Hiding Place #641: A 7 X 7 Coleman Tent

Wren on March 31st, 2009


For our new readers, a repost from HCD’s “Greatest Hits”:

Spring, 2006

Sometimes the bogeyman is a flashback of some rapist or the echo of that ever negative parent. It could be that childhood biting dog or one’s inner voice. Or it could be a succession of 5-foot black rat snakes coming in through windows and walls. Okay, on a day in early May of last year, it was black rat snakes.

My dogs were already barking. This was an experience they’d clearly
had before. A huge snake was outside on the window ledge, tracing a
familiar path to a missing window pane covered loosely by plastic. The
plastic was stapled in a couple of places, there to keep the rain out.

This would be a good time to mention that I have an understandable,
justifiable childhood trauma around snakes. Okay, they’re sacred and
symbolize earthiness and fertility and feminine power because we’re all
past that myth in Genesis. But this means nothing to the six-year-old
me that went crawdad huntin’ in Jack’s Creek on our farm in Kentucky.
You may be thinking I mean crayfish hunting, but since I’ll have no
dignity by the end of this story, I might as well confess now that my
sister and I were crawdad huntin’.

Granny had driven us in her Olds 98 and outfitted us with her brand
new kitchen bucket. Beth and I walked the creek, turning over rocks,
jumping back when the bigger crawdads would torpedo out. We rounded a
couple of bends, well out of sight of Granny, engrossed.

This would be a good time to mention the Paul Bunyanesque stories my
grandfather would tell about cottonmouth water moccasins. Pap claimed
that they ate his dairy cows. And with each telling of how he’d gone
out into the field and ended the behemoth with a shotgun, the snake got
bigger and bigger. On our farm, snake stories were as fishing stories
in this fashion.

So when the cartoonlike meeting of engrossed girls and startled
cottonmouth took place, there was only one way it could play
out–epically. The snake reared up and met us face to face to face. It
opened to showcase the cottony room of its mouth. We screamed in chorus
with its scream and waved our hands in the air, sending the new kitchen
bucket flying. We ran atop the surface of the water all the way back to
Granny and the Olds 98, so as not to leave any footprints in the muddy
creekbed for the snake to follow.

We told Granny about the snake and the face to face to face and the
cottony room from the safety of the car. Now I loved my grandmother and
she told me on many occasions that she loved me, too. But this was not
her shining moment. I swear to you that her only response was, “You
girls go back and get my bucket!!!”

I note for the record that she herself did not retrieve it, either.

So as the black rat snake poked at the plastic, I was amused to find
myself considering covering the pane with my own kitchen bucket.
Instead I grabbed the staple gun and began stitching a solid seem all
the way around, just barely ahead of the snake’s nose. I won that race
and darted outside only to watch the snake retreat into an opening
under my house where my tub’s drainpipe protrudes. The snake got in

hina_hanta__south_view__springI had lived in Hina Hanta, left, the Heathcote shack formerly known as the
Hillhouse, for four years. And about two or three times a year I would
come upon a small black snake inside. Now, I hate snakes for
understandable, justifiable reasons and I would evacuate with the dogs,
wait a few hours and return with another Heathcoter to conduct an “all
clear.” This worked for me, barely, because I knew the snakes were
catching mice and their bigger cousins. And for that reason I was glad
of each one I encountered outdoors. But the snake in my window had no
fear. This was new and unsettling.

I was unnerved enough to leave the light on when I went to bed. I
don’t know why I thought that would make a difference but I found it a
comfort. One of my phobias around snakes and my life deep in the woods
is that they’ll end up in bed with me. Fertility be damned, I ain’t
having that!

But two nights later the choice was not mine. I jolted up to the
crazed barks of Echo, my brave protector of the two shelties. She was
ranting and racing from the bed to the stairway of my loft room. The
sight was simply a shocker: undulating across my floor, blocking my
exit, were two five-foot long black snakes, mating, and I mean
passionately. They showed no signs of being phased by our waking.

Evacuation being my policy I stood on my bed, holding both shelties
by the collar with one hand and pulling clothes off a chair and onto
myself with the other, all the while watching the snakes go on and on
and on. I would have been struck awed and mystified by the beauty of
their fluid movements if I were another person, without my
understandable, justifiable fear of snakes. Instead I was all about

But when they finally untied themselves, the snakes were still flush
with whatever hormones were giving them boldness and drive. One started
to the right, finding the wall and turning toward my dresser, my bed
and me. The other went left to the wall and started in my direction,
using the dogs’ indoor agility tunnel to make its way toward the bed. I
yanked the tunnel away and that snake was discouraged enough to retreat
to the stairs where it disappeared into a hole in the wall. When I
looked for the right hand snake, it had lifted its head to the top of
the dresser. We split. We booked. We ran on the top of the water so as
not to leave any footprints in the muddy creekbed for the snakes to

The next day, I brought Bob, a Heathcoter, up to the house, not for
an all-clear, but to consult on plugging my many holes. As he stood in
my bedroom hearing the story a black snake emerged from a seam where
wall meets floor. It sat coiled, as if it were part of our discussion.
These snakes without fear, this was so strange and new.

