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If this is your first time here…

Finding and Creating Community: A Review

by Raven Glomus

Diana Leafe Christian has written two books that are often found on the shelves of many community folks and are very useful for anyone interested in community.  The first, and oldest, is called Creating a Life Together (subtitle Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities); the second is just called Finding Community (How to join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community).

As you might guess, Creating a Life Together is about how to create and build communities, Finding Community is about how to find and join the community that is right for you.  Both books are filled with useful and practical information.  Obviously, if you only want to get or borrow one, whether you want to try to start a community or just join an existing one should determine which book you look at, but if you are just interested in the subject of community, they are both useful.

A warning, however, for commune interested folks.  Diana Leafe Christian is not overly fond of income sharing communities.  In her first book, Creating a Life Together, she devotes all of one very long paragraph to “income-sharing economies”.  She points out that “Relatively few communities do income-sharing…”  In Finding Community, the more recent book, she devotes a whole chapter to Income-Sharing Communes.  Here she starts off by saying that “About ten percent of intentional communities in North America… are income-sharing communes.”  Later in the chapter she asks the question, “Why Are Income-Sharing Communities so Well Known?”  She mentions that “income-sharing communitarians tend to be activists, if not enthusiastic proselytizers, for their radically non-competitive way of life.”  (Doesn’t she sound a bit annoyed?)  But even here, she tries to give good information and points out that income-sharing communities will appeal to people who have a passion for economic justice, want to learn a variety of new skills, and are comfortable with living simply; conversely, they are not likely to appeal to folks that are interested in financial autonomy and independence or who are looking for a greater degree of comfort or amenities.

As I said, the books offer a lot of useful and practical advice.  I will pass along two of my favorite pieces of wisdom.  The first, from Creating a Life Together, is a warning about “‘Magical Thinking’ and the Anti-Business Attitude”.  Her point is that if you are trying to create a community, no matter what you think about our legal system and our corporate culture, you can’t form a community in this society unless you deal with the financial and legal aspects for the way that they are (and really and carefully learn the pieces), and don’t try to pretend that they are the way that we might want them to be.

The other is a quote that I love which she uses for the title of her closing chapter in Finding Community.  She attributes it to Zev Paiss.  “Community–the longest, most expensive, personal growth workshop you will ever take!”  It is true that community is less expensive in income-sharing communities–but sometimes (as she points out in several places) they are even more intense.  This is a good warning for anyone who hasn’t looked carefully at the pros and cons of communal living.  The ideals are great, but the price might well be higher than you might expect.

I’m not saying that you should run out and buy these books, but if you are seriously interested in community, I suspect that you should also have one–or both!–of them on your bookshelf.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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Heather

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Kathleen Brooks

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Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Finding and Creating Community: A Review

The Token: A Review

by Raven Glomus

Crystal Bird Farmer has not actually “lived in community” but she serves as a board member for the Foundation for Intentional Community and an Editorial Review Board member for Communities Magazine.  She begins her book, The Token, with a story about visiting Twin Oaks and attending the Communities Conference.  She then announces that she’s your “new Black friend”.  She’s here because you claim that you want diversity–and this book is all about how to actually work for diversity.

The program she recommends is divided into three parts: first, preparing your community;  second, doing The Work; and third, creating culture conscious spaces.  The Work (those are her capitals) is anti-racism/anti-oppression work, which is not easy work.  The first step is preparation and that includes figuring who the team is that is going to lead this work and figuring out how to deal with the resistance that will inevitably come up.The Work includes looking at identity and privilege, implicit bias, microaggressions, and majority culture and there are mini ‘workbooks’ at the end of each section devoted to one of these topics that give the format for a group discussion on the topic.  The book then focuses on “creating culture conscious meetings” in ways that make them feel more inclusive.  Crystal Bird Farmer ends the book by exploring what she calls “limits to inclusion”–creating separate space when needed and “how not to recruit leaders”.  There is a very useful section on “tools and resources” that includes many powerful books on racism and anti-racist work for those who want to go deeper.

By now, you may be thinking that this is probably a very thick book and wondering where you will get the time to read all this.  Well, I have some good news for you–this is a very short book (86 pages, 96 if you include the resources and index) and is a very easy read.  Crystal Bird Farmer writes in a friendly and engaging style.  This is a book that needs to be read by anyone who wants to figure out how to make their community more diverse and more inclusive and a great introduction to dealing with all the baggage that makes it impossible to achieve inclusion and diversity.  I would highly recommend it–and you can buy it directly from the author.  I love that she also suggests that you can get it from a local bookstore and does not mention a large internet book (and everything else) seller.  I hope that it becomes widely read and makes a difference in our communities.

