Even so, I found it ironic that, in the fifteen or more years that I’ve been carrying dreadlocks, she’s often commented on the many nonlocked ways she likes my hair, and how those more socially acceptable ways show off my abundant curls. I find this ironic because she spent my entire childhood trying to comb out said curls, cut them into a bob, or at least train them into little wetted spirals held overnight with bobbie pins, making different curls than the ones that naturally sprout from my scalp.
I got off easy in the girl-child-of-the-seventies-hair-torture department. My older sister had to sleep in juice can curlers. They weren’t just the size of juice cans, they were actual juice cans with her long, straight hair wrapped around them. My younger sister, also cursed with straight hair, but tender-headed, was subjected to the curling iron.
My straight-haired mom went for perms every three months. The perm process took hours. The chemical smell burned our eyes and left actual burns on the scalp as it burned her hair into whatever curl she wanted. Sometimes she’d dye the gray away, or go for streaks or highlights.
Given what mainstream folks do to their hair regularly, I’m perplexed at the occasional weird reaction to a gentle hair practice that involves no chemicals and is rooted in community, familial interaction and connection to nature. But I realize we’re all coming from culture and what’s familiar.
I’m pensive about the zenophobia that seems to frame the rare brave comment. I was in an elevator in a library in Lexington, Kentucky. A woman asked me about my locks. “They’re different,” She concluded. “To you,” I answered. She thought for a moment. “No, they’re different,” she repeated. Her world was the entire world.
Although such comments are rare, some folks at the York Fair in Pennsylvania really laid it on thick. “You don’t belong here. What country are you from?” My home of nearly twenty years was just twenty minutes from where I was standing, in the country where I’ve lived every day of my life, except for that summer in Spain when I was fifteen and that day my family drove into Canada while visiting Michigan.
As a matter of fact, a few miles from the York Fair at Spoutwood Farm, I used to attend the annual Faerie Festival. That crowd, sometimes reaching ten thousand in a weekend, was the place where I was least different, surrounded by a high percentage of dreadlocked hippie folk.
After the first few years of carrying locks, I was long past concerning myself with the store security guard who followed me around or the eyes that might do double takes when I entered a room. I was busy living my life. If people did have stereotypes, as soon as I would speak, it was clear that I was not stoned and that I had come to conduct serious business. I was never aware of my hair closing any doors that I wanted to enter.
But when I began spending time with my partner, C.T., he had an interesting vantage point, walking into a restaurant after me, or watching me in a parking lot. He would see every double take that I was missing because I was just being myself, and didn’t care. He made a game out of projecting what each onlooker was thinking. It reminded me that with every point of contact, I was adjusting each person’s normal/different continuum.
I like the tradition of working (maintaining) locks as a familial or communal practice. When I started my first set, I threw a party and asked my Heathcote Community mates to start them. I got some feedback that this felt odd or self absorbed. So I established the next set myself. I did teach C.T. to maintain my locks and when they grew so long and heavy that I was having neck pain, he ritually cut them for me, symbolizing also, the end of our time with Occupy Wall Street. Now he’s helping me start a new set.
This is the set of locks I’ll carry as I go gray, as C.T. and I go deeper in our relationship and our teaching of consensus. What new places and people will add their energy to these locks? Our dog will grow old and die. Will we make it to California? Where will we put down roots and establish our consensus institute?
In this time of new beginnings, it is time to begin new dreadlocks.
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Relationships, polyamorous or monogamous, are complicated enough. Imagine if all your friends had to reach consensus on whether you and your sweetie(s) could move in together. Well, actually, your friends might relish that power. Anyway, welcome to the alien terrain in which my partner and I find ourselves. I live at Heathcote Community and in order for my partner to share my home, he has to apply and be accepted as a member of the Community, a process that can take eight months or more to be finalized.
Even though Heathcote is a mixture of couples and singles, this is not an issue we’ve often faced, considering a membership application from an existing member’s lover. It’s a very different dynamic than welcoming a couple together or an individual. What happens if someone doesn’t like this new partner?