Bob became my champion at community meetings–”Wren shouldn’t have to
live like this. She’s got snakes having sex on her floor!!! We’ve got
to do something!!!” That was all well and good, but now huge snakes
were slinking about at every turn I made. Kitchen, bathroom, upstairs
and down, I came to estimate that I had between 8 and 10 five-foot long
black rat snakes in my home and I was not in charge.

My friend Charles is fond of saying that the wheels of community
grind slowly. The Heathcoters were not going to disappear this
infestation in a day or even a week. In the meantime I needed a place
to sleep, alone with my dogs, alone, without snakes, alone.

Now, I had observed that black snakes don’t tend to chew holes or
dig them. They avail themselves of ones created by the critters they’re
hunting. This logic is what inspired me to set up my seven by seven
Coleman tent in place of my bed. I believed that if I kept crumbs and
such out that mice and their larger cousins would leave the fabric
intact, thus creating all the barrier I needed to get a good night’s
sleep. For the record, this is not a belief I need clarified in any
way. it works for me. If you are of the impression or experience that a
black rat snake might in fact chew through tent fabric, there is
nothing to be gained by sharing. Do not email me.

The tent became my bedroom within a bedroom. I set up a power strip
inside and plugged in my alarm clock and lamp. I inflated my aero bed
and each night I called the dogs inside and zipped us within our hiding

Enter Mr. Hacker, the snake wrangler.

Although I admit to hating snakes as bogeymen I am an animal rights
activist. In lucid moments I know that they’re just returning to their
hatching site to breed, being good snake citizens. Even so, I can
confess to having a few fantasies involving Pap’s shotgun because I
know that I ultimately stuck to my beliefs, even when they were
inconvenient. Mr. Hacker of White Hall was probably the tenth humane
pest control person I called. The others had said that snakes couldn’t
be trapped and that repellents didn’t work. Mr. Hacker had invented a
successful trap from pvc pipe and a used eel trap. Bring it on.

He installed the trap and decided to wait a while since I was so
dripping with the things. For over and hour I listened to Mr. Hacker
tell me stories of catching snakes. He would take the captured ones
many miles away. “Sometimes I just slow down and pour ‘em out the
window…” I didn’t need such details. He rambled on about family, the
cousin who actually hacked up his wife’s lover in some bar, and wasn’t
the family name ironic, I really didn’t need such details. Eventually a
snake appeared on my stairs and he picked it up with his hands. “Wow,
that’s a big one!” That’ll be thirty dollars. Here was hoping he slowed
down enough for that one.

As Hacker’s trap caught one after another and sometimes two at a
time, I got busy trimming every room and covering every possible entry,
on the shack’s interior and exterior and winning my own eel traps on
ebay. After a time the snakes stuck to the outdoors and the porch and
became shy again.

Homeschooling students attending the World Religions class on my
porch helped me name the snakes and when we were not evacuating we were
amused and amazed. And my students found my unusual bed amusing as well.

It is winter now. Whether in my walls, some woodpile or rocky
outcropping, I know the snakes are asleep. I know my holes are plugged.
These nights I just climb in, I don’t zip the door closed. But life is
a spiral of seasons, not a straight, evolutionary trajectory. I have
grown through this but I, like the snakes, know that spring happens. I
might have call to zip up yet.

–Wren Tuatha

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His initials spell WAR. A wonderful “online magazine in the reality-based community” called Pam’s House Blend posted about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s new Attorney General pick. Besides his other right wing credentials, he’s publicly used the words “immoral,” “perversion” and “degenerates” in reference to the queer community. Scary thing is, I’ll bet his mother really is proud. Unless she’s a dyke…

wren-constance-talmadgeAs a “degenerate” on so many different levels, I’m often dismayed at the gulf that seems to divide the left and the right. But it seems that different playbooks, different assumptions drive each. Cultural liberals want to let folks be, we’re comfortable with a range of behaviors, as long as our own personal choice is intact. We can allow that contradictory ideas can both be true and that the different ways our neighbors live are enriching for our children. Cultural conservatives like structure and having things defined in absolutes. I guess then you don’t have to wonder if you’re right or if ideas need updating. They’re absolute. The Bible is a favorite source for absolutes. Strangely, my liberal Christian friends have the same book with the same words in the same order. But their book says very different things…

rainbow-colors-very-appealing-use-one-its-okayOn facebook, fundamentalists and liberal activists play this out. After the Pope’s remarks that condom distribution only makes the AIDS epidemic in Africa worse, one woman wrote about handing out condoms on her campus. A “friend” shot back that, if everyone would just follow God’s law there would be no homosexuality. After a few exchanges it turns out that his logic was this: Homosexuality may or may not be hardwired for some people. But since “God’s law” is no sex before marriage, and gays can’t marry, well then no homosexuality…

Problem with his plan is, I follow “the goddess’ law.” Sex is sacred…and our gulf remains.

