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.
This presentation is being given 4 times
What if you could fight climate change by changing your agreements with your friends? What if you could work less but have greater access to resources? What if you could be building more trust in your life instead of making making profits for someone else?
All this might sound too good to be true, but a collection of resource and income sharing communities in central Virginia have been doing this for years. These communities create libraries of tools, cars, clothes and media while learning to live together. One upside of this lifestyle choice is an 80% reduction in each member’s carbon footprint.
The catch is you have to trust people. This requires deep and occasionally difficult conversations and a willingness to look at yourself and cooperate in ways we are not used to.
This presentation explores the tools and traps connected with embracing an income sharing lifestyle. The talk will be followed by a question and answer session.
We are also doing a Communities in Crisis: How to manage and mend workshop in Binghamton NY on May 6th.
Paxus Calta is the co-founder of the Point A project which is an audacious project to form urban income sharing egalitarian democratic ambitious engaged communes in the cities of the American East Coast. He has lived at Twin Oaks Community for 18 years. Twin Oaks is a secular 100 person income sharing community which grows most of its own food, builds its own buildings, runs its own businesses and educates its own kids. The community has been doing this successfully for 49 years.
If you have friends or allies in the Boston/Cambridge area, I recommend two workshops on Intentional Community:
- Community in Crisis: How to Manage and Mend – 1 PM (Facebook Event)
- Community as the Solution to Climate Change – 3:30 PM (Facebook Event)
Saturday March 19 at MIT Room 13-4101.105 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge Mass
It’s a short walk from the Kendall Square Subway Station.
Residential intentional communities both represent a solution to major problems facing humanity and work with some of our most complex interpersonal dynamics. These two workshops examine how to navigate some of these troubles and what fixes communities are offering the greater society.
These two workshops are open to the general community, though the first workshop (Community in Crisis) is especially applicable for members of cooperative houses and co-housing communities.
Community in Crisis: How to Manage and Mend
Invariably, communities will experience conflicts and interpersonal problems and occasionally these are quite serious. This workshop looks at different types of critical problems that have hit communities, especially ones where the cohesion of the membership is threatened, and looks at best practices for managing them. How do you avoid putting members on trial? What are the trigger words that escalate conflicts and how do we communicate effectively and avoid them? How do you use shuttle diplomacy before mediation to lower tension? How do you know when the whole group is involved or when it can be managed by a smaller sub-group? When is it clear the group needs to break up/change composition to make things better?
Once you are on the other side of a crisis, what can be done to rebuild trust and intimacy? How do you harvest knowledge from the problem to avoid repeating it in the future?
This interactive workshop will use role plays and case studies to explore different approaches to the art of building community harmony.
Intentional Community as a solution to Climate Change
Central to the problem of climate disruption is idle material resources. The UN IPCC recommends an 80% reduction in carbon footprint by 2050, yet no industrial nation is on track for this level of reduction. In central Virginia the members of income sharing communities are living middle class (or some might argue upper middle class) life styles while outperforming this target reduction. The secret to their success is radical resource sharing.
The Twin Oaks Community represents over 100 people sharing cars, clothes, income, businesses, buildings, and bicycles and thus dramatically reducing their per person climate effect. This lifestyle is also culturally rich, economically sustainable, and mutually supportive.
This workshop will begin with a presentation on the sharing technologies which underpin these village economies and how the members maintain the trust needed. The second portion of the workshop is interactive and will explore how urban dwellers, including workshop participants, can foster sharing systems in urban environments.
Paxus Calta manages recruiting and outreach for Twin Oaks community. He is coordinating the Point A campaign to spark new high model-value communities inside the five boroughs of NYC. He has fought nuclear reactors in eastern Europe, hitchhiked across the Pacific on sailboats, and smuggled monks out of Tibet.
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.
Two years ago I wrote in the blog about a naming party for Twin Oaks’ new Prius. We called the car “This is why we can’t have Nice Things.” When someone asked Kathryn, who was helping facilitate the naming party, why we selected this name she simply said:
Come back in a year and look at this car and you will understand why we decided to call it this.
Collectively, we are hard on things. Shared items (like cars and bikes and clothes) can get rough treatment sometimes, in part because there are a lot of users and in part because people often take better care of things they personally own. Communal property often has a rough ride with many owners/operators. But a funny thing happened on the way to the predicted tragedy of the commons. It did not happen.
Instead it seemed the communards were willing to take some greater responsibility for things which perhaps needed it. Now after over 2 years, Nice Things (as it is called for short) is in fine condition. And our intrepid vehicle manager Trout has taken advantage of this better-than-expected behavior.
He has bought 3 more hybrids.
Over 1/4 of the current car fleet at Twin Oaks is high fuel efficiency hybrid cars. Trout calculates that this saves us over $2K per hybrid per year.
So when someone tells you, “Sharing does not work, tragedy of the commons, and all that,” you can tell them about Nice Things.