In early April I was biking from Washington DC to my hometown of Greenville, SC, on an old mountain bike with all my belongings tied on to it with paracord from Walmart. At the end of the third day I was 150 miles into my journey, in the middle of nowhere Virginia. The sun was setting and I was loudly dying of exhaustion as I pedaled slowly past a pointed sign, ‘cyclists welcome.’
I looked at the place, looked at the sign, looked at the road ahead, looked at myself, looked at the sign.. I was indeed a cyclist and all signs pointed to a place that I would be welcome. I didn’t even notice the giant, suspended boat with a deck built around it, or the huge wooden tricycle immediately to my right. I didn’t notice much other than an old house and a rumbling in my tummy. I hopped off the bike, walked past another welcoming sign, and knocked on the door.
I never got back on the bike.
I had arrived just in time for dinner. Gil, who had let me in, was cooking, while another dirty man, woman, and child smiled at me from the bed in the kitchen. I was sweating so much it looked like I had pissed myself. My first impression was suspicious, but after a shower and being shown the composting toilet I felt mostly safe with my new hippie friends. We laughed a lot at dinner and I decided I would stay a day to rest and see what this place was about.
5 weeks later I was driven to the bus stop to complete my ride into South Carolina.
Cambia is a small egalitarian community comprised of nomads and a small central family. They build everything on their property themselves, live in harmony with the natural world around them, and work as hard as they play. I have never known such immediate, unpretentious warmth and love. We lived together, worked together, and played together. I’ve probably never had so much fun, like, ever. Can’t wait to see them again.
Other blog posts about Cambia Community:
I co-moderate a large diverse facebook group on intentional communities. Recently someone posted:
Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.
While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.
What is gossip? It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room. “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him. It is just an opinion. “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.
“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it? Is it gossip if the target is the source?
Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.
Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community. One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?” This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.
Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.
Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy. Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community. Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice. “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?” or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”
In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems. [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.] You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it. Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.
In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream. If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger. If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you. If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem. Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing like a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently. Gossip in community has more obligation to it.
It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture. In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them. This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together. And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.
It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently. Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate. When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members. And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.
The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game. You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event. But this is not the whole story. Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it. Let me explain further.
Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm. There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television). There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.
But sports are somehow different. People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening. I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important. And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers. So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution. Watch the Super Bowl a day later.
This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television. And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.
Back in 2004, we were less into sports. I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?” No one did. Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.
I’m lucky. My upbringing was affluent and comfortable and basically trauma free. I come from an advantaged class background. I am white and male in a world which has been designed to privilege these attributes. I have a low maintenance body and fairly good genes. I went to fancy schools and learned how to play some of the games which support the existing power structures and inequitable distribution of wealth.
So if one cares about fairness, how do you justify this unfair advantage? Some of my peers, like Sara, do anti-oppression work. Decoding their class privilege, calling out racism, classism and sexism where they see it. I’ve done a small amount of this work, but it is hardly my focus. And sadly, I am aware because of regular mistakes, I am still not getting this stuff.
Instead what I try to do is to look at this set of gifts as set of obligations. If I have been lucky, much of my work should be focused on giving back to others. Early on this drew me to activism. I selected anti-nuclear activism because it requires a certain unlikely combination of attributes. You need to be able to argue with people who come from these advantaged class backgrounds about technical and financial things. You need to be able to pour energy into long campaigns, which you are almost certain to lose and then you need to not get discouraged and keep on doing it, and even encourage others to join you.
One of my gifts is optimism. It is easy to have it, given my background. And the obligation (in my thinking) around this gift is taking on nearly hopeless causes. Not because you want to waste your time, but because there is social and cultural value to fighting the good fight in a world where the bad guys often win.
Some of the Point A folks went to NYC recently. It was quite an educational trip for me. And at first on it I was quite discouraged. If seemed like the idea of starting urban income sharing communities was nearly impossible.
On one hand you had the real estate developers. Especially in New York City, real estate prices are so out of control this often unsavory profession takes on especially monstrous dimensions. They have money to invest, tremendous motivation and their eyes everywhere for a bargain or opportunity.
On the other side you have the ugly force of gentrification. This is where often well meaning folks looking for inexpensive space inside the urban environment set up their artist’s lofts in economically disadvantaged areas, only to make these areas desirable and trendy. This in turn raises property values and ultimately they get themselves and, more importantly, their poor neighbors kicked out by the real estate developers described above.
I did not see a way around these vexing forces when we started talking with folks about the Point A project. And while I am nothing like confident we can figure this out, I am now feeling more optimistic about doing something we can be excited by and proud of.
