Saturday, January 30, 2010

Great Circle



This week I've travelled to San Francisco for Great Circle, the semi-annual planning meeting for Nomenus, the organization that owns the spiritual sanctuary where I live. Earlier in the month I made a spectacular mistake by publishing scathing criticisms of the organization's status.

This morning I'll have to answer for myself and try to turn that mistake into a learning experience and change those criticisms into obstacles we can overcome. In the last few days I've had offline chats with the people who received the brunt of my criticisms and learned a lot.

This new generation has a fantastic vision for where they want the organization to go. Some of us old guys have fantastic experience with the systems that worked in the past (and, more importantly, those that didn't). I think this is the meeting that will bridge the chasm and set the course for Nomenus to grow fast and find itself while retaining the spirit of the founders.

My two-word goal for the way I'd like to see things run in the future is "consensual agility". We have few active members now so we should be able to change direction FAST while making sure that everyone affected by an action is able to be involved if they want. It's going to take work from all sides to get there, but I think we can.

If you're a member of the organization, you can call into our usual conference number and be involved. We'll open the line at 10:30 so we can just chat for half an hour before the meeting starts. If you want to follow along with the agenda and decision results, go to Twitter and filter for the #GreatCircle hashtag. If I can get permission from the participants, maybe I can spice up the info stream with some pictures.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Black Cloth Pics

[Checking the threading with a few inches of white weft. Notice the extreme difference in warp thread weights.]

Photographing this black cloth has been a challenge. There are several things that make it particularly pretty: the subtle shades of black, the variety of textures, and the shimmering patterns that change as the cloth moves. Each of these features is difficult to capture alone. Add them up and the pictures don't do justice to the cloth at all.

Here they are, though, the best I can do with my current limited knowledge of textile photography.

[Laying flat, colors, textures, and pattern visible]

[Curved around the beam, color and shimmer overpowering the pattern]

[Sunshine, extreme angle, closeup. The shiny weft looks grey at this angle.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Weaving Challenge

This week, I was presented with a weaving challenge. There are so many factors in setting up a beam for weaving that it's easy to make mistakes.

When threading the tension box to wind the beam, it's easy to forget that some threads are dented singly and some are double dented. After winding one section with too many threads, it would be a big waste to take them off the beam. It's easier to look for another solution.

The solution this time was to wind all of the sections with too many threads and leave two sections empty. It makes no visible difference to the finished cloth.

[One empty section]

The denting process is a little fiddly, though. Instead of 20 sections of 3", there are 18 sections of 3.33". To make sure the density is even across the cloth, I marked the harnesses at every 3" beam section and separated the reed into 3.3" inch sections. On a 10 dent reed, the sections have uneven dents: 33, 33, 34, ...

[Harnesses, marked at 3"]

[Reed, marked at 3.33"]

I was glad that I did this background work. As I sleyed the reed, it was assuring to have progress markers, knowing that the density would be even all the way across the cloth. In the end, the threads filled exactly 60" of reed.

[Reed, perfectly full]

You can see below that the angle required to fill the empty sections is very shallow. It will certainly make no difference at all in the cloth.

[The narrow gap closes at the reed]

Now I'm weaving through the samples and yardage to ship before traveling to San Francisco for the bi-annual organizational for the sanctuary where I live.

The velvety black cloth is absolutely beautiful. It's tough to photograph, but I'll post my best pictures of it tomorrow.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hazy Day, Inside and Out

[Pretty sunset over the greenhouse]

January has been a grey and dreary month for the most part. When the sun comes out we dash into the meadow to catch some. A couple of nights ago, the sky cleared at sunset to give us beautiful colors.

Last night was pouring rain all night, the heavier-than-normal drops pounding on the tin rooves. I woke up to find the entire road in front of the cabins turned completely to mud. The little drainage channels we cut last week are making no difference at all.

[The road is MUD]

Upon reaching the meadow, I saw that the rain isn't all bad. The hills are gorgeous with the mist swirling around them.

[Misty hills]

Haze in the house isn't as pretty. Instead of one person cooking for the rest of us tonight, we're having a potluck. Somebody got up early to finish in the kitchen before everyone else wakes up. Something dribbled in the oven and the whole house filled with greasy smoke.

[Sol in the hazy house]

The weaving is a little slow because of some strangeness with this beam. I've been taking pictures of the process to share in the next few days.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Weaving Milestone

[My knees and a rare bit of sun as I tie the 1200 black threads on the left to the 1200 navy threads on the right, in the correct order, without tangling.]

This week I crossed an exciting threshold: I now have some yarn of my own. I worked out a deal with Annie, the woman I weave for, where I'll be paid less for my work, and take some yarn from her stash instead.

This is important to me because I don't have a strong enough cash flow to buy yarn in enough quantity to get the kind of discounts that make weaving profitable. By picking a cone at a time from her candy store, I don't have per-color minimum order requirements, either.

It's all part of a bigger plan to turn me into a self-sufficient weaver without requiring a lot of money. I'll be weaving this batch of thread into cloth and sewing that cloth into sample merchandise to sell in Annie's booth at the Southern Renaissance Faire in April.

