Wednesday, November 18, 2009

avocation

My main critique of the Possibility Alliance was that unless one was a gardener, animal husbander, cook or builder, there was not yet available the opportunity to pursue an avocation. Though serving others is a real important human need, the ability to engage in work which is creative, challenging, character-building, at times joyful; work that one can get better at over a lifetime; that engages the hands, the brain, and the heart; that is in line with one's values and does not exploit other beings; and that engages the material world, is also important and we can define it as avocation. Service is a way to help other people. Avocation is a way to serve the spirit that moves in all things, in unique ways.

The buddhist concept of right livelihood is an intermediate between avocation and livelihood. It has the part about work that is in line with one's values and ethical, but not necessarilly the rest.

Work as a means to personal fulfillment is a liberal western idea, relatively recent, although many artisans and peasants have had that idea for a long time before 19th century liberalism and the industrial revolution. Here is a quote from one of Gandhi's disciples, Lanzo del Vasta that contrasts work as avocation and (most) Mainstream work:
"A man makes himself by making something. Work creates a direct contact with matter and ensures him precise knowledge of it as well as direct contact and daily collaboration with other men; it imprints the form of man on matter and offers itself to him as a means of expression; it concentrates his attention and abilities on one point or at least on a continuous line; it bridles the passions by strengthening the will. But in order that work itself, and not just payment for it, shall profit a man it must be human work, work in which the whole man is engaged: his body, his heart, his brain, his taste. The craftsman who fashions an object, polishes it, decorates it, sells it and fits it for the requirements of the person he intends it for is carrying out human work. The countryman who gives his life to his fields and makes his flocks prosper by work attuned to the seasons is successfully accomplishing the task of a free man. But the worker enslaved in serial production, who from one second to another repeats the same movement at the speed dictated by the machine, fritters himself away in work which has no purpose for him, no end, no taste, no sense. The time he spends there is time lost: he is not selling his creation, but his very lifetime. He is selling what a free man does not sell: his life. He is a slave."

Let us examine the way that Mainstream Kult is defining work and career.

First, work is confused with livelihood, or more precisely with how one earns money.
When people ask "what do you do?" or "what do you do for work?" they mean "what do you do for money?".


Second, if money is the motivator, it is not the best way to motivate and to produce an excellent product, as Alfie Kohn claims in Punished by Rewards. For excellence, one needs intrinsic motivation, which is what the aspects of avocation listed above provide.

Third, the middle class concept of career is not incompatible with avocation as defined above, but career for most is more about social status than anything else. Also, most of the few privileged people who have careers that give them joy still fall short on connecting with the material world, because most careers now are computer or office related. My avocation has so far been science--mainly theoretical physics, which has the above shortcoming. I correct for that by engaging the material world with engineering projects, which although they fit the definition of avocation, do not give me as much joy as theoretical physics. I think most people who have a career do not have much time for anything else in Mainstream Kult. And most of the few privileged who have careers are not meeting the ethical standard of not exploiting other beings in their work, although the exploitation is usually indirect.

Fourth, avocation as defined above is somewhat of a masculine need, and the masculine references in Lanzo's writings may not have been only a relic of the 1940s. To work in order to have comfort and security is a feminine trait. I advocate balance within individuals, whatever gender they are. I will work to ensure food and shelter for me and all beings, AND I will risk my life/livelihood so that all people could also have the opportunity to have an avocation. I see most people working so that they and their families could have comfort and security, regardless of what that entails for other people (especially if those people are out of sight).

Fifth, work for money that is neither for service or for avocation is like prostitution or like slavery. Prostitution does not have to be about selling one's soul though, it could be an avocation; I am using the cultural connotation attached to that means of livelihood, where one does not only sell one's body, but one's soul. I would rather starve than prostitute myself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Superheroes part 2

We stopped at the gas station on our way out of town to regroup. While superheroes were regrouping, I went in to take a leak, leaving my bike in the midst of the mass of superheroes. When I got back, the mass had regrouped on the sidewalk, and Zing reprimanded me for leaving the bike where cars might need to go. This was not the first time Zing reprimanded me about something I did that was thoughtless or selfish, but for some reason I felt like I needed to talk to him more about it. The rest of the heroes went on ahead, since Zing was supposed to be sweeping, while Zing and I had our tete a tete. When we were done, a macho cowboy middle-aged republican type man came over with a chip on his shoulder and asked us what we were about. Zing told him we were the superhero riders, a service organization, full of love. The man repeated "a service organization, huh?" seemingly not believing Zing. A staredown ensued for a few long seconds, and finally the guy backed down and walked away. Zing the alpha male! Perhaps the owner of the campsite where we had stayed the first night in Pecos had spread a rumor that we were Rainbow Family, and somehow that was a bad thing, like the Rainbows are a terrorist organiszation or what? But most people in Pecos loved us, giving us unsolicited food and money and hospitality. I can't remember if I decided to change my superhero name to Mindful Chaos after that conversation with Zing, or if it was after I started off one time without my helmet from the Beloved Gallery.

