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Vacancies in Paradise (big asterisk)

[Update August 2019: This article is a couple years old, but it is newly updated. Importantly, It is again true that Twin Oaks no longer has a waiting list.]

For most of the last 9 years there has been a waiting list at Twin Oaks. It is now gone.

raspberrys-offered.jpg
Welcome, have some of these!

People seek explanations for why we dropped down into the mid 80s of adults, when we had been at our population cap of 92 for so long. There is no single reason.

But because there are now spaces available to people who come to do the visitor period, it is worth reviewing why it might be a good time to ditch your mainstream life and consider living in a full service commune.

No Bosses: Our managers are nothing like your manager. They don’t generally fire people, they don’t determine raises or promotions. Instead they organize trainings and make sure the needed materials are available and the machines are functioning properly. Every one of our ‘managers’ also works on the production line. Because all jobs are volunteer, managers who exploit their co-workers find themselves lonely. This drives the MBAs a bit crazy.

collectivism worth fighting for

No Money: Can you imagine going through your day and not touching cash or credit cards? The commune strives to and largely succeeds in providing all the things people need outside the conventional money system. Food, housing, clothing, medical services, education, and entertainment are distributed freely and fairly. You work your quota (currently 42 hours a week) and all your needs are met.

without-money1

No advertising: Transformative festivals like Burning Man make a big deal out of being non-commercial and largely advertisement free. For many attendees the break from the constant onslaught of commercial images and invitations to buy things, most of which you don’t want, is a big relief. But you can’t live at these festivals. You can live at Twin Oaks, where if you stay off the internet and don’t read one of the many magazines we collectively subscribe to, you can avoid advertisements indefinitely.

BM costumes
Commie Clothes is less colorful, but more practical

No punch clocks: One of the other things the boss you don’t have is not doing is keeping track of your hours. In this trust-based system you record the different work you do. Our flexible work system means you can always find work in the hammock shop or in the kitchen and if you want to be scheduled you can be, but if you prefer to figure it out yourself each day, that is available also.

clocks surreal
Are you a slave to clocks?

No fear: What do you feel if you hear someone behind you in the dark whom you don’t know? While it is not true to say we completely escape all crime, we avoid so much of it that some visitors realize the difference between where I live and where they live is that there has been a constant mostly low level threat for most of their waking hours, which vanishes in this prosaic collective rural living.

no_fear_walk on the railing

It is not just what we don’t have that defines us, the things we do choose and possess are crucial.

We strive to be self-sufficient: We build our own buildings, organically grow most of our own food, run our own businesses, teach our kids,  and create our own holidays and culture. The community has spawned and nurtured painters and poets, quilters and woodcarvers. We’ve had folk singers, rock bands, chanters and primal screamers. You can find someone to teach you how to juggle, or program a computer, or deliver a newborn calf. We stage our own theater productions and provide an unusually appreciative audience for visiting performers. We have our own coffeehouses, writing groups, and social clubs.

Twinoaks aerial view
Aerial view of a small part of Twin Oaks

Economic self-sufficiency means we have seven businesses:

  • We make about 8,000 hammocks a year and sell them online and in stores and at the craft fairs we attend.
  • We make 400,000 lbs of tofu.  We are just starting a new line which will enable us to double production.
  • We indexed 60 books last year, mostly with academic presses.
  • We have a contract services business which does demolition, elder care, house cleaning and removes the basketball floor at midnight on Thanksgiving at UVa John Paul Jones Arena.
  • We do seed growing and wholesale distribution of Acorn’s Southern Exposure organic and heritage seed business.
  • We run conferences and gatherings, like the upcoming Womens Gathering (Aug 19 thru 21) and Communities Conference over labor day (Sept 2 thru 5) as well as the Herb Workshop.
  • We sell beautiful organic ornamental flowers.
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Acorn’s seeds become flowers – photo credit Gryphon

We live lightly on the land: We heat our buildings with sustainably harvested wood from our land. Most buildings have a solar hot water preheating system and half of the newest residential building is off the grid completely, using only electricity provided by the sun, with residents agreeing to keep consumption low and use efficient appliances. We sort our waste into over a dozen different categories and reuse and recycle fiercely. The food we don’t grow we buy in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. We have our own sewage treatment plant, which runs at well-above state required standards and are planning a constructed wetlands. We have 20% the carbon foot print of our mainstream counterparts, mostly because we share things so robustly: clothes and cars and buildings and bicycles and musical instruments.

