Transition Café – Designing Community

We have a couple of rooms opening up in our house, right now, so, perhaps more than usual, I am thinking about what I’d like our community to look like.

Community is a funny thing. Sometimes it doesn’t gel, in spite of all predictions, likelihood, and work. A group of folks who are great, as individuals, doing great work in the world, have their values in alignment, get together and simply cannot get along with each other. Sometimes folks who get along fine as friends try to live together and discover that their values are not in alignment. Sometimes one or more folks have emotional wounds or personality patterns that the community simply cannot hold, and those prove divisive, tearing the community apart.

Sometimes, though, community shows up where you don’t expect it to, in spite of all expectations to the contrary. A group of very different folks find themselves working or living together, and friendships and community develop as they discover that their values are more in alignment than they thought. Sometimes, the project they are working on is bigger than a lifetime, and their descendants continue to live and work together, the greater vision taking precedence over whatever individual differences they might have.

A community could be small, in a house, tribe, or village. It could be larger, like a suburban neighborhood or a district in a city. As Psychosynthesis has become more mainstream, we are now having discussions of self-as-community, and of internal family therapy, referring to the multiplicity of subpersonalities in all of us, to greater or lesser degree, and who get along with each other to greater or lesser degree, the macro in the micro.

What are the elements which allow a community to gel? Are they are predictable? Can they be designed for? Adam Brock, a Social Permaculturist, points out that many movements and organizations which “should” work out often don’t because we forget that they are composed of individuals who have their own personalities and motivations, conscious and unconscious.

If you were going to design a community, what would you include? What have your experiences been, of living in community with other Humans, or others of any species? Have you seen communities thrive, fall apart, drift through mediocrity? All of the preceding, at different points? What would the ingredients of your ideal community be?

Design your ideal community, at Red Rock Coffee, this Friday, 9 February. We often go to dinner afterwards, maybe we will this week, too.

 

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Transition Café – Self Care

Submitted by William Mutch Feb 2, 2018
A Chestnut-Backed Chickadee flew into the house, this morning. I waited until he or she had worn themselves out with the window thing, then picked them up and carried them outside, getting some bites in the process, although once my guest figured out what was going on they settled down, some, but with attitude. Earlier in the week, I put up some birdhouses, one for Bluebirds, one for Wrens, and another for Chickadees. Of course, those specifications only apply if the Birds have been reading the same books I have, which is not always the case.

I was part of a difficult conversation, last night, and lives were changed, and will continue to be, as a result. These things don’t always go the way you think they will, and sometimes, doing the thing that is clearly best for everyone doesn’t feel the way it seems like it should, so…not much sleep afterwards. Sitting with this, this morning, I learned that an old friend had passed, about a week ago. She and I hadn’t been close close, but we had shared some adventures, in the early days when I was starting out in the Permaculture and Nature Awareness communities. The nature of those communities breeds close connections quickly, which remain so, over the years. She has been a strong and needed voice for keeping space for non-binary gender diversity, among other things. She was within a couple of years of my age. I have a complicated relationship with Death, as mentioned in many a past Transition Café newsletter, but it still involves a change in our relationship. So…a surreal few days, accentuated with the historically beautiful moon performance. Oh, and of course the insane $#!^-show that is the news, right now.

But, sometimes, life is just like that…you get to help a Chickadee through a major event in their life while working out major events in yours, while your culture and even your planet work out major events in theirs.

So, I have to ask again about self-care…

As activists, we often run ourselves even more ragged than the rest of everyone, and in Silicon Valley that is saying something. We frequently have a very hard time taking a break and setting down the burden, from time to time, until we pick it up again. So important, though, to rest and care for ourselves, so we can come back refreshed and recharged, to fight the good fight, another day. If we burn out, we can end up walking away from this work that is so important to so many.

What do you do to care for yourself? Do you take sensible breaks during the day, the week, per month, per year? Do you eat well, sleep well, get enough exercise, drink enough water, meditate, take regular news-fasts? Are you using your work to self-medicate something else? If you were, would you know it? What is that frantic hard-work ethic keeping us from feeling? What happens to you, when you slow down? Can you slow down enough to meet the Wall of Grief, before it catches up to you? Are you responsibly sitting with that grief, so you don’t act it out on the people and environments you are trying to be an ally for?

