Poly Living 2009, Philadelphia

Wren on February 26th, 2009

We’re heading out this weekend for Loving More’s Poly Living conference in Philadelphia. I had a great time attending the World Polyamory Conference at Harbin Hot Springs in California last September, so I’m looking forward to checking out this east coast event!

For those unfamiliar, polyamory (“many loves”) is having or being open to multiple deep, caring, committed relationships. It is not swinging, cheating or promiscuity. Loving More, the organization putting on this weekend’s conference, has a great FAQ section that covers the questions and concerns I hear the most, including jealousy, STD’s, logistics of seeing multiple people, etc. If you are curious or dubious, you should check it out!

Polyamory is built on transparency and deep communication skills. So I feel the conferences and other gatherings have much to offer people in relationships or seeking relationships, whether poly or monogamous. Many gatherings teach tantra, meditation and other practices that can bring couples closer, whether the relationships are open or closed.

Along these lines, I’ve found Network for a New Culture to be a valuable meeting place for new friends and a convergence point for many ideas I am drawn to, including transparency and polyamory. Not everyone who attends New Culture events is polyamorous, and the organizers are great at making everyone feel welcome and respected. Network for a New Culture produces Summer Camps on the east coast and west coast. After hearing from friends who’ve attended for years, I’m finally going to the East Coast Summer Camp this July! I know it will be a transforming experience, with lots of ZEGG Forum, Heart of Now, community, and for me, polyamory!

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It Must Be Love

Wren on February 22nd, 2009

In the short months that Iuval and I have been living and traveling together, our dedication and devotion to each other has felt natural and flowy. We’ve swished a strong stream of NRE (new relationship energy) everywhere we’ve been, enough to sicken and annoy even the most hopeless romantic among our friends and families. But NRE can form between lots of people. It appears; It disappears. What about devotion that stays? You know you’re looking at that when your mate cleans up your dog’s vomit. Repeatedly.

We are polyamorous so, over time, I’ve had a few lovers, women and men, for overnights and they’re always friendly, civil and accommodating to my two shelties. They tolerate the dogs’ shrill barking at the door, begging to be petted, demanding that my guests throw an endless succession of tennis balls, shredded plush toys and sticks. They pretend not to mind when the pets climb on the couch and into their laps. The occasional visitor is even a true dog person and appreciates mine for their sportspersonship and vitality. Iuval bursts into giggles and baby talk. “They’re sooo cuuute!!!” This, after he mentions casually that domestic animals, especially pets, are a symptom of our broken society, how we spend endless resources on beings that aren’t even human, all because we no longer know how to make deep human connections. Here come more giggles and he’s on the floor playing tug of war.

“Have the dogs been for a walk? They need a walk. I’m taking the goats and dogs with me to the barn…”

“Aww, the dogs want to go with us. Can we take them to dinner with us? They don’t want us to leave them! Oh, I feel so bad, leaving them!”

“Have you fed the dogs yet? Why not? You’re so mean. Look at them; They’re hungry! I’ll do it!”

“Move over on the couch. Tuatha wants on. He wants to cuddle. There. Move a little more…”

“I feel so bad, kicking them out of bed. They just want to cuddle and be with us. I know it was my idea but maybe they can just snuggle under the covers for a little while…”

“Look, Echo doesn’t seem to feel good. Maybe it was that deer bone. Oh, she threw up. I got it. No, don’t bother, I’ll get it. Does she need some medicine? Ohh, you feel baad…You soo cuute!”


There’s “love me, love my dog.” Then there’s “love me, love my students.” When my Open Classroom students came for our Inauguration Day party, they brought a play they wanted to act out. They wanted me to play the mom but I resisted on grounds of typecasting. I insisted that Iuval play the mom. I even had a costume dress that I knew would fit him. Let’s not get into how I knew that. Not only did Iuval accept the part and play it with gusto and nuance, but he kept the dress on for the rest of the party!

There’s something about his ability to enter all aspects of my life as if he’s always been there and is shocked by nothing, loving what I love, that makes this feel just like home. Today, for my birthday, he’s making me a chocolate/chili cake, inspired by the Mayans.

