Friday, December 11, 2009

"it's impossible"

Andy, Sara and i left East Wind this afternoon to drive the thousand miles back east. Last night we had our last Villages in Sky meeting and got the survey initial survey results. 15 out of 16 as Winders felt good about the project, including a number of long time members and heavy hitters. i'm happy.

In the car today we finished the Phantom Tollbooth and again dramatically with poetic demons on his heals the ordinary kid Milo manages to rescue the banished princesses Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason (depicted above). Sara was bemused by my flood of tears as i read the last couple dozen pages in Shana's Subaru flying across Indiana.

The central msg is that the quest was impossible, but they succeeded anyway and i have a bit this feeling with everything from festival organizing to the negotiations in Copenhagen. We might pull it off, but if you were a betting person, you would not be putting money on us. Fortunately, that is not the crowd i seem to be hanging with these days.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Newspapers unite on Copenhagen significance

This is a fairly strong statement on climate change agreed to by 56 newspapers from 40 countries around the world in 20 languages. Many of these papers, including the Guardian fromt he UK (which drafted the piece) printed this editorial on the front page. Check it out

a couple of the better paragraphs

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

East Wind Versus Twin Oaks

Part of the Villages in the Sky organizing team (Sara, Paxus and Bean) have traveled off to East Wind which will be hosting the event for a week of site inspection, meetings and negotiations. The community has been very welcoming, despite some quite difficult times they are going thru. One young member has just found that he has inoperable brain cancer which is growing very fast - he is only 25. The FDA is requiring a whole host of safety improvements and additional paperwork for their nut butters business (this is part of a trend across the food industry and Twin Oaks Tofu business will likely have to make similar expensive upgrades as a function of the soon to be passed Food Safety Act which is designed by the huge food processing corporations like Kraft).


There have been lots of interesting late night
conversations since we have been here and of course one of the things which comes up often is the differences between Twin Oaks and East Wind. Last night Les (who was a member at both Acorn and Twin Oaks before moving out to East Wind) put it well. "Twin Oaks is more of a socialist/communist orientation and East Wind is more anarchist. TO is burdened with the bureaucracy of these political systems, but pretty reliably stuff gets done. East Wind offers its members significant freedoms and often that comes at the cost of unfinished projects and important work going undone."

The more i thought about what Les said the more i realized how big these differences were. East Wind has no labor budgets. There is Industrial Quota (which is income generating work, which means mostly Nut Butters, tho it could be Utopia Sandals) but this is just a handful of hours each week. Members at both communities are responsible for making quota (which i think is 40 at East Wind and 42 at Twin Oaks now).

At Twin Oaks we agonize over labor budgets. Keyvah has recently worked with the Planners on the Trade Off Game and spent dozens of hours pouring over managers requests for labor, previous years actual labor use, cutting budget requests to make it all balance in a tight economy. East Wind does none of this. [Both communities budget money by area fairly carefully.]

At Twin Oaks we have a very complete and complex labor scheduling system (which i love) - another function of our highly organized bureaucracy. At East Wind many members walk up in the morning unsure exactly what they will do that day to make quota. Both communities have survived for decades, both have survived hard times and difficult members (tho i do think East Wind has more tricky personalities than Twin Oaks does).

It is my hope that Villages in the Sky will bring these two communities a bit closer together. We are like sisters who have more in common than different yet we focus (like this entry) on what is different about us.

If you are interested in more information about the Villages in the Sky project you should check out the website and blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Keyvah and Caroline get hitched !

One of my big attractions to Twin Oaks is that it is a place which inspires people to do things that other people are not even thinking about doing. To do things which some people think are impossible or at least incomprehensible. Caroline and Keyvah are doing such a thing today. Pairs of women get hitched all the time these days, but like their heterosexual counterparts, their primary motivation is their romantic connection to each other and secondary is their desire to have family together.

Both of these amazing women are key players in my son, Willow's life. And as only a parent can, i see their influence on him, Caroline's theatrics in the quirky YouTube videos they make together, Keyvah's "bored kid does complex math" tricks. And in a kind of spooky transference, Willow now seems to be able to tell when i am going to leave the room, moments before i actually get up and go - an art Caroline and Keyvah perfected sometime back.

And through this unorthodox home schooling they have built something Caroline coined "Framily". A fusion of friends and family. It turns out that the Nigerian proverb is right and it takes a village to raise a kid. But unlike the politicians and educators who spout this phrase i have seen it happen with my son and these wonderful women and our fluidly designed framily.

And i am excited to be on this journey with them and know they will help guide their own extraordinary kids.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Compost Cafe Micro Party

There was an irreversible turning point. And this is what funologists hunt.

Sabrina had been dragged away from reading her book to come to the party which was happening in the compost cafe (the small smokers lounge in the courtyard of the community). Firefly got her, apparently promising there was dancing. What there was was a lovely collection of mostly young people and mostly oakers. The few outsiders were Adam who had lived at East Wind and is well liked and appreciated here and Sara Tansey who seems to have nearly everyone fall in love with her nearly everywhere she goes.

"There is not even any dancing. You got me out of bed for this?" Sabrina complains in a whine that is so uncharacteristic of her normal stoic nature, the universe tilts.

"We absolutely did" replies Shiloh and within a minute almost all the room is standing and Sparkles ipod shuffle has taken over the sound system and dancing ensues.

Trout is anxious for another game of chess with me, when the music tones down a bit he asks if i am willing to leave the party. But i can not "This is a funologists wet dream" i say, certain that i will be misunderstood and mocked. And immediately i am.

But what makes it so funologically important is that it is a nearly perfect party, intimate, intense, highly inexpensive (accepted visitor Hale - who is tall and Nordic and charming and 27 - bought a case of cheap Mexican beer and one of Miller high life), spontaneous, simple/elegant and triggered.