It was relatively flat till lunchtime. We have one big hill, where we meet another superhero who pulls over in a car with a baby. She had been on a ride many years before and Zing and her have an joyous reunion (what are the chances?). Just when we stop for lunch, I get a call from a dear young friend asking me to come to Atlanta where he was subjected to an exorcism from a lunatic stranger with his mom's consent (she's no fundie, but she is pretty desperate about how to control his behavior), which from his description sounded violent, nonconsensual and the closest thing to rape a male can experience without being penetrated (but who knows, he does exaggerate sometimes). It was the last straw for him and so I agreed to come and see how I can help him with his mom and with his life. He said he could wait till I was done visiting the Possibility Alliance. The combination of thinking about his situation, an unrelenting headwind and steep hills made it hard for me that afternoon. On one hill I had stopped to catch my breath and pray for strength. Just then Superchili comes up from behind and starts telling me a joke. She tells me about zigzagging up and demonstrates. I found out later that her gears were not working. Even though the joke was not that great, I am now in love and get going again. SC tells me some more jokes (better than the first), biking by my side, and then she resumes her co-sweep duty and heads back to check on Crimson who is somewhere behind us (the other sweep). I go on ahead and catch up with One Earth Nun and Metta. Metta just smiles. One Earth goes at a really slow pace and I try to stay behind her, but can't go that slow (she has 24 gears, and I only 21...). I pass them and then catch my breath at the top of the hill as they pass me again. "I don't know if I can do this". "I have faith in you"--says One Earth. It doesn't get any better when a cute nun who almost bit my head off one time now has faith in me. Well, I go slower and they get way ahead of me, out of sight. I decide to wait for the sweeps. I wait 1/2 an hour and start getting worried. They are the youngest members of our troupe. They are young women alone on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere in the USA. So I head back, despite protocol requiring not to go back until all the group decides on it. I only last about 2 more uphills (which WERE downhills going the other way) before I am out of breath again. I break another protocol and use my cell phone to call Metta (well I figured she would give the phone to Ruby since she can't talk). Pea answers and I realize that this number I dialed is Metta's land line. He tells me that Rainbow Rider is recovering well. He tells me to just wait some more, and sure enough I see Superchili and Crimson Seeker over the horizon. Crimson had a flat and then lost her skewer, which SC helped her find. I get ahead of them (SC must be exhausted by now) and am met about 5 miles before the rendezvous point by the woman who met me in Albuquerque (forget her name). She has a camera pointed at me and says sorry but she is only interviewing female superheroes for some project, but offers me a burrito, which I decline, since I am not yet hungry. By the time I make it to the gas station, I am met with a party of superhero cheerleaders singing "Chaos, Chaos!", and I feel like I just finished the Tour de France. Hands come off the handlebars and go up in the air. A burrito is offered and this time accepted (after I get off the bike--not quite Tour de France). I thought they would be worried or upset that they had to wait so long, but no, they are cheering me on! The same ecstatic reception is reenacted for Superchili and Crimson Seeker a few minutes later. Superchili has already exhibited superhuman strength and so gets a ride from our hosts in Las Vegas (NM) for the next 5 miles. This was one time where we actually had a pre-arranged host in town. Our hosts were a couple and their daughter who knew Metta. We are all pooped and barely find enough strength to set up tents. Some folks stay in our hosts' house. The next day we are awakened by Zing rapping with guitar accompaniment. He is a good rapper and no rap would be better to wake up to. One Earth and I are on cooking again. One Earth stays to cook lunch. I also stay in the morning for a bit to prepare puri indian flat bread, and so am late to the Goodwill store where a clothes sorting party is going on. I tackle a bed which noone knows how to put together. Turns out it's a bunk bed but missing a piece. The manager of the store is in ecstacy after she gets the Imploding Supernova of Love, which I had to miss so I could go help with lunch.

