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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Bye for noo, Milo
Milo MacTavish has gone to the other side. He was an extraordinary man.
Over the life of this blog, I have written about him several times. About his work as a wandering electrician and his taste or highland Scotch whiskey. He was part of the crew which started the Karass Inn. And there are several tales we are not allowed to tell about this old friend.
What is well known about him is that he helped out the communities movement a whole bunch in a number of places. I worked occasionally as his travel agent, getting him from worthy project to ambitious startup. He went to Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Vermont and New York on his nomadic crafts person adventure. Never by plane, mostly by train. He preferred to do things right, but he could always work within the budgets of these sometimes struggling entities. This versatility was a big part of why he was so valuable. All he would ask for, besides our regular room and board was Scotch whiskey.
As important as his work was, Milo will be remembered for his slightly larger than life character. He was a wild card – “a disrupter” long before that term was popular. Cantankerous and boisterous, he always had a story (often of Kenya where he came of age or Her Majesties Merchant Navy) and time to listen to yours. He was also an excellent teacher and shared his skills with numerous communards, some of whom required a fair bit of patience to train. He was a hard-partying, proud pagan. Milo had loud opinions about many a thing and had no fear in telling you how uninformed you were on almost any subject where he knew more than you, which was likely most topics.
Milo was a missionary. He rescued a failing health food coop in Norfolk and managed it with his then-wife Susan. They ran it together for 5 years. He canvassed for the Rain Forest Action Network and CalPIRG. He even worked with the Dolfin Research Lab in Florida. He had been a cop and occasionally on the other side of the law. He complained loudly about what he called “the 3 monos of the world”: Monoculture, Monotheism, and Monogamy.
Milo was often the life of the party. And with his passing, some of that party is gone as well.
But Milo would not want us mourning his passing, he would want us to party harder. There will be one this weekend (12/16) in Norfolk and next weekend (12/23) at the Pizza Stone in Chester, Vermont to remember him. Contact me if you want more details on these events.
[Milo’s family of choice is trying to get in touch with Milo’s Scotish family to inform them of his passing. If you have any leads on this, please contact me by email (paxus at twin oaks dot org) or comment on this blog post.]
Almost an orgy
Spoiler: This post has no descriptions of graphic sex.
“Can I kiss you?” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. It was asked across a cuddle pile in the midst of a party up at the conference site where several people were making new romantic connections.
“I don’t really know you very well.” Was the reply I was slightly surprised to hear. But then something really powerful and slightly profound happened. Nothing.
The mood did not change. No one got embarrassed and felt like they needed to leave. No one laughed at the rejection or felt sorry for someone. The party just moved on.
We think and talk a lot about consent culture in the communes. We do orientations for visitors and guests so they don’t make cultural mistakes around initiating intimacy, which is easy to do if you are just mimicking what you see others doing. We explore new types of agreements around boundaries. And the reward for our efforts is we get to take some types of risks, like my friend who got rejected from the make out session.
What this does is create comfort and safety. It makes people feel like their boundaries are going to be respected. This in turn often helps them to push limits out. This reveals new possibilities and new connections.
And thus the party drifted right up to the edge of becoming an orgy. As a funologist, this is something I want to understand. For when you push aside all the sophomoric jokes and embarrassment about what orgies are, assuming they are done in a healthy consent environment, they are daring and liminal events. They change peoples lives.
And in this case, the “almost” does not really matter. Everyone could feel the possibility, we had created the space that was that safe and daring.
If you live in community for a while, traditions form around you. And so it is with Hawina’s birthday. Part of the evenings festivities will be us singing the English translation of the Dutch birthday song. This is a song that is only sung this way here, Hawina imported it herself by accident many years ago when someone asked for her tradition to be adapted to local culture.
Werewolves is another birthday favorite game. Some people call this game Mafia. It is a good birthday game because it requires at least 8 people to play. In our first pass, we had 15 people and Sky played god. I was the first person killed. I did not even get a chance to accuse anyone else before i was silenced. I did not take it personally. Hawina won (except the last towns person (new member Emily) was “the Hunter” role, who gets to kill one person as they die, and thus killed Hawina who was the last surviving werewolf – so no one won).