solar-panels
Installing solar panels at Twin Oaks

We are self-selecting: You cannot simply move to Twin Oaks tomorrow, and strangers who just drop in are politely asked to leave. You need to write us first and link up with one of the regularly scheduled three-week visits, or just take our Saturday tour. During the three-week visit, we orient you to our culture and more importantly, it gives both you and us a chance to live and work together. Then we ask visitors to go away for a month and think about whether they really want to live in our slightly odd and extraordinary village.

honeymoon-surreal
Are you really one of us?

[This is the big asterisk part] *But it is not paradise: There are all kind of good reasons why people leave my commune (or never come in the first place.) Some people want more independence, they don’t want to have to ask the health team for some expensive exotic medical procedure. Some people want more of their own space than their own room. Some members leave because they don’t find the romantic partner they want, or the one they had ended the relationship and it is too hard to see their former partner every day.  It is hard to make enough money to take long trips or far away vacations (our members get a tiny allowance of $100 a month.)

And then there is this resume problem. If you want to be a millionaire or CEO, you should probably skip the commune step. This is not to say that some members have not used the community as an applied university. And we have had many general managers of million dollar businesses who were in their early twenties. But when they ask you how much you were paid at your last job, your next employer is likely to be unimpressed by in-kind wages.

career-path

The real question to ponder is, “Are you ready for a radical departure from what you are used to?” Community could be the answer. And now that there is not a waiting list at Twin Oaks, perhaps this is the right one for you. Here is a recent video by BBC 4 on Twin Oaks

If you are interested in applying for membership click here.

The post originally appeared in the CommuneLife blog.

The Words You Don’t Know Might Help You

Many years ago in the bright Nevada sun of Burning Man, I was talking with Rob Brezney, the author of Free Will Astrology.   He made the case that part of what hampers efforts to build a more just and positive future is a lack of the right words.  He complained that the English language was asymmetric in a fashion that favored negative terms: jealousy, paranoia, contagion, trauma. He helped popularize the term “pronoia” (paranoia’s opposite), the belief that the universe and the people around you are conspiring to do good things and/or make you happy. 

Quick Fair disorganizers hard at work

Activists and organizers, politicians and propagandists will oft tell you that we are in the business of storytelling. These new words allow us to tell new, richer stories.  You want to coin something that is simple and elegant, yet compelling and desirable. A word that once someone hears it, they will start to use it and think about how to bring it into the story of their lives.  One of the long lever words we have been crafting is “quink”.

Quink is the opposite of trauma.  It is an experience which lastingly transforms your life for the better. A quink is a spark, a moment that shifts your life path, or helps you move out of an unhealthy situation.  A stroke of enlightenment, falling in love, finally kicking your addiction to a drug or a toxic relationship- these are all quinks. Quinks can be a coincidence like bumping into an old friend at the farmers market, going to a mind blowing festival, or reading just the right book at the right moment.

Perhaps your Quink is near your Ikigai

We thought we should design an event around sparking quinks.  Thus, Quink Fair began with the question “What if we took the best aspects of our favorite festivals and fused them together in one event?”  Quink Fair! is a celebration which invites change by exploring the participants’ desires and obstacles.   Quink Fair! draws deeply from Burning Man, an interactive art event based around the principles of  participation, and self-expression with no paid performers and no passive audience. From the Rainbow Gathering we draw decentralized organizing and generous sharing. From the intentional communities movement, we bring the importance of cooperation, sustainability, and consent.   We also draw from the communities movement the idea that we are better off sharing our lives and our possessions than taking on this world alone.  

Event Poster

Through a colorful and chaotic mix of exhibits, theme camps, music, guides, oracles, workshops, dance, and your own curiosity, we will seek experience and insights as a catalyst for personal growth and cultural change. And at the very least, it will help you find a good story.   Join us at Quink Fair in Louisa, VA, July 12-15, 2019. This is a 4 day, 3 night camping event, food included.  Tickets are $90 for adults, $45 for children 11 to 15, kids 10 and under free.  See www.quink.org for more information and to purchase tickets.

