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.
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.
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.
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.”
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’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.
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.”
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.
Cities try to distinguish themselves from others in different ways. The small city of Eugene has some impressive pieces of public art.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
I have been looking of google reviews a lot recently, and Twin Oaks as a community have a very high overall rating on google, 4.7 stars. There were very few low star reviews, but one of my favorites was only 2 stars and read:
“Yikes, someone didn’t get the memo about Karl Marx. Please don’t visit this unless you’re absolutely dedicated to this.”
Clearly, the reviewer wishes to warn normal folks away from this potentially dangerous place. Russia is infamous for propaganda, and one of the most powerful propaganda engines in the world is Russia Today. I have written somewhat critically, and expert colleagues extremely critically about RT.
And because our egalitarian alternative (no longer an experiment) has many collectivist elements it is often linked to communist propaganda and socialist revolutionary movements. And it is no surprise the Russia Today has just put out it’s fourth or fifth article on Twin Oaks. This time linking small scale communism with polyamory.
As i read this new piece on my home, i was surprised to see so many blog posts of mine quoted and referenced. Specifically:
- How Sustainable is Twin Oaks?
- So you are a polyamorous community? [Short answer “no”]
- Holiday Agreements and Acidic Effects
- And even comments from these blogs.
In reviewing this article i only found a few mistakes:
- We get closer to $100 per month (rather than per week)
- Our three romantic models are not “monogamy, celibacy and free love” (replace free love with consensual non-monogamy or polyamory}.
- Skinners theory was not principally about promoting a community of constantly-improved scientific lines, but rather a set of rewards and sometimes even punishments designed to modify the behavior of members to a more Utopian standard.
It may well be the case that the current corrupt president was able to rise to power using the theory that “no publicity is bad publicity”. So recognition of my work by a notorious disinformation engine certainly feels like a mixed blessing.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Interview with organizer Macaco from the Ecovillage Education Institute.
Funologist: What is happening at the Charlottesville Ecovillage on October 19th and why is it interesting and important for the folks to come?
Macaco: This event is the Charlottesville Ecovillage October social and it is a multi-offering event, with many different aspects. It is principally a local gathering and celebration, activities included:a potluck brunch, drumming, dancing, barbecue, sewing circle, recycling presentations, electronic waste collection, workshops and divination. This is a family friendly event, open to everyone and runs all day (10 AM to midnight). There is no charge for this event which is located at 480 Rio Rd, parking is available, but carpooling is encouraged.
One of the purposes of this event is to introduce folks who are in various different communities in the area to see that they are also part of a greater community. Many different groups use and work with the Ecovillage. This event is designed to bring them together in an intergenerational celebration.
One specific focus of this event is sorting waste and specifically electronic computer waste. We are encouraging participants to bring their electronic and computer waste and instead of simply sending these items to a landfill, this event examines other endpoints. Sometimes electronic waste can be salvaged and reused. The tech wizards from Open Source Recycling will review the electronic hardware which comes in and see which pieces can be rescued, cleaned up and retrofitted so they can become donated computer systems to people who need them but can not afford them. But not everything can be reused and some of these items will be turned into art objects at this event. Whatever is left will be disposed properly.
Please come and invite your friends. RSVP at this Facebook event page.
If you organize protests when you attend a rally you look at the speakers. I watched the last 20 speakers and performers at Philadelphia’s Climate Strike. There was a highly racially diverse group, all but one was female, none were white males.
If you organize protests you look at the crowd. This was a student strike. The average age for the crowd might have been 16, even considering one old fart like me drags up the average age for 20 people almost 3 years.
When one of the speakers asked how many participants were attending their first protests, most of the crowd replied loudly. Which is always a good sign.
The speeches were short and mostly crisp. The march was around a single block and demanded the city council take action on this critical issue. If you want to see more pictures go to #PhillyStrikesBack
15 months ago Greta Thunberg and a small handful of her student peers started striking at government buildings every Friday. Today millions of students over most developed countries followed her lead.
There were also some clever signs.
If nothing else, the speed of the growth of this movement is appropriate for the magnitude of the problem we face. The kids were stressing voting. For me voting is critically important and way too slow. I look forward to the Extinction Rebellions non-violent direct action arrests at the upcoming in October. Because i think direct action can be faster than voting.
The alarm bells are quite loud. Can you hear them as well?
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.
[Update April 2020: The COVID 19 virus has locked down Twin Oaks and we are not accepting visitors now. Please go to the Twin Oaks Official Website for the latest update as to when we will open again. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.