There are things Twin Oaks does reliably well and funerals are one of them.
I dislike most funeral formats. Too much religious singing or scripture, often reflecting the wishes of the minister rather than the person who passed. Too much waiting around for people who are not skilled at public speaking struggle to prove they really cared in oft too long and pained presentations.
Ex-member Kate facilitated the funeral in a Quaker style where people shared what they were moved to say. Almost everyone was funny in an appropriate way because we knew it would take powerful joy to cut the tragic sadness of losing this person with incredible potential. Very few prepared remarks (though Carly penned this amazing piece), lots of short heartfelt memories.
As an event organizer, I evaluate this from two perspectives: First is “What would Gwen think?” And I think she would have been very pleased at all these people from her life saying these comic and amazing things about her. She would have felt seen and celebrated.
But the other perspective is what it must be like to be one of Gwen’s girlfriends in attendance. What would it be like to be among so many people whose principal connection with my partner is that they raised her? Would they be like that relative who does not see how embarrassing it is to show these old photos?
No, we are better than that. There were some endearing stories of young Gwen, like the one Tigger, her father, told of Gwen at 4 years crying:
Tigger: Gwen, no one gets their way by whining and crying
Gwen: Dad you don’t know anything about whining and crying.
But this is a story of Gwen in control and defiant and it reveals perhaps the most important not-quite-secret ingredient in what makes commune collective child raising so great. We teach defiance.
We teach kids how to hide from their parents when that is appropriate. We teach kids how to know when to break any rule. But more importantly, we teach how to be a conscientious rule breaker. How to know when you’re breaking rules and which rules are silly and should simply be ignored and to know what rules matter and why.
Gwen was the closest thing Willow (my daughter) had to a sister. But in some ways commune life made them much closer than most siblings would be. For almost a decade they were in every class, preschool or play activity together. They ate most meals together, hung out together at most parties and celebrations. And they shared approximately 2 bazillion hours of various video game chats together. Most siblings a year apart in age spend much less time together.
Gwen’s coffin surrounded by family and clan
Understandably Willow is pretty broken up about it. She was crying often during the funeral. I don’t consider myself a particularly great parent. But one thing I feel our family did well with Willow was encourage her to cry things out. No shame in tears, they are expressing needed emotional release. Let them flow.
But I am not worried about Willow though she is clearly hurting. Because emotional resiliency is another not-so-secret ingredient.
Editor’s Note: Though it is a bit old fashioned, i try pretty hard to run blog posts past people who are featured and named in them, to make sure they are comfortable being represented this way. Willow gave her blessing and happily thought i was actually a fine parent. Kate who facilitates sacred ceremonies, was happy to be called out. And Gwen’s dad Tigger approved this text before it was published. Carly shared her letter and amazing pictures. Thanks to Summer for more pictures and Kelpie for edits and tech support. Thanks to all of them for quick turn around on this recent event
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.]
At first glance, I am not much like my father. He was a professional man, dedicated to building his architectural firm, reliable, respectful, a liberal Democrat, faithful to his wife, a military officer and a patriot. He believed the system would deliver justice and fairness if we voted for the right political candidates. My father was concerned with appearance, dressed conscientiously and carefully. He would not go out on a business lunch with his secretary unescorted, not because he was worried something untoward might happen, but because others might think something was happening. [I, in contrast, started a romance with my father secretary and stole her away to the commune.]
But current events are turning me more into him that I might normally admit. I remember in the summer of 1973 my parents and brother went to Mexico on vacation. It was the height of the Watergate investigation and my father was riveted to the coverage. I remember he bought a radio so while the rest of us were running around on the beach he could listen intently to the scratchy radio station broadcasting the Senate hearings. He was especially excited about John Dean who betrayed the president and catalyzed his ultimate resignation. My father disliked Nixon with a rare passion.
It is a different time, but I find myself mimicking my old man. Willow, Hawina and I are currently in Cuba. But back in the US, the Trump/Russia scandal is unraveling and every evening I am huddling around the internet listening to various new broadcasts drinking in every new nefarious detail. And perhaps my John Dean is Paul Manafort.
If you have not been following the Russia scandal closely you can be forgiven for not knowing exactly who Paul Manafort is. He was the Trump Campaign manager from March of 2016 until he was fired as his deep connections to the Russians were revealed, in Aug 2016. Manafort has a long colorful history of helping increasingly dangerous politicians. Two years after law school he worked on the “re-election” campaign for unelected US president Gerald Ford. Manafort received about $1 million for lobbying for Congo’s kleptocrat and brutal dictator Mobutu. He got another cool million image crafting for Ferdinand Marcos, the brutal dictator of the Philipines. The secret ledger recovered after the overthrow of the treasonous Ukrainian president, Yanukovych show Manafort was paid $12.7 million for his work helping elect the pro-Russia president. Hacked text messages between Manaforts adult daughters discussing their father include gems like:
- “Don’t fool yourself, that money we have is blood money.”
- “You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,”
- “He is a sick fucking tyrant, and we keep showing up and dancing for him and eating the lobster. Nothing changes.”
Manafort, who is young looking 68, came out of retirement to work for Trump. He “had no relationship with Trump” before the election. In his 5 page application to Trump, he played down his brilliant work with autocrats and instead hyped three things which apparently won job or him:
- He was willing to work for free
- He lives in Trump Tower in NYC
- He was a Washington outsider and an enemy of Karl Rove
But was he really working for free? Between 2006 and at least 2009, Manafort was paid secretly $10 million each year by Ukrainian aluminum magnate on a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government”. Manafort took cryptic notes during the infamous July 9th meeting with Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner and several Russians offering damaging intel on Hillary Clinton. These notes referred to the RNC and political contributions from the Russians. If this turns out to have happened, it is treason.
Less exciting than treason is tax fraud. Manafort is reported to have received $60 million in loans, through shady banks in Cyprus and sketchy domestic connections. Manafort has been told he will be indicted. Mueller has brought in the special IRS Criminal Investigation Unit (IRS-CI), which seems to mean he has evidence of at least tax fraud, likely of Manafort, possibly Trump himself.
The question still stands, will Mueller to get Manafort to sing? Meaning will he testify against the president in exchange for Mueller getting the testimony he needs to indite Trump. If Manafort is willing to betray Trump to save himself, it may well mean he, like John Dean before him, brings down the president.
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.