I don't remember what else transpired that day, except games were played (I think we did the one where people write one line of a story on a piece of paper, put it in a hat, and then someone reads them randomly, inviting 3 people to tell a story using that line, but only one is true. Then the rest of the people have to figure out by asking a few questions of the storytellers, which is the true story), music was made and good food was cooked and eaten. I think it was also that day when superhero headquarters called to say that beloved Tamar was diagnosed with liver cancer. I had known her from visiting Dancing Rabbit, where she lives. I have fond memories of playing music with her for a maypole dance, and One Earth Nun also had met her and loved her at DR. But Zing was hit the hardest; he is a really good friend of Tamar's and he was grieving for the rest of the day. Why her, we thought? She tries to live so healthy. Memories of young Israeli boys dying in the war came back to me (Tamar was born in Israel, like me), nature's order reversed, with parents burying their children. But Tamar was not worried or upset, unlike all who have known her. She is still alive as far as I know, and may outlive me, living in the present.

The next day we had the best job: cleaning out public hot spring baths a few miles from Pecos! After figuring out the technicals of siphoning, we were hard at work scrubbing algae off walls (Zing stayed behind, still grieving, and Farfalu and Superchili (someone correct me here, did SC come at all to the springs?) went back after preparing lunch, to offer support). We had a great soak in different temperature baths, and Infinity Kid claimed that it was like a rite of passage for him to get in that scalding water and overcome his fear. After the soaking we had dinner with the woman who got us the hot spring job and her family at the World College. We met some of the students earlier--from all over the world, trying to learn about peace and sustainability. We each said something to them, but I didn't feel very inspired, leaving the PR to Blue, who loves public speaking. I wish I could show them what it means to live peacefully and sustainably, which I am sure that none of them do, being unrepresentative of most of their countries which are poor and could not afford to go to college abroad.

Neither One Earth nor I (we were on ritual team) remembered to bring superhero badges to give to our hosts (and she didn't get mad at me!). But we gave them a supernova treatment nonetheless. After supper, we went to listen to Frances Moore-Lappe. She is well meaning, but in my opinion she is not radical enough, flying and driving all over, writing books instead of growing food, sharing resources, and coming up with local technologies. Wealthy liberals love her though. She is like that mathematician from the joke I told Blue that morning about the engineer, physicist and mathematician who walk around the city putting out fires. In brief, the engineer puts out a fire with 3 fire extinguishers, without much thought, just pragmatically. The physicist puts in lots of thought and the fire almost gets out of control by the time he puts it out with just one short squirt of extinguisher in the place he calculated would be optimal. The mathematician thinks for a long time, does calculations, the fire is out of control and the building burns down, at which point she says that she has has proven a solution exists (or the way it plays out in our world is "Science and Technology will figure out a solution"). End of joke. Zing refused to even go listen to her talk, and I understood why after I heard it.

The next day One Earth and I were on hunting and gathering, with One Earth doing mostly gathering and helping the cooks and I took about 5 trips to the farmers market, because the cooks kept forgetting ingredients (or did I forget some too?). During that time there was one team which went back to the Goodwill store, while another team supposedly went to the dog pound to walk some dogs. I got to the dog pound late, no superheroes. They were across the street at the community center washing windows and sweeping floors. The first thing I see when I get there is a dejected Infinity Kid, washing windows in slow motion. "They want us to wash the upper windows where the bird poop is, but they have no ladder". I offer my shoulders to him instead, and he lights up, climbing up and picking up the pace. After a few windows I am tired. Ruby has just found a bird that might haver flown into a window and is not moving. We help her find a box and some water for the stunned bird and then we go look for Farfalu and Superchili who turn out not to be any lighter than Infinity Kid. But Farfalu is a brilliant engineer and realizes that if one person sits in a chair and another person stands on the back rest than not only will I not get tired from people standing on me, but we could parallel process, with two cleaners going on at once, with Ruby handing paper towels and cleaner spray. The windows cleaned, I headed back to help the cooks and see if they need any more supplies, taking the bird with me, only to have Superchili run out to say that Ruby would rather drive the bird on her bike. The bird recovered and flew away the next day.

Later that day (or was it earlier?), there was a radio show:
http://lvpeacecenter.org/radio/youth-radio-bicycle-superheroes
where Zing, Farfalu, Superchili, Infinity Kid and True Blue went while I was hunting and gathering. Ruby Hummingbird made a late appearance returning a headlight I had borrowed the night before for our bike trip back from the hotsprings, to the radio show host who was a friend of our hotspring host. It is worth listening to this show for more details about how superheroes make decisions (deep consensus), expenses ($35/week, unless you can't afford it, in which case other superheroes will cover for you), a gift economy, and other things I missed.