But from this funologist perspective it may be triggered that is the most important piece. The talking and minimal milling and cuddling/massaging before the dance portion was nice. but what brought up the energy and added enchantment was the dancing. Bean, Firefly, Louisa, Foxx, Rusty, Sara, Shiloh, Jason (unusually), Trout, Sabrina and Mushroom make a strikingly telegenic lot bogeying. Biddy, Benji, Andy, Hale and i were more peripheral to the dancing, yet somehow holding the space for the others. And there is no way film can catch this tight, tangled event. Despite how crowded it is the group does not want to move to larger space - moving would break something and the compressed space gives it an added air of impossibility.

We are, in fact, building the better party.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Danele's Passing

Six years ago a specialist told Danele, who had just been diagnosed with Cushing's disease, that she had six months to live. Danele was having none of it.

A couple weeks ago Danele passed. Shiloh and Kate, who were part of the team which took care of her in her last days, said that she was the funniest and liveliest she had ever been in those last days. [When Kate offered her a straw to help her drink, replied "nothing says invalid like a straw."]

Danele and i were lovers in the first year i was at Twin Oaks, over a decade ago now. i was given back all the love letters i wrote her yesterday, a little stack of carefully scripted cards, chronicling our unlikely connection.

We had the memorial service for Danele today here at Twin Oaks. She would have been pleased. i managed to miss most of the event because i got up early and rescued a bunch of folding chairs from a rocking church in Richmond in the pouring rain and ended up restarting my illness. [i do sick badly, so i do it little.]

What i will remember of Danele is her fierce loyalty, her expansive heart, the silky scarfs she always carried, her quirky wit, her adventurous spirit and her tenacity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Farewell Allen

About a week back a new member of Twin Oaks, Allen, took his life. He had wrestled with depression for much of his adult life and his mother said at the community sharing circle that "Twin Oaks had been the happiest month and a half of his life."

The morning before he took his life i was in the tofu hut with Mushroom and in one of those rare moments when there is no one else there but the lone kettle person and the lone trays person she said to me. "Who do you think is the sexiest person on campus?"

"Allen" was my immediately response. He was quiet, diligent, attractive, musical, mechanically inclined. I had hooked him up with ex-member Denny Ray to help with the communities perennial problem of equipment maintenance. They had fixed the Llano refrigerator together and Denny had been impressed by his quick learning and eagerness. They were working on the ice machine together the day he passed.

16 years ago this community was torn apart by Delancies suicide. It was the last one we had and it was completely different. Unlike Allen, there was lots of warning. Unlike Allen there were many who felt the community could have done more. Unlike Allen there were many who were furious with other members perceived insensitivity to mental health problems. Unlike Allen, half a dozen people left and McCune quit work for a year (something our labor system permits for people who have sufficient balance to do so).

Allen's death is a gift to us. We pull together. We support each other. Many people, especially Louisa, his lover of 9 years, are saying "it is this type of support that is the reason i moved to community". In fact the most powerful msg from our sharing circles and healing rituals is "i dont want to go back to normal"
What we want instead is a place where someone can be crying in public space, without anyone feeling put out by it or drawn into it against their will.

Christian was holding and comforting Bridget in the Tupleo Kitchen. I was in there with WIllow who was being noisy and lively. There was a whole mini-circus that passed before the mourners. When we are at our best, we integrate our sadness and our daily lives.

And his death is a challenge to us. How do maintain some piece of this incredible support we are offering each other. How do we maintain this transparency, this willingness to speak our personal truths. I learned of several peoples struggles with suicide as part of this process. i joined the care team for one of the people today, who i care for and was unaware of their struggle. Allen has helped us shine a healing light on ourselves and now we want to figure out how to keep it shining.

if we are really good, we will find the switch for that light. and if we can i am sure Allen would be proud of us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Designing Rituals that Stick

My funological comrades and I are in a conversation about what the “central ritual” will be at the Villages in the Sky festival in the Ozarks in 2010. Central rituals play important roles in two of the inspirational events for VIS – Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering.

At Burning Man there are actually two central rituals. The first (on the Saturday night) is the burning of the man. A 40 foot high effigy is set alight amongst dozens of fire dancers and a host of fireworks displays. Participants run in circles around the burning man and make incredible noise. Crystal actually does not think this is a ritual at all, he prefers to refer to it as “the spectacle” and it certainly is that.

On Sunday night the temple is burned. The temple is further out, and actually much larger overall It is made entirely of wood and is an incredibly intricate art piece. On it participants scribble what ever it is they want to let go of, often sadness about a loved one who passed in the last year (or anytime really). In sharp contrast to the burn of the man, this is a highly somber and quiet. Up close, both of these rituals are physically quite hot. They are also magnificent enuf so that they can be enjoyably viewed from a fairly significant distance.

At the Rainbow Gathering the central ritual mixes noise and quite. Part of the site selection for the part of the national parks which hosts these gatherings is that they need to have a space (for the national gatherings) which can accommodate 25,000 people standing in a large circle holding hands. For the first half of the fourth of July, rainbow kids (some of whom are in their 80s) are silent, doing their daily chores, heading toward a mid day gathering which comes together in a large silent circle. After some length of time which seems cosmologically determined, the kids run into the middle yelling and this is the signal for everyone to run in. Much dancing and partying ensues.

We will have tree houses and zip lines and hopefully turbine platforms as our environment. Presumably, there will be an open field to operate in, and n year one only a few hundred participants. And I believe that this ritual, and its power and effect on people will be one of the things which determines how many people come back for year 2 and beyond.

