Photos by Sunya and McCune
May is the month when the organizers for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference ask people to think about Labor Day weekend. Specifically, we ask people what types of workshops they might be interested in offering at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC). These come in two broad types.
Fixed Time Workshops: This is the collection of 16 (or sometimes 20) workshops which are selected in advance and are all relating to intentional communities. We are exploring different themes and it is likely we will choose a couple of them. If you are interested in presenting on an intentional community related topic we would encourage you to submit this workshop proposal form. The deadline for proposals is May 31st. These workshops happen Saturday, Sept 1st and Sunday morning. Workshop presenters who are selected for these fixed time slots will get their registration fee waived. And if you are coming from NYC metro area (or south of there) you might be able to come on our totally groovy bus.
Open Space Technology Workshop: There are way too many clever and interesting people at the TOCC to not provide a forum for them to demonstrate or propose their own workshop even if it has little or nothing to do with community. The problem (from an organizers perspective) is which ones do you choose? Fortunately, this problem has been well worked by others and there is a democratic, self selecting mechanism called Open Space Technology. These workshops are giving Sunday (Sept 2) midday into the afternoon and typically we do between 10 and 20 workshops ranging in size from 25 participants (like at a urban squatting or polyamory workshop) to just a couple of excited participants (bird watching or Python blockchain programming).
Even if you don’t want to offer any workshop there are three types of people who might want to come to this annual event, which often has over 150 participants and 40 plus communities represented:
- You want to find an intentional community to move into
- You are starting a community with friends
- You live in a community and are looking for new members
If any of these three things is true for you, then you can register for this event here. If you want to see who is already coming and who is interested go to the Facebook event (35 attending and 215 interested so far (May 1), and we have just started our outreach).
I co-moderate a large diverse facebook group on intentional communities. Recently someone posted:
Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.
While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.
What is gossip? It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room. “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him. It is just an opinion. “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.
“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it? Is it gossip if the target is the source?
Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.
Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community. One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?” This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.
Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.
Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy. Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community. Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice. “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?” or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”
In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems. [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.] You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it. Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.
In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream. If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger. If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you. If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem. Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently. Gossip in community has more obligation to it.
It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture. In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them. This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together. And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.
It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently. Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate. When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members. And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.
Here are some recent photos from this blog of the joys of Communal Living:
The folks at Kibbutz Mishol
The pool at Cambia
Working together at East Wind
The Cotyledon crew
Cooking at Le Manoir
Saturnalia at Compersia
The Twin Oaks Feminist Zine
An overview of East Brook Community Farm
Chickens at Acorn
And from communes yet to be:
The land at Donald’s View
A map of possible land for Full Circle
Rock/Paper/Scissors statue by Lindsey (guest). Displayed in Kaweah.
Painting by Summer of Purl. Displayed in her room.
Art by Puma. Displayed at ZK.
Lindsey Hoffman’s homemade collage postcards and photography by Alexis (guest). Displayed in upstairs MT.
Sketch by Lindsey of shrouded R E Lee statue in Charlottesville.
Woven basket by Ari made during recent stay at John C Campbell Folk School. Displayed in upstairs Llano.
Iron work by Stephan made during his recent stay at John C Campbell Folk School. Displayed in upstairs Llano .
Art quilt by Pam. Displayed in her room .
These are the early days at Cotyledon, the income sharing community we are forming in NYC. We are not even two months old. There were four of us but one person decided to live somewhere else, so now we will be three. This is not a good direction to go in.
I helped build a commune in Cambridge, MA, in the nineties, that got up to six adults and two kids at one point. It was after we dropped down to four adults that we fell apart. A four person community is very vulnerable. We lost two more folks and we were gone. I’ve heard of at least one other community that fell apart for similar reasons.
As the manager of Commune Life, I’m hearing of a bunch of new communities–most at this point consist of three or four folks. Many have a couple at their center. I’ve written about how some communities with a couple at their center fail to work out. I’ve noticed that some of these communities have different dynamics, some of which still may turn out to be problematic.
I’m, also acutely aware of the new communes that don’t work out, or are transitioning out of income sharing. It’s hard to build these communities to last and, I think, growing them beyond a small number of people is an important part of the process.
I talked with someone at Acorn about how they survived. They were down to six people at one point early in their history and down to two people at another. I asked how they managed to get past that. I was told there were two reasons for their survival. One was Ira Wallace, a strong person, and the other was Twin Oaks, a strong community nearby.
And how did Twin Oaks survive? In her book, A Walden Two Experiment, Kat Kinkade wrote that in 1969 Twin Oaks was down to ten members and dropping. They decided to get rid of the entrance-fee. It meant that anyone could come and people started coming.
I find Kat Kinkade amazing. She was part of starting three communes (Twin Oaks, Acorn, and East Wind) and all three are still going strong. Folks have told me that her philosophy was to build up communities fast and I figure that she knew something.
I don’t have an answer to this but I’m well aware that staying small is a barrier. I’ve talked with GPaul at Compersia about this and they are working on growing. They are up to six folks now.
I believe that having some openness and flexibility while remaining true to your basic principles is part of what is needed. It’s a balancing act but I think it’s what you need to do to get beyond being two, three, or four.
Pictures of the zine from The Feminist Think Tank at Twin Oaks