Sunday, December 9, 2007

articulating the map

(Note: This is an email I wrote to some of my new friends at Tryon. It does a good job of articulating and illustrating my current vision of how to fullfill what I am currently understanding to be my purpose in life. It's a bit rough, and all the terminology might not be totally self-explanatory, but I think you'll get the essence of the ideas and the excitment. Enjoy!)

Yesterday, as I transitioned from tryon/portland down to eugene my mind started attempting a synthesis of the ideas we've been talking about. I really like the mapping format I've been seeing y'all use. I'm going to go ahead and lay this out linearly right now though, recognizing the potential to reformat it. A'right, here's my understanding/reflection of the whole picture at this point...

Central goal: Supporting/facilitating/participating in the emergence of a "caring and sharing" socio-economic culture and infrastructure. This is happening on several levels. (For the fun of it, and for need of some method for distinction, I'm going to call the levels Mega, Midi, and Metta, which were the three age group identifications - oldest to youngest - used in the early Twin Oaks group care system. Is there a more appropriate/descript id system? I was thinking about using Mountains, Hills, and Valleys)

Mega/mountains level: These are people, groups and projects that are doing big-picture organizing, coordinating, networking, and support.

Cross polonators -
Collecting and sharing inspiring stories and ideas about best practices.
Helping groups and individuals feel a connection to the larger network and picture of what's going on.
Networking and facilitating all kinds of relationships (social, economic, material, etc.) between groups and individuals.

Anarchist HR collective(s) -
Services and trainings, manuals and development on cooperative/collective group dynamics and functioning, systems and structures (e.g. membership, labor, group decision-making, etc.), conflict resolution, developing good social ecology, etc.

(Does, or how does, coordinating/providing mental health services fit in with the HR collective idea? Another idea that I'm not sure quite where it fits is the idea of helping people "find their niche." If someone doesn't work out in one collective for logistical, interpersonal, or other reasons helping them find a group that they do fit in. And helping new-comers find the right place for themselves. Perhaps this relates to another idea, and is perhaps it's own whole area, which is the coordination of part-time labor between people who have money and want to support activists who need money.)

Financial and legal -
Collectives that offer services and trainings in these areas to cooperatives/collectives.

(Does Recode Portland fit under this, or is it a seperate project?)

(Another idea that may be at this level, or at the next level - Promotion/marketing collectives.)

(It occurs to me that as the network groups and strengthens it might be desirable to find an alternative way of dealing with "crime." I've read some interesting stuff on research being done into indigenous/tribal justice systems. It would be interesting to create a whole parallel judicial process so that we can deal with serious shit in an effective and compassionate way without having to rely on the police state.)

Midi/hills level: These groups have similar functions to mega level groups, but are more issue specific. (I don't have names to attach to all the activities that I think I've heard are happening, so I'm going to use generalized terms. Y'all can fill in what's actually happening.)

-Portland Collective Housing
-holistic healers network
-free/cheap food growing and distribution
-free/cheap clothing networks
-alternative/radical education institutions and networks
-arts and music support organizations

Metta/valleys level: All the groups and individuals who are doing the work on daily, personal levels to make up network/system, including mega and midi level groups. (Obviously with my limited experience with portland I have very little sense of the specifics here ;0)

Basic principles of this network - the values and ideals that help create a common bond, sense of purpose, and vision (this is not meant to be comprehensive, just a reflection of conversations I've been part of):

-autonomy and decentralization
-mutual support
-justice and sustainability (along all lines - social, economic, political, ecological, and spiritual)
-human relationships are the building blocks - institionalization and bureaucracy only as it serves this, the basic goal and is consistent with the other principles (can you tell I have some feelings here ;0)
-balancing specialization and stacking functions
-balancing the unique needs and culture of each group with an ethic of inclusiveness and accessibility

On a perhaps even larger level: Creating an comprehensive, user-friendly online system for accessing information on all of the above, all groups on all levels, services, products, events, etc. (I'm refering here to what Brush called "like craigslist only better.)

...I could fine-tune this more, but it seems like a good start and my time for the moment has run out and I want to get this out while it's still fresh to help keep me engaged with y'alls evolving process and efforts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

video games and playfighting

(Note: This piece was written as an email to the community at Tryon Life Community Farm, the community in Portland I am exploring moving to, which I haven't sent yet and may not depending on input from a couple members with whom I have gotten close. I did a membership interview recently and brought up and dealt with concerns about Willow's video game and playfighting interests. Looking at the bright side, it was the only point of concern about my potentially joining the community.

I thought I'd post it because it illustrates some of my parenting attitudes and practices, as well as providing a sense of who Willow is as a developing person.)

I want to share some more thoughts and details regarding the concerns about the play-fighting and video games my son, Willow, engages in. I also want to reiterate some things from the interview I want to make sure were heard and take the opportunity to give a fuller picture of who Willow is.

I hope by addressing this I'm not making it a bigger deal than it is. I've never before experienced evaluation/judgment about Willow from people whose opinions I value. And when I say evaluation/judgement I don't think there was any negativity expressed - just authentic, reasonable concern. Still, it brought up a lot for me as a parent that I didn't expect. This was compounded by my general state of travel weariness (almost 3 months on the road) and my excitement about Tryon - without realizing it I'd started generating attachment to it working out for me join y'all.

I'm not thrilled with these aspects of his life. I'd prefer they were lessened, and have had to compromise with others and the culture he's been raised in. Now they are integrated aspects of his life and I feel some hopelessness about shifting that in a way that's not traumatic for him or our relationship. At times I struggle with trying to figure out how to engage him in ways that will feel compelling to both of us, and sometimes feel bad about my abilities as a parent when I can't (this was certainly part of what was triggered for me during the interview.) In the context of Twin Oaks I think my hopelessness may be justified. But a new context would provide a new opportunity, which I feel both scared and excited about.

Re: playfighting. I think some amount of this is normal and healthy. And I don't think he's outside of the norm for little boys, even in alternative cultures. I think most children are aware of their vulnerability and helplessness in the world and that playfighting for some is a way of exploring what it feels like to be powerful. He and I do some amount of wrestling/rough-housing, and I think it's good for him and our relationship for a number of reasons. We always establish ground rules before we start and almost always spend some time in mellow cuddling afterwards.

He likes to run around with make-shift caps and helmets, fighting invisible monsters and bad-guys with sticks for swords (I was told that Talon does this as well.) He playfights in this way with other kids and adults too. But he's very aware and respectful of boundaries. He knows (and remembers as much as one could expect from any 5 yr old) that there needs to be agreement with all involved before hand and that when someone says "no" or "stop" that needs to be respected immediately. He knows that some people are into playing this way and some are not. He knows that it's okay to do it in some spaces and not others.

He also likes to set up his Lego and Playmobile figures and have battles. I remember doing this as a kid and my father having a hard time with it at times. Ironically, and not surprisingly, Willow and I are replicating that dynamic. I know he likes it and try to engage in ways and to the extent I feel comfortable. I'll building him castles, and rather than having a throne room for a king I'll encourage having a hall for the wizards collective, which he's usually happy to go with. And rather than fighting battles I'll try to make up quests. But there are plenty of times when he just wants to playflight in traditional ways, by himself or with friends, and I give him the space to do this.

Again, he knows that it's okay to play those games in some places and not others and with some people and not others. He has always had regular caretakers who are unwilling to playfight in any way. They successfully engage him in arts and crafts, nature walks/planet identifying, "naming ceremonies," reading chapter books out loud, looking up stuff on wikipedia, etc. And as Willow gets older my co-parents and are starting to introduce more and more structured "learning time."

Part of why I accept the extent to which he engages in all this is that it's all in the realm of fantasy. He is a very sensitive and at times passive/submissive child. He's thoughtful and considerate towards others. The child rearing culture at Twin Oaks is definitely very adamant about non-violent conflict resolution and consistently works with kids to use their words, teaching them to negotiation and get help from adults before they get upset and lash out.

That said, there are certainly times when he will respond aggressively if he's feeling insecure or uncomfortable with how someones engaging with him. But it's obvious to me that this is a product of the gender socialization that creeps in to even progressive, alternative cultures. I think most people have a tendency, especially with little boys, to engage by tickling, poking, playfighting, or verbally teasing when we want to connect or show affection (I witnessed some amount of this towards Ember during my visit.) This is something I've worked hard to train myself out of. I think both myself and my co-dad have done a pretty good job of this and as a result Willow is a very sweet, cuddly, and affectionate kid. But of course some of it still filters through, from us and from others, and comes out in his behavior.

Re: video games, I don't think I'd be willing to do an outright prohibition. As was noted in my interview, we all have our vices, and it would seem hypocritical to me to do so. I'm certainly happy to limit it to private space, with either zero volume or headphones. Also, parenting standards at Twin Oaks vary significantly. He would totally understand if I told him that other families didn't want exposure to video games. He would happily keep it to himself and not engage other kids with it.

