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.