In our tried and true process, we invite an applicant to visit for 21 days, either consecutively or over time. We get acquainted and discuss the Community’s values, systems, etc. Either the applicant or a Heathcoter can decide at any time that things don’t seem to be a match. But if all seems cozy, we approve the applicant to move in and begin a seven month provisional membership period.
But what if there is an issue, and it’s a community member’s lover? The stakes get much higher. If the Community rejects this applicant, they stand a good chance of losing an existing member, too. Will people feel pressured, in that case, to ignore problems?
My partner, C.T., has unique worries. He’s a consensus trainer and writer. Will Community members feel self conscious practicing consensus around him, or will they be resistant to his thoughts on our process, assuming that he expects us to do things his way? How to tread lightly and lovingly when you’re something of a big wig in your field…
Mostly things are smooth sailing so far. But I know everyone’s aware of the new dynamic. We did dance here briefly before when a former partner of mine applied. That was quite a minefield, as that partner truly wasn’t a fit for Heathcote, despite being likable on many levels.
Now C.T. and I aren’t the only ones. Nick’s partner Rachel has applied for membership. Previously, I experienced that moving to a small, rural Community as a single person was a decision to remain single. It seemed very hard to make, maintain and grow connections.
Did something shift? Has the internet negated that isolation? I have had good luck with GreenSingles… Whatever the case, along with the singles and couples interested in Heathcote, we also have partners coming to roost!
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C.T. Butler makes me look good. It’s my turn to cook the Heathcote Community dinner again and the consensus trainer/vegetarian chef and co-founder of Food Not Bombs is my guest and helper! Or more accurately on this day, I’m his helper.
Nearly all of the adult members of Heathcote take turns cooking dinners, which we share six nights a week. It comes out to cooking about twice a month. The rest of the nights, we just show up and get fed. Since we rotate, folks tend to make their specialties. So not only does someone else cook my dinner, but I get their best.
I don’t profess to have a best.
I observe with bewilderment people who savor cooking as a hobby, a joy, a vocation or avocation. I didn’t get that gene or whatever. Me, I like to eat well so I cook. I get no special creative satisfaction out of the process. Even so, since I like to eat well, I do know how to get a sparkle from my spicings.
Cooking with C.T. is like taking a car ride with a war correspondent. We have consensed upon his traditional refried beans, a recipe that originated in El Salvador & Nicaragua. As he casually chops onions and garlic, he tries to remember the recipe from his days of feeding homeless people and protesters with Food Not Bombs. As he slices proportions down to feed the twenty or so we’re expecting, he’s reminded of arrests and police beatings and stories start to flow.
Food Not Bombs just observed the thirtieth anniversary of the occupation of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant (May 24, 1980). The six activists who would eventually rent a house together and establish the first Food Not Bombs collective, were all protesters at that event. When one of them, Brian Feigenbaum, was arrested, the others literally started holding bake sales for his defense! I’m reminded of the t-shirt/bumper sticker slogan, It will be a great day when the schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.
Thus started a food/activism connection for the collective. “Most of us worked in restaurants at the time, cooks, waiters, etc., and we knew first hand the mountains of food that’s wasted,” C.T. explains. At first, the group collected the restaurant and grocery store leftovers hoping to feed themselves for free, liberating time and resources for their activism. But immediately they could see that they had discovered a resource far beyond their own needs. “Of course, we were activists, so our values were to see the food get used where it was needed,”
This took several forms. The collective gave food away in Harvard Square, which established the non-violent direct action template that eventually prompted clashes with police in cities around the world and arrests for serving food without a permit (although their home town of Cambridge, Massachusetts was supportive, negotiating with FNB and eventually naming C.T. Peace Commissioner). Food Not Bombs also catered demonstrations and direct actions, feeding participants so they could stay on site long hours, keeping the protests going.
Thirty years later, C.T. stands in the Heathcote Mill kitchen, mashing the pinto and black turtle beans in small batches, because we couldn’t find a masher with a long enough handle to reach the bottom of the pressure cooker. “I always say I’m mashing in the love, it looks violent but it’s made with love,” he smiles without stopping.
