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A Convenient Catastrophe

I remember as a young child when the first remote controls for televisions came out.  I found it a curious device, we had managed to change channels on the television quite happily without this device, which seemed to be destine to get lost or crushed or run out of batteries.  I imagined it would not be popular and fade away, like 8 track tapes.  And to be clear on the the period in time, there were only a few TV stations and cable was decades away.

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I was tremendously wrong.  And one of the things which typifies especially US american behavior is we have a slaving devotion to convenience.  Many will, for example, stream the same song repeatedly, rather than download it – because streaming is easier.  And we assume we will always have the internet when we need it.

Everyday many people watch the light rail fly past as they sit alone in their cars in rush hour traffic, because it is more convenient to take your own car, more convenient to not bother car pooling, more convenient to leave work at the same time 90% of the workforce is leaving work (it would be inconvenient to change my schedule to avoid rush hour).  We pay in time and money for this type of convenience.

train zips past rush hour.jpg

Cars are just more convenient

Turns out, pandemics are crazy inconvenient.  What if you should want a haircut?  Or to defund the police in a mass non-violent movement?  What if you want to have an indoor rally crammed with supporters who are discouraged from wearing face masks?

we demand haircuts

Kill for fashion

And this inconvenience is most of why the coronavirus is going to hit the US harder than any other country.  Yes, we have terrible leadership, especially at the Federal level.  But the information is now out there, you can try to blame the president who suggests you inject bleach.  But you don’t trust him for anything else, so this seems a weak excuse.  Are we really washing our hands enough?  I fear not.

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The event which made me realize our chances of survival were seriously diminished was the “Covid Herd Immunity Fest” in Ringle Wisconsin.  This event coming in a few short weeks will host 2500 people in an outdoor space designed to hold 10K.

When I first heard of this event i thought to myself “I don’t think that is going to work”.  I did not know exactly how, but it was clearly too bold.  And indeed, this event has had a rough ride.  Two of the originally scheduled bands have dropped out of the event, one explicitly because of the festivals name.

The festival has changed it’s name, but what appears clear is the event – with it’s version of social distancing will take place.  Sadly, it is not enough for us to say “well, I don’t like it so I will simply not attend.”  The hospital that may fill because of this type of event, may be your own.

Covid Herd Immunity Fest Banner

It is not called this anymore, but the message still lingers

I use remotes to control televisions these days, and I use face masks whenever I am near strangers (a technology I am forecasting will be increasingly popular).  But I fear that this joke about herd immunity will become a tragic reality.

 

Tulsa is calling Hackers

[Readings for white readers:  It is Juneteenth, the 155th anniversary of the announcement that slaves were legally freed in Texas.  Here is what some black leaders think of this event this year.  Tulsa also just remembered the 99th anniversary of the Burning of Black Wall Street which killed hundreds of blacks, interned over 6000 in camps and rendered homeless 10,000 blacks in one of the most violent acts of white supremacy in this countries history.  A history which until recently was hidden.  

The best primer for white people on race I have found is complied by Michael Caloz.]

In a surprisingly reckless act, the President is inviting 19,000 people to Tulsa for his first campaign rally.  This event is to be done without social distancing and without masks, dramatically increasing the chance of spreading the coronavirus to participants.  Hundreds of Tulsa health professionals have petitioned the mayor to cancel it.

trump virus cartoon

The Trump campaign is requiring people who go to the event to click on a liability waiver which absolves the campaign of responsibility if they get infected.   But there are questions about whether this type of liability waiver will actually protect the campaign.  This is from the LA Times:

According to Timothy D. Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University College of Law, the courts have imposed three basic limits on liability waivers. First, you can’t assume risks you don’t know about; second, you have to assume the risk voluntarily; and third, the waiver has to be consistent with public policy.

It is the last limit which seems the most important to me.  There are still bans on gatherings of over 50 people in many places (though likely not Oklahoma) and the CDC identifies the highest risk for gatherings as:

Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area. 

choir spreading covid

How is a campaign rally like a choir practice?

This is where the hackers come in.  What if someone could get a hold of the names and contact information of the 19,000 people who attended this event?  What if a month after the event you were to contact those people and ask if they had been infected by the virus?  What if some lawyers filed a class action suit on behalf of these survivors or victims’ families?

There is quite some chance that this would not work, despite liability waivers often not being respected by the courts.  But even if the court challenge failed, perhaps it would influence the attendance at the up coming planned rallies in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona which are the spots for the next Trump rallies.

 

 

Finding your Origin Myth

I am facilitating an online workshop on how to tell your own origin story. It is on zoom on Monday June 15 7 PM Eastern time and here is the event link on Facebook. [If you would prefer email me at paxus@twinoaks.org] There is a donation requested, which is going to front line activists in Minneapolis.

