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Bye for noo, Milo

Milo MacTavish has gone to the other side.  He was an extraordinary man.

 

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Milo at the Pizza Stone in Vermont circa 2017

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.

 

Dalmor Whisky

Milo favorite and clan brand

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.

 

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Milo and Belladonna at Acorn Circa 2014

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.]

 

 

 

 

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.

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“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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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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:

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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.

Commune Exports – Fatherhood

In the time of Trump, it is critical to seek high functioning alternatives to the mainstream culture.  Twin Oaks and the surrounding cluster of egalitarian communities could be a model for new behaviors of sharing technologies and cooperative culture.  But perhaps our most daring export, because many default culture citizens think they are expert in this, is how to be a father.

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Keegan and adder (sic) are two young fathers living in a rural income sharing egalitarian commune.  But if you are willing to listen, i think their advice might be applicable for your world as well.

Other articles about communes and families:

This is a rich topic.  Your comments are welcome.

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Willow behind me, before Women’s March (Pussy hat by Hawina)

Trust Fall

By Gil Cambia

Ask anyone what is the first association they have with the term “hippie commune” and you’ll get “free love.”  This term technically makes no sense, unless you assume that all love in Babylon is expensive and that Milton Friedman, bless his heart (or lack thereof), didn’t mean to say “no free lunch” but “no free love”. Either way, it begs the question of what is meant by that term and whether there is any truth in it. This article is somewhat of a personal account through the thorny rose garden of compersion.  [Compersion is the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.]

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Ever done a trust fall? You know–when you step up on a platform and fall back, against every bit of intuition which yells at you “We’re gonna die!” and “Don’t do it,” only to be caught by all of your friends. I’ve done it many times and guided many people through the process, as I’ve worked in the ropes course industry for many years. I still remember the look on this 11-year-old boy’s face after getting caught. His eyes sparkled with a combination of elation, disbelief, sheer love, and a little bit of residual tears of fear from the 5 minutes it took him to finally drop. What I saw in him was actually a new emotion, one that he didn’t expect to experience. It was more powerful than he had words for.

This is all nice and good, but there is something different that happens to parents when they watch their children try the trust fall. They don’t get to have the endorphins, adrenaline, and peer pressure. It just feels so scary to watch a loved one go through it, especially if you don’t get to be a catcher. I’ve had some parents tell me that they went through a more challenging ropes-course experience in watching their children participate than in participating themselves. Nonetheless, it can be a powerful growing experience even when it isn’t very enjoyable.

So my little family and I moved here to the Louisa communes and started a new one called Cambia, and we’re doing quite well, all things considered. Something you need to know about the Louisa communes, however, is that people are very polite. They don’t just assume that because you are a family you must be monogamous. In fact it might be rude to utter such Babylonian terms, so they ask you right away if you are polyamorous. And asking one spouse is also too presumptive, and one should really ask both in case one of them is poly and the other is still stuck in their ways.

This is all well and good. We, of course, do not believe in sexual possessiveness and felt mildly appreciated for that. So no, we didn’t get subsumed into orgies right away. People just wanted to know in the same way that they want to know one’s preferred pronoun. But the compersious challenge came right away when my son said he didn’t want me to be his primary and that other people are more fun to play with.

Hmm… he’s right. I’m often preoccupied and am trying to do multiple things while watching him. What do I do? I try to be better and more fun but a part of me wants to tell other people in my community to not be so much fun. I don’t want him to start crying every time I tell him it’s my turn to watch him. It is so insulting. Does he not remember all of the reusable diapers I washed by hand with hand-pumped ice cold water in the rain? The answer is no, he doesn’t and he doesn’t need to remember. I wouldn’t want him to be polite and suffer through his time with me, pretending it’s the best thing since homemade flatbread. And just to add insult to injury, he sometimes calls other people “Daddy” and seems to not bother changing that mistake. Sometimes calls me by other people’s names too, but he never confuses me with the really fun people in his life.

Good Gaia, he’s only 4, not 14. I’m not ready to be snubbed. Why is this happening??? I know why, and I know that it’s good. He is growing up with endless adult attention, people to play with and teach him things. On my end, however, not only do I feel inadequate as a parent, but I also feel like I must not want what’s best for my child but what’s best for my ego.