The next day we biked towards Taos, refreshed and rested, except Superchili was sick. Sagegal and Pea came for a few days. I found it much easier than the first few days even though there were some serious mountains to climb. I was yodeling and just happy to be using my body, breathing the clean mountain air, and seeing some beautiful sights. Superchili drove on ahead in Sagegal's car. We found a sign at the top of a mountain pass: County Line Dance. It was clear that SC wanted us to dance, and we did some Israeli folk dances--which when it works and people are in the mood is better than even good sex as far as I am concerned. We stopped at a blueberry farm which Superchili arranged for us.It was to be Zing's and my last night with the Superheroes. The next day we were to head back to catch the Southwest Chief to La Plata, MO, home of the Possibility Alliance and Superhero headquarters. People were somewhat sad. Metta decided to break her vow of silence, which shocked everyone. I convinced True Blue to let Infinity Kid sleep in her tent, hoping it would only lead to Good Things. One Earth Nun and I played some music together on our wind intruments.

I tried to say something happy and encouraging before I left, based on the producers of the LOTR movie version of Aragorn's speach at the Black Gate (of Mordor). Later I actually wrote down some more and here it is:

"Superhero riders! When I look into your eyes, I see the same sadness, the same grief, the same fear that freezes my heart. There may come a day when our hearts will harden for good, when the hearts of all people will give in to despair, but that day is not today. There may come a day when nature's beauty and balance will be spoiled by the greed and selfishness of men and women, but that day is not today. A day may come when war and destruction rule the earth, when people have been enslaved by machines, but that day is not today.

Today our joy will overcome sadness, our love will overcome fear, our courage will triumph over apathy. Hardened hearts will melt! Eyes will see God in each other! We ride now to serve and uplift all beings! We ride now for freedom, for love, for joy, for the earth, for spirit. Ride forth and serve!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Report on the superhero bikers

The idea of seeking out strangers to help directly goes at least back to Jesus. It is to be contrasted with the idea of sending money to a charity organization, where the help is through several layers of burocracy and often there is no direct connection between the helper and the one being helped. I have never been able to do charity because it presumes that I, a privileged westerner, have something better to offer to people of a different culture or of different financial resources. Since I don’t presume that, sending money to a charity would be hypocritical of me. But not helping at all is not the answer either, because anyone with a mammalian heart wants to be of service to at least some folks. There are two ways in which I am called to help other people. One is by creating a life that is indicative of my values and that I truly believe IS a better life than what is available to the people I presume to help. That is what I’ve been trying to do for the past 4 years and what Jesus, Gandhi and MLK and a section of the communard movement has been attempting and exemplifying for many years. The other way I am aware of is direct helping, with the helpers and helpees connecting directly as equal human beings, working side by side. The superheroes are about this means of helping people. About twice a year, a ride is planned somewhere in the world. Superheroes converge on the meeting place, with bicycles and costumes. Those without bicycles can usually be provided with bikes by the local organizers. Costumes are up to one’s creativity. I started out as Captain Chaos, because I seem to be at the eye of the hurricane a lot, generating much change in the lives of those whose paths cross mine. I also have an innate dislike of the western propensity to think that we can control the universe, nature, other people, or the western hubris of how much power we actually wield as individuals. And , I am working on a physics theory where there is intrinsic free will and non-determinism, even more so than in quantum mechanics. It has to do with a (mathematically characterizable) boundary/bridge between the (hypothesized) timeless and the timefull part of a 5D spacetime , where there is a mathematical singularity (of a different nature than a black hole though) where no equation of physics survives to predict the near future from the present and near past. I had painted some of the graphic elements of this theory on a T-shirt, attached a red pillow case to the back with safety pins, put on my elf shoes (pointy, curled-back toes fit snugly into the pedal straps), and with my wild beard and hair, I was ready to go.

