My name is Rowan Alexander Dakota. I don’t usually use my middle name, but I like having it because it means my initials are R.A.D. I am 21 years old and I’m currently enrolled at Piedmont Virginia Community College. It’s outside of Charlottesville, Virginia and near the University of Virginia. I’m in two degree programs right now. In a bit more than a year’s time I’ll have an associate’s degree in computer science and engineering.
What was your major originally?
Originally, I didn’t know what I wanted to get a degree in. I was on track to get an associates in liberal arts, but that degree didn’t move me. I felt like I was just going to PVCC and getting that degree because it was expected of me, not because I wanted to.
Back then, a member at Twin Oaks had been teaching me for some time (separate from PVCC). He taught me things like U.S. history, Latin, and most recently computer programming. I think I was sitting in his room, talking to him one day about my dissatisfaction with getting a liberal arts degree when he said to me, “Why don’t you get a programming degree?”
It seemed like such an obvious thing to do. I really enjoyed programming with him. I liked the challenge, making cool games (we made games), and that sometimes it hurt my brain. So, I switched degree programs and haven’t looked back since.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in an intentional community or hippy commune (as I usually describe it). We’re about a hundred people who all live together and share just about everything. We share income, cars, and friendship (aww). We don’t have a central religion. That is, you don’t have to follow a specific religion to live at Twin Oaks. We don’t discourage people from any religion but we also don’t make anyone be religious. But, yeah, we all live together and try to be nice to each other and so far, it has worked out pretty well: we’ve been around for more than fifty years.
How do you feel about how the community has shaped your outlook as you face university now?
I don’t know. I feel like this is one of those questions that’s a bit hard to answer. I do know that in one of my first classes at PVCC my teacher said I add diversity to the class. I thought that was a little weird. I’m a straight white male who adds diversity. So, I suppose Twin Oaks has shaped my outlook in such a way that I see things differently enough from people that I add diversity.
Twin Oaks was everything for me growing up. It was the environment I lived in, it was the food I ate, it was the people I met. I think it is safe to say that I would be an entirely different person if I was raised somewhere else.
When I was younger I would often play with my friends outdoors. Twin Oaks is a fairly large place and the vast majority of it is wilderness. We would go wandering in the woods or down by the stream. We have a pond and me and the rest of the kids would often go swimming in it. Now that I’m older I still like taking long walks in the forest. It sets me at ease.
What sort of world view do you hold?
What sort of world view do I hold? Hum. Well, I’m firmly liberal. I think that something closer to socialism would probably be better for our country. The issue with that is that I don’t know much about politics or varying forms of government. I guess, well, here’s my world view: I believe that most people in the world are kind and will help you if given the chance. I think I get those beliefs and values from growing up at Twin Oaks.
Can you tell me a little bit about your perspective of the community and how or if the perspective of others comes into conflict when you talk about where you grew up?
I think most of the time when I tell people about where I grew up they are more curious than judgemental. In fact, out of all the people I’ve told I don’t think any of them have judged me in a negative manner because of my upbringing. I think it helps that Twin Oaks is somewhat well known around here. We sell tofu and hammocks, so people usually know something of us through that.
Sometimes I will talk to people who have very different world views than I do. I’ve made friends at PVCC who are hard core republicans or members of the NRA, but usually we just don’t talk about those sorts of things. I found that you can find common ground with just about anyone if you try hard enough.
Given your university experience now, how do you feel having had the experience of Twin Oaks?
Piedmont Virginia Community College is difficult. Growing up at Twin Oaks I never had to work full quota or had much expected of me so going to college has been an adjustment. Before going to PVCC I’d never been to any sort of formal schooling before, so I remember on my first day being paralyzed with fear. I was trying to listen to everything but I wasn’t taking in anything. It got better though. It is difficult, challenging, and stressful sometimes but I think I’m becoming a more resilient person through this process. I feel like I’ve become much more productive as well. I’ve learned a lot too.
What’s your relationship like with today’s technology? What’s your take on it?
I think it is fairly difficult to live in the modern world without a pretty intimate relationship with technology and I’m no exception. I am less plugged in than most kids my age though. I don’t have a cellphone, Facebook, or any sort of social media account.
Wait, that’s not entirely true, I do have a Facebook account. I haven’t gotten on it in years and I’ve forgotten the password, username, and email that I used to set it up, but I do have one.
So, like I said, I’m getting a computer science degree, and I spend almost all my time on my laptop, but I think that if I didn’t do anything on any sort of screen I would be a much better person. I have this dream of one day moving back to Twin Oaks and getting rid of my laptop and all my game consoles.
What’s your take on the larger, secular culture you find yourself in now?
