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!

February 28, 2012

Solar panel!

One of the fun projects we’ve recently completed here in LA (parked in the Technicolor Tree Tribe’s driveway) is installing a beautiful solar panel on Ollie’s roof.  Before using solar power, we charged our auxiliary battery off our starter batteries when the bus was being driven.  When the bus wasn’t being driven (which was often) we drained the auxiliary battery, and quickly.  We were often left with only our headlamps for light!  With the solar panel, we’ll (almost) always have electricity whether or not we’re driving around a lot.  Yay!









































February 27, 2012

Dumpster Score #Who said you can’t dumpster in LA?

Trader Joe’s’ on Sepulveda Blvd, Santa Monica Blvd, and National Blvd:










































































































February 17, 2012

Los Angeles Ecovillage, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Ecovillage, located just northwest of downtown LA (and only three miles north of the Technicolor Tree Tribe), is a well established 40-person community that I’ve been wanting to visit for years.  Their fee (though small) for official visits was a bit off-putting.  But I stalked their website for a while until an interesting free event came up, and a bunch of us from the TTT biked over to check it out.  The event was a potluck and forum where people from the greater community (those affiliated with the Ecovillage but not necessarily residents) could present about conferences, workshops, and other special events they’d recently attended.

I RSVP’d to the potluck/forum only a few days before the event and never received a reply.  When the eight of us showed up at the door, we were almost turned away!  The woman who answered our knock looked startled by such a large group of visitors, and told us that she hadn’t received any RSVP for this many people.  When she asked for my name I introduced myself as “Rachel from the Technicolor Tree Tribe,” a title which has become increasingly comfortable and automatic for me over the past year.  Our host immediately warmed.  “The Technicolor Tree Tribe!” she exclaimed excitedly.  “I’ve heard so much about your community!  Thank you for coming!  Come in!”  And we were admitted.

The Ecovillage’s main building is an apartment building, and though the foyer has been turned into the colorful, friendly, poster- and post-it note-filled space that is common for community buildings, the hallways seemed as bare as any apartment building occupied by strangers.  Apparently the Ecovillage purchased the building (and the surrounding buildings) while people who weren’t affiliated with the Ecovillage still lived in it, and some still do.  There is a gradual process of those people leaving and their spaces being filled by Ecovillagers.

The potluck was delicious and plentiful, and the other guests seemed genuinely excited to meet real live members of the Technicolor Tree Tribe, which most of them had apparently heard of.  We were younger than any of the other guests by a decade or two, and they seemed to think of us as the “younger generation” of community builders.  Ignoring some bits of condescension here and there, we had some interesting conversations about our house and what we do.

Before the forum started the host asked us to give a short description of the Technicolor Tree Tribe to the assembly of 40 or 50 people.  We hadn’t prepared for anything like this, of course; we’d assumed we were going to be the audience!  But Michaela gave an excellent description and we all took turns fielding questions (there were a lot of questions!).  Then we listened to the real presentations, which covered a wide range of topics from permaculture to time banks to the LA Bicycle Kitchen.

The presentations were interrupted at one point when someone announced that those with bikes parked outside (us) should move them inside; there was a person wandering around with a bolt cutter.

We all rushed outside, but we were too late: two of our bikes had been stolen.  One of them was Max’s spare, and the other belonged to a cooper who didn’t know it had been borrowed.  Strangely, the event host mentioned a couple times that the Ecovillage would assume responsibility, but then nothing came of it.  One Ecovillager absolutely insisted we tell the police, which we only did after quite a bit of pressure (we try never to involve the LAPD, preferring to find anti-racist and anti-classist alternatives to the “criminal justice” system).  Of course, nothing came of that, either.