I arrived in Albuquerque on a Greyhound after midnight, where a hospitable man I found on couchsuring.com offered me his studio. After a good night’s sleep we went out to breakfast where he told me about some of his work producing and teaching theater in Albaquerque. I then met up with super enthusiastic ****** who took me to another woman’s house where there were two boxes of vegetables donated by local restaurants. I took them with me for a short but very crowded train ride to Santa Fe, where I was met by the first bicycling superheroes, Rainbow Rider and her partner Perennial Pea—I immediately developed a fondness for their earthy intelligence and eagerness to help—agape at first sight. By the end of the trip I loved all the superheroes. They had brought my bike and a trailer to carry my pack and the veggies. They helped me hook up the panniers and off we went to Metta the Mime’s place, the local organizer. There we unwound for a bit—Metta was still in her talking phase and I had the same reaction to her and her partner Ruby Hummingbird. Ruby loves birds and had an easy going demeanor that put me at ease. Metta was busy coordinating logistics (she is an organizaing genius and one of the most selfless people I have ever met). Later Metta would put on her white mime face paint and not speak for much of the trip, until the evening before Zing and I left, shocking everyone. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Rainbow, Pea and Chaos (me) went to Green Dragon’s to spend the night. Green Dragon is a wise, kind woman, 62, looks like she’s in her 40s, small and fitter than most 20 year olds. We cooked dinner together, met her daughter and granddaughter and had a good night’s rest in a beautiful yurt. The next day Rainbow, Pea went to a farmer’s market, where we got to meet Farfalu and Super Chili. While I was buying some veggies and talking to a farmer about the benefits of every able-bodied person participating in agriculture, I lost SC and Farfalu, I would get a chance to fall in love with them later. I had a lovely lunch of bread, goat cheese and tomato and then went back to accompany Green Dragon on a mission to pick up The Zing from the Amtrak train station in Laramie, about 14 miles away. The ride over was difficult enough for me, probably because of the altitude and the fact that I hadn’t done any serious biking for many years. Dragon said that she might be dragging on the way back, but she was riding ahead of me to buffer the wind as I was having trouble on the way back. The Zing had an inspiring costume: blue spandex, a long ergonomically sewn cape with thunderbolt motif on the cape, the belt and the face. His helmet had some organic-looking spikes (symbolizing an Australian Echidna?) and he oozed charisma. The Zing had founded the superheroes about 10 years ago, and it is hard not to fall in love with him and want to follow him to the ends of the earth. We barely missed a rattler after a minute riding back, then the wind kept blowing towards us, then heavy hail rained down on us and I just had to stop and take cover under some bushes they call trees down in New Mexico. That evening I went back to Green Dragon’s and for the next few days we had training in superhero antics and bicycle safety and protocols. There were a few superheroes who did not bike with us, such as Loving Edge, who knew Jason from Auroville, whom I had met at Heathcote while he was in the US. There were superheroes who just biked and did service around Santa Fe: Expressiva, Sagegal, *** Bee and Turqoise Seeker. Sagegal opened up her house and yard for us to camp in.

I’ll describe the rest of the superheroes that rode with us all the way to when Zing and I had to leave to go back to the Possibility Alliance, as I got to know them and love them better than the ones who only stayed with us a bit. Oh and Sagegal (even though she only rode with us to the highway), who had everything we needed, including bike gloves and a hankie for me, bike fixing stands for all, a sewing machine for patching clothes and improving costumes, and an inspiring competence and easygoing sense of humor and hospitality. Farfalu, an old wise soul in a young body, a Buddhist practitioner with the best cape—fairy wings beautifully crafted! Superchili, hot yet sweet, full of jokes and warmth that came in handy when I thought I could not make it up the hills from Pecos to Las Vegas. Infinity Kid, who has the biggest, bluest, most loving eyes I had ever stared into, who did a lot of trailer carrying and who worked with me a lot. Crimson Seeker, who loves to cry, laugh, hug and understand the world and who persisted despite quite a few flat tires. True Blue, who is a healer with a big heart and kept us calm after Rainbow’s fall (see below).
We did a superhero birth ritual for everyone, we divided up into rotating teams—scouting/navigation, moral/physical support, cooking and cleaning, hunting/gathering and ritual. I ended up on a two-person team with One Earth Nun—we were the odd couple—she very collected, meditative, gentle, unhurried and calm (except when I rattled her a few times), dealing best as she could with my chaos. Our first breakfast was a bit of a challenge, she planning to take care of it the next morning and me throwing a monkey wrench into the oatmeal plan by soaking an excessive (more weight for the trailers) quantity overnight, without first checking with her. We had lots of rituals—the Great Eye who sees all and reports back on the days events, the Readings of the Great, the Huddle, Superhero recognition and badges for local helpee superheroes, Imploding Supernova of Love. We did a great spontaneous dance and rap which started with the Great Eye. Our first day of service we split up for 3 jobs-- at a food bank sorting food, at a mentally challenged adult home doing landscaping, and a third which I forget (because I wasn’t there). Sorting food had never been more fun. We had another small job trying to locate some escaped dogs but they were located later at the animal shelter. The next day we headed for Pecos but on the way down a long hill Rainbow Rider had the wobbles and lost control. We had a few minutes of collective worry as she lay on the pavement spewing blood and not being convincingly conscious. We called the EMTs and she was ambulanced to the ER. Metta and Pea went with her. We were all shaken and had lunch by the side of the road, after which a local medicine woman came out of nowhere in her truck and did a healing ritual/circle. We were all awed by that—she came with the dust and was gone with the wind as soon as the ritual was over. We rode back to Santa Fe to offer support to Rainbow and Pea.

