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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

Crafts House and Tufts

[This story originally appeared on the CommuneLife.org blog]

It’s been too long since we have organized a Point A trip, and it’s fun to be on the road again. Tufts University, outside of Boston is proving a worthy first stop on our adventure.  I am lucky to have a capable fun group of people to be presenting with:

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Nina on site

Long experienced communard and construction wizard, Nina is not the chatty type, but what she says is more than worth listening to. She was the principal presenter of the Community as the Solution to Climate Change workshop on Saturday.

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Kristen with this unlikely couple

Skylar is Nina’s strongly bonded partner. Twin Oaks brought  them together and they are enjoying a long honeymoon.  Most people who meet Skylar don’t believe she can actually be as happy as she appears, but I know better.  Optimistic, fanciful, quick to comment and engage, Skylar is, in a positive way, Nina’s mirror image.  Skylar navigated the workshop on Transcending Jealousy and Building Compersion that we did at the Tufts LGBTQ center.

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Skylar at some unidentified beautiful location

Raven is my steady ally on the prolonged roller coaster ride of the Point A.  He tries, with some success, to catch all the flying pieces of wreckage hurling from my poorly organized multi-city trips.  He is making sure our crew gets fed (me: people need food?) and that local organizers know what to expect from our small invasion of commune activists.  When I neglected to secure housing in Somerville, Raven tapped his deep Boston co-op roots and found us all places to sleep.  He is the wrangler in chief for the commune life blog.

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Rare picture of Raven at William St Coop, Somerville

Maximus from the Genome Collective in Binghamton, NY has been the godfather of this trip.  Getting dates months in advance so they fit into the several classes we are doing at Binghamton; finding us honorariums for presenting; finding us amazing venues and local support at Tufts (where he went to school). Specifically, he hooked us up with the fine folks from Crafts House, who have an adorable college collective living situation, combined with stewardship of the well stocked student art space at Tufts, the Craft Center.

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GQ revolutionary poster person – Maximus

Telos did not think he was going on this trip.  He made the mistake of calling me for advice on rides to Virginia, after he was disqualified at the last minute from a medical study that his community, Cambia, was doing in Baltimore.  He ended up going North instead, where he joined this intrepid crew with his organizing and writing skills, and experience from previous Point A trips with the Genome collective, who we are advising later in the trip. Moral: I am happy to help find you a ride, it just might not be to where you think you were going.

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Telos at the TO greenhouse – Photo by Wren

The way these trips work, ideally, is we work with a group house (Craft House in the case of Tufts, or the Genome Collective in the case of Binghamton) and give them a collection of workshops to choose from.

Elise from Craft House consulted with her coop and choose three:

Craft House itself has been supportive and hospitable.  When our team grew in size with Telos arrival and needed another place for someone to sleep, Craft House gave us a luxurious closet to sleep in.  It is currently their small costume commie clothes.  I jumped at the chance to sleep in their fine closet, even before i found out it’s august history.   It also turns out to be the closet the be off the room where Tracy Chapman lived while she went to Tufts in 1987.

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Finally out of the closet – Skylar and Paxus

The audiences to our workshops have been growing steadily since we started presenting at Tufts.  A number of people are interested in coming to the Virginia communes to visit and dozens of fingerbooks have been distributed on various topics.  We have several solid offer to host us when we return next semester and well as Tufts students and area residents who want to explore the path from dorm to student coop and then from coop to egalitarian community.  It feels like important beginnings.

On to Binghamton.

Update March 2017:  Crafts House is coming to visit the communes over spring break!  12 members of Crafts House will be coming down and staying at Simple House (a property near Twin Oaks controlled by Cambia) for 4 days and visiting the communities and working at income sharing farms in Louisa.

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)

Uninauguration- DC Jan 21st.

This is a repost of the CommuneLife blog.  Lot of great pictures of communards getting out and being part of what many are describing as the largest protest in the history of the country.   There is still lots to do, and we can celebrate that this event was a big gathering and an inspiring success.

Photos by Steve and GPaul of Compersia Folks from the DC and Virginia communes were very involved with the protests: Christian and Paxus of Twin Oaks appreciate PETA’s big fuzzy suits. Vegans GPaul of Compersia and Christian of Twin Oaks pose with PETA people. Paxus of Twin Oaks and GPaul of Compersia rest after the […]

Multi-colored “pussy hat” on Paxus was knit by Hawina, who was unable to attend, but wanted to be there in spirit.

 

via Uninauguration — commune life

The O&I Board – too many options

Around 50 years ago the founders of Twin Oaks decided that they were going to radically depart from conventional decision-making techniques.  They disliked voting, consensus had not been secularized by the feminists yet and waiting for everyone to agree seemed time-consuming, so they thought they would develop something new.

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Almost everyone in community makes decisions in meetings, but Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  They thought a dynamic writing-based decision system could get around some of the big problems associated with running a complicated community.  To this end they developed the O&I Board.  O&I stands for “Opinions and Ideas”.  Critics of this system occasionally quip that the name really comes from “Oh am I bored”.

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Gil Cambia at the Twin Oaks O & I board

The way it works is pretty straightforward.  There are 2 dozen clipboards placed on a wall and anyone can put up a paper with a proposal for something new on one of them.  At the end of the proposal you have posted you leave blank pages of paper so that other members can make comments or suggestions.

There are several advantages to this system.  The first is that you don’t need to gather everyone in the same place at the same time to discuss something.  On our busy, large farm this is significant plus.  People can read everything that others have written, or skim it if that is their interest, or skip it completely if the topic doesn’t resonate with them.  Readers can comment in whatever length they feel appropriate, from multiple pages, to simply dittoing something someone else has written and signing your name (this is a pretty common practice).  Members can make alternative proposals or point out unaddressed problems and hopefully the proposal becomes stronger for all this input.  The pressure to agree with someone who is talking to you and who you want to make happy as well as some groupthink problems are decreased.

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Less groupthink on paper.

But there are problems as well.  Written communication is much more likely to result in flame wars than face-to-face communication.  If you can see how what your saying is upsetting someone, your humanity kicks in and you may tone down your words – the O&I looses this important control.   Because you are somewhat more likely to be attacked on the O&I than in a meeting, some members shy away from this format not wishing to be in the center of a controversy.   Written communication is difficult for some people.    If there are many comments on a proposal, the later ones do not get as much attention as the earlier ones and there is no notice that new important comments have been added, so you have to keep checking on papers with which you are concerned.

The real problem with the O&I board is none of these described above, nor is it a problem with the board itself, but rather with it as an entrance ramp to our decision-making process in general.  The real problem is once you have posted on the O&I board, if there are any significant number of comments your next steps are unclear.

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Sure, if everyone says “This is a great idea, lets do it!” then it is clear, but this very rarely happens. If your proposal is contentious or has several sets of recommendations on how you should change it, you as the author of the original proposal are at a crossroads. Should you push on with your proposal? Should you do a community survey? Should you call for a community meeting? Should you go talk with the people who seemed most upset about your proposal and see if you can find a compromise? Should you talk to the people who are most supportive of your proposal and ask them to help you advance it unmodified? Should you talk with the planner or the council about it? Should you just give up and drop it completely? This is, for many members, simply too many options. Especially since if the proposal is at all controversial no matter which one you choose some critic is going to call “bad process” on you for not having done it the way they want it done. Perhaps this is why after 50 years no other community has decided to mimic the O&I board as their central decision-making tool.