She's hiring me to work in her booth, too. I'll get feedback on my designs on weekends, and sew up new, modified merchandise during the weeks. By the end of the show, I hope to have no cloth left, little merchandise, a bit of money, and good ideas about how to design for the next show in September.

[Look at all my yarn!]

[The colors that I'm using for the first batch of my own cloth. The back row is a multi-brown warp, front row is a variety of wefts.]

[Yarns in front of my muse, the forest]

[Random colors to fill out the palette and let me weave samples with variety.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Busy Thinking

I haven't been blogging much this month. The big realization from earlier in the month is still ringing in my brain: the organization that runs the spiritual sanctuary where I live needs some deep organizational help. I've spent a good chunk of my time this month developing models to help us prioritize the work of redeveloping our infrastructure.

The model that I've decided is most generally helpful is based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The theory states that lower level needs must be met before higher levels can be reliably sustained. I'm writing it all up into a small booklet for informal discussion during our semi-annual general meeting, The Great Circle.

[Wolf Creek Sanctuary Hierarchy of Needs, Rough Draft]

The other chart I've been developing is an org chart for the various committees so newcomers can understand how it all fits together.

[Nomenus Org Chart, Rough Draft]

If you happen to be familiar with this organization, you'll notice a new title here, Artist in Residence. This community has talked for years about developing such a program, so I am taking on that development task, under committee supervision, of course.

And weaving? It's production. After a planning snag that left me without weaving for a while, I'm back on my feet and dressing the loom to weave a bunch of black cloth.

Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the new yarn I got to do a batch of my own weaving.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What My Temper Has Taught Me

[Bluegreen water is flowing, flowing, flowing]

The last few days have taught me a lot as I come to realize that things in the organization that runs the sanctuary where I live are not as tidy as they sometimes seem. In the seven years since I was last active in this place, we have endured a period of absolute chaos at the hands of a couple rogue members who successfully hijacked the consensus process for a while. They drove longtime members away and created a situation where big pieces of our history and procedures were lost.

Those who were left have done their best to put the pieces back together. In some places there are gaps that are not readily apparent. Many things look the same as they ever were, but they aren't. Last week some of these gaps and illusions lined up together in important places and I felt like the ground was falling from beneath my feet. I responded with panic. I said a bunch of harsh things and angered the people who've worked so hard to get this place running again. I've apologized to those I could and tried to make amends. I think that nothing but hard work on my part is going to make those relationships right again.

What I've learned here, hopefully, is that assumptions can be sneaky. Here are some of the major ones that I didn't even know I was making:
- The minutes of a meeting may not reflect the whole of what happened there. Inaccuracies are easier to catch than omissions. If something "wasn't even mentioned", it could be that the secretary stepped away or forgot to click 'Save'. This isn't OK, but in an organization trying to recover from utter chaos, it's not far out of line, either.
- In particular, mayhem is diminished in the process of typing minutes. It's tough to convey fatigue and duress when transcribing minutes, so they disappear. A reading of those minutes makes motives and process appear very different than they really were.
- When recovering from a period of chaos, people want to think that everything is OK. They're doing the best job they can and the situation is better than it was. This reality caught me off guard. I assumed that everything really was OK, and that the problems I noticed must be intentional. I didn't realize how many deep problems were being accidentally swept under the carpet by new people who were focused on moving forward and making the good parts better.

In short, I made a woeful error in thinking I had the slightest idea where things stand at any level of this organization. I have had a suspicion that we need to redefine most of our processes from the ground up and document them afresh, separating them from the stream of meeting minutes. Now I'm sure of it. I'll be working with the various committees to do just that.

I'll also be working closely with the organization to determine if and how we need to release an official call for help. It's my opinion that we badly need it, but I'm going to wait for the input of others before I attempt to draft such a thing.

The personal plea of my last post still stands, however. If you are a member of this organization, especially a longstanding member, please consider calling into meetings and lending your voice. It has always been your right, though few have exercised it.

We have a Great Circle coming up and no plans for a Portland contingent that I know of. Won't you organize a satellite circle and call in to help? will contain up-to-date information about the circle as it comes together.

We need help with some other things, too. If you've got skills in recording minutes (typing), newsletter production, web development, or nonprofit organization, we could especially use your help. Just call in to a meeting or two and you'll rapidly find your place.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Call To Arms

[Sunset, "idealized" with filters]

This is a long post. If you have ever been involved in the Wolf Creek Sanctuary or care about its future, I strongly urge you to read it, pass it on, and think about contributing an hour or two a month to call into meetings and help save the historical culture of this community. Please join the nomenus-coco list. [] Please consider attending Great Circle. (Exact dates and location TBA.)

This piece is written in "blog style", the story of my thought process interwoven with the real content. Please don't mistake it for inflated ego.


Today is my first day back on the land and a big day in the story of my relationship with the organization that runs this place. People often attribute intelligence to me, and then expect that I am exceptionally observant and quick thinking.