The Token: A Review

The Twin Oaks Trilogy: A Review

by Raven Glomus

This week is book review week at the Commune Life blog.  I will post reviews each day (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) this week.

Today I want to look at three classic books, all about Twin Oaks, written when Twin Oaks was five, fifteen, and twenty-five years running.  Obviously, since TO has now been going on for 53 years, they are all a bit out of date.  Still, they give a good deal of insight into the beginnings of the longest running secular commune in the US.

Two of the books are by Kat Kinkade, who helped found Twin Oaks. The third book (actually the middle book) is by Ingrid Komar, who was the mother of a Twin Oaker and decided (with the blessing of several Oakers) to ‘update’ the original book.

The three books are A Walden Two Experiment, Living the Dream, and Is It Utopia Yet? Together they catalog the first twenty-five, twenty-six years of the commune’s existence, basically the first half of the years of Twin Oaks.

 A Walden Two Experiment is a good book for people thinking about starting communes as well as anyone really interested in Twin Oaks history.  Kat also gives some flavor of how the communal scene was happening in the sixties, ie, people dropping out, setting up a ‘commune’ and finding it filling up with people who didn’t want to work–and sometimes didn’t want to do anything.  Twin Oaks started as a bunch of people influenced by BF Skinner’s book Walden Two (Skinner actually wrote the preface to this book) and began a sort of behavioral experiment.  Part of how this played out was that Twin Oaks had more structure and expectations than most ‘communes’ and that seems to be part of why it lasted while other experiments fell apart.  In between the bits of history and Kat Kinkade’s stories, she talks about how the founders worked on “shaping equality behavior”, what they came to in terms of cooking and food, building structures, dealing with membership and turnover, raising children, dealing with illness, cars and trucks, pets, getting along with their neighbors, dealing with interpersonal relationships, and the way that sex worked at Twin Oaks.  She focuses on the first two years there–which is really useful since this is often the make-it-or-break-it period for communities.  She claims that Twin Oaks almost didn’t make it and that the “Breakthrough” was when they dropped the entrance fee that they had been charging and said, “Let them come through.”  She feared that the community would fill up with “irresponsible drifters” and, instead, got people who really wanted communal living and were willing to work for it.  She even gives the date when she thought things changed: “December, 1969”, two years into the experiment.

I think that Ingrid Komar’s book is useful but suffers from several things, most of all being the ‘middle child’.  Where Kat Kinkade’s first book is great for early Twin Oaks history and appeals to commune starters, her second book is as current as any of these (if a quarter century out of date) and talks a lot about how Twin Oaks actually runs.  Living the Dream covers a particular slice of history in between that is probably only interesting to folks who want even more of the TO story.  In addition, it’s more academic than either of Kat Kinkade’s books and is written by someone who was never really a Twin Oaks member.  The outsider perspective is both a strength and a weakness. Plus being a member parent, she ends up writing a defense of her son in the book. She critiques Twin Oaks egalitarianism as being “simplistic” and “A naive infantilism”.  Yes, there are problems with the way that Twin Oaks does equality, but, to me, Ingrid Komar comes off as being a bit too partisan and having her own axe to grind.  Still, if you want to get as complete a picture of the history of Twin Oaks as possible, this is a worthwhile book to read.

Kat Kinkade’s second book is probably the most accessible of the three books. Among other things, it comes with a bunch of amusing cartoons inside, written by Jonathan Roth, a former Twin Oaks member.  This is less of a history book and more of a ‘ how things work at Twin Oaks’ book. Not that there isn’t a lot of Twin Oaks history in this book.  She recaps the first five years and then goes into more recent (for her) developments.  She talks about why she left Twin Oaks and why she returned–and, perhaps more interesting to communal history folks, she left to start East Wind and so there is a bit about the beginnings of East Wind in the book. But it’s her descriptions of how Twin Oaks works that makes this book so useful.  She talks about the governance system and the labor system.  She talks about Twin Oaks growing and building and their ambivalence about doing it.  Even if this book is a quarter of a century out of date, I can tell you that most of it still rings true.  There are also mini-biographies of members who made a difference, builders and planners.  Kat Kinkade also talks a bit about her ambivalence about the community, and an ambivalence that led to her leaving Twin Oaks again a few years after writing the book.  And finally, she talks about the events that led up to the founding of Acorn, something she was also part of.  (I am sometimes in awe of Kat Kinkade.  As someone who has helped found a couple of communities, neither of which lasted long, it’s amazing to realize that Kat was part of founding three communities, all of which are going strong still.)

