Archive for March, 2012

March 29, 2012

Are intentional communities places to heal?

Some intentional communities’ main focus is to help members recover from addictions or live with mental illnesses.  Communities for whom this is not the main focus, however, still must decide how they want to handle these issues.  Some are clear in their application materials that if an applicant is struggling with addiction, they need not apply.  Harsh, but understandable if the group is unprepared to help.  Others make no mention of such common difficulties, and deal with issues on a case by case basis.

Should intentional communities generally be places where people can heal from addictions, trauma, inclinations towards violence, PTSD, etc?  Let’s assume we’re all working under the same premises:

1. People who have experienced violence, especially in childhood, are more likely to be violent themselves.

2. Being a member of a supportive, loving, accepting social group is important for many people in healing from violence.

3. Intentional communities are often supportive, loving, accepting social groups (or at least they strive towards this goal).

4. Violence (and other behavior such as addiction) perpetrated by a community member can make other community members feel unsafe and is generally viewed as unacceptable (sometimes leading to the person who has committed or threatened violence being asked to leave the community).

5. When someone is asked to leave a community, or when their behavior is labeled as unacceptable by the community, the community becomes a much less supportive, loving, accepting place for that individual.

So when someone who has experienced violence in their life, perhaps in childhood, commits violence in their community, is it the community’s responsibility to remain as supportive, loving, and accepting as possible, allowing them to stay and perhaps providing counseling or other services which might help the individual?  Is it right or moral to ask that person to leave without any other comment?  What if the individual refuses counseling or cannot afford it?  What if the violence was committed against a non-community member?  Is there ever justification for violence?  What of verbal aggression, threat of violence, intimidating behavior, violence towards non-human animals, etc?

Some optimistic community members believe that living in an intentional community will automatically heal people who have experienced violence or trauma, regardless of that individual’s current behavior.  Others believe that communities, in order to function well (often with limited or no professional counseling resources) must be diligent in their recruitment/acceptance procedure in order to ensure that people who have any inclination towards violence whatsoever and for whatever reasons are never accepted into the community.  Such people, it is thought, must take responsibility for themselves and seek the professional help they need before they can be effective members of any community.

Being a member of an intentional community certainly takes a lot of effort, and not just because you have to clean the kitchen once a week.  Living successfully with 20-100 other people isn’t easy, especially since most of us were raised in comparatively isolating, single-family environments.  When someone ticks you off, how do you respond?  Can you let it slide for the sake of group harmony?  What are your limits; what if someone says something truly unacceptable, such as a racist slur?  How do you respond then?  And perhaps the slur wouldn’t elicit a response from you if it were uttered by a stranger or even an acquaintance, but when it’s your housemate?

How much of a choice is it when someone acts with violence?  If they were raised in a violent environment and struggle with controlling or channeling anger and other intense emotions, can they be held fully responsible for their actions within their community as an adult?  If they have significantly more emotional/psychological needs than other community members, is it the responsibility of the community to meet those needs?

Of course the answers to these questions depend on the specific community.  Some communities have common money which could pay for professional counseling.  A community whose sole focus is permaculture might behave quite differently than, say, a spiritual community.  My purpose in writing this post is to ask communities to think carefully about these issues before they come up or get out of hand.  I personally believe that intentional communities can be places where all community members can heal from the diseases of mainstream society (materialism/consumerism, patriarchy, capitalism), but unless their focus is to address specific issues (such as addiction or mental illness) each community must draw a firm line at what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, for the good of the whole group.  Which is not to say that people who behave “unacceptably” should be automatically kicked out.  They are community members, too, and should be treated with respect as human beings who have probably experienced a lot of trauma and need a lot of support.  They should be provided with as many helpful resources as possible.  But they, and all other community members, should be very aware of where the line is.  We can accept and understand the fact that violent behavior is often a result of being the target of violence, but that doesn’t make violence acceptable.  A community’s goal shouldn’t be to shun people who have experienced trauma, but rather to help them end the cycle of violence that they are perpetuating through their behavior.  If they do not understand how they are perpetuating this cycle, or if they do not understand why their behavior is unacceptable, then I do not believe that they can, at this moment in their lives, live successfully in community.


March 28, 2012

The newest member of our family















About two months ago Max and I adopted a 10-month-old rottweiler-sheltie mix from the LA Animal Services’ South Central shelter.  We’d been thinking about adopting a dog for many months (really we’d been independently brooding about it for years) and our situation was finally just right: we knew we’d be in LA at the TTT for at least a few weeks (turned out to be months) and we had wanted to adopt from a high-kill urban shelter, we had a steady supply of unseasoned dumpstered meat coming in, we were staying with people who loved animals, and we had lots of TIME.
