As long as we keep talking past each other over the gulf, every political battle just feels like another in a constant barrage of skirmishes, some lost, some won on a battlefield where the majority rules. I support that fight, but I feel empty that virtually everybody goes home with the same ideas they came with.

My mom, Peg FinnieMy mother, left (literally), is a political science major, a political animal. I have always been called to activism, but as a marcher, not a lobbyist or pundit. I am not a political animal, probably because I’m too emotional. Someone starts arguing me down and I just want to hug them or defect to a warmer climate. My vehicle for change has always been personal action, living by example, networking to transmit my ideas and culture, witnessing for justice and my beliefs as situations arise.

To me, not going shopping is a radical act of social justice.

So is there a way to bring the country closer together? (Note to the Invisible Forces of the Universe: I’m not asking for another 9/11 or Katrina here. I’m asking people what people can do. Butt out. We’ll handle this.)

A friend who’s a sex therapist brought SAR to my attention: Sexual Attitude Reassessment. I’m interested in this sort of thing on a grassroots or cultural level. But I’ll probably start by trying it within Intentional Communities, those wonderful laboratories of cultural change. Play, play, play!

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I’m so lucky this face follows me around…


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CNN had an interesting article on their site recently: E-Cigarettes that purport to solve the health and social issues of conventional cigarette smoking. I am intrigued for personal reasons. I’m quite allergic to tobacco smoke, so much so that I’m simply unable to be around smokers, even when they’re not smoking. The smoke permeates their clothes, hair and skin. I can even enter an elevator and tell you that a smoker has been on recently, not smoking in the elevator, just standing.

I have a sister I love dearly who has been a life long smoker and I struggle to visit her, even though she tries to be conscientious, only smoking outside and sticking her ciggie out the window when she drives. The problem is, this in fact makes most of the smoke blow back in on me and her kids.

Smokers and non-smokers appear to have different understandings of the physics of smoke. I thought smokers were daft when they didn’t understand their cloud of smoke was out to get me, attacking me, wafting my way. Then I learned that smokers and non-smokers have opposite ion charges, and  that smoke may actually be attracted to non-smokers in the area. I’m looking for links to this information.  Further,

Dr Felix Sulman, head of the Applied Pharmacology department at Jerusalem University, conducted experiments with positive and negative ions on a cross-section of people. (his subjects were two groups of men and women between twenty and sixty-five) When left for about an hour in a room that contained an overdose of positive ions they became irritable and fatigued. Yet the same people confined for the same period of time, in air containing an overdose of negative ions, showed a pattern of brainwaves that suggested increased alertness and relaxation. He tested their alertness and work capacity by various means. All of them scored significantly higher, during and immediately after, their exposure to increased levels of negative ions.

(In the interest of disclosure, I got the above quote from a site that would like to sell you a negative ion generator. I don’t endorse one or another; There are many. But unlike the touted health benefits of E-Cigarettes, there is a mountain findable, readable research behind NIG’s.)

Their statements, my questions/rants:

“Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette Is a Much Healthier Option than Traditional Cigarette: Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette has no tobacco, no tar, no real smoke and no other chemicals like traditional cigarette that can cause lung cancer. However, It looks like a real cigarette, feels like a real cigarette and tastes like a real cigarette, yet it isn’t a real cigarette… It is also cheaper and healthier than real cigarettes!!”

Yea! I agree that you may be onto a great improvement here. Lung cancer bad. Cheaper good. Healthier maybe. Could you use some of the space on your site currently taken up by pictures of sexy people smoking your product to tell me what it is made of?

“Our product is comparable to the nicotine patch except people still get the oral fixation, which they love,” explained Elicko Taieb, CEO of Smoking Everywhere.

So are you touting it as a smoking cessation product, like the patch? You make it to administer nicotine at several levels. Are they designed to be used in a step down process, matching the step down doses of the patch?

“Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette has no tobacco, no tar, no real smoke and no other chemicals like traditional cigarette that can cause lung cancer. However, It looks like a real cigarette, feels like a real cigarette and tastes like a real cigarette, yet it isn’t a real cigarette… It is also cheaper and healthier than real cigarettes!!!”

I’m pinching myself; I’m with the FDA here: Where are your studies proving that inhaling pure liquid nicotine into one’s lungs is a good idea? And, let me add on here: How is the nicotine derived and manufactured? What safety standards are in place to prevent the smoker from sucking in the lithium in the battery that powers it?

“We at Smoking Everywhere, LLC consider the Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette as a GREEN Product, as also known as Eco-Friendly, and we have the goal of helping to create a smoke free environment, by offering smoking cigarettes, without tobacco, tar, smoke and the other chemicals found in the traditional cigarettes, and here is how:

  • The Smoking Everywhere E-Cigarette produces vapor mist that looks like smoke, instead of real smoke, and there is no need for ashtrays, because there is no ash created from the Electronic Cigarette.
  • There is no cigarette buds to dispose, and therefore much less to recycle.”

