Category: Twin Oaks

I’m applying for admission to an Interfaith Seminary, to get ordained as a generic spiritual leader and spiritual counselor.  Part of the application asks for a 2-3 page essay on my spiritual journey.  I was daunted at first, wondering how to put it into words and make it that SHORT.   A friend suggested to just write, and then edit it down later.  I got up early for the several days, before anyone else in the house, and this is what came… (and it comes in at exactly 3 pages!):

My early childhood was mostly non-religious.  We went to a Methodist church as a family until my parents divorced when I was six, then both parents stopped attending and religion was no longer a part of our lives.

Early in High School I got involved in the Christian youth group, Young Life, because a close friend invited me to go with her.  I felt compelled by the social acceptance and sense of community I felt there, and then started believing what was said about Jesus, the Bible, and God.  I found power and meaning especially in the Bible verses that glorified the power of God, emphasizing the works and laws of the spirit as greater than the works and laws of people.

I dove in, and attended all the weekly Bible studies, social evenings, and regional gatherings with other high schools.  I started dating a boy who identified strongly as a Christian, as did his whole family.  I attended church with them regularly, and we spent a summer teaching Vacation Bible School together.

Around this time, my mom started attending a Unity Church of “New Thought” Christianity.  At first, going with her to Unity felt like an extension of my new Christian identity, and I enthusiastically got involved in the high school group there.   The teachings of Unity about “Christ within” gave me an enriched understanding of Christianity that felt powerful and personal to me.  It brought all the history of the Bible into a new and relevant context.  Through new practices of meditation and guided self-reflection, I began to experience a connection with the sacred energy within me.

When my Christian boyfriend came to church with me, he was appalled by the blasphemy of the idea that all people have the same potential as Christ.  He said if I believed that, I wasn’t a real Christian.  After long hours of tearful debate, I conceded that I believed in “Christ within” more than the concepts of sin and salvation that we taught in Vacation Bible School.  He said he couldn’t date a non-Christian, and we ended our relationship.  His family, who had taken me in as a “third daughter”, told me they were very sad I was going to hell.

My new identity as a “non-Christian” was powerful to me, because it was a choice to go against what was socially acceptable for the sake of following my truth.  Looking for truth within me became my spiritual path.

For the rest of high school, I continued attending Unity and developing my understanding of the sacred flowing through all things, including through me.  I experienced deep self-acceptance, unconditional love with my peers, and respect from adults in the congregation.  The summer I graduated, I attended an international conference at Unity Village, where I participated in a long meditation to connect with my purpose in life.  When asked in the meditation “what are you here to do?”, the answer rose clear and strong from deep within me: “to help people learn to love”.   That was the first time I remember hearing the voice of spirit so clearly, and the message has been an important mantra of purpose throughout my life.

That same summer after graduating, we took a family vacation to Moab, Utah.  We camped out in the desert, and slept under a sky of stars that left me speechless.  Driving with my mom and her sister in an open Jeep through the wild canyons, laughing and singing, a new sense of inner freedom rooted in me.   We were “wild women”, full of power and potential, loving ourselves and each other and the amazing Earth that embraced us.

On the drive back to Denver, we stopped at a tiny truck stop on the side of the highway.  I took a walk through the woods to stretch my legs, and walked around a bend to witness a magnificent vista of a grand mountain rising above and reflected in a clear lake.  I stood in awe and gratitude, feeling my connection with the Earth and the spirit flowing through all things.  I got back into the car a changed person, devoted to the Earth on a spiritual level.

That moment marked the beginning of my exploration of Pagan spirituality.  I was fascinated by the practice of honoring the cycles of the seasons and using the elements of air, fire, water, and earth and the four directions for their different qualities.  In college I took weekly walks in the forest for “church”, learning to intentionally tap into that sense of connection.

My mother recently told me that she thought I had given up on spirituality while I was in college.  She didn’t know about those walks in the woods, and she also didn’t know the spiritual side of my academic work.  I majored in Religion, because those were the classes to which I felt most drawn. I studied “Myth and Symbol”, “Use of Dance in Aboriginal Rituals”, and “Images of the Divine in German Literature”. I eagerly explored the Bible as historical document, comparative analysis of Judaism and Christianity, the philosophy of religion, Confucianism, and Zen and Taoism.  These classes enlivened me.  Schoolwork wasn’t tedious – it was spiritual exploration.  In all my classes, I tried to weave the essence of the different teachings and doctrines into my spiritual understanding, and through that practice I developed a multifaceted sense of the sacred that transcended any one religion.  Since then, I’ve found it difficult to identify with any one religious category.