It may be apparent that Is It Utopia Yet? is my favorite of the three books.  I will say clearly that if you only want to read one of these books, read Is It Utopia Yet?  Even just browsing through it and looking at the cartoons will teach you a lot about Twin Oaks.  I would only suggest that you read all three of these books if you really want to understand the DNA of Twin Oaks, how it was built and what went into the first twenty-five years of its existence.  Still, there are enough of us communal true believers that it’s good to know that this detailed history is out there.

On Wednesday, I will review The Token, a book about dealing with diversity written by someone who understands a bit about community living (and serves on the Editorial Review Board of Communities Magazine).

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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Thanks! 

The Twin Oaks Trilogy: A Review

“No, you can’t come back.”

Posted 1st March 2014 by keenan from Keenan’s Twin Oaks Blog

This is a paper I drafted as a community Planner.  The decision to deny a member a year-long leave was controversial, so I had to explain it very carefully and with a great deal of thought. It should be self-explanatory.

The Planners stand by the decision to deny Bert a Personal Affairs Leave (PAL)

The 3×5 board at Twin Oaks where messages are posted

Some background to this decision: Bert left Twin Oaks in October of 2007, moved all of his stuff out, bought a house, bought a car, got a job, gave up his room and stopped turning in labor sheets.

Before we get to the policy details of why the Planners are denying Bert’s  request, we wish to frame this issue within a larger context. One purpose of the Plannership is to serve as a backstop for Twin Oaks policies. Frequently, the Planners are asked to make an exception to some policy and we occasionally grant it because the situation before the Planners is not adequately covered by the policy. Planners don’t like making exceptions to, or overriding written policies. But sometimes policies are poorly worded, sometimes they are incomplete, sometimes they are meant to cover one extreme situation that is unlikely ever to occur again. So it is up to the Planners to bring their judgment to bear on any application of policy to insure that it is not at odds with the well-being of the community as a whole, or the well-being of any individual member.

Planners make sure that the application of policies passes the muster of common sense. If a policy fails to cover the situation at hand, then the Planners have more than the right, but the duty to interpret, create, and make exceptions to policy. Most often exceptions are granted in the form of being more lenient. But exceptions can also be made in making the application of policy stricter.

In the case before us, Bert is asking for a PAL. Bert has been gone from Twin Oaks for six months already and his PAL request means that he could be gone from Twin Oaks for up to another year and return as a full member with no further process. This request seems inconsistent with our policies, but it also seems inconsistent with the wishes of the majority of the community.

But the desire of the majority will not always carry the day. Twin Oaks is not meant to be a democracy. Our culture and policies strive to provide more protection for an individual than is the case in a mere democracy. Twin Oaks is in opposition to the tyranny of the majority. As a community, we also have chosen to protect the rights of minorities—even a minority of one. The Planners must always keep in mind in making a decision how this decision will affect the life or well-being of the “losing side” the minority. Even a minority or one must be protected if the loss of rights would be significant enough.

In this case, what would we be depriving Bert of by denying his PAL? Bert doesn’t live at Twin Oaks now. He hasn’t for six months. He owns a house, a car, has a job. By denying him a PAL, are we taking any of those things away from him? No. Rather, by denying him a PAL we are making his status the same as every visitor who comes to Twin Oaks. He can join a visitor group and apply for membership. This does not seem like a significant imposition on Bert’s civil or human rights. Therefore the Planners don’t feel that we need to apply a higher than normal standard of protection to Bert’s rights in making this decision.

Reasons to deny Bert’s application for a PAL: 

Sabbatical policy states that a PAL may not be taken within six months of returning from a sabbatical. Bert has not returned to Twin Oaks at all, much less returned to Twin Oaks for six months. Bert asserts that by claiming vacation he has “returned” to Twin Oaks. The Planners doubt that this was the intent of the drafters of the policy, and whatever their intent at the time, this group of Planners is interpreting the policy to mean that a member must physically return to and live at the community for six months.