Bring your spark.  

This article originally appeared in July 2019 issue of Echo World Magazine.


Rainbow versus Burning Man

The idea was compelling, study the really exciting festivals and celebrations, take the best pieces of these cultures and combine them into a beautiful Frankensteinian creation.  The tricky part is establishing which are the finest parts and figuring out if (and how) they fit together.

Central rituals are a major difference between Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering.   At Rainbow thousands of participants hold hands in silence in a giant ring on the 4th of July.  When the moment feels complete the children run into the center, break the trance, and thus commences wild dancing.  At Burning Man there are two central rituals, the effigy burn and the temple burn, both of which revolve around fire but have very different flavors.  The former is a pyrotechnic exhibition of tremendous scale, with fire dancers and a giant man which blazes for hours leading into a bacchanalian celebration of wild dancing in the desert.

Burning Man Fire Eaters

Photo Credit: rosehalady0 from Pixabay

The temple burn is a more somber and self reflective ritual which is powerful like a brilliant funeral can be.  It is all about letting go of things, your sadness at a deceased friend or relative, your addiction to online games or a dysfunctional relationship, or realize it really is finally time to quit the job which is not working for you.

We decided to embrace the Burning Man central rituals.  There were several reasons for this, the first is an effort to bring people who are familiar with or excited by Burning Man culture to the event.  It feels like especially the temple burn is potentially quink inducing, and a bacchanalian celebration is practically guaranteed to be a good time.  While the rainbow ritual is elegant, accessible and unifying, it did not feel powerful enough for us to embrace for Quink Fair. One of the key ideas of Quink Fair! Is to introduce creative people from mainstream cultures to the intentional communities (and especially income sharing) movement.

Free is nice, but quite limiting

Tickets are another important cultural aspect, and major cultural difference.  Part of the brilliance of the regional and national Rainbow Gatherings is that they are free to attend and no one is “controlling” a gate that keeps some people out.  Despite it’s inclusion principle, Burning Man is a privileged event. The low income tickets are $240 and literally thousands of people pay over $1,000 to be assured to get in. This is before you pay for a camp and gear, and transportation to this remote site- it’s quite normal to spend $1,000 or more on these expenses, especially if you’re traveling from far away.  The advantage of the paid ticket model is organizers can pay for porta potties and event insurance and art grants, and what ever else is important.

Burning Man preaches “radical self-reliance” which means a number of things, but near the top of the list is “bring everything you will need” and packing for attending this harsh desert event is a complex and expensive affair.  Rainbow Gather’s unofficial motto is “Welcome Home” and true to this tagline is the idea that when you go home you need to bring the fewest things of any journey, since your stuff or your support network is already there. From a festival organizers perspective, when you have well stocked and equipped participants you reduce costs and you share the provisioning burden for the event.  But if you can welcome almost anyone, including people who have little gear or money, then you are a more diverse and inclusive crowd and you provide a more full service experience.

This is where the Fair part of the name comes from

The Quink Fair! “disorganizers” made the choice to have ticket prices, but make them fairly low ($90 for three days) and include work exchange options.  And of course we hope we have the money we need for porta potties, insurance and art grants and more.

Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Kitchens and food are another major cultural difference.  At the Rainbow Gatherings perhaps 1/3 of the camps are free kitchens serving to anyone who comes to them.  At Burning Man people are responsible for bringing their own food to this difficult environment and preparing it.  There is some food being given away at BM (clever DC friends are doing a pizza delivery service this year), but it would be an odd diet and an organizing struggle to attend this event without food or a camp which provides it for you.  

For Quink Fair we’ve gone with a hybrid model around food. Haven House theme camp (run by one of the disorganizers who threw a temper tantrum upon hearing food wouldn’t be provided) will provide 3 meals a day, plus drinks and snacks between meals.  This is free and available to all who want or need food, or who just enjoy sharing meals with a group. But some (perhaps most) attendees will still bring some of their own food and/or cooking equipment, either for their own use or to share. It’s a combination of Burning Man’s freedom with Rainbow’s safety net, which we hope will bring the best of both systems;

And Rainbow was a huge influence.  We want to make food accessible, we want to decentralize organizing as much as we can, we want anyone who really wants to attend to be able to come.

