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.

____________________________________________________________________________

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! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:

Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

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).

____________________________________________________________________________

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! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • 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! 

The Twin Oaks Trilogy: A Review