• Kylie Blu

Steps Towards Communities of Care: Reclaiming Valentines Day

documented experiment no 1.

In the realm of creating community, finding chosen kinship and building networks of support as an alternative to the isolated, overworked nuclear units core to American excellence, I am interested in trying everything.

The answer that seems to resound loudly every time I ask myself, how can I grow and leave assumptions that no longer serve me behind, is to: eagerly walk towards actions that put me in the midst of people who are trying to do the same thing.

We wanted to have this party partly because we wanted a woodsy V-day event, and mostly because by being in the act of creation with people who also want to reclaim love beyond coupledom, we could maybe get closer to figuring out how to do that.

So with that seed of thinking, me and my homie Ben started to bring in collaborators who we saw as people living into an alternative to traditional expectations around love.

The “We’re All About Love” party on February 13th 2022

Inspired by belle hooks and Audre Lorde’s writing on love and the erotic, we gathered 11 collaborators and their friends to an interactive, interwoven party in the Berkeley hills.

The invite wrote, “we’re a group of loosely-organized friends who share an inspiration: Love and the Erotic deserve more than a consumerist holiday dominated by awkward, unsatisfying conventions — so we’re doing something about it.”

We found our party home in the dreamy post-rain Northern California Eucalyptus forest. Amongst baby miners lettuce bursting into heart shapes, grass up to our ankles, the sun holding on until 6 PM, we opened our hosting hearts to 50 or so participants.

Following the dirt path down to the party, was a dome woven in birch and willow with circular doors. Carved in wood were the words, “we’re all about love.” Underneath the sign were eucalyptus branches, and an invitation to weave them through the dome.

Across the grassy way was a bulletin board with the title, “self-love letters.” Markers, colored pencils, paper awaited someone looking for a quiet, introspective moment.

Next to the speakers, was a scavenger hunt, and sweet potatoes. There were games where we could play patty cakes with our eyes locked, journal what we see in the box (a mirror), play a game of: ‘we go way back.’

To the right, was a ring of people playing improv games. Each person took turns telling a story, sentence by sentence, alternating between starting the sentence with “fortunately” then “unfortunately.” It so seemed that, a fortunate yet unfortunate frog was named the protagonist.

At the center of the space was an altar, where a giant pomelo made its debut inside a ring of flowers, amongst fruits and dried herbs. Later it would transform into the central hub of a moonlit dance party. And further along, against the backdrop to the fading sun, was a clothesline drying the red-pink tie-dyed linen from madder root.

Potions were brewed, cocoa, heart opening hibiscus, rose and echinacea tea. A slender path walked us into a workshop where we could forage for plants to use and tickle the senses whilst having conversations on consent and platonic touch.

At the end of the path, over a few logs was a clearing of pillows to rest on and a metal tank drum to play on, and a lake under a setting sun.

I heard around me at least four different times, people in surprise who had just run into an old friend. Learning that this community we’re in, is a web, interlaced, and strong with its many connections.

Decentralized Collectivized Party Planning

Amongst the many questions I have around how to live, work, and plan collectively, two pressing questions come up for me:

How do we decentralize the work so that no one individual in the group is holding most of the labor and most of the decision making power?

How can people in the group feel like they have enough structure to be informed and make their own decisions on behalf of themselves and the group but not too much structure where they feel limited to a point of inaction?

When discussing how to experiment with these questions through this party, Ben and I came up with a framework where the two of us held down general party logistics like: the invite, the location, organizing and connecting the collaborators. The collaborators would be the ones holding down the “content” of the party with what they felt excited to share.

We started out without knowing what the party would look like, but held the vision of collaborating on a celebration to honor love outside of traditional norms.

A meta-goal that Ben and I had was to deepen relationships with people we were curious about. So we looked at our network and reached out to people we saw often and people we knew through friends. We asked people who were experienced builders, and lovers of community and friendship love. Nine of the ten people we asked enthusiastically said yes!

A surprise bonus was how generative the conversations were with each of the collaborators. I got to learn about people’s developing ideas around love and partnership as well as how they communicated those ideas into creative projects. As well as hearing perspectives around group collaboration, and the difficulties that came up for people when creating a decentralized space.

This project brought up more questions than answers around, how do we do this thing of collectivizing parties, then life? I don’t think there are clear cut answers to this question, and there is an importance of trying to express our current understandings of this question with as much nuance and complexity, to what might be true.

Take Aways

Post party, Ben and I hosted two debriefs to accommodate the schedules of 11 people. What I am sharing below are not all of the lessons learned or all the paths to explore next. What I am sharing are a few personal take aways I’ve found in this process of exploring an expansive love through a community-led party. The process includes all aspects of this experience from envisioning, planning, meeting, gathering and the post-party friendships.

Authentic Relationships are the point

There were so many moments during this process where I laughed cried, yelled ‘omg yesss!’ gave and received hugs and was witnessed for my quirks and sometimes, un-collaborative decision making.

What I love about creating connections through co-creation vs coffee shop hangs, is that we get to bump up against each others edges and tug on the other’s tensions. I learned about discomforts, unmet desires and preferred methodologies that I was completely unaware of.

Party planning was a context outside of our friendship where I could understand more intimately, the inner workings of people who I admire.

It also dawned on me that some of the difficulties that were named in the debrief like feeling unsure about how to ask for help, or how to ask to contribute differently, could be made easier through deepened relationship.

And that as we try to define for ourselves, love and networks of support outside of a few, one way for us to deepen with each other, is to engage in work that puts us in a place where we are intentionally intertwining on a project.

Intertwining like, relying and being relied on to wrap around.

When we practice the art of intertwining, we build webs that support the work we’re trying to do. So in a cyclical fashion, we work together and build authentic relationships and work on authentic relationships to build better together.

Collective ownership can be the intention, but the structure that supports that intention is maybe more important

One hope I have for myself is to practice many forms of collective ownership throughout my life. I had a vision from the get-go of creating a party planning collective. Soon after, I recognized that the collective I was dreaming up needed to claim itself outside of me.

Within our dominant culture, we are practiced in private ownership models where the owner claims decision making powers as well as responsibility and recognition.

Although I had the intention of sharing responsibility and decision making power, I still found myself not only receiving most of the recognition for the party, but also making a lot of the larger decisions that would effect the entire group.

It made me wish we could have circled up with the group from the get go with the intention of collective ownership and decision making without having a vision of the project yet.

For the We’re All About Love party, it did make sense to have somewhat of a vision set in place because 1. the timeline was around 1.5 months to pull off the party and 2. many of our collaborators were people we hadn’t built trust and relationship with yet in a working-together context.

All in all, being able to collaborate with these wonderful friends imbued in me the conviction that working towards a cooperative mode of collaboration is still important. The two debriefs were difficult at times because they pointed out to me the gaps and spaces for growth that were tied to a structure that emerged out of a genuine desire to be collaborative but rooted in a culture that is unpracticed in cooperation. I also get that any cooperative model would still have many gaps and spaces to explore.

But what was made profoundly clear to me in those debriefs, is that when we create the space for more eyes we see more possibilities, with more ears we listen to more of what’s missing and with more voices we can create a much more complex and nuanced version of reality. And in this time of incomprehensible crisis, the practice of integrating an expansive web of experiences feels like the way to turn our “differences” into our strength. A culture of care when defined by a few is a culture of care for a few. A culture of care when defined by community is a culture of care for community.

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