Wiggles on Collective Living, Terraforming, and Shabbiness

The Starship or something like it is going into its third year as a collective in Worcester. In many ways I feel as though the first two years it has been trying to figure itself out and struggle through all sorts of meandering attentions, diverging conceptions of collectives, and such biznaz.
In many ways I don’t really think any of us could hold sync with one another for very long- despite trying very hard to iron things out. Part of this is probably because we started our collective with mostly students- who are notoriously transient, semi-productive, and busy. Another is that we moved so often from place to place- often to places that didn’t end up being all that great for housing large amounts of people seeking to abuse spaces for strange projects.

Anyway, that’s besides the point. Our collective finally seems to have settled into a home we are happy with and we have a crew that often finds itself coincidentally in step with one another while giving room for personal projects. As we moved into the new space we had a retreat to discuss what the hell we wanted out of living at the Starship and what sorts of mutual awesomeness we wanted to crank out. Now when social justice folks say to you “do you want to come on a (insert various organization) retreat??” you should always decline because ‘retreat’ is anarchist slang for ‘even longer meeting that usual.’

However, this time we sat in our disturbingly barren new home’s living room and talked about things in a painless if not wholly coherent manner. We made a big ol’ list of projects we were excited about on a white board- and decided that for now our main collective efforts would go towards 1. Terraforming 2. Writing.

And thus a shabby day of cohesion was born for the Starship.

Shabbiness, writing, and terraforming perhaps need further explanation. I’ll start with terraforming.  Our collective has through sheer momentum and millennial destiny become obsessed with science fiction. Some combination of Okra book club books, Dianne Rocheleau, PM Press, the HX, and Swamp Thing has created a household with a big appetite for goofy space themes mixed with politics. It’s ya know… called the Starship X.

For our varied reasons many of the Starship’s crew are into some form of food growin, green-radicalism, or ecotinkering of some sort. Maybe it’s Earthseed, maybe its autonomous community resilience, maybe it’s just carrots. Either way we think about plants and dirt and such. So in sci fi- in particular Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy- terraforming is when you land on a planet and try to make it ‘earth like’- a livable ecosystem for humans. That’s our mission for now- to make Worcester a livable ecosystem.  The implications of such an idea are much greater than we are capable of – but we consider ourselves part of a larger network in the city also trying to make Worcester work for the people who live here.

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Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

                We also want to write about the process- and about lots of stuff in general. The HX, Happiness Pony, the Writer’s Bloc, and this blog are beginning to all sync up. Mike calls it ‘leverage’- but I think it’s just things occasionally linking. The collective wanted to work on creating fiction and non-fiction – and have it be linked to our projects, both in the house and in the city. If we are terraforming this post-industrial yet still very capitalist city- we’re gonna have to have some sort of sweet captain’s log. Right? Because if we fail here or succeed (and we will do both frequently), we need to let people know so they can learn from various projects, models, and experiments. What good is terraforming if the only livable space is the Starship’s space? Pshh. Like none. Duh.

So we are putting our grimy projects out there. We are tinkering with growing food in strange ways, squabbling with toxic soil and limited land, and striving to make eco-punk its own ill defined thing. Our efforts at sustainability, understanding ecology, and various forms of radical crap are somewhat different from others. They are shabby.

By shabby I mean that while lots of people are running permaculture institutes, ecovillages, woodsy collectives,  organic farms or urban community gardens, or even doing whatever the hell producer awesomeness they do at the Shop- we trying things out in just a normal house next to Park Ave. We can’t build anything especially crazy, our space is limited and full of lead, and except for two of us we all have jobs. So our projects are shabby. We are experimenting in how useful all these green projects guides are in terms of such shabbiness. And we are documenting them for others to shabbily try for themselves. So we do things like fill 12 crates with compost, tie them to the railings of our triple decker and see if squash can grow in a cubic foot of soil.

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The CrateCumbers Descend!

                Already our attempts at Terraforming are having an impact. The next door neighbors have started an ‘arms race’ between us and them over who has the most badass strange plant experiments.

First we got bees and 2 raised beds. Then they got a garden plot and herb patch. We started 2 more raised beds, growing mushrooms, and created a vertical squash garden and watering system. They got four white grape vines. WHO WILL WIN?!

In the end what matters is that we make Worcester livable for all living things – an idea that values our collective efforts at urban ecological resiliency as well as our various individual projects in community organizing and building.  Here in a funny sort of way there is a slight link between a socially just world and an ecologically sound one- strengthened for us perhaps by science fiction as much as it is any sort of radical spirit.

As Alan Moore wrote in Swamp Thing Annual #2 ‘Down Amongst the Dead Men’:

“There are people.

There are stories.

The people think they shape the stories, but the reverse is often closer to the truth.”

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-Shane

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