Lorn Douglas (aka R.U.Kidding )

Ever tried eating ice cream with chopsticks? Probably not. I doubt if Asian people even attempt such a feat but for my friend Lorn it’s perfectly normal because he is not. He is a personal hero of mine – in a real renegade way – for his chopstick abilities along with many other quirky talents and characteristics he possesses.

A sample of Lorn’s amazing chopsticks

Lorn graduated from UCLA with an engineering degree and then became a very successful computer geek but his journey turned one-eighty degrees after he did a 40 day spiritual workshop on Maui, dropped out, started yoga and juggling, moved to rural Hawaii and began a new career making exotic hardwood chopsticks. It was about this time that our paths intertwined and I was obliged to refine my chopstick skills.

I was at a spiritual, hippy workshop in Ahualoa, Kona because I had a serious attraction to the woman organising the gathering. I think Lorn was looking for enlightenment. I discovered he juggled so we played a bit and swapped phone numbers. He later brought his two daughters over to Puna and I took them to the ‘center of the earth,’ an underground cave with a thermally heated pool. They loved it and so our friendship grew.

One day, brandishing a machete and beaming from ear to ear, I excitedly hacked my way, with him, into a jungle covered land parcel announcing, ‘look what I just bought.’ It was Bellyacres and his response was “whatever for?” As I began wrestling the jungle and building odd structures with my eccentric juggler friends he stopped by to visited. He described the anarchistic group of alpha performers I had assembled to be my land partners as, ‘arrogant and stand-offish,’ and predicted that establishing a virtuous community with them would be fraught with problems. History has proved him right about that – although I had many great years attempting the impossible – he was always sceptical but supportive.

Despite this dismal prophecy he saw the magic and fun our gaggle of pirates possessed and he couldn’t resist becoming a neighbor and later bought in a home in Seaview, where he still resides. I invited him to participate in our juggling festivals from the beginning but he resisted until the third event when he worked in the kitchen. Everything changed after that week long party. He bonded with our members and started spending quite a bit of time at Bellyacres. Soon after, he set up his chopstick factory in our workshop, employed three of our clowns and became our first official ‘associate member’ – without any specific benefits!

Lorn became unenchanted with the woman who ‘catered’ our festival and volunteered to be the kitchen Czar. After three more festivals he accepted the role of Grand Poo Bah which is when he realised that despite months of hard work we never made any money. He then became the registration Czar and we made over $10,000 proving Lorn’s entrepreneurial expertise. Naturally, he was press-ganged into continuing in that role for the remainder of our nineteen festivals. Lorn describes these events as some of the best times of his life. “Now, decades later, people still revere those days. I was astounded how many ‘working’ people would use up their holiday time, year after year, to attend. These included dozens of Europeans coming at great expense. Most enjoyable was the midnight Renegade Show. Here, wildly eccentric vaudevillians showed off to their fellow performers without any restraints whatsoever. It was just hilarious!” Luckily we had videographer Alan Plotkin hooked in to record the fun.

Video by Alan Plotkin

Since he moved to Lower Puna, Lorn has been the regions most consistent supporter of local community building activities. He is a person who walks his talk when it comes to using his monetary wealth and expertise for the benefit of his neighbours. Lorn became our biggest supporter of HICCUP programs and over the years he has sponsored dozens of local kids to go to circus camps and classes. He recalls, “in this rural district there were not a lot of activities for children. In the 1990’s I was enchanted to see so many children zooming around on unicycles, juggling, balancing on various devices and clowning. I love circus in general but seeing kids glowing while performing is extremely joyful. Little did I know that one of these little angels would become my stepdaughter and she would later catapult her skills into a successful professional circus career.”

Lorn also played a major role in the creation of the Seaview Performing Arts Centre for Education (S.P.A.C.E.). He served on the board of directors for many years and was our first and largest private donor with $20,000 of Apple Computer shares he had acquired by riding the dot.com wave in the 90’s. This was the catalyst that made S.P.A.C.E. possible, as it supported all future fundraising efforts. In 2001 Lorn was my only support at the Planning Commission hearing where I applied for the special permit we required for the building and he later went on to personally appeal to Bellyacres members and friends – raising a further $10,000. When we installed our solar system he also gave us great guidance.

The list of beneficiaries from Lorn’s community service and philanthropy is long. While living in Ka’u he was on the board which successfully paved 160 miles of non-county private roads that had been crumbling for decades. Since the late 1980’s he’s served as a volunteer mediator at the Kuikahi Mediation Center in Hilo assisting hundreds of people resolve conflicts. He helped save a beautiful grove of ancient mango trees that were being cut down for a golf course. He was then quite active in Friends of the Red Road and has contributed to the success of La’akea, Polestar, Gaia Yoga and Lolia communities and has been on the boards of Hawaiian Sanctuary, Kalani Eco Resort and Kalapana Seaview Association – but I am so appreciative that his longest and closest connection has been with Bellyacres and my HICCUP program.

In our Bellyacres experiment he witnessed our ego obsessions, our personality conflicts and most of our anarchist struggles firsthand. His reward was to participate in all of our best parties, performances and celebrations. Outsiders often think that a sustainable community is about the place, the organisation or structures, agriculture and energy but it is really about the people and Lorn helped us resolve some tough issues. Our membership, primarily comprising of jugglers and other performers, has tended to be cliquish but with a wide range of A-type personalities and characters. Over our thirty years we’ve also experienced a whole spectrum of lifestyle changes in careers, families and health and these have affected our issues of ownership, vision, trust, commitment, power and control.