So I am in dialog with my new lover Premin, who lives in a spiritual resort which used to be a spiritual commune about what gives ritual life and bond people with them. She said these clever things:

The real important thing about ritual is, that it is not a ritual. that it is alive in every moment, that it makes sense, that it takes people into account, and when it doesn’t feel right or fitting any more, it can be changed. It grows with the moment, with the people. It takes presence, and not routine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Culture Follies

For those of you who have tuned in late, i am a bit of an odd duck.

The other day i was in Boston helping Keyvah and Gpaul and Benji (a charming newish Oaker) set up for the Natural Food Expo at the convention center. Keyvah has a strange addiction to fancy hotels, so we were staying in the Omni Paker House right downtown.

I have trouble talking quietly on a cell phone, so Keyvah had thrown me out of the room while i was chatting about the Testival (test festival) we are organizing for the tree house launch at Acorn. So i went into the hallway at the Omni on the 8th floor and parked myself in front of the elevators.

i did not even think about it a laydown on the super clean hotel floor with my head propped up against the wall, in my slightly strange shorts and continued talking on the phone. My position looked something like the picture below (without the hat and not asleep).

For perhaps 20 minutes no one comes out of the elevator, but then 2 older couples emerge decked out in very nice clothes having an animated conversation. They are clearly a bit shcoked by my presene and position. i ignore them and continue blabbing.

About 5 minutes later a hotel security guy comes out of the elevator, looking for me. He starts with a confrontive manner, clearly a bit unsure of how to deal with the situation. But he quickly notices i have a hotel key in my hand, and he chills a bit.

He instructs me that you cant lay on the floor in this hotel. i am slightly disbelieving, but he assures me this is so. he then points to the collection of perfectly reasonable chairs which are less than 5 meters away from me and asks if i could continue my phone call from there.

i cave to the pressure and sit in one of the plush chairs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Arguing with Willow

Part of the communities agreements is that children will do small amounts of work for the collective good. The amount they are asked to do is based on age and for a 7 year old, only here part time (because Willow spends part of each week in Cville with Sky) is one hour per week. Next year it will be two hours per week.

For a while we often did part of Willow's quota in the hammock shop. He was getting pretty good at winding shuttles and toddling them over to the welding station. But the economy and our own inability to market hammocks swept the business and now the hammock shop is nearly closed. Hawina has been having Willow do a bit of food processing (where we preserve our harvest for later in the year) and he has been unloading the dishwashers are Tupelo and MorningStar. While we continue to seek places to find labor credits for him.

We had an argument about it yesterday.

Our clothes were up to dry outside MorningStar and Willow and i were taking them down. "You can take labor credits for this." i replied casually. "No i cant." replied my clever son. "These are our clothes and not community clothes" And i realized he understood the system better than i had given him credit for. Indeed, normally one can not take labor credits for work which just benefits ones self.

I explained to Willow that there was actually a policy which gave members labor credits for drying their own clothes on the line, instead of using a dryer to save electricity and money for the community. He was having none of it.

"Can i get labor credits for taking down our own laundry?" Willow asked Hawina, skeptical of my claims. Hawina explained about the perhaps passed eco-laundry labor credits. But i could tell it was not sitting well with Willow. "You should not get labor credits for doing your own stuff." i could see him thinking.

When i was 7, i had quite some notion of family, and some vague notion about states and countries. But i had nothing like the sense of fairness and equity that my small partner seems to have developed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just one question

Burning Man was quite the bust this year. We had an amazing team and an interesting project to hype. But dear friends were caught up in this crazy sting/entrapment escapade and much of our energy was defused in getting them sprung.

Ironically, with all the amazing art and bizarre contraptions on the Playa, the best part of this years Burning Man for me was a set of conversations i had with my dear friend Crystal which could have just as easily be held in a Santa Cruz coffee shop.

Crystal wants to build an international camp at next years burn. US nationals could participate, but everyone who is there must pass a short admissions test, which is in it's entirety the question "Are you a revolutionary?"

Thursday, August 27, 2009


There are 17 people at East Wind (including 3 on their way) who will be deploying the Villages in the Sky Burning Man equipment. After a Herculean effort, we finally found an affordable truck to carry all the stuff (thanks Keyvah, yeah Sara). It is an impressive array of stuff:

1) Circus/Revival tent 20' but 60'
2) A Healix tower with two wind turbines on the top
3) A mobile kitchen
4) A small tent village
5) a somewhat undefined collection of vehicles

We are at 6:45 and Fossil. If you are coming to Burning Man you should definitely stop by and especially for the funological brainstorm and naming party on Friday at dusk.

This is getting exciting.

And yesterday East Wind approved the hosting of the Villages in the Sky festival in June 2010. We have a home, at least for a couple of years.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Night Owls

On my way to the Yaffa Cafe (where Tobias and i are now geeking) this morning i asked myself "Why am i going there?"

There are 2 bazillion great places it eat in NYC. It appears that industrial capitalism, which i dont have much good to say about, really works for Manhattan - the average restaurant is better than the national average, by a lot. In this hyper competitive/information rich environment only the great survive.

It is not the charming wait staff, who rolled with it when i said "if you touch that i will hurt you" when the waitress tried to take my nearly empty plate.

The mock leopard skin chair covers and table designs are cute, but actually i had not noticed them before today.

No, it is that it is open all night, every night. Of course it is not at all a strange for Manhattan and i am not currently using this feature, because it is the middle of the day. But i want to support outfits which keep the odd hours i do.

My big complaint about most of the cities i love (Am*dam, San Francisco, even Berlin) is that they roll up the streets between midnight and 2 AM. What is up with that ? i want to be in the city (which as Mz DiFranco calls it) "never shuts up".