As I mentioned, the current rule is 2 hrs a day. I'm open to reducing that, but it would need to be gradual, especially as he transitions, even just for visits, into a whole knew community. And I would certainly look for support in engaging him in alternative activities during that process. I'd also be happy to limit the kinds of games and movies he plays/watches (his favorite game for a long time has been Civilization, which actually has strong educational potential that I engage him around.)

In the end, I would welcome the opportunity to live in a community that holds "higher" standards around limiting this kind of stuff. I think it would be important for the community to support both of us in the retraining/transitioning process, and that he be allowed a reasonable amount of freedom to be who he is and have personal interests. As mentioned, I did plenty of playfighting and video games as a kid. I don't think it was of great detriment (I'm not a thug or a war-monger, nor am I ambitionless and uncreative, etc.) but I definitely think I would be a more creative and resourceful person had I spent my time in more constructive ways. And, whatever I had absorbed from society that compelled me towards those activities as a child, I naturally worked through it and eventually grew out of it. I'm confident that the same will be true for Willow.

I also want to reiterate that I understand and respect the concerns. I expected it, which is why I brought it up, so that it could be addressed early in the process. After the interview I told Willow's mother, Hawina, about all this. She's similarly sub-thrilled with how much time Willow spends at these activities but also feels some hopelessness around it. She noted, recognizing the irony, that if someone with a child who played video games and liked playfighting was applying for membership at Twin Oaks she'd have concerns too.

I realize that what is needed in this situation is for y'all to get a chance to meet him, which I hope to set up for next spring. Again, I'm both scared and excited for this. It will be a new and challenging experience for both of us in many ways. I think my interest in addressing this more in advance is to make sure that everyone has a sense of him as a complex, unique person and to be open to seeing him for all of who he is when he visits.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

my impression of Portland night clubs

I've been out dancing the last three nights in a row (in fact, it's quarter after 3am and I just got back from an amazing afro-beat show - ah, the benefits of city life.) Three things impress me the most.

1. In all three clubs there were big coolers of water with plenty of cups available for free.

2. In all three there was pretty much no dress code, which meant I could walk in with sandles, and in two out of three it was perfectly safe and acceptable to dance barefoot. (My second night out I was very happy to have had my boots on when some very nice and very high party goer dropped a glass at my feet.)

3. And best of all, I was definitely not the only stinky hippy in any of the three places!

the temptation increases

I've been at Tryon Life Community Farm for almost a week. There are lots of reasons why I'm really excited about the place. Last night at dinner 3 things happened that struck me as perfect illustrations of the beauty of this community.

1. During dinner one member was trying to engage another in a somewhat logistical conversation. In a halting, emotional voice the person indicated that they weren't up for the conversation. All other talk died down and everyone gave their attention. She said, "well, there's something really affecting me right now so I think I should just speak it into the space. This is the anniversary of the death of someone who was incredibly important to me. " Those close to her reached out to touch her shoulder or put a hand on her back. Others offered words of empathy and support. That there was such immediately available space and support from the entire group for a member of the community to express difficult and intense emotions was amazing.

2. As dinner wound down one person started using their utensils, plate, and glass as instruments. Another person or two quickly joined. Within a minute the entire group of us were tapping, banging, and stomping away at in improvisational percussive jam for about 10 minutes.

3. After dinner, about 5 of us plopped down on the long couch next to the big round dinner table and enjoyed a pleasant, decompressing, post-meal cuddle.

These are not atypical events.

Today I was talking with a couple members who both noted how little time people here spend in non-productive speech (i.e. not gossiping, back-biting, etc.) and how well communication flows. I'm totally smitten. It helps of course that everyone I've connected much with is very excited about the possibility of me living here. It's very easy to see how much I could offer and how well I'd fit in with the mix of personalities, interests, and activities.

Not that this will really make the decision I ultimately have to make any easier. In some ways it'll just make it harder. Still, it's nice to feel like my biggest problem is choosing between really great options for what to do with my life.

Friday, November 23, 2007

applied morality

(Note: I have to credit the inspiration for this piece to some extent on the article "The Cellular Church" by Malcom Gladwell, which I highly recommend.)

Somewhere along the line I became a highly moralled person. Despite a previously held position of moral relativism I've found that I have very clear ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, even if those ideas are firmly rooted in meta-ethical questions and value pluralism (I love wikipedia). I'm still trying to understand how this happened.

I had a relatively counter-culture upbringing with parents who were both psychologists. I think this fostered in me a relatively high level of self-awareness and emotional sensitivity. I was also instilled with a belief in impending doom regarding the state of civilization, and a strong sense of responsibility and obligation to "save the world." Growing up, I experienced a strong feeling of alienation and isolation, and a predominant experience of ridicule and ostracization

I identified my unhappiness and discontent with myself and life early on. I have maintained an intensive focus on personal growth since I was a teenager. Parallel to this has been a near constant evaluation of "what I'm doing with me life" to see if I am making the world a better place as efficiently and effectively as possible. However, I consider any pretense of selflessness or altruism therein to be highly dubious. I believe it is crucial to accept of my own selfishness as a, if not the primary motivator in my life if I am to make any kind of meaningful attempt to act beyond it.

I was about 20 years old when Paxus introduced to the concept enlightened self-interest. This lead my thought-process down the path of considering my own happiness and well-being to be inextricably linked with that of others and the world as a whole. As a child of behaviorism my psyche has been well trained to make deals. So, I say to my selfishness, I'll indulge you as long as the choices I make are also good for others. Deal.

But if there's one thing I've learned in the exploration of the psycho-somatic phenomenon it is to never underestimate the capacity of the mind to deceive itself. I've often pondered the irony that it is incredibly difficult for most of us to do what is good for ourselves, let alone good for others. This has called me to focus on practices that promote my ability to both observe myself as objectively as possible and accept with love and compassion whatever it is I see. Again, I have found that it is this process of accepting-what-is to be crucial in any meaningful attempt to act outside of behavior patterns that are destructive to myself and/or others.

Now, allow me to explicitly illuminate the basics of my morality. Much of what I am about to write has been borrowed heavily or outright stolen from what I have read and heard from others. I believe good and bad are ways of describing actions rather than inherent qualities. Good and bad exist in the realm of "doing" not "being." Of course, it is our actions, or our doing, that defines us, but given the passing of time and the evolving nature of reality that definition is constantly subject to change.

What is good and bad? I want to live a happy and peaceful life. I want to do things that make me happy, and I want others to do things that make me happy. I don't want people to do things that make me unhappy. I don't think I'm alone in this. So, if there's something I want/don't want done to me, then I should/shouldn't do that to others. It follows thus that a good action is one that helps or supports others, while a bad action is one that hurts or harms others.

This view sees our interactions with each other at the core of our experience of being human. It holds our actions as infinitely inter-related, taking seriously the expression "what goes around, comes around." It is core to our self-interest to do good for others. It also holds morality as meaningful only to the extent that it has practical application to one's lifestyle choices.

Of course, the devil is in the details. How do we know what is really good for others? Given the deviousness nature of our minds, how can we be sure that we are not acting in purely self-serving and self-destructive ways? I have come to firmly believe in the necessity of practices of contemplation and self-observation. It is in being with ourselves in stillness and silence that we have any hope of being able to see the truth within ourselves and how that truth manifests in the world around us.

Any of us are just taking baby-steps in this process, so guidelines that have been established by cultural traditions can be useful. The 8 fold path described by Buddhism works well for me. The Ten Commandments may work well for others. Ultimately I think any of these systems of morality need to be checked against each other to discover a universal or pan-secular definition. And, ultimately, I believe the purpose of these systems, and of morality itself, is to have the motivation for one's actions based more and more on making the world a better place to live for all.

I've met few individuals who have seriously explored these issues outside of the context of organized religion. But really, I've met few individuals who have seriously explored these issues inside the context of organized religion as well. This baffles me. I have found few people who seem to think that society is on the right track. It would seem that as civilization delves further and further into crisis more and more people would be thrown into their own moral and existential crisis'. I know I'm impatient. I believe the faster we wake up and face the misery and destruction we're creating, for ourselves and others, the quicker we will be able to turn things around, averting even more suffering. I want more allies in pushing this process forward.

In my travels lately, as I ponder the potential activities of the next phase of my life, the phrase "for the good of others" constantly bounces around my head. It has pushed my thinking towards the consideration of basic human needs, including food, clothing, shelter, and health. And it has pushed my thinking further and further away from institutional organization and theoretical ideology, except to the extent that it has pragmatic application to serving the good of others. Organizational structures, theories and ideologies, should only exist to the extent that they improve people's lives, and must be constantly subject to re-evaluation, change, and dissolution. If this not the case it is an invitation to oppression an unsustainable forms of human society. The benefits of any social system must be obvious. One should not have to understand the system to see the benefit. Nor should one should not have to buy in to any belief system other then that of making the world a better place for all and in acting for the good of others. But the system should also be easy to replicate or emulate, making it easier and easier for more and more people to make the world a better place.

