By Courtney Dowe
( An excerpt from the forthcoming novel “ OVERTHROW YOURSELF”)
When I decided to leave Washington DC to check out an intentional community in Puerto Rico, it wasn’t because I knew that it would “work out”. The idea that something has to last forever in order to “work out” has never really made much sense to me. By that rationale, any human being that has come to the end of their life should be considered a failure. If I live to be 90 years old, and someone standing next to my death bed says “ I guess it just didn’t work out.” I hope I still have enough strength left to flip them the bird.
Anyway, I went to Puerto Rico because I knew that I was not prepared to sacrifice all of my dreams, for the sake of motherhood. I knew that I had to at least try to build a life that I could love. I knew that I needed to see what was possible, and most importantly, I knew that I couldn’t live in fear just because I had a child. If anything, I needed to be more willing to take a leap. For the first time, there was more than just my own happiness at stake. There was a new life that was counting on me to take a huge running leap toward personal liberation and to land as far as I could.
I had been talking with a land-based community on the island for some time before I decided to actually go there. I sent them an email about a year before I heard anything back. Once we did connect, I had regular phone conversations with the man who started the project for about 6 months before I finally decided to get on a plane with my child and fly into the unknown. We were headed for the rainforest. The only rainforest in the U.S. National Park system to be exact.
When I remember the rainforest, I think of the sounds. A vast biological jam-session that never stops. I remember frog-like creatures hanging out in the ice-maker and tiny lizards crawling across the living room floor. One night a baby scorpion even decided to stop by. Gratefully, we found it before it found us.
The community was basically just a small family. Two parents and their child. They were very kind but they were under a lot of financial strain and I think that heavily impacted the way they engaged with us. We stayed with them for about 2 weeks and then I realized that we were not going to be able to get past the stress of survival enough to be honest with each other, enough to be able to work together, enough to see ourselves as being on the same side and in the same fight. Without getting too much into the details, I decided to leave.
Soon thereafter, a friend of mine living in community in the DC area reached out to me unexpectedly. I tried to join the community where he lived a couple of years before, it didn’t work out but we remained friends. He told me that there was a new income sharing community that was forming in Washington DC. I reached out to them immediately, but I had to let them know that I was not in a position to fully engage right away. I was trying to get my bearings and I wasn’t going to be able to focus on getting to know them from a distance until I figured out some basics for my everyday life. They understood and so when I finally did settle into my own place, I decided to reach out to them again. We started talking on a regular basis. They had Tuesday night meetings and I would often attend via satellite through some kind of chat program. The meetings were unexpectedly encouraging. The people in the group were interesting,and they not only tolerated my direct style of communication, they actually seemed to like it. I figured I should continue to give it a shot.
I will ruin the suspense for you here because wondering whether or not I would become a member of the DC commune was intensely emotional for me. Everyone was supportive and kind for the most part, it just took me back to my days as a child in foster care, when I wondered whether or not I would ever find a family and a sense of belonging. As I write this I’m laying here in my bedroom, in the house in Washington DC that I share with five adults and four children. My son and I are full members of Compersia Community.
Every day’s an adventure, even without leaving the house. I believe that we are all mirrors for each other, not just in the commune, but with people in general. As we reflect and as we are reflected, we sometimes see more of ourselves than we expect or want to see. Anyone who’s ever seen themselves, first thing in the morning understands that a mirror is not always your friend, but it can always tell you something.
The love between members of any community is hard to describe. There are days when I stand back and marvel at the miracle of human connection. But, to clarify, and to make sure that I’m not misrepresenting reality, for anyone who has ever thought about joining an intentional community, on a lot of levels it sucks. There are a ton of things that are really hard about living with even one other adult, let alone 5 adults and 4 children. Every single day I have to push through something in order to be in harmony with the larger environment. I have to grow. I have to stretch a little more beyond myself, in order to rise to the occasion at hand. That said, there is still something deliciously ordinary about having dinner around the table, putting out the plates and forks, and listening to the sound of someone practicing an instrument while the kids run around doing whatever it is that kids do. Someone is coming home from work and someone is just leaving. Someone is feeling deeply connected and someone else is feeling terribly alone, and all of it, every single sweet sacred part of it, is love.
Courtney Dowe is a member of Compersia Community in Washington, DC.
Enjoy the holidays. We’ll be back in the new year.