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Kali, Goddess of Chaos, Rewires My House

Wren on February 18th, 2009

As part of my commitment to low impact, simple living, I live in a tiny, very low-tech house and try to keep my possessions and clutter down to a manageable hum. I basically have two rooms: a open first floor with areas of living room, library/yoga space and a kitchen, and a spacious upstairs sleeping loft. I work and live here with my two dogs and a sweetie, Iuval, who keeps extending his “visit” in fits and starts and chunks. We’ll see how that goes…

I love my little cabin in the woods, plywood shack though it may be. But the electrical hasn’t been updated since it was built in 1972 and all the outlets, lights, refrigerator, etc., inside the house were run to one breaker! This might have worked for back-to-the-landers in 1972 but it has been frying this Hippie Chick’s computers, so something needed to be done!

Since I live at Heathcote Community, repairs and renovations are approved by and paid for by the community.  And often a member with the germane skills may complete the work. But since we’re finishing Polaris, our new straw bale grouphouse (see a slideshow of the construction here), my rewiring job wasn’t getting completed quickly enough for me. I was living in a house with wires coming out of cuts in the walls and wires rolled out this way and that across the floors, very Medusalike. Enough waiting! It started to feel like my house might come alive, grab me and eat me.

Time to throw a party, I thought. Since being a squeaky wheel hadn’t gotten the job done, I set a date for a party and said that I needed the work done by that time. Iuval detected my suffering and volunteered to finish the job. Why not, I thought. He’s a physicist, so it’s possible I could have my house rewired and have a wormhole to the fifth dimension installed for no extra charge. He would finish the job in time for me to host Heathcote’s Inauguration Day party. I thought this was the end of my visit from Kali, the goddess of chaos. But no; She laughs yet. People are her toys, her candy.

And deliciously, people come in flavors, different operational styles. Some like to have things decided while others prefer to endlessly collect data. Some like to work in teams, others are lone wolves. Iuval and my community mate John are, shall we say, from different sections of the candy box. So when minimalist Iuval took over the job from by-the-book John, sparks flew, and not from my outdated wiring.

Some background on the players:

Iuval is very passionate about eliminating the enslavement of workers around the world who make our products. He tries to minimize what he owns, what he needs. He lives so simply that all his electrical needs are supplied by solar panels atop his converted school bus. He repairs the inexpensive products the rest of us might throw away. He does his own car and home repairs and is making plans to grow much, if not all of his own food. His own electrical needs are minimal and he projects this onto others with some judgment–because of our consumption of coal and nuclear driven electricity and because of the exploitation of the Third World workers who made the wire, boxes, switch plates, screws, clamps, etc., not to mention the endless gadgets we plug in.

John prides himself on jobs well done and on his listening and compassion. He wants his clients to feel he’s responding to their needs. So when he heard my requirements for updated electrical, with the computers, kitchen appliances, etc. that I wanted to protect, he studied manuals and came up with a design that follows code to the letter and puts as light a burden as possible on many circuits. He designed a three-way switch that would allow me to turn a light on at the bottom of my stairs and turn it off at the top. I’d requested this because of, well, you know, snakes. Also, Heathcote is a place where we care about codes. So John cares about codes and if he can complicate things this way and that and feel that, as a result, my house won’t burn down, well, he likes that.

I, Wren, can tend to assume too much and not ask clarifying questions. I like to delegate and I take people literally. So when John originally told me he could rewire my house in two days, I kept believing him long after he himself let go of that myth. And I didn’t ask details about his plan, including some aesthetic aspects that mattered to me later on. I’m not a fan of the “industrial look” in interior design, for example…Also, I have not educated myself about electrical wiring so I would not have known what clarifying questions to ask or how to assess John’s answers. And I haven’t taken over the job myself, although I considered when my friend Jas suggested that I just do it myself. To be honest, I’m playing the helpless female here.

So for those who haven’t already done the math, Iuval was quickly annoyed at the scale of John’s design and enraged that I and other Heathcoters would live so opulently, addicted to the global economy and its toys, apparently with no concern for our enslavement of workers who produce the endless parts needed. John, in turn, feared that Iuval would minimize the safety practices needed, ignore the improvements we were trying to achieve and burn down my house. As they went round after round with each other and each separately with me, I wanted to become an electrician. A lesbian electrician. A deaf lesbian electrician. Or I could sidestep the time and expense of trade school and the tragedy of never hearing music again if I would just date a lesbian electrician. Yeah!