I want to disspell a myth about origin myths. An origin myth need not be part of your early life.  In fact regardless of your age, the pandemic or the Floyd Uprising might be the center of your personal Origin Myth.

Your origin myth is it is a story that helps other people understand both an important life  transformation as well as something about the trajectory you want to be going in.  An origin myth is the truth based story you might offer when someone you were excited about connecting with asked you to tell them about yourself.  And you could have more than one.

My origin myth is about a train ride and a curious character.  And about how i became a story teller.

When considering your origin myth review events which have most shaped you into being the who you are and especially the parts of yourself that are helping you to be who you want to be. But a good origin myth is not completely true, it gives you room to be a bit better than you really are or were, it is supposed to be an inspirational tale. This gives you license to polish the characters, including yourself.

Don’t let accuracy get in the way of a good story

In this two hour workshop we will share rough origin stories and likely break into small groups for everyone to tell their story and get some constructive feedback from other participants.  I’ve never done this workshop before, so it might be a bit rough, nor have i ever done breakout groups on zoom, hopefully i will figure that part out by Monday.  

There is a requested donation for this workshop, with 100% of the money going to front line POC activists in Minneapolis working on the uprising that city has sparked.  

To get the link to the zoom event, you have to RSVP on the Facebook page or email me.

 

June is the Floyd Uprising

Perhaps my first critical lesson in the politics of language was the difference between a riot and an uprising. Riots happen all the time, crowds get violent when their team wins or loses, groups destroy property for a bevy of reasons, righteous, impulsive or perhaps simply drunk.

Uprisings are potentially going somewhere. Uprisings are the building blocks for revolutions and other kinds of political change, small or large. Uprisings are when injustice hits a flash point and people say “no more” in a way that might put a police car or a city into flames.

Early map of the George Floyd Uprising – Source Healthyfrog.com

The best piece on the complexity of this situation was summarized by Will Stenberg and includes this thinking on judgement of the protests:

I am uncomfortable saying, as some of my fellow leftists do, that a situation this complicated is GOOD, and I refuse to say, with centrists, that it is bad or wrong. The only thing I know is that it is INEVITABLE. And it’s not new. American cities burn every couple of generations because America has not learned to respect its black citizens.

It is no longer true that only winners write history, now anyone can. Part of writing it is to give it names and i am calling the month of June 2020 the George Floyd Uprising, because that is what it looks like today and that is what i want. Of course, i want it to go on longer than this month, but a month of sustained political protest could transform the national political process.

Minneapolis May 29, 2020

Tonight there are more peaceful protests than altercations nationally, but the president is threatening to deploy the army within the country.

Facebook anarchist collective simulator

The corona virus lock down has exploded a number of social media destinations. One of these which i have been enjoying in small doses is the private Facebook group with the long winded name:

a group where we all pretend to live in an anarchist collective together

Here is an example of the content.

What is especially fun about this group (which you can join freely) is that many of the posts are right on quotes from actual community life and a whole bunch more are easy to imagine in places where things have comically gone wrong.

There are over 4K people on this group, having more than doubled in the last couple months. There is lots of traffic on it everyday, so i would recommend getting notifications only when your friends post.

There are other lovely parodies of commune life. My personal favorite is the Hollywood B-grade comedy is

Wandlust.

If you have a favorite, put it in the comment section of this blog for others to enjoy.

Story Telling Workshop Today 8 PM

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

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

piano surreal

Here is the workshop description:

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

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

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

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

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

story telling machine surreal

 

 

 

The Gargoyle Foundry

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

Worst workers sign

False modesty abounds

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

gargoyle wall

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Boats, buses, tree houses and studios.

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

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

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

wolvie in mask and suit

Wolvie the Romantic

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

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

 

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

gargoyle cannon front

There are times when you need a cannon.

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

Gargoyes notre Dame

Notre Dame got nothing on these folx

 

 

MiniQuink – March 21 Cville Ecovillage

hoop festival

Stolen from festivalfire.com

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

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

eye in hand minimal

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

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

runes

6 PM Inflammable Art Workshop

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

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

Burning efigy

Last inflammable Art Workshop

 

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

8 PM Story Telling Workshop

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

horses in hair

Where does your imagination take you?

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

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

 

 

 

Advice to a new planner

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

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

Consensus-graphic.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

take care of yourself - umbrella.jpg

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.

Image result for surreal prioritize friends

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.

 

QuinkFair – Fail Soft

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.

A disorganizers planning session

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.

Willow and Paxus – Circa 2017

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.  

 

Nadia with the Phoenix she built.