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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are a good parent, you are open to be learning as much as you might be teaching. So it has been with Willow from early on.
Willow had been home schooled almost all of his life. Some of his commune kid friends had gone to conventional school. They did not speak well of it. It would come up with some regularity, that their were people (like his grandmother) who really thought he should go to conventional schools. Willow was not having it.
A couple of years back my mother thought it would be fun for us to go to Cuba together. Willow thought it would be good to learn some Spanish before he went. There being no one at Twin Oaks Community who was willing to teach him, he decided to take a class at the local community college.
I was stunned. After over a decade of intransigence around the possibility of going to school he just suddenly switched. I asked him about it.
“Willow why did you decide to go to school?” I asked
“Do you know the difference between community college administrators and high school principals?” He challenged.
I knew I would not be able to guess, so i just caved. “No i don’t know, would you tell me?”
“Sure” Willow offered. “The principal is trying to keep everyone in high school. The community college administrators are trying to keep the customers satisfied. The difference is the principals are trying to keep the bullies in class. The administrators are trying to thrown them out. I don’t want to go to any institution that is trying to keep the bullies in.”
I had never considered such a thing, but clearly this made sense.
Willow is in his third semester of community college, pulling straight A’s, finishing his fancy Clonlara online high school curriculum early and thinking about summer school in video game design. I am pretty excited and feel proud he made his own decisions to get here.
[As with all posts significantly about him, Willow has signed off on this one. Thanks to Kelpie for proof reading]
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.
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.
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.”
First things first, we are running a crowdfunding campaign for Rustling Roots, which is the sustainability education project of my favorite small community and part time home Cambia Community. Please donate generously if you can. And so we know it came from this source please donate a dollar amount with a single penny added (so $35.01 and the like). Here is the link.
This is the lovely promotional video for the project which was made with some of my favorite kids (From Twin Oaks, Cambia and Mimosa communities).
These communities are all different and important models of sustainability. They have tiny carbon footprints, home schooling programs and a vision of a better world. In an often insane world, these places and projects are a ray of hope.
Please support us if you are able.