So many times, that sentiment has been spoken in this kitchen. I’ve heard many Heathcote members describe the act of feeding their community as one of nurturing and love. How broken and sad it seems to me that the FBI would eventually target Food Not Bombs as a “terrorist” organization. And that feeding the hungry would be viewed as a crime in dozens of cities over the globe, resulting in thousands of arrests of Food Not Bombs chapter volunteers the world over.
But right now, C.T. is feeding me and mine. As from that first Food Not Bombs collective house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, autonomous chapters operate by consensus. C.T. has written two books on consensus decision-making. And he’s had a long friendship with Heathcote through his consensus workshops. This community’s consensus on this meal is: forty thumbs up!
Candy wrappers and unopened bank statements. Handwritten directions to properties for sale, other women’s numbers, receipts that mapped out the months that we traveled, fixed the car, rewired the house, ate out, bought books. He had cleaned out his car one day when he was about to leave on a trip. All the clutter from his floorboards went into a plastic Giant bag, which I discovered again today, under my kitchen table. I was cleaning my house, reclaiming my space, keeping my mind busy now that he’s gone for good.
He had enough money that, when his statements from various banks came in the mail, he just left them in the car, unopened. He wasn’t putting money in, just living off the proceeds of the sale of his house in his last divorce. The real estate bubble was good to him, I guess.
I live off fiscal optimism and low expectations. He hated my relationship to money.
I sorted the contents of the bag as best I could. I was already filling a box with his things to send him, so the mail and the receipts went in there. Wrappers in the trash, receipts too faded to read, I recycled. An old pipe and clamp from a car repair I staged to add to metal recycling by the barn. I got to the bottom of the Giant bag, just grit and leaves. I was done.
I washed the kitchen floor, hands and knees. I sorted shelves and shelves of junk, easily letting go of stuff that hadn’t been visible to me in years, picture frames I’d meant to use, some CD rack…Boxes for giveaway, boxes to take to the classroom, recycling, laundry…And the walls of my rooms seemed to step back, admiring corners forgotten until excavation.
Then another waste bucket was full, ready to go to the cans. as I pulled the plastic awkwardly I could see them spread across the trash–Hershey’s–those immortal candy wrappers. He was going with me all the way to the trash, getting the last word, sweet talking me as I discarded him again.
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Seasons spiral. Playful, clever kittens become standoffish cats, parsnips become stirfry. People spiral, too. After a year of traversing the wilds of The Ozarks and Kentucky, I came full circle and landed where I started, at Heathcote Community. And Iuval spun out too, landing in Atlanta, answering his son’s call.
About a month ago, my ex-partner let me know that he gave away his bio-diesel schoolbus, Shadowslo. Just gave it away. In the same moment I felt like someone had died and I was impressed. I was also confused. Didn’t he need the bus for housing at his new Intentional Community? Why give away such a basic resource, just when he was launching his project?
“I’m in this meditation group and we were given an assignment to give away something of value. Most people were giving away rings or things like that. But then I met these people and they said they’d always wanted a veggie bus. It just seemed right.”
Wow. I wonder if I could do that. I also wonder if it’s smart, but mainly, I wonder if I could do it. This gift is no kidney, but it’s certainly on the order of Pay It Forward. I wonder what the people who accepted his gift thought of his act. I notice my shelfishness in wishing I could have seen Shadowslo one last time, to remember our shelf on that mountain in Murray Valley, Arkansas and say goodbye.
When I ponder my relationship to my possessions, I’m fond of saying, “If my house burned down tomorrow and I lost everything in it, as long as the pets got out, my quality of life would be the same.” I don’t know how deeply I mean that or not, now that I realize it’s not the same as saying, “Come on in and take anything you like. I won’t miss it!”
Iuval’s a big Howard Zinn fan and since Zinn’s recent death, I’ve been reading his A People’s History of the United States. Zinn makes a clear point of American Indians’ relationship to possessions, how they gave of them freely and seemed to lack attachment, and how most resources were communally held. He notes also how, although Europeans sometimes wrote of this with admiration, they universally went on to exploit it.
Even so, I believe that simplicity, especially in turning away from material things, is the path to be desired. It’s what will serve us now. If we can lighten the demands we make on the planet and begin to conceive of resources as communal, we might make it.