In parallel to my classes in Religion, I found myself passionate about the study of society and culture, and chose to also major in Sociology.  I loved wrapping my mind around all the ways that reality is filtered and obscured by the social meanings that we learn through our culture.  Learning to identify and disarm the social assumptions in my perception and understanding of the world around me became yet another spiritual practice.

My studies in Sociology led me to a determined belief that there must be a different way for people to live together, a culture that intentionally combats destructive social assumptions like racism, sexism, and classism, honors the Earth, and celebrates our connectedness instead of dividing people through economic competition.  A year after graduating from college, I learned about Twin Oaks, an “intentional community” (aka commune) in Virginia that had started in the 1960s and was still thriving.  I visited, loved it, and made it my home for 4 years.

At Twin Oaks I found a group of 100 people who were creating the life I had envisioned.  Working together, sharing, and cooperating were at the center of all social systems there.  I found myself connecting more deeply with people on a daily basis – in celebration and in conflict, but it was the depth of relationship that compelled me.  Our inherent connection with each other was undeniable.  So too was our connection with the Earth, as we lived rurally and ate from the garden, heated with wood from the forest, and worked and played outside most of the time.

At Twin Oaks I practiced the art of having integrity in relationships with others, and with myself – life on a commune doesn’t work, otherwise.  Through observation, mentorship, and trial and error, I learned how to be lovingly honest, compassionate, and accepting of hard truths.  This became a deeply spiritual practice of stepping beyond the layer of emotions and ego, learning to open my heart in the face of fear, developing a faith that what lay underneath my ego was far more powerful, and would lead me where I needed to go.  I attended, and eventually taught, workshops and retreats focused on various practices for creating healthy relationships based on these principles.  This became the bedrock of my current spiritual beliefs and practice.

I left Twin Oaks when I fell in love with a man who didn’t want to live there.  I knew deeply that he was my partner in life, and left the life I loved to marry him and create a life together.  I felt like I stepped off a cliff.  I stumbled through 4 years of early marriage and creating a life in mainstream culture.  My husband and I got tangled up in our differences and shut down to each other.  I sank quickly into the darkness of fear, self-judgment, and blame.  I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and I was so caught in the darkness that the idea of doing anything about it felt overwhelming.  I felt alone, ashamed, and hopeless, lost in the realm of ego.

After our daughter was born, I felt a spark inside me to get my life back on track, a refusal to raise my child in the life I was living.  I slowly recommitted to my practices of self-reflection and opening (writing, tarot, meditation), knowing I had to go through the painful process of looking at my life and facing what I had created, so I could change it.  I knew that the alternative of staying shut down and hopeless would ultimately be even more painful, for me and for the child who was looking to me for love and truth.

I began with the determined belief that a better life was possible, and stubbornly searched until new possibilities emerged.  My husband and I came back to conversations we had ignored because they created too much conflict.  We started to find the magic we had forgotten, the beauty of our differences working in tandem, and the joy of surrendering as individuals to the spirit of partnership between us.

Early in the process of recreating my life, I felt compelled to find a church.   After visiting the Quaker Meeting and the Unitarian Church several times and not finding what I wanted, I gave Unity a try again.  I immediately felt at home.  I cried through the service, and prayed with a chaplain afterwards to remember my strength and connection with spirit.

I started attending regularly.  Though the language didn’t match with what I had come to use for my spiritual experience, the message behind the words rang true.  I felt embraced by the congregation, supported lovingly in my process of coming back to myself.

I committed myself to my spiritual practice again, and the voice of spirit within me came clearer and stronger.  Listening and accepting became easier, and exciting. The teachings of Unity reminded me of the beauty and magic that unfold when I act in alignment with Spirit. My spiritual practice began to expand beyond self-reflection and contemplation, into the realm of action and creation, moving out of my mind and into my body.  I committed to the practice of following my inspirations, even when I didn’t understand them.

This has brought me to a new way of living in the world.  I tap into the web of energy that connects all things, and look to find my place in it, to feel inspiration.   I feel it as a tug within me, calling me forward.   When I struggle to feel the pull, I open again through writing, dancing, tarot, and meditation, listening for the distinct voice of spirit, the now familiar sense of knowing.