Is there someone out there recycling cigarette butts? I never see that bin where I go…As someone who is allergic to cigarette smoke, I applaud the absence of smoke and ash. And eliminating the need for ashtrays? Sounds great. Close the ashtray factory.  And I agree that butts on the ground everywhere is one of my environmental pet peeves, especially since it is a serious danger to wildlife such as birds, who choke on butts.

But if you’re looking for a green label, I think you need to work harder here and compare the impact of your product from raw material through manufacture, transport, distribution, marketing, etc., as well as use by the consumer, to conventional tobacco products. Are the batteries and other components of eCigarettes recyclable? Do you use recycled materials in manufacture? Do your factories have some sort of green certification? What responsible steps have you taken to insure your offices and factories are minimizing their negative footprint? Is your product designed to lessen peoples’ overall consumption by stepping them down into not smoking, or are you hoping to replace cigarettes and attract new esmokers? Consumerism by its definition isn’t very green.

If you would disclose the materials the eCigarette is made of, you might win some green points by comparing the materials in your product to an equivalent amount of tobacco cigarettes. Problem is, outside of the chemicals and the nasty filter, a cigarette is biodegradable. You compare the monetary savings, and that is a great selling point. You could increase those savings if you market as a smoking cessation product.

Anybody want to weigh in? Comments are apparently not working at the moment. We’re on it; Hang in…

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condom-rainbowP.S. The links keep coming in. Thanks, facebook & gaia.com friends! I’ll sort through them and try to contact the orgs, to see 1) if they want condoms mass mailed to them, and 2) if there’s support that’s more relevant to them. I’ll post the results ASAP!

People, people people. Dude thinks he has The One True God talking in his ear. He’s got no need to back down on anything he says. I assume we all know the action of sending millions of condoms to the Pope is to raise awareness among people who are not the Pope.

Given that, although the gimmick of mailing condoms to the Pope and asking him to distribute them in Africa is dramatic, is it worth the environmental impact of those millions of condoms being produced, shipped, wholesaled, shipped, bought, mailed, received and thrown into an Italian landfill?

green_flip_flopsI recall about twenty years ago, back in Louisville, Kentucky, when an Alderman reversed his position, deciding not to support adding “sexual orientation” to the city’s list of classes protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. We activists and supporters of the local Fairness campaign sent the alderman actual flip flops. It got a lot of press. His office was inundated with beach footwear.The alderman didn’t flip his position back again for several years. But our point was made to the city of Louisville.

fairness-campaign-logoNow, a prickly difference here is that we weren’t sending flip flops to a public figure who was opposed to the wearing of shoes. I assume that his staff carted them off to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, the Home of the Innocents, and whoever would use them. I bet that Alderman still has a few pair saved in his own size. All in good activist fun.

We know theater. But we can be dramatic and actually impactful at the same time.

I propose that we identify organizations already distributing condoms and mail our Pope prophylactics to the saints who will actually hand them out! We can send them in His Holiness’ name. And we can suggest that, if any condoms should fail, resulting in pregnancy, the child should be named Benedict…or Benedictine, if it’s a girl. Being from Kentucky, I love Benedictine. Kentucky is the state of fattening spreads–Benedictine, pimento cheese, beer cheese…Sorry, off topic!

I’m putting out some feelers to identify organizations that distribute condoms in Africa, for a start. Write me if you know of them. My guess is that money is tight for such groups and they would thank the Pope’s One True God if she would, through us, send them the condoms they need!

Or maybe they’re sitting on warehouses of donated condoms already and need some other distribution support. Can we wait a couple of news cycles and find out what is of most help?

It occurs to me that staging the activism on a bottom-up level might actually have an impact on the policies of the Catholic Church long term. What about mailing a condom to your local priest or bishop? Some of  them are the future leadership of the Church, people who may be in a position to make directional shifts in the future, which are not likely for a standing Pope. A few pragmatic local priests might actually send the condoms to their local health clinic or Planned Parenthood under the table, and those could do more good before the landfill…

I’m Unitarian-Universalist and Pagan. So I imagine I have very simplified ideas about the Pope, the Catholic Church, the Vatican, and also the AIDS crisis in Africa, which I only know from the headlines, not the trenches. But I have been in the trenches of the green and simplicity movements for decades. I know how to screen for my impact in the choices I make as a consumer, an educator, an activist, an animal living on the planet. So it’s my knowledge  that is sending up alarms, and sending me into brainstorming on topics out of my area. But that’s the wonderful thing about this internet: Some of you have the pieces I’m missing.