These assumptions are not true. What I do have is a diverse life experience. I've done lots of very different things, most of them incorrectly at first, and sometimes learned from my mistakes. My years of experience with this organization gives me a good basis for understanding what works here to simultaneously empower individuals and the community as a whole.

The slow speed of my observational skill is catching up with me today.

Before I explain what triggered today's epiphany, I need to give a little context. The Wolf Creek Sanctuary was structured in part on the philosophy of a man named Harry Hay. A large number of our processes are derived from a concept called subject-SUBJECT consciousness. In this framework, we understand that people come into every situation with the accumulated experiences of a lifetime. These experiences shape their perceptions of the situation and, therefore, their reactions to it. No matter how well people know one another, it is impossible to truly understand the others' realities, so we work to give people a voice in decisions that affect them.

This concept is at the root of our primary decision-making tool: consensus. In this process, the original proposal is modified in response to everybody's opinions until the proposal is agreeable to everyone. The point of consensus is to empower every person to have his needs met by the common experience. It is the only part of our organization that is so deep-rooted that it approaches dogma.

Or so it had been. (This is where my weak observational skills are disclosed.) I had assumed that these foundations were still respected and upheld, crediting repeated clues to the contrary to individuals' foibles.

I am catching up on email today and received an email to a group list that shook me deeply. One person was asking to change the date for the organization's highest meeting, the Great Circle, which is open to all members. The meeting is in two weeks, the date having been set by consensus during the last Great Circle in August and publicized widely since then. There are other, lower committee meetings where a proposal with such far-reaching consequences might have been discussed, but it was never brought up.

And then a light bulb came on... This message had been sent two days ago with no apology, not even a nod toward the process. And there was not much of a response. Nobody seems to care, either about the date of the meeting or about how the change is being handled. The people who met in August and decided on the date are having their voices completely disregarded. Those who pencilled in the date but don't happen to be among the very few members of the group list are being completely ignored along with everyone else who may have planned on attending. If people have made plans to travel from other cities, they'll be disappointed, wasting their money and perhaps leaving the organization in disgust at our inept handling of even the most basic functions.

And nobody else seems to be noticing what this kind of loose decision-making could mean. It's as if this level of disregard has become commonplace...

Then I started looking back at various interactions over the last six months. A dire picture is coming into view: people have in fact been driven from the organization in droves. "Spin" is often given more weight than consensus, which has almost no effect on people's day-to-day actions. The feeling of community, of people working together toward common goals, is almost completely absent.

I've been assuming that the most fundamental foundations of this organization were still respected because all of the committees exist and have the same names. I've assumed that we were still running this place according to the principles that we've used since the beginning, and that appeals to respect the wishes of individuals would be heard and acted upon. I've assumed that certain people who have attacked and insulted me for insisting that the process should inform our actions were the outliers.

Now I see another picture. Even the officers of the organization do not appear to respect our most basic principles. The consensus process has become largely farcical, a vestige trotted out when it's needed to placate the few of us who recall its purpose. Otherwise, it's catch-as-catch-can. People seem to do what they want personally and strong-arm those who might disagree. Blatant disregard of consensus has, indeed, become commonplace. Simultaneously, we've lost almost all of our vibrant members, left to start over again without a respect for our history or even a conscious plan to abandon our heritage. (I could support these changes if they had been made consciously.)

The people are already gone who had enough historical perspective to realize that this change would lead to losing the gentle, open dialog in which all people have an equal voice. No longer are the sensitive folk nurtured and respected, knowing that they can find their power here. And so they've left, taking the soul of our organization with them. The "spin" would tell you that they left during the previous era of tyrannical rule under the thumb of an insane president. This story is doubtful to me now, or they would have returned at his ouster. Perhaps they tested the waters and fled again in disgust at the culture that had arisen.

I cannot let our history be lost without a fight!

I can't believe that bullying and disrespect serve us better than the gentle, empowering discourse that we used for the first 20 years of this organization. Yes, consensus is painful and difficult, fraught with personal growth. So are most things that are worthwhile. I refuse to believe that it's too late to keep this organization from turning into another place where the "weak" among us are oppressed and ignored in favor of "progress".

Our processes were set up with much care and thought by our founders. Many people have poured years of their lives into this place within the context of these processes. We need the processes back. Without them, the work of our hands is unguided flagellation, often leading the community further and further from anything that might be called "radical".

I will be doing everything in my power to rejuvenate our membership. We need people to join the committees. We need people to care about HOW we do things as much as WHAT we do. We need to refresh the institutional memory of the policies and procedures that lead to individual empowerment, bolstering up the people who are called "weak" in the rest of the world. It's the sensitive people who have often provided the deepest insight. We need to make this place safe for them again, something like a sanctuary.

If you are a past or current member of this organization, won't you join me? We really need your help. Call into meetings and lend your energy to our decision-making process. If you value subject-SUBJECT reality and the consensus process, please help me in the struggle to bring them back to life in the culture of the sanctuary. Consensus requires diverse opinions in order to be powerful. Please get involved and provide them.