Comments about Joe’s Play

To my new river to see a play
June 2009

My friend Joe Linton hasn’t been coming to our weekly potlucks and meetings for the last few months because he has been in rehearsal for a play. Since he’s not an actor, this has been an interesting development and he always sounds a bit scared about the whole thing. But last night a bunch of us carpooled and biked to a performance.

Even the box office was outdoors

Even the box office was outdoors

some of us biked

some of us biked

Joe is a river hero around here. He is incredibly knowledgable about the LA River ecosystem and wrote a highly respected book on the subject. He has actually kayaked the entire length, proving it is navigable. A longtime volunteer/staffer of Friends of the LA River (FOLAR), he is an artist. And gardener. And cook. But not an actor! (He did fine, was glad to see us.)

When we got there we saw some strange stuff at the end of the road.

two art installations for the river

two art installations for the river

A bunch of us got there an hour early to do an educational walk along the river. This section does have the usual concrete banks, but the bottom is natural because the water table is so high here they can’t get concrete to stay put. There are bike trails on both banks. My neighbor Randy is a bike messenger and rides here several times a week, especially likes it as a place to have lunch.

This section of the river is called Taylor Yard. Lots of water – it comes from a sewer reclamation plant upstream. “Toilet to tap” was such bad PR that they just dump the nice clean water in the river.

Taylor Yard

Taylor Yard

Access is awful, you can live close by, but have to drive miles and miles to get to the river. This is changing. We heard a lot about the plans to reclaim the river from its concrete straitjacket. And that’s sort of what the play was addressing. Characters included radicals with jackhammers, locals who did not want their neighborhoods changed by construction. (Plans call for hundreds of little feeder streets to direct foot traffic to the riverbank.) I was not allowed to take pictures of the performance.

Just before the walk ended I saw a great blue heron in the river. Then a heron was one of the first characters in the play. Notice how the bank drops off right behind the stage area to the right of KwanWu. They used the hidden bank as a backstage area. They even used the opposite bank of the river in one scene. But mostly they just used the road as the stage, in the area under the lights.

This salvaged car was part of the set

This salvaged car was part of the set

All the scenery and set design elements had been pulled out of the river, including the old car. Same with elements of the costumes. My favorite was a marvelous sea turtle whose carapace was covered with squashed beer cans.

The river takes center stage

The river takes center stage

These were used to make a house, too, as you see here, next to the band.

The most interesting element of set design was the river, which was in every scene. Almost everyone walked in it. Some characters swam or kayaked in it. It was the star of the play. The character who did not walk in it was in an electric wheelchair (Mallard). But she pulled an invisible monofilament string so her ducklings swam in it as they followed her.

Critters like Mallard, Ridley (turtle), Heron, etc. were all played by people, believably, except this excellent puppet played a river spirit and she was so fine! There was plenty of humor – one character was named Cachoo so every time she was introduced, the response was “God bless you.” Joe’s character was modelled on Joe.

A wonderful puppet had a role

A wonderful puppet had a role

Can’t describe the whole plot for you, but I can tell you how the play ends. The character called “Roger Vadim!” who opened the play admits that he’s not the famous director, drops his exaggerated French accent and his jackhammer and his radical ways. He pulls a photo out of his pocket and displays the Seine – a beautiful dramatic urban scene in Paris, with plenty of greenery, steps going down into the water, boats, fishermen, birds, tall buildings, walkers, streets. The idea that we could have a beautiful human-scale riverscape here in the great city of Los Angeles comes to life in a whole new way.

Wade, fish, swim, kayak in this river

Wade, fish, swim, kayak in this river

I found that there were tears running down my cheek. The entire performance was moving and thrilling and discreetly educational, rewarding and entertaining and heartwarming and alarming and something of a call to arms.

We were mostly freezing, even though the temp was around sixty, as the weather is quite damp (they call it the “June Gloom,” but the gardens benefit)… for an hour or so we were so engrossed we forgot the chill and the discomfort.

The Elizabeth will always feel like my home river, but it’s a thrill to encounter this same spirit of can-do must-do river restoration three thousand miles away, with hard work and a big heart and an intuitive feel for what it really takes to heal a river.

–Kathy Hill

Why We Show Up

After destaking the cork oaks on Vermont Avenue

After destaking the cork oaks on Vermont Avenue

Intro: At the December POG retreat I was asked to write this essay. I researched it mostly in social science and anthropology studies, so it can’t really be considered an opinion piece. It didn’t work for Transition Times so I am publishing it here. – Kathy Hill

Community: Is LAEV a Karass or a Granfalloon?
Why you should attend Community Meetings and Potlucks often

Community is vital for humans. Popular Ecovillage author Scott Peck said: “There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”

In Bokononism, a fictional religion in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, a “karass” is a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God’s will. A “granfalloon” is a false karass, a group of people who imagine they have a connection, but really do not. For example, Hoosiers are people from Indiana, and Hoosiers have no true spiritual destiny in common, so they really share little more than a name.

Think of the ways you have bonded with people in your life. Chances are it was in one of two ways, over food or through work. People who take meals together tend to meld. Potlucks may be LAEV’s foremost bonding ritual, allowing friendships to bloom without the pressure of an agenda. Participation in work parties, weekly meetings, committee work and other shared tasks strengthens these bonds.

A “community” is not just a social unit larger than a household, a group of people living near one another who interact; it is more cohesive than other forms of association, thanks to a unity of will. A high degree of cohesion distinguishes intentional communities (ICs) from other voluntary associations. Although an “accidental” community may form in time of crisis, an IC is, by definition, “a deliberate residential community with a much higher degree of social interaction than other communities, sharing a common vision, responsibilities and resources.” (WIkipedia.) People join or remain in ICs for the good of the group and its shared mission; it takes a high degree of social interaction to realize a community’s intentions.

Destaking cork oaks was hard work

Destaking cork oaks was hard work

Once any community gets started, there are two directions it can take. If members are present out of self-interest (low cost of living, convenient location or other benefit), the group loses cohesiveness, becomes deficient in critical interactions, and devolves into a looser association, neighbors who share little but their address; a feedback loop keeps making this worse. The community will dissolve.

If members become free enough to share, and secure enough to get along, their connectedness and growing social networks net them more social capital, so they interact more—the opposite feedback loop develops. This gradual process of community-building permits the group to live up to its highest purpose and it thrives.

What factors tell which path an IC takes, toward loose, random connections or tight, effective cohesion? The degree to which the values of a community are communicated and honored determines willingness of members to engage. Then tolerance, reciprocity, and trust encourage continued involvement and an investment of that social capital. These critical communications can only take place through face time: “interaction.”

Maintaining this sense of community is difficult, so other ICs use a wide variety of practices to encourage interaction, ranging from simple potlucks and small book clubs to large-scale festivals or major construction projects, because participation is the means by which parts learn to make an effective whole.

At the Los Angeles Eco-Village, many members contribute to the mission in hidden ways: working for environmental causes, going car-free, eating low on the food chain. These efforts are worthy, but they do not build community, develop cohesion, or foster unity. Only through participation in shared activities do we get to know, trust, and respect each other.
At our weekly meetings and potlucks, you are most likely to get to know and perhaps love the rest of your ecovillage family, hear the buzz, meet prospective members and other guests, and bond with these neighbors and friends in meaningful ways. Then, after a meal and a meeting, check out the under-development “Participation Matrix” that lists all the ways to volunteer your time.