There are things Twin Oaks does reliably well and funerals are one of them.
I dislike most funeral formats. Too much religious singing or scripture, often reflecting the wishes of the minister rather than the person who passed. Too much waiting around for people who are not skilled at public speaking struggle to prove they really cared in oft too long and pained presentations.
Ex-member Kate facilitated the funeral in a Quaker style where people shared what they were moved to say. Almost everyone was funny in an appropriate way because we knew it would take powerful joy to cut the tragic sadness of losing this person with incredible potential. Very few prepared remarks (though Carly penned this amazing piece), lots of short heartfelt memories.
As an event organizer, I evaluate this from two perspectives: First is “What would Gwen think?” And I think she would have been very pleased at all these people from her life saying these comic and amazing things about her. She would have felt seen and celebrated.
But the other perspective is what it must be like to be one of Gwen’s girlfriends in attendance. What would it be like to be among so many people whose principal connection with my partner is that they raised her? Would they be like that relative who does not see how embarrassing it is to show these old photos?
No, we are better than that. There were some endearing stories of young Gwen, like the one Tigger, her father, told of Gwen at 4 years crying:
Tigger: Gwen, no one gets their way by whining and crying
Gwen: Dad you don’t know anything about whining and crying.
But this is a story of Gwen in control and defiant and it reveals perhaps the most important not-quite-secret ingredient in what makes commune collective child raising so great. We teach defiance.
We teach kids how to hide from their parents when that is appropriate. We teach kids how to know when to break any rule. But more importantly, we teach how to be a conscientious rule breaker. How to know when you’re breaking rules and which rules are silly and should simply be ignored and to know what rules matter and why.
Gwen was the closest thing Willow (my daughter) had to a sister. But in some ways commune life made them much closer than most siblings would be. For almost a decade they were in every class, preschool or play activity together. They ate most meals together, hung out together at most parties and celebrations. And they shared approximately 2 bazillion hours of various video game chats together. Most siblings a year apart in age spend much less time together.
Gwen’s coffin surrounded by family and clan
Understandably Willow is pretty broken up about it. She was crying often during the funeral. I don’t consider myself a particularly great parent. But one thing I feel our family did well with Willow was encourage her to cry things out. No shame in tears, they are expressing needed emotional release. Let them flow.
But I am not worried about Willow though she is clearly hurting. Because emotional resiliency is another not-so-secret ingredient.
Editor’s Note: Though it is a bit old fashioned, i try pretty hard to run blog posts past people who are featured and named in them, to make sure they are comfortable being represented this way. Willow gave her blessing and happily thought i was actually a fine parent. Kate who facilitates sacred ceremonies, was happy to be called out. And Gwen’s dad Tigger approved this text before it was published. Carly shared her letter and amazing pictures. Thanks to Summer for more pictures and Kelpie for edits and tech support. Thanks to all of them for quick turn around on this recent event
Gwen, it is incomprehensible that your spirit has flown so soon.
I have known for a few days but all of me is still crying out NO. It cannot be. There must be some mistake. You knew that road, you have things to do, the world needs you. You are too loved to be gone. But it doesn’t work like that.
Eighteen years. I am reeling, we are all reeling, that that is all you got. Sweet, fierce, wise Gwendolyn.
Going through my photos, through the heartbreak and tears, my overwhelming sense was of how loved you are, and what an incredible life you lived.
Like Hawina wrote, ‘All the mountains that Gwen would have moved will now be dismantled at a slower pace…’
Gwen at the Women’s march – Mountain moving will be delayed
I wish I could be with all those who loved you over the coming days. Many, like me, remember when you were born (sheesh your mama was ready to have you in her arms!). I remember your new baby smell. I remember holding your hands as you began walking, the youngest at that year’s Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering. I remember a wicked glint in your eye and hearing stories of you through the years, over the seas, and thinking, yes, this one will move mountains.
I will be there in spirit as beloveds carry your physical self to rest in the Twin Oaks cemetery, not far from where you were born. A circle complete far too soon.
All my love to your mama, dad Tom, Jonah, Robert and Madge, Willow, Hawina, Pax, Sky, Kristen, Keenan, and all the other mamas and papas, primaries and the many in your community, Twin Oaks and beyond. You gave so much in your short life. A little piece of all our hearts go with you.