My current sense of this Divine Spirit is that it is the energy that composes all that is, the substance of the Universe.  It has a resonance and a movement that is growth, opening, and union.  Any sense of separateness is an illusion that distorts our perception, and this illusion is the source of fear, pain, and struggle.  When I release that illusion, surrender the ego to the flow of Spirit, my life aligns and resonates with all existence.  From that place, I know what is mine to do.

Moment by moment, again and again; this is the work of Living.


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’m pretty excited to be stepping back into blogging.  Integrating the old “Over the Edge” commune blog into “Passion and Patience” is fulfilling work… turning my seemingly-fragmented life into a cohesive body of work.  Tonight I’ve been re-reading posts from the last several years  — seeing what feelings, intentions, and pursuits have persisted or changed, especially since leaving the commune in January 2006… almost exactly 6 years ago!  In honor of that anniversary, I’m re-posting part of my entry from January 23, 2006, just a few days after I left:

journey of colorI’ve left Twin Oaks. In most moments, it doesn’t feel particularly extraordinary. I’m here at my partner Free’s house, hanging out with him and his kids. This is familiar to me; this has been a part of my life for nearly a year… this house, these people. I’ve been slowly integrating myself into this place (and this place into myself), and it doesn’t feel significantly different to be here without Twin Oaks to return “home” to… yet.

Right now, from the comfort of a house where I feel supported and loved, on a cozy Monday morning of tea and NPR, it’s hard to dive into the grief and fear of two days ago. Where to start? I spent my last day at Twin Oaks in a strange limbo. I had high expectations… I wanted intensity and meaningfulness, symbolic releases and powerful goodbyes. Instead, the whole day was fairly mellow. I had a morning date with Hawina, who has been a giant force in my life since early in my membership. She’s Paxus’ life partner and co-parent, and throughout my time at Twin Oaks we had several intense rounds of polyamory-induced emotional and logistical processing. We started to develop our own independent relationship through working together on the Mental Health Team over the last year, and our friendship now is deeper than I would have expected, given our history.

We chatted for awhile, then walked around the community and told each other stories of our experiences in different places. We ended up at the dining hall, and went inside for lunch. I got a plate of food and sat down with a group of friends in a small lounge area. Taking in the scene around me, friends laughing and entertaining the new baby, I felt an immediate emptiness, noting the joy and comfort and deep friendship I would be leaving in just a few hours. A friend across the room made eye contact with me, and the tears that had been building in my eyes suddenly released down my cheeks. She came over and wrapped her arms around me while I sobbed. I don’t mind crying in public; in fact, I like it. I want it to be natural to see people expressing sadness. I want to embrace sadness as an acceptable emotion, and so when I’m sad I don’t go hide out somewhere to cry unseen.

Other friends came over and sat with me, holding me and stroking my head. I calmed down and talked about how weird it felt to be there with them, and be on completely different trajectories. They were engaged in the continuing functioning of the community — I wasn’t. I was engaged in extracting myself from the fabric of their lives, while their lives continued on.

After lunch I spent a few hours getting ready for my goodbye party with another woman, Alexis, who was also leaving in a few days. We decided to have party together, sharing the experience of letting go and moving on. We decorated a large living room with all of our clothes and other items we were getting rid of, for other people to take. We hung clotheslines around the room to display our clothing, and laid out candles, earrings, condoms, and posters for our friends to choose from.

Once the room was ready for the evening’s festivities, I left to say my final goodbyes to the community. I walked around with my journal and took a few moments in different places around the commune to write memories and reflections on my experiences in those places. I wrote in the dining hall about rehearsals for musicals, meals with friends, wild dance parties, and hackey sack circles outside on sunny days. In the dairy barn, I wrote about the smell of the cows, the playfulness of the calves, the intuitive skill of herding, and the silence of solitary winter mornings. In a high field near the graveyard, I remembered moments of retreat and reflection, rituals for full moons and other pagan holidays, and running in the rain for sanctuary when my grandmother died.