Everything that president Trump has brought out in our country is frightening. I live right next to Charlottesville, Virginia where the alt-right protest and counter protest happened just about a year ago. That was scary. A lot of people from Twin Oaks went in support of the counter protesters. They came back bloody and beaten. My brother went. So, that concerns me. I’m concerned that we have a president who knows nothing about politics. I’m concerned that people are so distracted by him that Republicans can quietly push through terrible laws.
But I don’t think that represents the culture that I’m currently in. The people at PVCC are hard working, intelligent, kind people. And it’s nice to sit next to them and write responses to interview questions.
What’s it like relating to others who don’t have that community background?
It’s not that difficult. Sometimes I feel like people have poorer communication skills than those in community but I think that is to be expected. I think people in community work hard to get across the meaning they are trying to convey.
Who were some of your heroes or significant figures in your life growing up?
I know this is going to sound silly, but my dad is kind of my hero. He fixes things. He fixes buildings, relationships, and injustice! But seriously, I admire how outgoing he is and how competent he is. It is often difficult for me to have a good conversation with people but it comes easily to him. It is hard for me to stand up to people but he does it all the time. I often feel incompetent but he always rises to a challenge.
What’s your take on relationships in general?
I don’t quite know how to answer this question. I myself enjoy conversations with people. I find it a bit tricky at times but it feels very rewarding.
I think a lot of the hardships in the world come just from miscommunicating, or just not being able to get your point across. There was this one series of fantasy books I read awhile ago that had this godlike race of beings. They were very powerful but they also had a more enlightened society. This came from the fact that they could communicate fully with each other. They could do something like consensual telepathy. When they were doing this, they couldn’t hide anything from each other and their every meaning was fully understood by the other. I think this sounds neat and if we could do something like that there would be fewer problems in the world.
Is the sense of community something you actively seek out?
I don’t know. I already have a community at Twin Oaks so maybe I’ve just never been put in the sort of situation where I have to seek out community. I definitely seek out interactions with people. I seek out a sense of belonging. But I think that’s something that everybody does. That’s one of the tiers in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
What might you change if you were part of the creative process of a forming intentional community?
That’s a good and tricky question. I kind of like Acorn’s style of policy. I don’t think they have any written policy. They meet (maybe every day) and have a community meeting to figure stuff out. That sounds like it could be nice. I feel like Twin Oaks is a bit mired in policy. But, policy also grants stability. Recently, there was a huge exodus of people from Acorn because a couple of people with strong personalities where changing the community. I think it would take a lot to change Twin Oaks because of our reams of policy. That can be a good and a bad thing.
I feel like you need one rule and that’s just to be kind. But then you get into definitions of what it means to be kind. I don’t know. Making an intentional community that lasts is hard. I don’t think I have the skills or knowledge needed to do so.
When you are ready to create a family, would you raise them in Twin Oaks?
I do imagine myself returning to Twin Oaks after a time. I think of this exertion out into the real world as just that, an exertion. I’m venturing out but I think I’ll come back. So, I think if I did have kids I’d probably have them at Twin Oaks. There was some comedian who said that you should raise your kids the same way you were raised because then you’d know how they’d turn out. That’s a good reason to raise kids at Twin Oaks. I think I turned out alright so hopefully they would too.
Also, I think in the outside world parents don’t spend a whole lot of time with their kids. They kind of just ship them off to school when they go to work. At Twin Oaks taking care of kids counts as work so you do get to spend a lot more time with your kid. And you can bring your kid to work with you. I started working with my dad when I was about 6 or 8 and it was pretty fun. We built houses and sheds, and we’d take stuff to the dump. If I had a kid I think I’d want to pass on those skills as well as spend that quality time with them. I don’t know if you can do that outside of Twin Oaks.
If you have any, what might your plans be for the future?
My future is a bit amorphous right now. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do. But here are my current plans. I’m going to get a computer science and engineering degree from Piedmont Virginia Community College. Then I’m going to transfer to UVA and get a degree in computer science from them. After that I’m hoping to get some sort of job in programming. For a while (and maybe still) I wanted to be a game designer. If I went that route I think I’d want to move to California and try to work for Turtle Rock Studios. But I don’t know. Engineering has also been really fun so I’ve just started playing with the idea of doing something in that field.
After I’ve left college and gotten a job I kind of want to keep learning stuff. I’d like to learn how to be a plumber, an electrician, and how to fix cars. I’m planning on eventually coming back to Twin Oaks and I’d like to bring useful skills back with me. Twin Oaks always needs more plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics.
So those are my plans. I feel like I might start down one path and then life will happen and I’ll end up doing something totally different. So, I really don’t know what I’ll be doing. My main goal in life, though, is to make myself, and those around me, happy. I plan on continuing to do that into the future and beyond.