There are pivotal moments, when a simple comment or action changes everything.
Ten years ago, I inadvertently created one of these. We were having a recruiting meeting at Twin Oaks and Kate said,
We should contact sociology professors at nearby colleges and get them to pay us for coming in and speaking to their classes.
I replied, “Well, that is not happening.” And with this single comment (and Kate’s tenacity), I insured that exactly this would happen and I would be completely wrong.
The same thing happened recently at an Acorn naming party. One sentence changed the course of our collective history.
Acorn has naming parties. We don’t name cars, or most buildings, like Twin Oaks does. But when someone shows up with the same first name as someone else, we typically have a naming party.
So it was with visitor Mike. A talented musician and soft spoken young man, he was clearly not to be confused with member Mike. For a while, without much reason we called the visitor “Mike the Interloper.”
Sean facilitated Mike’s naming party, which was lively and entertaining. A very long list of names was considered and Mike was open to a large number of possibilities. It is considered good form to allow the focus person of the naming party to eliminate names they are sure they will not take. Mike eliminated very few.
When there were about 3 names left Sean opened the floor to impassioned speeches. A few not especially inspiring speeches were made, and then Port very quietly said,
Taco Cat is a palindrome.
And I watch the tide in the room shift. Palindromes (words or phrases that have the same letters ignoring spaces going forwards as going backwards) are cool. If Mike the Interloper could have a palindrome name, we should take it.
What I did not know until Abigail pointed it out to me later is that both “taco” and “cat” are very often suggestions by OK Cupid for new user names for people who are trying to choose a user name, but someone else already has that name.
Foolishly, I did not believe Abigail at first so we went into OK Cupid and tried to create a profile for “memeticist” which is the handle I already use. Sure enough, OKC suggested “Memeticist the Cat” and “Memeticist Taco”.
So apparently putting a bunch of clever humans in a room looking for an original name, using a strange selection technique, can mimic the automatic name generation software for a free online dating site.
For something in the range of 3 years, I have not had my own bedroom either at Acorn or Twin Oaks. I have been ghosting. I have a shelf in the suite that Hawina and Willow share, where I have some stuff. Some other possessions reside in the Tupelo attic. Beyond this, I live out of and a collection of travel bags and I also draw heavily from our collective clothes library. Between the communities there are always enough slack rooms and when I had the job of room assigner at Twin Oaks I had an intimate understanding of where the slack bedrooms were. I could float.
I get that this would not work well for most people. You can either look at it like you are homeless, or as though you are on a marathon traveling adventure, where you are looking for just the right place to land, knowing it might well not be an option the next night.
I’ve stayed a lot in GPaul’s room at Acorn, because he is mostly doing Point A work in Washington DC. He is still an Acorn member. Fortunately for him and me, Acorn values the network building efforts he does do. While he is away he does not count towards Acorn’s soft agreed population limit of 30 people. So i often sleep in his room. But the last two times i have tried to use the room, i failed.
The first time i just wanted my shoes. I was going to Italy and i thought it would be nice to have the only reasonable piece of clothing i actually control, which are these simple leather shoes. I don’t use them much but sometimes, for public speaking or trade shows, i take them. They are comfortable and i think they look nice.
As is my way, i am packing at about 4 AM, before a 6 AM departure. I have my little flashlight and i am going to into GPaul’s room to rescue these shoes. I figure if i am really quiet, it should be fine. It was a hot night.
I opened the door slowly and there is a naked body sleeping on top of the sheets. I close the door. The penalty for tardy packing is that i don’t get to take my shoes to Italy. I was never able to figure out who was actually in that bed. It appears that they were wildcatting (sleeping in a room that was not assigned to you). It doesn’t really matter.
The second time I tried the room, I wanted a place to sleep. This time there was again a person sleeping there, a relative of a member who was visiting. I could have gone to the Rec Collective, which has 6 bunk beds which almost always has a free bed. But instead i opted for a couch. Acorn has pretty great couches for sleeping.
