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Communities Bounce Back – 5 Events

Most intentional communities took a population hit during the pandemic. Germs and illnesses spread quickly in communities because of how much we share- food, homes, bathrooms, work spaces, etc. With this in mind, most communities that those regular visitor sessions canceled them (at least until there was a vaccine) to protect their more vulnerable members. It was likely the best, safest choice, but meant that members who left communities during the pandemic weren’t replaced with new folx and populations dropped significant. At Twin Oaks we went from 85 members to 63 members at the lowest point (we are back up to 78 now).

The pandemic also forced many to deal with unusual isolation and question our relationship with groups and what people in close orbit are important to you. Intentional community is an invitation to being part of a group designed to foster and take care of each other, and while it does not always succeed the intention and results are favorable (or prove worthy .. or something)

This summer and fall there several events which showcase these intentional communities which are bouncing back or in the case of Serenity Community springing forward from the George Floyd energized racial justice movement.

These events are celebrations of many different identities all seen through the lens of intentional community. If you want to feel what it is like to live with others cooperatively, this is a glimpse.

The Community Festivals, Gatherings, and Conferences are Coming Back!

Mark your calendars, there are several different weekend events which you will want to consider.

  • Serenity Food Sovereignty Festival June 24 thru 26
  • Twin Oaks Queer Gathering Aug 5 thru 7 
  • Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering Aug 19 thru 21 
  • Twin Oaks Communities Conference Sept 2 thru 5
  • QuinkFair Sept 23 thru 26

All of these events are happening in Louisa County and the first 4 of them are all happening at Twin Oaks.  Here are the brief descriptions of the events and how to RSVP.

Serenity Food Sovereignty Festival June 24 – 26

Learn about mutual aid and BIPOC centered intentional communities that focus on restorative agriculture and ecovillages.  BIPOC activists and organizers are working in conjunction with the central Virginia income sharing communities movement to host BIPOC participants and our allies, to bring incredible food and learning opportunities to attendees.  POC farmers will discuss their techniques and challenges and participants will learn about income sharing communities and Serenity Community projects.

White allies can attend this event if they are genuinely interested in this cuisine and culture. We ask white participants to step back and let BIPOC participants drive the conversations and workshops. This could mean your question might not get answered in the workshop or you should hold off on getting seconds.

RSVP via this free ticket survey required (or via Facebook optional).

Twin Oaks Queer Gathering August 5 – 7

Join us for a weekend of queertranstastic fun, learning, workshops, networking, revelry, and more! This is a participant-led/co-created event, so while the organizing team will set up the event site and create a general schedule of activities, the content is largely up to YOU! There is opportunity to lead a workshop, DJ some of the dance party, bring your instruments to jam, offer an interest/identity-based meetup (BIPOC dinner, non-binary lunch, comic book breakfast, etc), and more! Registration fee is suggested at $80 (sliding scale – pay what you can : $40-$140) includes all meals and tent space. Work trade available. No one turned away for lack of funds. BIPOC travel stipends available by emailing us at queergathering@twinoaks.org.

Get all the details at www.twinoaksqueergathering.org

Please RSVP by pre-registering at our eventbrite page!

Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering

The Women’s Gathering is back in 2022! The event will be a three day conference on themes ranging from sex and sexuality to positive relationship building to DIY music, art and movement. There will be scheduled workshops and performance spaces, as well as lots of free time to network, drum, dance and play. Registration fee $85 (sliding scale – pay what you can : $80-$160) includes meals and tent space.

 Learn more at womensgathering.org

RSVP via Facebook or email gathering@twinoaks.org 

Twin Oaks Communities Conference

If you are looking for an intentional community, or if you are in a community looking for new members, this is the event for you.  The Twin Oaks Communities Conference brings experienced collectivists and communitarians to central Virginia over the Labor Day weekend. We expect at least 40 different communities to be represented, workshops in intentional community specific topics, and open space so you can bring your own content.

The Twin Oaks Conference Site gets busy

There will be an opportunity to tour the communities of Louisa county (including Acorn, Cambia, Community of PeaceLiving Energy Farm, Serenity and Twin Oaks).  There will also a separate Monday (Labor Day) program hosted at least at Acorn and Cambia.

