[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.
The petition is only one week old and it has garnered 50K signatures. It is the Change.org petition to make the Republican National Convention in Cleveland an open carry zone. This means anyone with a legal gun is permitted to carry and display their firearm.
If you have ever been to a political convention, one of the things which is very common is the consumption of alcohol. Many people who come are working or celebrating hard. Some are drinking because they are excited about their candidate’s success. Others are drinking because it now seems their candidate can’t win. And this RNC is holding its fingers on the amplifier knobs with the prospect of Trump having the nomination stolen from him in the second ballot. There will be a lot of drinking in Cleveland.
Ohio is an open carry state (though the Quicken Loan Arena is exempted). All three top Republican candidates are actively pro-gun, one of whom is the Governor of Ohio who could influence this circumstance.
What could you add to a sharply divided group of gun carrying strongly opinionated people? That would be thousands of protesters and a bunch of poorly trained riot cops (who can’t train because their riot gear is late).
What could go wrong?
Validation Day at Twin Oaks is a mostly internal affair. Unlike some of our larger events (like Anniversary or New Years Eve) we don’t invite that many folks from outside to this event, because we prefer to know people better for this more intimate party. I think there were fewer than half a dozen non-Oakers at this event (if you also exclude the Acorners, ex-members, and the handful of East Winders who are currently helping out at Acorn.)
The important piece of this party for me was that there was such a seamless range between kids and adults. This was helped significantly by the former member kids who joined our current group of teens and early 20s, many of whom are members. An ex-member pointed out that this was the first party she had seen where the kids really felt like it was their party too, like they were not just running through Tupelo, but were on the dance floor, with adults and other youth.
There are very few really integrated inter-generational parties. Think of the last time when 7- and 70-year olds were both on the dance floor enjoying themselves. I think many people have no experience of this. We are building the better party.
Having lots of kids at the event did not dampen the energy of the adults, though I think it does make the adults somewhat more discreet about their amorous attractions. Members got their results from the 6 creatures game and many were excited to find out their (perhaps formerly secret) attractions were shared.
Another indicator that it was a positive event for the participants was that I could not get shuttles to Acorn filled. As is my way at these events, I ran around checking in with people about when they wanted to catch a ride home to Acorn. I checked at 11 PM, no one wanted to leave, I checked at midnight, another failure. At 1 AM a small car went home but it was not even full. Finally at 3 AM I was able to fill the 15 seat passenger van.
The party was not perfect. Unusually, it was held in Tupelo, which is a very large and somewhat rambling space, and the party had several focuses, which made the dance floor seem sparse for much of the night. The kissing booth was a bit too dark and too close to the dance floor, so this funological long lever was barely used.
But even with these minor design flaws, we were clearly doing something right. Participants were praising the event the next day, many having slept in from the late night of celebration.
Living in community is often about zoning. We ask people not to talk about work on the steam table line in our dining hall. We ask people not to be topless in places where local people are likely to come by. We restrict 18 wheel trucks to the industrial park portion of the community. We have a building that the visitors live in while they are checking out the community. Smoking is significantly restricted in location. There are only certain places in the community where you can smoke cigarettes.
And at meals we have “fun tables“. There are two large tables, one inside and the other outside, which are designated as “fun tables”. Oh, fun happens in all kinds of places, but they have this name because we have agreements about what happens at them. Specifically:
- You can always sit a fun table
- If there is no room, we will make room
- No meetings or private conversations
- No talking about work
Willow is often the fun police. If you start talking about work, he will call you out, sometimes by honking at you. Some people try to get away with talking about work at the fun table by talking about it in funny accents. Willow is rarely fooled by this ploy.
Times change, cultures evolve. We have added the Staedtl, which is a collection of couches and comfy chairs which face each other. You don’t have to ask to sit in this area and the conversations are an uncontrolled mix of private, public and somewhere in between. Work is fair game and the fun police are not welcome.
We also have “super fun” tables. These have the same rules are a normal fun table, except you can talk about work if you like, no need for silly accents.