The following links were suggested by facebookers, members of the various groups that formed around the call to send the Pope condoms:

  • http://www.avert.org/ I had previously found this group on my own first google search. I emailed them to ask if they were an organization who could accept and distribute donated condoms. They wrote back to say that, sadly, this is not their gig. But they gave me a list of about 10 NGO’s to contact. I’ll keep you posted.
  • http://www.nazarethhousejohennesburg.org/ I visited this site when the link was posted and emailed them as well. Another group member asked the question on my mind–Being a religious charity, do they evangelize, or make religious requirements of the people they serve? The poster of the link implied that they don’t. But the site didn’t mention the issue, so I asked in my email. I tried to be respectful. I hope it doesn’t prevent me from getting a response. The pros and cons of this issue could be their own post. But for those of us outside of organized or mainstream religion, it’s important for our giving to be without strings attached.
  • http://www.mariestopes.org.uk/Home.aspx “Marie Stopes International is one of the major distributors of male and female condoms,” according to Kara Hanas, my facebook friend in Oklahoma. She posted this link to their Wikipedia article, describing their “social marketing programmes” in 17 developing countries.
  • http://guttmacher.org/ Kara suggests this site “in regards to AIDS statistics, unsafe abortion, and contraceptive use in Africa.”

She adds, “I have written many a paper over abortion and contraceptive use so if you have any questions please let me know. The argument is best made if stats are looked at as primary indicator rather than ethics of such a practice. Maybe look into the Rape Condom as well, its chilling. Also Botswana I believe is a stable democracy (freedom house indicators) and has been since the 60s; however, something like 60% or 65% of their population is infected with the virus. Look that up because I can’t remember off hand the number of HIV cases and AIDS cases. Lancet has some really good articles as well over contraceptive use and unsafe abortion…”

Clearly Kara has a wealth of research to share. Unfortunately for this posting, she’s under tons of snow and without internet to send me the links and research she and I discussed. I’ll follow up with those. Hmm. I wonder if, nine months from now, Oklahoma will see a boom of snowstorm babies. Maybe Kara is busy going door to door with her tin of condoms!

As always, I’d love to get your comments, on Hippie Chick Diaries, on facebook, or on my favorite green/alternative/activist networking site, gaia.com!

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wren-late-winter-2009I was recently posting on a facebook polyamory discussion board and the spellcheck underlined the word polyamory. I was miffed; I hate being culturally invisible. So I typed a note of that, and it underlined the word spellcheck…

When Heathcote Community’s food co-op manager faxed this month’s order, only the first page was received. So only the items on that page were delivered. So he went to our locally owned grocery and ordered cases of what was missing. My favorite vanilla rice milk arrived as eighty cartons of original flavor. And the brand of whole grain flax bread he bought to tide us over has 4 different kinds of sugar in it.  The most powerful words always seem to be in the smallest print…

wrens-gaiacom-avatar-wiselittleraccoonFor over a year now, I’ve received zero notices from my favorite networking site, gaia.com. After following Matthew’s advice to adjust my spam filter, I received mountain ranges of spam but no gaia notices. Now Siona tells me my problem is my icky, paranoid comcast email address. She can give me a lovely non-judgemental gaia.com one…

lil-green-patch-graphicArmies of my facebook friends have been lovingly offering me lil’ green patch flowers and plants to save the planet, a few bytes at a time. I’ve been dutifully suspicious. How is  this saving the planet and who gets a slice? So I looked into it and, on first glance, looks like lil’ green patch has raised scads of money for Nature Conservancy’s rain forest efforts. Oh well, no HCD expose. Still, I wonder. Has anyone compared the impact of planting a virtual flower vs. a real one? I sometimes get five or more lil’ green patch invitations per day. What if all those friends went outside and spent the same amount of time digging in real dirt, planting non-digital plants?

Not that I want to turn you away from my own site here, but it’s spring! Go outside.  You’re looking kinda pale. You need vitamin D. I’ll see you there. Really. I’m planting a daisy for you. Come find it!

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Kassia & Sky’s Euro-Commune Adventure

Wren on March 27th, 2009


I recently had the pleasure of attending a very beautiful, entertaining and informative slideshow at Chrysalis Community in Arlington, Virginia. Two former members of Twin Oaks Community, Kassia and Sky, had just returned from an extensive tour of European Intentional Communities.

torre-superioreNow, I realize  that many people would rather endure twenty-four hours of non-stop electrolysis while replaying Dick Cheney speeches than watch some friend’s vacation slides. This isn’t that.

Sky and Kassia, longtime communitarians, did quite a thorough comparison of IC’s, from squatter communities to upscale ecovillages. And they are all quite beautiful, architecturally and in the murals and gardens people have added.

pallet-palaceI invite you to click here to view their online slideshow. Enjoy!

And if it puts you in  the mood to visit Intentional Communities, my own Heathcote Community has Visitor Weekends monthly, and ic.org can put hundreds more IC’s at your fingertips! See you soon,

Wren Tuatha

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“…it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from.” —Earth Hour website

voteearthposter3Join Earth Hour, the annual movement to raise awareness by turning off your lights this Saturday, starting at 8:30 pm, local time wherever you are.

