For something in the range of 3 years, I have not had my own bedroom either at Acorn or Twin Oaks. I have been ghosting. I have a shelf in the suite that Hawina and Willow share, where I have some stuff. Some other possessions reside in the Tupelo attic. Beyond this, I live out of and a collection of travel bags and I also draw heavily from our collective clothes library. Between the communities there are always enough slack rooms and when I had the job of room assigner at Twin Oaks I had an intimate understanding of where the slack bedrooms were. I could float.
I get that this would not work well for most people. You can either look at it like you are homeless, or as though you are on a marathon traveling adventure, where you are looking for just the right place to land, knowing it might well not be an option the next night.
I’ve stayed a lot in GPaul’s room at Acorn, because he is mostly doing Point A work in Washington DC. He is still an Acorn member. Fortunately for him and me, Acorn values the network building efforts he does do. While he is away he does not count towards Acorn’s soft agreed population limit of 30 people. So i often sleep in his room. But the last two times i have tried to use the room, i failed.
The first time i just wanted my shoes. I was going to Italy and i thought it would be nice to have the only reasonable piece of clothing i actually control, which are these simple leather shoes. I don’t use them much but sometimes, for public speaking or trade shows, i take them. They are comfortable and i think they look nice.
As is my way, i am packing at about 4 AM, before a 6 AM departure. I have my little flashlight and i am going to into GPaul’s room to rescue these shoes. I figure if i am really quiet, it should be fine. It was a hot night.
I opened the door slowly and there is a naked body sleeping on top of the sheets. I close the door. The penalty for tardy packing is that i don’t get to take my shoes to Italy. I was never able to figure out who was actually in that bed. It appears that they were wildcatting (sleeping in a room that was not assigned to you). It doesn’t really matter.
The second time I tried the room, I wanted a place to sleep. This time there was again a person sleeping there, a relative of a member who was visiting. I could have gone to the Rec Collective, which has 6 bunk beds which almost always has a free bed. But instead i opted for a couch. Acorn has pretty great couches for sleeping.
I am becoming an Oaker again as part of my dual member switching and, unlike the last two times i rejoined, i am going to take a room this time. The room i am technically taking over is one of the most bizarre on the Twin Oaks campus. It is called the Hobbit Hole. It is called this for a number of reasons, but mostly it is because of the unusual door to the room. This door is 3.5′ tall, at the high end. The low end is about 2′ tall. Most people have to crawl into the room.
Update: While the Hobbit Hole was lovely, i am following the cool kids and moving back to Ta Chai, into the same room i shared with Puck for quite some time.
This is number 2 in the randomly occurring series which extends the answer provided in the Twin Oaks website FAQ section. The first was on personal possessions. And this post appends to the answer given about our membership process. That answer is:
Basically, in order to become a member, a person needs to be willing to abide by the agreements of the community (e.g. no personal cars, our income-sharing agreements, and lots more). They also need to be able to fit into our social norms which, because we live so closely together, are quite particular (e.g. being sensitive to people’s “personal space”, being able to pick up social cues, being able to be cooperative and share control, etc).
The process for membership involves an interview with the Membership Team during a Three-Week Visitor Period. The interview consists of telling one’s life story, and answering questions about how one deals with various aspects of community living like conflict, anger, people with different values, etc. Then there is an input period during which all visitors leave Twin Oaks for some time, and have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and decide if they really do think they want to live here. During this time, each member of the community has an opportunity to give input on the visitor (Accept, Visit Again, or Reject for membership). If there are outstanding health (including mental health) issues those will also be taken into consideration. The Membership Team makes the final decision about a visitor becoming a member.
While generally a fine answer, there are all kinds of things missing here. The first is the complexity of Twin Oak’s own visitor and membership process. We have no less than three separate teams inside the community to deal with this process.
Another thing missing from this answer is that pretty consistently for the last 4 years the community has had a waiting list. This means if you are in a big hurry to live in community (a state i would recommend no one be in) then Twin Oaks might well be a poor choice of places to come. Some communities permit accepted visitors to stay indefinitely after their visitor period waiting for a space to open up. Twin Oaks is not like this. If accepted, expect to wait 3 months to a year.
One of our stronger rules is that after your visitor period (if you are applying for membership) you need to leave the community. Usually, this is for at least one month. This is part of our “anti-cult” orientation. We want you after your visitor period to return to your family and friends. If they can’t convince you that the idea of joining a commune is a little bit nuts, they you can come.