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference is a kid friendly event which can accommodate many different dietary needs- meals and tent space are included in the registration fee. Full price adult registration is $125, full price youth ages 6-17 is $40, kids 5 and under are free. Early bird discounts, work exchange, and scholarships are available.

RSVP via Facebook or buy tickets at our eventbrite page.

QuinkFair

QuinkFair! is a celebration crafted to spark personal and collective positive change and healing. Through a colorful and chaotic mix of exhibits, interactive art, music, guides & readers, workshops, dance, books and your own curiosity, we will seek experience and insights as a catalyst for personal growth and cultural change.

Quink is about transformation

Inspired and influenced by several festivals, QuinkFair asks every participant to step away from being an amazed audience and into being an inspired co-creator.  If you want to be entertained enjoy a music festival, if you want to become someone new come to QuinkFair.

Adult tickets are $160 (or $128 if you buy early) and kids between 6 and 17 are $80 (or $64 if purchased early).  Kids under 6 are free.  This is a camping event and food is provided. 

QuinkFair takes place not at the Twin Oaks Conference Site (like all these other events do) but instead at the beautiful Happy Hills land in Mineral VA.

RSVP via Facebook or Pre-register on our Eventbrite page. Tickets go on sale June 1.

Internships available

If you are interested in supporting the first 4 events all hosted at Twin Oaks you could apply to be a Conference/Gathering Intern If you want to help manifest the QuinkFair celebration consider applying to be a Festival Intern

Pilgrim Passing

You want me to first build the tree houses and then design them?”  Pilgrim said, but he was not surprised.  It was just this type of impossible task he was good at.  And thus i would often ask him for these things.

6 weeks later with the help of all manner of volunteers and Acorners there were 7 different tree houses in the Acorn backyard.  Pilgrim was never shy of work, because he was so fast at so many things, he reveled in it.  It defined him as someone who could get things done, including difficult things often with surprising haste.

The Stardust Tree House at Acorn

Pilgrim came to Twin Oaks in the late aughts and we became fast friends.  In his relatively short time at Twin Oaks he did many significant construction projects at several of our buildings.  Basically single handedly he did a major overhaul of Degania, our principal education building.  He tricked out various rooms, including his own, which had a Hawaiian theme and fancy stairs to the loft. Later, in a too-short visit, he taught us how to  mud drywall in our hospice-style addition, as we marveled at his speed and patience with our technique.

It was not his handiness or speed he will be remembered for though.  His name gave the biggest clue.  He was a Pilgrim, he was traveling from place to place looking for the truth, his truth.  A place that could accommodate him as the hard working, hard partying person he was.  He lived in a bunch of communities and tried to start some in this search.

At East Wind: Porter, Pod, Nyle, Will (with Layla dog), Jay, and Pilgrim (2010)

He lived at Twin Oaks for a while, but ultimately the rules and bureaucracy got him down.  He moved to East Wind where he helped build the ambitious but ill fated Villages in the Sky festival project.  East Wind’s more pioneering mindset and rugged living was closer to Pilgrim’s style.  As Deborah (who founded East Wind and Acorn and lived at Twin Oaks for many years) was fond of saying “I know there are problems at East Wind; they are just problems I am better at managing than the ones at Twin Oaks.” Pilgrim’s hard partying style fit comfortably at East Wind, where his ability to repair buildings quickly elevated him to minor hero status.  But he was not through searching.

Pilgrim wanted a place which would model sustainable living and while East Wind (like Twin Oaks) is dramatically more sustainable than almost any place in the US, Pilgrim was looking for more and went to Ecuador with a shipping container of tools and supplies in hopes of building a better world there.  He learned a bit of Spanish, directed international crews of volunteers working on tropical gardens and other sustainability measures.  But too many variables were out of his hands for this situation to work for him, he was dependent on land owners being generous, had to balance tricky visa situations, and was perpetually willing to do too much work for too little compensation.

He returned to the States, where a new possibility called.  Pilgrim had a famous green thumb.  In Florida where he spent a bunch of time, there were all manner of impressive gardens he had started and developed at family members’ houses.  So when Colorado decided to legalize recreational marijuana he called me up and said he wanted to try again to start a community, with cannabis growing at the center and the US based Stardust project was born.  Pilgrim chose the name.

