Archive for the ‘Gwendolyn’ Category

Family

 The idea of family is one that’s coming up for me a lot lately. Last weekend we had a birthday party for my grandmother; she turned eighty on April Fools day, so the fact that we had a birthday party for her in July confused her no end.

Most of the members of my mother’s side of the family descended upon us, and I got to see cousins I haven’t seen for a long time, relatives I couldn’t recognize by sight, and little babies I was just meeting for the first time. It was really cool hanging out with my cousins, although most of them are older than me and have families so it was a little bit of me feeling like a little child. It’s funny how we don’t really have that much in common– they’re not really in the same culture I’m in, they don’t eat the food I eat and they probably can’t relate to a lot of the things I’m doing– but we have this intricately tied history, kind of like war buddies, that means we connect on a level I can’t connect with anyone else. No one who isn’t in my family understands what it’s like in our family. It’s wonderful being able to have that connection again.

The second thing that happened that makes me think about family is my grandfather, pictured above, just died.

I don’t really know what to say about that, because I don’t know what to think about it. My grandfather was pretty important in my young childhood, but I didn’t see him much after my parents divorced, so it kind of feels like loosing something I already lost. But death does this thing to your mind; it changes the world. Literally; there is a part of your brain whose whole purpose is to keep track of what the world is like and every time you encounter new evidence that the world is different a different part of your brain is responsible for correcting it. I don’t how, but death just doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make sense, and so this one part of your brain is holding onto ‘this person is alive’ and this other part is trying to correct it and it sends you off in a whirl. When my father died I spent months with my mind like a broken record, all of it’s energy trying to reconcile the world. And then you come out of it, finally convinced and the world hasn’t changed. The earth still goes about its orbit and your neighbors and the people in the coffeeshop you go to and your co-workers– almost no one but you has noticed that things are different.

My grandfather was a pretty amazing man. He fought in WWII as the radio operator on a submarine, then stayed with the Navy for a while, stationed on Key West, where my father was born, then France. When he got out of the Navy he went and lived in the Mid-West for a bit because he thought he was sick of the sea, but then he gave in and moved out here where he became the pilot for a Alvin, a deep sea submersible belonging to the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute, that explores the deep places of the world. On one expedition to the mid-Atlantic ridge the scientists he was piloting found a worm they named after him.

 Family and community are deeply related. Your family is part of your community and communities are often made up of families. I like to think that a community is the family you choose, but the truth is that all your family is important, even when you don’t see eye to eye.

Alex’s community, Ionia, is mostly his family, but I have to face the fact that whatever community I end up in won’t have my family in it, and even when I start a new family, not having the rest of my family around will still feel like a loss.

Stamps and stencils

I know, I know; it’s been too long. I’ve been meaning to write for more than a week, but there’s just so much going on. Last week I made these awesome communitywalkabout shirts, which we’re planning on using for rewards when we launch our IndieGoGo campaign. Aren’t they sweet? All hand stenciled and stamped.

Indie GoGo is a fundraiser tool, which we’re going to try to use to get some money together for our trip. We’ve hired consulatants, Mindy and Ryan from WithinReach, partially because they’ve successfully run fundraising campaigns before and partially because we think they’re super awesome. They did a community tour a few years ago, on bicycles, with the intent on visiting over a hundred different sustainable communities. They went into debt to make their sustainable community documentary and we’re excited about the idea that we can help them out and help us out at the same time. They’re starting a consulting firm connecting people with communities and helping them out with fundraising.

For the fundraiser we’re going to make a video, hopefully after I get new glasses. I lost mine two weeks ago and have been wearing my sunglasses ever since, which has been really annoying. I ordered new ones from Zenni Optical because it was two hundred seventy dollars cheaper than getting them made here (there’s totally a glasses prescription monopoly thing going on in this country) but it does take them a little bit longer to come in. (My glasses usually cost three hundred dollars because my eyes are so bad they tell me it costs an extra two hundred dollars to get the special plastic the lenses are made out of. And yet it only costs Zenni an extra ten dollars. Suspicious?). Everything’s been a little dark. It’s been surprising, though, how few people have asked me why I’m wearing sunglasses inside. No one has, actually. At night, in the dark, inside on a dull, rainy day, no one has addressed the fact that my eyes are covered with half an inch of brown plastic.

 

Thinking about the video we’re going to make has led me to thinking a lot about intentional communities. Why people live in them- what they are. I picture the average American dream- which really works for the average American person. Your own house, your children, your pets, your husband or wife. Having lived in a community, with thirty other people, it seems so empty now. No- it always seemed empty, to me. It’s harder and emptier. Harder cooking good meals with only two people, harder cleaning up with only three. Emptier living without children running about underfoot, without good friends you can find when you’re lonely. Harder to live with two other people being always in each other’s faces. I’m not complaining- I love my life as it is, right now. But the future I imagine is more populated.