I'm making a big leap of faith here. I believe that people have an inherent desire to improve the conditions of their lives. The reason people are so apathetic, complacent and lazy is because of how controlled they are by the current institutional structure of society, a structure that fosters isolation and alienation on all levels for the benefit of few over many. My hope is that the opportunity to meet basic needs and improve the conditions of one's life outside of this system of control and inequity is the spark that will ignite people's passion to make the world a better place for all.

Manifesting this vision, or something along these lines, is what I'm ready to give myself over to, in the way it seems people talk about giving themselves over to god or a higher spiritual purpose. I can only conceive of it in concrete, worldly concepts, but I increasingly feel a fervent sense of urgency that reminds me of religious fanatics.

This is my understanding of applied morality. Every day I recognize the ways in which I am living an unmoral life, every time I use nonrenewable sources of energy, every time I take in food or drink that is unhealthy for my body, every time I treat another person with negativity, every time I waste time on computer games or other escapism, every time I allow fear to inhibit my self-expression. So I keep facing this, the impacts, physically and emotionally, on myself and on others. I keep meditating, facing the pain and suffering inside myself. I keep developing my understanding of what the right thing to do is. I keep developing my will to do what I believe is right. And, the nice thing is that the further down this path I go I am finding that I have no choice but to keep going.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

the feeling of family

I'd always thought I would have a child or two, eventually, maybe after I'm 30. Then Hawina wanted to get pregnant. She'd always wanted to, and at 38 years old she hit the now-or-never point. I wasn't ready to be a committed co-parent. Pax wasn't taken by the idea either. But as Hawina started thinking it wasn't going to happen, Pax reconsidered. At 47, he thought, there's not likely to be anyone else I would consider doing this with, so if it's now-or-never for her, it's the same for me. He changed his mind and agreed to co-parent with her.

At that point I could see being involved. I thought, having a child means being tied to your co-parent (or co-parents in this case) for a long time, possibly the rest of your life. I could see wanting to be connected with Pax and Hawina for the rest of my life. Much complex negotiation ensued; in the end we agreed to get pregnant together. But we didn't really grasp or consider the implacations of what that meant for our relationships.

Several months into the pregnancy I remember driving with Pax and Hawina to a small gathering of Hawina's pagan women's group plus partners. A question had been on my mind, which I decided to broach: what are we doing anyway? People had already started calling us the "Willow family." Were we really a family? Or were we just collection of committed caregivers? We stopped at a gas station, bought some tortilla chips and salsa, and spent a little while talking about it. Funny, I don't remember anything we said, but I know it was inconclusive and I felt unsettled. If we were going to be a family I wanted more of a sense of definition for what we were creating. I wanted to know what I could expect.

Wait a minute - Sky, defining family? Why would you need to create definition? What do you mean, what can I expect? A family is a family.

Well, okay, but what does that mean? I didn't have a strong experience of family growing up. Spread up and down California, family gatherings were occassional and didn't allow for much building of relationships. It seemed like each nuclear family was pretty much on their own. Occassionally Jay, Dale, and I lived in the same city as another nucleous, but the sense of seperation never left me. As members of the elder generations died and us kids of grown up, and spread ourselves even further then California, things have seemed to get even more tenuous (until recently.) I wonder if this is part of my attraction to intentional community, seeking out a sense of broader connection and relationship then I got growing up.

After Willow was born Pax, Hawina, and I were joined by Anissa and we created the Star Family. It was exciting. We were creating a new kind of family, based on mutual affinity and lifestyle choices, as well as love and passion. But our process of defining family was incomplete, and we underestimated the time and energy it took to manage such a complex set of relationships. Expectations varied, personalities came into conflict, upsets built up, and ultimately things fell apart. At times I even regreted tieing myself to them (though, paradoxically, I've never regreted having Willow.) After Anissa left the family I was adamant: I didn't want to be the "Star family minus Anissa." I didn't even want to identify as a family.

The crash became clear during our Europe travels in '04. We were in Amsterdam, on the rooftop of the big, family-oriented science museum which hosted a terraced water park, complete with waterfalls and sandbanks. As Willow splashed around we addressed the question again: what are we doing anyway? I proposed that we make a distinction between our personal relationships with each other and our relationship as co-parents, holding the latter as almost business-like in nature. Okay, we said, what are our committments to each other as co-parents? In a nutshell: We agreed that we were collectively responsible for meeting Willow's needs. We agreed that we wouldn't involve him or use him in any personal conflicts between us.

That was the last time I was feeling dissatisfied with Twin oaks and considering leaving. Anissa and I hadn't totally fallen apart yet. I was seriously, though naively, considering leaving with her. I ended up back at Twin Oaks. 2 years later I started warming back up to the idea of being a family. People had naturally started calling us the Willow family again. On a trip to the West Coast last March, Pax, Hawina and I agreed to be the Star family again.

What changed? Why was I comfortable with the idea of family after having been so uncomfortable with it? Family was no longer a visionary concept. It was a practical reality that we'd been living for over 5 years. Beneath the turmoil a basic committment to supporting each other and working things out had persisted. After everything we'd been through family was the only label that made any sense.

It seems for many people family means obligation and resentment. It seems to involve frustrating dynamics and permission to treat each other badly. We've certainly had our share of this, but we strive to work past that stuff. It seems the more dependent, commited, and/or attached to someone you the more likely you are to want them to change. To me family has become about learning to accept people for who they are. But it's also about supporting each other to become more of who we want to be. Part of why I chose to be family with Pax and Hawina is that we share a commitment to bettering ourselves and allowing oursevles to be challenged by each other.

Hawina and I "broke up" last May. But the break up was only of a part of our relationship, not the whole thing. Through the whole process I never doubted the solidity of our relationship as co-parents. And I was committed to maintaining a close friendship. But just calling it a friendship didn't feel like enough. I found in myself a sense of caring and commitment, combined with a deep sense of love and appreciation, which didn't fit that label. We'd already started calling ourselves a family again, and that felt right, but now I was starting to clearly identify the feeling of family.

Hawina and my sexual relationship had been small for years, and it'd been longer since we'd related romantically. I had this sense that ending these parts of our relationship wasn't really a big deal. I knew it would feel like a big deal but that the bulk of our relationship lay in co-parenting and in our bond as family.

It did feel like a big deal, and it didn't help that my relationship with Kassia acted as a catalyst. It simply added more confusion and conflict, distracting Hawina and I from dealing directly with the reality of our relationship. But we made it through.

During the process I got scared. I was afraid that Hawina and Pax would take me less seriously as a member of the family and maybe even push me out , especially given my plans to explore leaving Twin Oaks. As Hawina and I resolved things I asked her about this, and she flatly dismissed it. You're Willow's father, she said, of course you're part of the family. She also made it clear that she had no interest in me leaving.

I expressed this fear to Pax more recently, as part of a larger dialog on our relationship. This is what I wrote to him:

"I feel a deep, strong bond with you and hawina because of the journey we've shared. It is with the two of you, and willow, that I feel like I have really come to understand what it means to be in family. I feel a fundamental sense of connection and committment to you, a bond that I can feel much more then I can conceptualize. It relates back to the commitments we made as co-parents, but it's the energy beneath the words, the labels, the concepts that's really important. I assume that I will maintain our relationship, and not necessarily with any particular frequency of contact or shared activities, but by simply holding space in my heart for you. Many of the people that I consider family are some of the people that I can see after minimal contact for months, or even years, and we just pick up where we left off. Despite the struggles and stumbles, I feel that with you. So, perhaps my question is, do you share that experience with me?"

Recently, as we worked through various issues, he cleared a resentment he had with me around money. There were a couple times over the last year that I'd given him a hard time about money, including a recent incident around money he'd promised me to help me with my current travels. Given my behavior he'd been feeling hesitancy around supporting me financially, which felt bad to him and wasn't what he wanted to do. It was pretty easy for me to see and acknowledge that I'd been a jerk. He talked about how important it is to him to not stress about money, especially with me. He feels as family a self-imposed responsibility to support me financially, as well as in holding down the fort with Willow and Hawina, in trying to figure what I'm doing with my life. And despite the fact that it doesn't look like the whole family is going to move anytime soon he also expressed vicariously enjoying the exploration of considering other interesting places and people to live with. The message couldn't have been much clearer; I had my answer.

Now I feel like I both understand family and know what family feels like, and an interesting thing has happened. I started this blog and got more active with online social networking, and all of a sudden I am in better touch with several members of my biological family than I've been in years. It feels good. We may not see each other any more often or have anything more to do with each others lives then before. But now I actually feel like I'm in family with them, simply by having little glimpses into their lives, and knowing I can get in touch with them easily at any time.