So, dear readers, I knew the departed well. Shadowslo never traveled when I knew him. He stood firm where Iuval had planted him, on a densely wooded mountain. He got his water from a spring and only took what he needed. Tents and cars came and went around him. Sometimes he was alone on that mountain for weeks at a time, ready, solar batteries charged, waiting, for Iuval to return.
I heard the stories of Shadowslo’s adventures, trips to the West Coast, rock festivals with Iuval’s son, Zac, tours of Intentional Communities with his previous partner, Christina, Saint Christina to some.
Legend had it that no state trooper could lay eyes upon this organically painted hippie house rolling down the interstate at the speed limit and resist pulling it over.
The mountain folk of Murray Valley will no doubt tell the tales of Shadowslo, driving onto the mountain, on that dirt road laid out using plans designed by a kitten with string. And then, 2 years later, Shadowslo repeated the feat, taking an entire day and several shouting matches to go six miles.
Now there are the Atlanta legends, in which Shadowslo and Iuval, seemingly together to stay, landed in a friend’s yard as the leaves changed, and Iuval’s life changed, bringing one last change to our faithful steed.
Shadowslo could be said to have heart and soul and a kitchenette. He sheltered and carried and rested. He obeyed Iuval’s every command, unless his fuel was rancid or his headlight popped out. He kept out the rain, wind, ice and snow, but not mice.
But despite his motor and mobility, and his fold down solar shower, Shadowslo was an object, a possession, a parcel that could be bartered, sold or given away.
Even more than this, Shadowslo was a gift to those who knew him. And so, let us offer him into his next service, a gift of some randomness and shock value, which is always interesting, maybe even poetic.
I hate winter. I don’t like the short days, arriving at dinner in the dark. I don’t like being cold and having to bundle up in layers. I feel like the Michelin Man, so bundled up that my arms don’t even rest at my sides! Since I hate being cold, I spend little time outside and I need you to understand–I live and belong outside! It’s like telling one of the wild ponies of Assateague Island, “For four and a half months of the year, we’re gonna put you in a dark, drafty box with a few books, an iffy internet connection and rations thrown in twice a day.” Not relevant, not nice!
One of my zen masters who helps me cope with winter is Leo Lionni’s mouse character Frederick, of the children’s book that bears his name. In this book from my childhood, the other members of Frederick’s little mouse family/Intentional Community are busy gathering grains, seeds and straw for winter. Frederick appears to be lazy, and claims he’s gathering other stores for the cold, lean times. Later, in the frigid darkness, when rations are low, Frederick warms his family/Intentional Community with memories of the sun’s warm rays, the colors of flowers and grasses and poetic, inspirational verses.
Since I’m a poet living in community with carpenters, gardeners, etc., I love this story for suggesting that even we useless dreamers have something to contribute to our tribes’ survival. So here goes: In February, I offer you, my readers, family and Intentional Community, memories of summer–forest walls of green, the endless salad bar for the goats, tie dye drying on the line and naked badminton–love and play in full flower!
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Yes, it’s a stereotype: hippies living on the commune, dressed in homemade tie dye as they garden and strum guitars. But if stereotypes are rooted in some small reality, this one is alive and well at Heathcote Community.
Here at Heathcote, we have a ten-year member, Carol, who loves to practice and pass on this craft. She’s usually up for a tie dyeing party, and she’s even held workshops in it. Carol dyed Hippie Chick Diaries’ spiral banner for us. And she mentored the Open Classroom kids in tie dyeing sheets for our Chinese New Year dragon, which we paraded up and down our road with much fanfare, making as much noise as possible from Heathcote Earthings’ fair trade instruments!
Most of us have t-shirts, sundresses, skirts, sweatshirts, etc., tie dyed in community with Carol’s help. I love seeing community mates showing them off!
So when Heathcoter Charles gave my partner and me two sets of queen sized organic cotton sheets, I knew what I wanted to do!
