[Update August 2019: This article is a couple years old, but it is newly updated. Importantly, It is again true that 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.
The second best thing for an organizer is when someone takes an idea you think is important and replicates it. So I was more than thrilled when I learned that there was a regular Transparency Tools (TT) group happening Wednesday nights at Acorn that I was not organizing.
The best thing for an organizer is when someone takes an idea you think is important and evolves and enhances it. And so it was with the Acorn Transparency Tools group which I attended for the first time the other day after some weeks of being on the road.
Confidentiality is key to making transparency work. You are asking the people in the group to take a risk. You are asking them to describe some of the most important thoughts and feelings which are going on inside of them. We ask people share with us their most intimate details. You can’t do this unless you feel like the group can maintain your confidences.
There have been two general confidentiality agreements that TT groups have been using.
- Strict Confidentiality: People in the group don’t talk about the other members’ disclosures outside of the Transparency Tools group.
- Identity Confidentiality: You can talk about things which came up in your TT group, but you must do it in a way that hides the identity of the person who said the thing, even to someone who is listening who has great knowledge of the group.
I personally prefer identity confidentiality. I want the people in these TT groups to be talking about their experiences, which are often powerful and sometimes transformative, and the strict confidentiality agreement often limits this.
The Acorn TT group developed a new type of confidentiality which might be called Group Confidentiality. The group agrees to strict confidentiality, but invites members of the TT group to talk about things people brought up, but only amongst those who were present. While I don’t like this as much as identity confidentiality, I do see several advantages to it.
With identity confidentiality there is always the chance that you might inadvertently break your agreement, because your listener might have a bunch of information about people in your group that you don’t know. So they might be able to figure out the identity of the person you are talking about. Because of this, people inside the group might be reluctant to share important information about themselves for fear it might leak out.
With group confidentiality, there is yet another incentive to be inside the group. You are given a special permission to continue to work on these interesting issues – but exclusively with people who are in the group. This further encourages people who think they might want to come. It can create post-meeting group identity and lead participants seek out members of the group to continue their own work on things which come up.
The other exercise which got modified in the Acorn TT group was the Flow of Feelings tool. This tool invites the users to talk about their different emotional states without worrying about the logical accuracy of their statements. You might say, “I am sad because I have no friends.” Your friend in the group might well object, “You have a bunch of friends, including me!” This is not helpful. If you are feeling sad, we want to invite you to explore why, not get into an argument over the ‘truth’ of your feelings.
Flow of Feelings invites the participants to check in with the group around 8 different types of feelings:
I feel angry that … I feel grateful that…
I feel sad that…. I feel happy that…
I feel afraid that … I feel secure that…
I feel guilty that… I feel proud that …
In the original flow of feelings format, one participant would cycle through these feelings, usually giving at least one statement of each. In the new format developed by the Acorn TT group, a single feeling is selected and everyone in the group throws in a response to it. The difference is significant. Even though the root causes are often quite different, being with others in the group at your moment of sadness or of pride reconnects you to them, and builds bonds and tribe.
I am very excited about these developments. Big thanks to Brude and Batco for their work on this.
What do you give to the person who wants nothing (for themself)? Perhaps you would give them an idea. Ideally it would be an idea so novel, funny, daring, newsworthy and crazy enough that it just might work. This is where i need your help.
This Friday is GPaul’s 30th birthday and we will be in NYC continuing with our community building Point A work. I am responsible for his under organized birthday event. Pleasantly, he personally wants little, demonstrated by (among many things) his willingness to stay in a tiny shoe box room in the barn at Acorn for years after he could have moved into a nicer one.
What we want collectively is at the other end of the accessibility spectrum: High visibility, inspiring, urban based, income sharing, intentional communities. And what I am asking from you, even if you can’t join us for this post Pride Friday night party in NYC is exotic memes.
What preposterous yet plausible proposals do you have for how to spark new urban communities? Some examples might help.
Party til Occupation. Both the mainstream media and progressive activists were surprised by Occupy. A call was made for a broad protest, as thousands have in the past, and people showed up in Zuccotti Park and ultimately across the country and started building political community. What had not been expected was that people from different classes and races could work intimately together using consensus to improve the treatment of the poor and the homeless and highlight corruption in banking and politics.
What if (after finding a suitable site) we decided to hold an open ended party. Different collective groups from the city take responsibility for making sure there are people and party goodies for some specific set of days for perhaps the first month or so. Then if it turns out that people are enjoying the party, renew the invitations and simply start pretending that permanent occupation of the site is a desirable and possible outcome.
CommunityCupid.org. Instead of a one on one dating site, this new social network helps people find others to live in community with. This does not need to be a single place based residence, it could be buying clubs and other aggregate discount services. And the structure of the site and the data is such that it is designed to bring people who are looking to spark community into the conversation. A relatively simple solution for starting up such a project might be as a Facebook plug in.
These are two examples of unlikely, but desirable projects. I am hoping you can add your own to be part of the birthday fun.
On Friday we will gather all the cards and all the participants we have and each person attending the party will draw 3 or more cards and choose the one which they think they can defend to the group the best. Then they will present the bold proposal of their selection and the rest of the group will evaluate the proposal to see if it is worthy of pursuing.