[This was written over 3 years ago, since then the Point A project has made quite some progress in finding real anti-gentrification allies. More on this in my next post.]
There were three different parties last night as warm ups to tonight’s New Years Eve event at Twin Oaks.
- Acorn’s Annual New Years Eve Eve
- Cambia’s “Quite Party” and hot tub
- Christian’s Going Away Party in the Compost Cafe
Acorn had a small sober party with a new puppet show by Purl and live music by Acorn artists. There was a vast cash of cookies from a members prolific mom.
Just as i was driving the last (but early) shuttle away from Acorn a minivan full of Oakers showed up and tilted the party just the right way.
Because Acorn did not want to be over run by all the unknown (to them) guests who are already here for the Twin Oaks New Years Party, they understandably asked that their New Year’s Eve Eve guests be folks who had been there before. But this left us with the high class problem of needing another “open” party for all the lovely guests who are already here.
Cambia stepped into the breach. Since many of these unknown (to Acorn) guests were Craftees from Tufts who were already staying at Cambia or Simple House, it made sense to have the party here. There are a dozen Craft House affiliated folks coming to these events. If you are wondering why all these students and ex-students, the current manifestation of the feeder school strategy.
Three Generations of Feeder Schools: The idea is over a decade old, but we never have been able to pull it off with any longevity. The idea was to find a cool school, a college or university, where clever progressive students were already enthused about students coop communes and select this option over corporate America, because it was more fun and lively, despite the terrible pay.
It started with GPaul who was at Saint Mary’s and excited about the communes. Over time 3 other St Mary’s grads became members of Acorn or Twin Oaks. But then we sort of lost contact with the school.
We then did an infamous TOAST gig at McDonough prep. Three different members/interns came out of this visit, all of whom happen to be here for this New Years Eve party.
We deepened our relationship with the Craftees this fall by attending the Honk Festival largely with them. It was then we started lobbying the Craftees to come to New Years. I thought “Let’s add a bunch of young, sexy, colorful, non-conforming, high energy, artists and musicians into your party mix” – What could go wrong?
The last party I attended last night was Christian’s going away party in the Compost Cafe. This is a tiny smoking lounge off the main courtyard at Twin Oaks. The space is so small that 6 people can barely dance in it and we have well over that at points. This was a loud, excited party, with Christian spinning his favorite classic tunes and lots of singing, not all of it on key.
My room is filled with most lovely guests, now after too long, but too lovely a day, i will go find a suitable couch.
Below is the program to the most elaborate New Years Eve system of parties we have ever attempted. Don’t ask if you can come, you can’t. If you were not already planning on attending, this is not your year.
NYEE & NYE Celebrations – A cross-community NYE project
7 to 9 PM Transparency Games – TCLR at Twin Oaks – This is a facilitated collection of exercises which are designed to help people reveal more about themselves, build empathy and trust with others in the group. These games are simple like “if you really knew me _______” and “i have a story about you” and participants are always at choice about being involved.
10 PM meet at Cambia – Applied Dumpster Diving Workshop: Maximus will lead a group of intrepid dumpster divers to Short Pump and the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods dumpster. Dumpster techniques will be critiqued on a 28.6 point scale. (extra points for creativity).
2 to 4 PM at Acorn – Regenerative Agriculture Workshop: Rachel from East Brook Community Farm will present on ECBF’s efforts to repair soil and reverse climate change. To rebuild soil takes more than simply avoiding pesticides. Presentation and questions and answer. Acorn asks that people attending this workshop either be FEC affiliated or have an Acorn host.
4 to 6 PM in the Bijou at Twin Oaks – Consent Workshop: The Louisa Communities have a strong Consent Culture orientation especially at parties. This workshop is designed to help participants at these parties understand fully and participate comfortably in saying what is true for themselves, protecting themselves without apology and connect intimately and/or romantically in a way which is safe. Anyone who has not been to a consent workshop before or who is new to this idea is strongly encouraged to come.
5 to 7 PM at Cambia – Video Editing for the Revolution: Maximus from Cambia will facilitate a discussion and presentation of community-focused video making and distribution. How to edit videos effectively and inexpensively. Making a youtube channel boosting its popularity.
Dinner at Cambia 7 to 8 PM – a big meal in a little place. Dumpster and donated food expertly prepared will feed as many people as show up.
8 PM to whenever at Acorn – New Years Eve Eve party at Acorn: If you really want to enjoy the New Years Eve party you need to pre-game for it by staying up late the night before at a different lovely event and then sleeping in the next day. [The TO NYE party goes unusually late for the communes]. Acorn throws a New Years Eve Eve sober party which has all the kick of significant festivity without the alcohol. Come enjoy live music, puppet theater, dancing and more with the anarchists from Acorn. If you have never been to Acorn before you are encouraged to go to the quiet party at Cambia instead.