In the second round of werewolves, i got killed in the first “evening” again! Now i had to take it personally. Hawina won again with Emily as her “lover” and they survived all the werewolves. [If you are unfamiliar with this game there is an interesting and exhaustive article on wikipedia on it.]
Part of the power of collective living is that we get to create our own holidays and rituals. After nearly two decades of doing birthdays, Hawina has this one just where she wants it.
Binghamton – Hello and Goodbye
This post originally appeared on CommuneLife Blog.
We got to Binghamton via MIT. It was one of the first presentations of the Communities in Crisis materials. It was a small crowd, perhaps half a dozen people not affiliated with the Point A project in the room.
“But they are the right people,” Raven said, and not knowing much about the Boston coop scene, I was happy to defer to him. Turned out he was right.
Rachael from the audience said we had to talk with Maximus and put Genome Collective on our agenda. And with Genome came our growing connection to Binghamton University and David Sloan Wilson and the birth of the Chloroplast Research Institute.
It is from these connections that we have started seriously exploring the thesis that living in community is more sane than not and that people who join heal with time. A radical, if not obvious, notion. There is quite some chance that Maximus’s PhD thesis will be working with the income sharing communities in an effort to prove this. Which would be wonderful for us.
We have been working with Genome Collective in Binghamton for over a year, with several Point A visits. We did some strong group process work in our early visits to Genome and, at one point, even hoped they would morph from being a group house into being an income sharing community.
The house itself has a number of positive attributes. A large separate meeting space over the garage called “the temple” is ideal for workshops, meditation or yoga classes. The house has the beginnings of a thriving culinary mushroom business. Genome has both numerous bedrooms and a top floor which can host several sleepover guests.
Maximus gave us a full schedule of classes and workshops while we were there. We presented on a number of topics including climate change, polyamory, income sharing communities and sustainability. Our classes spanned the range from large freshman lectures to small grad student seminars. What was universal was that we got thoughtful and insightful questions from every group of students and several students interested in visiting and/or studying our cultures.
It is also clear that, while we are welcome in Binghamton to do more speaking gigs at the university and to stay at Genome, the house has decided that they will be a group house instead of an income sharing community, and will not be needing the services of Point A to help them go in that direction. Our future visits will be more connected to the Twin Oaks Academic Speaking Tour (TOAST) instead of Point A work.
Commune Exports – Fatherhood
In the time of Trump, it is critical to seek high functioning alternatives to the mainstream culture. Twin Oaks and the surrounding cluster of egalitarian communities could be a model for new behaviors of sharing technologies and cooperative culture. But perhaps our most daring export, because many default culture citizens think they are expert in this, is how to be a father.
Keegan and adder (sic) are two young fathers living in a rural income sharing egalitarian commune. But if you are willing to listen, i think their advice might be applicable for your world as well.
Other articles about communes and families:
- Parenting in Community – It takes a Village
- Negligent Parenting Magazine
- Wrong from word 2 – Yahoo Parenting discovers the Commune
- Utopia Child Rearing – by Keenan (not Keegan)
- Momentarily Viral – Don’t Read the Comments (on Yahoo Parenting article)
- Being a “Yes”
This is a rich topic. Your comments are welcome.
By Gil Cambia
Ask anyone what is the first association they have with the term “hippie commune” and you’ll get “free love.” This term technically makes no sense, unless you assume that all love in Babylon is expensive and that Milton Friedman, bless his heart (or lack thereof), didn’t mean to say “no free lunch” but “no free love”. Either way, it begs the question of what is meant by that term and whether there is any truth in it. This article is somewhat of a personal account through the thorny rose garden of compersion. [Compersion is the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.]
Ever done a trust fall? You know–when you step up on a platform and fall back, against every bit of intuition which yells at you “We’re gonna die!” and “Don’t do it,” only to be caught by all of your friends. I’ve done it many times and guided many people through the process, as I’ve worked in the ropes course industry for many years. I still remember the look on this 11-year-old boy’s face after getting caught. His eyes sparkled with a combination of elation, disbelief, sheer love, and a little bit of residual tears of fear from the 5 minutes it took him to finally drop. What I saw in him was actually a new emotion, one that he didn’t expect to experience. It was more powerful than he had words for.