I am becoming an Oaker again as part of my dual member switching and, unlike the last two times i rejoined, i am going to take a room this time. The room i am technically taking over is one of the most bizarre on the Twin Oaks campus. It is called the Hobbit Hole. It is called this for a number of reasons, but mostly it is because of the unusual door to the room. This door is 3.5′ tall, at the high end. The low end is about 2′ tall. Most people have to crawl into the room.
Update: While the Hobbit Hole was lovely, i am following the cool kids and moving back to Ta Chai, into the same room i shared with Puck for quite some time.
I personally name many months of the year. Sometimes this is prophetic, when i think i can guess the future. More often it is simply a memorable event, like the birth of a friends child or the collapse of a foul dictator.
This month after much discussion and a fair amount of throwing stuff into a rented dumpster we knocked down the building we called “The Falling Down Shed” See the above video for the dramatic moments with Mike on the tractor.
Now the curious thing is that this month naming tradition did not start with me, it is actually a Slavic tradition, where they named the months after things which are actually happening in the physical world at that time, rather than unimportant gods. So for example August is Harvest and March is Pregnant Animals
Curiously in the warmer Slavic countries (like the Croatia) it is the month of October which is called “Falling Leaves” or Listopad. .In the cooler Czech Republic and the Ukraine, this is the month name for November. Because we knocked down the “Falling Down Shed” in November, i am calling this month “Fallen Down Shed”. It served us well.
You can use Funological grading scales on serious events. You could argue that a current issue conference cannot get a B grade, unless it does something novel. You could propose that a protest not get a letter A grade, unless it (hopefully positively) changed one or more of the participants lives.
- Success as a networking event
- Intergenerationally integrated
- Cross Cultural Connections
- Significant Skill Shares
- Novel presentation formats
- Acid Test questions responses
Success as a networking event At the heart of it, communities conferences are supposed to connect people interested in community with collective places they might live and also help communities find new blood, especially founding or floundering communities. In this, WCCC was reasonably successful. Both seekers found established communities and a forming community found a new key additional person. These additions will certainly increase their chances of survival and success. The event supported the movement directly thru recruiting and secondarily by introducing people to the depth and range of the movement.
Intergenerationally integrated One of the things i take pride in at Twin Oaks is our success in mixing generations in work and play. No one thinks twice about there being different generations represented for example in a community band. “We need a drummer. We don’t care how old or young they are.” The Radical Faeries who run Groundswell Institute decided early on that the best way into introduce kids into this typically adult world was to be honest and give nearly full access to it. So the kids made a bee-line for the drag closet and there were precious photo moments of kid princesses and mature queens. We also had twenty and thirty somethings mixing with seniors and everything in between. Age did not matter too much; young people facilitated, old people learned new things. The event had a healthy, inquisitive, open feeling to it.
Cross Cultural Connections: I have a story that the Faeries have things to teach the communards about being bold and asking for what you want. I think the Faeries are a gateway to luxurious flamboyance and how to party big. I think the communards have things to offer the Faeries around finding group mind and clean process. I think the communards know how to share well and have effective tools and agreements for others less experienced with cooperative living. The dance party at the fire pit was a high spirited, colorful mix of our cultures in celebration. I think the communards and the Radical Faeries have similar agendas around tolerance, celebration of diversity, openness to new things, sustainability, self created culture and art and making the world a better place to live in. We are obvious allies.
I saw these two groups dance well together and it made me hopeful for more events of both playful and serious content.
Significant Skill Shares: Significant Skill Shares: My lover Tree came down from Eugene and facilitated a compelling workshop on Appreciative Inquiry. It was a huge hit. It changed Brittany and Billy Vulture‘s lives. Somewhat new to giving workshops, these two had especially struggled with the guilt and hopelessness so many White Privilege workshops engender. By using Appreciative Inquire instead of conventional “problem solving” techniques, they found that he walked out of the WCCC White Privilege Open Space session feeling really good about the group, about the communication, about people hearing this fundamentally uncomfortable message and not running from it but actually addressing it. Tree was thrilled that her workshop was immediately applicable. Me, too.