Much to my weary annoyance, I could see we were the three of us faced with an AFGO–another fucking growth opportunity. So I tried to stick with it, deeply listening to each of them and rallying them to join me in discerning the highest good on every question of an unnecessary outlet or streamlined wiring job. But I have to admit I was jaded and distracted in this noble work by my experience at Heathcote. Over my fourteen years here, I’ve seen quite a few members come through with varying levels of expertise in electrical, plumbing, building, etc. And I’ve noticed one universal about them all. No matter if they’d been doing such work for six months or six decades, each one would arrive at Heathcote, point out several repairs or installations done in the recent or distant past and say, “Jeez, that guy didn’t know what he was doing!!! This is the worst job I’ve ever seen!!! You otta let me pull that whole thing out and do it over. I’ve done it a million times…” Do they teach this stuff in trade school?

You’ll never be out of work if you can point out imperfection.

So, as much as I love them both, having no wiring knowledge of my own, I couldn’t play Solomon. But our clear common ground, that we all wanted the job completed, kept us talking and trying. Iuval stayed with it. And John kept supplying him with tools and slave made materials. Iuval actually enjoyed the challenge and the work itself. And John was eventually relieved that my job was getting done, as his other job took more and more of his time. The two-day job is into it’s third week or so…Iuval disputes this and insists that I tell you he only worked on it here and there, a couple of hours a day. Fine. But it was dark outside and he was in his pajamas when he started each day, and it was dark outside and he was in his pajamas when he finished each day so, maybe physicists measure hours uniquely. He’s so cute in his pajamas…

As I write this, Iuval and John are in the loft, playing nicely and hanging a donated ceiling fan which I plan to thoroughly enjoy. My loft having an A-frame ceiling, I loose so much heat from my pellet stove in the peak. This ceiling fan should make my loft warmer and cut down on the overall amount of pellets I need to use each winter.

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Jas’ Sustainable Life List

Wren on February 11th, 2009

James Handley, Jas to us friends, emailed me his list of changes or practices for minimizing one’s impact. This is his response to Iuval’s practices on his biodiesel bus in Arkansas. Jas is a lawyer for the Price Carbon Campaign, promoting a carbon tax. Thanks for your hilarious and wise list!!!

Hi Wren,

That was a funny blog.   Here’s my sustainable living list, in rough order:

1) Family planning: We need to (and will, one way or another) reduce world population by ~ 2/3 within a century.   Preferably zero, but maximum one child per couple.   Each additional person multiplies your impact.  This is, by far, number one.  If you have zero kids, the rest of this list is essentially, optional.  You’ve done more than everything else on this list will.

2) Eschew debt so you can work at something socially useful instead of becoming a debt slave to an exploiter.   Keep overhead low.  Don’t buy anything new.  Even if you have to live like a grad student, keep half a year’s expenses in the bank so you can quit any job that isn’t satisfying.

3) Minimize or eliminate air travel.   (Each passenger in a full jetliner has about the same impact as driving the same distance in an SUV, alone.  Flying burns gobs of dirty fuel.)   No legal activity that I can think of does more damage per minute to the planet than flying.  See George Monbiot’s book, Heat for a full explanation.  Discharging CO2 into the stratosphere is a huge cause of global climate chaos.

4) Drive only when absolutely necessary, avoid rapid acceleration and braking and strictly obey speed limits.   Live where you work, play and recreate– close to loved ones.   Bike, use public transit, carpool instead of driving alone.  (Biodiesel and hybrids are mostly feel-good BS, especially if you end up buying a new vehicle or driving more.  Bikes are righteous.)

5) Lower the thermostat as far as you can and then keep going.  Adapt to seasons.  Wear seasonally-appropriate clothing, especially thermal underwear.  Take infrequent short, tepid showers, turn water off when soaping.  Don’t run water continually to wash dishes.  Take cool showers in summer instead of air conditioning.

6) Plant shade and fruit trees.

7) Insulate and seal your house, especially the attic.

8) Use a clothes line instead of a dryer and yes, wash only clothes that are really dirty.