 

Please join us on tpa_cafe, or tpa_chat, you can join at http://www.transitionpaloalto.org./

Transition Café – Threat and Community

Cafe notes from William Mutch, January 19, 2018.
I took a sick day from Tracking Club, this Sunday, and was drinking tea and making breakfast, watching the array of Birds in the yard, when a Coyote walked through, along the edge of the “lawn”, leisurely sniffing and peering into the Juniper bushes. I was the only one who was startled. Everyone else-Quail, Sparrows, Juncos, etc, while they were clearly aware of the Coyote, just kept doing their thing, moving aside to let the Coyote pass, without alarm or even apparent hurry.

I am used to usually having advance notice of when predators are active in the area, because the Birds are aware, and respond in ways that anyone paying attention can pick up on and usually figure out what kind of predator is coming/present. In some situations, certain Birds (and other critters) will recruit aware Humans (and other critters) to assist with problems that are beyond them. These Birds, multiple species, were behaving as if this Coyote were a Deer (yes, I know Deer will eat Birds if given the need and opportunity, but, anecdotally at least, that seems rare).

This Coyote is male, and seems to have a scar on the left side of his face. He was soon joined by a female with a heavy left ear, and another whose gender I couldn’t figure out. We have seven Coyotes who are regulars on the land, up here, maybe related, maybe not. I have watched them frolic and wrestle with each other within feet of a day-bedded buck, who seemed interested, but unalarmed. These three were interested in an old Deer leg which one of my housemates had found in the Oaks and brought up into the garden, with one or another running around with it and chewing old hide and muscle off of it. It was like watching Domestic Dogs wrestling over a bone.

Why no alarms sounded about the Coyote? Was he offering body language, scent, pheromones, or something else, indicating he was not hunting? Was he clearly hunting Rodents or Lagomorphs, instead of Birds? More study needed. We are told, of course, that the lives of Birds, and others, depend on being able to tell when predators are hunting, versus not, so they get out of the way at the appropriate time, but don’t stay in a constant state of agitation, burning precious calories, when predators are either absent or not a threat.

Of course, a predator’s life depends on being able to think like their prey, and also convince prey that they are not hunting or non-dangerous. I have watched Sparrows fade into the underbrush, repeatedly, exactly two minutes before a Hawk flew over (after watching this a couple of times, I started timing them), but have also seen another Hawk fly low over feeding Sparrows without striking or them reacting in any way that was obvious to me. (I have also heard a Sparrow sound an alarm at a Turkey Vulture, but that only happened once, and I assume was an adolescent Sparrow.)

Many authors currently writing about community building among Humans talk about the necessity, even urgency, to be able to identify Human predators and parasites, as they will erode or even detonate a community. They refer to the “Dark Triad” although some are suggesting that it should be the “Dark Tetrad”, adding in another personality type, but these are basically folks who are wounded, angry, needy, etc. in ways which even extremely healthy communities have a hard time providing a container for.

Each of us, obviously, has wounds, and some of us “self-medicate” those wounds with one behavior or addiction or another, or treat them as “sacred wounds” which drive and inform our passion for self-healing (as opposed to self-medicating) and being of service to the world. Some of us use those wounds as a reason to hurt others, either the folks who hurt us, to hurt ourselves, or to hurt folks who remind us of either the folks who hurt us or of ourselves when we were hurt. Many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, probably shift through those different solutions, over the course of our lives, or maybe even over the course of a day. Most of us have a default setting, though, which we return to when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, dehydrated, etc. We refer to this as “Life”.

If this is as crucial as many suggest, then how do we identify Human predators and parasites? Some are so good at mimicking healthy folks that they are practically invisible, but their effects on a community are not. Like icebergs, destructive behavior patterns and personalities leave ripples around themselves. “Traditional” cultures would have identified a Donald Trump or an Evita Peron well before they had amassed a fortune or a strong group of followers. The consequences of failing to identify and deal with them would have been well-represented in the oral traditions, and the elders would have been constantly vigilant.

Who has that job, in our culture? Who educates the young on how to tell the predators from the ones the predators are mimicking? We do as much of disservice to our children, of course, if we mistake a non-predator for a predator, as the other way around. That is sometimes called “Friendly Fire”. The first job of the predator, of course, is to take out anyone in the community who can identify them or stop them. They generally act by destroying their reputation and getting the community to turn away from or exile them, but sometimes by other means, like isolating and controlling them, or simply killing them.

Grim topics, and ones which Good People don’t discuss, or even spend time thinking about. Best to go back to our reality shows and celebrity gossip. After all, why worry about something that hasn’t happened yet? Why prepare for something which Can’t Happen Here? The Gazelles who insist that that Cheetah is actually just another Gazelle don’t live much longer than the Monkey who thinks the Snake is a log. But, if Gazelles think all the other Gazelles are Cheetahs, they isolate themselves from their allies, and can fall prey to the very ones they were trying to protect themselves from. Good thing that Can’t Happen Here!

