I am constantly on the lookout for new transparency tools. I have been ending the most recent transparency groups i facilitate with a simple popcorn of appreciations. Whoever felt moved would acknowledge someone else in the group for something they did or a way they are in the world that was appreciated. This was fine, and occasionally compelling, elegant and simple. And as a tool, it was a bit weak.
Kelly from the Point A DC group shared someone else’s appreciation tool at the recent retreat which i immediately snapped up because it is much more powerful. In go round style, people said what it was that they wanted to be appreciated for. This is a bit like a pointed “if you really knew me” where we get to learn a very specific and important thing about you: what it is that you feel under-recognized for that is none-the-less important to you.
It is a bit unclear where to go after this under-expressed appreciation is voiced. Currently, i have someone in the group who feels like they can validate this appreciation in their own words. When i said i wanted to be appreciated for my sloppy and unreliable organizing style, Hawina said “Minimal effort, maximum effect. Yeah Paxus!” and pumped her fist. It was perfect.
But the commune affords other unprompted appreciations. I do a weekly tofu trays shift. You get dressed up for this work – boots, apron, gloves with liners, ear protection, hair nets. In the winter months this is cold, wet, heavy, loud, rushed, non-stop physical work for 3 plus hours (i get that compared with many jobs in the mainstream a single 3 hour weekly shift would seem like a breeze, but we are spoiled). I do this work year round, regardless of my membership status.
I was coming into my trays shift recently and new member David was finishing up in his similar protective garb. He explained to me that the curds were wet and needed to sit longer and drain to make the proper weights. And then he started to walk away towards the clothes changing space. Then he turned around and came back and said,
“Hey, i appreciate that you do this unpleasant trays work even when you don’t live here.”
And then he put out his glove in a fist and i bumped it. I don’t think i have ever done a fist bump like that before. As in “we are all part of the same team, making it happen together.” And it really hit me.
Living in community is often about zoning. We ask people not to talk about work on the steam table line in our dining hall. We ask people not to be topless in places where local people are likely to come by. We restrict 18 wheel trucks to the industrial park portion of the community. We have a building that the visitors live in while they are checking out the community. Smoking is significantly restricted in location. There are only certain places in the community where you can smoke cigarettes.
And at meals we have “fun tables“. There are two large tables, one inside and the other outside, which are designated as “fun tables”. Oh, fun happens in all kinds of places, but they have this name because we have agreements about what happens at them. Specifically:
- You can always sit a fun table
- If there is no room, we will make room
- No meetings or private conversations
- No talking about work
Willow is often the fun police. If you start talking about work, he will call you out, sometimes by honking at you. Some people try to get away with talking about work at the fun table by talking about it in funny accents. Willow is rarely fooled by this ploy.
Times change, cultures evolve. We have added the Staedtl, which is a collection of couches and comfy chairs which face each other. You don’t have to ask to sit in this area and the conversations are an uncontrolled mix of private, public and somewhere in between. Work is fair game and the fun police are not welcome.
We also have “super fun” tables. These have the same rules are a normal fun table, except you can talk about work if you like, no need for silly accents.
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.
For something in the range of 3 years, I have not had my own bedroom either at Acorn or Twin Oaks. I have been ghosting. I have a shelf in the suite that Hawina and Willow share, where I have some stuff. Some other possessions reside in the Tupelo attic. Beyond this, I live out of and a collection of travel bags and I also draw heavily from our collective clothes library. Between the communities there are always enough slack rooms and when I had the job of room assigner at Twin Oaks I had an intimate understanding of where the slack bedrooms were. I could float.
I get that this would not work well for most people. You can either look at it like you are homeless, or as though you are on a marathon traveling adventure, where you are looking for just the right place to land, knowing it might well not be an option the next night.
I’ve stayed a lot in GPaul’s room at Acorn, because he is mostly doing Point A work in Washington DC. He is still an Acorn member. Fortunately for him and me, Acorn values the network building efforts he does do. While he is away he does not count towards Acorn’s soft agreed population limit of 30 people. So i often sleep in his room. But the last two times i have tried to use the room, i failed.
The first time i just wanted my shoes. I was going to Italy and i thought it would be nice to have the only reasonable piece of clothing i actually control, which are these simple leather shoes. I don’t use them much but sometimes, for public speaking or trade shows, i take them. They are comfortable and i think they look nice.
As is my way, i am packing at about 4 AM, before a 6 AM departure. I have my little flashlight and i am going to into GPaul’s room to rescue these shoes. I figure if i am really quiet, it should be fine. It was a hot night.
I opened the door slowly and there is a naked body sleeping on top of the sheets. I close the door. The penalty for tardy packing is that i don’t get to take my shoes to Italy. I was never able to figure out who was actually in that bed. It appears that they were wildcatting (sleeping in a room that was not assigned to you). It doesn’t really matter.
The second time I tried the room, I wanted a place to sleep. This time there was again a person sleeping there, a relative of a member who was visiting. I could have gone to the Rec Collective, which has 6 bunk beds which almost always has a free bed. But instead i opted for a couch. Acorn has pretty great couches for sleeping.
I am becoming an Oaker again as part of my dual member switching and, unlike the last two times i rejoined, i am going to take a room this time. The room i am technically taking over is one of the most bizarre on the Twin Oaks campus. It is called the Hobbit Hole. It is called this for a number of reasons, but mostly it is because of the unusual door to the room. This door is 3.5′ tall, at the high end. The low end is about 2′ tall. Most people have to crawl into the room.
Update: While the Hobbit Hole was lovely, i am following the cool kids and moving back to Ta Chai, into the same room i shared with Puck for quite some time.
For many months during the last year and a half, I have been going to the Point A events we have been organizing in NYC. This last September, we overshot and went up to the latest exciting development in the expanding egalitarian community movement: The Karass Inn.
