Note Bene

Twin Oaks’ writing culture appeals to me. Mostly. We have a variety of structures in place to write to each other here; optimistically, this allows people to get in touch faster, communicate to a broader swath of the community (most of our written infrastructure developed pre-internet, of course). The darker perspective, and one I don’t really buy most of the time, is that we wish to avoid face-to-face communication with one another, so have created elaborate systems to not have to do so.

Woowooealistically, it has been pointed out that Twin Oaks, “born” on June 16th, is a Gemini, which in astrology is the sign noted to be most communicative, especially using written language. (Incidentally, June 16th is also Bloomsday, the date in which James Jocye’s Ulysses is set. On at least one occasion, our anniversary celebrations included a reading from the novel, and one time a group of a few folks, including myself, made vows to read the whole book by the following June 16th. I did not succeed, though it turned out I was in good company in my failure.)

Our most central written communication, and the one that has garnered the most press in people’s writings about Twin Oaks, is the O&I board. The letters in the title of the board are ambiguous now, whether or not the originators of the thing knew what they were supposed to stand for once upon a time. Opinions and ideas, or opinions and information – it’s probably one of those. The board itself is comprised of 12 clipboards hanging on hooks, and it’s where we hash out our political values, what are the implications of such and such policy change, how we’ve budgeted our money and hours for the coming year. Although it embarrasses me to admit it, I avoid the O&I board as I would avoid a guest known to have scabies, thinking of it as a tactic to improve my chances for a long and relatively stress-free life in community. When I have gotten sucked into the O&I, I have grown quickly irritated at people I really like, keeping myself awake thinking stupid things like “why the f*** would Fulana actually write that?! Should I respond?” and then crafting perfect paragraphs of retort and rebuttal in my dreams. No, thank you.

We also have the 3×5 board, so named because it is sized to hold 3×5 index cards.  There’s probably a photo of this somewhere but I didn’t take one because it’s not really what this post is about.  The board is for all kinds of communication among members: “hey, come work in my area!” is an increasingly prevalent plea.  ”Lost sweater!” “Thanks for the mystery bag of dried mango, whoever put it in my mailbox!”  etc.  The most time-sensitive 3x5s commingle on the Today Board section.  Unlike the O&I board, the 3×5 board brings me neither special dread nor anxiety, and I will stare at it more or less contentedly for a few minutes a day to find out what’s going on in people’s lives.

But for me, the greatest appeal of our written culture is in the notes we leave. Notes are everywhere here, in all capacities. We put them up to remind ourselves to do things, we tape them to things we want to give away, we are constantly sending out these little messages to our future selves. And some of them are so telling. I became entranced with our notes almost immediately after moving here, and promised I would, at some point, spend a year photographing every note I saw. As previously disclosed, I don’t have a great track record with that kind of promise. But I have managed to photograph some.

Take the classic, this Broken Glass sign:


It is a norm here that when someone breaks something glass or ceramic on a floor (or sometimes the ground), co will write a note and post it by the break after sweeping up. This sign, very straightforward, nevertheless says several things about the Twin Oaks’ culture.

  1. Observe that the poster is concerned about people with bare feet stepping on the glass.

  2. Now observe that the note was written in JANUARY. Maybe we were having a mild winter, but more likely, this writer knew that more than a few people here take it as a point of pride not to wear shoes all year long. Yes, even walking barefoot in the snow.

  3. The note is signed meticulously with the time, date, and even year, but no name. We are encouraged even as Twin Oaks visitors to sign and date all notes posted. Yet somehow broken dish notes typically fly under this radar. So, so often a note without a name will be posted somewhere, and less than an hour late a tiny urging in someone else’s handwriting will appear underneath it: “posted by?” We strive for accountability…but perhaps have opted to let things slide when it comes to the inevitable broken dish. Must we call ourselves out on the proverbial carpet each and every time such a sad mistake is made? No. So long as other members are warned not to step in any pieces of broken dish missed by the stubby broom and crooked-lipped dustpan, you’re off the hook.

Another seemingly neutral sign that says a lot about us:


Affixed to a dresser shoved outside an SLG when it was no longer needed in its previous location.  I grabsed it up quick for my daughter’s room, because working drawers are indeed a rare find in a dresser here.

Here are a couple more good ones:


Later on, someone came along and added in the “be,” and so I was very glad to have gotten a picture before that. I don’t know if the chair ever saved.



Occasionally, someone reading a magazine will become so incensed that co will defiantly write something directly on the page as if in dialog with the people who published the material: 


Last one, for now:


I swear everything in this photo was configured exactly in this arrangement when I came along to snap a picture of this sign.  For a while there was an additional, pointy-arrowed note above this one that read, “Sign for Peg for Clean Cloth,” but someone who doesn’t appreciate silliness as much as I do took it down, I guess.

Hopefully this blog will become motivation for me to bring my camera around with me more so as not to miss the best notes that crop up.