This is all nice and good, but there is something different that happens to parents when they watch their children try the trust fall. They don’t get to have the endorphins, adrenaline, and peer pressure. It just feels so scary to watch a loved one go through it, especially if you don’t get to be a catcher. I’ve had some parents tell me that they went through a more challenging ropes-course experience in watching their children participate than in participating themselves. Nonetheless, it can be a powerful growing experience even when it isn’t very enjoyable.
So my little family and I moved here to the Louisa communes and started a new one called Cambia, and we’re doing quite well, all things considered. Something you need to know about the Louisa communes, however, is that people are very polite. They don’t just assume that because you are a family you must be monogamous. In fact it might be rude to utter such Babylonian terms, so they ask you right away if you are polyamorous. And asking one spouse is also too presumptive, and one should really ask both in case one of them is poly and the other is still stuck in their ways.
This is all well and good. We, of course, do not believe in sexual possessiveness and felt mildly appreciated for that. So no, we didn’t get subsumed into orgies right away. People just wanted to know in the same way that they want to know one’s preferred pronoun. But the compersious challenge came right away when my son said he didn’t want me to be his primary and that other people are more fun to play with.
Hmm… he’s right. I’m often preoccupied and am trying to do multiple things while watching him. What do I do? I try to be better and more fun but a part of me wants to tell other people in my community to not be so much fun. I don’t want him to start crying every time I tell him it’s my turn to watch him. It is so insulting. Does he not remember all of the reusable diapers I washed by hand with hand-pumped ice cold water in the rain? The answer is no, he doesn’t and he doesn’t need to remember. I wouldn’t want him to be polite and suffer through his time with me, pretending it’s the best thing since homemade flatbread. And just to add insult to injury, he sometimes calls other people “Daddy” and seems to not bother changing that mistake. Sometimes calls me by other people’s names too, but he never confuses me with the really fun people in his life.
Good Gaia, he’s only 4, not 14. I’m not ready to be snubbed. Why is this happening??? I know why, and I know that it’s good. He is growing up with endless adult attention, people to play with and teach him things. On my end, however, not only do I feel inadequate as a parent, but I also feel like I must not want what’s best for my child but what’s best for my ego.
So guess what, I realize that there is no way to win his heart without offering mine completely. I try my best to play with him with full attention, with creativity, but without being contrived or fake. I just started taking more interest in him and in wanting him to enjoy the game I create for him. This effort turned out better for everyone involved. And if Milton Friedman was reading this paper he would attribute it to the breaking of monopoly that I had over him, and that the competition sparked improvement in quality. Ugh, maybe you’re right just this one time. In the big picture, though, Milton, you’re wrong. Competition also leads to reduction in quality and increase in the Kitsch factor. The pressure on me was to be a better dad and not a more attractive dad, because my motivation was not sales but connection.
Sorry about this economic digression. Let’s digress into anthropology instead:
It takes a village, right? There is one culture remaining that does not have a word for “father” and does not have a word to distinguish “mother” from “aunt”. This is one of the last matriarchal societies on this planet.
The Mosuo people of the southern Yunan province of China have been living in a matriarchal and matrilineal way for longer than recorded history (not fair; they had no written language so most of their existence is before recorded history). Every household has a matriarch whose mother, sisters, and brothers help with raising all of their children regardless of who birthed whom.
The Mosuo traditionally have no marriage. They practice something they call “walking marriage,” which is a secret connection between a man and a woman as the man is invited by the woman to her private room, which she gets when she turns 13 after her “flower ceremony,” where she has the liberty of inviting whomever she wishes to her space and they must leave by dawn.
This ritual functions to create a complete uncertainty of paternity. Every man knows who his nieces and nephews are, but not his children. This is far from perfect now. There are many Han (dominant culture) influences and their traditional ways of life are disappearing.