Fly high beautiful.
Words by Anissa, pictures by Instagram
I have 10 minutes today to present on how communes can help us move away from money centric economies. I love this topic and have quite a bit to say about it. So much to say, that it does not all fit into the time i have.
I think recruiters have an obligation to talk about the shadow sides of the things they are promoting. Here is the slide i did not have time for on the disadvantages of commune life in general.
- Press your buttons
- Sharing work, home, and money with a large group can be intense
- Less autonomy (health care, kid care, snap long distance trips)
- Less Privacy
- Romantic breakups can be harder
- Insular – reduced access to urban culture
- Small social circle
- Dramatically reduced chance of getting rich
- Maybe shunned by family and old friends
- No 401k (although there is phased community retirement)
Most of these points are self expanitory but i want to elaborare on the first one. Joining a commune is going to push your buttons. If you know what your buttons are, then you are signing up for a personal growth class by joining. You will be confronted with this and have to grow, or suffer. But the second possibility is that you do not actually know what your buttons are, and then coming to the commune can be a difficult and disorienting wake up call. You could find out that you are crazy jealous and the partner of your dreams is polyamorous. You could find out that you need much more alone time than you thought (because it had not been much of an issue before, because it happened “naturally”) and you need to adjust your schedule accordingly. Maybe you like to make your own choices about which brand of shampoo or kind of desert you want, this could require some adjusting.
There are lots of advantages to living in a commune, but contrary to other peoples reporting, we have no illusions that this is utopia.
I learned a lot of things from Coyote, one of the first things i learned from him was about death. In 2001, a few years after i had moved to Twin Oaks, a long time member Kana died. Coyote said an insightful thing about him. “When someone like Kana dies, you have to become stronger – because they leave the kind of hole in you that you can only fill with yourself.” Today i find that i have to be stronger for Coyote is irreplaceable to me.
But were he consulted, he would choose a different story to be remembered by, one i heard him tell with relish a number of times.
In the summer of 1982, a handful of armed FBI agents arrived at a cabin door in Indiana.
“Are you John Steven Fawley?”
“Would it make any fucking difference if i said ‘No’, officer?” asked Coyote in a most respectful tone.
“Absolutely none, Mr. Fawley”
“Then please come in officers, mi casa su casa” Coyote offered with a wave of his arm in greeting.
Inside they found 1254 marijuana plants growing.
Coyote would admit his role in the crime of growing these plants, he would take full responsibility and tell the judge that he was changing careers and the money would have allowed him to transition from teaching to what would ultimately be taking care of special needs kids.
In his contemporaneously delivered speech to the judge he would promise that “i am not a troublesome individual” the judge believed him, Coyote did no time in jail.
Coyote’s birthday was the day after Christmas which is also Chairman Mao’s birthday. And while he had myriad critiques of how the Chinese tried to implement communism, Coyote did have a deep respect for the vision of this revolutionary Chinese figure. Perhaps 50 years ago, and perhaps under the influence, Coyote and friends called the Chinese embassy and wished Mao a happy birthday and commented on the coincidence. The embassy staff person said “Chairman Mao and all the people of China wish Mr. Coyote a very happy birthday as well”.
He wanted to be nimble in his thinking, he did not want to be stuck in habits over substance or ethics. Coyote taught me everything i knew about baseball, about the shortstop being the soul of the team and what kinds of things to say in the club car of a train to sound like you know what you are talking about with respect to baseball. Coyote was a big Yankees fan, had been for decades, had cheered them on as they won numerous world series. We even donned nicknames for a hot minute, with him being Yankees owner Steinbrenner and me being the couch Joe Torre. The idea was he was increasingly stepping away from managing the communes affairs and i was stepping in to replace him.
But then in the summer of 2004, Dick Cheney was invited to Yankee Stadium just before the Yankees beat the Boston Red Socks. He was photographed with Joe Torre and sat in Steinbrenner’s box seats. That was it, Coyote retired as a yankees fan, threw out the baseball hats and other memorabilia and never went back, he dropped baseball as well, and since then i stayed away from club cars conversations about baseball.