In that same pasture, I engaged myself in a ritual of release. I had brought a piece of wood that I found in Maine before I moved to Twin Oaks, a bouquet of lavender from the herb garden that had been hanging in my room, and a rock I had found during a full moon mediation in that very field. I released the wood and set it softly on the earth, symbolizing that which I brought to Twin Oaks with me, and was leaving there: hesitance, passivity, deference to authority, fear of being wrong, naive independence. I then scattered the lavender beside it, symbolic of that which I acquired and experienced at Twin Oaks, and was also leaving behind: the cows, the land, daily responsibility to community members, full benefit of the collective resources of the community, safety, sanctuary. Finally, I held the rock against my chest, envisioning the confident, powerful, compassionate Self that I’ve found at Twin Oaks. Awareness and empathy, clear and honest communication, an active sense of responsibility… I want to carry this persona with me as I move on, and so I brought the rock, infused with that vision, with me. I looked at the wood and lavender on the ground, and felt the weight of the rock in my hand, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to symbolize that which I brought with me and am also carrying on with me. I looked through my bag and couldn’t find anything that fit the description, so I used my body, my eyes and lungs and nose and skin and heart. I thanked my body for carrying me to Twin Oaks, and thanked it for staying healthy enough to carry me away.

I came down from the pasture, and had enough time before dinner to hang out a bit with Paxus. It felt important to spend some time together on my last day, rooting ourselves in our continuing connection despite our many changes. We will certainly have a different relationship now that I’ve left Twin Oaks; what it looks like is up to us.

After dinner, I headed down to the courtyard to finish preparations for the party. Alexis and I had decided to have a “feed your friends” party, where no one fed themselves from their own hands. Instead, we had finger food (pineapple, grapes, chocolate, popcorn, and cake) that people could feed to each other. Once it got rolling, people walked around with platefulls of food and offered to feed each person they interacted with (I did it a lot, and loved it!). The whole party was great — folks grabbed the clothes we had on display and wore them as party outfits. We had a coffeehouse where people performed (juggling, singing, and spoken word tributes to Alexis and me), and we all danced until late in the evening. I returned to my room around 1am to finish packing. I went to sleep at 4:45 and woke up again at 6:15 to get ready to leave with the 8am trip into town.

I spent my last hour and a half at Twin Oaks running around doing final details, cleaning out my message slot, returning things I’d borrowed, and emptying my trashcan. I found Paxus one last time for our final goodbye, and then picked up my bags to load into the minivan. A friend had posted a note on the office door for me, saying simply “You will be missed” in big bold letters. I took it down as my tears started, and held it in my hand as I climbed into the van with the other folks going into town that day. We drove around to the dairy barn to pick up the milk that was to be delivered to cowshare customers (though raw, unpasturized milk can’t be sold, people can buy a share in a specific cow and receive milk from the cow that they partly own). On top of that day’s milk was another note for me, from a friend who was that morning’s milker and knew I was going in with the town trip.

Her note kept my tears flowing as we drove away from Twin Oaks, my home of three and a half years. Folks in the van asked me about my plans, and assured me that I could always come back if I wanted to. The driver offered jokingly to turn around. I cried, and felt comfortable with my tears. I chatted with a friend who I hadn’t spent much time with lately, a man named Thomas who joined the community just before I did.

The 45 minute drive passed quickly. We dropped one woman off at an early dentist appointment, and then everyone else unloaded at the downtown library. Before we headed off in our own directions, Thomas hugged me tightly and offered to help me carry my bags into the library. “No thanks,” I said. “I want to know I can do it all by myself.” It wasn’t a feminist political statement — more, it was a symbolic act of independence and my capacity to take care of myself.

As I write it now, I realize that’s only part of it. The truth is, we are all interdependent, whether we recognize it or not. The very nature of life on Earth is interdependence. Living in community just makes it more tangible. I don’t want to forget that truth simply because it’s more obscured in the mainstream culture. And yet, it felt important to me to feel my independence as I walked away from the van and my life at Twin Oaks.

Friday was hard for me, more than I expected. Sitting in the library, I felt aimless, no roots, no direction, just floating in limbo. I spent the day in deep grief and sadness about leaving my home and my friends of over 3 years, wondering what I’m heading towards and being fearful about not knowing. I cried with Free and he held me. I blamed him for picking me up late at the library and dragging me around town to run errands, and he held me. I cried and talked about my fears and he just gave me the space to be scared, giving me his love and reminding me about hope and faith.

Then on Saturday, I borrowed the car and ran some errands around town. I started a bank account. I stopped by the library to check my email. I sang in the car about how the earth is my home. I’m not rootless, I’m rooted in the earth and the global community.