Despite his significant skills and an impressive crop in the first season, there are way too many ways to fail at growing pot and we hit a bunch of them, including theft.  Stardust collapsed and our ragtag collection of members scattered across the country, many returning to the communes from where we had drawn them.

Turns out i don’t have any pictures of Pilgrim, which is a bit ironic because i have a bunch that he took. He was a gifted photographer amongst his many other talents.  But he was not interested in capturing images of himself, he was modest in this way.

I have clear memories of both sides of Pilgrim:  the guy who got me to build a heavy fence with him in Savannah, faster than i think i have ever worked before, and the guy kicking back with a beer at the end of the long day, enjoying the music and conversation. He was only a part time workaholic, who understood that you needed to relax deeply to appreciate what the work brings. In the end, i fear those beers took Pilgrim from us too soon.  

In an effort to travel cheaply, I skipped my last chance to see him in Florida this last Christmas. I will always regret not seeing him one last time.  And now finally, after years of fixing, building and making things better this craftsman can take his well deserved break.

Support the Vegan Festival

I’ve long believed that the only thing which stops us from a vegan revolution in the US is more dedication to cooking as well as training great cooks. Serenity Community for Peace And Justice are testing this proposition by hosting a Vegan Festival April 30th and May 1st. This event will serve vegan food, do workshops on compelling vegan cooking and examine the veganism through the lens of people of color. This event is BIPOC centric in both it’s organization team and it outreach and recruiting, white allies are most welcome and of course you need only be vegan curious to sample to food.

Twin Oaks has stepped up to help this festival in several big ways.  First, the event will be hosted at the Twin Oaks Conference site, which has the necessary infrastructure to support this type of event. The second is over a dozen Oakers have already committed to all kinds of labor for supporting the Vegan Festival.  Specifically, Twin Oaks has agreed to do social media promotion, site preparation, fundraising, workshop development, the child care program, vegan cooking, site breakdown and more.  [This labor is being funded internally in the Twin Oaks labor economy by drawing to down movement support hours which are earmarked for racial justice work.  This allows members to satisfy their labor obligations to the community while helping bring vegan cooking and BIPOC culture to the communes.]


I am honored to be an ally working on this event.  I have a big birthday coming up, which is an arbitrary important number.  I am hoping my friends and readers will donate to the fund which is providing travel assistance (via Facebook, via PayPal) to people of color who want to attend this event but it is financially inaccessible.

Ciao, Cassandra

Before i met Cassandra i had already lost a bet because of her.

It was Acorn’s Land Day, perhaps 15 years back. Suwelo and i were talking when this young woman walked by and Suwelo said to me “i bet she is an air sign.” In a world in which you believe in astrology, this comment made perfect sense. The woman in question seemed to float by more than walk, aided by flowing garments and the perfect light breeze of the Acorn’s early spring Land Day. But in the world of probability, there was a 3 in 4 chance Suwelo was wrong and i said “i will take that bet.”

Then having made the bet, we had to find out, so we chased after her around Heartwood and Suwelo asked without prompting “What sign are you?” and then realized the question without prompting was presumptive and followed it up by saying “Don’t worry, i am harmless.” To which i reflexively replied. “I am not.”

Cassandra successfully backed the conversation up to something more civil. She got us to introduce ourselves and then she explained that she was in the region having returned from a long trip to India. A trip which would change her life forever in a tragic way.

Cassandra in India age 19

When she did finally confess her astrological sign, it was Aquarius and i thought i had won the bet, because that was clearly a water sign. Again i was wrong. But the clumsy introduction won Suwelo not only the bet with me, but the attention of Cassandra and they were happily involved for many years after that, and i visited them in several residences in Cville.

Cassandra was unsure of her taken name because it felt too heavy and she could not live up to the embedded assumption that the person with it would have prophetic, if not tragic capacity. Suwelo and Cassandra stumbled for some days trying to find a name (i of course suggested a naming party, but that was not what she wanted). And finally in frustration Suwelo said “i am going to open the dictionary, point my finger blindly into it and we are going to choose the name closest to my finger.” He did. And he pointed at the name Cassandra in the dictionary. She let go of her concerns and embraced it.