Now, some of you harried activists and eco-geeks who don’t spend a lot of time sitting under trees pondering what bug just crawled into your skirts might be wondering what you’re going to do for an hour in the dark.

If for some reason you need to eliminate sex as the answer (sports injury, recovery program, Mom visiting, whatever) here’s a list of ideas:

  • Play Marco Polo with the mice in your veggie bus.
  • Order Chinese delivery or pizza by sending owl calls down the block.
  • Invent moon tea.
  • Tell the history of the Rainbow Coalition in a puppet show using glow-in-the-dark condoms.
  • Go caroling up and down your street, singing Holly Near and Shekhinah Mountainwater.
  • Liberate race horses into suburban neighborhoods to replace gas-powered riding mowers.
  • Have an egg hunt in your yard using those rotten ones you haven’t brought yourself to compost yet.
  • Let the cat out and follow her. Back off if she becomes paranoid.
  • Sneak into the Wal-Mart parking lot and paste every car with the bumper sticker, “Mall-Wart, Your Source for Cheap, Plastic Crap!”
  • Find the most manicured lawn in your neighborhood and plant it in milkweed for making paper and fabric.
  • Throw a series of glow-in-the-dark frisbees off a school building and see if anyone calls in a UFO sighting.
  • Clean out the fridge by playing truth or dare with leftovers.
  • Practice riding your exercise bike for when you figure out how to power the hot tub with it.
  • Box up random items from each others’ rooms and take them to Goodwill, to work on unattachment.
  • Perfect your impression of Leonard Cohen doing show tunes.
  • Let the dog out and follow her. Be sure you have pruning shears, your picture ID and a change of socks with you. Twine is optional.
  • Host a naked drum circle, massage party or sing along in your front yard and when the neighbors show up with the police, tell them you left your permit in your other pants.
  • Figure out Morse Code using the light of your cell phone. Then use it to debate your neighbor across the road over the physics of What the Bleep…

Whatever activity or inactivity you choose, this is a wonderful chance to create community by unplugging. Or, if what you need from the hour is stillness, then here is a gift for you and the Earth! I’d love to hear your experiences afterwards!

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Repost: Shut Up and Talk to Me!

Wren on March 16th, 2009

This post from last summer is worth recycling. Enjoy!—WT

Wow, talking bes hard. The communi in communicate is so true–If you don’t get the other person to buy in to finding a solution to the problem or conflict between the two of you, then you’re an unhooked battery, all charge and no current.

Intentional Community is a laboratory for communication and conflict resolution.

At Heathcote Community, all members agree to a flexible process for addressing conflicts in a timely manner, and we agree on certain rules of engagement. If I have an issue with Jane Heathcoter, I’ve agreed not to carry it around, stewing in my juices. I must ask her for a “checkin.” Depending on the voltage of the charge, Jane and I might

  • sit down one on one
  • ask another Heathcoter to mediate or
  • take our issue to the entire community for help and support.

This is what new members can’t always prepare for in advance: Intentional Community is a fishbowl, a small one. Everyone else sees your baggage. They’ll be impacted by it and call you on it. Processing this is the deepest, hardest, most sacred work of community. Sustainable living, beautiful scenery and community dinners are in a way just the trappings of it.

Some people have the self knowledge that this is work they dream of doing. Others have the wisdom to know it’s not for them. Some believe intellectually that they want this, but are shocked by how hard the work is, how bruising to the ego, and how hard that ego is to put down. Good communication is a skillset, not just good intentions.

In my thirteen years of observing communication and conflict resolution at Heathcote and other communities, I’ve come to recognize these components in successful processing:

  • each speaks her or his truth without agenda or manipulation, sticking to facts and speaking from experience, putting down that ego and the need to be right or wise
  • each listens so as to understand the speaker’s experience, walking that mile in her or his moccasins–”Oh, that’s how it is for you…” putting down filters, not preparing for debate
  • everyone looks at all the cards on the table, looking not for the solution they had in mind at the beginning, but for the win/win that arises from new understanding and acceptance of each other

Even after thireen years in the fishbowl, I still fall into all the traps of bad communication. But I try hard and, because of the sacred work we’ve done, I’ve created trust and mutual respect with my long time community mates. I have enough safety to bring them just about any subject and speak with transparency.

At Heathcote we’ve brought in outside trainers to improve our skills in conflict resolution and consensus, as well as meeting facilitation. We’ve added to our communication “toolboxes.” Many of us have found processes like Zegg Forum, Non-Violent Communication and Imago very powerful and helpful.

Are you seeking community where you can have lovingly honest relationships with your friends? Do you want to learn skills of sharing and listening without agenda, noticing when you get triggered and looking at the causes?

Do you live in community now? I’d love to hear your adventures in conflict resolution!

I often say that Intentional Community is the toughest gift you’ll ever be glad you opened. If you’ve been considering seeking community, I’m inviting you in. Now that you know about that secret gift, welcome to the fishbowl.