Image found at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/481181541408416340/

Rainbow, Burning Man and the Communities Conference (which we draw inspiration from) all have workshops offered by participants.  The communities conference curates them by selecting headliners and scheduling open space separately. We did not want to go this way.  There is a large collection of workshops, some given by event disorganizers, most by participants and there is no distinction between which are organized by who.

There is a lot of experience in the group of disorganizers who are trying to pull this event together, but we can’t be certain that we have made the right choices.  We’ve likely made wrong choices but that’s part of the adventure of a new event. We have been talking a lot about our own quink experiences and how they can be replicated at this event.  Almost everyone we talk with is enthusiastic about the idea.

Lots more information to be found at www.quink.org where you can also buy tickets.  If you are excited or intrigues you, go to the facebook Quink Fair! 2019 event and click “interested” or “going” and we will send you more information.   If you have questions, suggestions, or want to lend a hand, drop us a line at quinkfair@gmail.com.   

Other blog posts about Quink Fair!

Getting the Band Back Together

I was panicking. I was thinking i had again taken on something larger than i could pull off. I had believed optimistic promises of support and had over estimated my own capacity to plug volunteers into useful work.

If i had a desk it would look like this

I even considered canceling the Quink Fair! event because i could not see how it would come together. Then i realized there was another way. And if you will excuse the martial overtones. I decided it was time to call in the cavalry.

I’ve described Angie before as a plug and play organizer. Someone with the capacity to walk into almost any circumstance and make it be better. It is a rare mix of self confidence, common sense and the capacity to not get stuck in other peoples mistakes. Angie has these in spades.

She is also quite busy. She has been the driving force behind birthing the Karass Inn in Chester Vermont which was started by ex-communards. Which now in it’s third year is well established and profitable.

KarassInn.com – book early

“Can we agree we need a website within 48 hours?” I thought we needed one last month. But by adding Angie to the mix, our additional capacity to do things spikes. What she is really saying is “if you can’t get your people to pull this together in 2 days, i will do it myself. ” And she can, she is not a pro at it, but fully capable. As she is fully capable for running registration, or coordinating workshops, or doing outreach or staying within budget, to getting more training. And most importantly, she can play an anarchist chief of staff. This is where you ask volunteers what they are excited about working on and when they think they will have measurable progress, she will nudge things along.

She is a perfect nag that does not need training. She knows how to ask people to show up, she knows how much and what types of pressure motivate people and knows how to stop short of pushing too hard. The website was up in 48 hours and more serious promotion for the event has already started.

She is also good at untangling organizational messes i get myself into around events. Sometimes you need the cavalry.

May is Quink Fair! Forming


Maud and i were arguing.  She wants a centralized kitchen cooking for this event.  I was drawing from the Burning Man culture and wanted every camp and participant to be self reliant.  This energetic and fiery organizer from Montreal is helping the international effort to build a relatively small celebration in central Virginia.  Maud was upset with me because the kitchen in a festival is something deeply important to her; it sets the mood on the type of sharing that is going to occur; and  I hadn’t manage to find a time to talk with her about it.

Maud and instrument of creation


The event is called Quink Fair!

The formulating idea is that we know a lot about festivals, and if we try to take the best parts of several of them, we might be onto something. Which of course invites all manner of comparisons between these quite different events.

Maud hails from Velo Quebec, the giant Quebecois bicycle tour company, where one of her jobs was to scout ahead and prepare these tiny towns for a temporary invasion of as many as 2000 cyclists.  Housing, sanitation, food, medical and more all need to be on hand for these exhausted cyclists who will have even longer days.

For Quink Fair! the centralized kitchen versus everyone cooks for themselves question is ultimately a cultural one.  When we are comparing Burning Man with the Rainbow Gathering, we see that food is a central and slightly exclusive part of a burner’s experience.  Rainbow has a rule that every campfire is a public fire and for many of the camps, the principal activity is cooking for people who will not be paying for this service.  