As I walked down the street towards the library, this time unencumbered with bags, I felt my independence and my interdependence merging. I smiled at people I passed on the street, and they smiled back. This is my mandate for myself on this piece of the journey. Trust myself, and trust other people. Remember my independence, my capacity to create what I want, and my strength, and at the same time remember my connection with others, my responsibility to the people around me, and my commitment to honoring each person for who they are, even when I don’t understand them. We’re all in this together.

I felt a little under the weather last night, so I went to bed before coming up with my lesson plan for teaching today.  When I woke up, I felt better and quickly came up with an activity that meant that I wouldn’t have to talk very much, leaving more up to my students to assimilate ideas and explain them to their peers.  After leading 2 of my 4 classes so far, I remember that this is really the way I want to teach!  I want to facilitate their own thought process instead of telling them mine — they learn more when they’re the ones thinking, instead of just writing down the brilliant things I say.  Any good leader or teacher is really just a facilitator, providing a context in which people can explore their own experience and ideas, be challenged to go deeper, and listen to the ideas and reflections of others.

Why has it taken me so long to remember this?  (I now live in a culture that promotes and rewards individualism, rather than collaboration… mainstream culture has been brainwashing me since I left the commune almost 2 years ago!)  It’s no surprise to me that I came up with this activity after spending the weekend at Twin Oaks…


A disturbing trend: I’ve been getting alot of comments recently about how “good” I look.  “Wow, have you lost a little weight?  You look great!”
I’ve lost weight because I’m not eating heathly and I’m miserable.  I feel worse than I have since the teenage angst of high school.  And yet, because I’ve lost weight, I look “good.”  I don’t know how to respond to people when they tell me that.  I don’t want to reinforce that message to myself, or to them.  I don’t want to take on the belief that skinny is good, despite the context.  I loved my body at Twin Oaks, surrounded by appreciation for the human body in all its forms.  I loved my curves and my strong arms and my hands rough from working in the garden.  Now my skin is smooth and my belly is flat, and I feel weak and lifeless.  THIS is what I’m getting appreciated for?

A friend just wrote in response to a depressed and distressed message I sent her. In her short note, she asked:

> tell me what’s in your heart right now that you
> don’t want to see or know! and what is keeping you
> going and sustaining you?

I replied:

Thanks for asking the great questions. What’s true for me that I don’t want to see? I’m changing… my identity as communard, radical lifestyle activist, and polyamorous multi-lovered independent spirit has diffused away, and I feel mainstream and uninteresting, unchallenging to a crazy system. I feel ineffective and unimportant, like my life is just becoming a part of the Machine. I’ve lost a sense of what I offer the world… I’ve lost a sense of purpose and passion. I don’t have a driving motivation behind what I do everyday… I just do it because I’m “supposed” to. This is the life I judged in other people from my lofty seat at Twin Oaks, where my life was grand and important and fulfilling a larger purpose. Now I’m judging my own life from that perspective, and I hate it. AND, the hardest part is that I don’t see a path towards something different, except back to TO, which isn’t a possibility as long as I’m with Free.

These are the thoughts that drag me down. What sustains me? Coming back to the belief that my purpose in the world is to share love and offer the experience of love to whoever I come in contact with. Remembering that I have the capacity to be open and loving whenever I choose it. Writing in my journal and working with tarot helps me remember, and dancing, and sitting in meditation. Crying to Free helps sometimes, when he just listens, and when I feel his love I remember my own capacity to love.

thanks for asking… it helps to acknowledge both pieces.


blog recommendation: a newly-started account of another just-left-the-commune journey. Kassia is a vivacious, passionate, wise fiddler exploring polyamory, travelling, and life after community (and a close friend of mine!) Find her HERE.

I’m having a hard day, acknowledging the ways that my life isn’t what I want it to be right now.  I feel like I’ve lost my passion — at least, I don’t know where it is right now.  My days are lazy compared to my days at Twin Oaks, so much routine, so much unimportant bullshit.  I haven’t created a meaningful life for myself out here.  I guess I should say, I haven’t done it YET.  A lot of what’s hard for me is getting stuck in despair and hopelessness.  My life isn’t what I want it to be and I don’t see the path towards it… (but really, that’s because I don’t have a clear vision of what I want!)

