Collective Rituals

Willow, Hawina and i drove up Staten Island and are staying at our sister community Ganas today. Every community has different rituals that they use to keep themselves together and to solve logistical or social problems.

At ZEGG in Germany, the central ritual is singing.  They learn lots of songs from different languages and they sound quite good.  ZEGG also comes together around their self expression tool called Forum.  The dark green eco-villlage in Missouri called the Possibility Alliance does a group morning check in and meditation and the service oriented super hero bike rides.  At Twin Oaks i would have to say our unifying activity would have to be holidays, there is lots of smaller scale connection around work, but our choices rarely bring us all together (or even half of us) at one time.

Here at Ganas for years it was feedback learning which i experienced when i first came to Ganas some ten years ago in which extremely personal topics are explored in a context which includes people who had just walked in.  I always found this both daring and nearly magical.  A smaller and less formal version of this continues these days called “planning”.  We went to planning this morning where they were nominally talking about pricing at the furniture store.  But really they were talking about the relationships between the store managers.  But what was amazing about this conversation was that (like a good transparency group) people were talking about their own fears and faults, taking responsibility for their part of the problem as well as making requests of their co-workers.  t made me long for such conversation at Twin Oaks.

It is a much smaller things which inspired this post.  The Food Chain.

On Tuesday after dinner a van full of food is unloaded.  A chain of people crosses the street, goes up the steep Corson Street steps and into one of the 8 residences at Ganas.  Members and guests carry food bucket brigade style to the next person in the chain and hands it to them.  When i paused at one point a member told me “we always keep moving on the food chain”.  The process takes perhaps 20 minutes to move 100 packages and boxes of food the 100 meters from the street to the residence.  Perhaps 30 people make many short walks laden with food.

There was (for me at least) quite a little sense of accomplishment in this group task.  In part because of the significant volume of food moved.  In part because of the inclusive nature in which many participate to solve the problem.  It is at the core of community values that many hands make light work.

Other collective rituals include:

Story Telling Workshop Today 8 PM

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Today (April 27, 2020) at 8 PM Eastern there in this Zoom Chat Space.

This is a very late announcement, but i realized there were a fair few people who might see this post in time to join this workshop, and if you can’t make this one, there will be another unlimited one in a week.

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Here is the workshop description:

This workshop includes my personal rules for compelling story telling as well as several of my own short stories. Participants will share a short story and hear others review it with an eye towards improving it.

This workshop itself is a story i am not yet well enough practiced in to do to a large audience. And since a limited number of people (perhaps 12 to 15) will each share a brief story i want to keep it small. So reserve a spot and then after this “rehearsal” workshop i do another in a week with open admission.

If you want to participate in this work shop please be willing to share a story of personal importance to you (tho it need not be a true story) of 1 to 2 minutes in length and prepare to hear constructive criticism of it from other workshop participants.

This workshop is designed to run 90 minutes. But if it is a chatty group it can make it to two hours. Please note this is 8 PM eastern time and 5 PM Pacific.

You must have the basic free zoom app installed on your phone or computer. We have a large Zoom conference space donated by our fine friends at Greenpeace International.

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Gabriel – bringer of the high

Gabriel was from Trinidad and happy to answer all my questions.  

Do you do it to feel like a rebel or an outlaw?  Not at all, it is just a job.  

They carry a pharmacy of cannabis products on their bike and in their backpack: oils, cookies, bud, candies.  They have a myriad of different varieties of marijuana and they describe each to Tankstra, my new New York City host.

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I continue to ask questions.

Is it a regular job? Yes, 3 days a week, 6 hours a shift. 

Do they trust the people that he works with? “I don’t  trust my own shadow, but i have had a few tricky jobs and i am confident i can handle this one.  “

Do they believe in the product? Absolutely. As an artist and a musician the high from marijuana has been influential in crafting my art.

Tankstra asks Gabriel if they will smoke with them.  Gabriel obliges and i continue my interrogation.

How did they get into this business? My sister got me the job. Who it turns out is friends with Tanksta as well.  

And the conversation veered to how wonderful the sister was and how both Gabriel and Tankstra were deeply appreciative of the sister.

Have they ever had a problematic client? Someone tried to pass me what was likely a counterfeit $50 dollar bill at one point.  