Iuval and I, and the two shelties, were ready to graduate from a double bed to a queen. Charles had a mattress to give away. But I loved my old bed, an heirloom. It wasn’t anything fine, a double bed that had been bought for my two old great great aunts when there was a fire at the old farm in Kentucky. Iuval and I decided to adapt the old headboard and footboard to a new queen sized platform. It took us a couple of days to get it just right. The time we spent working together on it was magical, as we problem-solved and puzzled it out.
But I was worried about the sheets Charles so generously included with the mattress. They were thick and clearly expensive, too nice for my dirty, rustle-in-the-woods family. We would have them stained and grungy before you could say, “What dead thing have you been rolling in?”
So, off to Carol’s tie dye emporium! She and her partner Paul live on Heathcote’s back parcel, in a pioneer log cabin with their two children and a very large cat named Smudge. This cat will let you pet him, but will eventually, without warning, attack your hand as if he were just injected with Tasmanian Devil DNA. He and my dog Tuatha have known each other their entire lives. Despite this history, Smudge still appears appalled and ready to defend his border whenever Tuatha visits. And Tuatha still acts as if Smudge should just get over it and start wrestling around the ground with him. “If you would simply let me sniff your butt, and if you would just smell this corner of the porch I’ve so thoughtfully marked for you, you would understand I’ve come in peace!” If dog people and cat people can coexist, why can’t dogs and cats?
On the lawn of the cabin, Carol helped me spread out dropcloths and organize the colors of dye. I would dye the off-white sheets; Iuval would dye the set that already had a pale lavender color. I planned my pattern for a long time and selected colors that matched the decor of our loft. Iuval grabbed bottles as they suited him and started squeezing with the consideration of a three year-old. Everyone had fun and the results were enchanting.
After leaving the sheets and pillowcases tied over night, we rinsed them with a garden hose and laundered them. And when we made the bed and climbed inside, it was the little world we had built entirely together, not my homestead at Heathcote, not his veggie bus in Arkansas, but a queen sized new start.
These days I’m still at my homestead, down to one dog and no Iuval. He’s moved on to Atlanta to be with his son. I think I’ll send those lavender-and-every-other-color-he-could-grab sheets down to Atlanta. I’m keeping the ones that match my loft.
And maybe this spring, long after the Chinese New Year, I’ll show up at Carol’s cabin with the bag of old shirts and skirts I’ve been saving. Who else is ready for a burst of color?
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This morning I sold my dog, set my goats free in the State Park, smashed my favorite mug and cut my dreadlocks off. Then I opened my eyes, stretched into my freedom and heard my choices chirping. I sat with my tea, kissed the dog, fed the goats, tied back my hair and began the story of my life again. These things I choose: the snow that’s falling anyway, even though it knows my position on this; the solitude of my pajamas until another dark; a phone and a tray of brownies. This work I take up: clearing off the kitchen table; filling the box to mail to him; asking myself three questions that bloody me at the edges…This morning I sold my dog. I might do anything next. But most likely, I won’t surprise you.
May 29-31, 2009, Fri eve – Sun eve
I have had the pleasure of attending the full Heart of Now course and I’ll be an assistant when it is offered at Heathcote. For people searching for tools to understand themselves and communicate better, or for those who just need a safe container in which to sharpen the tools they’ve amassed over the years of self discovery, Heart of Now is an amazing opportunity!
From the Heathcote page:
Heart of Now is about being who we want to be in the world. Throughout our lives many of us have been encouraged to hide our feelings and ignore our bodies. We’re taught stories of how we’re supposed to behave at school or work. We’ve been told not to make mistakes or certainly not to admit it. At Heart of Now we look with curiosity at the stories we’ve been told. We pay careful attention to our bodies and our emotions. We learn to listen to ourselves deeply and trust what is in our hearts. Heart of Now is not just about ourselves but about building community. When we are present and honest with ourselves, we open space for more intimacy, easier working relationships and creativity which are the building blocks for creating a better world.
Debby Sugarman has been involved with Heart of Now since 2001. Her process work includes Co-Counseling and Non-Violent Communication. She has been trained in Zegg-style Forum facilitation, Dynamic Facilitation, Consensus facilitation, and public process facilitation. Her mediation experience and training includes Community Mediation, Small Claims Court Mediation and Restorative Justice Mediation. Her co-facilitator will be Lisa Stein or Kim Krichbaum.
