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Almost an orgy

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.

kiss dice in mouth

“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.

consent flow

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.

Hawina’s Birthday

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.

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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).

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Emily plays a mean guitar and ensures no one survives

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.]

 

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Hawina on Greek Island famous for Pistachios

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 small gem in new york city

The housing situation in NYC is intense.  Gentrification has struck the big apple like a Mac truck hits a butterfly on the expressway.  Housing is expensive, unstable and uncomfortably competitive adding to the other stresses of the city.  New York City is not for the faint of heart.

NYC subway crowded

When i was told there was a place in NYC that had below market rents, was a community which provided social events, food, and housing i was surprised.  When i heard they had a very minimal selection process and you just signed up and got on a list i was blown away.  How is this even possible, without them having a year’s long waiting list?

Part of the answer is that Ganas Community is on Staten Island.  New Yorkers are fiercely territorial and many think that Staten Island is not really part of the city.  It perhaps a lost county of New Jersey or its own autonomous regime.  But a 25-minute free ferry ride puts you at the southern tip of Manhattan and into the best subway system in the country.

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But it is more than the accessible services that make Ganas an important place.  Ganas is daring.  Having a very open admissions process permits people to join the community recognizing in advance it might not work out and while they are figuring out they will get a chance to be part of it.    This is not what most communities do.  Instead, we (in the Louisa communities) have a highly controlled visitor program, and if we are worried we can’t accommodate your needs, then we don’t offer you a place.  Even though Ganas is not an egalitarian community, there is something deeply fair (as well as daring) in this approach.

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Perhaps a decade ago i ran into one of the most inspiring pieces of Ganas culture.  I was in a conversation with an Oaker who had lived at Ganas for some years and they were being criticized by another person.  I did not feel like the critique was justified and actually thought (were i hearing it) it would be hurtful.  But this Ganasian was not just taking it in stride, they were asking for the person to elaborate.  And with all sincerity were basically saying “Tell me more about these things you think are wrong with me.”  Culturally, Ganas does not fear criticism, instead, it embraces it.    New Yorkers are often frank with their complaints, and in this way Ganasians are typical New Yorkers, they are going to tell you what they think you are doing wrong with you (i was told at one point during Ganas planning that  i was “acting like a spoiled teenager” which made me reflect on how i should be more grateful for the things which were being offered to me).

One of the big differences between most small communities and most large ones is that small communities can afford to be “exception based” and larger groups usually rely on policy.  When the group can comfortably meet together and work things out, then it is fine for some member to come with their exceptional situation and for the group to work out a collective fix.  But when you get much over 30 people, this can be exhausting and time-consuming.  Instead, you gravitate towards designing good policy which can be applied broadly to the membership, instead of doing lots of exception handling. Ganas at size 80, pretends it is a small community which can listen to the special needs of its members and adopt collectively to try to accommodate them.  And once it has found a path to taking care of its members, Ganas goes the extra mile to make it work out.

bike go the extra mile

The Point A project is indebted to Ganas.  About every other other month for the last three years, activists from Virginia have come up to NYC and stayed at Ganas where they have welcomed us in and fed us.  They have asked for nothing for this, and when i bring it up they tell me that this is their contribution to the communities movement recruiting and expansion work that we are doing.

Ganas is media shy.  I’ve written a couple of flattering blog posts about the community in the past and they have asked me to respect their privacy and not post them, which i did.  I did get permission to post one on the food line.    For most of the past several years there has been a waiting list at Ganas, but recently it vanished.

vacancies sign

If you or your perhaps one of your friends has always wanted to live in NYC, but were discouraged because of crazy high rents or the isolation of the city, now might be the time to try.  Write to info@ganas.org or come to dinner on Friday at 135 Corson Ave, Staten Island, just a 20 minute walk from the ferry.

The Blogs of Twin Oaks

 

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I was surprised to discover that Winnie had a blog.  She is an amazing cook, so it should have not be a surprise that she blogs about cooking for 100 people at Twin Oaks.  Her blog called Sustainable Sustenance for Existence

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Winnie:  The baker is a blogger

It also begged the question:  What other blogs and social media presences are there in the community and shouldn’t i write a meta-blog about all of them?

Here’s the ones that i know of:

Also new to the scene is Reynaldo’s Dairy Instagram account, taking pictures of our most prosaic cows.

Double Rainbow

It ain’t paradise, but on a good day you can see it from here.

Running in ZK is the name of the community’s unofficial blog.  It is ironically named, because one of the things you most often hear parents or primaries saying to our kids when they are in the dining hall (which is called ZK) “No running in ZK”.  About a dozen Oakers contribute to this blog, which has been running since May of 2013.

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Two of the Running in ZK contributors, adder and Keegan, have spun off on their own internet presence called Commune Dads which is actually a pod cast more than a blog site, but these things blur these days.  