Over the last month this country has been going through a spate of revelations about men in power (including elected officials, Hollywood celebrities, captains of industry, spiritual leaders, you name it) being accused of having abused their positions of influence to pressure women into sexual relations. It’s pretty disgusting.
As an older white guy, I have a number of thoughts about this.
I. Tip of the Iceberg
As bad as the revelations have been so far—which are terrible—you can be sure that the total scope of what’s happened is much worse than we know today. Most abuse never gets reported, or is hushed up when it does.
One of the more pathetic excuses being offered by Roy Moore and his apologists is that they do not find the allegations against him to be credible because the incidents happened almost four decades ago. Surely, they argue, occurrences that bad would have been reported right away. Huh? If they knew anything about the psychology of abuse, they’d appreciate how hard it is for the victim to come forward. There is no correlation between delay and authenticity.
On the positive side, each time a woman finds the courage to tell her horror story it gets a bit easier for other victims to speak up as well. Though I am not at all happy that abuse occurs, I think we need to shine a spotlight on it if we’re going to make any significant cultural change. In this current surge of revelations, a number of brave women have been doing the hard work of speaking up, and that should be celebrated and supported.
II. A Person’s Right to Their Sexuality
After more than 60 years on this planet I’ve come to understand that the breadth of human sexual orientation and turn-on is incredibly varied and complex. While I believe that, in the ideal, everyone should have the freedom to express sexual desire (to extend an invitation) whenever they want, I think that’s incredibly dangerous unless there is a concomitant commitment to responding respectfully when invitations are declined. If you can’t hear “no,” don’t ask the question.
While I’m generally fine with individuals exploring auto-eroticism to their heart’s content*, if you’re wanting to interact sexually with others then you need their willing participation (for more about coercion see Point III below). As easy as it is to write that, however, there are a number of complications that need to be recognized.
Sexual abuse is mainly the misuse of power to gain sexual favors. If the power imbalance among potential partners is too great, how can you be sure you have consent (as opposed to acquiesence)?
Let me lay out four versions of this:
• If the age differential is too great
I know an intentional community that developed a guideline for teenagers that they needed to be within two years of each other for sexual contact to be acceptable (above and beyond mutual consent). For adults I’ve heard it proposed that sexual contact be considered inappropriate unless the younger person is at least six years older than half the age of the older one.
Frankly, I don’t know where the line is with respect to age differential, but there is one, and it’s a dynamic to be reckoned with.
• If there is an implied threat to safety, or possible retribution (say loss of a job, or a withheld promotion)
Suppose the invitation comes from a bodybuilder who is known to be prone to anger. Or from your boss, and you need the job, or covet a special assignment. Even though you want to say “no,” you might hesitate.
And it can be even worse than that. If the person grew up in an abusive family (perhaps where the father beat his wife and kids), they may be sensitized to the danger of a male losing his temper, and may overreact to a raised voice because it triggers bad memories. I’m not saying it’s the man’s responsibility to know that ahead of time, but you can commit to paying attention to how your words and tone are landing, and making appropriate adjustments.
• If the invitation comes from a guardian or protector
If you receive a sexual invitation from your father, your minister, a police officer, or district attorney (shades of Roy Moore)—someone you’ve been taught to expect safety from, it can be very tricky ground to navigate.
• If the invitee does not have the capacity to give informed consent
It’s inappropriate to have sexual relations with partners who are not able to respond thoughtfully to a sexual invitation due to incapacitation (think of Bill Cosby), or who do not have the cognitive ability to understand what’s being asked.
For all of these reasons, it’s important to develop clear norms about what kinds of sexual invitation are appropriate to extend.
* Even with masturbation there should be limits. I believe it’s abusive, for instance, if you’re pressuring others to watch (a la Louis CK). Also, I’m aware of an instance where a man tried to heighten his pleasure through near-strangulation and failed to stop in time. His accidental death left an incredible mess for others to clean up. The standard, I believe, should be sensitivity to how your self-focused act may place others in an awkward or compromised situation.
III. A Person’s Right to Freedom from Coercion
If a sexual invitation places the recipient in a dilemma—where they don’t feel safe to decline, or they anticipate having to pay a price for “no”—that’s abuse. It is not enough that the powerful person did not mean to be coercive. It is incumbent on them to look ahead of the curve, at how their invitation may be hard for the recipient to handle.