Meet you in the deep end!

–Wren Tuatha

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I recently walked away from a conversation that I felt was going in circles. “What’s the matter,” the other person said, “Are you afraid of a little healthy debate?” I thought back to my youth, when I loved sparring with my high school friends and the other members of the Louisville Freethought Society. I remembered how I had gotten a reputation as the person who always wore a t-shirt with some slogan on it. I recalled that, although it was a thrill to be quick witted and zoom through debates like a fighter pilot, I alienated people. I felt right and great about myself until I was all alone.
What I’ve found through the years is that I prefer meaningful conversation to the ol’ “healthy debate.” In a debate, the speakers (they’re never called listeners) are trying to win. They’re making arguments. They’re listening to each other through a kind of filter–”What’s she saying that I can use to make my point,” rather that simply, “What’s she saying?” In a debate, the point is to win.
In the meaningful conversations I’ve had lately, the point is to share my experience and understand the other person’s so that we can feel heard and supported or solve some problem together for the highest good–not one person’s need, but everyone’s. This assumes that the old attachments of debate can be abandoned–the need to be right, to convince others, the need to have one’s own outcome chosen and implemented, etc. Not everyone’s ready to put the ego aside in this way. I’ve been trying and struggling with it for years. But it’s sweetly liberating when I’m able to do it, quite a thing of beauty.
So my partner Iuval and I have been debating his views on gender and consumerism for months. Both of us feel unheard by the other, and are convinced that if the other just heard us, we would see the  truth and agree. Easier said…
Most of Iuval’s background ideas are contained in his blog, entitled Ingredients for a Viable Humanity. Here is one of the passages that consistently triggers my feminist ire:
The second type of masculine energy, which may be called the Testicular Masculine, is a protective and restraining energy. It provides limits on the unbounded creativity and need for resources of the Uterine Feminine. As in “sorry honey but you can’t have a bigger house, unless we figure out a sustainable way to do it. Think of the destruction of rainforest that will provide the floor boards. Think of all those who are expropriated in order to get and process that wood, steel and copper. Maybe we could build out of local materials? Maybe we could share with others? What is it you really need?”
This is when I throw food. Tired of digging French fries out of his hair, Iuval posted a blog, trying to lay it all out for me again. He really does a careful, thoughtful job. Even so, I felt a desire to harvest a few cherry tomatoes while I posted a comment. I’d love to hear what Hippie Chick Diaries readers have to say!
Iuval’s blog:
Most feminist responses to what I have written about the connections between consumerism and gender have been angry or dismissive. Attempts have been made to silence, humiliate, ridicule or throw food at me. On the one hand, this makes me think that I may be onto something, because the same responses were given to early feminists like Margaret Fuller (with the exception of the food throwing) and other thinkers who have exposed what I call Naked Emperors—that is things about a culture that everyone in that culture knows at some level of consciousness, but ignores or represses on another. On the other hand, perhaps I am simply wrong. But then why the anger? People can say things that are wrong without eliciting anger—for example, if someone said the earth is flat. Maybe the anger is a reaction to all the oppression of women by patriarchy (and it’s mythical/religious manifestations), and a perception that I am only going to perpetuate that oppression with my theories. In other words, people may be thinking that I am a patriarchal reactionary. I think this is a misunderstanding, and I want to explain in detail why I think that.

Like most feminists, I share the following values. I would like it if:
1. People are free to express themselves in any joyful way without being constrained by their gender. In other words, I believe that gender fluidity is desirable, and I am not a biological or cultural determinist.
2. People could find an inner balance between masculine and feminine energies, so that they don’t project what Jung called “the Shadow” onto the other gender, but instead have a good understanding of both masculine and feminine energies, through their own experiences and introspection.
3. People are free to experiment with these energies not only within themselves, but within larger groups and relationships, such as dyads, triads, etc. In other words, much joy could be created if for example, one member of a dyad has more feminine energy, and another more masculine energy, then if both are more feminine or more masculine. Both these people could be male or female or trans, although it might be easier if the person with the predominant masculine energy is physically male, and the one with the predominant feminine energy is physically female, as there is more endocrine support for these energies that way.