The important thing to realize about the Mosuo is that they have very low rates of violence, rape, murder, warfare, child abuse or abandonment in comparison to patriarchal tribal societies. Though difficult to document or verify, it appears that more sex and more sexual diversity is experienced by both genders. This last point should surprise us, shouldn’t it? When women are in charge, there is more sex and more diversity than when men are in charge?
As one anthropologist describes it: “In matriarchies, mothers are at the center of culture without ruling over other members of society,” “The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, ie. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect.” From a reproductive perspective, it makes perfect sense. For the reproductive fitness of the female, it makes sense to have support in raising children. Unlike men, she cannot have hundreds of children through raping and pillaging, and restricting the reproduction of other men will not help her children in any way.
This is the reality of the bonobo and the naked mole-rat. They also have structurally determined paternity diffusion, and what’s the result?
Cuddle puddles! Unlike gorillas and chimps, bonobos do not fight invaders, steal their females, kill their young, play political games, or abandon their orphans. And yes, they have more sex than any other primate, and they are pretty undiscriminating about their sexual partners.
When a male does not know who is his child, and he figures that at least a few in the group are, he has an evolutionary pressure to care about the entire group, not just his own. Also, if he can’t stop a female from mating with others multiple times a day, it’s better for him just to join the fun than to try to control it.
So how did it go for me? How am I handling being in an open relationship? It wouldn’t be very interesting if I said that it was great, would it? It really wasn’t easy, though. Of course I love those who love my spouse, but it’s hard not to feel insecure. I’ll spare you the details that you may have read this far just to get to some juicy stuff.
Let me just say the following: it’s the greatest trust fall of all. Just when you think you are falling to your death, when it’s someone else’s time to spend the night with your partner, you get caught by both your partner, their new partner, and the entire support network of poly love warriors. It’s an incredible feeling. Your intuition yells to you, “She doesn’t want you anymore!” and your partner smiles and reaffirms that she will always love you. You lay there in the hands of those who caught you and you think you must have fallen to your death and woken up in heaven, and the truth is you did.
When love loses restrictions, suddenly the love with a partner becomes a true rather than an obligatory expression. Suddenly your partner not only feels owned by you but actually appreciative for the effort and struggles you are willing to go through for his or her well being. What better way is there to show love?
To be honest, it isn’t instant nirvana. It takes a long time to overcome the internalized patriarchy completely. But luckily, the path is not pure suffering. There is a distinct experience of greater love and greater security.
The cultivation of compersion is that of true love. It’s about vulnerability, it’s about trust without control, it’s both letting yourself fall and getting caught by the soft loving hands of your friends, and about watching those you love get caught by others and not by you. Through this process you get nudged to become a better, more loving, and more lovable person (or so I hope).
In a broader perspective of communal living, our movement is focused on creating wealth out of sharing, not out of possessing or overproducing. We have mastered it in shared land, housing, work, risk, costs, childcare, and many resources, but the most important aspect, the one that is also the least depleted by sharing with others, is love.
Compersia lands on the Atlantic
A collection of intrepid adventurers have launched the newest income sharing commune in Washington DC and it is called Compersia. After failing twice to name this new community using naming parties, they discovered that one of the limitations of naming parties is that they are good at coming up with funny or lighthearted names. But when you are naming your home you might want something a bit more serious.
Compersia is derived from Compersion, which is roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy. More precisely compersion is when you feel good about your intimate experiencing intimacy with another person. Part of the reason why compersion is only roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy is that you can feel both compersion and jealousy at the same time.
The name is barely a month old and the major liberal magazine, the Atlantic, has completed a 6 minute video on them. Here is the link to the Compersians discussing their community. The reportage is all in the words of the members and thus it is a pretty upbeat piece of coverage. Compersia is looking for new members and this might well help.
Curiously, just the day before the Atlantic posting, Realtor.com ran an article called “With Housing Costs Sky-High, the Commune Makes a Comeback” Which quotes a number of our friends at Ganas and Twin Oaks.
Nice to be seen a bit by the more mainstream press.