Maybe this feeling of family has always been there and I just didn't know how to recognize it. Either way, having recognized it and knowing how to nurture it, I don't think I will ever feel alone in the world again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the miracle of mass transit

After a two week sojourn to the east coast the west wind has returned me to sunny california. The fact that it took me less then one day to more then traverse the continent using multiple modes of mass transit strikes me as something of a miracle.

At 9:45am (eastern time) I started in rural Conneticut. Kassia drove me a half-hour to the train station. 2 hours and 2 trains later I arrived in Grand Central Station, where I entered the NYC underground. 3 transfers and 1 hour later I boarded the Airtrain for the JFK International Airport. After obtaining my boarding pass I took a shuttle to my terminal. I then had enough time for lunch and my afternoon meditation sitting before my 4:45pm flight, non-stop to Oakland, CA. 6.5 hours and 3 time zones later it was about 8:15pm (pacific time - 11:15pm according to my body) I stepped out of the monkey-guided missile into a considerably warmer climate.

Kassia called as I walked through the terminal; we marveled together that just hours before we were in the same place - now we were on the opposite sides of the continent. I bought a piece of pizza and called Julie, Amtraks automated agent, to check on the status of the notoriously late Coast Starlight train service. This was the big unknown of my day. The train was scheduled to depart at 9:45pm, getting me into Chico at about 2am, but I knew it could easily be hours late and that crashing in the Bay Area overnight might be preferable to waiting in a train station until the middle of the night. But I had not contacted any friends ahead of time and had no idea if there were any easy options. As it was, the train was running about 1 hr and 45 min late. Knowing it could still end up being even more behind I decided to bit the bullet and go for it.

From the Oakland Airport I took the AirBART to the nearby BART station. Two stops up the BART line I emerged and considered whether to walk or cab the 12 blocks to the Amtrak station. I decided to walk and was really glad I did. The evening was crisp, and a nice walk after 6 hours on a plane was a welcome relief.

At about 9:30pm (12:30am eastern time) I walked into the Amtrak station and purchased my ticket. As usual, I received the standard amused expressions of the agent upon reading my drivers license. Providing a small amount of variation and comic relief to what I imagine to be an incredibly inane and mundane job feels good. At 11:09am the train rolled into the station, slightly ahead of Julie's prediction.

About 4 hours later, approaching Chico, a friendly conductor gently shook my shoulder and whispered "Chico, next stop." I took a deep breath and snapped myself to attention. After gathering my belongings I called Dale for the pickup. I feel very appreciative of his willingness to be woken up to do a late night pickup. Finally, at about 4am we walked into his house and I collapsed into bed.

This experience is not unique in my life these days, but it was extreme.

Travel time: ~21.5 hrs.
Number of individual "rides": 15
Number of miles traveled: ~3150
Total $$ cost: ~266
Gallons of petrochemicals burned: I don't want to think about it.

As I write all this out the extravagance of the endeavor gives me pause: Thinking about the various costs involved (money, fuel, time, personal stress, etc.) I have to ask myself, is this justifiable? Is what I'm doing really so important? I don't think there's a simple answer to that question. I simply have to take it as my job to make it serve as good a purpose as I can. At this point I think that purpose is to absorb all these experiences, think and feel into them as deeply as possible, and share about them as openly as possible. Thanks for helping me do that.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

portland redeemed

It was my last day in Portland and I didn't know how I was leaving. Craigslist had come up empty for a ride further south then Eugene, and even none of those posts were responding to emails or calls. I had a ride from Eugene to Chico if I could make it there by 10am. It became clear that hitching was my best bet, which I'd never done under a deadline. But this post is not about that adventure. It's about how that adventure led me through Tryon Life Community Farm and what I found there.

I'd heard about Tryon last december. In a chance meeting, whose synchronistic elements are only now unfolding, I ran into Jenny, an ex Twin Oaks visitor from 2001. She was acting as a sort of resident consultant for a co-op in Boston. Kassia and I were crashing there over night on the way to a meditation retreat.

It was an exciting reunion. I gave her 5 years of gossip on Twin Oaks; she told me a little about Tryon, a permaculture demonstration community on 7 acres in Portland next to a state park. Well, I'll be out there next fall, I said, so I'll be sure to come by. Jenny said she was about to embark on major world travels, and it wasn't clear she'd be back by then but I should definitely come see the place.

About 8 days ago, after arriving in Portland, I mentioned to Sabrina, my host in Portland, that I wanted to check the place out. She knew about it but had never visited. We drove to southwest Portland for their Friday "open-to-the-public" hrs and a self-guided tour.

The place is lovely. It is actually bordered on 3 sides by Tryon State Park, and several of the 7 acres are still wild. The other border is a low traffic residential street. Two large community buildings and various smaller structures are clustered on one end of the property. I learned that this was one of the sites for the City Repair Village-Building Convergence. The tell tail sign of highly creative cob siding were everywhere. We saw a family of goats gradually devouring the massive blackberry thickets. Most of the rest of the open space is devoted to gardening.

A wonderfully warm and enthusiastic new member named Laura answered a few questions as best she could. I found that Jenny had indeed returned. Excited, I left her a note, which it turns out she never got, but it didn't matter.

Saturday night was Howl, City Repairs annual Halloween benefit bash. It was an amazing party, with four stages and about 1000 people. Sabrina, a Burning Man enthusiast, hooked me up with costume materials. I was a disco unicorn ;0) With my sequined horn and sparkling blue sunglasses it was impossible to miss me. First I ran into Laura, then Jenny, and we discovered the miscommunication. But then, email addresses properly exchanged, we proceeded to party till dawn.

Jenny's a busy organizer, and after two emails it wasn't until my last day that she called me. "Why don't you come over for dinner," she said. "Well, I might be hitching, and I'll be hitching south, so could I just crash there and get a ride to the interstate in the morning?" "Sure, no problem!"

I threw my crap together and made the last bus out to the farm, but the driver had no idea what stop I was talking about. Luckily a fellow passenger knew. "I saw someone else with a big backpack get off at that stop, and I visited the farm once," she told me. Another example of the renowned friendliness of Oregon. I arrived to a supper of quinoa, stirfry, and marinated tempeh - solid commune fare - and a half dozen warm faces. Over half of the members (there are 17 adults and 5 kids) were out at Halloween parties or tricker-treating, but those present gave me enough to talk about.

Jenny told me the story of the creation of the community: The couple who'd owned the place had wanted to turn it into a yoga retreat center - that explained why the two buildings were so community oriented. But their relationship fell apart and the dream was never realized. Groups of people, many students, rented the place over the years, and no matter who lived there it seemed that the place had a magic to it. Parties there are apparently legendary, and a vast network of people can claim connection of some kind.

3 years ago the couple decided to sell. They sold the purchase option to a big development company, who planned 13 luxury homes. That's when the fun started. A number of the residents wanted to fight the development. Those that didn't moved out, and were replaced by activists, and the vision of the land as a permaculture and sustainable living demonstration and education center was born. They appealed to the couple to reconsider, but to no avail.

Facing eviction, the first thing the residents did was to mobilize a grassroots effort to put pressure on the developer. Their efforts paid off and after a couple months the developer agreed to sell them the purchase option for the price they paid plus expenses - a total of almost $200,000. The residents had just 4 months to raise this, and they pulled it off. They then had 10 months to raise the $800,000 needed for the down payment, and they pulled it off.

Jenny described to me one of the most impressive grassroots efforts I've ever heard about. They covered every avenue possible, local government, media, schools and other institutions, canvasing, and simply following up on every possible lead that came to their attention. But what really caught me was that in addition to incredible intelligence and organizing skills, the relationships were well tended. There was clearly so much heart and soul that went into the effort - I could still feel it sitting in the room, talking to them. And, in addition to that, the vision was solid, and they held it in the forefront of everything they did. Having finally won the land, the residents don't think of the land as theirs. They consider themselves stewards, continually working to actualize the vision that enabled them to save the land from development.

It's an exciting time and they are just starting to figure out their communal systems and structures. I shared my thoughts on membership and labor system structures, and found them to have an amazingly keen sense of the issues. Not only are these folx incredible activists, but they are essentially community minded.

Jenny and I talked about relationships too, including our experiences with polyamory. She talked about being new to the world of sex and romance, and having a very pragmatic approach to her passion. "I love kissing my friends, If I'm going to be sexual with someone it's because it will deepen our relationship as commrads. It's the work that comes first." Right on. I wish I could say I was so unaddicted to lust.

And then came the biggest revelation. I've been writing and talking about what I want to do a lot. Summed up, I want to help build a network of groups for the purpose of mutual support to help people get their basic needs met outside the money economy. All of a sudden I hear Jenny and Brush, another founder, articulating this vision, with the intent of utilizing all the connections they'd made in saving the farm. "All eyes are on Portland right now," said Brush. "There's all sorts of national media attention on Portland as a cutting edge green city, on it's arts and music culture... The city knows that it's because of all the young radicals, but it's not sure what to do with them." "It's all about weaving and stacking," said Jenny. "Stacking functions. It's a permaculture idea. It means that every part of a system should serve as many purposes and support as many other parts of the system as possible." So, the idea is, apply this principle to all the cool, progressive organizations doing good things to help provide social services.