In essence, the more power you have, the more circumspect you should be about extending sexual invitations, or even being available for sexual liaisons invited by the person with less power (because of the potential for the dynamic being misunderstood by observers if, say, the secretary seduces the boss, or the student their instructor).
IV. What’s a Reasonable Strategy to Get from Where We Are to Where We Want to Be?
If we envision a world in which men and women and are equally powerful, does it make sense to flip privilege—where we preferentially support women being more aggressive than men—in order to close the gap more quickly? And if so, for how long?
Sandra Day O’Connor had to wrestle with this question when, as a Supreme Court Justice, she had to lay out guidance in support of affirmative action as a legally defensible tactic in the battle to eradicate racial inequality. She chose 20 years.
While I have no idea how long it will take to dismantle male privilege (or even if it’s possible in this day of alt-right Neanderthal politics and throwback gender roles), I am sympathetic to the argument that women deserve to be treated better then men, at least for a while, in order to counterbalance the negative impact of a lifetime of disadvantage.
In the world of intentional communities, where I have spent most of my adult life, there is an important distinction between groups that have a spiritual focus, and ones that do not. Among secular groups there is a strong commitment to creating feminist culture (by which I mean gender blind, not pro-female). However, spiritual groups can be all over the map when it comes to gender: anything from Old Testament patriarchy to New Age there-is-the-divine-in-all-of-us.
As my experience is rooted in the secular side, my work is slanted toward creating feminist culture. As an older, college-educated, Protestant, heterosexual, able-bodied, articulate white man, I am oozing with privilege, which means I’m susceptible to misunderstanding (or being oblivious to) how the field is slanted in my direction. As someone who has been active in the Communities Movement I’ve always understood that my privilege was going to be scrutinized under a microscope.
I’m OK with that. I don’t want to be the recipient of unearned advantages, and I’d like to help develop models of appropriate male behavior—even though I’m still in the process of figuring out what those are.
by Rachel Kadish
East Brook Community Farm is a farm-based intentional community located in the western Catskill Mountains of New York. Founded 2.5 years ago, East Brook runs a successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, with 15 member families this year.
We all live together in an 1884 seven bedroom farmhouse. We are blessed with plentiful infrastructure, including a large barn and several smaller structures. We farm produce, eggs, and meat while regenerating the health of the land through no-till, permaculture, and holistic management practices. We equally strive to regenerate culture through such practices as nonviolent communication and meditation.
The East Brook and several hillside springs run through our gorgeous 92-acre property. The water in our house, in the garden, and for our animals comes directly from these springs.
In addition to our CSA, we sell our produce at local farmers markets and at our farmstand. We have also planted ~100 fruit and nut trees throughout the property, which will begin to bear over the next few years and expand our offerings.
Sarah founded East Brook Community Farm after a years-long journey of searching for land and fellow community members. She has been connected with the FEC since 2012, when she interned at Living Energy Farm and visited Twin Oaks. She brings over a decade of regenerative farming experience, infectious optimism and drive, and a dedication to personal growth work.
Monica has lived at East Brook for just over 1 year, after years of developing interest in joining a farm-based intentional community. This year, she has managed the chickens and ducks and significantly upped our scything game. She brings passion and skill for animal care, dedication to reduced fossil fuel use, and a keen sense of observation to everything she does, from helping with the cows to innoculating mushroom logs.
Shua (EX-East Wind, EX-Twin Oaks, EX-Cambia) has lived at East Brook since April. He’s been instrumental in the creation of a healthy, heart-centered culture here. He also provides key support in the garden and throughout the farm/community, from handling correspondence to repairing the farm truck.
Rachael has lived at East Brook since March, when she arrived as Garden Intern. She is thrilled to be co-managing the garden in 2018. She brings 3 seasons of farming experience and a passion for building equitable community. Maximus, currently an intern at Cambia, will be joining East Brook in the spring. He is committed to strengthening the FEC network and exploring East Brook’s place within it.
Our precious baby cows want to let you know that if you’re interested in connecting with us, you can reach out to email@example.com. And that you can peruse our website at http://eastbrookfarm.com/. Moo!
