You know those conversation starters were one person says, “You’ll never guess…” or, “You won’t believe this…” and the other person picks their farthest out, worst case scenario or guess, just to eliminate that, as a joke, and move on to the real thing?

Have you ever had your worst case scenario be the thing?

As a recent graduate of this horrific experience, let me advise you: When it’s your turn to guess what “you’ll never guess,” either smile silently while waiting a beat for the person to continue, even better, evacuate the scene, or, if you’re trapped, make up something nonsensical. You can borrow from this list:

  • You left my laundry outside, a wombat ate my underwear and I get to finish the rest of our vacation in the nude.
  • You forgot the parking break on my piece-of-shit car, it rolled into the drive of the McMansion down the hill and when the homeowner saw she said it looked so good there she’s trading houses with us.
  • Ferrel monkeys who know how to write entered me into a contest for free tickets to my favorite performer but when the performer saw that I’d won, she changed the prize to free tickets and a date.
  • Your boss’s rich uncle died or retired to go live with wombats and left me the business and everything because I’m just a very good person.
  • A wombat burrowed under the house and fixed that electrical glitch we’ve been trying to find and now we get pirated cable and messages from Alpha Centauri through the toaster.

Work wombats, koalas or kangaroos in, whenever possible. You achieve a jarring randomness while remaining cute and nonthreatening.  If you actually live in the Australian Outback, substitute hippos, armadillos and lemurs.

My particular setup might need its own list. So when your still-best-friend-but-recently-ex-lover calls and says, “I want to tell you something but you might not like it,” silence and a beat are weak tea here. Evacuation by beam out or pneumatic tube is best, otherwise, you might be facing fire fighters with the jaws of life after the house crashes in on you.

If you’re a talker and must respond verbally because you just don’t learn, consider choosing from this list, which I would have given cash money to have in front of me:

  • Alien wombats have elected you their king and are beaming you, and my assistant you’re about to tell me you’re fucking, off the planet tonight.
  • You’re calling from inside an anaconda, where you have surprisingly good phone reception.
  • My assistant would have checked in herself, but she’s inside a hippo inside an anaconda, thus no reception.
  • You and my assistant each love and miss me so much that the only way you could cope was to fuck each other, but you each fantasized about me the whole time.

Oh my my, this list is deteriorating. I imagine that in a year’s time it will look very neutral and serene, like a pond, a still surface with a whole food chain underneath. But until then, dear reader, evacuation might be best after all!


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Coming next: Community and the Perception of Personal Safety

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Repost…You…Are Not…My Priority…

Wren on July 23rd, 2010

Tiva’s sweet nothings…

I’m not that into you. I feel like you have expectations. You’re grabby. You look at me all doe-eyed. You’re making plans for the future. I’m not that into you. You’re just so passionate. You’re mildly interesting. You want us to have a life together. You want to see me. I’m not that into you. I’m afraid you’re going to leave me. You’re crowding me. I’m lonely. You’re kind of cute. You’re not my priority. Why don’t you want to be my lover?

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I woke up in the Heathcote Mill Conference Center, lying on a couch in a ring of couches, a beach sized towel over me. Sunshine and cool, post-rain air came in windows on three sides.

I was staring at the blackboard, with the previous night’s business meeting agenda on it, and a easel with a large pad on it, opened to a list of visitor weekend work day projects and the names of volunteer supervisors. I had been the facilitator last night and I briefly felt echoes of the dramas, connections and over-extendedness that strangers might or might not guess, looking at the chalk and marker words.

I moved my sleepy attention to the ceiling, pondering the plaster sun face sculpture there, with the hematite third eye. When Patty and the other volunteers had painted the Conference Center recently (oh, how it had needed it) they lovingly painted around the sculpture, great job.

I heard Charles and Patty talking downstairs in the Mill kitchen. I heard the intern Kat singing there. Someone came into the room and sat at the table behind my couch, eating an apple, booting up a computer. It was Kwame, an intern from Ghana.

Patty came to check on me, just as I was sitting up and drinking more mint tea. No, no stomach pain at all! I feel wiped out, but much better! She smiled widely and clasped her hands together. “I’ve been there, I know how that feels, that was a real emergency!” She let me know she’d be in the Farmhouse if I needed anything.

At Heathcote we’ve had several casual discussions about how each of us likes to be dealt with when we’re ill. It ranges from baby me to don’t even knock on my door. I’m nearer the baby me end of the spectrum, because I’m likely to shut down, fail to hydrate and pick crazy solutions, like that infamous epecac syrup caper years ago. And I find it comforting to know someone is there when I don’t feel well.

I had had a bad reaction to a cocktail of six medications, vitamins, mostly. When I get sick, I get stupid. The logic center of my brain (not a frequently visited location anyway, some would say) shuts down.

I had taken my cocktail with breakfast and prescription prilosec, given to head off stomach upset, and I continued with my day. I was weak but I arrived at the Carriage House and plodded through filling ten freezer bags with the dry ingredients of the vegetarian dog food we make. Before I loaded up on peanut butter and TVP, I needed to sit down.