And while it is true 95% of the time that that membership team makes the final decision on accepting, rejecting or visiting again a prospective new member, the remaining 5% of the time is interesting to consider. While i complain about the internal decision making process in the commune, there are numerous well designed components of it. How do we deal with splits within the community around membership? A minority of the membership can reject a visitor or provisional member trying to become a full member, but this minority can be overridden by the majority. One of the clever aspects of this policy is that the larger the minority rejecting someone, the larger the super majority must be to override them. At something like 27% rejecting a person, it becomes impossible for the majority to override the minorities decision.
One of the community agreements not explicitly mentioned in the above FAQ is working quota. During your visitor period you will get assigned a bunch of labor, including an incredible number of orientations. Including these, you need to work your 42 hours of quota a week. There are all manner of areas you can work in as a visitor. Reliably the kitchen has cooking or dish washing cleaning help to offer. We used to train people in hammocks, because they could always fill up their quota in this area. Though this is less true these days and some visitor groups don;t even learn how to make hammocks these days. And we are a bit unforgiving in this. You stay with us three weeks, if you are interested in membership, you better work 42 hours each week – or have some compelling excuse for not working (remember being sick is labor creditable – to a point). Visitors not making quota consistently lose their ability to apply for membership on that visit.
Another thing to be aware of is the commune has a second process step for people who are interested in membership who are 55 or older. One of the policies i most dislike is out Age Cap policy. It comes from an understandable place, when the average age of the community exceeds 43 years of age, we slow our acceptance of older members to not pre-maturely age the community. And the reason this is relevant is that Twin Oaks has a very clever pension system, which slowly decreases the quota of members over age 49 by one hour per year.
The other membership cap is around gender. While i think the community is increasingly well educated in the fluidity of gender (strong gender binaries are so twentieth century) we still maintain an existentialist policy when it comes to capping lopsided gender balances. Specifically, if we end up with more than 60% male, we cap our admissions of men until we become more balanced. It would be true for females as well, but this is not really our problem or any of the other FEC communities. For slightly inexplicable reasons, many fewer women apply for membership at Twin Oaks and of those who do apply, a significantly smaller fraction of those we accept decide to come. On the positive side of this imbalance (again for inexplicable reasons) women tend to have longer memberships on average then men.
Fortunately, in the 16 years i have been hanging around Twin Oaks, we have never hit this 60%/40% ratio, so unlike the age cap we have not implemented a gender cap to membershiping visitors. Unfortunately, East Wind has not been so lucky and has had well over 60% male membership for a long time, which gets in the way of the problem correcting itself.
For a look at some of the other restrictions Twin Oaks puts on it’s member, take a look at this post on our most controversial approval.
[This is an old post. When i wrote it i showed it to the planners and was told that i could run it if i wanted, but one planner asked me to hold off til the issue was no longer topical, which i did.]
One of the myths in community is you can’t keep a secret here. In fact, this place (i am thinking Twin Oaks, but to a lessor extent Acorn as well) holds a tremendous number of secrets. What you can’t do is keep a secret when a lot of people know about it and other members know there is a secret being kept.
That is what is happening tonight. The planners and the membership team had an unusual evening urgent meeting to talk about something. There are 3 planners and 6 members of the membership team and there were a number of other people at this meeting as well. The most plausible guess is that it is some expulsion level situation, the news for which has not broken to the membership. You may well never know what is happening, but i and a half dozen other communards i spoke with this evening certainly will and probably soon.
The math goes terribly against secret keeping in this kind of circumstance. In part because many of the people on these teams have romantic partners, who they want to tell about it and then need to be sworn to secrecy. Yet with every leak to an intimate, a general leak becomes more likely. As soon as a bit leaks out generally the rest can often be teased out, because people who know will feel the need to correct the inevitable rumors.
Also, it is only a question of time before the secret will have to be released because of the pressure associated with the existence of the secret being known. For the people who know it, especially the planners, there will be pressure to release it to folks who are curious or concerned and there will be pressure to set a soon deadline as to when the informant will be put out in a mailbox, from members only to read.
By the following morning the commune was buzzing and the people who were at the meeting were doing a heroic job of trying to maintain the secret, but simply by looking at who was inside the loop and who was outside and by lots of members asking lots of questions, before noon a likely scenario was established. But as i said, you may never know – because in fact the commune can keep some secrets, just necessarily from itself.