Any altercations with the police?  None.

How long have they been doing the job?  A year and a half.

Tankstra and Gabriel smoke quietly for a few moments.

Gabriel gets up to leave and i ask a final question.  Do many of your clients offer to smoke with you?

This is the first time.

[This story is from 2016]

The Gargoyle Foundry

There is a gargoyle foundry in District 7 of New Orleans, but you won’t find it on google maps.   You need to know someone to get in. A couple handfuls of vagabond communards are doing impressive work, flying below the radar of the local media.  These are the folks who could direct you to this fanciful craftsperson village. My favorite work is storytelling, and i am flattered i got asked to tell you this one.

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False modesty abounds

Gargoyle making is a special art and there are prerequisites which can’t be skipped.  First you must build walls that hold your resource sharing community at a small but safe distance from the tsunami of disaster capitalism just outside. 

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12′ high and spikes suggests “perhaps you should go elsewhere”

This gargoyle foundry molded the impressive fixtures for these nearly impregnable walls.  Adorned with blacksmith spikes at the top, these sturdy swinging doors separate this world of gritty makers from the profusion of AirBNBs which litter New Orleans and exacerbate the city’s acute housing shortage.  

 

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Worst Steel Workers completed the fire escape at Acorn New Steel Building

 

Within these tall walls there are shacks, tree houses, beached boats, buses and all manner of makeshift housing fashioned from salvaged materials in an area  that sustained heavy damage by Hurricane Katrina.  Many of these homes were demolished eventually by the city after its occupants couldn’t afford to move back right away after the hurricane.  These mostly queer/POC/trans/indigenous craftspeople  have salvaged and cobbled together this punk makers ecovillage, sometimes called the “Worst Steel Workers of America.” 

 

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Boats, buses, tree houses and studios.

After housing you need an income engine, an enterprise of some sort that covers the costs beyond what you can dumpster dive, salvage and barter (which is an impressive amount in this situation).  Before making gargoyles, the blacksmith forges are crafting replacement parts for the beautiful balconies of the French Quarter. Aligned with long time local metal workers, the gargoyle foundry is the only place which can seamlessly mend broken balcony components in the state. Most of this work was sent overseas, until the virus struck.  Business is brisk now.

Wolvie and their comrades have woven together disparate communities:  metal working punks with Christian land owners, conventional business interests with anarchist communitarians, and long term locals with transient counter culture folks.  And there are much more than just metal forges in this operation; there are wood working shops, ceramic kilns and artist studios. When asked about the difference between working in Baltimore where they helped starting the Free Farm, and the gargoyle foundry in New Orleans,  Wolvie shared that the south was slower culturally, you have to work with locals for quite some time before they trust you.  But a lot has happened in the few years since i last visited  them.

It is hard to start an intentional community.  It is nearly impossible to spark an income sharing community with a cottage industry.  Yet this gargoyle foundry is treading this unlikely path. This requires navigating legalities and building neighbor relationships.  The center of their neighbor relations policy is high prioritizing the needs of the neighbors. The Worst Steel Workers provide advice, tools, and muscle power along with a hefty dose of barter, lending, and gifting to serve their neighbors. These good neighbor policies have resulted in several free or inexpensive sites and buildings which feed their expansionist plans.

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Wolvie the Romantic

Wolvie’s message is clear: “Seize land”.  They put their own chains and cell phone number on a nearby warehouse and waited for the owner to call.  When the initially upset owner finally did call, they were able to strike a deal, where in exchange for repair and security for the warehouse they could  legally use the formerly abandoned facility without taking ownership, but also without rent.

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Visionary acrobat and steel worker Sunny hanging with Barnacle (the rescue dog)

 

When i asked if people could join the Worst Steel Worker union, Wolvie laughed and said “Sure, if they want to come to a pandemic hotspot, we are open for more hard working folks who want to live collectively like this.  It might not work out of course, but they are welcome to come and try.”

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There are times when you need a cannon.

They have yet to forge their first gargoyle, but have made great progress with the many other prerequisites including cannons, brass knuckles, impregnable doors and guillotines as well as all manner of custom metal craft pieces.  They have already sparked an inspiring, gritty community of talented mostly young people who have the solid foundation needed to craft both the good life and impressive gargoyles.