I joined Betsy in the sitting area of the Mill kitchen and we chatted. I complained that I was starting to feel stomach upset and we commiserated about the limitations and Frankenstein mentality of mainstream Western healthcare. Bob came in for coffee. I asked him to put enough water in the teapot for me to get some mint tea for my stomach. Betsy suggested ginger, but I’d warded off the upset with mint the previous night, so I stuck with that.

But two sips into my tea, it was time to lie down. The gluten-free crackers I’d tried while scooping dog food hadn’t worked and the tea was coming too late. I was crashing.

I was having sweats and shakes, and severe stomach cramps. Betsy brought the cool rag I asked for and I tried to relax enough to sit up again and get more tea.

Nick happened through, making a phone call. He asked if I needed anything. I was beyond being able to relax. I had him call the doctor. The physician’s assistant on the phone said that I could come into the clinic and just live through it, because there isn’t much they could do for me, or I could just live through it at home. She didn’t think I needed to go to the emergency room.

Considering that Western medicine had gotten me where I was, I was ready to cut that cord and let my body work it out at home.

Do you want reiki? Patty asked from the quiet room. My yes overlapped her question and then her hands were above my abdomen. By this time, I was tensed with pain and my breathing was stressed, making my tensing worse. Kat was willing to breathe with me and hold my hand.

As I breathed in healing and groaned out pain and stress, my body got clear that we wanted to expel something, one way or another. So Patty and Kat helped me upstairs to the bathroom. By the time I got there, I was too tired to sit on the toilet, so I lied down on the cool concrete floor. It was summer at Heathcote, so the tie-dyed sundress was all that I was wearing. I didn’t care that it bunched up around my waist as I rocked on the floor. I was among women in a bathroom. I just worked on relaxing.

Then the healing purge came. I made it to the toilet and Patty held my locks back while I vomited. She had the cool rag on hand and I appreciated being able to wipe my face as soon as I was done.

All along the way, my community mates let me ask for what I needed and be in charge of my healing. I agreed with the suggestion that I lie on the couch and once I was there, my extremities were cool and tingly. They found an over-sized towel that was just enough, and brought me my tea from downstairs. Patty joked about our “checkin.” She and I were supposed to meet to process a delicate matter over lunch. Oh yeah, our big, dramatic checkin. I guess we had a different one, I answered. I drifted off to sleep for an hour or so, waking to the late afternoon sounds of Heathcote at work.

And the sunshiny room, and the chalkboard agenda, the circle of couches, and a cup of cold mint tea, sitting safely in the middle of a wooden folding chair, waiting for me. I woke up feeling weak but pain free, and loving my community that was willing to be a vehicle of my healing, and willing to let me drive.

No Intentional Community can be a substitute for trained healthcare practitioners, nor can an Intentional Community take on all illnesses. I regularly meet people who hope living in Community will magically heal their mental illness or provide them with the caregiving they need for some chronic condition or disability. Honestly, it’s case by case, and the seeker should be transparent and up front about what s/he is asking a Community to take on. The answer may be yes, and it may be no.

But being in Community, and falling ill, as we all do sometimes, I feel so blessed and held, not pampered or nursed in a passive way, but honored as the driver of my own body. My mates provided a safe container for me to operate.

As I sit today, weak but researching alternative solutions to my lingering health issue, I reflect that the support and empowerment I got are more reasons that Intentional Community is more sustainable than the isolated, Western lifestyle that surrounds me. If I lived there, I wouldn’t know my neighbors and I wouldn’t have been in common space when I got ill. I would have had to live through it, as the physician’s assistant said, alone.


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Something was missing. I felt a restlessness in The Force. I had heaps of work to do but no zen to go with it. So when I saw Lea Jones‘ post on Facebook advertising his performance at One World Coffee House in Columbia, it clicked: Life in a rural Intentional Community can be ironically isolating. I needed a musical distraction!

Lea Jones’ band, Swing States Road Show, had appeared at Heathcote Community as part of our house concert series. So I knew I was in for some great covers, originals and spot-on harmonies. It was fun to catch up with Lea, who has added  drummer Steve Raskin and horn player Seth Kibel to his band. Singers Judith Geller and Stuart Rodes and bassist John Seay, of Jones’ now defunct Swings States Road Show were aboard as well. The full sound was great, especially Seth Kibel’s passionate clarinet solos! “It’s great when the audience jumps in and claps for the solos, without a lot of prodding from the bandleader,” Lea quipped.

It was great to get out and discover this intimate venue, One World Coffee House, which is put on by the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Columbia, Maryland, and held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

One of many highlights was the tight vocal harmonies on Holly Near’s Mountain Song. It took me back to my Kentucky roots, not fighting coal, but fighting for LGBT rights on Louisville’s Fairness Campaign. Our nationally known local band Yer Girlfriend also did a haunting, rousing version of Mountain Song, now seared into my own story.

Lea has a new CD, Contact Information, which is actually a remastered double album of his previous releases, Against the Wall and Feels Like Love to Me, the two being “an unintendedly orbital musical reflection on love, co-dependency, pop culture spirit and community.” Cheers for the cardboard cover, in addition to the tunes, which range from troubadour with guitar to polished studio tunes, catchy and ripe for radio.

