Tag Archive | Twin Oaks

Un-ghosting

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 don't drink coffee for exactly this reason

I don’t drink coffee for exactly this reason

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.

The leather shoes i sought looked sort of like this. My desire eluded me.

The leather shoes i sought looked sort of like this. My desire eluded me.

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.

laying-in-bed-unique-consignment

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.

IMG_2912

First you have to climb a ladder, then you need to turn around and duck down, then you need must crawl thru the door on your hands and knees.

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.

Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Membership Process

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.

arms around the globe

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.

Don't drink the Koolaid

Don’t drink the Koolaid

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.

Our membership process is more complex

Our membership process is complex and carefully balanced

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.

How long can you keep a secret?

[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.

secrets are heavy, especially when held by many

secrets are heavy, especially when held by many

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.

What everyone does not know, will likely soon be revealed

What everyone does not know, will likely soon be revealed

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.

Tell no one.  Death keeps it's secrets

Tell no one. Death keeps it’s secrets

[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.]

No bosses, No sunroofs

Outside of Eugene, Oregon and the intentional communities movement, pretty much everyone has a boss.  There are some acceptable bosses, but overwhelmingly people are, i observe, dissatisfied with their bosses.  The miracle of the income sharing communities, is that we are largely able to run our cottage industries without the oppressive or disagreeable part of the boss role.  At Twin Oaks we have managers, who have labor and money budgeting responsibilities, but they very rarely tell someone that they need to do something.  They often request people do things, but this is not what bosses do, they tell people.  At Acorn we have even ditched the title of manager all together, and things run just fine thank you.

bosses be like

When Occupy sparked, there was much conversation at Twin Oaks as to what Occupy Twin Oaks would look like.  What would be our demand for a more fair and just society in the already fairly idyllic world of the commune?  As we got further into this investigation, we realized again who wonderfully fortunate we were.  “Seconds at 6:15” was one rallying cry that dinner seconds should be available earlier rather than the current 6:30 PM time.   If this is what we are demanding, then things must be pretty peachie.

There are of course trade offs.  To not have crime, we have to give up living in the city,   To share cars together we have to give up access to the sunroofs in our cars.

sunroof

Don’t even think about it

This might sound odd at first, or perhaps even unfair.  But when we get a new vehicle which has a sunroof in it, one of the first things we do is disable the sunroof.  We do this because if we don’t some member will leave the sunroof open and the interior of the vehicle will get soaked.  So the least responsible of us dictate the self protective behaviors we embrace that strip us of personal freedoms.

This irks me until i remember that i am one of the people most likely to leave a sunroof open.

The Case Against Personal Shelters

[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.]

Should we try to be equal?

Should we try to be equal?

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”.

The Love Shack "tree house" at Acorn - not quite a personal shelter

The Love Shack “tree house” at Acorn – not quite a personal shelter

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:

  1. Energy Use/Carbon Footprint
  2. Fairness
  3. 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.

Where can we cut back?

Where can we cut back?

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]

Coffee Shame

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.

No relevance, i just thought it was funny.

No relevance, i just thought it was funny.

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.

 

Hold these rocks and look out for the Piranha

Contrasting communities can be useful, because observing the differences helps us to see into the social and cultural implications of the alternative choices.  Until quite recently, one of the stark contrasts between Twin Oaks and Acorn was the number of orientations given to visitors who are considering membership.  Twin Oaks has around 19 over the three week visitor period, Acorn had just one.

Recently, Acorn realized that we needed a second one and Belladonna facilitated the first one this week.  It was on consent.  “Why do you need a whole orientation around consent?”  You might ask.  “Isn’t it enough to just tell people they need to ask before they can touch anyone?”  It turns out it is not.

No i dont want to kiss you

No, i don’t want to kiss you

For a recent visitor group at Acorn i gave our only orientation, which is mostly a tour of the community to one visitor, let’s call him Rod.  At the end of the tour i gave my rant on consent (see the official rant below).  I stressed that this appears to be one of the most tricky areas for visitors to get right.  That we have lost otherwise lovely visitors, because they messed this up and made an inappropriate pass at someone or were simply too physical without checking in.  I explained that part of what can be confusing is parties where it seems like members who have never been intimate before are kissing and cuddling with no sight that they have had these perhaps awkward and buzz killing consent discussions.  “Things just seem to be flowing, without words, can’t i flow too?”

No is the answer.  Just because you can’t see or hear the consent conversation, does not mean it is safe to assume it is not happening.  Rod indicated that he understood.  I felt good about our communication.  I felt like i had been clear about the nuances and the problem.  I patted myself on the back for advancing our healthy culture.  And as is frequently the case when i am self congratulatory, i was wrong.  Rod would later go to an Acorn party, get a little drunk and try to kiss someone who did not want him to kiss them.  His membership plans then unraveled.

So as good anarchist do, we change our internal culture around communicating consent.  And while Acorn still largely maintains a “you need to figure this place out yourself” attitude towards most aspects of community life (an approach one frustrated visitor describe to me as “The way Acorn orients people is you throw them into the deep end of the pool and say “Hold these rocks and look out for those piranha”) with consent stuff we are definitely stepping it up.

I did not make it to the workshop, but i heard great things about it and a bunch of Acorners as well as visitors went.  Belladonna Took and Strandbeest did an amusing role play of poor consent practices, intoxication, party etiquette and direct communication were all stressed.  Afterward i told the visitors who attended. “This is what we want you to export to the world.”

Aster suggested oven mits

Aster suggested oven mitts

Acorn’s Official Advice on Relationships and Consent Culture

We would like to cultivate a responsible sex positive culture, where sexual expression and engagement is not repressed or discriminated. That being said, idiosyncrasies and complexities of relationships here are not always readily apparent to newcomers, with premature involvement often yielding messy or unexpected outcomes. Being self-governed, we try to avoid strict policy statements that often oversimplify or fail to fully represent various member viewpoints; as such, we encourage relational choices of those involved to be made with thoughtful discretion, through an emphasis on interactive communication, personal responsibility, and clear boundaries.

If at any time you’re uncomfortable with surrounding situations or interactions, please feel empowered to communicate your needs and concerns. If you’re uncomfortable conveying your concerns face-to-face, please talk to any of your orientation cos (or anyone else you feel comfortable approaching) and we will make sure you have an advocate to support you and help you resolve discuss your concerns with.

Your involvement with current members may produce power imbalances. It is each person’s responsibility to go about relationships in a respectful, consensual manner. Your membership decision will not be influenced by romantic/sexual encounters during your membership visit.