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Notre Dame got nothing on these folx

 

 

Eugene Murals

Cities try to distinguish themselves from others in different ways.  The small city of Eugene has some impressive pieces of public art.

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Part of what is amazing about this piece is that it is untagged.

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This mural is over 60 feet long

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This is actually graffiti done by one of the muralists

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These are fish on the pavement beneath the dancing man graffiti

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Beatles Mural

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The newest public mural

 

 

MiniQuink – March 21 Cville Ecovillage

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Stolen from festivalfire.com

QuinkFest 2020 will be between July 30 and Aug 2 in Louisa, Virginia.  But well before then there will be single day free events called “MiniQuinks”.  The next one is at the Center for Healthy Living in Cville on the upcoming solstice – March 21st.

The MiniQuink is the afternoon part of this all day event  [Here is the full event schedule].  The first event MiniQuink is a Temple of Oracles.

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A beautifully decorated space hosts a collection of talented volunteer readers and several different tools including runes, tarot cards and I Ching coins.  Before you get dismissive of oracles, i would encourage you to read this insightful paragraph from the preface to the Book of Runes.

Remember that you are consulting an Oracle rather than having your fortune told. An Oracle does not give you instructions as to what to do next, nor does it predict future events. An Oracle points your attention towards those hidden fears and motivations that will shape your future by their unfelt presence within each present moment. Once seen and recognized. These elements become absorbed into the realm of choice. Oracles do not absolve you of responsibility for selecting your future. But rather direct your attention towards those inner choices that may be the most important elements in determining that future.

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6 PM Inflammable Art Workshop

Many gatherings and festivals are burning effigies as part of their rituals and celebrations.  But these burns require careful design and an understanding of fire to be both beautiful and well paced.  This hands on workshop will cover a range of fire related topics from building campfires, pyrotechnic sculptures and even fires that float on water.  Participants will learn about and build fire art creations.

The workshop lasts about 2 hours, bring non-toxic things you are excited about burning as part of your sculpture or camp fire.

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Last inflammable Art Workshop

 

Presenter Bio:  Jason Taylor is a local maker, fire artist and teacher.  He and his talented son Anthony live in the greater orbit of Cambia Community.

8 PM Story Telling Workshop

What are key principles of compelling storytelling?  This workshop explores these axioms including “Tell the story your audience wants to hear”

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Where does your imagination take you?

Perhaps half of this workshop is listening to example stories as well as stories of the other participants.  You will get to practice telling a short personal story as well as examine what makes an engaging tale.

No experience necessary, both workshops and the Temple of Oracles are open to kids and adults and are free of charge.

 

 

 

Praise from Unreliable Sources

I have been looking of google reviews a lot recently, and Twin Oaks as a community have a very high overall rating on google, 4.7 stars.  There were very few low star reviews, but one of my favorites was only 2 stars and read:

“Yikes, someone didn’t get the memo about Karl Marx. Please don’t visit this unless you’re absolutely dedicated to this.”

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i got this memo

Clearly, the reviewer wishes to warn normal folks away from this potentially dangerous place.  Russia is infamous for propaganda, and one of the most powerful propaganda engines in the world is Russia Today.  I have written somewhat critically, and expert colleagues extremely critically about RT.

And because our egalitarian alternative (no longer an experiment) has many collectivist elements it is often linked to communist propaganda and socialist revolutionary movements.  And it is no surprise the Russia Today has just put out it’s fourth or fifth article on Twin Oaks.  This time linking small scale communism with polyamory.

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As i read this new piece on my home, i was surprised to see so many blog posts of mine quoted and referenced.  Specifically:

In reviewing this article i only found a few mistakes:

  • We get closer to $100 per month (rather than per week)
  • Our three romantic models are not “monogamy, celibacy and free love” (replace free love with consensual non-monogamy or polyamory}.
  • Skinners theory was not principally about promoting a community of constantly-improved scientific lines, but rather a set of rewards and sometimes even punishments designed to modify the behavior of members to a more Utopian standard.
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Sexy sustainability statistics from Twin Oaks

It may well be the case that the current corrupt president was able to rise to power using the theory that “no publicity is bad publicity”.  So recognition of my work by a notorious disinformation engine certainly feels like a mixed blessing.