At the intermission, Lea’s fourteen year-old son Will came around selling CD’s. Lea rightly refers to Will as his “business manager,” as he strategically priced his wares. Artist and business manager had a quick eye conversation over what I should pay.  My companion C.T. Butler and I had to laugh, because I play that role at C.T’s  consensus workshops, selling his books at full price. C.T. himself has a habit of slashing prices without being asked.

After a night of thoughtful, rocking musicality, C.T. and I managed to find a restaurant still open, Hunan Manor. The vegetarian options were many. I picked the sweet, C.T. got the savory and they were both excellent and twice as much as we could eat. We enjoyed them at lunch the next day as we whittled away at our business plan for Hippie Chick Diaries. Now it’s C.T.’s turn to be my business manager! Why is it so much easier to play that role for another than ourselves?

After a day of discussions, we joined the Heathcoters for community dinner. Then several community mates climbed the steep hill to my homestead, Hina Hanta, for more music, a sing along! We were hoping to have Heathcoters Paul Phillips and Nick Corso to bless us with guitar and banjo respectively. But life and motorcycle repairs got in the way. All good. Heathcoter Charles Curtiss, formerly a professional rock drummer, played guitar for us as we called out song after song from the Rise Up Singing Songbook, including some C.T. and I had heard Lea do the night before—Mountain Song (Holly Near), When I’m Gone (Phil Ochs), The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore (Than Hall via Jean Ritchie).  Some paged through, discovering a memory or two on the next page, others had a song or artist in mind and dove through the indexes. We crooned to

…and all the ones I can’t remember! What a night. But we weren’t done. John Fox had a very personal musical gift for me.

I love Carole King and James Taylor, both. I have all their albums. Yes, I said albums. I know every word, every solo. Carole, in particular, is just my goddess. I can’t say more.

But with my commitment to simplicity, also known as subsistence, I have never seen my goddess in concert. Ironic for the emcee of Heathcote’s house concert series. But it’s true. As a matter of fact, the only major name concert I’ve  been to since adolescence was the Indigo Girls, and I found myself there because the woman I was dating won tickets on the radio.

Any time Carole would tour, I would say to myself, maybe. But when Carole and James announced their Troubadour Reunion Tour, with Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel from their original band I said, this time! I watched email updates and built a coalition of Heathcoters ready to go with me. The tour’s NYC dates overlapped with my ZEGG Forum training at Ganas Community in Staten Island! It was fate. Almost.

The email came offering advance tickets. I experienced some momentary disorientation. $175, is that for four tickets? No. Oh. Something must be done about this rampant inflation, really. This is what concert tickets cost?

I was the first of  the coalition to bail, then others. “I’ve got YouTube,” I’d explain. A few weeks later, while I still had my boo-boo lip taped down in a stoic position, John came to me and asked how I would feel if he went to the show on one of the DC dates. What could I say? Enjoy!

Since then, I’ve indulged in a little musical guilty pleasure, because the price was right and it came in closer-to-eco-friendly cardboard packaging. Between my community and Liberty Village Cohousing where C.T. is staying, there is a 7Eleven. And because I sometimes enter 7Elevens to check out the chips and chocolates I’m not eating, just to monitor the threat, I know that this particular 7Eleven has a rack of Beatles CD’s, all discount priced and in cardboard covers. I want to support cardboard covers whenever I can. And The Beatles never made the wormhole trip from my record collection to my CD collection. Now, after six months of visiting C.T., I have Abbey Road, Let It Be, Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. I am so bad.

I often forgo things I don’t need. I like the expression, the best things in life aren’t things. But this left me uneasy. A concert is a community experience, not a trinket or dust collector. Between songs on Saturday night, Lea Jones remarked “You gotta get outta the house sometimes. That’s when things happen. You never get outta the house, nothing ever happens…” I was stunned to hear his simple thought. That’s what had gotten me out of the house and to a front row table that night. I should give myself the gift of more experiences like that.

So at my sing along, my buddy John pulled a thing out of his pocket, the Troubador Reunion CD, in a cardboard cover, no less! “Pop ‘er in!” He invited. And at the hour when most Heathcote sing alongs would be winding down, John, C.T. and I sang to the concert DVD!

  • Blossom
  • So Far Away
  • Machine Gun Kelly
  • Carolina in My Mind
  • It’s Too Late
  • Smackwater Jack
  • Something in the Way She Moves
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow
  • Country Road
  • Fire & Rain
  • Sweet Baby James
  • I Feel the Earth Move
  • You’ve Got A Friend
  • Up on the Roof
  • You Can Close Your Eyes

C.T. was starting to turn into a pumpkin but then he was energized by Fire & Rain. I told the story of learning to waltz to Sweet Baby James so we waltzed and sang.

There were a few surprises that could only come from this double bill. I loved the band bouncing between Carole and James’ very different arrangements of Up on the Roof. It was like a medley with just one song. When I saw that You Can Close Your Eyes was the encore, I scoffed. I protested that they should rock out to Locomotion or something similar. But when Carole stood close to James and harmonized so intimately, it was the perfect close. I should know better that to second guess my goddess!


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