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Commune Dads is up to its 6th podcast now (which is on the mixed blessing of grandparents).  And while the lessons are drawn from commune life experience, as with many of the things we find here, important elements are exportable to mainstream life.

Pam was the garden manager for 20 years.  She has written a book called Sustainable Market Farming and there is a blog site to support the book with the same name.

pams book cover

Last and certainly least is my blog, Funologist.  First off, it is only about 20% about Twin Oaks.  The other parts are on polyamory, the evils of nuclear power, Point A adventures to start new urban communities, impeding Trumps latest madness, or curious thought pieces on constructing super memes. This all said, I still get people who friend me on Facebook because they searched for communes and kept finding my stuff.

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Blogger and his muse

If Facebook is your preferred point of entrance to the world, we have several presences there, including:

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The House that Numbers Built

This post first appeared on the Commune Life Blog.

We had two naming parties to find a name for the new commune in DC. They both failed. Unlike naming a car or a rope machine, it actually matters that you get a good name out of a party, if you are naming your home.  Naming parties tend to gravitate towards sillier or complex names. For example, the Mighty HaHas of TomorrowLand was the disputed result of the last Compersia party.   But even this silly name did not go to waste completely, the Ivy City house which Compersia Community just moved out of is called TomorrowLand.

But the community itself needed a bigger name, and stronger name. I was quite satisfied with what they choose without the help of a naming party – Compersia.  Derived from the word compersion, this name is a big ask.  It’s about trying to let go of our jealousy and envy and be happy with those we care for being happy, even if our special connection is not exclusive.

compersion comic kimchi cuddles
The Compersia community has a new house. They moved out of Ivy City and now are in Crestwood (one of the proposed names was Bestwood). It is a much larger house, with a real yard and an ample basement play space. This basement space got named Bonkersville at the naming party, which seemed apt since Sappho, Meren, Zadek and Julian were boxing with oversized gloves for much of the evening.

I was asked to facilitate, which i really should take as a compliment, because both of the previous two meetings that i facilitated failed. We got about 50 suggestions from Bagel and The Situation to Emma’s Tea Room and Whitetop’s Castle.
There is an origin story to that last name.  Whitetop was the gambling tzar of DC in the 50s thru 70s. Someone said running the numbers ended not long after this with the advent of the state sponsored lottery. He built this house in Crestwood, a quite suburban enclave beside a park, within the city limits of DC.

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We eliminated many great names

Perhaps 50 people participated in the naming party that i facilitated. In the first round they had all 50 choices and 6 yes votes and 3 no votes. Over half the list got eliminated this way. People added names in, but generally these did not make it to the next elimination round. Bougie’s Bugaloo did not make it to the 3rd round, (Bougie Galore is Jenny’s comic commune name), and we also dropped Neverland and the Lucky Heretics. Lucky was for gambling, and heretics because they don’t believe in private income. The last three names on the list were:

  • Sheppards Gamble
  • The House that Numbers Built
  • Asterix

Technically, Asterix won, but only by a single vote after 4 rounds of eliminations. We agreed to call the Bike Shed, “Wheels Up,” and the Basement, “Bonkersville.” There already is a holy site dedicated to “Our Lady of Perpetual Container Shortage” which houses a giant four door refrigerator filled with well organized dumpster treasures.

But the name i think the house is going to go by is “Numbers” which is what folks will call “The House that Numbers Built”. It references Whitetop’s business success. It can quickly be abbreviated by a single #. Googles parent company is Alphabet, the Communes star model is Numbers.

We will see if this one sticks.  It is a lovely place.

What she sees wrong with me

Sometimes our parents teach us how not to be who they are. My father’s father died when he was a boy. My father had to work hard all his life and grew up to be risk averse. He bought insurance, showed up early for almost everything, and was a highly disciplined and organized man. He was a captain of industry, the CEO of a firm which bore his name, and a real job creator. That ain’t me.

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L to R: Brother John, dad, myself, Jaz Tupelo.

The art of online dating is fundamentally about risk taking. It almost never works out, except when it does. Because I wanted to see the OK Cupid profiles for folks in a local poly group, I created a profile for myself (OKC will not let you review profiles unless you have one). But because I did such a terrible job with it a charitable friend offered to rewrite it for me – which lead to some curious situations, but that is another story.

I dutifully answered a few hundred questions and did some surveys that I found interesting and did some flirting, but nothing really came of it. I am the wrong demographic for this platform: too old, too male, maybe even too straight, who knows.

heart keyboard

I did at one point get a date with a gal who was a 99% match. This is quite rare for people who have not already lived in community. For the people who have lived in community, it is somewhat common to have very high matches. I was a bit excited. She wrote me that her and her boyfriend were in Virginia and he especially was interested in Twin Oaks and asked if they could stop by. A first date with her existing boyfriend seemed perfect to me.