Dear Twin Oaks:
Corb here… I’m an ex-member (circa ’79-84), former farmer, EC wizard, cook, meta and papa (Leah was born in Morningstar in ’82). I was a planner when my partner, Linda announced she and Leah were leaving. So I left, but part of me has never been the same. TO has significantly shaped how I run one of the most envied teams of engineers at UVa Medical Center. As I get ready to say goodbye to over 30 years at UVa, I’m determined to return to community.
This Spring, as I was caring for my 89 yr. old Mom who got a new hip, it dawned on me that here I am…
- a community-loving ex-hippie in love with a super-long-term T.O. member who’s vowed to always live in community
- a privileged white male with better than average earning/saving opportunities
- keenly aware that the outside world’s approach to elder care has major defects
…surely there must be others who resemble at least some of the above and are willing to pitch-in to build an intergenerational, elder-friendly community with the goal of becoming an FEC community?
I’m writing to propose that Twin Oaks and “Full Circle Community”, (which Aurora DeMarco, TO member Jeli’s Mom, and I are founding), jointly purchase the Purcell property with the intent to:
– allocate some land for the expansion of T.O.
– allocate the rest of the land for “Full Circle”.
Full Circle can likely afford the property ourselves, but we understand that TO has interest in acquiring at least a buffer beyond the graveyard (perhaps more) and thus we hope to purchase the land in a mutually beneficial manner, with a deeded division.
The ~100 acre tract in question was logged last winter. It is adjacent to T.O., and drew several Twin Oakers’ interest in acquiring it. After a community meeting, the Planners reportedly did a survey of the community that found significant support for acquiring at least part of the property using a combination of donations and TO’s resources.
A group of members (Keenan, McCune, Trout, Paxus, Puma for Planners) and I have been meeting regularly most of 2017 to sort out the many facets of this opportunity. We hope to come to terms on a property boundary before any purchase takes place, and execute a contract to legally divide the tract as agreed, upon purchase.
Map #1 – How the adjacent properties nestle…
The aerial above shows a proposed pond site, the “Emu neighbors” and accurately depicts Tupelo in-line with the northernmost border of Purcell/Full-Circle. The county’s hand-drawn rendering on the next map doesn’t pretend to reflect accurate placement of TO’s existing buildings.
Yellow, brown & blue dashes mark 3 possible borders between T.O and “Full-Circle” Communities.
Green shading = most level, Orange = next-most level, Burgundy = medium sloping
Blue proposed pond = ~3 ac.
Light blue ovals = possible construction sites. Larger = community site, smaller= 1-3 unit home sites.
The second map shows 3 possibilities for future boundaries between Twin Oaks and Full Circle, who is flexible about how much land Twin Oaks may choose to buy.
Here is a Twin Oaks member’s synopsis of the three scenarios for TO acquiring part of the land:
- 20 acres: This would buy us up to the crest of the ridge, and some of the best sunsets you will see at Twin Oaks. You can think of this is a buffer if you like. This could also be used as agricultural land in the near future, as tree removal has already occurred. Perhaps a combination of hay fields or future increased whey spraying from increased Tofu production and/or pasture.
- 40 acres: From there, our land would sweep down the hill to a small, stream that originates on the property and tends to flow year-round. Crossing the stream, the boundary would encompass a group of small, isolated knolls with a lot of forest still standing. With access to small timbers, sunlight, shelter, clean water, low and high ground, and being relatively isolated yet nearby, this area would be ideal for a future primitive living group. If a footpath were extended to this area, it would be approximately the same distance from the Courtyard as Tupelo.
- 60 acres: In this scenario, Twin Oaks would surround Full Circle on 3 sides. Additional open areas with some forest and some building potential on W. Old Mtn. Rd. Twin Oaks would border some larger tracts of neighbors’ land that may become available in the future as part of creating a larger “neighborhood of intentional community”. Possible recreation path from the river to W. Old Mtn. Rd. along the stream that divides us from our neighbors. Hold section for possible sale to future community venture.
There are, of course other possibilities, including “do nothing” and “buy it all”.
So that we are moving forward in a way that continues to be consistent with the desires of the community, and in order to narrow down to realistic possibilities, we are asking for
community comment at this time. Your thoughts will help this process along to a
reasonable conclusion. Clarifying questions are welcome, as this paper has skipped over many specifics that you might be interested in knowing.