But it is another parable of Coyote’s life that taught me the most, a parable i failed to tell him, tho i am sure he would deny it.
Coyote was a smart, literate and articulate guy. But as he grew older he seemed to drift towards being a curmudgeon, people annoyed him, the commune bureaucracy did not function as smoothly as he would have preferred. Having been a high functioning person for his whole life, it bothered him when others seemed to show up with weak effort. Those of us on his informal “care team” spoke about his growing resentments and if there were ways we should try to push him away from them, as he was needing increasing care from the community and all caregivers are volunteering.
And then over some weeks he seemed to chill out and become more grateful and less curmudgeonly. Oh he still had complaints, but they were toned down and less personal. He found his place in the collective which encouraged him to have a different voice.
Unlike most people, Coyote decided he would not become a curmudgeon and instead would be mostly grateful for his circumstance (“i’ve painted myself into a perfect corner” he used to say) and not let his furstrations poison his interaction with others who he was becoming increasingly dependant on.
Coyote was an avid reader and writes to his favorite authors. He wrote to the poet and revolutionary Wendell Berry who sent him back the powerful poem HOW TO BE A POET (to remind myself). Which includes the lovely lines:
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
Coyote’s funeral is this Saturday at 1:30. His final resting place will be sacred for us. It is possible for non-members to attend, but you need to follow the strict rules about social distancing and processioning. Hawina is coordinating outside guests coming to this event. You must contact her (at email@example.com) if you are not a current inside the Twin Oaks quarantine bubble and are interested in attending.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I had my heart set on Ignition. Maud and i had spoken half a dozen times about the theory and set up. We had emailed much more about the tests we could administer in the relatively short amount of time new participants would be willing to self reflect before they hit the festival space. We discussed if Re-Evaluation Counseling (AKA co-counseling) could be synthesized to untrained practitioners quickly and if it was too trauma focused which would likely be the wrong mood to spark going into a fair. We had rough questions and scripts and Enneagram experts consulting us. And it is not for nothing that the principal volunteers for this event are called “disorganizers”.
We had wanted a space for Ignition’s operation and Darrell from Camp Contact offered us a smaller (25’ diameter) geodesic dome. But even a small dome was too large for the trivial amount of furniture we had acquired. And we were underprepared in half a dozen other ways.
Maud called it first; “we should cancel it.” My heart was broken, but she was right. And in leaving this failure early we were both able to concentrate on other aspects of this inaugural celebration. Maud took ignition “wifi;” doing personal orientation to new arrivals and helping everyone she could find their way. And i ran around doing errands for Angie’s amazing kitchen, working the front gate, driving compost away, shuttling participants to Twin Oaks and Cambia tours. Reverting to the axiom “no job is too low for a (dis)organizer.”
By failing soft in this ambitious aspect, the entire event was served.
Numerous participants said they had quink experiences large and small. We started several promising romances. Several people were asked what their pronouns were for the first time in their lives, and some were surprised to discover they didn’t know what pronouns they would like to be referred to as.
Lila described her quink experience to me. “I was in the Temple of Oracles late last night and there was this lovely cuddle pile that formed which was sensual w/o being sexual. It felt very safe because people were checking in with everyone about touching. I’ve never been in anything like that, i want more of it in my life.” It was at that moment i realized i was not only excited about, but felt obligated to organize Quink Fair 2020.
I had another lovely experience during the event. On the Sunday morning i got a call from my son Willow. “You should know that the police have set up a check point between the Quink event and Twin Oaks and they are stopping all the cars going through and questioning people.” My frustration with this police harassment was quickly abated by my appreciation of my son. He knew what was important to me, that the event participants did not have problems with police and he called so i could do something about it.
Angie has a plan, she actually maybe the only person who has more plans than Elizabeth Warren. Angie will come down to Virginia in November to help dis-organize a mini reunion and QuinkFair 2020 planning session. On this trip she also wants to network with the fine folks from Network for New Culture and act as an ambassador for the QuinkFair project. Part of the reason for this is the New Culture participants were largely absent from our event because their own summer camp overlaps. New Culture builds the high consent culture which permits more daring workshops and events than is normally possible.