[BTW, if you’re interested in anti-racist/sexist/classist alternatives to police, check out these great resources!  Alternatives To Police   Revolution Starts At Home]

The evening turned out to be a very mixed experience for the eight of us.  It’s (almost) always cool to visit another intentional community, and I’m definitely always delighted to bring TTT members to other communities in LA.  The presentations at the forum were awesome (time banks are the shit!!), and we met some folks who were very interested in the TTT and it’s always fun to talk about ourselves to interested people.  On the other hand, we had the awkward situation at the door and our bikes were stolen (an Ecovillager was kind enough to give our bike-less friends a ride home).  And it’s always difficult to visit communities that are so predominantly white and middle-class.  Oh well.  Intentional communities are still relatively new in LA, and anti-oppression seems to be relatively new within intentional communities everywhere.


January 19, 2012

Fox II

On our way south from the Bay Area to LA, we picked up another beautiful road-killed grey fox.  We skinned and cleaned it on our first day back at the co-op, removed its brains and cleaned its bones on the second day, brain-tanned it on the third day, and smoked it over the fire pit on the fourth day.  I think we may have given some of the younger coopers a bit of a shock!




























In case you’re interested in becoming one of us weird people who does these kinds of things, here are some good resources:

Brain Tanning Furs by George Michaud

Tan Your Pelts with Nature’s Tools by Jim Miller

Skinning, Tanning, & Working Hides: A DIY Guide to an Ancient Skill by Rowan Gangulft, PhD


January 14, 2012

Dumpster Score: South Bay TJ’s Circuit

All in one night!
















January 12, 2012

The East Bay Veg Oil Boon

Enough oil to get us from Oakland to LA via the South Bay Trader Joe’s circuit, no probs.

January 9, 2012

Mariposa Grove, Oakland

Mariposa Grove is a retrofit co-housing community of about 20 people (aged 50s to young children) in Northern Oakland, very close to where my friends live.  Most of the property is owned by a community land trust, though one of the houses is owned by an absentee landlord.  We’ve visited retrofit co-housing projects before; the term refers to an intentional community consisting of several neighboring houses which were standing before the community was created, and which were (usually) purchased by the community in their original locations to be owned and operated communally.

Mariposa Grove’s Mission Statement: Mariposa Grove is a member-owned, consensus-based intentional community in an urban setting that supports sustainability, social justice activism, creativity and the arts. We are creating a permanently affordable home, a physical and social space where we share resources and responsibilities, grow together and support each other to fulfill our personal dreams while providing a model for the larger community of which we are a part.

Mariposa Grove is technically “low-income housing,” though most members own their homes and pay mortgages (the exception is the house owned by a landlord).  There are all-community meetings twice a month and decisions are generally made using consensus, though not everyone who lives at Mariposa Grove is members of the land trust, so the land trust board has more power in certain decisions.

The top floor of one of the houses is communal space, with a large kitchen and living area.  There is a beautiful garden (even in winter), nine chickens, and a grey water system which feeds out to a stand of fruit trees.  Despite its location, it doesn’t feel urban at all.

I was only able to meet two community members (one being an infant!), but I spoke at length with my guide about diversity at Mariposa Grove.  Almost all members of the community are white, and though some members would like more racial/cultural diversity, this has always been a challenge (despite the diversity of Oakland generally and Mariposa Grove’s neighborhood specifically).  Recruitment usually happens within an already-established East Bay co-housing community which seems to be predominantly white and middle-class.  Despite Mariposa Grove’s Mission Statement, which mentions support for social justice activism and “providing a model for the larger community of which we are a part,” the co-housing community appears quite separate from the larger community of people in this area.  I didn’t ask my guide what Mariposa Grove meant by “providing a model for the larger community,” but I often find such intentional community models to be gentrifying ones.

The one house which is soon to be rented out by its landlord is, despite the unideal situation of being owned by a landlord, a potentially positive situation because it could provide housing for lower-income people who cannot or will not buy in to the community land trust to pay a mortgage on a house.  This option, which is relatively new to Maripiosa Grove, seems similar to what Monan’s Rill was planning during our visit there; it might lead to a more diverse community.  Of course, for people of color to feel comfortable living at Mariposa Grove, the current members would have to be willing to listen to their needs and concerns, and change (perhaps drastically) their status quo to make their community more welcoming, and this is entirely up to the current members.