I showed them some of my writing. "Yeah, exactly!" said Brush. I felt euphoric. I'd imagined that if I started this work I would be holding the vision solo for a while, until I gained enough momentum to inspire others. But here are people who are already coming together around the same vision. "We just need a few more people to have a critical mass of organizing energy so we can blow this wide open," exclaimed Jenny.

When Pax, Hawina and I decided to get pregnant we recognized that I was in a different place in my life. When Willow was born, Hawina was 39, Pax 47, and I was 21. We imagined that I might need to go off at some point to do something else, perhaps join the circus. So we established the Circus Claus.

Has my circus come to town? I don't know. But I'm intensely intrigued. This is the first time I have come across an opportunity so compelling that I could actually see moving away from Willow. It's also a place I could easily see Willow moving to, and Pax and Hawina, though I'm trying hard to hold back from that fantasy.

As I write this I am on a train, rolling through the wetlands where the Sacramento river meets the San Fransisco bay, heading towards the Oakland airport and back to Twin Oaks. My physical health has been failing the last few days, and my emotional health feels on edge too. Phase 1A of my exploration is coming to a close. I'm tired. I'm full. But I feel satisfied - mission accomplished.

a letter to a dear friend

"It would baffle me to hear that you don't love yourself, because I love you so much, and it would pain me to hear that you hate yourself, but I know that experience all too well. So I simply, silently nod my head with sorrowful compassion.

I feel protective of you, and, therefor, angry at him. What a fool! Who does he think he is?! He clearly doesn't deserve you. But, again, I know that karmic dance all too well. Be careful of what you will put yourself through out of self-loathing.

When she broke my trust, and then again, and then again, I was too attached to let go. But ultimatley that's what it took. It didn't necessarily mean "breaking up" with her. I had to abandon trust, I had to abandon all my expectations of her. I had to take my heart back. At some point it had just been cut and bruised too many times and it happened involuntarily.

It helped that I'd had my heart broken before. I knew that I didn't really need her, that I would be fine without her. Still, it took longer then it should have. I wrestled over and over again with wanting her to somehow repay me for what she'd done, to make up for it, or at least to be solid with me now. But it wasn't where she was at, and it was never enough.

Eventually, I truely opened myself to the possibility a life without her. I didn't break up with her, but I began to take the space, physically and emotionally, when I needed it, to take care of myself, to reorient myself to being alone and not in a partnership. As I was getting there, one day I snapped and blew up at her: "I'm sick of giving so much to this relationship and getting nothing back!" I yelled. It was the final death-throws of my attachment to her being a certain way for me.

It was a wake up call for her. She knew that I had let go, that I couldn't take much more and was ready to break up with her. That's when she shifted. Having exhausted her whims and her self-sabotaging behavior, having gone through so much together, facing actually, finally losing me, she made up her mind.

She knew she couldn't ask for my heart back. I said to her, you can ask for my heart back when you are so sure that when you ask it will be obvious to both of us that I can trust you again, not before. No, she said, I'm not going to ask, I'm just going to show you. She said, I am going to hold the vision of who I want to be and what I want us to be and live into that, and I don't expect you to trust me or believe me. Yes, I said, I don't trust you, and I don't believe you - this sounds too much like what you've said before - but I will stay with you and allow for the possibility.

Gradually my trust is rebuilding, as time passes and she remains solid. But I firmly believe that the only way for this new foundation to be strong was for me to totally obliterated the ruins of the old. A foundation built on the debris of resentment, frustration, and mistrust will eventually crack, history will repeat itself, and the tower will crumble once again.

This was the steps of our dance, to the music of our karma (and realize that I have left out many details.) It seems we have managed to take the needle of the record skipping.

What is your dance, to what tune? What do you need to let go of, give up, sweep away, destroy, such that both of you are free to make a different choice? What shift must you make in yourself that will give him room to shift? Realize the risk: the shift you each make may be away from eachother, not towards. You cannot do it for that purpose - not for another, only for yourself, only for the purpose of following your path more truely. Then, if he shifts too, it will be for himself, and if you shift towards each other, then it will be like falling in love all over again."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

a pragmatic approach

Historically, I have been among the intuitively impared. My linear, rational, analytical abilities have tended to dominate my psyche. I have often ignored my perceptive abilities out of my compulsion to take reality, esp. people, "at face value." No wonder my girlfriends are generally intuitive, non-linear thinkers, well versed in a spontaneous approach to life.

Increasingly, I am learning to place my hyperactive brain on the shelf, to look within and simply see, without needing to explain or figure out. And, interestingly enough, this has expanded my capacity for reason. My scope is broader, my ability distinguish is sharper, and the peace in my being has become predominant.

My mind is more and more a tool at my disposal rather than then the holder of the reigns. Now, I am applying it to my current predicament of searching for a new home, and my critical faculties are in full swing. In case you live in one of these places, forgive me. I am not trying to be balanced in my assesment. But know that I have had a wonderful time with wonderful people in these truely remarkable cities (the only three in the world I'm considering, in fact! ;0)

I have come up with a one word summary for each:

Chico - comfort

Eugene - apathy

Portland - hedonism

Chico is beautiful. The downtown is warm and welcoming and Bidwell park (the nations 18th largest city park in a city that doesn't even rank in the biggest 300 cities) cuts all the way to it's edge. The neighborhoods surrounding downtown are full of small streets, and cute little houses. But despite a majority of greens and progressives on the Chico city council for most of the last ten years suburban development continues rapidly. Still, there is an enforced tree ordinance (developers must leave a certain number of trees per acerage.) There is a strong anit-war/peace and justice movement, and there is a strong sense of community, in the broader sense. But there are only two place-based, residental communities, plus a number of "hippie flophouses." Energy for change is high, and there is liberally minded affluence to support it. But affluence is dangerous - I doubt many people would actually be willing to make significant changes to their lifestyle.

Eugene has a strong sense of mutual support. My guess is that the cities urban food production per capita is one of the highest in the nation. Affluence is low - you could probably call the area economically depressed. But this is by choice for many. There is a strong "make-do with less" sensability out of a desire to escape the rat race and live more sustainably. Were I to seriously predict a major collapse of western civilization in the coming years, Eugene is probably the place I would go. I think people would come together really fast. The potential to create a strong network of mutual support and social welfare is striking. Yet without external motivation people seem content to focus on their particular interests and their particular social scene. Somehow the benefits of increased integration seem recognized yet not worth it. I wonder how possible it would be to galvanize people.

If I decided I could take living in a big city, Portland would be it. It is home of City Repair, an organization focused on humanizing the public urban environment. Tryon Life Community Farm offers a rural, communal living option within the city limits. Love Tribe creates community-based, touch-positive events. Alternative building is apparently big business here for new houses and renovations. Music and art is a big deal. But it's a city, and most people seem primarily focused on living their hip, groovy, individual lifestyles. If that includes being eco and community oriented, cool, but that's more a byproduct then a fundamental driver. Diversity is strong, but so is gentrification. It's just big (and it's not even that big comparatively)! A single person or organization could only have so much influence, and the architecture of a large city means to much diffusion to allow those influences to generate collective momentum.

I've reached the obvious conclusion - no where is perfect, and if I decide to move to one of these cities the choice of which (and the choice of this region in the first place) will be largely arbitrary. It will be, at best, an informed guess as to what would be the "best place for me to be," if such a thing exists.

Well, so much for reason. At least I'm enjoying the process...

Monday, October 29, 2007

how long can I keep this up?

It's wearing on me, this constant absorption of new information and constant querying into the depths of my destiny.

How many coffee shops, and cups of coffee have swirled in and around me? How many wireless routers have carried my musings? My only consistent companion in this time is my laptop. I feed it energy, it feeds me music, it facilitates my multifarious long-distance relationships, I lovingly carry it nearly constantly. I have joined the online community. Myspace, Facebook,,,, I cling to these computerized connections for consistency and coherence.

I write. I write about building community, the ills of society, radical intimacy, my life... I download music. I listen - I bounce my head. I stare off into space. I've come to enjoy hunting for that nice cozy couch in a hospitable coffeehouse. I've started thinking of the $2 a day I spend as rent, with free coffee thrown in. And sometimes the the only exercise I get is a walk or a bike ride from the place I'm sleeping to my new syndicated home.

Several dozen people in Chico, Eugene, and Portland have been asked recently, "what's going on here?" What's interesting? What's radical? How are people coming together? How are they making the world a better place? Some respond enthusiastically, others patiently, others not at all. I'm searching, scrutinizing, sometimes salivating...

