Here is an account of my summer from mid-May to early July this year. Much more has happened after that point, so much so that what I outline as my thoughts & feelings in this post seem pretty “old” to me.
And yet, I simply have not felt drawn to write about any of the newer stuff yet. I figured that since this piece was already-written, waiting to be released, I would just go ahead & post it. Those of you who have been out of the loop of my travels (inner & outer) can now get somewhat more of a glimpse into my life.
It’s now after midnight, I’m waiting for the beginning of a massive Greyhound bus ride west. I don’t know if it is late, not going to happen, or if everything is all right. This sums up how I feel about a lot of different things right now.
I last posted on my blog here on May 15th – the beginning of my latest round of cross-country traveling. That post was not that thorough or explanatory, I admit, and I wrote it when I was tired & weird. Now I hope to be thorough & explanatory, while still feeling tired & weird.
Riding Greyhound is like entering into a massive circulatory system. Walking into a station is puncturing the skin – buying the ticket is being injected. From there, you have surrendered yourself to something much larger than you. Starting & stopping can not be foreseen, the omnipresent heartbeat is far beyond your understanding. All you know is that you will go, through whatever route is predetermined before you, when the force moves. Whatever filth or construction clogs the way, protector cells examining your every inch or synapses noisily clattering away, you move along, always, through a wondrous maze that seems endless.
The principles remain the same – you deprive yourself of oxygen, you’re dead. You jump track, you’re lost. Whatever happens happens. You surrender yourself to it – for what else is there to do?
You’re just along for the ride.
On May 15th I left the Acorn commune in central Virginia where I was for about a month, for Washington D.C. There, I stayed at an abandoned old Victorian mansion called “Common Ground D.C.” – the first of a number of interactions there. Based on the model of Common Ground in New Orleans, a group of volunteers had an arrangement with the owner to be able to live there for free and live semi-activist lives, in exchange for fixing up the place. Similar to Common Ground in New Orleans, the confusion, apathy and beaten down spirits lead one to wonder whether that will actually happen.
Then I flew to Jacksonville, Florida again to see my family. My youngest brother was graduating the 8th grade, this was my last opportunity (presumably) to see Jacksonville, and the whole family was there. Like before, I found it hard to avoid sinking into depression while being there. Being around my family’s collective narrative stories I find it difficult to maintain my own sense of direction and feeling within.
I did have an experience at Jacksonville that seemed quite remarkable to me. Using meetup.com I found a group of New Age spiritual-oriented people who were meeting while I was there. I went.
What the group ended up being was four hours of reiki and guided meditation on the beach under the full moon. This was among people whom I did not know and do not ever expect to see again. Yet, the sense of care & support was real, and that is what I find remarkable. Intimacy and mutual aid among strangers.
After that, I flew back to Washington D.C. in time for four days of workshops by the NVC trainer Robert Gonzales.
The first day-long workshop, entitled “The Way of Connection”, stands out to me the most in that the whole experience was on of great harmony, flow and grace. The whole day just seemed miraculous, perfect. I didn’t even stay at the actual workshop the entire time – just being in that space, the vicinity, seemed to have a kind of magical air about it. It was beautiful.
With the workshops ending, some friends & I met to plan out taking a big cross-country trip together. The trip with these people did not actually end up happening. We met and talked at the Common Ground D.C. house, where I later found ut that an assault happened. And then another. And another.
I was out staying at a separate place when the first assault happened. Similarly with the second and third. Apparently the guy who perpetrated the assaults was kicked out of the house and now has a criminal court case pending against him.
I say all this about Common Ground D.C. not to high-light how fucked-up it is, but out of a sense of frustration and yearning. Similar to Common Ground New Orleans, what I want throughout all the violence, drama and dysfunction is a solid base for an alternative volunteer corps to go forth and build something new in the shell of the old (so to speak). I continue to hold much hope with this model, provided that the process is gone through with sufficient attention, intention, thorough commitment and consideration.
Also around this time my relationship with my friend Geri shifted into something else. I never know how to discuss these things, nor do I know what label(s) to put on it – which is an unfortunate position to be in because nonetheless the whole thing is to me a meaningful factor in my life. I would like to have the words to discuss it, for it to e understood accurately, without any sense of expectation, narrowed role, or even guaranteed continuity implied. One way that has helped me to look at it in this was ys, based on the list of fundamental human needs, viewing the relationship as having made a shift towards meeting more of a full spectrum of the needs listed.