Rainbow was OK, nothing too serious, but she and Pea decided to stay in Santa Fe to recover. So after another day we started again towards Pecos. I will now describe some of the highlights of the rest of my short journey with the superheroes—I may get the details of who did what wrong—superheroes who read this feel free to correct me. We made it before dusk, again in the hail. Metta found us an abandoned trailer to shelter in while she went ahead to find Ruby who somehow missed Metta’s bike on the side of the road and biked on ahead). We were all reunited in town, where navigation lined up two possible jobs, and found a wonderful grassy spot at a campground (the Benedictine Monastery was on retreat, so we didn’t get to stay there). While navigation and volunteers (Infinity Kid, Metta The Mime, The Zing and Farfalu) was busy, I taught a folk dance to True Blue, Super Chili, Crimson Seeker and Ruby Hummingbird. Pecos is beautiful, in a lush valley surrounded by real trees with friendly people. The cooks wipped up a wonderful meal on the camp stoves and we slept in our tents.

The next day One Earth forgave me for the oatmeal incident and gave me some chaos credits after I double bagged and dumped the plastic bag that our host provided to store our poop (a well-meaning, but misguided way to deal with humanure). That day, we painted a community center room, weeded a community garden and started building a greenhouse at the Beloved Pecos Gallery, working together with the organizer and her daughter. People were happy we were there and were bringing us food and other gifts. Zing, True Blue and I laid out the rectangle for the foundation, using a string, stakes and the Pythagorean theorem (I taught Zing and Blue how to do square roots without a calculator, realizing later that we should have done a 3,4,5 triangle to figure out right angles instead of the full length and width). Infinity and I were a good team gluing PVC pipe for the greenhouse frame. Zing and True Blue cut the pieces as well as cut some wood , made a door frame and put in rebar in the ground to serve as a foundation. Farfalu, Infinity, Ruby and I screwed the foundation to the PVC. We stayed with a couple who had a big back yard where we pitched our tents. We played Giants, dwarves and Elvis the next morning, then went back to finish painting and get as far as we could with the greenhouse. Superchili played a song on the guitar which I joined her on. Blue and Zing cut the plastic and everyone joined in to stretch it over the PVC frame. After a meal cooked by Infinity and Metta using a hay box, we stayed in a beautiful field on the edge of town, where we had a serious thunderstorm that sent some people to a house because of leaking tents. The next morning we got to see huge, gorgeous mandalas made by the late husband of a local farmer/artist whose land we were staying on. Then we rode onto Las Vegas.

To be continued…..

Monday, November 2, 2009

Report on the Possibility Alliance

For three weeks I lived at a beautiful place in the green pastures of central Missouri, at the Possibility Alliance (PA). I had a wonderful time and am seriously considering living there when my son turns 18. There is no electricity except for flashlights and a landline phone (no solar panels, no hydro or wind, no internet, no batteries except for guests), and no fossil fuels (hence no internal combustion engines, no gas stoves). There are bicycles and horses (one horse-drawn buggy which is not used so far very much) for transport, candles for indoor light, human-powered saws for cutting wood, wood-stoves for heating and cooking, and much joy and consciousness. I did not miss electricity, the internet or cars at all while I was there. I needed no money while I stayed there. They produce most of their own food, except grains. Wheat is imported from Kansas City, not further than 200 miles, and rice is probably further. If I ever move there I will try to grow rice or wheat.

