisions.” Members can then revise the schedule the assigner has created, asking to be taken off of things or resequencing labor to make things flow better (Please don’t give me a garden shift and a tofu shift and a dish-washing shift all in the same day, it is too much physical labor).
On Thursday afternoon, the labor assigner gets a few hours to rebuild the careful schedule they built and the members just demolished, filling all the holes and making sure everything gets covered. I love this job. It is crazy headachy and I have made lots of mistakes at it (especially on Shal‘s sheet).
There is an inside joke which comes from when I used to labor assign more often. My friend Coyote was on our labor system at the time, and when I was assigning I would put on his labor sheet that he had a dump run at midnight with someone whom he could not stand. Dump run is one of the many jobs we do here that are assigned. The first time I did it, Coyote got agitated, not wanting to work with this member. Then he realized, for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that the dump is never open at midnight), that it was a joke. But the term lived on, and “Midnight Dump Run” became the name both for labor assigners’ mistakes and for the unusual power this position has in the community.
My recent labor-assigning effort was rescued by Dev, who caught a bunch of mistakes I would have made, though perhaps not enough to permit me to keep the job. I put “Midnight Dump Run” on about 30 people’s sheets and this time it was code for a party happening at our dining hall, ZK. It was a perfect, small event, with Acorn participating in just the right way.
Update: I got fired.
Spoiler: This post has no descriptions of graphic sex.
“Can I kiss you?” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. It was asked across a cuddle pile in the midst of a party up at the conference site where several people were making new romantic connections.
“I don’t really know you very well.” Was the reply I was slightly surprised to hear. But then something really powerful and slightly profound happened. Nothing.
The mood did not change. No one got embarrassed and felt like they needed to leave. No one laughed at the rejection or felt sorry for someone. The party just moved on.
We think and talk a lot about consent culture in the communes. We do orientations for visitors and guests so they don’t make cultural mistakes around initiating intimacy, which is easy to do if you are just mimicking what you see others doing. We explore new types of agreements around boundaries. And the reward for our efforts is we get to take some types of risks, like my friend who got rejected from the make out session.
What this does is create comfort and safety. It makes people feel like their boundaries are going to be respected. This in turn often helps them to push limits out. This reveals new possibilities and new connections.
And thus the party drifted right up to the edge of becoming an orgy. As a funologist, this is something I want to understand. For when you push aside all the sophomoric jokes and embarrassment about what orgies are, assuming they are done in a healthy consent environment, they are daring and liminal events. They change peoples lives.
And in this case, the “almost” does not really matter. Everyone could feel the possibility, we had created the space that was that safe and daring.
If you live in community for a while, traditions form around you. And so it is with Hawina’s birthday. Part of the evenings festivities will be us singing the English translation of the Dutch birthday song. This is a song that is only sung this way here, Hawina imported it herself by accident many years ago when someone asked for her tradition to be adapted to local culture.
Werewolves is another birthday favorite game. Some people call this game Mafia. It is a good birthday game because it requires at least 8 people to play. In our first pass, we had 15 people and Sky played god. I was the first person killed. I did not even get a chance to accuse anyone else before i was silenced. I did not take it personally. Hawina won (except the last towns person (new member Emily) was “the Hunter” role, who gets to kill one person as they die, and thus killed Hawina who was the last surviving werewolf – so no one won).
In the second round of werewolves, i got killed in the first “evening” again! Now i had to take it personally. Hawina won again with Emily as her “lover” and they survived all the werewolves. [If you are unfamiliar with this game there is an interesting and exhaustive article on wikipedia on it.]
Part of the power of collective living is that we get to create our own holidays and rituals. After nearly two decades of doing birthdays, Hawina has this one just where she wants it.
A collection of intrepid adventurers have launched the newest income sharing commune in Washington DC and it is called Compersia. After failing twice to name this new community using naming parties, they discovered that one of the limitations of naming parties is that they are good at coming up with funny or lighthearted names. But when you are naming your home you might want something a bit more serious.
Compersia is derived from Compersion, which is roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy. More precisely compersion is when you feel good about your intimate experiencing intimacy with another person. Part of the reason why compersion is only roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy is that you can feel both compersion and jealousy at the same time.
The name is barely a month old and the major liberal magazine, the Atlantic, has completed a 6 minute video on them. Here is the link to the Compersians discussing their community. The reportage is all in the words of the members and thus it is a pretty upbeat piece of coverage. Compersia is looking for new members and this might well help.
Curiously, just the day before the Atlantic posting, Realtor.com ran an article called “With Housing Costs Sky-High, the Commune Makes a Comeback” Which quotes a number of our friends at Ganas and Twin Oaks.
Nice to be seen a bit by the more mainstream press.
Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over labor day weekend. You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man. You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity. You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.
Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and unless they are pretty cool already you probably won’t see any of your relatives.
But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.
The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects. The content comes in three big forms.
There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here. [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions.]
There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them. While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic about which participants are excited. In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy, and how to dumpster dive.
The other formal piece of content the conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning. Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are just forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing. Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants. There might be 30 or 40 communities represented. And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.
There is lots of informal content. Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences. Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be not to hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary. There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area. New allies will bond over coffee and early morning rituals.
While the information provided would be sufficient reason to come to this event, it is the culture, fun, and personal connections which seal the deal. For many people the conference is about brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements. The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year. The mud pit and the river beckon. The FIC auction is entertaining and often a bargain hunter’s dream.
