Category: festivals

When I left Twin Oaks, my partner and I were clear about our mutual desire to live in community.  I imagined he and I would quickly gather a group of people and start the process of forming a new community together.  A week or two after I left, I asked him when we should organize the first meeting and see who was interested.  “Meeting?  It’s gotta happen organically…”

A prime example of our different styles, and beyond that, a source of vital frustration for me as I struggled to align my yearning for community with our isolated nuclear family life.  I resented his lack of focus on creating a life we both said we wanted.  He thought I was impatient and unsatisfiable.   We’ve grown, though, and over the last 6 years something has indeed unfolded as we merged organic and intentional…  we’ve welcomed friends to live in our home for months, sharing tiny spaces with multiple adults, toddlers, and teenagers.  We’ve deepened connections with friends from around the country who gather for festivals a few times a year.  We’ve found ourselves as part of a “tribe” of freaky circus performers who get together several times a week to either practice or socialize (or both) — while our kids of all ages play together.

(Edited after a night of sleeping on it: It’s not just that we now have friends and deeper connections — it’s what we do together, and how we do it.  We cook group meals, help each other move, watch each others’ kids, celebrate birthdays and holidays, share the often chaotic waves of our lives… not just as friends one-on-one, but as a group, as a collective.)

Even though it doesn’t look like I thought it would, it’s working… in a different way than the systems and Bylaws of Twin Oaks does.  There’s a lot about those systems that I miss (like income-sharing… especially when our rent is due!), but I’m being challenged to translate the lessons from the commune into life in the larger world… and it’s working in beautiful ways.

This, I think, is the new direction this blog is finally taking — reporting to you live from Bohemia with my adventures in and reflection on cooperation for the masses.

working together

figuring it out...


I don’t have adequate words to describe the last 3 weeks of my life.  Extraordinary.  Other-worldly.  Transformative…  these don’t even come close.

I went to the Rainbow Gathering last month, in the mountains of West Virginia.  Thousands of people (at least 15,000 at the peak, I’ve heard) camping together and sharing food and responsibility with no exchange of money.  Everything happens through gift or barter, and all food is available to anyone for free.  I was there for 5 days, though the gathering lasts for about a month.  There was the typical drumming and dancing of any hippie festival, along with a multitude of kitchens cooking food for every meal, a yoga meadow, a kid’s village, and a trading avenue where folks with things to trade laid out their wares on blankets along the edge of the path.  People traded jewelry, clothes, medicine, tools, stones, and art.  I brought along some of my old jewelry and traded for a necklace and homemade pants for 3 yr old Willow (Pax’s son), and a hair wrap, a necklace, and a ring for myself.  I love the idea of moving out the old clutter of my life, passing the energy on to other people to enjoy, and creating opportunity for new things to come in to my world.  The ring that I traded for is wildly significant to me, and I’m wearing it every day.  The jingle of the bells on the end of my hair wrap (colored embroidery thread wound around a section of my hair) remind me constantly to relax and enjoy the moment, remembering the magic of the Rainbow Gathering.  Folks there call everyone “sister” or “brother”, and though at first it felt silly and cliched, I grew to love it as a reminder of our connectedness in the human family.

praying for peace on July 4

After Rainbow, I came back to Twin Oaks for two days and then headed off to “Summer Camp“, an event created by the Network For New Culture.  This 10 day event focused on intimacy and deepening relationships with ourselves and other people.  I originally planned to go because I had been invited to present a workshop on sensuality (“Living a Sensual Life” — it’s all about awareness and communication).  I was expecting to enjoy myself, have fun, and maybe learn some new things.  I wasn’t expecting a spiritually transformative experience, and it snuck up on me and bit me in the ass.  All of the workshops were designed to give people the opportunity to open themselves and explore their masks and fears… and then share their discoveries with the rest of the people there (a small community of about 40 people).  I’ve never been in a place where the collective goal is to express and honor what’s most authentic, even when it’s hard.  The depth of connection that forms out of this is incredible.  This event reminded me that connection and love are what I’m seeking with everyone I interact with, no matter what the nature of the interaction.  In a conflict, I’m seeking connection and love.  In a standard social script with the person behind the cash register, I’m seeking connection and love.  With all my co-communards, I’m seeking connection and love.  Nothing more, nothing else.