Cassandra always wanted to live in community, and many of us wanted that to happen as well. She was an enchanting personality, funny, caring, and empathic. But in India she had contracted an illness she could not shake, nor i believe was it ever really properly diagnosed, which fatigued her in a way that prevented her from working quota (a requirement for these communes). We discussed several different approaches to the problem, but the nature of Twin Oaks and Acorn egalitarian policies made it impossible to swap disability payments for quota. I’ve rarely been so saddened at the ableist policy of my home communities.

Cassandra and her mom – timeless

Cassandra was a facilitator of lovely small gatherings. My path continued to cross with her’s from the organizing she did with the local poly group in Charlottesville. Mac and i attended a couple of these gatherings back when i was a dual member at Acorn. One thing we lose with her passing is her mastery of how to make people comfortable talking about intimate things. In her more artful way she was gifted in inspiring participants into informal transparency games.

Cassandra also looked at my OKCupid profile and started to tell me all the things that were wrong with it.  I realized that i had done it poorly and she offered to help fix it, including answering questions for me to filter out non-poly people from finding high matches with me.  Unsurprisingly, after she answered a bunch of questions for me hers and my profiles matched much better. 

Poly propaganda shot Mac, me, Cassandra, Suwelo – circa 2013

Cassandra was easy to love and taken from us too soon. She died quietly, in the company of her new husband Randell and old friends from Acorn, Flame and Raven. Thus in essence with the community she always sought.

with Randell 2022

Cassandra saw a world of people living in harmony in community. She saw and crafted intimate groups taking care of each other in mundane and profound ways. She saw something possible and beautiful. But most people did not believe her, perhaps fulfilling her legendary name. It’s now up to the rest of us to continue her work and dreams.

The importance of the Right Allies – Serenity Community

When the nation was exploding in protests over the murder of George Floyd, some skeptics, perhaps tired of the nations inability to hold Trump for any of his many crimes, said “these protests won’t change anything”.  They were wrong.

Viewers of mainstream news could be forgiven for thinking the big effects were removal of confederate statues and the confederate symbol from the flag of Mississippi and NASCAR races.  And i fear the biggest effect of the Trump presidency is that many news sources now focus more on telling us what we will get upset about, rather than what is actually important.  

The Floyd uprising changed policing in America.

However this short list misses most critical reforms and changes, many of which took place shortly after Floyd was murdered.  Some terrible laws were cancelled, including A 50 in New York which protected criminal bad cops by hiding their disciplinary records and complaints filed against them.  Colorado stripped cops of qualified immunity. LA cut over $150 million from the police budget and redirected it to other community servicesOver a dozen police chiefs were forced to resign, including in large cities like Atlanta, Tucson, Richmond and Louisville.  Police chiefs almost never resign suddenly or are fired.  Letitia James, the Attorney General of NY State made history by being the first AG to sue their own police department for use of excessive force.  At one point, i started to track all the things which had actually changed because of this uprising, it ended up being overwhelming by it and i quit.

Serenity Community – circa summer 2021

The communes also changed.  There were disruptive internal protests at these intentional communities about systemic racism and there was a lot of education of white communards about how despite their best intentions they were maintaining racist systems.  And in part because of these internal  protests POC members of communes started more seriously considering options which had only been discussed before.  Importantly, a number of BIPOC community members realized there was a need for a  BIPOC led income sharing community near the cluster of communes in Louisa county.  And so Serenity Community was born.  

OG Serenity

While Serenity (taken for the name for the starship in the Firefly TV series) is still forming, it is already making good things happen.  One of the things we are especially excited about is that Serenity has taken on the difficult task of dispersing scholarship (discount) tickets for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who need economic assistance to come to QuinkFair.  Recently, has also agreed to take on the granting of scholarship tickets to other economically disadvantaged participants.  

And while they have been actively dispersing scholarship tickets, there are still more people who want to come to this event than can afford it. If you could help grow these scholarship funds it would be quite helpful.  If you are on Facebook, you can donate at this fundraiser or you can venmo 541-505-0803, be sure to include a note “QuinkFair Scholarships”

George Floyds death forced America to admit it had a systemic racism problem and while these important changes are to be lauded, we know the real work lies in front of us, but i am glad and excited to have the talented and energetic Serenity folks help in crafting a more fair and equitable world.