Novel presentation formats: We did the Communities in Crisis interactive theater workshop at the WCCC. The idea was you throw non-communards into the deep end of community process. They would try to facilitate actor-communards who were in the midst of trying to untangle a vexing and controversial community problem. It was a great idea, but it worked out nothing like this.
For starters, of the 20 plus people interested in this workshop, no one did not already identify as living in community (apparently sitting in tricky community meetings is only attractive to people who think community is worth it to join already). But more importantly, these types of theater things don’t resolve and, were it not for Tree in the workshop to rein me in, i would have spent way too much time in the fun acting part and not enough on the harvesting of what we learned.
But people enjoyed it and said they learned things. It is a strong enough and engaging enough format to try doing it again.
Acid Test question responses: I am the type of Funologist who believes in exit interviews. I ask people if they enjoyed the event and learned things (they basically always say yes, since it is polite to do so) and then i ask if they would come back in a year and this often gives insight into their experience. If you had a transformative experience – you fell in love, you found your tribe, you learned a new tool that will significantly aid you – then your reply is always “yes”, even if the chances of repeating exactly this type of positive change are very small. If you just had a good time, you can be “one and done”. When i asked people about coming back, almost everyone said yes.
By all these different metrics, the WCCC succeeded pretty famously. But i must confess i am predisposed to falling in love with this beautiful Northern California place and this particular event because i got to work with amazing organizers on it and take credit for making it happen, when really i did quite little to manifest it. I also got to organize with my talented co-dad, Sky, which always makes these types of things go better.
Other communities, including Lost Valley outside Eugene, expressed interested in hosting the 2016 West Coast Communities Conference. So perhaps, unlike the east coast event which stays at Twin Oaks for ever, we have created something which will move around to different host communities. Which would be cool also.
But it is not too early to mark your calendar for Indigenous Peoples weekend 2016. If history repeats itself, it might just be the best conference ever.
Just like when i was a kid, my friends are getting older. Everyday.
And when they have birthdays, i ignore them, mostly. Except with some regularity Facebook reminds me that i should be taking this day seriously. So i write a quasi snarky love letter to these people. Here is a recent one to Keenan
Forget birthdays. Instead i meditate on the long productive arch of your life. i know no one else who can build buildings with only chocolate chip cookies (okay, they were really good and fresh baked and all). Someone who sees that the joy of living in community is integrally tied with your ability to clean up messes you had nothing to do with making. i see a man who designed a home school curriculum which if employed nationally would not only end all wars and poverty but would result in fantastic bizarre playground construction from coast to coast. A man who successfully fights entropy and keeps old mills from falling to the river with some combination of cheerful intent, crafty asking for help and endless fortitude. You are a community hero and we are lucky to have you.
He is the son of a CIA turncoat who would come to Twin Oaks for a visitor period perhaps 30 years ago now and never left (tho he travels extensively).
I met Keenan years before i lived at Twin Oaks. He came to visit us at Paradox House in San Francisco. He installed our shower curtain over our weird bathtub. We called it “the Keenan” for years after he left. Most people who called it that never met him.
And this is a bit his legacy all manner of unusual things which he created which other people use and enjoy, often without even knowing he is responsible.
Happy unbirthday my friend. And many returns of the day.
Many people don’t know that there is a secret document used to instruct organizers who work with the Point A project. I can’t say much about it, but a small piece has leaked to the internet, so i can reveal it here.
Remembering that frivolous fun and preposterous propositions may be the most crucial tools for Point A organizers, we will strive to attend all nearby giant whale puppet events, gravity altering cooperative games, and jello slam dances.
From the “Secret Cabal Handbook of More Clever Revolutions,” Article 23, Section c.
With this mandate in mind, GPaul, Alanna (the new Point A media intern), a handful of Baltimore Free Farm activists and myself hiked up to the park near the skate park to see Ballenarca. This is surreal, salvaged art, cross cultural puppetry at its best.