Intentional communities are an alternative to conventional life. They allow more people to live with less resources; three people cooking for fifty is more conservative than fifty people cooking for fifty. At Ionia there were two cars for thirty people. And Intentional communities support the residents; parenting is shared, taking the burden out of a twenty-four/seven job. Household tasks are made easier and more fun when everyone takes part. When you live in a community you don’t have to be alone, or to face anything alone when you don’t want to. If you can’t handle something, you find someone to help you.

Individualism is the American Ideal, and it really works for some people. But it really doesn’t work for others. Some people get lost in a world they have to face all by themselves. Some people live in neighborhoods or towns where everyone knows each other and helps each other, and some people live in apartment complexes or suburbs where they’ve never spoken to any of their neighbors. Some people want their own house, their own yard, their own car, their own life, and to some people it just seems like a waste. When I found out that intentional communities were a real thing- not just something that failed in the sixties because everyone smoked pot and slept around – I felt as if I’d finally figured out the answer to a question. And when I lived in Ionia, a community that really worked, I couldn’t believe my luck. Since then I’ve talked to other people about intentional communities and I’ve seen a similar thing happen inside them; suddenly the realization that they can live differently. That’s one of the things I hope will come from this; that people will see that there is a different way to live and that people are out there living it. That we can reach people, with this blog, or the book we plan to write, or maybe if we pull off giving presentations. We can reach them and tell them that they don’t have to live in same way other people do. That they can be different. You can be different too.

Garden growing

Everything’s coming up roses here… I mean turnips. Our garden is looking fabulous. We bought heirloom organic seeds from Southern Exposure Seed exchange, http://www.southernexposure.com/, a seed catalogue which sells heirloom and organic seeds, and which is partially run by Twin Oaks, a community in Virginia that we’re going to visit in October. Heirloom seeds are important because they represent a greater variety of plants than are normally commercially available, varieties that people long ago cultivated for their different qualities. You might be familiar with heirloom tomatoes, which are a completely different tomato experience from the perfectly round, red, balls you buy at the supermarket. Heirloom plants have character and taste, and more importantly, nutrients. In his book In Defense of Food Michael Pollen suggests that heirloom plants might have twice the number of antioxidants and other important nutrients that regular, mass-produced, picture-perfect, genetically bred plants have. That’s because while those plants were being babied and sprayed with pesticides, the heirlooms had to survive generations of insect attacks and disease exposure. It’s the same protections the plants make against insects and disease exposure that helps our bodies fight off attacks.

Anyways, we planted our garden a little late- two weeks into May- and with the exception of the cabbage, which didn’t come up at all, and the basil, which wants a warmer climate and so is still uber-tiny, our garden is bursting. We have already thinned all of the beds and another thinning is coming up soon. (I used to feel bad about thinnings until I realized you could eat them. Most of our plants are greens and baby greens are super delicious.) And we mulched the gardens with cut grass, to keep the weeds under control and to retain moisture in the soil. It hasn’t rained once in two weeks! I know because I water the gardens every day and I keep hoping for a rainy day so I’ll have some time off.

I love gardening- it’s such an awesome way to get a connection to your food. You see it as a seed, as a baby plant, you care for it, then you dig it up and wash the dirt off and cook it and eat it. One of the rewards of working with whole foods is that you really get a feel for where your food comes from. I know what tofu is because I made the tofu from soybeans. I know what whole wheat looks like because I ground the wheat to make the flour. And this is just taking it one step back. Someday I’d love to have a hand in growing all the crops I eat. I want to know what’s it’s like to work in a rice paddy, an apple orchard, a field of beans. What is more human than eating? And what is more animal than knowing what your food looks like?

In other news, Alex is excited about trying to get personal chef work. We’ve already got one lead, and a wine tasting set up where he’s going to showcase his food. I hope it works for him because he’s an awesome chef and it’s amazing to have food which is so healthy and so delicious. And, when he’s got a big gig I’ll get to come along and be a sous-chef and dessert-chef. I designed posters for him, and business cards, and we hung them up around the upper cape, so I’m also his graphics designer and his chauffeur. With a support staff like that, how can he fail?

 

And then there were two

It’s been a week since our last post and in that time a lot has changed. A week ago Mirra told us that she was torn between wanting to go on our trip and wanting to focus her attentions on music and dance. She finally decided that while the communitywalkabout project was very interesting to her, if she didn’t pursue music and dance she wouldn’t be as happy. She is moving to New York and is very excited about the possibilities there.