The scheduled workshop program is as follows:
Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM
Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM
[Update Jan 2017: Twin Oaks is again full and has a waiting list. People interested in the community are still encouraged to apply, but it is no longer possible to apply and move in immediately after the “30 day away” period mandated after your visitor period. Typical wait list periods are 2 to 5 months.]
For almost all of the last 7 years there has been a waiting list at Twin Oaks. It is now gone.
People seek explanations for why we dropped down into the low 80s of adults, when we had been at our population cap of 92 for so long. There is no single reason.
But because there are now spaces available to people who come to do the visitor period, it is worth reviewing why it might be a good time to ditch your mainstream life and consider living in a full service commune.
No Bosses: Our managers are nothing like your manager. They don’t generally fire people, they don’t determine raises or promotions. Instead they organize trainings and make sure the needed materials are available and the machines are functioning properly. Every one of our ‘managers’ also works on the production line. Because all jobs are volunteer, managers who exploit their co-workers find themselves lonely. This drives the MBAs a bit crazy.
No Money: Can you imagine going through your day and not touching cash or credit cards? The commune strives to and largely succeeds in providing all the things people need outside the conventional money system. Food, housing, clothing, medical services, education, and entertainment are distributed freely and fairly. You work your quota (currently 42 hours a week) and all your needs are met.
No advertising: Transformative festivals like Burning Man make a big deal out of being non-commercial and largely advertisement free. For many attendees the break from the constant onslaught of commercial images and invitations to buy things, most of which you don’t want, is a big relief. But you can’t live at these festivals. You can live at Twin Oaks, where if you stay off the internet and don’t read one of the many magazines we collectively subscribe to, you can avoid advertisements indefinitely.
No punch clocks: One of the other things the boss you don’t have is not doing is keeping track of your hours. In this trust-based system you record the different work you do. Our flexible work system means you can always find work in the hammock shop or in the kitchen and if you want to be scheduled you can be, but if you prefer to figure it out yourself each day, that is available also.
No fear: What do you feel if you hear someone behind you in the dark whom you don’t know? While it is not true to say we completely escape all crime, we avoid so much of it that some visitors realize the difference between where I live and where they live is that there has been a constant mostly low level threat for most of their waking hours, which vanishes in this prosaic collective rural living.
It is not just what we don’t have that defines us, the things we do choose and possess are crucial.
We strive to be self-sufficient: We build our own buildings, organically grow most of our own food, run our own businesses, teach our kids, and create our own holidays and culture. The community has spawned and nurtured painters and poets, quilters and woodcarvers. We’ve had folk singers, rock bands, chanters and primal screamers. You can find someone to teach you how to juggle, or program a computer, or deliver a newborn calf. We stage our own theater productions and provide an unusually appreciative audience for visiting performers. We have our own coffeehouses, writing groups, and social clubs.
Economic self-sufficiency means we have seven businesses:
- We make about 8,000 hammocks a year and sell them online and in stores and at the craft fairs we attend.
- We make 400,000 lbs of tofu. We are just starting a new line which will enable us to double production.
- We indexed 60 books last year, mostly with academic presses.
- We have a contract services business which does demolition, elder care, house cleaning and removes the basketball floor at midnight on Thanksgiving at UVa John Paul Jones Arena.
- We do seed growing and wholesale distribution of Acorn’s Southern Exposure organic and heritage seed business.
- We run conferences and gatherings, like the upcoming Womens Gathering (Aug 19 thru 21) and Communities Conference over labor day (Sept 2 thru 5) as well as the Herb Workshop.
- We sell beautiful organic ornamental flowers.
We live lightly on the land: We heat our buildings with sustainably harvested wood from our land. Most buildings have a solar hot water preheating system and half of the newest residential building is off the grid completely, using only electricity provided by the sun, with residents agreeing to keep consumption low and use efficient appliances. We sort our waste into over a dozen different categories and reuse and recycle fiercely. The food we don’t grow we buy in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. We have our own sewage treatment plant, which runs at well-above state required standards and are planning a constructed wetlands. We have 20% the carbon foot print of our mainstream counterparts, mostly because we share things so robustly: clothes and cars and buildings and bicycles and musical instruments.
We are self-selecting: You cannot simply move to Twin Oaks tomorrow, and strangers who just drop in are politely asked to leave. You need to write us first and link up with one of the regularly scheduled three-week visits, or just take our Saturday tour. During the three-week visit, we orient you to our culture and more importantly, it gives both you and us a chance to live and work together. Then we ask visitors to go away for a month and think about whether they really want to live in our slightly odd and extraordinary village.
[This is the big asterisk part] *But it is not paradise: There are all kind of good reasons why people leave my commune (or never come in the first place.) Some people want more independence, they don’t want to have to ask the health team for some expensive exotic medical procedure. Some people want more of their own space than their own room. Some members leave because they don’t find the romantic partner they want, or the one they had ended the relationship and it is too hard to see their former partner every day. It is hard to make enough money to take long trips or far away vacations (our members get a tiny allowance of $100 a month.)
And then there is this resume problem. If you want to be a millionaire or CEO, you should probably skip the commune step. This is not to say that some members have not used the community as an applied university. And we have had many general managers of million dollar businesses who were in their early twenties. But when they ask you how much you were paid at your last job, your next employer is likely to be unimpressed by in-kind wages.
The real question to ponder is, “Are you ready for a radical departure from what you are used to?” Community could be the answer. And now that there is not a waiting list at Twin Oaks, perhaps this is the right one for you.
If you are interested in applying for membership click here.
The post originally appeared in the CommuneLife blog.