One of the most important capacities of intentional communities is changing culture. This can be changing how people dress, how we report relationships at work, how we teach our children or how we observe holidays.
Valentines Day has always struck me as a broken holiday. It celebrates just one style of relationship, sets people up for too big or too small gifts of their caring, and creates many people who feel left out. Before I lived in community, even when I had a single romantic partner, I never liked this holiday much.
Many years ago, in response, our sister community East Wind developed Validation Day as an alternative. Every member is celebrated in the form of affirmations, no romantic partner required. Part of the celebration is the creation of cards. There is a great dance, often a kissing booth and the 6 creatures game.
The 6 creatures game is designed to take the rejection out of asking someone to hang out or even to make out. The idea is that leading up to the party (which happens around February 14th, famous worldwide for being my son Willow‘s birthday), people who want to play are given a ballot with the names of the others who want to play. There are options (represented by different creatures) for a work date, a play date, a cuddle date, to kiss at the party, hot sex and/or a relationship.
For anyone who is playing, you select what you may want to do with them. I might just want to kiss someone at the party. If they selected only a work date and a play date for me, we would miss each other completely, getting no matches with each other when the games were returned. But if I had selected a play date and kissing at the party, then we would match on the play date and both be informed of that only.
Regular readers will not be surprised to discover I play this game somewhat recklessly. I was willing to have at least a work date or play date with perhaps 80% of the people on this years 6 creatures game ballot. And in my experience, many of the created matches don’t actually get acted on and every year there are some surprises. Yet some of the matches turn out to be important, even life changing.
About 40 people decided to play the 6 creatures game this year, spanning four different communities in the area: Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sapling and Cambia. This is new; until recently only Twin Oaks members played. But as the movement expands locally, more communards want to play this long lever game.
Validation Day is a more internal holiday. Some events, like New Years Eve and Anniversary are big holidays where we invite lots of people to come. Validation Day is still a larger event, but it is more intimate people who know us better. You certainly should not come by without being invited.
I am spending the current Snowpocolypse in a place called Swan Point. It is a lovely Point A DC retreat which is hoping to do a bunch of things, including start the income sharing group in Washington. I am pleased to be hanging with such a clever, talented and motivated group. If anyone can pull off this perhaps impossible task, it is the likes of these folks.
And names are important and we don’t yet have one for the DC Point A community. Below is the list of names which have been suggested so far. You can put in your votes (6 yes votes and 3 no votes) for the names you like and those you can’t stand. You can reply either on Facebook (where this is posted on 1) my personal page, 2) The FEC Facebook page or the Point A Facebook page) or if you are not on FB at all, or dont want them to know what you think, you can leave a comment on this blog. You are also welcome to make suggestions for new names for the commune. The names currently on the list are:
Asylum for Idiots (What the first promising Point A DC site was originally called)
Georgia Flats (we are most likely to be near Georgia Avenue)
Salt Flats (we are likely on Morton St)
The Tower of Power
Anarres (the anarchist moon from the classic Sci-fi novel The Dispossessed)
Kat’s Cradle (for Kat Kinkade, founder to TO, Acorn and East Wind)
The Hanging Gardens of Morton St
The House of Common
Orbital Lifeboat Factory
K Street Extension
All You Can Eat Shrimp Just $4.99 (was almost sort of Batman‘s new name)
Morton Street Kommune
The Fortune Cookie Factory
The Anarchist Frathouse
Charismatic Wolf Leaders
Microcosm (making members Microcosmonauts)
Castle in the Sky
The Hanging Gardens
The A Ward
The Ward (we would be Wardens)
The Twin Towers
The House of Unicorns
The Communist Castle
500 Grumpy Anarchists
ACDC (an acronym for A Commune in DC)
Some of these names are crazy unlikely. Even tho i have an old lover named Styrofoam, the Point A folks are unlikely to choose this clever name. Nor (thankfully) does Communist Castle have much of a chance.
Help us Choose, by commenting on this blog or write on the Facebook Pages this article is posted on. Feel free to add your own names, we will likely choose quite soon though, so hurry.