Did i understand every moment of the performance? No way. And it is still totally worth going out of your way to see. Their next performance is on Monday Aug 17th at Pyramid Atlantic in Washington DC.
These still pics don’t really do the performance justice. There are videos on their website.
This is the beating heart of a giant whale.
The jellyfish own the night.
And if you find a jello slam dance event, let me know.
I wrote yesterday about the recent Yahoo Parenting article about the community. Turns out this piece had over 3 million hits in the first 24 hours. This generated so much traffic to the Twinoaks.org website that our web host server crashed. Even my blog, which is not mentioned in the article at all, got over 1000 hits in two days.
And the media contacted us also. We got three requests from conventional news sources (including my first ever request for an exclusive) and two excited reality show producers. We have considered working with Reality TV as an income engine for new community start ups and i floated it by the Point A DC folks, who rejected it overwhelmingly. This did not stop there being animated discussion about the possibility at Acorn last night at dinner. The chances we will be able to work with reality TV are vanishingly small.
There were over 500 comments to the Yahoo article. There were quite a few positive ones, some from people who had lived in community which worked for them or they appreciated, some from folks who had visited us at some point and felt the need to dispel the false statements which were being made. But perhaps half the comments on this Yahoo article were negative or critical. They came in a few flavors:
Communism is Bad: My favorite of this ilk was “Why hasn’t someone called the National Guard to rid us of these communists?” Unlike past articles i have read, there were not any direct “Go back to Russia!” suggestions. Many came from Libertarians who feel a need to attack anything which does not look like their version of free market capitalism. There was our personal chapter of the endless Tea Party debates in which all ills are blamed on Obama and each of the two main political parties are attacked for the Democrats being Communists and the Republicans (in the long run) being anarchists. News flash folks, there are two pro-business parties in the US. Look at who funds their campaigns. There are also a whole slew of comments contenting that we 1) Don’t pay taxes. In fact we are the second largest tax payer in the county. 2) Are on Food Stamps and Welfare. In fact none of the membership uses these government assistance programs.
Polyamory is wrong: There was the expected amount of slut shaming and name calling. I should not have been surprised at the frequently expressed concern that pedophiles would have easy access to our kids, when in fact the opposite is the case. There were a refreshing number of people who felt like this was an acceptable choice, only not right for them personally. For many critics this simply feed their notion of moral decay on the commune. There was a prevalent opinion that this reflected an easy way to have lots of sex partners, when actually the form of polyamory most often practiced in the communities requires lots of discussion, negotiations and process.
This can never work: Despite the article mentioning that we had been around for nearly 50 years, there were a surprising number of comments predicting our imminent demise or our failure in the long term. I chalk this up to people not wanting the story to be true, so they lash out against it in ways that don’t make much sense. Because the article was focused on parenting and not pension, there were many comments about what happens when people reach retirement age. In fact our pension program is far more robust than the default one in the mainstream.
Applying for Pregnancy !?!?! It is true this is very odd and i totally get why this flips people out. And when you read why we do it, it will make a whole lot more sense to you. This linked article also has the bonus section that it includes the only (to my knowledge) exhaustive list of Twin Oaks prohibitions.
Eeww you have Lice!: Apparently, only the community suffers from lice. Every couple of years we have a lice outbreak. We fight some, internally, about the use of chemicals to push it back. We clean a ton of laundry, some people dramatically shave their heads to avoid having to treat or retreat. Frankly, they are more psychologically problematic than actually physically problematic, but try telling that to someone who is freaking out.
While i had a good time going thru the comments and correcting people misconceptions and laughing about the haters, i counseled everyone who was actually in the article not to read the comments. They don’t yet show the thoughtful dialog we would hope to find on the digital pages of the internet.
What the article did not mention is that:
1) Twin Oaks has had a waiting list for more than 7 years now. So if you are in a rush to find a new place, we are a poor choice.
2) It is far harder for families to become members than individuals. In the last 10 years there has only been three families accepted (and perhaps a dozen who have tried to come). The visitor period is longer, the waiting list is tougher and every member of the family must be accepted or none of them can come.