If you are in NYC this Friday, then email me and I will tell you where this event is in Brooklyn. If you can’t participate, but would like to submit a preposterous plausible idea you can either email me or leave it in the comment field.
Here is a curious pair of statistics. Louisa County Virginia has 33K people in it. It also has four income sharing intentional communities (Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sapling and Living Energy Farm). NYC has 8.4 million inhabitants. NYC has only one secular partially income sharing community (Ganas) though there are rumors of another in Brooklyn, we are investigating.
What is going on here?
My theory, which is certainly disputed, is that the foundation of community is trust. Here in rural Virginia we have it pretty easy at least materially. Crime is low, we are practiced in being civilized, fair and pleasant to each other (though we don’t always succeed). Building trust feels good, so we build it.
One of the first thing you are taught by the natives arriving in NYC is “trust no one”. The city is dangerous and looking for suckers. Not just financially, but emotionally and if you swing that way spiritually. It can grind you up and spit you out if you don’t protect yourself from its wiles.
Beatrice disagrees. Her experience is that the (non-residential) community she experiences in NYC is deeper and richer than other parts of the country. Beatrice is part of Point A, a guest writer for this blog and is a world class networker. She is also certainly much more experienced with the city than I am and I often defer to her wisdom.
There are other factors as well, of course. Exceptionally high rents and real estate values means there is less room for social experimentation. There is also in my mind a “role your own” mentality in NYC, where everyone seems to cobble together a housing/work/social situation which addresses the pressures of the city. Generally, there is not much room for others in these ingeniously and carefully crafted arrangements.
We are having another event in NYC this very weekend. In Prospect Park if the weather holds (back at the Brooklyn BUZ if it is raining). If you are interested in forming community in NYC please feel invited. Details of where it will be in the Park will show up on Facebook. Or just email me at paxus at twin oaks dot org and I will hook you up. Please do RSVP on the Facebook page or in the comment section of this blog post.
Catalyzing Urban Communes Potluck Picnic
Come join activists, artists, communally minded, and friends interested in sparking intentional communities inside NYC. This lively somewhat structured conversation will explore how to form new communities in the city and what would it take for you to be part of them. We are also welcoming of people who aren’t interested in living collectively, or who are not seeking an urban setting, but still want to help these kinds of living solutions to exist and are willing to put time into helping or advising.
Share food, share ideas, share dreams, share each other
Prospect Park (exact location TBD)
rain location: Brooklyn Urban dZong
starts 1 PM – ends 5 PM Sunday May 11
bring a picnic dish, preferably vegan
bring your own plate/bowl/flatware/drinking vessel
|1:00-1:30||Opening Game and Potluck Feeding Frenzy|
|1:30-2:00||The Sharing and Solidarity Sermon (a focusing and inciting exercise)|
|2:00-3:00||Speed Dating Idea Factory: Pairs or small groups will talk to each other for a few minutes with different prompts relating to the Point A project and write down their best ideas on 3×5 cards which they leave behind when they switch partners to inspire and be added to by the next conversation.|
|3:00-3:30||Hot Idea Selection: Which of these conversations do we want to develop and work on further.|
|3:30-4:30||A Deeper Conversation: Medium size groups will coalesce around the selected hot topics for a longer conversation. Likely including a small group that wants to live in an income sharing community inside NYC|
|4:30-5:00||Sharing, Summarizing, Next Steps|
The Best Name Tags Ever: When you arrive you will be interviewed by a volunteer who will write you a descriptive name tag packed with relevant information.
The Churning: Facilitators will be collecting the 3×5 cards and flitting between the group conversations to collect ideas and reinject them back into the discussion and the ending session.
This is a new event the Point A project is organizing in Brooklyn. If you are in the city and interested in community, please consider coming by. If you have material to present, please email me and we will see if we can get you into the program. If you have a residential community project in the greater NYC area, consider coming and presenting about it during the “Meet the Communities” section of this event. If you do Facebook, please RSVP here.
Community Quest: Finding and Building Collective Living Situations in NYC –
Saturday March 15th noon to 6:30 PM at the Brooklyn Urban dZong (the BUZ) located at 778 Bergen St. 2FL, Brooklyn, New York 11238 [A few blocks from Clinton-Washington Ave A or C lines and ten minute walk from the Grand Army Plaza 2, 3, and 4 lines]
Communities begin as conversations. Rich chats about dreams and pragmatic discussions on logistics and finances. These are visionary talks about where we want to get to and concrete discussions of what the first steps to take are. Most communities don’t get beyond the start up conversation stage.
It takes all kinds of conversations.
This one day event is designed to help people who are seeking to join or start residential intentional communities find like-minded others and discover new or established communities in the NYC area. Come present your forming or existing community to people who might join you or otherwise be allies. Here is the forming agenda for the event.
Noon to 1 PM Panel discussion on Success (and Failure) of Communities in the NYC area
1 PM to 2:30 PM Meet the Communities – presentation of existing and forming communities in the NYC metro area and the “market place” of communities
2:45 to 4 PM first workshop block
Renovation without Gentrification
4:15 PM to 5:30 PM
Community legal structures: Coops, cohousing and land trusts
5:45 to 6:30 PM next steps and exit networking
A $5 donation is requested, but no one is turned away due to a lack of funds.
Rooftop Garden in Shanghi
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]