We have had amazing hosts in the 3 Burroughs we have inhabited. Teagan and Arrow in Manhattan have put up with a parade of organizers and activists which i seem to hang with these days. Teagan fell in love with Sara (this is easy to do, everyone seems to these days). She seems unstoppable despite being gloriously pregnant. Arrow was immeasurable help with the dozens of details associated with the Villages in the Sky camp at Burning Man. [I have been a few times, but i have never been involved with setting up a real camp before]. He has also agreed to be on the board of directors for our shell company International Funological Initiative Limited, which is something of a relief for me, because he is experience in both big festival organizing and clean fuels.

Diana threw parties, hosted workshops and was stunningly available for our many needs. I want every lawyer in america to be just like her. In fact, if every lawyer were just like her, i would be so out of a job. Just a few steps from the Williamsburg bridge, Diana brought Brooklyn to life and hosted of us in her tiny flat and panoramic roof. And connected us with her lively collection of rad artists, activists and troublemakers.

George at Ganas was gone for most of our visit but i did get in my few conversations about the Tamara in Portugal, why peak oil is not a play, kids in community and why the world would be a better place is we stopped worrying about counting everything.

I leave NYC understand better peoples love of the place.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Headline News

In one of the many late night metaphysical rants Modok and i shared in Santa Cruz, he once said to me "You need to live your life like your are trying to keep the reader of your biography engaged." It has been a good few weeks for my fictitious biography readers. I can't really do justice to any of the topics i am going to hit on - but things are just going to get worse if i dont do some chronicling - so off we go.

Summer Camp: Network for a New Culture does several camps in the US each year. My take on the these events is they are efforts to look at what kind of culture we want to have in a better world we want to be part of. There is an eclectic mix of topics at summer camp, but the ones around crafting a sex positive culture are the ones which get the most attention. A significant number of people who go to summer camps have a transformative experience, especially people who go as first time participants (interestingly, these revelations usually don't have to do with sex, or at least not primarily so). This years camp did the most radical workshop i have ever been in.

Paul who does work with imprisoned sex offenders in Washington state lead a workshop that didn't just take on the myths about sex offenders. Included in these myths is that sex offenders cant change - when in reality, if fully treated sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate of any major crime except murder. But the big myth (which i bought into until this camp) was that sex offenders are different from us, that we could perhaps tell them if we were close to them and that they are conveniently "other-able".

A space was created for people to confess anything which they had done to the group and hear the groups response to it. This is a restorative justice exercise, where the group takes responsibility for its collective behavior. Several people admitted some shocking things and the response of the group was pretty impressive. There were a fair number of people who were pretty angry and expressed it in clear terms. Others were appreciative of the daring. Still others were thrown for a loop (including me) and forced to face these things as not distant and other, but as part of my community which is working to heal itself. I cant say much about the stories here, but i can talk about the overwhelming sense that i had in the workshop that if the work is going to change around this type of problem it is going to be thru this kind of daring and this type of community commitment.

And i had my own ideological struggles with summer camp. One of the favorite bromides is "Ask for 100% of what you want, negotiate for a win win, be willing to hear "no" as an answer" When i first heard it i thought it was clever and the more that i watch it, i fear it is too sweeping. I prefer the honest seduction stuff, which deals with disclosers and the complex situations where "yes" actually means "i am doing this for the wrong reasons"

Also at Summer Camp i met and got romantically involved with Premin (pictured above in some tree i have never seen her in, courtesy of facebook). Working with the organizers of summer camp this year i was able to help provide some scholarships for people who could not otherwise attend camp. Premin (who i had never met) was one of these people.

I was worried as i went to Shana's place (where Premin stayed before camp) that our interaction would be weird, since in the past when i have offered financial help to someone who does not know me they think they are in some unspecified way indebted to me. So i stepped into my first encounter with Premin with some trepidation. But i was alone there.

In my first short conversation with Premin, i was blown away. She was there in her simple magnificence. Money dynamics and hidden obligations to me were undiscussed and clearly unimportant. Her power of presence reflexively drew me into my power. I walked out of our first encounter, with its unremarkable transcript, thinking to myself "i could fall in love with this woman". And in the coming days i promptly did.

As a story teller i am drawn to highlight that she lives in Puna, India tho of European decent. She has a camel named tiger which she has invited me to ride and she teaches several workshops on meditation and empowerment thru self awareness. But this misses the essence of her, which as my karate instructor used to say about trying to use words to transmit meaning "is like trying to hold jello to a tree with a knife."

Villages in the Sky

When i first went to Burning Man in 2001, i realized that from a pagan elemental perspective there were a couple of important festivals missing. We had Burning Man as a fire festival, the Rainbow Gathering was an earth festival, but where was the sister air festival ? Where was "Flowing Woman" beside the sea with healing and spirituality?

So myself and some talented comrades have decided it's time to do something about this. We are going to try to build the air festival. Tho Tobias hates the name, for now at least it is called Villages in the Sky
ok, he does not hate it, he just thinks it is too long.

The rough plan is have a festival in the summer of 2010 which celebrates and experiences wind. We are planning on building windmills and tree houses and doing a myriad of other interesting things in hopes of creating an event that is so sexy other people want to organize their own versions in their regions (as has happened with both Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering). But unlike these venerable events, we do want to leave a trace behind - we want to start building a different and better world that lingers.

At first we thought we would do the event near the intentional communities near Rutledge Missouri. Rutledge was attractive because there are three different Eco-villages all in close proximity (Dancing Rabbit, Sandhill, Red Earth Farms). Tobias, Sara and i trekked out to Missouri to try to entice them into joining our project. There was some interest, and there were lots of concerns. And what we discovered is that these communities did not need any help in promoting themselves, they already had more guess and visitors than they could handle.