Sharing the Holidays

The Share Faire took place this December at Cubberley Community Center once again. We shared holiday decorations, goods, books, garden plants and persimmons, vinyl records, clothes, fabrics, toys, and so much more.

Inside the two rooms, A6 and A7, we had two themes: homemade holidays, and garden/making. Kids of all ages were busy making colorful rolled beeswax candles with Lori, who also showed how to make melted ones (and left some candle wax to take home). We got a chance to make salt dough creations – menorahs and ornaments – with Joyce – and she showed how to color them gently, and displayed an heirloom handmade menorah. Peggy shared her expertise with worms to hold and answered questions on home composting. Peter demonstrated a simple and unique applesauce recipe that was flavorful and delicious. Barbara and Herb led the sessions on storytelling – everyone regaling each other with tales from holidays past.

Click through the slideshow below:

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Transition Café – Giving Thanks

Submitted by William Mutch:
I had a few ideas for this week’s Transition Café, but we missed last week, and I’d really like to have a giving of thanks. This has been a shocking week, on top of a shocking year, to the degree that it is beginning to be difficult to be shocked by what is coming out of Washington, D.C. Last night, after the Permaculture Café, I got to explain across a language barrier why I have a safety pin on my coat. It took a bit, but we got there, and the fear and rage the woman expressed at the week’s issuances from our President caught me off guard. Again, I’m surprised at myself for being surprised at this. She asked if the Safety Pin-Wearers are an organization, I said we are a loose one.

One of the things I am thankful for is that we are not going down without a fight, and possibly not at all. There are so many good people doing what they can to help and support each other through this parade of “it-can’t-happen-here” scenarios, I feel as inspired by them/us as I feel shocked, outraged, and saddened by what we have unleashed upon ourselves.

Also, the Permaculture Café was on fire, last night. The conversation gloriously bounced all over the Permaculture spectrum, and spent no little time on Holistic Management, then on to Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. Thanks to everyone who showed up, so glad to have you! You’ll probably hear about this again in the announcement for that Café, shortly.

Lastly (not really), so very thankful for the inclination and ability to continually learn and teach new skills. I’m teaching a tool sharpening and care class this Saturday, and in preparing for that I’m looking at the fabulous web of skills attached to that one, and the ones which led me to it. Wonderful memories of those learning edges.

And…thanks to all of you who follow these e-mails (in the old days we might have called them “columns”), and who write in and/or chat with me about your reactions and ideas for our Café conversations. I realize that our “virtual Transition Café” community has grown, over the years, and seems huge, at this point. This is happening in the Permaculture Café, too, where folks in the “virtual Café” are following along, reading the books along with us, and either writing in or talking to me about them in person.

 

 

 

Holiday Share Faire 12/10 – Save the date

Our Holiday Share Faire is around the corner on Sunday, December 10th, at 1-3pm. We’ll occupy two rooms on the A-block again this year at Cubberley Community Center, and fill them with all things holiday.

Some things slated to be offered by skilled TPA volunteers and regulars:

  • Garden Share! While the Palo Alto Garden Share lacks a permanent home, we’ll have a chance to share the bounty of our gardens at the Faire. Bring your produce, plants, seeds, and garden books and tools to share.
  • Telling stories. We’ll share stories about this season – of darkness and light. How does it impact your traditions? We’d also love to share tales of best and worst gifts given and received over the years. Read an article here by Mas Masumoto (of Masumoto Farms) on how and why our stories are so important to share, especially in these times.
  • Peter Ruddock will share a favorite holiday recipe with details on how to make it. Yum.
  • Lori Stoia will teach us how to make candles – and you’ll have a chance to make a simple beeswax candle of your own to take home.
  • Let’s gather together and make homemade decorations, garlands, menorahs, ornaments and more from natural materials, foods, and dyes. Joyce Beattie and Barbara Weinstein will teach us how.
  • Peggy Prendergast offers her skills as a Master Gardener on composting for the winter.

We’ll also share Holiday decor, cards, and our usual goods share.

Looking to demo something else or help out? Contact us. We’re always happy to get more volunteers :  set-up, organization, greeters and more.  If you’d like to participate, please sign up here.

Please put the date on your calendars and join us in this joyous season!