 

Advice to a new planner

“We are looking for reluctant leaders.” Twin Oaks founder Kat Kinkade and East Wind Founder Deborah were/are fond of saying.  If you fear corruption or abuse of power, then having people who are leading not excited about the job, or doing it because they are motivated for their care for the collective is a good insurance policy.

The founders of Twin Oaks were deeply concerned about the failures of the existing decision making systems.  So much so they designed their own.  It has stayed in place, largely unchanged for 5 decades now.  It starts with the assumption that simple majorities are dangerous beasts and we can do better than that.  But because the commune was founded in 1967, before feminists secularized the consensus-decision-making process, they did not want to wait until everyone agreed.  Good ideas, headachey to implement.

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Near the “top” of this largely flat decision making process are the planners, the communities highest executive power.  I’ve been a planner twice, my Dutch wife Hawina is currently a planner.   Decisions of the planners can be overridden by a simple majority of full members of the community, though this happens less than annually.  [So technically, the membership is at the top of our hierarchy.]

Being a planner is one of our toughest jobs.  Right up there with the membership team and the pets manager.  The membership team is often hard because we don’t have much room for compromise on most membership decisions, you are either accepted into the community, or not (technically you can get a “visit again”, but you get the point).  The pets manager is difficult because you have to tell some kid that that they can not keep the stray dog they just fell in love with or you have to tell some long-term member that the community is not going to pay $4,000 for the surgery their aged cat desperately needs.  Trust me you don’t want this job.

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The plannership is difficult for more complex reasons.  First, is that members’s desires for quick solutions to their pressing problems often result in them rushing to the planners, telling them what is wrong and then being frustrated by them saying either “we are not the people you need to be talking to” (because there is another responsible manager or council) or that their clever solution is not accessible for any of a number of reasons.  Leaving the frustrated member to say “well, if I were planner I would certainly do this”.  Which is generally speaking not even true, because the group of 3 planners works by consensus and tend to protect the institution over the desires of a single agitated member.

However, there are more vexing aspects of the plannership.  When they take on complex and/or expensive issues like how do we spend a quarter of a million dollars to solve the tofu waste water problem, you basically can’t win.  The planners listen to all the manager and experts they can find.  They post papers or run surveys asking for community input, which often receive anemic response.  They slave away trying to make a good choice and then when they announce it, often many people are unhappy with it.

Sometimes they are unhappy and well informed, wishing the planners had taken the path they were advocating instead of the one they selected.  But far more often members are upset  because they have not studied the issue, don’t understand the trade offs and did not get exactly what they wanted.

The big problem is that we are frequently unable to keep the personal away from the political at Twin Oaks.  If the planners did not make the choice I wanted on this controversial and complex issue, I am then angry with them personally.  This results in the nightmare situation where you work hard on balancing many factors, craft what you think is a wise choice with your fellow planners and then you lose friends over it.

 

This does not always happen of course, but it happens enough that I have some standard advice which I share with every new planner.

There may well be a time when working for the planners puts you in a place where you feel like you need to make a choice “Am I going to take care of the community and push forward with this difficult decision or am I going to take care of myself and my relationships with other members?”  If you find yourself in this situation, take care of yourself and quit the job.

People who know me might be surprised at this recommendation.  I go to a lot of meetings.  I often joke that I am “a bureaucrat for the revolution”.  How can I be recommending people walk away from their top executive job, just when the community needs them to help shepherd in a decision?

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Turns out it is easy.  We will make a decision, even if you are not a planner.  But if the plannership is risking you burning out, or damaging your personal relationships within the community, then the cost is too high.  Hopefully you will live here for many years after your plannership.  If you have alienated or pissed off important relationships within the community, it can be the feather (or brick) which tilts the balance in favor of you leaving the commune.  Or potentially worse, staying regretting that you have lost these friends and allies.

I have given this advice enough and talked with planners who have taken it and not. So there is an important follow up: if you do decide to quit the plannership to take care of yourself, don’t guilt trip yourself about it.  I believe over half of planners do not complete their 18 month terms.  Policy prohibits someone being a planner twice in a row, but in the 20 plus years I have been at Twin Oaks, no planner has expressed a desire to immediately do a second term.

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The institution is quite durable.  Sometimes the right thing to is to abandon the process (and often the job) and instead prioritize your long term relations with  your friends and the commune.