Ah, the future... Music? Events organizing? Process consultation? Community organizing? Communes, co-ops, affinity groups, mutual aid organizations? Tribe, family, alliances? "Money, money, money... nothing but money." Can I become a money maker and not lose my soul? Jail break! Can we escape the money economy? Can I provide a potent push to activate the ambitions of progressive people?

So many ideas, so many dreams. I hold myself back. I'm so unsure! I don't want to give false impressions. "Where do you live?" Well, I don't really live anywhere. I've dropped membership - I have no rights to the place I have called home for the last 8 years. But Twin Oaks is still home. It will always be home. I will always feel a tug on my heart from that crazy commune.

Willow. What I conundrum! Abandonment, neglect - how can I even consider it! But I know why, and I know that I have to consider it. I want someone to tell me what the right thing to do is, because I don't, and I don't think I ever will, but I don't think anyone else does either.

I feel called to something bigger then Twin Oaks, because I've lost hope in Twin Oaks becoming "bigger." But I don't really believe in fate, destiny, any kind of master plan for the unfolding of creation, so how can I be "called" to do anything. I don't believe in a conscious, omnipotent entity of universal proportions. But I believe in morality. I believe in good and bad, not as fundamental qualities but as a way of describing the things people do. I want to do good. Enlightened self-interest. I want to make the world a better place, first for my self, second for willow, third for the collection of souls with whom I share this journey, fourth for everyone else. But they are inseparable, integral - in doing good, true good for one it is impossible not to do good for everyone else. Where does that lead?

Food, food is so important, an essential building block of community, civilization... life. Work on food sources, that has been a clear msg.

Energy, energy is so important. For some reason I am almost constantly aware of the energy I am burning - gasoline, jet fuel, heating water for tea or for bathing, stove tops, laptops, wireless headphones, cellphones, digital cameras. How is it that energy has become as important as food?

Love, love is so important, relationships. Satisfying relationships with self and others. The lack thereof, this is the basis of addiction, the basis of environmental destruction. And I am part of it.

I've been on the road for almost a month. Occasionally I have been lucky enough to sleep in the same bed for more then a couple nights running. But what generosity! So many friends, new friends, friends of friends, have sheltered me, given me rides, loaned me a bike, fed me, let me burn their electricity, their propane, their time.

I have been on the edge of breaking down for a week. Each morning I am amazed and appreciative not to wake up sick, depressed, paralyzed under the physical, emotional, and psychic stress, by the massiveness of the ambiguity that I've stepped into. I'm managing it. My meditation practice is solid. I've learned to skip out on opportunities rather then being compelled to them despite exhaustion. My substance use is at it's lowest point since I started down that path ten years ago. I know when I will be back "home" for a recharge. I know when my next meditation course will be. I actually have a rough sketch of my plans for the next 6 months! A framework - it helps keep me sane.

How long can I go on like this? As long as I can or as long as I have to, we'll see which comes first...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

don't try to figure it out

In my current incarnation as a professional bum I find myself in Eugene, OR, pondering the question, do I want to live here? But I can't ask myself that question in earnest. To do so would invite possibly the most intense existential crisis I have ever faced. You see, the question I'm really asking myself is this: Would a life here be compelling enough to take me away from Willow?

I've been planning this exploration for a year and a half. And over that time I have very, very gradually faced more and more the possibility of living away from my son. I got an email from Pax the other day including stuff about Willow's activities and Pax's thoughts on parenting-from-afar. Ouch - am I having a heart attack? Metaphorically perhaps. I believe that my bond with Willow is strong enough that I can maintain it long-distance. But it won't be the same, that's what hit me. Nothing can replace daily contact with a child. There is so much I would miss out on... (deep breath)

I have to believe he would be fine. Certainly, because of the bond we share there is something he would miss from my absence. But with Pax, Hawina, all his primaries, Jonah and Gwen, and the full, rich, engaging life a child has at Twin Oaks, he'll be fine. I have no doubts about him getting all the love and attention he needs to continue developing as the amazing being he is. It's not him I'm worried about, it's me.

If I tried to "figure out" whether or not I want to move away from Twin Oaks I would very quickly go insane. It's simply too soon to know. I've given myself till the end of next spring, with plenty of time away exploring and back at Twin Oaks. That's when I'll have to face it, probably by June. It's months away, but the time will pass so quickly.

I have yet to discuss the matter with Willow. I've been avoiding it - it's just been too painful. But I will, soon. I honestly can not imagine what he will say. I can see him being upset. I can see him being indifferent. I can see ambivilence. I can see philosophical acceptance. He never ceases to amaze me.

I see so much of myself in him. He's such a smart kid - many things come easily to him. So if something isn't immediatly fun and easy, he doesn't want to bother and can be totally lazy. When he's sick he's very calm and accepting - only in major pain does he get distressed. But he's very fearful of putting himself in situations that may result in physical pain. Generally speaking, he can be pretty fearful, a wimp so to speak. I was a total wimp (and kinda still am.) And he can be pretty insecure and anxious, not wanting to be alone, not wanting to push himself out of his comfort zone, easiy thinking he can't do something - all things I've struggled with.

I have a hard time with it sometimes. I know it's just because I have a hard time seeing those aspects of myself. I try not to give him a hard time, but it just comes out sometimes. I don't want him to have to struggle with that shit. But it doesn't help, and it feels terrible. It's just that I love him so much.

Every time something happens that's hard for him I just have to take a deep breath and say to myself, "it's just part of being human - we all have to deal with stuff - this is just what he has to deal with - if it wasn't this it would be something else." And really, it's in being with him through the hard stuff, staying centered and present myself and helping him deal with it and understand it, that's where some of the most satisfying experiences have come from. Every new experience is such a big deal - after 5.5 years we've been through so much. Can I really leave him?

I wonder if it's just my ego attachment, my desire to influence this child, mold him in my image. Or maybe it's my need to prove my worth as a human being by being a good parent. Maybe I can just move beyond all that... yeah, right.

I think about him sitting on my lap as we play Civilization together. I think about doing reading practice, struggling through it at times, but then finishing a new, challenging book and seeing the look of satisfaction on his face. I think about walking down the path with him on my back, holding each other close. I think about reading out loud to him, cuddled up together on the couch. I think about waking up with him in the morning, holding him as his eyelids flutter open. No lover, no adult partner has ever had such a firm grip on my heart.

It's as if, over the years, I have given him a piece of myself, but that piece still exists in myself as well as in him, with a cord to link them. Imagining leaving him, not living with him day-to-day, it feels like that part of me is being torn out. It never actually would be, but damn, it hurts.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

a believer in human rights

I'm a believer.

I believe we're heading for rough times. Could be environmental catastrophies, energy crisis, economic collapse, break down of basic utilities and distribution of goods, world war, global epidemics... all of the above?

I'm a believer.

I believe in community. There are lots of different kinds of communities and co-operatives - different ways people are mutually supporting each other. I think we have to get together for mutual support if we want simply to survive, let alone thrive through the times to come.

I realize Twin Oaks is too much for most people. Most of us need more autonomy, flexibility, and personability. But one of the great things about Twin Oaks is this: if you are member and contribute to a reasonable degree, you will be taken care of. No question - you will be taken care of. Food, shelter, clothing, health care - you will be taken care of. How many people who are not independently wealthy have that kind of security? Not many, and that's wrong.

A couple weeks ago I read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948. Obviously the governements of the world have not done a good job of making sure this declaration is being upheld (look at Article 25 in particular.) In the absence of governements fullfilling this responsibility, I think organizations created for mutual support (i.e. community) ought to take it as their responsibility to fulfill this.

What would happen if people didn't have to worry about the basics? - if you didn't have to worry about getting sick, or not having enough money for all the bills and rent, or treating a broken arm or getting a cavity filled? And I don't mean not having to worry about it because you know you can always get a job (because a lot of people don't know they can always get a job!) I mean really, really not having to ever worry about it?! Imagine the amount of creative energy that would free up!! I think it's hard for most people to realize the subconscious, underlying pressure and tension they feel because they've never not felt it, and how it changes the way you see your life and what you do when that is relieved.

So, what would a Human Rights Co-op look like? What if there were groups all over a city that were organizing to provide for the basic human rights of themselves and others, and to benefit from them all you had to do was contribute some time to perpetuating and expanding them going? Yeah, money would have to be generated because the money economy is impossible to get out of unless you want to be a survivalist out in the wilderness. But we can lessen our dependence and we can make a better life for ourselves.

A music group I admire called Seize the Day says it better then I can right now...

" seems like nobody's in control
just money makin' money and it's got no soul
but it's got no power but the power we give
when we doubt that without it we could live
imagine, it's easy if you try
I'm an idealist, also a realist
I know it's difficult to kick that drug
but if we get clever and we do it all together
what a great endevour
when we pull that plug..."

I'm a believer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

joe and me

"Your off work on the thursday, right?"
"Yeah, why?"
"I want you to help me indulge in nostalgia."
"I want us to drive around to our old houses and reminisce."
"Oh, okay, cool."