 I visited Twin Oaks this weekend for a birthday party for Jonah, a six year-old who turned 2 just months after I moved to the community.  I’ve watched him learn how to talk, count, and argue, and seen his personality develop through mirroring the many adults close to him.  It felt like home to be at his birthday party.  It was a Harry Potter party (yup, even on the commune, people are obsessed with Hogwarts!), and everyone dressed up as a character from the stories.  Jonah was Harry, and his 3 yr old sister was Hermione (as was my 6 yr old stepson Ruis, Jonah’s best friend).  An older man in the community (Jake, for those who know) was Dumbledore (using a green graduation robe from Commie Clothes, and his own gray beard!).  There was a Prof McGonagall (Madge) and a Prof Snape (Thomas).  A couple who just had a baby last year (Mala and Ezra) were Harry’s dead parents, and Zadek (their son) was baby Harry.  A red-haired boy was Ron (Rowan), and a redhead Canadian woman was a distant Weasly relative from Canada (Valerie).  I ran up to Commie Clothes (the collective free “thrift store”) before the party to find a costume, and settled on Moaning Myrtle.  It turned out that I wasn’t as original as I thought, because Hawina showed up crying with pigtails, too!  (There were also several muggles, who hadn’t found anything to wear as a costume)

 I loved being at the party, celebrating and playing dress-up with my (still) closest friends.  Jonah’s mom had arranged a treasure hunt as part of the party, and asked me and two other women to canoe around the pond and place lighted tea-lights in the water for the finale.  In the light of dusk, we rowed across the water and talked about our lives, lighting candles until we looked behind us and realized that the wind had blown almost all of them out.  Alas! When the kids came down to the pond they were still excited to be rowed across to the sauna, which was really Hagrid’s cabin, where they all received wands.  When the kids were safely across (life jackets and all), I curled up on the bank of the pond with my two friends.  We snuggled and talked about our lives until the sun went down and it was time for dinner.

Earlier in the day, before the party, I facilitated a meeting between two of my friends.  They work together as part of a team at Twin Oaks, and had been struggling some with personal dynamics, old issues for both of them.  We had all worked together as part of the same team, and they had asked me to come out and help them talk through some of the issues with each other.  I was honored to be asked, that they trusted me to hold the space for them to talk about hard things.  This is another thing that I miss out here… people who want to work through their issues and who take steps forward together.  There’s a deeper incentive to do it at Twin Oaks, because people are interwoven into each other’s lives.  Though not everyone at Twin Oaks does it, there’s an assumption that it’s at least a possibility, and many (if not most) pursue mediation together when there’s a conflict.

By dinnertime, I was feeling the power of life at Twin Oaks, a rich mixture of work and play.  I felt fulfilled in the work I had done to mediate the dialogue for my friends, and assist Thea with Jonah’s party (and take responsibility for childcare for Ruis all day!).  The whole time I was “working”, I was also engaged in deep connections with my close friends.  Everything I did was working towards strengthening relationships, and thus strengthening the community.  I miss that clarity of purpose, present through all kinds of different actions and experiences.  How can I find that out here, beyond the commune?  Can everything I do be a part of strengthening relationships when I don’t know the people around me?  When there are cultural expectations that foster isolation and superficial relationships?  How do I catapult beyond those?  And, how do I immunize myself against their influence… how do I keep myself from getting sucked in by the pervasive culture of isolation when I’m surrounded by people not making eye contact, ignoring the other people standing at the bus stop, sitting in a whole roomful of people and not interacting with a single one because they’re all staring straight forward at their computer screen?  How can I foster community here, when no one feels connected to people except who they’ve “chosen” as friends?  The KEY of community is recognizing our interdependence beyond our small sphere of experience.

 After dinner I hung out with two close friends while Ruis, Jonah, and Willow played down the hall.  Ah, the power of a communal residence.  We were in my friend Sky’s room, which is just up the stairs from Jonah and Gwen’s room (right next to their dad’s room), which is just down the hall from Willow and his mom’s rooms.  The kids bounced back and forth between Willow and Jonah’s rooms, and I didn’t have to worry at all about Ruis because he could easily come get me if he needed to.