Time to rethink our strategy. If Rutledge was not the right place where was? Well, one of the other reasons for selecting Missouri is that they have some of the most relaxed zoning laws in the country. If we were going to be building funky towers for windmills and strange tree house villages, it would be nice to not have to be getting permits and explaining everything to building inspectors. And as soon as we were looking for alternative to Rutledge in Missouri, the sister community of Twin Oaks, East Wind, jumped to mind.

In my mind East Wind has always kind of been the wild, wild west of the communities movement. Located on a thousand acres of beautiful land in the Ozarks, it is younger in population and more far more relaxed than it's older sister Twin Oaks. One indicative story, a few years back my lover Deborah was slightly drunk at East Wind and was in the music room looking up at the ceiling and said "we should build a skylight in this room." The next day she and some friends cut a whole in the ceiling and started to install the imagined skylight. Such a project would take months of discussion and planning at Twin Oaks, and might well not happen because of concerns about the roof leaking or budget priorities.

Several East Winders got excited about the project and decided to jump on in a big way. Lion and Zeke are both helping with a demonstration tower for the event and helping Sheppard the project thru community process. Unlike a skylight in the music room, a several hundred person festival and a large foot print tree house village need to be discussed and agreed to - even in the wild, wild west. We are not completely
through our process with East Wind, but there is much more enthusiasm and more supportive festival culture there than we found in Rutledge.

Acorn Tree Houses

We wanted a testbed for the tree house village, so decided to build a smaller version locally to learn about how to build then to so they were 1) safe for kids, 2) low impact on trees and 3) serious fun. Perhaps the martest thing i have said in years was to ex-Oaker Pilgrim who is working on the Acorn aerial village, "Put as many platforms up as you can, dont worry about stairs, railings, safety - someone will follow behind you and get these things." Then, with nothing in place, i went to summer camp. I came back 11 days later and he had lofted 9 platforms, the highest was 35 feet up and over half of them were over a dozen feet high. And my thoughts about the entire project changed - especially my thoughts about what was possible and how the organizers interact with the participants.

"Build then design" became the unofficial motto of the project, perhaps to show up on t-shirts soon. Our job, in my current world view is to create spaces up in trees (these platforms) which others can build on top of and around. The test for carpenters working on the project these days is there ability to work without plans, since there are not any. We will ultimately do drawings of the Acorn Tree houses, but they will be describing what is after it is built, rather than design documents.

Burning Man

So i have been saying for a year that i am not going to Burning Man, it was a lie. It is not that i dont like the event, but there ar only so many festivals a year i can go to and i feel like i understand this one reasonably well having been 3 times including the last two years. And it is also and amazing place potentially for networking and to hustle Villages in the Sky. So we are going to go in a big way, we are pulling together a camp complete with tower, school bus, circus tent and a bunch of enthusiastic funological ambassadors. Watch this space for more details. We are hoping to find an existing theme camp to be near - know any good ones ?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Oh Communism is okay now..."

If we had played by the rules, they likely would never have been permitted to come.

But because i was characteristically sloppy, Voice of America came to do a features piece at Twin Oaks. A recruiting manager who was on top of their game would have posted the emails that VOA sent requesting they come and cover the commune weeks before their arrival. And quite likely had i done that the members of the community who had concerns would have rallied enuf upset to chase off the propaganda arm of the US government. But i surprised people with them and they were already on campus before a few people expressed their upset at their presence.

They made no bones about who they were. Calling themselves US propagandists. Offering their own observations of VOA's manipulative behavior, like closing offices in countries they are less interested in. There was a precious moment when they were trying to convince I-P (formerly Piankhy) to let them film him (he was lusciously telegenic with his Asian musical instrument and his rich dark north African skin) by saying that they just reported the facts. I-P was having none of it.

But my favorite moment was when they spoke briefly with Tigger (formerly Tom) who i was trying to set up an interview with. Tigger said "i was initially attracted to Twin Oaks because of the Marxist economics, but i guess you dont want to report on that." To which Susan from VOA quickly replied "Oh communism is okay. Now we are fighting terrorism."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Call

When you are a support person for someone who is in trouble, you run a low level anxiety about when they are going to call you.

We have been trying to get this meeting of my international friends and my fellow communards to possibly start a new community near Twin Oaks. It was quite tricky to find a timing which worked for all the players. So we had spent the early part of the evening at Twin Oaks exploring FEC possibilities and had gone to Acorn where i was finally going to get to relax a bit and enjoy the company of these other people who i wanted to get to know Roberto and Marta.

Then the call came. Just as we were about to walk in. But there was no question, no hesitation. You've said you will be there, it's show time.

At one point when i had gotten into trouble for something Kristen and Keenan were talking about my personality and Kristen helpfully said "i just wish Paxus would follow the rules more." and Keenan replied "Pax is not a following the rules kind of guy. He is the guy you call, when you only have one call."

Tonight i got the call and delivered.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dirty Laundry

The joke is that because there is no TV on the commune, we create our own soap operas. Even if the proposed origin is incorrect, we certainly have a propensity to rumble emotionally within the bounds of our intense experiment.

Hawina and i have been doing mediation's are a party which went out of control some months back, and the most recent one we did, i was quite worried about. I was afraid because i had worked with both of the people we were mediating with before on romantic relationships stuff and while i care for both of them deeply, i knew that they can both be hard headed and also that the stakes were quite high for this mediation. If we blew it, the cost of failure could potentially be quite high - derailing our hopes of resolving the issues in a one on one basis and instead going to a community level feedback, which would even more certainly go badly.

On top of this, when i had talked to my friend who is aptly named after a volcano goddess a couple of days before the mediation about my concerns, we had ended up spiraling out of control and screaming at each other. Which is pretty rare for me.

And it worked out well, better than well actually it was something of a breakthru. Hawina and i were good, but we never would have made it were it not for the somewhat uncharacteristic vulnerability and compassion of the two people in dialog brought with them.