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So guess what, I realize that there is no way to win his heart without offering mine completely. I try my best to play with him with full attention, with creativity, but without being contrived or fake. I just started taking more interest in him and in wanting him to enjoy the game I create for him. This effort turned out better for everyone involved. And if Milton Friedman was reading this paper he would attribute it to the breaking of monopoly that I had over him, and that the competition sparked improvement in quality. Ugh, maybe you’re right just this one time. In the big picture, though, Milton, you’re wrong. Competition also leads to reduction in quality and increase in the Kitsch factor. The pressure on me was to be a better dad and not a more attractive dad, because my motivation was not sales but connection.

Sorry about this economic digression. Let’s digress into anthropology instead:

It takes a village, right? There is one culture remaining that does not have a word for “father” and does not have a word to distinguish “mother” from “aunt”. This is one of the last matriarchal societies on this planet.

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The Mosuo people of the southern Yunan province of China have been living in a matriarchal and matrilineal way for longer than recorded history (not fair; they had no written language so most of their existence is before recorded history). Every household has a matriarch whose mother, sisters, and brothers help with raising all of their children regardless of who birthed whom.

The Mosuo traditionally have no marriage. They practice something they call “walking marriage,” which is a secret connection between a man and a woman as the man is invited by the woman to her private room, which she gets when she turns 13 after her “flower ceremony,” where she has the liberty of inviting whomever she wishes to her space and they must leave by dawn.

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This ritual functions to create a complete uncertainty of paternity. Every man knows who his nieces and nephews are, but not his children. This is far from perfect now. There are many Han (dominant culture) influences and their traditional ways of life are disappearing.

The important thing to realize about the Mosuo is that they have very low rates of violence, rape, murder, warfare, child abuse or abandonment in comparison to patriarchal tribal societies. Though difficult to document or verify, it appears that more sex and more sexual diversity is experienced by both genders. This last point should surprise us, shouldn’t it? When women are in charge, there is more sex and more diversity than when men are in charge?

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As one anthropologist describes it: “In matriarchies, mothers are at the center of culture without ruling over other members of society,”  “The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, ie. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect.” From a reproductive perspective, it makes perfect sense. For the reproductive fitness of the female, it makes sense to have support in raising children. Unlike men, she cannot have hundreds of children through raping and pillaging, and restricting the reproduction of other men will not help her children in any way.

This is the reality of the bonobo and the naked mole-rat. They also have structurally determined paternity diffusion, and what’s the result?

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Cuddle puddles! Unlike gorillas and chimps, bonobos do not fight invaders, steal their females, kill their young, play political games, or abandon their orphans. And yes, they have more sex than any other primate, and they are pretty undiscriminating about their sexual partners.

When a male does not know who is his child, and he figures that at least a few in the group are, he has an evolutionary pressure to care about the entire group, not just his own. Also, if he can’t stop a female from mating with others multiple times a day, it’s better for him just to join the fun than to try to control it.

So how did it go for me? How am I handling being in an open relationship? It wouldn’t be very interesting if I said that it was great, would it? It really wasn’t easy, though. Of course I love those who love my spouse, but it’s hard not to feel insecure. I’ll spare you the details that you may have read this far just to get to some juicy stuff.

Let me just say the following: it’s the greatest trust fall of all. Just when you think you are falling to your death, when it’s someone else’s time to spend the night with your partner, you get caught by both your partner, their new partner, and the entire support network of poly love warriors.  It’s an incredible feeling. Your intuition yells to you, “She doesn’t want you anymore!” and your partner smiles and reaffirms that she will always love you. You lay there in the hands of those who caught you and you think you must have fallen to your death and woken up in heaven, and the truth is you did.

When love loses restrictions, suddenly the love with a partner becomes a true rather than an obligatory expression. Suddenly your partner not only feels owned by you but actually appreciative for the effort and struggles you are willing to go through for his or her well being. What better way is there to show love?

To be honest, it isn’t instant nirvana. It takes a long time to overcome the internalized patriarchy completely. But luckily, the path is not pure suffering. There is a distinct experience of greater love and greater security.

The cultivation of compersion is that of true love. It’s about vulnerability, it’s about trust without control, it’s both letting yourself fall and getting caught by the soft loving hands of your friends, and about watching those you love get caught by others and not by you. Through this process you get nudged to become a better, more loving, and more lovable person (or so I hope).

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In a broader perspective of communal living, our movement is focused on creating wealth out of sharing, not out of possessing or overproducing. We have mastered it in shared land, housing, work, risk, costs, childcare, and many resources, but the most important aspect, the one that is also the least depleted by sharing with others, is love.