I first heard about the PA from Nathan at Dancing Rabbit. Ethan told me that they couldn't have me until Sep 21 because he was going to New Mexico for the Superhero ride. The superheroes are a service organization. They dress up as superheroes of their own making (I was Mindful Chaos), tour the country on bicycles and help anyone who needs and accepts their help. They make decisions using deep consensus, bring their own food and supplies and do not expect anything in return for their services. They give freely without any agenda except to be of service and try to connect with people. I decided to go with them, so I can get to know Ethan better, because I love to help people directly (as opposed to giving money to charities), and because it sounded like fun. I will write more about the superheroes and my adventures with them in another post. After two weeks of riding with the Superheroes, Ethan and I left them to go back by train to La Plata and the PA. La Plata is a small town in Missouri on the Amtrak route. We were met at the station by Rory who brought me a bike and a trailer for my pack. We rode for 5 miles through Amish farms. We stopped at one neighbor for the kids to inspect the bikes and talk to Ethan for a while. Ethan promised them some honey from the upcoming honey harvest. Then we rode home.

The physical/ecological layout
There are 80 acres, 20 of which are zoned wilderness (meaning one can't build or gather/hunt there, only commune with) woods, the rest being mostly pasture. There are apple, pear, and peach trees that the humans get much fruit from. There are chickens that the humnans get eggs, meat and insect-control from. The humans collect black walnuts and acorns for the chickens, and otherwise they are mostly free-ranging and find their own food. There are 4 female goats producing milk, some of which is drunk by the humans and made into cheese. Every few years they need to be "freshened", which means more goats are born, some of which will be killed for meat. There are horses which are used to haul heavy loads like fallen trees. There are some plans to use the horses for plowing, for grain production. There are fish in the pond, bluegill and bass, at a sustainable fishing ratio of 10:1. There is a house with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a pantry, a bathroom (used mostly as a cold room for food storage and sometimes for taking baths), a living room and a dining room. There is a barn for the horses and goats, for storing hay and straw, and for visitors to sleep in. Many visitors (including myself)--there are about 1000 per year, also sleep in tents.


The social structure
Every day there would be a morning meditation at 6:30, which I would usually miss because I would rather catch up on sleep in the morning. There was breakfast and morning meeting at 7:30. Breakfast usually consisted of cold oatmeal or rice with apples, pears, honey and flax. The morning meeting was fun: it would start with a minute of silence and tuning in, followed by a reading about a native plant or animal (“community member”) that recently interacted with someone, and a poem or inspirational reading. Then we would figure out what “bread labor” needed to be done that day. The people who have been there for a while generally had a better idea of that than people who have been there less time. After bread labor was decided, there would be a joke told, a magic trick performed, a dance move demonstrated or a riddle posed and then we would go, unrushed to our tasks. As the saying goes:”where there is vision with no task, it is a daydream. Where there is a task without vision it is drudgery, but when vision and task are combined, the world changes.” And that is my experience of work at the PA. Every task there, except one which I will get to in a moment, was a joy. There was a variety of tasks that needed doing, for reasons which were pretty simple and more or less obviously related to food production, water, shelter, or aesthetics. There were tasks related to health, education, and outreach. There were tasks related to inner peace and joy, and tasks related to communion with people or other beings. I gathered acorns, and black walnuts for the chickens, made a compost pile from hay, green garden "waste" and goat and chicken manure, harvested potatoes and sweet potatoes while learning Erithrean from Blen and teaching her Hebrew (many words are almost exactly the same!), I harvested carrots and herbs for Blen's meal, harvested and cut chili peppers for canning, basil for pesto I made. I played with Etta, Ethan and Sara's 2 year old daughter. I have an irrational fear about cooking for many people at once, though I love cooking, so I was an assistant to a few cooks. I washed my clothes by hand in a galvanized metal tub, wrung them out by hand and with a wringer, then hung them up to dry. I played fiddle and recorder for the open house (about 120 people from the neighboring farms and villages came over for human power and craft workshops), played duets with Sara, improvised with Ethan (he played guitar and sang) and Crea (she sang), sang amazing songs which we were teaching each other a capello, danced free style (Ethan is a great rapper and guitar improv player, we were all trancing out dancing to his music) and Israeli folk dances which I taught. I cut wood with Cory using a two-person timber saw--what a pleasure, then split it with an axe. I walked the goats to their pasture and collected felled branches for them to eat. I helped milk them. We all moved the composting toilet over a few feet, to feed another future tree. We covered some crops with straw one evening when frost was announced. Robert and I rode our bikes twice to help with a neighbor's sorghum harvest, syruping and yummy meal (we just ate the meal, didn't help prepare it). Bread labor was roughly from 8:30-noon, lunch from noon-1:00, siesta (An essential part of a balanced life)1:00-3:00, more bread labor 3:00-6:00. We celebrated one birthday with Pizza cooked in the earthen wood-fired oven, dancing, singing and cake eating. We told Megan everything we appreciated about her, and we did the same for visitors and interns who left, circling with an "imploding supernova of love". We had consensus meetings to talk about bigger issues, and readings from writers about peace and non-violence once a week. I rode into town on a bike with a trailer 3 times to pick up visitors (one time the visitor didn't come due to a misunderstanding, but I had a service call at an elderly woman who needed help moving out of her trailer). Beth taught me a cob plaster recipe and I was impressed by the outdoor covered bench with huge cob blue whale on the wall, and the outdoor kitchen with huge cob lizard on the wall which she cobbed. Specialization is for ants, as Heinlein would say. Well, not totally. It is so much fun to have varied work, yet, it is also a great human pleasure to have an avocation, a lifelong pursuit at which one gets better at. I didn't have much time or energy for theoretical physics or technology R&D, which are my avocations. Maybe in winter there would be more time, or after the community has existed for a while and infrastructure has been built. In the mean time the only avocations that are available most of the time are cooking, gardening, animal husbandry and building. Maybe some political activism.