I guess my reaction to this all is mixed. I am very sad that Mirra isn’t going to be joining us. She added a lot to the project, with her excitement and creativity, her friendliness and her charisma. I think two people is harder than three because it’s so much more intense spending so much time with only other person. But I am glad that she chose what she did, because I want her to be happy and it was getting difficult for us because we felt like she didn’t want to be part of the project. Now that we know she isn’t going we can move on and try to get everything moving again. Even without Mirra I’m excited about our project and I think it’s going to be amazing and successful. I love Alex and I have a wonderful relationship with him and I think it’s strong enough to endure whatever the road throws at us.

Dealing with the issues around Mirra leaving really took our energy away from the project, but we’re starting to pick up steam again. I’ve started working, a wonderful job at a health food store, and Alex and I are getting to have normal schedules. I think we’re quickly going to be able to have a routine that supports our project and that we’re going to be able to work on it and with it even more than ever.

Meanwhile, there’s a wonderful summer to enjoy here. I forgot how beautiful it is here and I’m enjoying it so much; the weather has been nice and I’ve been biking to work along a wonderful bike trail that takes me almost all of the way there. I’m excited about the future but I’m also more than happy about the present.

Yesterday, at the beach

I just made breakfast and took Alex to work. Mirra and John, Alex’s eldest brother, are sleeping upstairs and I’m talking to Connor, Alex’s younger brother- who’s in India right now- on Facebook.  Last night we made dinner at David’s- Alex’s uncle- apartment, with John- who is visiting for a few days- Alex’s sister, Jane, Alex’s uncle, Josie, David, Bill, one of the Ionian elders, who is on the Cape visiting his parents, and his daughter, Erin, and some other friends.

It was pretty awesome; David gave us his credit card and Mirra and I went to the grocery store and loaded our cart with tons of vegetables (for us, special treats are expensive fruits and vegetables; I love being macrobiotic) and four of us cooked, all making different dishes. I made guacamole and strawberry sauce for dessert (over coconut ice cream). It was a little annoying because David, who doesn’t want to think of himself settling in his apartment hasn’t gotten any good cooking things and so we didn’t have enough knives or bowls or pots or anything, really. Mirra and I took turns using a knife, which didn’t really work, since all either of us had to do was cut things.

And then David and his crew- they’re working on getting the yacht he’s captain of ship-shape- came trouping in, with Bill and Erin and Brian, one of Jane’s friends- and we ate enormous amounts of burritos with seitan and salad and beans a guacamole and colored peppers, and then we lay around, playing music and talking and it was wonderful, seeing all these people, especially Bill, because I didn’t think of missing him, because I didn’t think of missing the Ionians who aren’t my particular friends or people I hung out with, but I realize that I do, that everyone there were part of the tapestry of my life and one strand missing changes the whole pattern.

Our whole yesterday was great; waking up with Alex, and making and having breakfast with him- no matter how much time I spend with him I never get sick of him, which is possibly the highest compliment I could give someone (and something I realized when we were living in the Eller house at Ionia and spending all our time together), then going and picking John and Mirra up (they’d stayed out late drinking and slept over at David’s, which is in town), then we went to the beach, and then home for lunch, then watercressing, then to David’s to cook dinner.

“I had the best day, today,” John told everyone.

I have the best life, because every day is like that. Cooking, gardening, cleaning, picking wild foods for our meals (more about that later), planning our trip, playing music, in this beautiful, beautiful place. Every morning I wake up in the arms of people I love, and every night I go to sleep knowing I’m loved and it seems surreal because life isn’t supposed to be this good. Even the hard things are good. I’m sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Coming Home

A week into my FEMA deployment I decided I had had enough. There’s no point in being miserable. So I came home.

My emotions vacillated. I was happy I was coming home, sad I was leaving Alabama. Excited to see Alex and Mirra, nervous about what we had ahead of us; finding jobs, getting organized, settling into the business of living.

I arrived in Boston Sunday night (my plane had been delayed for over two hours for unexplained reasons) to find Mirra and my mom waiting for me. Then the long drive from Boston to Falmouth (69 miles, I have reason to know). And I got out of the car, got my luggage and was trying to force my suitcase through the door when Alex pounced on me. Really, he could have better timing.

I guess I’d been really nervous and excited about seeing him- we’d been such good friends and roommates in Ionia, but I hadn’t seen him in four weeks and even though we’d talked on the phone, our conversations had been stilted and awkward, you know how they are when you want to talk to someone but can’t think of anything to say. But when we saw each other it was just… perfect. I’d missed having him around so much.