Quink Books – Open your mind

Good festivals build on people’s excitement, this is why so many events are designed around performers and their personalities.  But there are lots of other excitements which are available. 

 As we have been talking about quinks more, people keep asking for examples – and especially what are common quinks?  Things that don’t require the heroics of breaking a toxic relationship or the mastery of enlightenment.  

Wolf (on left) coordinates fire and flow arts for QuinkFair

Wolf suggested Quink books.  Almost everyone has read a book that has changed their life in a way which they look back on positively now.  These books hold a power and story for you and as organizers we want to bring that to our event.

On Friday Oct 1st at dinner we will have the participants of QuinkFair bring copies of their favorite books to dinner with the intention of discussing them, why they changed their lives and seeing if that is a message someone else in the group needs to hear.  

We ask that people consider bringing a copy to give away.  [If that’s not doable (financial challenges, difficulty finding a copy, etc) then you could also print the title and author on one side of a 3×5 index card and write why it was so important to you on the other side.  We’ll take photos of these cards and share them on the QuinkFair blog, as well as on Facebook.  ]

These are the three clear quink books for me and a sentence about what i took away from them:

The Dispossessed

That anarchist societies don’t make problems go away, they just shift how they are discussed and decided.

Be the revolution

Woman at the edge of time 

Was a compelling smack in the head about how my blindness to gender and racial inequity did not exempt me from at least learning about them and hopefully doing something about them.

The Fifth Sacred Thing

This book taught me that a good author can have me crying by page 4.  It showed exhausted heroes who looked a lot like people i loved.  And it showed our type of consensus decision making in impossible situations sparking effective non-violent resistance.

One of the most often used images to depict utopia comes from this book

What are the books that changed your life and why?  Can you provide copies for others to learn the things you did and perhaps other important lessons?

QuinkFair is a transformation celebration borrowing from several festival cultures and striving to spark positive and healing experiences.  It takes place on beautiful private land in rural Virginia in the town of Mineral on Oct 1 thru 4.  Tickets are still available

bring the books that sparked a quink thought

For some event participants this has been a lovely exercise, they get to go to their favorite used book store, shop for the books which help them become who they are and then bring them to the event and press them into the hands of someone who you hope has a similar strong resonance with the book.

Meet the Communities – An evolutionally stable design

Evolutionarily Stable Design

There are some evolutionary marvels out there.  Designs so stable that they make the dinosaurs look like the new kids on the block.  I am speaking specifically of dragonflies, jellyfish and cow sharks.  

Turns out one key to all of these creatures is their success in hunting.  Top hunters stay on top.

Say you have an event where you have brought together 200 participants and perhaps 100 of them are hunting for a new community (the others are from communities or are just community-curious).  Let’s say there are 40 communities represented.  How do you get the key information to the right hunters so they can make good choices?

I don’t know exactly who developed the Meet the Communities format that the Twin Oaks Communities Conference has used for decades, but it is an evolutionarily stable format, because it works so well. 

Can you be compelling in 1 minute?

You could say it is basically formatted around the controversial propagandist axiom “there is no such thing as a long story”.  You line up all your communities and say “you have 1 minute to present yourself and then people who like you will come for more personal and longer talks after all the communities present themselves”.  Yes, the communities movement basically invented speed dating.

After these introductions community presenters spread out to picnic tables and put up their signs and hunters who were intrigued at the short presentation come and have a longer, more personal and more focused conversation.

There are some organizational pieces you have to include to make it work.  You need someone who is watching the clock and when people hit their 1 minute mark gently moves them off the stage.  Ira did this for many years.  [Which resulted in Pat Therrian intentionally running over her time so Ira would have to grab her, which Pat quite liked.]  And you have to explain to the sustainability network guy how, while his project is important, he can not get up and present himself as a place based residential community.