We went for two hours, voices got raised slightly, but overall everyone kept it under control. What Hawina is good at is getting people to take responsibility for their part of the problem. And in this case that was at the core of the disconnect. And we got there. Having worked on this for some months now, we heard new things in the mediation, self reflections which change the nature of the conversation and make more be possible.

And i realized as i came out of the mediation that this is still some of my favorite work. Helping people communicate, move thru obstacles and mend splits in the community. And especially when we succeed, i am proud of the entire operation. It was a good day for understanding and compassion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Midnight follies

Amanda had an amazing b-day party and i stayed for as long as i could. Which meant i was showing up in Jamaica Plain after midnight. Bonnie had agreed to let me stay with her, despite me again having offered to visit this weekend when i was in town last time and then rudely blowing her off.

i had called just before 11, She said she was working a long day the next day, so she would not be very animated company. She gave me the combination lock number and said she would unlock the door to her apartment up this pseudo fire escape. My ride from Amanda's party in Gloucester took longer than expected and when i finally arrived, decoded the door and braved my way up this cluttered, darkened stairs i made it to her kitchen and i decided it was not fair to climb into bed with her, only to wake her up 3 hours later so i could make my connection.

So i went to sleep in the living room on the new couch.

Just as i was about to crash out, Bonnie's flat mates started crashing around in the kitchen. i had never met them before, but i knew they were nice and had a little baby. So i stay in the living room on the couch and no one sees me, no need for awkward introductions. they go to bed, i doze off.

2 AM bonnie calls "Where are you?"
"i am in your living room"
"i was expecting you and could not sleep, come to my room"

so i walk thru the dining room, thru her little dining room, past the bathroom and open the door to Bonnie's room - which is a kids room. i am in the wrong apartment.

just as i realize this my cell buzzes "you're not in my living room" Bonnie informs me of the thought already pounding thru my head as i bound up the fire escape steps.

I thought the couches looked different. ...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

nyc glimpses

i went to visit the curious and eclectic jade netanya beside central park on my way to amandables b-day bash. i found the most charming cafe right beside her house which is called Alice's Tea Cup.

But there was a surreal moment when we drove to jade's synagogue and i ended up across Amsterdam avenue waiting for traffic to pass to catch an open parking space. i crossed and started to back into a space and there was another car which had come later, but was on the right side of the street which had also stopped for the space.

As we backed up into the space he pulled up beside us and expressed his displeasure.

"we were here first" Jade informed him, "we were just on the other side of the street"
"you cant wait on the wrong side and then claim a space" he said with a measured city upset.
there was a moment of silence, i did not pretend to know the nyc street etiquette in this type of situation - jade had already been teasing me about my contry bumpkin ways - cautiously crossing streets, inability to hail cabs effectively, etc. And i was aware that it was quite a good spot for us, close to where we were going and we were basicaly int he spot already at this point.
"you can have it" jade said to the guy, in her generous spirited way
"nahh" he said "you gave it up to easily, you are freaking me out."

this really spun me around. as he drove away i was trying to figure out what was going on in his head. was he looking for a confrontation and we did not provide it? was he afraid that if we left and he parked there we would come back and do something to his car ?

i realized that jade's chiding about my lack of city skills also came with a legitimate critique of lack of understanding of this alien cultue.

Friday, March 27, 2009

hit and run

i watch you sleep
eyes creeping across your silhouette like
a tarantula escaped from an old bond flick

now reconfigure
align possibilities
w/ framed realities
and something fades in translation

like thursday misses friday
time seems contagious
unable to take a break
running over memories
too tasty to consider
next thing in the queue
dont miss a beat

more realistic, they say
child safe, no one gets hurt
one size fits all

there is a shoe
stuck in the gears
and its callling your name

Monday, March 23, 2009

How do we choose our teachers?

It starts with respect. You have to believe that your teacher knows something that you desire to learn and has the capacity to share it with you in a way which you can hear. Their experience, be it lived or learned, has to have taken them to a place you want to go to.

Capacity is a function of shared language. This is not so much about English or algebra, but about assumptions. Do we share a belief in science or magic? Is it about our personal experiences, or the counsel of great minds? Does it matter if it is couched in politically correct terminology or off color jokes?

Finally, for me, it is about being seen. I seek a teacher who both appreciates what i have done and recognizes where their lessons may help me to grow.

I spent the weekend with George. He was a successful Wall St wizard who got out when that kind of work stopped being fun. A time which seems to correspond with the arrival to the financial markets of the current ponzi scheme/robbery artists who are currently so fashionable. He is an urban income sharing community pioneer, having helped found Ganas on Staten Island over 30 years ago and helped it grow to 70 people and 8 houses. With its intense and highly public interpersonal growth work it has been quite a wild ride. He is practices polyamory (which he prefers to call "free love" because he wants it freely chosen). A historian and a polyglot, with roots in Spain and Germany, he speaks eloquently of Catholic priests who espouse zen and the scientific basis of magical orgasm. He decoded his own chronic stress (where the specialists could only treat the symptoms) with a complex mix of practiced biofeedback techniques and dead simple meditation. He is unequal parts pragmatist, philosopher and clown.

He is writing a book (that i have my doubts about its completion) about being the Canary in the Coal mine. About what he learned in starting community and how the scientists/materialists can find their hearts and integrate. And after this weekend lively meandering conversations, punctuated by his animated laughter, it is already clear he has much to teach me.

He is arrogant, heretical and iconoclastic. He is a giant among men and i am proud to call him my new friend.

Friday, February 20, 2009


i gave this talk at the Harvard Memorial Church today at my fathers funeral. It was well received.