Things that I am NOT saying (followed by clarification of what I am actually saying):
1. That biology has nothing to do with masculine or feminine energies. Like most sexually reproducing animals, humans are sexually dimorphic. It seems improbable that hormonal, morphological and gene expression differences would not be translated into some psychological differences. But this biological propensity is not deterministic, only correlative and historically originated the meaning of the words masculine and feminine. E. O Wilson had ice water poured over his head for stating the more general observation (which I agree with) that biology has consequences at the level of psychology and sociology.
2. That culture has nothing to do with gender differences. Many feminists and leftist thinkers think, at the other extreme, that differences are due mostly to culture. I disagree and take a more moderate position, but this is not critical to my analysis.
3. That women are responsible for consumerism, or that men are responsible for patriarchy. Both consumerism and patriarchy are systems with many interacting parts. I think the feminine energies of nest-building and the need for comfort and security, when out of balance with male energies, are major (but not only) factors in consumerism.
4. That men need to keep women under control with their testicular masculine energy. The best form of restraint is internal, so both men and women would be less consumptive if they exhibited more testicular masculine energy.
5. That advertising has nothing to do with consumerism. It does, but the advertisers are only successful because they understand basic psychology and appeal to primal things like the needs for comfort and security (in both men and women).
6. That comfort and security are bad. They are necessary for creativity and a good life. But there is more to life than comfort and security. Adventure, joy, curiosity and the comfort and security of others (including future generations) are also important. When comfort and security are everything, they murder the soul, as Khalil Gibran said.
7. That nest-building is bad. Nest-building is natural and beautiful. Only when it is not balanced by a bigger vision and an understanding does it become problematic.
8. That men do not need comfort and security. Of course they do, but less than women who are starting to think about getting pregnant, are pregnant or have children.
9. That men are not factors in consumerism. Of course they are, but I think the main reason is that they do not express enough testicular masculine energy in this present moment in this culture, and moreover are not expressing enough feminine energy within themselves, thus needing it from external sources, consuming mainly to obtain the comfort of female companionship.

The survey, the main experimental tool of sociologists would be useful in testing some of these hypotheses. The experimental procedure is fraught with obstacles though. In the first approximation, one could look for differences between men and women. It would be harder to test differences between masculine and feminine energies, or between the presence and lack of testicular masculine energy. Many controls would be needed, for example, men and women from middle eastern cultures (where men still have a lot of testicular masculine) who have immigrated to the West, could be compared to each other, and also to men and women from our culture. Motivations would need to be examined, not just money spent. For example, if a man buys a house, is he buying it for himself, or for his wife and children? Would he be content with a smaller house? Would his wife? How much money is spent on housing and related industries, vs other things and who cares more about housing, men or women?


wiselittleraccoon said…
Hello Sweetie,

Thanks for laying all of these ideas out carefully and thoughtfully. I appreciate all the nuances of each thought, as I have the forty-seven other times you have expressed them.

I hear you. I disagree with you.

When you use gender as a descriptor or a way of explaining what you see, either by physical sex or the four gendered energies as you describe them (whether or not your understanding matches your source material), you build walls between you and people like me who would like to partner with you to reverse the culture of consumerism. Seeing consumerism through the lens gender patterns is not a path to an enlightened view that suddenly makes us realize our wicked ways and cut up our credit cards. It instead makes women, or this woman, want to throw food at you. Does this mean you’re “onto something?” Possibly, just as it is possible that you are in fact a patriarchal reactionary, although you would like to believe you’re not.

Everyone, male, female, intersexed, trans, needs to get real about how our culture of stuff is killing us and the planet with us. We need to find a level of simplicity we can sustain, and find satisfaction in more non-material pursuits. I’d love to hear you talk more about consumerism as a substitute for spirituality. I resonate with that. But making the discussion about gender, or at least trying to understand the trends through perceived gender differences, is offensive, not informative. The food landing on you and your difficulty in recruiting community members are evidence that your world view is dividing people, not bringing us together.

Good luck on that intentional community thing. Better plan for lots of food fights in the dining hall…

wiselittleraccoon said…
I had another thought or three this morning. Using your model of the four gendered energies, which I do not know that I embrace as truth, but using it as descriptive, one fatal flaw in your writing in general and your treatise in particular, may be that you are writing from the penile masculine in one moment and the testicular masculine in the next, with a little Kali thrown in. Your writing may suffer from an imbalance, utterly (udderly?) lacking in uterine feminine, which makes your message appear harsh and reactionary. The adjustments I’ve been recommending all along, including the removal of gender from the description of these energies and their behaviors, may be the voice of the uterine feminine playing a moderating role–playing the testicular masculine–to bring you back into balance.

Also, although you may see this as useless effort, I think you should go on to describe how each of the energies moderates the others. And if the dynamic of the testicular masculine tempering the uterine feminine is best played out internally within an individual of either gender, then I think your example should show how that works, rather than being an example of a man tempering a woman, which is incendiary.

In my Open Classroom project, I wanted to have a kid version of the various personality type indicator models our there–Myers Briggs, Keirsey Bates, enneagrams, etc. The kids and I started considering our energies based on the four elements, fire, water, earth and air. This was familiar to them. Using these elements as descriptors, I would give the feedback that your writing is a lot of fire, which is wonderful and exciting until it’s untempered by other elements. As a person who can tend to be earth to a fault, I simply end up feeling scorched by your message. I may rebuild and regrow, but I don’t feel all warm and cuddly and thankful to the fire for dismissing and wiping out what I’ve achieved. I don’t suddenly want to join the fire in its mission.

Love ya Sweetie!

Wren Tuatha

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