And now I’m back on the commune, and I’m trying to fit my daily life to this newly refreshed awareness.  I’m tempted to give in to the gravity of old habits, and when I notice myself doing that I find myself missing the richness I felt at Summer Camp and Rainbow.   So I breathe, take in the moment through all my senses (that’s the core of sensuality!), and remember to love.

Validation Day

Life here on the commune has been crazy and full.  Last night we had our “Validation Day” celebration, our cultural acquisition of Valentine’s Day.  We have the day off (meaning we get a day’s worth of labor credits to add to our labor balance for the week), and there are activities scheduled throughout the day (this year it was jewelry making, a table-tennis tournament, and cooperative games).  In the evening we have a lavish dinner — we often celebrate holidays on Saturdays because George and Jake are the Saturday cooks and they make marvelously rich meals (George used to be a chef in a French restaurant before he moved to the commune).

At dinner we go through a ritual of card distribution.  Folks have been working for the past month on creating elaborate cards for each member (we put out a membership list and one person signs up to make an individual’s card — so each person ends up with one card).  Most cards are collages of images and phrases that are somehow relevant to the individual, though this year there was a trend towards more creative conceptual cards (a cardboard accordion, a hula hoop made out of toilet paper rolls, lots of hand-drawn images…).  We try to have all the cards made and out in an alphabetized box about a week before the party, so that folks have enough time to go through and write in all 100ish cards (we do cards for a few ex-members who still have strong connections with the cmty, and also local friends).  The comments are intended to be appreciations and validations of the person whose card it is, not necessarily declarations of love or desire for intimacy.  Lots of folks write things like “I really appreciate the hard work you do in the dairy” or “thanks for being so willing to listen to me when I’m having a hard time” or “I love watching you work with the kids”.  Folks write all over the cards for about a week (some, like me, waiting until the last minute and spending a few hours in the lounge yesterday with the other last-minuters).

At dinner, three or four people get up and read comments, anonymously, from the cards.  We all then try to guess whose card it is, based on the content of the comments.  About 70 of us were at dinner last night (we never have everyone in the cmty in one place, ever), yelling out names until we got it right.  Some of the guesses were funny: “You’re a great leader and I appreciate the way you articulate your ideas” inspired someone to yell “Gwen!”, our youngest child (2).  When we got the name right, that person received co’s card, which ideally hadn’t been seen before then.

Looking through my card can be a bit emotionally overwhelming.  It’s a
love letter from my community, from my friends and chosen family, and
also from people who know me peripherally.  I get to read what people
think about me (though only the positive stuff), what they value in me
and my presence in the community.  I was crying before I finished
reading the first page, just from raw, amplified emotion.   The card
itself is amazing, too — an artistic representation of how someone
views me.  My friend Mala made my card; she’s a very verbal person and
my card was abundant in funny and inspiring phrases cut out of
magazines, all of which relate to me in some way.

In the midst of all the celebration, I felt a bit disappointed after reading through my card.  Certainly appreciative and honored by all the folks who wrote such sweet things… and at the same time, a bit “unseen” by lots of people.  I got a lot of appreciation for the theater I do here and the organizing I’m doing around our current musical — that was the overwhelming sentiment I got from the card.  My closer friends wrote much more personal messages and those were fantastic, and I still wanted more people to see a TickledSpirit deeper than the theater, deeper than the big projects I do.  I’m sad that people’s experience of me is so shallow, excepting my closer friends.  Few people wrote about me, my personality and their experience of ME… they just wrote about what I do here, and even then only about this one thing that I do here.

argh… I’ve been having a hard time in general lately… the winter blues?  Maybe… I don’t think so.  I’ve been going at a breakneck speed for the past month — doing doing doing doing and I haven’t spent much time at all taking care of myself, writing, dancing, painting, thinking!  Maybe my Validation Day card is merely a reflection of that, and the piece that stings so much is the truth of it.