I then went to Pennsylvania.
In northern Pennsylvania lives my friend Martha Lasley, an NVC trainer, mediator, and professional coach. She also lives on a piece of land that she and her husband bought 20-something years ago in a house tat they built themselves, from the bottom-up. They used to live in a number of different communal groups in the 60’s & 70’s, and now live as an organizational development consultant and a property rental manager.
The two still hold to their old radical beliefs, of sorts – Martha into a kind of NVC-based social change thing and the philosophy of John Heron, her husband Dave focusing on the imminent collapse of the U.S. economy and the need for a new kind of socialism.
It was here, in Troy, PA, where Martha facilitated a mediation session between me and my father who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. I wrote a long piece about that mediation in another notebook of mine, and then later lost that notebook in the middle of the night while transferring buses on Greyhound. So, just imagine something intense.
I then continued on north to up-state New York – “North Country”, they call it. It is here, the area around Canton, NY, that my friend Becky lives. She is a part of two separate intentional communities – Ness & Birdsfoot. These communities are both derived from the old “back-to-the-land” movement of the 60’s, and continue to survive with a large degree of self-sufficiency.
Birdsfoot is the oldest of the two, and the most developed in terms of infrastructure. They have a number of buildings built with materials on-site and have a large garden which supports a CSA, local food co-op, and a food bank. They also have a small private school on-site where children from the local area go for a one-room schoolhouse John Holt-inspired experience.
Ness, six miles away, actually has more people and acreage, but less history & momentum. That community is primarily focused around one guy who owns the property, built almost all the buildings, and has been there since the beginning. The people there recognize the power-imbalance in all of that, and slowly seem to be addressing it.
More interesting to me than either of these two groups is the surrounding local community. This is where a lot of the back-to-the-land hippies wound up, settling in the 60’s & 70’s and not moving out. Their lifestyles ranged from having cars to having horse & buggies, having full electrical conveniences to making almost everything themselves. But nevertheless, they have all built their houses themselves, grow a lot of their own food, and most importantly help each-other out. It’s an odd dichotomy of both isolation from the world and immersion in a local area.
To counter-balance it all, I next went to New York City. Emerging from the filthy subway, I had to exit through the emergency exit because my large back-pack wouldn’t fit any other way. Alarm blaring with nobody seeming to care, smog in my face and sweaty, I emerged above-ground to the crowd-filled streets of Manhattan – I felt at home.
I stayed at the home of my friend Sarton, a professional Manhattan psychotherapist whom I’ve known through the Person-Centered Approach scene. Despite the full amenities of modern life, everything all felt so… Short.
One thing that I’ve noticed about my NYC friends is the incredible difficulty of having a spacious conversation. The act of communicating with them often leaves me with the feeling that I am talking with someone who is flipping through the channels with a remote control, and it’s my job to provide interesting programming quickly before the next commercial break.
Whether it is perceived time-scarcity, overwhelm, panic, or the persistent changing of topic, I often leave the interaction with them extremely frustrated and with a desire to wrestle them to the floor and pin them down to a topic of interest for a period of time.
That all being said, NYC is still the age-old lover calling me at 3am inviting me to join the millions of others in their particular brand of insanity. As potentially self-destructive as that is, “moving” to NYC is still an option that I consider frequently.
Thanks to the Craigslist rideshare, I then was able to catch a ride out to Pittsburgh to meet up with Geri. The ride was with two other guys my age, one financial analyst and the other a real-estate broker. Seeing the finely-braded hair of the one guy, and the “Israeli Defense Force” t-shirt of the other, I wondered how I would connect with these two. Hours later, we were all talking about anarchism, alternative lifestyles, and 2012.
Now, as I write this, we are driving through the rolling prairies of Kansas. “Americas heartland”. I wonder where my own heart is now, given that every one of my travel plans has been changed, and I do not know where I will wind up.
I am fasting, now, as I go across the country on this Greyhound bus. We pass fields of cows and windmills, while the people in front of me talk world affairs. As always, I want where I go and what I do to somehow, in some way, be a positive contribution to the world. The fast is to help me to remind myself of my intentions behind this trip.