Sabbatical policy states, in bold print, that sabbaticals are not meant to be a leaving cushion. The very clear intent of the sabbatical policy is to allow long-term members some time away from Twin Oaks. The community has been very lenient in the application of this provision of sabbatical policy and has merely asked that if a member chooses to leave the community, then they must repay any expenses that were incurred during the sabbatical. Recently, sabbaticals have become a leaving cushion, in clear violation of the intent of the sabbatical policy. It is clear that, in order to have sabbaticals fulfill their original intent, that sabbatical policy needs to be tightened up.

The Planners are well within their rights to deny Bert a PAL. That is, to retroactively say that Bert has used the sabbatical policy as a leaving cushion which is in violation of the sabbatical policy and therefore Bert is now (or when his vacation ran out, which would have been January 7th) an ex-member of the community—and therefore not eligible for a PAL.

Another reason the Planners used to deny Bert a PAL is that he is not a member in good standing. The issue of what the PAL policy means by a “member in good standing” was divisive and contentious when we were dealing with Bok Choy. While in the midst of expulsion proceedings was Bok Choy a member in good standing? The membership team at that time made a narrowly defined decision that being a member in good standing merely means not being in the labor or money hole. The current Planners reject that interpretation as being at odds with the intent of the community, with the intent of policy authors, and as creating bizarre situations like Bok Choy’s. She was being expelled, but chose to leave the community before the process was completed and expected to be granted a PAL because she was, technically, a member in good standing, even though her lying on her labor sheet was one of the issues involved in the expulsion proceedings.

Until the membership team updates their definition of “good standing” the Planners are using a broader definition of good standing. Bert was involved in a dispute just before he left and that caused lots of stress in his life and which caused Bert to do things that made Bert, as far as the Planners are aware, not a member in good standing. The Planners at that time didn’t want to make Bert’s life harder since he was leaving, so issues around Bert’s behavior were allowed to drop. But the current Planners believe Bert to not be a member in good standing and therefore not eligible for a PAL. If any member wishes to challenge this, the Planners can share more information.

As a final clarification, Bert is not being expelled. He is being denied a PAL. That Bert’s behavior during his membership makes it unlikely that he would be accepted as a member is not lost on the Planners. Rather, that is all the more reason to deny his PAL. The Planners also want to protect the rights of the members who live here now. Many of those members never had a chance to give input on Bert’s membership and may not want to live with him. Allowing members to have some say over who lives at Twin Oaks is a fundamental right.

For all of these reasons the Planners stand by the decision to deny Bert a  Personal Affairs Leave (PAL).

“No, you can’t come back.”

Feeding the HONK! activists

We dumpstered enough food to feed an entire festival. Here is how.

I am lucky enough to live at Glomus Commune with Theresa and Rachael and Telos and Sophia, all of whom are sitting together in the video. But there are also other communards who get involved the dumpster diving and the Honk! festival–Anande, who also lives here, and Jules, from Twin Oaks, are especially prominent in the video. It’s a way that we take our communal values out into the world. – Raven

Feeding the HONK! activists

Twin Oaks is Looking for Folks

by Keenan

After a six-month hiatus Twin Oaks is slowly opening up to visitors and new members.  The first trial “Let’s see how this goes” visitor group starts October 22nd.  (This group is already filled.)  Future visitor groups have not yet been scheduled.  So if you have been waiting to visit Twin Oaks, or you know someone, go ahead and send an email now.  Due to stopping the visitor program for so long there are now plenty of spaces for new members.

Twin Oaks is also making a small opening to sort of a back-door path to membership.  It is possible, if you are already friends with someone at Twin Oaks, to write to your friend and come to Twin Oaks as a guest.  That initial letter is posted to the community and there is a pre=approval poll before someone can come as a guest  (This is a new process step here at Twin Oaks.) Once here as a long-term guest Twin Oaks is making it easier to become a visitor and then a member without having to leave the community.

As far as we know there has been no cases of covid-19 at Twin Oaks and we aim to keep it that way.   Everyone coming into Twin Oaks, visitors and guests included, must quarantine for two weeks first.  Most people quarantine here at Twin Oaks, but there are some exceptions.

So, if you have friends at Twin Oaks and are interested in being here for some months, write to your friend.  We could use some new faces here!

Twin Oaks is Looking for Folks

When do you dissolve a commune?

I asked this somewhat provocative question on Facebook, but with a real purpose. Unfortunately, many and perhaps most communities that are formed don’t make it. When is is time to pull the plug?

We got a bunch of comments–here’s most of them, including mine (Raven’s) and the reply that I made to someone who I chose to see as not understanding why I wrote this.

When do you dissolve a commune?