to finish the recap of the night — after dinner I went over to a friend’s room to get ready for the dance (first she listened to me cry and vent about having a hard time — friends are great).  She lives near the community center where dinner and the dance were being held, and she invited a bunch of people to come over and get ready.  We modeled costumes and helped each other zip zippers and lace corsets (yes, corsets) and offered fashion consultation, then headed over for the dance.  The All Request Dance Band played an all Motown set (I sang lead on “Shop Around” and “Heat Wave”, and played sexy backup singer on every other song).  I loved singing “Stop in the Name of Love” — when I was 12 it was a song I would sing in my room in front of my mirror, holding an invisible microphone to my lips and belting out the chorus in my adolescent voice, doing all the hand motions.  To sing it in front of a real band in front of a real audience with a real microphone was so gratifying, fulfilling a childhood fantasy as I thrust my hand out, palm forward, belting out “Stop! in the name of love, before you break my heart” and then twirling my finger “think it oh-whoahoh-ver”.

When the band was done playing someone jumped into DJ mode and we had a dance party that lasted to the wee hours of the morning.  I danced and kissed and danced and snuck away to the “makeout couches” once or twice (which the party decorators labeled with a huge sign that said “Lips Lounge”).  The Kissing Booth is a mainstay of Twin Oaks’ Validation Day dances, and the makeout couches were an extension of that.  Hippie commune?  Sometimes we play right into the stereotype, I guess.

I left the party after some more kissing and dancing and some delightful contact improv with the DJ (my friend from New Year’s Eve — our relationship has deepened a lot in the past month… lovely!).  I walked back to my room alone in the starlight, stopping on the path to look up and take in the expanse of clear sky.  I was in the mood for some brilliant insight about the nature of life… I just saw the stars.  And that was enough for me right then.  I’ll find brilliant insight some other time.

Even on January 7, folks are still recovering from the New Year’s Eve party.  The physical recovery was easy enough with the 80 degree (F) weather on New Year’s Day.  People gathered in the courtyard to sit in the grass in shorts and tank tops, drink carrot juice (quite a treat with homegrown organic carrots), and play music and sing and enjoy living on a commune.  Quite the vision of utopian life… whatever hangovers still lingered were melted away by the sunshine and commune love…

The real recovery is of the “I can’t believe that really happened/did that really happen?” variety.  The party was an extraordinary experience, and now people are figuring out how to move on with reality.  Maybe it’s just me… I had an amazing time on New Year’s Eve, and now I’m looking at how to incorporate all that happened then into my daily life now.

The New Year’s party is a time out of time.  It’s culturally developed into a space of unlimited possibility.  Twin Oakers anticipate the experience of wild magic, and create a collective energy that allows anything to happen.  Old relationships are rekindled, emotional wounds are spontaneously healed, and vibrant new connections are formed.  Dance music plays from 8pm until at least 4am, and the dance floor vibrates with raw energy — sometimes packed to capacity, other times vacated for a spectacle of performace by a few wild people.  Musicians filter in and out of the acoustic music room, the ladder to the “cuddle loft” is often occupied, and an upstairs living room hosts the “Temple of Oracles” where folks can go for tarot and rune readings by empaths, healers, and wise ones.

Ex-members come home, some even flying halfway around the world to be here on Dec 31.   Friends and other guests come for the experience too, so the community is full of people we don’t usually get to see.  The days leading up to New Year’s Eve help build the energy, as more people arrive and the excitement amplifies as we welcome more people we love into our home.  A friend and lover of mine came down from Massachusetts, my ex-member partner who lives down the road was here, and Pax —  who has been travelling for the past six months — was home for 4 days before jetting off to Europe again.  All this, in addition to the ex-members and other friends who made it out here for the party.  What a full life!