In Pittsburgh Geri and I stayed for about five days at an intentional community called “the Landslide”. This place consists of twenty-something twenty-somethings, two houses and a big piece of land. The twenty-somethings are anarchist activist squatter types with dreams of inspiring off-the-grid sustainable ways of life in Pittsburgh. The houses are old multi-story buildings, one of which has electricity, running water, and internet – the other with none of these things.
The land which the Landslide owns I find to be absolutely amazing. For one, everything is tilted – sliding off a hill. The property has a stunning view of downtown Pittsburgh and you have to climb up and down the hills in order to go anywhere.
About 40 years ago there was an enormous landslide in the neighborhood there, and that was how the name came about. This has resulted in the acreage that they own being pretty much rural land, with a forest, trees, plants all over it – with torn & cracked-up concrete of roads, sidewalks, and stair-cases interspersed everywhere. Tent and tarp structures are all over this property, forming a kind of squatter shanty-town – except that this property is owned, since property is so cheap in Pittsburgh.
The Landslide has a unique & interesting feel to it. It seems part income-sharing commune, part squat, part community outreach project, part back-to-the-land project, part typical activist house. It is hard for me to put an accurate label on it, and I thought that I would have gotten over that habit by now anyway.
That all being said, coordination & work seems to happen quite fluidly there, and the people seem happy. In the end, that goes a long way.
I realize that with each place I visit on this summer traveling journey, and each place that I consider visiting as well, always on the back of my mind is the question – is this a place that I can live at? This also happened back in 2004 when I traveled cross-county, the big difference now is that this time I have less money and more of a vision that I would like to go towards. This puts a very different lens on things.
The crippled man shuffles towards his seat, positions himself into his chair and moves his cane & legs into his space.
“This is what I call ‘war stories’. I might have a couple for you, my friend.”
And so we’re off, now leaving Boise, Idaho via Greyhound bus. I am now traveling along again, after being from Pittsburgh to Boise with Geri. I feel sad to be leaving her, and have the sense that once again, I am stepping out into the void.
I always return to the void.
After the Landslide, Geri & I got a ride from Pittsburgh to Athens, Ohio in a U-Haul truck with a man and his cat. They were moving. The man was an artist, and one of our first impressions of him was his artwork – a pink skin-colored monitor with a large vagina on the screen.
The deal was that we would help the guy load up his U-Haul in exchange for the ride. One of the most poignant moments is of us carrying and loading onto the truck these enormously large ceramic art pieces of what looked like huge bottles of “Tide” laundry detergent. Instead of saying “Tide”, however, they said “Terror”. Lugging these around, in the rain, across state lines, had an interesting incriminating kind of feel to it.
Then we went to the annual Earth First! Round River Rendezvois in south-eastern Ohio. The event was a week-long, camp-in-the-woods, communal meals, free, volunteer-based kind of thing. It was also anarchist as fuck.
Attending the Earth First! Rendezvous was a fall-back position, a second choice for me. My real heart and passion was in going to the national Rainbow Gathering, taking place in Wyoming. The intention behind that was to organize an “NVC Camp” there, an experimental place to offer Nonviolent Communication to people in public for free. I instead chose to prioritize other things.
I went to the Earth First! Rendezvous because I did not want to be alone. I had for months been anticipating a certain particular summer itinerary with a particular group of people. Faced with the soul-piercing prospect of possible loneliness, I chose the surest travel companionship I could find. It all happened semi-consciously for me, but I think that my other travel companions from Washington D.C. dropping out of the trip, combined with the changing nature of my relationship with Geri, lead to me being reluctant to go out to Wyoming by myself.
My actual experience of the Rendezvous was by no means horrible, nor is it something that I regret. My old friend Marc was there, who I unexpectedly got to spend some time with. I gave an NVC workshop, and I met someone who is working on creating a new federation of anarchist intentional communities, a project that is dear to my heart.
What struck me the most about this gathering was the anarchist ethic of organizing things. The low-budget, pooling resources, chipping in when you can, somehow-make-things-happen attitude – I totally love. This inspired me to thinking – what would an NVC gathering look like organized along these lines? Taking these same values, but applying them to learning & practicing the skills of heart-felt honesty, empathic listening and care for each-other? This challenge is something that really excites me - that I want to pursue.