And now we’re here. We’re still trying to put ourselves back together. Our separation knocked our project to pieces more than we expected, and we’re so busy trying to find jobs, and working (Alex started work on Monday- he’s a painter’s assistant), gardening, straightening things out and, of course, cooking, that we’ve had no time for communitywalkabout, which is the reason we’re all together, after all. Finally, last night, we looked online at communities– we found an awesome Quaker one in New York State that looked really cool and really welcoming– and I think that sparked us a little bit.

I’m not sure we can have full-time jobs and still do they work we need to do on communitywalkabout. I think we’re going to discover that soon. If it came down to making a choice, I know what we would choose.

We’re planning on starting a kick-starter campaign, but the problem is we don’t know how to do videos, so if anyone knows and would like to help us, we’d really appreciate it.

-Gwendolyn

Our room; Alex's chest, my grandfather's flag and Mirra's guitar-in the laundry basket

A Room Without a View

I began today– the days have been very slow here for us; the process is going very smoothly for the people in this small town and so they don’t need us that much right now. But who knows what tomorrow or this weekend will look like? Running a disaster recovery is a bit of a disaster.

But I degress. Today’s slowness has afforded me time to get some music for my ukulele. I got several songs, chords and lyrics to practice and try to play. I haven’t played it much because I am a failure at tuning by ear, but I shall try to use the tuning website– ‘the seventh string’ or something like that– and though I am not a very good player, there is something very calming about practicing.

I degress again. One of the songs I got was ‘In Love With a View’ by Mojave 3. I’m not overfond of the artist, but I love the song. Writing it down made me want to listen to it and listening to it (on my iPod, Sunshine) made me want to read ‘A Room With a View,’ which is fantastically available for free reading or download from Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), an online library of thousand of post-copyright works.

So I spent the rest of my free time today reading the book. ‘A Room With a View’ is a novel written in 1909 by the amazing author, E. M. Forster. He only wrote five or so books, all of them incredible, though some ended in tragedy. He lived in India, and in Persia (or Turkey?), set two of his books at least partially in Italy, and was gay, which wasn’t easy in 1900’s England, back when men were jailed for sodemy. Oscar Wilde, for one, was in jail for gayness for a while and died a few years later, according to an account I once read of him, of lonliness. Besides the legal implications, men were taught that homosexuality was immoral and sinful and unpatriotic. He encapsulates his experience as a gay Victorian English man wonderfully in his post-humusly published novel ‘Maurice’.

I degress again. ‘A Room With a View’  is spectacular. The writing is amazing, but even more the characterization is amazing. It was written over a hundred years ago and yet it is incredibly identifiable. The main character is dealing with a coming to consciousness– her attempts to do what everyone wants her to do fail when she falls in love with the wrong person and only when someone else tells her that she needs the love more than she needs to be what everyone wants does she admit it. How understandable that is; we are such herd animals, following others about, looking to them for advice, for understanding, for company, and for identity. And that is not wrong. Forster doesn’t suggest that we should abandon all human things; he mocks one of the characters for claiming egalitarianism but turning his nose up at common people. What he criticizes is allowing ourselves to follow others instead of following our own hearts.

I have never been one for following the herd, not out of some criticizm of it, or some ideal of being an individual, but out of a sheer incapactity to understand what other people were doing. Fitting in has never been my forte and now I feel blest at that, not because I scorn those who do follow the norm, but because I have tried and failed and now can see that I was not formed for it, if I was formed by anything but random chance. I scorn no one; they all have their place in this world. But finding mine seems to have been a little harder.

And so I sympathize with the protaginist, Lucy. She acted as a tennis ball, hit back and forth between the various factors in her life; when she chose it was only by whim or what others would think.

In movies and books, people often come to epipanies; they’re the turning point of the story; suddenly the main character realizes something and after that nothing is the same. In reality, our minds are like stone; they must be, slowly, worn away. The eternal action of a river of change is what created new valleys, not usually sudden dramatic moments. It is a lot harder, a lot more boring. But how often have you had an epiphany and the next day everything in your life continues to be exactly the same?

I don’t expect this to be the last of them. Like so many other things in my life, change comes slowly. I changed my diet slowly; I cannot recognize how it was before, but it didn’t happen all of a sudden. So will I change my ideas about my life. It is easy to sink into normal dreams; career, husband, children, house. But I can see the despair that lies in that for me. The despair I feel right now about not being with my community– Alex and Mirra are, for now, my little community– is the despair of not being where I am supposed to be.

‘A room with a view,’ in the book, ends up being a place you can move in and a place you can’t see out of. The incapactity to change or to realize. The wrong choice is a room without a view. For most people my life would be completely wrong. For me, doing what I’m doing, right now, is.