I disagree with people for a living. My father was one of the most agreeable people you ever met. And yet it was from him that I learned, if you wanted to be in the conversation, you need to listen deeply and to be able to reflect back what someone else truly believes.

I break the law as part of my work. My father was the most law-abiding man I ever met. And it was from him I learned that you need to have an unwavering moral compass, so that whoever meets you knows what you believe in.

My father built highly functional schools and elegant houses. I stop the construction of inherently dangerous and unnecessary nuclear reactors. It is from him I learned that my role is to serve in the building of a better world.

My father’s father was a large man named “Tiny”. He died when my father was a boy and I believe this helped make my father a careful and cautious man. I was fortunate to have a dedicated and supportive father for 5 decades and I am convinced this security helped make me comfortable taking chances.

When I get up in the morning and look in the mirror before days which tend to be busy and long, as my fathers were, I sometimes see the mirror image of the man, who despite being different, was one of my most important teachers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

a watch and a ring

i visited my family of origin to go to the burial of my father. While i was there, my mother was excited about me taking a number of things which belonged to my father which were useful to me. His shoes fit, i took a cashmere sweater and a couple of nice jackets.

i also took a watch of his and started to wear it. One of the differences between me and most of the folx in my college graduating class is that for the last 30 years or so, i have not worn a watch. i mostly consider it an oppressive symbol and device. for the past half dozen years or so, i have used my cell phone to cheat and figure out what time it was when i needed to know. Now i have given myself permission to do something different. i wear it in part to think of him and in part to be a bit more organized, something i am thinking a lot about as i head towards a likely jail sentence of 15 days which will be wasted time if i am not more organized than i generally am.

8 years ago my dear friend and spiritual brother Modok convinced me to get a ring. i dont wear jewelry and it was something of a big deal for me, but he sold me on the idea that i was wearing it for Willow, who we were not even sure would exist at that time. When i tried to counter that we had not agreed to have a child yet, Modok (always intellectually quick on his feet) said "if you decide not to have the kid, you can make a small wooden boat, put the ring on it and send it down the river - thus ritualistically letting go of the idea of having a child." When i remained skeptical, he bought it for me and gave it to me.

It is one of these very common "Oh manny padmay ohm" rings, which i think has Sandskit text on it. I have gotten similar ones for Sky and Hawina and Joy and Anissa. But i have kept this one for these years, thinking that i will give it to Willow when he leaves home (also Modok's clever idea). yesterday i lost the ring.

i lost it in the best possible way. Willow and i were coming back from town at Twin Oaks and i wanted to carry him to MorningStar where he was going to hang out with Tom and Jonah until his next primary. Carrying him requires locking my hands together under him and supporting his weight, it also means loosing my feeling slightly in my fingers. When i checked for my ring, which i absently do with some regularity, ti was gone. Willow and i walked back along the path to try and find it, searching caefully. But to no avail. It might turn up, lost things often do at my commune and people dont steal stuff like this.

And it seems strangely symbolic that this ring of my son should disappear from my left hand when the watch of my fathers now dons that hand.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bye dad

The way my dad used to tell the story was he was being interviewed for the job to design the Cornell Campus Book Store and the interviewer asked, "How do you plan to make the architecture of this building fit in with the architecture of the various different styles of the buildings around it?"

The answer which he had not thought of until that moment was
"Put it underground"

He says the answer got him the job, the building is underground and as the picture above shows, it almost vanishes.

But my dad was not an impulsive guy, generally. His dad (the dean of Cornell's college of Agriculture) died when my dad was a young adolescent and this made his life very difficult. And so my father was extremely risk averse. Interestingly, the security and stability that this created in his family life generated two highly risk seeking sons. My brother the rock star and myself.

And i oversimplify, for were he completely risk averse, he would have never started his own company.

i learned a lot of things from my father. Somethings, like my relationship to risk or my views on polyamory or anarchism came from opposing what he believed. We had our disagreements, but he was graceful and for the most part accepting of our differences. This is an area where i am still trying to learn from his model.

He was a highly principled man. He was offered a bribe by a contractor that would have been nearly impossible to trace at a time when he and his company really needed the money. Here he never hesitated. He showed the guy the door and never worked with him again.

He would not go out to lunch with his secretary alone. "Not because anything might happen." he explained to me, "but because someone might think something was happening." This type of caution and concern for the opinions of others, did not turn out to be genetically transmittable.

He did teach me to be good to my word, to look for elegant solutions and to identify myself with my work.

And in this last thing we lost each other a bit, work as identity. We were not especially close and i did some things i regret in years past which increased our distance.

In the mid 80s, at the height of my personal radicalization, the market for schools (which is what his firm was famous for) collapsed. Under his guidance his office started seeking other kinds of design work. My dad took pride in showing me around his office and point out all the different project they were involved in.

We made it to one set of drawings and i read the client name "Electronic Warfare Incorporated". When i asked him about it, he said they were in a competition to design their headquarters building.

I said " you should not do this job. These people are simulating the end of the world. And through their work we are in greater risk of it coming to pass."

My father was surprised by my comment and replied "if we don't do this work, someone else will."

"If they asked you to build concentration camps, would you do it because someone else would if you did not?" i challenged. My father was deeply offended and our relationship frayed.

A dozen years later, after i had moved back from eastern Europe and started living on the commune, i went to work with my father for a summer in his offices in Boston, with the hope of bridge building to him. We commuted to work together every day and we chatted and i tried several times to get inside the man who was responsible for my birth. But i failed, not completely, but mostly. He was not emotionally accessible to me, perhaps i had burned the bridges, or perhaps he did not really know how to meet me in this place.

He did love what he did and if awards and public praise are any measure, he had a gift for it. He, unlike me, was modest. He was a good liberal and supported fairness in the system. And he believed in the system.