[It turns out the secret was soon revealed and was mostly about a controversial person who wanted to come to visit and was ultimately asked not to. This secret is old and largely forgotten news now.]
[Update: Please read the comments at the end of this post for the proper history of what has happened at East Wind Community in Missouri regarding Personal Shelters. They are the ones who have pioneered it, and the story i have in this post is slightly wrong. I will fix it in the coming days. Paxus]
Egalitarianism is tricky. It starts out tricky because we don’t even have a common definition of it in the income sharing communities where I spend most of my time. The relevant parts of the principals from the Federation of Egalitarian Communities which describe it are:
- Hold land, labor, income and other resources in common.
- Assumes responsibility for the needs of its members, receiving the products of their labor and distributing these and all other goods equally, or according to need.
- Uses decision making which gives members an equal opportunity to participate, either through consensus, direct vote, or right of appeal or overrule.
- Works to establish the equality of all people and does not permit discrimination on the basis of race, class, creed, ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
[There are other FEC principals, like non-violence and sustainability, but these are not the core of egalitarianism.]
So what is missing from this important list? For starters the idea that all work is evaluated as equally worthy. An hour of my time spent writing a blog about communities is worth the same as an hour spent making a hammock or cooking a meal for many members.
One aspect of egalitarianism (that is touched upon in the second point above, but some FEC communities take much further than others) is that we are trying to avoid envy. We do this in part by avoiding the uneven distribution of our collective resources, except in agreed cases of need (for example golf carts for people with mobility problems at Twin Oaks is a needs based intentional unequal distribution).
Which brings me to the controversial idea of personal shelters. The FEC communities provide housing for our members. In several cases these communities are located on pieces of land large enough for members to build their own housing separate from typical dorm-based housing. We call these usually small buildings “personal shelters”.
Quite some years ago East Wind community (on over 1,000 acres in the Ozarks) decided to permit their members to build personal shelters. This resulted in some handy/artistic folks building some really beautiful places. The problem is that these structures created envy. The bigger problem was when the original builder/owners left, they created a fairness problem. Members who had not been involved in the work of creating these shelters could potentially end up in housing that felt much nicer than what most people living in the community had access to.
The problem this created ultimately lead to East Wind banning the creation of more new personal shelters. Twin Oaks has never permitted them, largely because of East Winds’ experience. Acorn wrestles with permitting them and so far has not allowed them. Some Acorners who were really excited about the idea left to form new communities where such things are possible.
The arguments against personal shelters which GPaul outlined to me, late one night while we were driving back from a Point A gathering in NYC are:
- Energy Use/Carbon Footprint
- Psychic Space
One of the things income sharing communities do especially well is minimize their ecological impact. The dormitory style buildings we have share kitchens, bathrooms, living space and meals. This low impact living is very hard to achieve without a lot of people under the same roof. Personal shelters are usually just one or two persons under a roof.
The fairness issue is covered.
The issue I had never heard before was one of psychic space. In a regular community residence dorm, you know you can stand in the hall in front of someone’s room and not worry that you are infringing on their space. The same is not true of personal shelters. The space they take up is much larger than the physical footprint of their construction. Peoples don’t know how to behave around them and this can cause discomfort and confusion.
Do you think the benefits outweigh the costs?
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
i try to be quick with friends and recruiting prospects about the things they may not like about the community. But somehow, likely because i don’t drink it, i forget to mention we don’t have public coffee at Twin Oaks. So what often happens is my guest has a wonderful first day experience and wakes up the next day with sort of a romantic hangover from the lovely people, prosaic landscape, community spirit, charming distinct kids, exotic holiday, enviable life style, etc.
And then they ask where the coffee is.
Coffee is pricey and many people don’t drink it at Twin Oaks, some because they view it as a mind altering but legal drug. But really the reason we don’t have public free coffee somewhere is that it is the last vestige of behaviorism. We use “free” coffee to get people into the hammock shops and work in that one of our collective businesses.
So when my new friend Gryphon woke up this morning enchanted but seeking caffeine, i started running around seeking this peculiar tasting fluid. As many hours i have worked in the hammock shop, i don’t feel quite right taking guest coffee from the hammocks business, so i seek out some generous member to let me bum a cup. Which honestly was not hard.
But i realized that i have some coffee shame, it feels like a difference which runs over excited guests initial excitement about us.