Maud is challenging that we want to be more like Rainbow than Burning Man.  Part of the issue is about money. While Burning Man has a decommodification ethic, the treacherous nature of the venue requires serious preparation.  The culture demands preparation, which makes the event expensive (Rainbow is free) and pushes participants to expensive and exclusionary meal plans. And Maud is a realist. Sophia House has a high functioning institutional kitchen, and groups of volunteers can sharing the cooking, with donated food, insuring that everyone gets fed. This will reduce the time spent cooking by most of the participants and camps, giving them more time to have a positively tranformational experience.

Which is what a quink actually is.  

Turns out Maud is right.  Rainbow’s hippie roots of sharing and dynamic group cooperation are more in line with the world we are trying to create than Burning Man’s radical self reliance.  And clearly i should call her more.

Digital Iron Lips

There was a time before the internet. Many of my younger friends have some difficulty believing this is true or at least understanding how it might work. There is a story i often tell about a particularly dramatic job offer i got and then arriving at work before i got my job offer by crossing the international dateline. To buy that airplane ticket, because there was no internet and because i was in a hurry, I went to the Sydney airport and walked around the ticket offices until i found the next flight out.

From Sydney to Honolulu – 24 hours Time Shift

While it is inconceivable to consider how we would run small business these days without computers, but early in the life of Twin Oaks, the decision to computerize our businesses was internally quite contentious. These days we are regularly looking for ways to use software and hardware to reduce or simplify our human labor.

This year Twin Oaks Validation Day made the jump to automate the six creatures game. If you are unwilling to click through to these links, let me summarize these cultural constructs you are possibly unfamiliar with. One of the best parts of big complex full service communities like Twin Oaks is we get to completely redesign holidays. Valentines day is a horrifically flawed event, so we redesigned it. Specifically, we made it principally about affirmation (which can be given to everyone) and secondarily about romance. This helps make the event inter-generational and accessible to all. We create validation day cards, which are like love letters from many people sharing the same collage container.

While it hardly seems daring in the age of Tinder, the 6 creatures game is a way people who are attracted to each other to find each other without indicating their attractions. The way it used to work is the players would fill out ballots for which of 6 different types of dates you are looking for with the people on the ballots. The creatures/date types are:

1 ) Ants – work dates

2) Puppies – play dates

3) Kittens – cuddle dates

4) Fish – kiss at the party

5) Rabbits – Sex date

6) Doves – Long term relationship

After the ballots are all gathered a trusted member (named iron lips) finds all the matches and lets people know of only their matches. Iron Lips is selected because they are very good at keeping keeping secrets. This game has sparked quite a few new romantic relationships.

Digital Iron Lips ?

This year the person of Iron Lips was replaced by an app. The six creature ballots were never seen by anyone other than the people who wrote them, their shared matches were spit out and given to members who were excited to see what shared possibilities exist.

Camping with Rachel

You get to make some choices about how you grow old.  If you work a soulless job, don’t get much exercise because you are either commuting to work or sitting in front of a computer all day, and are not excited about the people you spend your free time with – you will, i am guessing, age hard and fast.

Alternatively, if you love what you do, if you are active – running around doing errands or construction or child care, if you love the people who you are spending time with and they inspire you, then you run a better chance of aging gracefully.

aging gracefully shadow.jpg

Another one of my reckless theories is that if you are living ruggedly your body will adapt and be stronger longer.  And that if you create a comfortable easy situation, you will become accustomed to comfortable circumstances and then require them.

I spend most nights at Cambia rather than Twin Oaks.  Cambia is still working on its winterization and my room in the main house is heated at night by space heaters and electric blankets.

Or it isn’t.

For the last few weeks (when i have not been in Florida) i have been sleeping in my room without the aid of heating equipment.  It is a bit brisk, i have heaps of quilts and blankets, and it is fine.

Most weekday evenings i watch youtube recordings of Rachel Maddow’s storytelling on the big screen in my Cambia room.  I think she is very clever and i am quite excited about the current national news.

rachel maddow lets argue.jpg

When i was explaining my peculiar anti–heater stance to my Cambia clan, Mar responded “It is like you are camping out with Rachel Maddow.”