Tuition: The cost is $300-$600 sliding scale. A fee of $200 is requested when you register. The rest of the fee will be due by the end of the course. A limited amount of financial assistance is available. Please inquire about this if the fee is a barrier to being able to join us for the weekend. The cost will include lodging for 2 nights and all vegetarian meals. An extra $10.00 per night is requested if you want to reserve a private sleeping space.
To Register: You can register by contacting Debby Sugarman at 716-479-1490, email@example.com. For more information about Heart of Now, please visit www.heartofnow.org.
I had a fantastic, intense time at Loving More’s Poly Living 2009 conference in Philadelphia this past weekend. My partner Iuval and I each felt we learned so much about ourselves in the many workshops and in the networking and connections we made with other participants. I’ll be highlighting and profiling some in posts to come.
I noticed in particular that the people coming to the conference, identifying as polyamorous or exploring it, came from many walks of life. I met a few folks from a military background, for example, very different from my pacifist path.
In workshops designed to help us access intimacy so that we could deepen and strengthen the relationships we choose, most differences melted away with ease. I remember one particular man. I might not have ever noticed or given him a second look on the street. He seemed mainstream and businesslike, not a flavor of mine. But someone in an exercise complemented him on his eye gazing; They’d made a tender connection. Later I found myself in a group of three with him and another man. Our instructions were to talk for fifteen minutes on “something you might not know about me.” I spoke about my journey into accepting my bisexuality after living as a lesbian for seventeen years. This man, the great eye gazer, began to speak about his life as a military operative. He spoke of specific operations in the Middle East and Central America. He spoke in a certain level of detail, not as if he were breaching security in some kind of confession, but to paint a picture of pride, pride tinged with regret. He had led a certain successful rescue. He had designed a certain part of a weapon. He had been at this campaign and that one, and he stated the number of dead on both sides. He spoke many languages. He had blended in where he was sent and he had done what he was told. He didn’t say so, but I got the sense that he now doubted the morality of his actions, maybe a little, maybe a lot.
He went on for his fifteen minutes. Clearly his life and identity had been caught up in what he had thought was a good thing….once. “I have been responsible for many deaths. And those dead had families, children, mothers,” He said. After talking, we were instructed to share touch with each person and he and I embraced for several minutes–not something I often imagine doing with a military operative.
Later, after the exercise, I had the chance to thank him for his story and to thank him for not following the programming that makes soldiers perceive their enemies as subhuman, as other. “By remembering their humanity, you keep your own,” I told him.
I have to admit to a heavy prejudice against military personnel. Iuval, in envisioning the perfect Intentional Community, often suggests that former soldiers would make good members, because they’re used to hardship and simple living, hard work, doing what needs to be done, and hierarchy. Ironically, Iuval sees the usefulness of hierarchy for getting things done quickly and for taking advantage of differing levels of competence and expertise (within a consensus framework though) for Intentional Community. My Heathcote community-mate Karen is a former Navy officer, booted out under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. When she recalls what she liked about her life aboard ship, it was the bonds and community among her crew. So I suppose I need to follow my own advice and humanize soldiers in my mind.
By remembering their humanity, I keep my own…I’m grateful to have met this man in an environment of caring and listening, even if we may have walked away with our different world views intact. Were his stories true? I have no reason to doubt it. They’re someone’s stories, in any case. I have some concern that I might violate his trust by writing about my experience of his life in this post. But it is just that–my experience of pushing my own edge–which is my topic.
Really, it’s a theme in my life and the meaning of “Curio Coast,” my production company. I must like to find my borders and stretch myself. Considering the different challenges Iuval and I put to each other, we must have been drawn together for that purpose! Now I have him to question my assumptions about Intentional Community, sustainability, simple living, relationships, hunting and vegetarianism, consumerism, family…so many aspects of life. He has a talent for rooting out my complacency and the places I hide from the hard issues of our world, just as this soldier challenged me with his nuanced story.
What are the comfort zones we need to abandon to take life on Earth into the future?