A Recent “Help Wanted” sign seen in the area:
Wanted: Fun-loving, hard-working people, experienced with group/community governance, ideally current or former F.E.C. members with at least modest funding, who are interested in pursuing land acquisition adjacent to Twin Oaks with the purpose of building, governing, serving and sharing per a variant on the following: (Here’s one vision… far from cast in stone!)
- Residences – private and shared. Over time, shift to all community-owned.
- Common land, hopefully including:
- light agricultural
- recreational (i.e. walking trails)
- pond to service both of the above
- Income-sharing community, focused on supporting elders in their later stages of life, likely following the co-housing model with elements of a “Generations of Hope”-like mission to serve those in need.
- Hybrid, off-grid energy production systems centered around solar electrolysis of hydrogen +fuel cells.
- Governing: Sociocracy seems one of the best models to guide us. We’ll build a three-tier structure to both participation and governance incorporating private, non-profit and income-sharing:
- Private residences for initial land owners who contribute labor and capital to the above building efforts, and the following operational efforts. All members donate time in service of others.
- A non-profit entity whose mission is:
- Formally: to research, document and teach best practices regarding these community resources:
– Ourselves, including our elderly – supporting aging in place as long as possible.
– Our land, including sustainably providing food, energy, recreation and wildlife.
– Our residents and staff who provide the care for the above.
- Informally: to maintain the standards of care, policies and cultural continuity as we provide for both out patients and the land.
- An income-sharing community of:
- Permanent members and floating residents from other FEC communities who comprise the staff that live and work together, caring for the community and each other.
- Residents receiving care who, if from non-FEC communities, pay a sliding-scale entrance and monthly fees and if from FEC communities, enjoy a waiver of costs commensurate with their home FEC community’s participation in the labor pool.
- Serving and Sharing:
Sharing and caring feels good; growing old, in isolation and pain doesn’t. Living in balance with Nature is essential to survival. A caring and ecologically sensitive community that’s accessible to people of all ages and economic backgrounds sounds like more than a mission statement, it sounds like home.
I hope to build upon the best we’ve learned in community as we prepare to accommodate those that we’ll all become: our elders. If you are interested, please contact Aurora Demarco and Corb Ardrey at: Corb@Virginia.edu.
There are over 23 (non T.O.) people eagerly waiting to read the next installment of the Full Circle update… let’s give them something to talk about!
– Corb Ardrey
Milo McTavish has gone to the other side. He was an extraordinary man.
Over the life of this blog, I have written about him several times. About his work as a wandering electrician and his taste for highland Scotch whiskey. He was part of the crew which started the Karass Inn. And there are several tales we are not allowed to tell about this old friend.
What is well known about him is that he helped out the communities movement a whole bunch in a number of places. I worked occasionally as his travel agent, getting him from worthy project to ambitious startup. He went to Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Vermont and New York on his nomadic crafts person adventure. Never by plane, mostly by train. He preferred to do things right, but he could always work within the budgets of these sometimes struggling entities. This versatility was a big part of why he was so valuable. All he would ask for, besides our regular room and board was Scotch whiskey.
As important as his work was, Milo will be remembered for his slightly larger than life character. He was a wild card – “a disrupter” long before that term was popular. Cantankerous and boisterous, he always had a story (often of Kenya where he came of age or Her Majesties Merchant Navy) and time to listen to yours. He was also an excellent teacher and shared his skills with numerous communards, some of whom required a fair bit of patience to train. He was a hard-partying, proud pagan. Milo had loud opinions about many a thing and had no fear in telling you how uninformed you were on almost any subject where he knew more than you, which was likely most topics.
Milo was a missionary. He rescued a failing health food coop in Norfolk and managed it with his then-wife Susan. They ran it together for 5 years. He canvassed for the Rain Forest Action Network and CalPIRG. He even worked with the Dolphin Research Lab in Florida. He had been a cop and occasionally on the other side of the law. He complained loudly about what he called “the 3 monos of the world”: Monoculture, Monotheism, and Monogamy.
Milo was often the life of the party. And with his passing, some of that party is gone as well.
But Milo would not want us mourning his passing, he would want us to party harder. There will be one this weekend (12/16) in Norfolk and next weekend (12/23) at the Pizza Stone in Chester, Vermont to remember him. Contact me if you want more details on these events.
[Milo’s family of choice is trying to get in touch with Milo’s Scotish family to inform them of his passing. If you have any leads on this, please contact me by email (paxus at twin oaks dot org) or comment on this blog post.]