Consumables #121 Reading: Starbird Murphy and the World Outside

My late teens/early twenties was a time when there was a lot of straight bullshit flying around. It was ridiculous. I mean, the DRAMA of it all. Even then, at the height of my own dramatic tendencies, I was like STAHHHHP, people. Everyone just calm yourselves, me included. I knew it wasn’t good, even as I fanned the flames of my own histrionics. It was like we were all compelled to be in a Melrose Place state of mind, which is a state of mind that Billy Joel could have written a more exciting song about, but is not a state of mind I would recommend. During this time, my pal Palindrome and I used to have long conversations about getting rich, buying an island, and starting a “Nice People Colony.” We would be the head cheeses of the Colony, and no one would be allowed to live there except people who were chill and kind, to us and in general. It would be drama free, if we could just control who we would be interacting with. Hmmm, if only in real life we could have controlled who we interacted with somehow, right? Like, perhaps with some sort of concept whereby one could set a kind of emotional boundary. But nah, I didn’t talk about setting emotional boundaries when I was 19. I went straight into talking about literal ocean boundaries with dictator-like immigration policies to solve my problems.

I know, that’s a bit unfair, because emotional boundaries help a lot in life, but if one is out in the world, engaged, living, interacting, then there are going to be bastards out there harshing your mellow no matter what. It’s just how it bes sometimes. So I suppose it’s a natural thing to fantasize about creating a little love bubble to live in with just your homies and you, where no one insults anyone’s mama or steals your lunch leftovers or what have you. It’s this sort of idea, among others, that makes me fascinated with communes and cults, especially the hippy dippy kind that seemed to proliferate in the 60s and 70s. You know the kind- the ones where people want to create their own Utopia via creating one large family and this takes the format of following a hairy dude with a god complex out into the woods somewhere.

This is the setting for the book I just read called Starbird Murphy and the World Outside, by Karen Finneyfrock. It’s fiction, but obviously well-researched when it comes to these types of communes and if you look hard may just be based on one that actually existed in Washington state. It tells the story of Starbird, a child raised her whole life in a place called the Free Family Farm. Starbird’s life has been a happy one, and she is a true believer in her community and its leader, whose name is EARTH. (Like, the name isn’t grandiose enough, he has to all-caps that shit too? Red flag, people). I really liked the details of this way of living throughout the story, and Finneyfrock is really evenhanded with her characters. There are a broad number of perspectives offered, and not a hint of condescension anywhere to be found, which was great. Plus, it’s a page turner. Starbird, in order to help her community, leaves it to work in the city, where she experiences mainstream culture for the very first time, which in turn starts to change some of her perspectives. Finding out which parts of her former life Starbird will stay loyal to and which ones she starts to question kept me reading fast.

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One comment

  1. I’m fascinated by this stuff, too. I lived for more than a year at a ranch-camp that had many elements of a cult. And it attracted people who wanted to find (or start their own) communes. Seems to me that the charismatic god-figure always starts out with truly good intentions and a beautiful vision, but it always gangs agley, as even the best laid plans do, and consequently the leader feels the need to exert control. That’s where it gets both interesting and tragic, I think. If you want to exert control over people in the name of yourself or some devil, you can do it openly, like Genghis Khan or Dracula. But if you want to control them in the name of God, you have to do it without people realizing it. That’s where the true art of the charismatic cult leader comes in. I’m all about this. I could muse about it the day long, but I’ll spare you. Just…an interesting post that got me thinking. Thanks.

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