Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

September 17, 2015

CNN mentions Twin Oaks polyamory

Remember the glowing account of childrearing at the Twin Oaks community, sometimes by poly parents, that appeared on Yahoo Parenting last June?

CNN has just published a more measured article on life at Twin Oaks by top-flight journalist Jessica Ravitz. It's a substantial piece, 3,700 words, and from what I've heard of Twin Oaks from friends who've lived there and at its offshoot Acorn, it paints a pretty realistic picture.

Gwen, who was born at Twin Oaks, practices ballet outside the Morningstar residence in 2007. (Photo by Aaron Cohen)

The story is headed, incongruously, by a separate video about the Co-Living trend among millennials and tech professionals in San Francisco — a very different crowd and a completely different economic structure. More on this in a bit.

Ravitz mentions, while describing Twin Oaks' various Small Living Groups (SLGs), "One SLG is more down with the polyamorous way of life than others. (I'm told a third of Oakers are poly.) One may not be into kids, another more kid-friendly. One might enjoy late nights and partying, while a different SLG prefers quiet."

Read the whole article (September 2015).

Longtime Twin Oaks and Acorn resident Paxus Calta blogs that the article "did a fairly good job of representing the commune.... I am glad CNN got so much right about us." But he questions the editorial confusion behind pairing the story with the San Francisco co-living video:

In both circumstances there are people living together and sharing things and selecting each other (this is my definition for intentional community.) But if the affluent residents of co-living circumstances are disagreeing about maid service, it is about how often it is necessary. Maid service is inconceivable to most income-sharing communes, not just because we don’t think we can afford it, but because we feel responsible for cleaning up our own messes.

As GPaul points out in “We are not selling a product,” the differences only start here. Co-living replicates the landlord/tenant dynamic; FEC communities largely own their own properties which are land trusts. Sharing income means you need to listen to those you live with about what their needs are, and the survival of the community depends on trust building. Sharing an expensive group house means you stay until you have a serious fight with someone living there, are bored, or find a better offer, and you are constantly on the lookout for that offer.

None of the co-living situations I have seen or read about have children. Mostly what we see is twenty-somethings appearing to live the good life. Nothing wrong with that, but for me the good life is multi-generational.


My own lifelong yearning for communal living is something I discuss with Michael Rios, who runs the Center for a New Culture based just outside Washington DC. Michael founded his first polyamorous commune as a teenager in 1964; it lasted 30 years. He's lived in intentional communities of one kind or another all his life and has seen it all. I tell him about the times I almost applied to Twin Oaks long ago. "You wouldn't have stayed," Michael says. "You have lots of ideas and want to do them. Entrepreneurial people tend to get frustrated and leave."

It's true, I hate long meetings. I think "leadership" means "do cool stuff without waiting for permission, and see who follows."

But a big part of it, I think, is that so many ICs (intentional communities) have tied themselves to rural life where land is cheap. Think about it. The reason why the land is cheap is because no one wants to live there. The reason why no one wants to live there is because there are no jobs: no money, opportunities, career growth, urban networking, vibrant cultural life, exciting chances to pursue.

In the present day and age, as far as I can tell, the folks who settle into rural communes for the long haul may be good-hearted people who seek intimate community  — and who appreciate a low-pressure life, going without a lot of stuff, eco-living and gardening — but also folks without much ambition or drive, or sometimes, if truth be told, much ability to make a decent life for themselves anywhere else.

That's fine for them. But I see the future of intentional community in the world-beaters driving the Co-Living movements in places like New York and San Francisco. And the professionals and families in the co-housing developments I've seen around Boston. Cash economy, monthly payments, income requirements and all.


And about low-tech food farming. As Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog used to advise back-to-the-landers (this is my paraphrase from memory),

Your great-grandfather was a farmer. He lived on his own land by the sweat of his brow in beautiful nature, and he called no man his boss. And just as soon as he could, he left the farm to take a factory job in the city.

Maybe your great-grandfather knew something about farming you don't.


By the way, that Yahoo Parenting article on Twin Oaks in June? Turns out it had big repercussions. ABC Nightline came knocking. "Perhaps we should have said no," relates Paxus. He tells the tale: Wrong from word 2: the Media discovers the commune. (Aug. 23, 2015).



Blogger zenmom said...

Alan - I found your comment about almost applying to Twin Oaks interesting. I had an interest in Twin Oaks also (I wonder, maybe every idealistic young person in the 70's did?), but never made it as far as even visiting there. Also especially interesting, the comment that "you wouldn't have stayed". I learned a LOT about group dynamics and idealism and, for lack of a better word, "projects", when I lived at the Nyland co-housing community. Hm. Well, lots to do today, so I'll keep this brief. xox, M. in Salem

October 12, 2015 10:34 AM  

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