More at transitionpaloalto.org/sharing-expos/

 

Transition Café – Stuff

Friday, 10 November, 6:10-7:45pm, at Red Rock Coffee, in Mountain View.
–Posted by William Mutch
We have Dusky-Footed Woodrats (Packrats) in the garage, many of them, and they are disassembling our Human objects and collections of objects and reassembling them as their own homes. Going into the garage at night is interesting, as they will rattle their tails and/or stamp their feet to convince me to leave and alert others of their kind to my presence. We have already pushed them out of the engines of our cars, the dryer vent, and the drainpipes. Some of us have so much Stuff crammed into the garage, though, that the Woodrats are able to do their thing and be pretty much unassailable, without the Humans pulling lots of Stuff out. Not that the folks whose Stuff it is weren’t comprehensively warned about the situation. Still…

Speaking of Stuff, we’re coming up on the Holidays, and the great giving of Stuff. There was a time in my life when I felt I needed to give Stuff to people on holidays, etc. Even dated a woman, once, who was not interested in something well thought-out and relevant to her life, she just really wanted a Thing to indicate that I had spent money on her on the Day in Question.

How many of us are like that, though? Many business seem to think that rather a lot of us are. Myself, I’ve gone through the phases of giving, and preferring to receive, gifts which are relevant and useful, to preferring money that the person receiving it can use to supply themselves with things I could not imagine them wanting. Not always sure how that is received, though, as some folks see it as a Test of the Relationship to find a Thing which would be the most useful to them.

What do you do with all of your Stuff? How many of us rent storage for our Stuff? Storage for our Storage? How many of us wish we had,after seeing what the Woodrats have done with it? What kind of Stuff do you have? I have weaknesses for things which are practical and educational: books, pottery, tools, cool storage doodads. I really dislike clutter, although you wouldn’t know it, to look at my bedroom, at the moment.

How much Stuff do you need? Is it the same for everyone? Is it appropriate for one person to judge another’s Pile of Stuff? Some folks seem much more at home where there is not just clutter, but actual filth: weeks worth of unwashed dishes, food smears on surfaces, unemptied garbage and compost, and a certain smell about the place…and that is home, for them. Raccoons spring to mind, certain types of Rodents, some Humans. Think Freshman dorms…So easy, though, to look at someone else’s Stuff and see trash, and our own to see treasure. There might even be a saying, about that…

In an atmosphere where we have shows pillorying Hoarders, inspiring ordinary folks to spy on their neighbors to find out if they have *gasp* a Hoarder in their neighborhood, how could anyone possibly know how much is too much, or what is right for them?

Of course, the more Stuff you have, the more you have to defend, and sometimes you have to defend against folks who are born to hoard (see above).

Stuff (and maybe some nonsense)at Red Rock Coffee, this Friday. Dinner often happens, afterwards, maybe it will this week, too.

 

 

 

 

Sunset Sit

On a cool October evening, my children and I joined some Transition regulars at the Baylands for a Sunset sit on a Tuesday. It was evening, and any soot from the incessant fires up north had settled. The gate was closing at 7, so we parked our cars outside and walked up the path, where there were benches and sandbags in front of the reeds and saltgrass. We met up with Barbara and William, and looked around for a good place to sit.

We decided to sit for 20 minutes, so I got out for the kids their dinner and some snacks. They decided to sit on a bench together while I sat within line of sight on a nearby ledge. My daughter picked at the curried quinoa and ate carrot sticks, watching movement and listening and walking back and forth along another ledge. My son ate directly from the can of puffed rice, watching the lights in the distance across the water, having told me he was doing some mindful eating. My little girl asked a few questions first, then settled down.
I sat, feet gently resting on woven reeds in the marshy area below, listening to at least 20 different bird sounds, private planes from the Palo Alto airport passing low and close overhead, trucks beeping farther away, animals and wind. For 15 minutes, the kids were silent, eating.
Then my daughter walked over, sat quietly beside me, and held my hand. Silently, she leaned against me for the last five minutes, her feet dangling over the ledge.
We got up, packed up our containers and bags, likely leaving the few dropped bits of food for local wildlife, and met up with Barbara and William. We chatted, saw more planes as they disappeared into the orange-red sunset, looked at the signs that described what was happening here, where the ocean turns into bay, where saltwater meets fresh, what animals and plants make their home. My daughter drew with sticks in the sand. Then, too cold, we said our goodbyes and drove home, the sky an inky blue.