Her planning continues, we are deep into negotiations about dates, likely earlier in the summer as it will be cooler and avoid some of the key conflicts. On the other hand, we may move the event into the armpit of August, on the weekend before the Queer Gathering, to spark synchronicity and build solidarity. We have to find a new venue, raise money, round up disorganizers and do all the stuff it takes to make this amazing event happen again, only bigger and better.
If you want to attend or help out with QuinkFair 2020 write QuinkFair@gmail.com.
Interview with organizer Macaco from the Ecovillage Education Institute.
Funologist: What is happening at the Charlottesville Ecovillage on October 19th and why is it interesting and important for the folks to come?
Macaco: This event is the Charlottesville Ecovillage October social and it is a multi-offering event, with many different aspects. It is principally a local gathering and celebration, activities included:a potluck brunch, drumming, dancing, barbecue, sewing circle, recycling presentations, electronic waste collection, workshops and divination. This is a family friendly event, open to everyone and runs all day (10 AM to midnight). There is no charge for this event which is located at 480 Rio Rd, parking is available, but carpooling is encouraged.
One of the purposes of this event is to introduce folks who are in various different communities in the area to see that they are also part of a greater community. Many different groups use and work with the Ecovillage. This event is designed to bring them together in an intergenerational celebration.
One specific focus of this event is sorting waste and specifically electronic computer waste. We are encouraging participants to bring their electronic and computer waste and instead of simply sending these items to a landfill, this event examines other endpoints. Sometimes electronic waste can be salvaged and reused. The tech wizards from Open Source Recycling will review the electronic hardware which comes in and see which pieces can be rescued, cleaned up and retrofitted so they can become donated computer systems to people who need them but can not afford them. But not everything can be reused and some of these items will be turned into art objects at this event. Whatever is left will be disposed properly.
Please come and invite your friends. RSVP at this Facebook event page.
Twin Oaks is lucky. Some of our members complete their membership, but don’t move far away and continue to volunteer to support us. Some of the most valuable of these ex-members are the ones who can operate our equipment or fix our infrastructure.
Denny Ray left Twin Oaks many years before i arrived (and that was over 2 decades ago). But from early on in my membership i knew who he was, because he fixed things. Twin Oaks prides itself on on being self sufficient. And in many ways we are, in ways few families or even companies can brag about. But our little secret is we have some ringers. Denny definitely was one.
Denny was an independent political force in the labyrinth decision making system at Twin Oaks. He would get an idea in his head that we should do something and he would make it nearly irresistible to follow his advice, He wanted us to change to Blossman Gas; he argued that it would save us money, he argued that they gave better service, he argued they have safer equipment. But in the end what really won over the planners is when he said “And i will manage it”. We would have paid him, but he would not take money this time.
Denny brought the Blossman crew in and they went around to all our residences. They proposed a bunch of new hardware and i was frankly a bit scared that in the end it would not end up saving us money. Denny asked me to give hammocks and pillows to the Blossman engineers, which i happily did.
Denny was of course right. The new gas company ended up saving us over $10K a year, even after we paid for all the new equipment. Denny had negotiated a great deal for us. Best hammocks we ever gave anyone.
But Denny was loved for far more than his utility. He was funny, friendly, generous and highly opinionated. He loved his little house and would never move back to Twin Oaks, but he was often over for lunch consulting with old friends who were members, or newer members who knew he often had sage advice or a good story to share.
Denny also was a photographer. He would catch us walking on the road with our kids, and later send us a much loved picture to remember the moment. He loved our plays and musicals as well, and took photos of the performers in costume. We very much appreciated his generosity and artistic dedication. The sight of his much-beloved blue truck was always a cause for celebration.
Denny would get frustrated with us for poor decision making or treating a member poorly, and then he would take time away from the commune, a week – sometimes even a month. But his love for the place and its people always brought him back.
Denny’s last year was a tough one, He spent a bunch of nights in Twin Oaks hospice facility, Appletree. We don’t use Appletree for anyone who is not a member, but Denny was exceptional and no one even considered challenging the decision to bend the rule for this old friend.
I’ll miss Denny, who used to often joke about my many girlfriends or how i was upsetting the bureaucrats on campus. I’ll miss him, and i will remember him, his commitment to community, and his willingness to be part of something greater than self.
Good Journey, Denny Ray, thanks for everything.