Not everything went smoothly. On my second or third day I was sitting across from Megan at lunch. She had a women's studies T-shirt from the nearby college, and figuring it would be a good topic of conversation and a compliment, I commented on her dikey-looking glasses. I was surprised to find out she was offended by that comment. Later she forgave me, after realizing my intentions were good. I went to the Barn loft to get a bale of hay for the horses and only two days later did we find out that I grabbed a straw bale and the horses were hungry during that time. "That's what happens when you ask an engineer to do farm work"--quipped Rory. After every meal there was a "Blitz" where everyone was supposed to help clean up. I thought more than 3 or 4 people and more than one meal per day cleanup was excessive and I made my opinion known, which I think alienated some people. I have nothing against cleanliness and order, but I value physics, technology R&D music, dance and ritual so any time spent in (excessive) cleaning is less time spent on those other things. I want cleaning and organizing to be efficient and not make-do or OCD work, coming from damage and oppression. In addition to the blitzes, there is also a cleaning and organizing period on Friday afternoon, which I ended up enjoying because I felt like I was really accomplishing something instead of being oppressed by some woman's past oppression or nesting instinct gone awry, thanks to Ethan giving me good tasks to do.

Cutural Speciation
The PA is a place where a new culture is being born. They are focusing not on one thing, but on everything, perhaps through a few "master" memes. They have become somewhat memetically isolated by banning electricity (TV, internet, radio) and using only handtools, which I have claimed in past posts is a necessary condition for speciation in nature. They are not completely isolated because the interact with visitors, talk on the phone and go out to the world, but I hope they are isolated enough to survive the onslaught of Mainstream memes, and not too isolated so as not to be able to thrive and replicate.
The contrast between the two cultures is already great. I was mostly joyful in PA culture and am mostly nautious in Mainstream kulture unless I put on a psychic armor. Nausea was greatest when I left and rode a greyhound bus, and gradually diminished (replaced by a feeling of claustrophobia and unreality) although I occasionally get it back. I went to a Halloween party recently where the music was too loud to really hear anyone. There were flashy lights and a huge screen playing a zombie movie (I felt like I was relating to zombies indeed, with a few exceptions) to further reduce human to human contact, as well as alcohol to dumb people down and numb them to the pain of the unrelatedness. The music was aggressive (not just loud), there was not much architectural beauty or crafty human-made furniture, there were no plants or animals and it was cold. The dancing was typical individualistic, non-collaborative, ego-centric techno-industrial type (I did my best to enjoy it though). When I told this one guy that the superheroes help people, he thought “helping” was a euphemism for beating up and raping, as in the movie Clockwork Orange. The costumes were mostly from TV shows or movies, which shape the Mainstream Kulture in a way that would make Goebbels proud. By contrast, the PA environment and superhero costumes are decided by consensus, interaction with nature and individual creative process, encourage human to human contact, ethical global responsibility and local communion with nature. I love the people and other creatures I met there--I am filled with hope. I don't know if we need to completely give up electricity and petrol to live ethically, sustainably and joyfully, but I think it is a good place to start. If eventually we want petroleum and electricity (for labor saving and communication), we should be able to figure out how to have them without destroying the planet, exploiting people and destroying our souls. We can do almost anything we put our minds and hearts to. The next step at the PA is to build more buildings, and start making tools and materials. I hope to be making window glass and mason jars there out of recycled glass.