8 PM til whenever – Quiet Party at Cambia: Cambia is hosting a number of people who are new to the area and some long experienced folks as well. But don’t confuse “quiet” party with not fun. Cambia has been the host for numerous interesting and enjoyable events. Stories, party games, and other kid friendly activities will go late into the night.
10:00 to noon at Appletree at Twin Oaks – Canadian EcoVillages
Jacob is from Manitoba and started the EcoVillages.CA website, newsletter and network. He has been involved with Myriad Village in Manitoba and has toured extensively examining sustainable intentional community solutions and has presented an EcoVillages 101 workshop in various places. This will be a more advanced workshop, looking at sustainability successes and obstacles, especially in Canada.
10-:30 – noon Bijou at Twin Oaks – The Last Day Singing Soirree facilitated by Cleo & Craig in the Bijou
Let’s get our voices hearts and minds in tune and in rhythm for the New Year! Craig and Cleo will lead songs about cycles and seasons, beginnings and endings, changing and returning. This is an inclusive vocal convergence. If you’ve got a song to share in this spirit, come ready to lead it.
1 -3 PM TCLR at Twin Oaks – Foolery Presentation
Spot (X Acorn, X Woodfolk) is a multiple who practices and shares comic arts often with a political twist. This Foolery workshop has an emphasis on Fetch u, personification, paradox and paraphilia. This workshops starts with presentation and then moves to question and answer.
1 -3 pm Bijou at Twin Oaks – Co-Authoring a More Beautiful World, with the Imaginarium Consort
This workshop will be a brief yet memorable foray into the art and science of co-authoring our lives. With stimulating prompts, queries, conversational interludes and communal reveries we’ll exercise our higher callings. By boldly expressing our aspirations we’ll build alliances and generate the courage needed to bring forth a more beautiful world in 2018.
The Imaginarium Consortium is a group of activists and gadflies drawn from four central VA communities. We’ve been meeting weekly for 3 months to discuss Charles Eisenstein‘s book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.This workshop is an expression of insights and inspirations we’ve gained thru our reading and conversations.
1 to 4 at Modern Times at Twin Oaks – Art Bike Workshop: Converting broken bikes into something fun and beautiful. Kunle from Boston has created dozens of art bikes and will facilitate this workshop. Come and stay for any amount of time and create something beautiful or bizarre.
4 to 6 PM at Cambia – The Future of Urban Communes: There are Point A influenced communities which have started in DC and Queens. How do we support these new entities and where does the effort to bring income sharing to east coast cities look next? Baltimore? Boston? Philly? Folks from the Point A Circus will wrangle an engaged discussion about how to move forward.
4 to 6 PM in the Bijou at Twin Oaks – Consent Workshop: This workshop is a repeat of the one the day before. The Louisa Communities have a strong Consent Culture orientation especially at parties. This workshop is designed to help participants at these parties understand fully and participate comfortably in saying what is true for themselves, protecting themselves without apology and connect intimately and/or romantically in a way which is safe. Anyone who has not been to a consent workshop before or who is new to this idea is strongly encouraged to come.
6 PM at ZK dining hall – Full Circle Community Intro: A forming new income sharing community committed to elder care adjacent to Twin Oaks? This is more than a dream a few of us have had, this is increasingly becoming a reality and if this is a project you are interested in or want to join, come and talk with Corb and Aurora over dinner. Participants will be encouraged to share their visions of building a Full Circle Community
6 – 7 PM at ZK dining hall – Angel Training
So you want to be an Angel? Angel’s make sure everyone is comfortable and happy at the party. Angels wear wing arm bands, when they are on duty. Angels work as a network and take care of three types of problems. 1) A party goer is having a bad time and need to talk to someone and perhaps chill. 2) There is an altercation and the Angel may separate people or take someone out of the party space. 3) There is an emergency which requires driving. If you can do anyone of these three tasks for some part of the party, come and get oriented and get your wings. Angel work is labor creditable.
8PM in Temple of Oracles (Tupelo upstairs North Wing): Ritual casting Sacred Space. In this ritual we’ll set intentions for what we hope the party will bring us and will cast sacred space and grounding energy for the party. Open to all who like ritual, singing and being intentional.
8:30pm until late: Temple of Oracles (upstairs North Wing)
The intention of this space is to foster self-exploration, and create a quiet space for reflection (in the bustle of the Twin Oaks New Year’s Party) where anyone can consult the oracle, formulate a question and get external mirrors that help clarify feelings, thoughts, fears, resistances, hopes, dreams, intentions and future plans.