For those of you who have forgotten your Vonnegut:
A karass is group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident, that actually gets stuff done—as Vonnegut describes it, “a team that do[es] God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing.”
It is a wildly appropriate name for the members of this project (Amanda, Angie, Jac, and Milo) who connected through unpredictable links and are good at getting things done. While not God-focused, the team is certainly working to expand the communities movement and explore non-traditional investments.
The Karass Inn in Chester, Vermont, and is tentatively opening on Dec 16th. In September we took a minivan filled with people to Chester. We took organizers and artists and just plain hard workers. And in a handful of days, we cleaned up and painted a huge area of this inn under renovation.
Karass marks a new type of community start-up model. It is the venture communist model. Someone who has access to resources, instead of investing to maximize profit, invests to maximize social good. In this case, the investor purchased the building and provided start-up capital, and the communities movement is staffing it and will ultimately pay the investor back.
This is not what you do when you are trying to achieve the most money you can make personally. But we have plenty of data on what happens when everyone is trying to do that.
What we do get is another income sharing community in the FEC galaxy and a new type of cottage industry for us, hospitality.
You can use Funological grading scales on serious events. You could argue that a current issue conference cannot get a B grade, unless it does something novel. You could propose that a protest not get a letter A grade, unless it (hopefully positively) changed one or more of the participants lives.
- Success as a networking event
- Intergenerationally integrated
- Cross Cultural Connections
- Significant Skill Shares
- Novel presentation formats
- Acid Test questions responses
Success as a networking event At the heart of it, communities conferences are supposed to connect people interested in community with collective places they might live and also help communities find new blood, especially founding or floundering communities. In this, WCCC was reasonably successful. Both seekers found established communities and a forming community found a new key additional person. These additions will certainly increase their chances of survival and success. The event supported the movement directly thru recruiting and secondarily by introducing people to the depth and range of the movement.
Intergenerationally integrated One of the things i take pride in at Twin Oaks is our success in mixing generations in work and play. No one thinks twice about there being different generations represented for example in a community band. “We need a drummer. We don’t care how old or young they are.” The Radical Faeries who run Groundswell Institute decided early on that the best way into introduce kids into this typically adult world was to be honest and give nearly full access to it. So the kids made a bee-line for the drag closet and there were precious photo moments of kid princesses and mature queens. We also had twenty and thirty somethings mixing with seniors and everything in between. Age did not matter too much; young people facilitated, old people learned new things. The event had a healthy, inquisitive, open feeling to it.
Cross Cultural Connections: I have a story that the Faeries have things to teach the communards about being bold and asking for what you want. I think the Faeries are a gateway to luxurious flamboyance and how to party big. I think the communards have things to offer the Faeries around finding group mind and clean process. I think the communards know how to share well and have effective tools and agreements for others less experienced with cooperative living. The dance party at the fire pit was a high spirited, colorful mix of our cultures in celebration. I think the communards and the Radical Faeries have similar agendas around tolerance, celebration of diversity, openness to new things, sustainability, self created culture and art and making the world a better place to live in. We are obvious allies.
I saw these two groups dance well together and it made me hopeful for more events of both playful and serious content.
Significant Skill Shares: Significant Skill Shares: My lover Tree came down from Eugene and facilitated a compelling workshop on Appreciative Inquiry. It was a huge hit. It changed Brittany and Billy Vulture‘s lives. Somewhat new to giving workshops, these two had especially struggled with the guilt and hopelessness so many White Privilege workshops engender. By using Appreciative Inquire instead of conventional “problem solving” techniques, they found that he walked out of the WCCC White Privilege Open Space session feeling really good about the group, about the communication, about people hearing this fundamentally uncomfortable message and not running from it but actually addressing it. Tree was thrilled that her workshop was immediately applicable. Me, too.
Novel presentation formats: We did the Communities in Crisis interactive theater workshop at the WCCC. The idea was you throw non-communards into the deep end of community process. They would try to facilitate actor-communards who were in the midst of trying to untangle a vexing and controversial community problem. It was a great idea, but it worked out nothing like this.
For starters, of the 20 plus people interested in this workshop, no one did not already identify as living in community (apparently sitting in tricky community meetings is only attractive to people who think community is worth it to join already). But more importantly, these types of theater things don’t resolve and, were it not for Tree in the workshop to rein me in, i would have spent way too much time in the fun acting part and not enough on the harvesting of what we learned.
But people enjoyed it and said they learned things. It is a strong enough and engaging enough format to try doing it again.
Acid Test question responses: I am the type of Funologist who believes in exit interviews. I ask people if they enjoyed the event and learned things (they basically always say yes, since it is polite to do so) and then i ask if they would come back in a year and this often gives insight into their experience. If you had a transformative experience – you fell in love, you found your tribe, you learned a new tool that will significantly aid you – then your reply is always “yes”, even if the chances of repeating exactly this type of positive change are very small. If you just had a good time, you can be “one and done”. When i asked people about coming back, almost everyone said yes.
By all these different metrics, the WCCC succeeded pretty famously. But i must confess i am predisposed to falling in love with this beautiful Northern California place and this particular event because i got to work with amazing organizers on it and take credit for making it happen, when really i did quite little to manifest it. I also got to organize with my talented co-dad, Sky, which always makes these types of things go better.
Other communities, including Lost Valley outside Eugene, expressed interested in hosting the 2016 West Coast Communities Conference. So perhaps, unlike the east coast event which stays at Twin Oaks for ever, we have created something which will move around to different host communities. Which would be cool also.
But it is not too early to mark your calendar for Indigenous Peoples weekend 2016. If history repeats itself, it might just be the best conference ever.