When i bough Howard Zinn's A Peoples History of the United States, from a book store in Harvard Square, near his old offices he asked me what it was. "It is a radical history book", i replied. And he took offense. "There is no radical history, there is just history." We disagreed and one of the most difficult lessons he taught me, was that for radicals it is exactly people like my parents who we need to get our messages to. And i was exactly the wrong person to try to get this message to him.

I was supposed to be something different than i became. My class background, my education was supposed to take me other places. My grandmother thought i would be a good governor, most of my college friends thought i would end up a lawyer, for a while it looked like i might be a software engineer. But despite the peculiar career path i embraced, i always felt supported and loved by both of my parents, even if they wished i would just grow up and be the CEO of something.

There was a nice moment we shared long after my father was forced to stop working because of the Parkinson's, which took his life last night. A speaking engagement on nukes was organized for me in my folks house and a bunch of neighbors came, one of whom was a Noble prize winner in chemstry. At the end of the talk he went to my father and said "I did not really expect to learn anything and i did not expect to be engaged and i was wrong on both counts." My father beamed with pride.

"I know i am a good architect" he told me in a rare immodest moment "it is someone else's job to decide if i am a great architect." i dont know enuf about architecture to make that call. But i do know this, your were a great dad.

Friday, January 23, 2009

tears for Aris

Part of my job, if finding gifted young people and offering them tools. Aris was an easy find at even at Casa Robino. Amongst all the charming and attractive people who storm thru this adventure in radical hospitality, she stood out. We spoke on the back porch for some hours, about skillsurfers about what she wanted to do with this group and these people. This eloquent, multilingual 19 year old spoke of land in Slovenia that she controlled that she wanted to do collective things with. We spoke of hitching and of how she transended her fear.

Aris has passed. A boat capsized and took her from us. My eyes bleed for this loss.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Wikipedia has it that when Wam Kat was 18 the doctors told he he had a year left to live. Faced with this horrifying fact he told an affirming solution - he decided to live an entire life in a single year. Then he did not die, nor did he slow down. Now nearly 4 decades later his life could fill several biographies.

Founding of the European Youth Action network EYFA and summer activist gathering Ecotopia. He was also the mastermind behind the differential currency rate conversion based on countries earning power rather than the legal conversion rates - calle dthe Eco-rates. During the Yugoslavian conflict he set up the largest non-state refugee camps in Croatia as well as the Pakrac housing reconstruction project. He's set up email networks, written books on the history and reciepts of the Dutch mobile anarchist kitchen Rampenplan. And won a city counsel seat in Belzig Germany.

Now he wants to do the 20th Ecotopia in Belzig in 2010. since the network he founded seems to have lost interest in the project, fearing it is not action oiented enough and too "life style" in approach.

Wam is a digital pioneer, but did his heavy lifting long before Facebook showed up. So is exploring this as a new organizing/discussion tool.

Wam tells stories and makes up words. "Constantainiously" is one of my favorites. It does not exactly mean constantly + instantaniously, but if you hold this meaning in mind, you will get something of the flavor of what he is trying to say.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Travel Troubles

When i hear something like "Romania is terrible" in my mind it translates into "we lost our bags and missed our train." As it has oft been ironically noted "all people who generalize are fools." [My experience of Romania, in years long past was it was wonderful.]

This trip has not been without it's troubles - between Hamm and Minden in Germany my backpack disappeared. i think it was stolen, since when the train stopped, i searched every wagon for bag to no avail and due to a communication failure with the conductor ended up getting separated from Angie, Hawina and Willow, who ended up going on to Belzig without me. [i arrived within minutes of them by taking the fast, but expensive ICE - intercity express].

A couple of new years back i resolved to stop packing, i made a number of trips without a bag, borrowing clothes and other key items from comrades on route, which worked okay - but slowly i gravitated back to bringing my own stuff. This bag which was lost, despite being mostly my stuff, was harder for the rest of my party, because it had some of Willows toys and our movies and Angie's clothes and trinkets.

More distressing was Willow tripping yesterday and ending up between the train and the platform in Berlin Haupt Bahnhof. i missed most of the action because i was wrestling with a Hawina's big rolly bag. But when i looked up i saw Hawina blocking exiting travelers while rescuing Willow's sneakers from beside the third rail. The quick German rail staff miss identified Willow as a girl and his foot as broken. Then again quickly another German rail person showed up with the forms to fill out to for us to receive paid for medical coverage. But after quick consultation with Willow, such assistance was not necessary and in an uncharacteristically rough manner i made the rail staff back off. I knew that Willow would be very unhappy if on top of his fall we missed our time compressed connection to Prague and some mama bear instinct came out in me that was going to get my kid to the train, regardless of the misinformed bureaucrats in the way.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Family Snapshot

my mentor told me to live like you are trying to keep the rader of your autobiography engdged.

i am in prague w/ my first wife adela my ex-daughter barborka and my second wife hawina and my lover angie and my son willow and we had dinner with janH who is bara's dad and adela's ex. part of the evening i spent skype chating with alda (who works for greenpeace in Latvia), who is janH's current partner in the presense of curious mix.

Teaching willow how to operate a lighter and to light candles at varying different flame heights. Listening to bara's music - some Czech, some English (Annie MacDonald and Snoop Dog), adela translates the piece she wrote for the Czech Maxim editors slamming her ex-boyfriends critique of womens aging bodies - by being even more critical of men becoming decrepit, angie shooting pictures of willow dancing on my sholders to bara's music, hawina chatting with corb and then coming up to watch the snippet of Happy Feet which is bara's favorite (in Czech, English and Spanish alternatingly) and brushing willows hair. It is simultaniously wonderfully cross cultural, richly intergenerational and fully alive.

There are perhaps people luckier than me. But i have never heard of them.