Besides having no house, no bed, no toys, no electricity or indoor plumbing, no money, not enough food, not getting to call your mom “Mom”, getting punished and spanked by random strangers, getting 3rd world parasites – you also get, drum roll please: no childhood photos! That you’re not even in.
In these communal days, when our parents moved there, they signed a Vow of Poverty and had to give up everything they owned to the commune. All their money, car, tools, furniture, books – everything was was handed over to be communal. Anyone who had a camera, that was taken and given to “The Media Crew”. You could only take photos if you were one of the few people on that crew with a camera. Most people were doing hard and tedious labor, on farming crews sweating in the hot sun out in the fields, building crews, baking, firewood, sucking shit out of hundreds of outhouses, etc, etc. A few lucky people were entrusted to the awesome easy job of taking photos – for the whole commune, since it was a commune and all, and everything was communal. The people who got to take photos used equipment and film the community provided, ate the food the field workers grew, lived in the houses the builders built, shat in the outhouse the shitter truck crew cleaned, sent their kids to the school the commune built and teachers teached at, living completely off the hard labor of their community, while they snapped pictures of people hard at work, kids at play, whatever they wanted. These were our photos, all of our communal photos.
I didn’t even know anyone had a camera. I thought only visitors had otherworldly alien technology like cameras. I am not in one of these thousands of communal photos. And that never bothered me much because, well, there was thousands of people, it’s understandable the Camera Crew didn’t get a picture of everyone. But, although not actually in any of them myself, I can completely relate to the pictures, and almost pretend I’m in them – kids on horse wagons going down dirt roads – one of my earliest memories, a mother walking her little kids to The Store for rations exactly like my mother did when the roads were dusty and the trees were only that big, the pictures of the fields and skinny hairy people working in them just like I remember, lines of odd hippy hillbilly traffic at the gate, the noisy soy dairy making tofu, the giant greenhouse vibrating with plant life that I loved, Services where I sat in a meadow trying not to fidget every Sunday morning with hundreds of meditating hippies, the creeks I learned to swim in – these are my precious childhood photos, that the Camera Crew took.
I don’t know if my birth mother had a camera when she arrived and handed over everything. We only have a handful of photos from the communal days that my grandparents and a few visitors took.
My mother wasn’t on the camera crew, she woke us up at 5 in the morning to drag us to The Woodshop to make breakfast for the Building Crew, up to The Gate for long gate duty hours, into the hot fields for farming, over to households infested with lice for nitpicking, to the hot bakery for bread baking, washing households of shitty diapers, stuff like that, no sweet leisurely job like taking photos.
So when the communal structure crumbled and everyone went scrambling, although the shitter truck guys who had to suck up the shit of the camera crew guys during the communal days get nothing tangible in retrospect, all the hard laborers get nothing, people who handed over their entire inheritance get nothing, one of the camera guys wants all the communal photos to be “his” and only his and he wants to hide and “protect” them from the world. While the people he took photos of shedding blood, sweat and tears for him to survive on during those years get nothing, he claims the communal photos as his. The photos he took DURING the COMMUNAL years, not before or after the communal years, but during, while no one else had a camera or the opportunity to take photos of this incredible historic time.
Yep. So then, hundreds of kids who did not sign the Vow of Poverty or ask to grow up entrusting a tiny handful of people to take their childhood photos for them, get no childhood photos of their extremely unique amazing childhood -even though there’s thousands of them. Even though this man did indeed sign the Vow of Poverty and agree to live communally, he claims the communal photos as his. He says he’s copyrighted them. He threatened and harassed me into deleting them from my Growing Up on a Hippy Commune blog. I cried a little as I deleted them, feeling it as a very sad loss.
I’m happy I grew up in communal poverty, but I’m not happy I don’t get to feel like the photos of it are partly mine to treasure and share with the world. It’s actually sickening. Despite all the crazy hardships growing up like that, this – this is just the most ridiculous. Childhood officially stolen.
Sit holed up in a dark cave with your precious photos, hiding them from the world, stroking them, repeating “mine, mine” til they rot.
I can tell my growing up on a commune stories without them.
Although I’ve heard he claims photos as his that he didn’t even take, I have erased all the photos he claims as “his” and his name from my blog. When I publish my stories into an actual book, if I use photos, I will license and credit only photos from other photographers, who have not gone on a desperate selfish rampage trying to claim all the communal photos as theirs. I might do some illustrations as well 🙂
Now back to Growing Up on a Hippy Commune, new story coming super super soon. 🙂
The grownups all hate me for sucking my thumb. Even stranger grownups I don’t know. They all hate me because for some reason, thumbsucking makes you a horrible person, though why, is a mystery to me.
What do I do? I can barely breathe, this is so shocking and amazing. This is definitely the biggest deal that’s ever happened to me. What do you do to get your picture taken? How do I act? This is the most important thing I’ve ever done and I don’t want to ruin it but I’m not sure what I should do. I stop talking and just stand there and don’t do anything and he snaps my picture. It is over very fast, before I know it or can think too much harder about it. It didn’t hurt and I don’t feel too different. Actually, I feel worlds different. Someone took my picture! I can’t believe it! This is absolutely incredible! The excitement of being the focus of this magic technology fills my whole body and I feel so special, floating and smiling all day. I hug my mom as a new person who’s had their picture taken and can barely fall asleep that night in our bus wondering all about the picture. What will it look like? I cannot wait to see it. How will I ever be able to sleep or rest from the jittery excitement until I see it?
(Note: I was trying to write stories in chronological order, but give up on that. It will all have to be edited into order later.)
Everyone who lived here had to take a vow of poverty and give everything they had to the community. All money and possessions were communal. Some of the things we had in our bus were secret. Our peacock feather wasn’t secret but it should be, staring at it’s incredible beauty shining in the sunlight was one of my favorite things. My mom brought it from New York and we were so lucky she got to keep it. I hope we get to keep it always. Positioned in the bus windows above my bed, I wanted to look at it’s iridescent colors forever.
Deborah had other beautiful treasures I liked to look at. The illegal jewelry that she was suppose to have gotten rid of because you weren’t suppose to have fancy things like jewelry. But she still had some of her most special jewelry in a little box. Somehow I knew she felt kind of grumbly about “them” wanting her to get rid of her things that she really loved – like the earrings her good friend gave her. I was completely enthralled with these big silver diamond shapes with little bells. Some of the neatest things I’d ever seen. I loved taking them out and fantasizing about wearing them someday. My mom had pierced ears but she couldn’t wear them or people would see she still had them. We had to keep them hidden in this little box. I liked our secret treasure.