8 PM until whenever at Tupelo at Twin Oaks- New Years Eve Party at Twin Oaks: With a bit of luck this party will change your life. Perhaps it will be at the kissing workshop or connecting with someone new in the cuddle loft. Perhaps you will be transported by the music of our talented DJs or the live shows in the Music Room. Including puppet shows at 8:30 and Handpan. \ Perhaps the theme and decorations will teleport you to exactly where you need to go. You might finally get to express yourself at the 2 AM burlesque show. Or the Infinity Room will allow you to see yourself in the midst of all things. All manner of experiences and exotic treats await you at one of the reliably best parties of the year.
Kissing Workshop – Cuddle Loft 11 PM? Janel will facilitate this tutorial on technique. Bring a partner on not and lower your inhibitions. And this is a high consent space, so no surprises
Burlesque Review – 2AM main dance floor – Belladonna will MC a burlesque review. Party participants are strongly encourages to don their sexy undies and be prepared to strut and shout. If you are interested just come and if you want couching or more info find Belladonna at dinner at ZK on the 31st
Open Mic – We are blessed at this event with a number of folks who live or have lived at Crafts House which is connected to Tufts University outside Boston. Crafts House manages a free art space on campus and is rich with artists and performers. They will run the Open Mic in the Music Room, beside the Infinity Room
Whenever you can make it after the party. At Tupelo – Clean Up: Start the new year putting back together the residence which hosted the previous night’s bash. Don’t worry that you don’t know the place or where anything goes. Helpful Oakers will direct you and make you feel useful and righteous for having returned to normal the house which was converted temporarily into a most fantastic space.
Brunch: at the ZK dining Hall at Twin Oaks [Time not confirmed]
1pm Closing ritual in temple of oracles (tupelo north wing -upstairs). We’ll ceremoniously close the circle, reflecting on our gifts and lessons. Then we’ll devoke and clean up.
2 PM to 4 PM at Acorn – Can pirate radio save the world? Come explore the limits of internet media and radical propaganda. Belladonna Took is the host of What would save the World? on Radio Free Brooklyn. How to operate a radical radio show without a budget. How to promote your podcasts and land interesting interviews. What are the limits and possibilities of pirate radio. A lively and interactive conversation.
4 to 6 PM at ZK dining hall at Twin Oaks – Funological Review: What makes a good party? What could we do differently in the future to make it be a better party? What aspects were pulled off well and what got forgotten or underworked? Did it change people’s lives? Did people fall in love or decide to quit Babylon? Come review the event and help figure out how to build the better party.
7 to 9 PM at Cambia or perhaps in the Bijou at Twin Oaks – Crafts House Performance: The gifted and talented kids from Crafts House at Tufts will do an edge exotic theater piece for the delight and thought-provoking amusement of the local communards.
10 AM to noon in ZK at Twin Oaks – The Future of Commune Life Blog: This prolific blog has been running for over a year, producing 3 blog posts a week of visual and written works from all the FEC communities. Who are the new writers and editors for this potentially potent piece of digital media.
1 to 3 PM at Cambia – East Brook Community Farm: The newest FEC community in dialog is expanding its membership and its successful CSA business. Come learn about this new rural commune and opportunities for working there this spring (and beyond).
Like many folks, I was thrilled to see Roy Moore fail to win the Senate seat. Understandably, the next day many were trying figure out how it happened. Interestingly, only 1 voter in 10 said that the accusations of child molestation were the most important factor in making their decision. But 6 in 10 said these allegations were a factor in their decision making. One of the most common memes to show up after the election was the following:
And the casual observer can be forgiven for thinking that this infographic says that whites in Alabama are happy to vote for a racist, pedophile to protect their attachment to abortion restrictions. Voter turn out was critical in this race, and despite it being a special election (which typically have much lower turn out than regular elections) blacks turned out at a higher level than the last presidential election. And black voters overwhelmingly voted for Doug Jones carrying him to a statewide majority by over 20,000 votes.
But what did not happen, as the above graphic implies, was whites uniformly voted in favor of Roy Moore in a lopsided majority. The below infographic gives more useful insights.
If you consider Alabama’s support of this xenophobic, homophobic judge who was twice disbarred from the bench by the federal government to be a problem, please do not blame all whites. Instead, you should be blaming Evangelicals. About 74% of Evangelicals did not vote in this recent election. Had they voted in historic percentages (closer to 47% participating) Moore would be heading towards Washington and a Senate ethics investigation. But of the Evangelicals who did, they voted overwhelmingly for Moore. In contrast, 74% of non-evangelical white women voted for Doug Jones.
In Alabama, it is much less about whiteness and much more about religion.