This was about two weeks ago. I was staying with Joe, my best friend from junior high and the beginning of high school in Martinez, CA. In some ways he's stayed my best friend, even though we had almost no contact for almost 8 years. He joined the Navy about the same time I moved to Twin Oaks. He'd gotten married and after getting out they moved back to Martinez. He and his wife had just had their first child.

When I was 13 my parents divorced and I moved with my mother to Martinez, a suburb of the East Bay. A couple months into junior high I'd only made one friend and I was miserable. This was a continuation of 3 years of being mostly friendless and miserable in Chico, CA while my family was falling apart.

I don't remember meeting Joe. He started the school year a couple months late. Just all of a sudden he was in my gym class and we were joking and carrying on like we'd been friends for years. We were best friends for 3 years. Then life got complicated, as it will when you're a teenager - we half drifted and half tore ourselves apart.

"Oh, remember the wreck we had on our bikes here!" We were driving down the hill next to the Shell oil refinery (right smack in the middle of town), along the route we rode our bikes every school day for two years of junior high.
"Yeah! Man, that fucking bus! He totally crossed over the white line."
"Yeah, and your handle bar went into the open window."
"I went down, then you hit my bike and you went down."
"We were so torn up! Remember going back to my house - I got out the hydrogen peroxide. We were like, oh shit, just do it!"
A little further down the road...
"Oh, and we had another wreck here!"
"Yeah, my brakes went out! I smashed into you from behind and flew into the intersection - I'm lucky I'm alive!"

A right turn, a little further... "Oh shit, they're developing up on that hill." "Yeah, they bought out some guy who lived up there and torn his house down." Another right...

"Wow, you still take these turns like you live here," I said.
"Man, I drive past here on my way home from work if I stop at the Lucky's up there, and half the time I just turn down here automatically. I'm such a creature of habit. I'll just drive up, check out the nieghborhood."

I'd gotten back to the Bay Area a few days before our jaunt down memory lane. I'd come from doing another 10 day mediation retreat, which is where I'd gotten the idea to do this. I'd thought about how amazing my friendship with Joe is. What different paths we'd taken! And yet, despite the differences in our lifestyles, I feel more acceptance and love from and for him then with any other friend of mine. Really, we're family, in the best kind of way. And despite his very conventional, mainstream lifestyle, Joe is an amazingly radical person.

He works as a cable repair guy. He realizes TV is a drug that keeps people seperate from each other and helps prevent them from getting together and making their lives better. But when he fixes someone's cable, they're so appreciative. And customers often talk to him in such an open way, clearly craving human contact, and he likes being able to meet people and connect with them. He is possibly the most generous, good-natured, and well-meaning person I know.

He's aware of all the shit put in processed food. Having grown up a quarter mile from a Shell oil refinery and suffered from asthma as a child he's conscious of environmental issues. He's aware of economic injustice - he would love to raise his family in his home town, but it's too expensive. When we saw each other in March for the first time in about 6 years one of the first questions he asked me was, "how can we take all the stuff you're doing in your community and use it to help change society?"

He has a very pragmatic view of reality. It's just the way it is. Yeah, shit's fucked up, but, "I was raised to want a family, and buy a house, and I don't know how to do anything different."

Cherisa, his wife, is also amazing. She's very kind, level-headed, and intelligent. I'd crashed at there place for one night before going to the meditation course. "What did you guy's do with willow around vaccines?" she asked.
"Well, the first time he steps on a nail we'll give him a tetnus shot. Other then that, nothing. There are a couple we might end up doing later on. Why?"
"I heard some stuff about the perservatives they use in vaccines, and the increasing number of vaccines they give kids at early ages, and how it's liked it increased rates of SIDS and autism. We refused them"
By the time I got back she'd done extensive research, including pending law suites in Japan and the UK. Saying I was impressed is an understatement.
"We decided to get him the same vaccines on the same schedule that we got when we were kids." I've also been very impressed and appreciative at how immediatly accepting and welcoming she's been of this weird-ass, fuckin' hippy friend of her husband.

We drove to Joe's old house at the end of the culdasac at the top of the hill. "It's weird seeing the garage door down," he said.
"Yeah, no one ever used the front door. If the garage door was down I knew no one was home."

Back down at the bottom of the hill...

"We spent so much time skateboarding down here."
"God, you were so sprung over Mary, and she played you so hard!" I said. "You know, Cherissa is so great. You had so many crazy fuckin' relationships! I'm really glad you got over that and got into a good one."
"Yeah, she's so good for me - we really balance each other," he said. "Hey, and didn't you and Cynthia hang out here a lot too?"
"Yeah, this is where we met. You and I were down here skating and she was walking home from school. You know, it was like with you. I don't remember meeting her - just all of a sudden we were talking away like we'd known each other forever."

Cynthia's house was on the next street down. "Man, you spent so much time sitting on that front step with her!"
"Wow... I was so in love with her. On some level I'm still totally in love with her." Cynthia and I had been together for three years, not an especially long time for adults, but a veritable eternity as teenagers. We stil love each other, but... well, that's for a future post.
"Oh yeah, you always will be. Those kinds of feelings don't just go away."
"But god, it's so weird. Other people live in our houses! And we live these totally different lives. It's like none of it ever happened."

We drove the half mile across town to my old house. "We never really hung out here," I said.
"Yeah, I was scared of your step-dad!" Joe said, half-seriously, laughing. "But it was so cool when he'd pick us up from school in his silver cop car!"
"Yeah, and things were so hard with my mom and I. I didn't really want to be there." During the three years of our most involved friendship I ate more meals at Joe's house then my own.

"Hey let's drive by the high school." Two blocks before the we got there we passed San Vicente, the adult education center. Two groups of people were standing near the street, one on the sidewalk, the other in the parking lot, seperated by a short chain-link fence. Several were screaming and gesticulating wildly at each other - a conflict between a group of young San Vicente students and older Alhambra High School students. As we waited for the light to change the exchange intensified and the Alhambra students started jumping over the fence. The students who'd been watching from across the street in the Safeway parking lot ran through the halted traffic to get a closer view.

"Oh my god, that guy has a baseball bat!" But within seconds we heard a police siren and saw the squad car turn down the sidestreet. The bat disappeared under a car - the Alhambra students disappeared back across the street.

"You know, things just seem so important when you're a teenager," I said. " And, I mean, sometimes they are. I spent a lot of time helping Cynthia deal with her emotionally abusive family."
"Yeah, do you remember when you and Andy quit the band and we didn't talk for like 6 months?"
"Yeah... I don't even remember why things were so hard."
"I was being a total asshole. My dad was drinking every night and yelling at me. I would run away like every other night. He'd figure out where I was and call, crying, begging me to come home..."
"I didn't know that," I said.
"Yeah, then there was that day that your mom gave me a ride home, and I just broke down and cried and told her everything, and she talked to you and got you to talk to me. But your right, you know - now it's like, we've got kids and families! It's just a whole different level of concerns."

We drove through downtown, remembering various other friends, events. I'm not really very prone to nostalgia. In fact I can be pretty callous when it comes to the past. But this journey served a purpose for both Joe and I, completing something left undone. We'd shared so many experienced but never really talked about them. Now we shared a common understanding, aligning our lives more closely. Barriers I hadn't even really realized were there were dropping away...


Okay, I'm going to stop there before I totally disolve into a gooey puddle of sentimental cliche ;0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

the science of hitch hiking

(note: you may want to look at google maps or mapquest while reading this ;0)

Today I hitch-hiked from Chico, CA to Eugene, OR. It's about a 7 hr drive. Generally I like to assume that the amount of time standing on the side of the rode will be close to the amount of actual driving time (and be pleasantly surprised when it's less, or not disappointed when it's not.)

Dale, my father, drove me to the northern edge of Chico on Hwy 99. I waited about 15 minutes before I got a ride to a rest area just north of Red Bluff on I 5. It was a very small rest area with little traffic and I was a bit worried, but the onramp wasn't very long so I was able to effectively hitch the freeway. After about 30 minutes a very nice, classic west coast-type guy named Scott picked me up and drove me all the way to the cmty I'm staying at here in Eugene. The whole trip took about 8 hrs, three rides, door-to-door - yes!!

I wouldn't say I'm a terribly experienced hitch-hiker, but I've had plenty of opportunities waiting by the side of the road with my thumb out to think about it. So, here's my advice...

A couple things are basic and perhaps obvious. Look nice. Not too clean cut - that's what the serial killers do - but not ratty. Today I had on a reasonably nice pair of corduroy pants and a white tee-shirt with simple lettering on the front. Sometimes I think it's better not to wear sunglasses, so drivers can see your eyes - other times I don't think it matters.

Have a sign saying where you're going. The actual information isn't important, it's giving the impression that you are reasonably thoughtful and prepared.