Transition Café – Days of the Dead, 2017 edition

From William Mutch for Transition Cafe Nov 3, 2017:

Funny, this morning, during my sit, I watched two Coyotes frolicking just feet from a day-bedding Buck. I’ve seen Coyotes and Deer close to each other, before, but that’s the first time I’ve seen a Deer so composed about a major predator hanging out while he was relaxing. Perhaps they had eaten recently, and he could smell that or see it in their body language? One of my housemates just found some Deer legs down in the Oak grove we are stewarding, so one would think the Deer would be aware of the Coyotes as a threat. I wonder how often Coyotes actually kill adult Deer, in this area. Maybe they mostly scavenge from Feline predators? Anyway…

It is that time of the year, again, when we get to welcome our departed family, friends, and random party-crashers into our homes, celebrate their lives, remember their deaths, wish them well until next year, and perhaps contemplate our own mortality in the process. …or just dress up in costumes and go neighborhood-hopping, hitting up the houses with the best loot, and forgetting that someday we, too, will get to melt into the ground, or leave our bodies “forever” …whichever… (and yes, I know that this is highly culture-specific, with different cultures celebrating their Days of the Dead at different times of the year…(see last year’s writings on this))

If the latter, enjoy the fallout from that evening, and take care of those teeth. If the former, whether you do the whole thing, or some part of it, what is that like for you? What is it like for you to read that, whether you believe in that sort of thing, or not?

Interestingly, there have been some (many?) cross-cultural studies on bereavement, and it seems that those who have a continuing, evolving relationship with the departed become the most emotionally-healthy, going forward. To clarify:

Some folks force themselves to “move on” from the departed, whether or not they believe in an afterlife, on the grounds that they “shouldn’t” hold on, either for their health or for that of their departed loved one.

Some folks remember the departed the way they were the last time they saw them “alive”, as a “snapshot” of who they were.
Some folks continue to relate to that static image, as if their loved one “stopped”, right then.

For some, the relationship with their departed loved one continues to grow, mature, evolve, as it might have, had the person continued in corporeal form. This seems independent of belief in an afterlife, per se.

Whole cultures (and cults) have been based around each of those options. Some of us, due to culture, personality, indecisiveness, or general obnoxiousness, apply each of those to one or more individuals, at different times and/or when we are in different moods. Not to say that any of these is more or less right or wrong than any other, either, just that the last option seems to be the one which offers optimal emotional health. Of course, some of us also apply each of those relationship options to our corporeal loved ones, too, and for similar reasons.

How a culture deals with Death can have a huge influence on how it deals with Life. How does your approach to Death influence your life? Do “we”, in the US, have a dominant, cultural view of Death, or is it a sort of mishmash of different cultural ideas? Is it worth thinking about future lives and generations, or does the person who dies with the most cheap plastic crap actually win?

How do these questions relate to the world, today, and Transition Towns, in general?

Days of the Dead, 2017 edition, at Red Rock Coffee, this Friday. Dinner often happens, afterwards, maybe it will this week, too.

 

 

Living in PA

I’ve lived in Palo Alto for 10 years now, the Bay Area for 18. Admittedly, this is not a very long time compared to some, but it’s longer than many of my neighbors, and by at least a decade, the longest I have lived in one place in my 40 years.

Still, as a one-and-a-half-generation East Indian, raised in the deep South, former scientist, eco-passionate stay-at-home-mom, sometimes I feel I don’t fit in. Other moms take kids to a plethora of museums miles away, know which is the hot new date night restaurant, bike miles and miles, attend pilates, and make homemade brownies in the same week. Instead, my days are peppered with conscious, difficult choices that juggle responsibility and mediocrity – we are late for school, so should we drive, bike, or walk? Shall I pick up that piece of trash? That one? That one? Can we let the dryer run – just this once? And those fruits – pick, let rot, or leave to wildlife? Pick up another orphaned mug I don’t really need, or leave it to fill a potential landfill? Let the kids wander while I cook, or play with them, watch them, and let dinner burn? Do they like to do yoga with me, or it is just an excuse for screen time?

These are the questions I ponder while I make that second batch of yogurt after the first failed (spent too long playing cards with my daughter), or pick apart moldy raspberries with my hands to save for freezer jam. There is joy in this – the not-knowing which way is right, exploring what works for us, fumbling our way to sustainability.

In my heart, I know it’s not enough, not nearly, not fast enough for what is coming, but this is the slow world of my choice, the one that lingers in vision. I wonder if others could see that being really intentionally in this world is a process that evolves even for the passionate, may they, too, might try. Maybe we can support each other as we dabble in the new, and take tiny steps towards giant leaps. All while the kids are watching.