9) Grow as much food as you can without blowing any of the other guidelines to do it. Eat low on the foodchain, not meat-centered.  Compost.  Don’t drink bottled water or any beverage or food in one-serving containers.

10) Don’t nag or harass other Earthlings who don’t practice the above, but don’t mingle body fluids or finances with anyone who doesn’t at least get most of them and steer clear of anyone addicted to money, drugs or power. – jh

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The Ozarks or Bust? Even Money!

Wren on February 4th, 2009

I’ve been prodding my partner Iuval to adapt his “treatise” on sustainable living, simplicity and intentional community into a book. But after two years of debating the issues with him, I’m starting to think I’ll write the book instead! It would be an epic of the great struggle between his view (that we should all revert to Neandertalism–living in caves, eating nuts and road kill, bathing once a year whether we need it or not,)  and my belief that we can find a simplicity that provides quality of life and practice conscious consumption of goods and energy that makes ecological sense yet doesn’t enslave workers while still keeping our cell phones and washing machines. (Iuval denies my claim he’s Neanderthal. Here’s an old rant about primitivism.)

My debates with Iuval have reached a fever pitch as I visit him at the veggie oil schoolbus homestead he’s established on a mountainside in Murray Valley, near Jasper, Arkansas. He and I have blended the last two months with traveling for family and staying at my cabin in the woods of Heathcote Community, north of Baltimore, Maryland. Now I’m visiting him where he’s put some of his simplicity into action and our differences are showing!

I joke about him wanting to live in a cave, but his veggie bus sits on a shelf within sight of a sizable cave where Iuval’s landlord, Shelby Badders, lived for many years. Shelby now lives in a comfortable cabin on his land. He believes fungus or something else in the air of the cave effected his lungs. Still this mountain man in his seventies had no trouble helping a crew of us cut up and haul off dozens upon dozens of trees that had fallen into the dirt roads on his mountain in the recent ice storm.

Shelby says he’s pessimistic that the simple, autonomous life he and his family tried to live when they settled there can be had. Yes, they built a comfortable cabin, gardened and homeschooled their kids. But he notes that they never succeeded in growing all their own food. And Shelby, his ex-wife and children having moved on, still depends on propane for cooking and still drives to town for provisions.

Iuval maintains that Intentional Community is one of several improvements he brings; that where Shelby went wrong was to try to make it as a single family homestead. Iuval would find land, build large group houses and invite as many as one or two hundred people to live there, growing most if not all their food and eventually making everything they need–shelter, clothing, technology–all from materials found or made locally, meaning within fifty or a hundred miles.

Until he finds such land and begins his community, Iuval has been living on his converted schoolbus, named Shadowslo. This is after Shadowfax of LOTR, of course! Here Iuval experiments with technologies that are gentle on the environment and provide independence from the global economy. Iuval wants to avoid any of his monetary energy going to exploited or slave labor, although he admits this is impossible to completely avoid today. All his electrical needs are satisfied by solar panels on his roof. He pipes water in from a nearby stream. And he has built a rocket stove for cooking and heating. He gathers materials from neighbors and junkyards but still needs to buy some tools and equipment for his systems from local stores, which presumably buy on the global market.

Iuval and I have a running joke now. Whenever I want to buy something, say, a printer for my computer or a scarf, Iuval will say, “You don’t need that. You can do without it or share it or make it yourself. When you buy it, you’re just being lazy. You don’t need it but if you really want it you should make it!” Then I make faces, shift weight from foot to foot and insist that he whittle me one. He’s been put in charge of whittling me spark plugs, a cell phone and countless other luxuries but he’s not gotten out his knives yet. He must be lazy…

Of course, the truth is, I could live with less than I do. Even as I have dedicated the last fifteen years of my life to simple living, I sometimes become complacent and comfortable. I rest on my laurels. I appreciate Iuval prodding me to do better. But after a few days on the veggie bus, I’m ready for a shower and a laundromat. And a movie. And a veggie burger.

No, Iuval, don’t whittle me one! I want it bought and served to me in a restaurant with natural fiber tablecloths and Paul Simon on the sound system. I hope they seat us, ripe (reaking) from our hippie habitat!

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