When picking a spot to hitch from consider the road ahead and the road behind. If the road behind (where traffic is coming from) is a curve it will give drivers less time to get a look at you before they pass you. The road ahead should have nice long and wide shoulder to give drivers plenty of time to stop - a quick stop will scare some potential rides away.

Know what kinds of cities, freeway interchanges, and rest or service areas are on your route. Always ask a person how far they're going before you accept the ride to make sure they'll be able to take you to a next good place to hitch from. Today, for example, the first ride I got was going to the south side of the city of Redding. Had he been going to the north side, I might have gone for it, because all the people heading north at that point would more likely be going long-distance.

Getting dropped off on the near side, or in the middle, of a city, especially a large city, can mean lots of waiting for lots of short rides. Rest areas are good because people who stop at them are usually traveling long-distance. But, as mentioned, be look out for small rest areas that that don't have on ramps that allow you to get close to the freeway. A couple times, before I wised up, I had to get dropped off in the middle of a freeway interchanges. That was pretty scary.

Hitching in pairs is of course safer, but sizable minority of the people who give rides are guys in pickups with only room for one rider. Just because shit can happen, I think it's safe for men and women, but especially women, to carry pepperspray.

And at this point, unless you really want an adventure, I consider trips that will take me more then a day, requiring me to camp out, to not be worth it. When I was younger and more innocent looking I actually had some quite lucrative hitches and was put up by very nice people. It was great, but, frankly, I'm over it.

But I can still manage to beat the time it would have taken Greyhound (9 hrs), and instead of paying $72 for a ticket I chipped in $10 for gas. Does everyone get more pragmatic as they get older?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

moving through overwhelm

I've spent the last 8 years calling Twin Oaks my home, and over time I've become dissatisfied with how small that world is - not just the actually property of Twin Oaks, but the larger network of people and communities it's directly connected to. Now I'm exploring living a lifestyle that's more integrated with the mainstream, and I realize that in 8 years I've forgotten just how BIG the mainstream world is!!

I've been in Chico the last 10 days. Having spent a total of about 7 years of my childhood here it's the closest thing I have to a hometown. It's a smallish city, with a "metro" population of about 100,000. It's a pretty liberal town - green, progressive city council members are often the majority. There is a "tree ordinance" requiring developers to leave a certain number of trees/area when developing a piece of property.

There are two intentional communities in the area (Valley Oaks Village, a cohousing community and Ripparia, a small landtrust), plus a number of "hippie flophouses" as Shandin calls them. The coolest thing I've come across so far is a new group called GRUB (Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies). Their mission is to grow as much food within the city limits for as many people as possible on donated land. They already have more land donated then they have gardeners to manage. They're also creating a "tree registery", a database of all fruit and nut trees in the city from which the owner are happy to have other people harvest. They had a fundraiser the other night at the Peace and Justice Center, and I was impressed by the number of people who came and their positivity.

Could I live here? Could I do what I want here? Here's what I want to do, in a nutshell: Pick a population center and help found and/or link a network of communal/cooperative entities that are providing housing, growing and distributing food, producing ecologically sound goods for money or barter, providing space for social events, arts and performance, and organizing, and engaging in community organizing and local politics.

Lofty, eh? Can I do this anywhere? I don't know. Certainly not if I let my insecurity and self-doubt get in the way. But you know, I think I've had this idea that I could get so many groups started so fast that it would quickly take over a city the size of Chico and Eugene. What was I thinking?!

Walking around downtown over the last few days, riding my borrowed bike through the suburbs, seeing all the affluent Bay Area escapees and the manicured college students, the banks, the designer clothing stores, and, of course, the endless stream of cars...

One of my big complaint about Twin Oaks and the Communities Movement is the prevelance of white, middle-class folx primarily interested in creating their happy little utopias, failing to recognize or engage in the essentially integrated reality of our communities with the rest of society, and failing to collaborate with the myriad social movements with similar aims.

Now I'm asking myself the question, am I capable of anything more? Insecurity! Self-doubt!!

I'm trying to pull myself back to what I consider to be an appropriate purpose for whatever I do: making life better for all beings. Is what I'm doing serving people and the planet? Make sure that I can say yes and then do as much of that as possible.

Egoism, success and failure, even hope, these are such tempting indulgences of the mind - but they get in way! Pema Chodron said in a discussion with Alice Walker, don't do what you do because you hope it will change things - do what you do because you believe that's the right thing to do.

Okay - take a deep breath, notice the fear, and keep moving fwd...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

keeping a brother, losing a friend

My brother and I don't talk about just anything. We talk about everything, except what we went through together. We talk to fill the silence, because the memories would fill it up, and we don't talk about it.

I remember hearing something, half asleep, cracking my eyes, seeing a flash of movement.
Impact. A bright orange flash in darkness. Darkness.
I can hear myself screaming for help.
A thought - maybe if I stop screaming I won't get hit anymore - okay.
I stop screaming.
I can see again.

We'd been camping on a trail off an abandoned road at the northern end of Humbolt Redwood State Park. It was almost 8 am. We were sleeping in after the first day of our bike tour down to San Fransisco. 3 guys jumped us. The first must have run up and kicked me in the head. When I came to I was crawling backwards away from him, standing over me.

"We've got money; take whatever, just leave us alone." I direct them to the money.
"Tie them up," he says.

The guy who tied me up was vicious, hogtying me so tightly my left hand was numb for 4 days. The guy who tied Shandin up, well, it's ambiguous...

"If you tie us up and leave us here, no one comes down here, we could starve to death," said Shandin.
"Who gives a fuck. We should just kill you," said the guy who'd been beating me up.

But they guy who was tying Shandin up said, "well, we'll come back later and untie you."
What? Doesn't make much sense. But what we know is that he did a poor job of tying Shandin. He was out of the ropes ten minutes after they left, untied me, and we ran to the highway to flag down help.

I was 19 when this happened. Shandin is 6 years older then me. He'd always been a great older brother, taking me out to interesting places, exposing me to consciousness-raising culture. But friction had started. I was becoming an adult and wanting more of a peer relationship. But I felt dependent on him, and he felt like he needed to take care of me, but also wanted to empower me.

If the assault was anyone's fault I'd say it was mine. We accidently hung our food bag in a place that made it like a beacon. Shan noticed this, but when I said, oh, it's fun, he went with it out of a desire to empower me. You could say it was his fault for not trusting the discerning judgement of his experience and moving the food bag despite my protest, but that feels like a stretch.

It seems like Shandin couldn't help feeling like it was his fault, blaming himself. But then it was also my fault, and he would blame me. He never said any of this to me directly.

I never blamed him. But it was an eye opening experience. I realized how dependent I'd been on others to create my experience, and how I'd put myself in mortal danger by not taking responsibility for myself. After the experience I returned home to Twin Oaks Community, a safe community full of support for healing. Shandin was re-entering the mainstream, having just left East Wind Community, and didn't get the space and time and support. He was about to begin work forming a new Ecovillage on the west coast.

Once I tried to talk about the experience with him. I wanted to share about my healing process. I think this was a poor approach on my part, given the opportunities I had that he didn't. He didn't show much interest, and I quickly dropped the subject. It was still to painful for either of us to face with eachother. We have yet to revisit it.

In the years since, Shandin's ecovillage project struggled, faltered, and finally fell apart. I was strongly engaged at Twin Oaks, and had become part of a successful poly-family (three parents with one child), which is something Shandin had always wanted. During one visit I remember him saying to me, "I can't do this without you." Whoa! Recoil - when did I become the big brother here? I'd worked hard to become a strong, independent adult, which included distancing myself from my family for a couple years, living the width of the continent apart. I needed to not need anyone, and I'd gotten there. Now I discovered that they needed me - a totally foreign concept. And, with Shandin, there was still this horrid experience we'd shared and never talked about.

I couldn't deal. I simply didn't respond to the efforts Shandin made to reach out to me. He felt rejected, legitimately so. Things have been strained the last few years.

Now, all of a sudden they feel relaxed. Shandin's goals in life have changed considerably, in a direction I can't help him with. He doesn't expect anything from me, nor I from him. It makes it easier. The day before yesterday, sitting together with our father, Dale, peeling the garlic harvest for almost 9 hrs, it went by so quickly. We talked psychological theory, gossiped about Twin Oaks, shared about our confusion about relationships and what we want. It was the best part of family - the familiarity and comfort, the ease of relating. And now, with our lives on such different tracks, our past issues and experiences, the muck and darkness, it doesn't matter anymore. Our involvment and investment in each other doesn't warrant talking about it.

But if we keep relating to each other on the surface level, even a few layers in, how long will it be until the cores of who we are are elsewhere, and the engagement will become dissatisfying, more obligatory then desired? Should I go ahead and be the big brother and say, Shandin, let's talk about this? As I type these words I can feel the weight of it on my heart - the feelings are so overwhelming - do I have the courage to face them? If not, I will miss the final piece of healing I have to do from the most violent experience of my life. And, if not, I will still have a brother, but I will lose a friend.