Some might find this odd, but I have been on very few dates in my life. I’ve had more than my share of wonderful romantic experiences, but they almost all started at protest actions or festivals or conferences or the comfortably relaxed environment of the communities. Dating was a bit scary to me.

So having the boyfriend along set the parameter clearly. We were not going to end up in bed together at the end of the evening, unless there was some really amazing chemistry.   His interest in the communities gave us lots of things to talk about and we would get to know each other in a relaxed way. Them coming to the commune meant I did not have to organize travel or go anywhere and deal with bar or café scene, and could avoid spending money which was also nice.

They arrived at Morningstar and we spoke for a while, and they seemed nice enough. She was an unemployed opera singer, he did geeky things with software, they were from the NYC metro area, and I thought at first there might be a Point A connection.

But as the evening wore on it became increasingly clear that there would be no chemistry. She valued completely different things than I do. When we talked about how we made life choices I found myself repulsed by what she had chosen; she likely found my decisions equally problematic. I could ramble off a list of the things that I found problematic about her personally, but it is perhaps more useful to list the things she probably thought of me:

off balance

Romantic Imbalance

Disconnected from the real world, not creating a secure financial future, not building a resume, sloppy, disorganized, reckless, over extended, unfocused, insufficiently respectful of existing power structures and institutions, uncultured, dirty, and self possessed.

“But what about the 99% match?” I kept asking myself. “How could we have done so well with the algorithm and be such a complete mismatch?” Then I figured it out. There are literally thousands of questions. If I only answered a few hundred and she answered very different ones than I, then we could have a high match by having very few overlaps and those being highly correlated by chance. I was pleased with my clear explanation of this slightly uncomfortable situation.

online dating lie

“How many OK Cupid questions did you answer?” I asked to confirm my theory.

“All four thousand,” her boyfriend answered for her. So much for my clever theory.

And so it was with almost every OK Cupid experience I had. I hardly went on any more dates, but I chatted up a lot of folks and kept finding repeatedly that either I was too odd for them, or they were just not very appealing to me. I paid for the premium service for a few months to see if this would help, but I just got more people to be excited about (since it shows you who is interested in you) and none of them panned out. It seemed like the entire thing was a gigantic waste of time and emotional energy. All of online dating was a pointless exercise.

Except it wasn’t.

“I need to meet you,” she wrote me. She read my profile, was intrigued both by me and community life. Now we are together almost everyday, Gryphon, her charming daughter, Sappho, and her ex-husband Curt at Acorn. She was a 96% match. I never ever would have met her if it were not for OK Cupid. Our worlds had no overlap. And she has significantly changed my life.

gryphon and paxus

So when they tell you online dating is pointless, they are almost right but not quite. And that difference makes all the difference.

Binghamton – Hello and Goodbye

This post originally appeared on CommuneLife Blog.

We got to Binghamton via MIT.    It was one of the first presentations of the Communities in Crisis materials.  It was a  small crowd, perhaps half a dozen people not affiliated with the Point A project in the room.

“But they are the right people,” Raven said, and not knowing much about the Boston coop scene, I was happy to defer to him.  Turned out he was right.

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Emily and Eddy in the Genome Kitchen

Rachael from the audience said we had to talk with Maximus and put Genome Collective on our agenda.  And with Genome came our growing connection to Binghamton University and David Sloan Wilson and the birth of the Chloroplast Research Institute.

It is from these connections that we have started seriously exploring the thesis that living in community is more sane than not and that people who join heal with time.  A radical, if not obvious, notion.  There is quite some chance that Maximus’s PhD thesis will be working with the income sharing communities in an effort to prove this.  Which would be wonderful for us.

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Maximus and Rachel – right people, right place.

We have been working with Genome Collective in Binghamton for over a year, with several Point A visits.  We did some strong group process work in our early visits to Genome and, at one point, even hoped they would morph from being a group house into being an income sharing community.

The house itself has a number of positive attributes.  A large separate meeting space over the garage called “the temple” is ideal for workshops, meditation or yoga classes.  The house has the beginnings of a thriving culinary mushroom business.  Genome has both numerous bedrooms and a top floor which can host several sleepover guests.

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Lion’s mane mushroom growing in Genome Mushroom farm

Maximus gave us a full schedule of classes and workshops while we were there.  We presented on a number of topics including climate change, polyamory, income sharing communities and sustainability.  Our classes spanned the range from large freshman lectures to small grad student seminars.  What was universal was that we got thoughtful and insightful questions from every group of students and several students interested in visiting and/or studying our cultures.

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It is also clear that, while we are welcome in Binghamton to do more speaking gigs at the university and to stay at Genome, the house has decided that they will be a group house instead of an income sharing community, and will not be needing the services of Point A to help them go in that direction.  Our future visits will be more connected to the Twin Oaks Academic Speaking Tour (TOAST) instead of Point A work.