The party was extraordinary for me for a few key reasons.  I had a reconciliation with someone who I’ve had some friction with for the past year.  He and I had been getting close early on in our friendship, and then we both started to distance ourselves when things got complicated.  He and I ended up on the dance floor together in an intense dance that evolved into quite a fantastic spectacle — we’re both “contact improv” enthusiasts and we ended up doing lots of acrobatics together, rolling around and throwing each other alll over the place.  We ended up in a tangle on the floor and hugged, and he whispered to me “Let’s learn from our past mistakes.”  Then we both jumped up and started dancing, and I smiled and laughed uninhibitedly.   We shared a sweet kiss later on in the evening, and I’m excited about the potential for our deepening connection.  Part of my “party recovery” has been checking in with him about his experience of us that night, and finding out to my delight that he’s also interested in exploring a deeper connection.   I also had lovely moments with other friends — jubilant declarations of appreciation and affection, and intense confessions of respect and admiration.  Seeing these people around the commune in the past few days has been fantastic, reconnecting with that energy of love from the party.

The party was also an experience of much of the inner work I’ve been doing for the past 6 months (uh… 10 years?) coming to fruition.  Something about the extraordinary “carnival” nature of the party (time out of time) helped me allow myself to BE who I’ve been TRYING TO BE.  I got rid of the trying, and just did it.  In the midst of the experience, I took a step back for some brief analysis (so I could have a better understanding of it later, outside of the context of the party).  I realized that I allow myself to be more free when I don’t feel responsible for the experience of other people.  When I trust other people to take care of themselves emotionally, I can act from a more authentic and clearer place.  AND, when i don’t make myself responsible for other people’s experiences, I also don’t make other people responsible for my experience.  If I’m not enjoying myself, it’s completely within my capabilities to change how I’m engaging with a situation — I don’t have to blame anyone for my dissatisfaction; I can simply choose to shift my
participation in whatever it is.

An example of this for me was when I was engaged in a conversation with a woman at the party.  I realized pretty soon into the conversation that I wasn’t very interested in talking with her, and that I actually wanted to be talking with other folks across the room.  I noticed myself trying to make a graceful escape, and getting bitter at her for not taking my subtle hints.  I didn’t like being bitter with her (I actually like her!), so I decided just to be clear.  I smiled, and said “I really want to connect with some people over there — have a great night”.  I hugged her and moved away.  I felt GREAT having communicated what was really true for me instead of trying to negotiate through social conventions.  I don’t want to put my energy into trying to figure out the best way to take care of people.  I just want to say what’s most true for me and go forward from there.

Of course, the broader view is that I DO care about how my actions impact people and I don’t want to ignore my effect on the people around me.  This “New Year’s Revelation” is mostly about moving in a  direction on a spectrum — I’ve been so focused on taking care of other people to the point of not taking care of myself.  I see the freedom in taking responsibility for my experience and giving other people the space to take responsibility for their experiences, and I want to cultivate that more in my life, while still maintaining a deep awareness of what’s happening around me (and within me!).

so that was my New Year’s experience.  We’re all getting back to business here now, as the ex-members head home to their post-commune lives and we get back to figuring out our drastically-reduced finances for 2005.  There’s still a feeling of festiveness in the air as we head into this weekend.   One member, Sean, is having an art opening at a gallery in town and 40 people from the community are going in to support him tonight.  Some folks are making treats, and our own homegrown Klezmer band (the Vulgar Bulgars) are going to play.  I’m warmed so sweetly by the care people here show to fellow communards, especially around individual pursuits like this (though admittedly, this isn’t always the case… just to be honest).  And tomorrow night is the first performance of the play we’ve been rehearsing for two months — The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.  It’s an intense emotional drama, and I’m excited to share it with the community.  We’ve taken over one of the larger living rooms (the same one used for the New Year’s party, in fact!) and converted it into a theater.  We’ve got stage lights and everything!  For those of you who know the show, I play Tillie.  For those of you who know me, it’s quite a challenging role for this former cheerleader, the character’s personality highlight being restrained exuberance.

well, I hope this post satiates all you hungry readers who I’ve slightly neglected for the past couple months.   Carry on your merry ways, and enjoy yourselves.