Ira kept things moving

Another proof of evolutionary stability is imitation.  The West Coast Communities Conference (when it was happening before the pandemic) also used this format as does the QuinkFair event happening Oct 1, 2, 3, and 4 in Mineral Virginia.  These are the communities who have been invited to present themselves during MtC (most of whom have confirmed and/or said they are likely to attend) on October 2 in the morning.

AcornMineral
Abrams Creek/CFNCStorm Mountain WV
Baltimore Free FarmBaltimore
CambiaLouisa
Community of PeaceLouisa
Cosmic HoneySan Francisco Bay a
Cuckoo CompoundCuckoo VA
Cville EcovillageCville VA
Federation of Egalitarian CommunitiesUS
Foundation for Intentional CommunityNorth America
Glow HouseDC
Hawks CrestRichmond
Living Energy Farm (LEF)Louisa
Little FlowerLouisa
Magnolia (LEF affiliate)Louisa
Open CircleEtlan VA
Serenity (forming)Louisa
Twin OaksLouisa

Sadly, there is no Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC)  this year and QuinkFair is quite a different type of event.  Nevertheless, this long held tradition will be repeated in an undisclosed location in Mineral VA on October 2.

A Festival with Homework

This is an ambitious event. We are striving to create a temporary community celebration where we positively change the lives of participants.  This experience strives to strike the delicate balance between joyous celebration and transformative self reflection.  We want you to have a crazy good time, and we also want you to walk away from the event a wiser, wilder, and more inspired person.  

To this end we are trying some unusual things: this festival has homework you need to complete before arriving. We are asking everyone to bring a very specific type of memory.  A rememberance where you made a choice and things in your life improved. It could be a little thing, standing up for yourself or taking a small risk. It could be a large thing, like breaking an addiction, falling in love or reaching a spiritual enlightenment. Reflecting back on the lock downs, how are you different in an improved way and how did that happen?  This memory will be the core of a story we want you to tell.

Homework for a festival?

What the talented storytellers explain is that the way you improve your story is to often retell it.  And this is also the way you understand your own story.  But we are often discouraged from telling these types of stories culturally because they are immodest.  Yet especially in these extraordinary times, modesty is dangerous and we need to honor and herald these heroic choices.

What event is this?  QuinkFair is an event on October 1,2, 3 and 4.  It is located in Mineral Virginia to be close to the communes of Louisa county.  A festival inspired by many other events and cultures including the rainbow gathering, burning man, and the intentional communities conferences.

The story we are asking you to develop is about a quink from your life, a quink is roughly defined as the opposite of trauma, where after some identifiable event your life improves or you experience a healing.  When people share these positive stories we observe two important things happen.  The first is that you think more about these experiences and pay attention to how they might happen in your future life and how you might best ride them.  And secondly, these are intimate stories of (in part) how you became who you are and this vulnerability brings intimacy with the group.  

Beyond crafting a story, we are asking folks to consider presenting about their quink experiences so others might learn from their paths.  Examples bondage class, group building with challenge course material, or try your hand with divination at the Temple of Oracles.  We discourage the term audience in favor of participant and co-creator or maker.

We borrow from other festival cultures and are strongly committed to both a high consent culture and a decommodified one.  Consent culture means we have a shared respect for bodily autonomy and feel safe.  For example, one of our the consent examples on the QuinkFair website suggests to “Ask open ended questions- for example, avoid saying “It’s okay if I hug you, right?”  Instead try saying “I’d like to hug you, how would you feel about that?”

Decommodified cultures don’t use vendors internally: no vendors, no service fee,  no barter, no corporate sponsors, no money based markets, and nothing for sale.  

Can we guarantee you will have a quink at this event?  Certainly not, but we do have both clever guides and powerful tools to help you find at least where you might look for your future quinks.  We also have intentional communities and especially (income sharing) communes coming to present themselves, so perhaps your Quink will be leaving your straight job and moving to a commune in the country?

Tickets are on sale here

See who is going from Facebook

Lots more info about this event at www.quink.org

We have a strict “vax or test” covid policy, please understand it before you buy tickets.

QuinkFair origins and inspiring festivals.

Not-so-secret ingredients

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

Joan Mazza’s Poem on Gwen

Ex member Anissa text with current instagram photos.

Too soon, Gwen

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…’

Exactly that.

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