 Sky and Kassia and I talked about our lives, relationships, fears, and possibilities… these are the kinds of conversations I miss.  Sharing deep reflections, laughing and snuggling, taking turns being in the middle… Is it just that I haven’t developed new relationships in my life out here, or is there something intrinsic to the communal experience?  I think it’s a little bit of both.  The depth to which we’re able to share with each other is rooted in our shared experience and our intense interdependence.

 I’m working on being patient, remembering that I left the community in part because I wanted to do the work of building community in the larger world.  I need to remember that it will take time and work, and I need to find other ways of nurturing myself while I’m doing this work.  Going back to Twin Oaks feels healthy, reminding me of what’s possible.  Instead of feeling hopeless because of how much of my life out here isn’t what I want it to be, I want to focus on the work that I want to do to offer something different.  What does that look like?  That’s the question I want to focus on… it’s all about believing that it’s possible.

the real world?

It’s been so long… what to say?  How can I summarize the past few months in the 30 minutes I have until teaching my next class?

Life away from the commune is hard for me.  When I told that to my boss at the summer camp, he said, “Welcome to the real world.”  That’s the thing — after living at Twin Oaks, I KNOW that this isn’t the “real world.”  Now I know that more is possible, this out here isn’t as satisfying to me.  The “real world” includes so much more than what people in this culture generally accept as possible.  Twin Oaks is just as “real” as my everyday life right now… sometimes, it feels like it’s MORE real.  I had real connections with people, not just passing “howareyou?finehowareyou?”s.  I engaged in real decisionmaking processes instead of voting for white men to represent my ideas and beliefs and values.  I did real, tangible work of growing food, nurturing children, fixing broken fences, and creating works of art.  What’s really real?

I struggle with how luxurious grad school feels sometimes.  There’s work to be done, in my house, in my neighborhood, in this city, country, and world… and I sit inside and read social theory.  When there’s work that needs to be done, why am I not doing something?  Ah, right, I’m teaching.  One day a week, I get to talk with students about the world that they’re likely to recreate, and suggest the possibility that something else is possible, and even necessary.  This one day a week, I feel effective and fulfilled in how I use my time and energy (isn’t this the same thing I wrote two months ago?  I just have to keep reminding myself…)

I’m also doing research that fascinates me, and seems like it might lead to something… When I’m actually working on my reaserach, crunching numbers and working to synthesize ideas, I’m excited about what I’m doing.  I took my idea from the last post (in which I sadly misspelled “deodorant”!), and have been researching the social construction of the taboo against body odor in American culture.  There’s been only a very little research done on odor in general, and almost none on body odor specifically.  In my class on Race and Ethnicity, I decided to write my paper on how body odor has been used as a tool to justify racist beliefs and practices.  There’s no dearth of information there!  In most books on the history of race relations in the US, there’s at least one mention of white people’s perception that black people smell not only different, but bad.  This is used to justify the belief that they are biologically different (and inferior).  I’m also writing a more general paper about body odor for another class.  I’m hoping to talk with people about their experience of learning that they “needed” to wear deodorant.  Who did they learn it from?  What was the reason given?

From all of this, I’m hoping to develop a workshop about the BODY, and the ways American culture teaches us to repress, modify, and deny basic human functions (and how advertisers play into this idea in order to get people to buy products!)

Off to class now — time to teach about social stratification and how the class system reproduces itself…

uh oh…

Reporting from grad school, one week in:

I’m frustrated by how theoretical everything is.  I miss the concrete tangibility of the garden, the cows, and even community politics.  All of that debating had meaning and eventually ended up with some kind of decision and action.  Here we’re just dealing with thought and ideas that haven’t any direction towards expression in the physical world (except in research papers, which perhaps get published and read by a few academics who digest it in their brains and move on to another article).  We aren’t exploring the nature of society so we can make intelligent and healthy choices for how to participate in creating it — we’re exercising our brains, which can be fun, but not fulfilling.  This feels too luxurious for a world in which so much work needs to be done.  All this thinking isn’t getting us anywhere!  All these great thoughts that I’m having or that my professors have written in books — who’s listening?  What’s the point of all these thoughts if they aren’t communicated and used towards change?

Do I just want my life to be important?  I just don’t want to waste my time.  I’d rather be growing good food or facilitating a collaborative meeting or providing healing to a friend.  Spending hours writing a paper just doesn’t take priority to developing deep and healthy relationships with my family and community.  I don’t have the tolerance for hoop-jumping that I used to.

where can I find a nice pond to jump into?