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"
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."
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.
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 ?