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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
Tonight there are more peaceful protests than altercations nationally, but the president is threatening to deploy the army within the country.
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.
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.
Gabriel was from Trinidad and happy to answer all my questions.
Do you do it to feel like a rebel or an outlaw? Not at all, it is just a job.
They carry a pharmacy of cannabis products on their bike and in their backpack: oils, cookies, bud, candies. They have a myriad of different varieties of marijuana and they describe each to Tankstra, my new New York City host.
I continue to ask questions.
Is it a regular job? Yes, 3 days a week, 6 hours a shift.
Do they trust the people that he works with? “I don’t trust my own shadow, but i have had a few tricky jobs and i am confident i can handle this one. “
Do they believe in the product? Absolutely. As an artist and a musician the high from marijuana has been influential in crafting my art.
Tankstra asks Gabriel if they will smoke with them. Gabriel obliges and i continue my interrogation.
How did they get into this business? My sister got me the job. Who it turns out is friends with Tanksta as well.
And the conversation veered to how wonderful the sister was and how both Gabriel and Tankstra were deeply appreciative of the sister.
Have they ever had a problematic client? Someone tried to pass me what was likely a counterfeit $50 dollar bill at one point.
Any altercations with the police? None.
How long have they been doing the job? A year and a half.
Tankstra and Gabriel smoke quietly for a few moments.
Gabriel gets up to leave and i ask a final question. Do many of your clients offer to smoke with you?
This is the first time.
[This story is from 2016]
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.