You may have noticed that we’ve been visiting a lot of animal shelters on our travels, “just for fun.”  In reality it wasn’t just for fun; we’ve been perfecting and re-perfecting our criteria for adoption and discussing the details of bus-dwelling/traveling dog ownership.  We eventually decided on exactly what type of dog we were looking for: medium size (I personally would love a very large dog, but we do live on a short bus!); a mutt (to avoid inbreeding-related health issues); older puppy/young adult (to avoid potty training and teething issues, esp. since we don’t have room for a crate); totally non-aggressive and preferably friendly (though we realized that the shelter environment leads to a lot of confusion if not downright depression in some dogs); no known medical issues; friendly with other dogs; etc.  We’d met with several dogs at several shelters, but none fit all our requirements until we got here and started haunting the LA South Central shelter (which happens to be less than four miles away from the TTT).  On our first visit we met with a German shepherd who was wonderful but too large.  We also noticed a smaller, incredibly adorable puppy who was housed with a couple other dogs and who was still on hold; she was already microchipped and the shelter was trying to contact the owner.  She would become available the following day.
















We returned the next day to visit her, and ended up spending nearly an hour playing with her in the play yard (I felt bad for the volunteer who had to monitor us; I’m sure he had other things he needed to be doing!)  It was impossible to say good-bye; this dog fit all our criteria and reminded us of ones we hadn’t listed (like being super cute!).  Thus began the long process of adoption, standing in lots of long lines, waiting for this or that employee or vet tech or volunteer, waiting to get her spayed, waiting to get her microchip updated, our stomachs fluttering in nervous excitement all the while!
















It was a bit difficult to admit to ourselves that we were finally doing it.  Despite the months of talk and planning, we still felt like inexperienced parents, totally unsure of ourselves, totally dedicated to getting everything 100% right.  We went to the Central Library and checked out a million books on clicker training, nutrition and natural diets, cooking for your dog, canine health, and agility training, which I would love to get her involved in just for fun and exercise (she has a lot of herding dog in her and has both a lot of energy and an intense love of learning new cues and tricks).
















We spent an entire week trying to decide on a name.  We read through huge online lists of native West Coast plants, nature-related names, dog names, hippie names, “unusual girls’ names.”  We developed a list of name criteria almost as long as our list of criteria for the dog!  We finally narrowed our list down to two: Ivy and Zora.  We both loved Zora, but felt awkward about it because we know a young couple in Portland who recently had a baby person and named her Zora.  We’re fairly certain that we’ll spend time with them again, and couldn’t bring ourselves to name our dog after their baby.  So we settled on Ivy, and despite the many negative associations folks have with ivy (poison ivy and invasive English ivy being the main two), the word “ivy” really fits with this puppy.  It’s short and easy to say and I feel it’s appropriate for an Angelino dog, given that English ivy is often the greenest thing around here, and thus makes people (myself included) quite happy.  [I also associate ivy with the post-apocalyptic undoing of civilization, but that’s another story.]
















Ivy is incredibly smart, meaning that she learns cues very quickly.  Having done some research on clicker training and operant conditioning, however, I have to mention that my definition of a “smart” dog is changing.  Any dog can learn cues, if you know what to use as a reward and are consistent.  My concept of dog training has changed a lot, too, from one based on being a “pack leader” to one based on using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.  And there are many ways to get rid of unwanted behaviors that don’t involve any punishment (which includes yelling “No!”).  I could go on (I gave a mini-workshop on operant conditioning to a group of friends recently), but there’s a lot of wonderful books and information out there.  Out of the stacks of books we found in the library, here are the ones we chose to purchase for our bookshelf:

How Dogs Learn by Mary R. Burch and Jon S. Bailey

The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet by Jolanta Benal

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn DVM and Susan H. Pitcairn

And our beloved Youtube trainers, without whom we’d still be lost:

Tab & Solea



March 6, 2012

The Technicolor Tree Tribe Through the Years…

The “Old House” on Orchard Street, which housed the Technicolor Tree Tribe from 2007-2009:












The TTT ’08/’09:










The “New House” on 28th St. which is the TTT’s current home:






























The TTT ’09/’10:










The TTT ’10/’11:












The TTT ’11/’12:






























For more information about the TTT, please check out these sites:

Life in Technicolor, the TTT’s blog

The TTT’s Fellowship of Intentional Communities (FIC) profile

A short, slightly chaotic video Gerardo made at the house

As official as we get

And finally, look us up on facebook!