Lorn clearly understands the meaning of the old Welsh phrase: “There’s nowt so queer as folk.”  He has always embraced the diversity of our Bellyacres crew and has formed lasting friendships with many of them. He recently admitted that for most of his life he played the nice guy, not wanting to make waves but this lifestyle brought him a lot of internal grief. On the other hand I’ve been much more confrontational, yet also experienced a lot of grief, so I guess the middle course of acceptance and tolerance is the optimum path to take.

Camping with our work exchange interns

We grew apart and Lorn lamented that when he came to Bellyacres he missed seeing members from the past and didn’t know any of the work exchange people who had become the life blood of the community.  l loved working with the interns and helping them grow and I had more interaction with them than with any of our members or Lorn. During this period Bellyacres was my vocation, my purpose, and my mission. It fed me, uplifted me and gave me a real buzzzzz !  I was living life to the max without health insurance or doctor’s bills. It was extremely hard work but the sustainable farming and activities at S.P.A.C.E. combined with all my circus classes kept me young at heart.

Our paths have run parallel at times but have also diverged and not always been in alignment. Over the years Lorn had some issues with my management style during a period when I carried the total responsibility for Bellyacres and my stress level rose. I admit to having resentments about Lorn avoiding Bellyacres and praising other communities during this time when our friendship diminished. By 2009, when Lorn criticised the lack of community consciousness among our membership, I replied “it no longer matters to me if there are different people here or if they juggle, or if they used to juggle, or even if they  will always live here, or retire here. We have always been a social experiment, and Bellyacres is still evolving in a true anarchistic manner, with no doctrine, no dogma, no guru, not many enforceable rules and with flexible goals. The main hope for our future sustainability is that we have survived thirty years in this manner.” Five years later the bubble burst and I realised the truth in Lorn’s perceptions. It finally brought me to abandon my own Bellyacres dream and I moved my family to the north end of the island. Ironically, Lorn has also drifted away from the community while he and I are closer than ever.

I witnessed Lorn experience some profound personal developments after he adopted a spiritual practise and later joined the inspiring Mankind project. He found the brotherhood that he had always desired and fully embraced his life of service. Since the abuse of my ‘Young Christian’ days I have rejected organised spiritual paths and my Boy Scout experiences caused me to resist the invitations I received to join the Mankind project ‘boy’s club.’ However, I discovered that my own commitment to spiritual growth, community service and personal development, though following a different route, and this has thankfully enabled Lorn and I to regain our brotherly bond and mutual respect.

Our friendship has strengthened and is closer today than it has ever been. Rather than wallowing in remorse and regret, we continue celebrating the gifts that the Bellyacres experiment has provided us. We both found our soulmates thanks to the community. Lorn’s wife, Shakti, was one of the HICCUP parents who I successfully engaged in circus fun, first practising with her daughter then, as an acrobat, and eventually after she moved to live at Bellyacres, she became a circus teacher and my administrative assistant. Lorn and Shakti had met before in Ka’u but reunited at Bellyacres and have lived together, very happily, for over seventeen years……… and counting.

Thula Moon Martin

As a board member Lorn had helped create S.P.A.C.E. as a permanent home for the HICCUP kids and was later one of the architects of it’s transformation into a thriving community facility. When we were threatened by a “cease and desist order” in 2012 he responded saying, “This Puna institution has received many accolades and I am very proud to have helped. My own stepdaughter Thula, a product of the circus, is now one of only nine Americans enrolled in Ecole National Du Cirque, arguably the most prestigious Circus College in all of the Americas.” 

When I was working hard with the Hawaii Alliance for Sustainable Community to pass the Sustainable Living Demonstration Model bill through the Hawaii State legislature Lorn was a fully vocal supporter. With help from him and many other residents we almost passed a new law in 2014 to legalise many of the radically innovative sustainable living projects Bellyacres and other communities had been developing. With that defeat it was left to independent personal efforts to encourage and maintain the grassroots sustainable living movement in Hawaii and Lorn has risen admirably to the challenge.

He had been closely observing my passion and obsession with sustainable living, as I experimented with a wide variety of agricultural practises. I introduced him to the State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? and he reached a new understanding about what sustainability means in an ecological sense. He upped his game and has now become a true ‘environmental warrior’ and an inspiring example of how we can live more harmoniously with the planet. He’s fully utilised his personal resources to greatly expand and develop his own sustainable applications. He not only grows much of his own food, with a carbon negative lifestyle powered totally off grid, but drives fully electric cars and is committed to teaching and supporting others to live more sustainably.

Lorn’s famous bagels

Baking, especially bagels, is another talent Lorn is famous for, and since he also loves mentoring kids he sometimes puts them together. My eleven year old daughter, Isla, once wrote, “Me, my dad, Dena, Liberty, Bailey and the twins went to Lorn and Shakti’s house to make bagels. First we made the dough which is almost the same as bread dough. We shaped it into bagels, let them rise for a bit then boiled them, dipped them into olive oil and different types of seeds then we put the bagels in the oven. Next we played portuguese horse shoes until the bagels where done and we could enjoy them. I ate two bagels plus a half of one. It was super fun and delicious.”

In recent years the Lorn and Shakti partnership has devoted huge amounts of their time developing community through couples workshops and counselling services that they provide for free. Dozens of participants have benefited from the wisdom and inspiration they share and, like Dena and I, are eternally indebted to them both for their invaluable tools and techniques that daily help maintain the health and wealth of our coupleship.

R.U.Kidding – Lorn, I am very honoured to count you as my renegade brother.

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Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

2 thoughts on “Lorn Douglas (aka R.U.Kidding )

  1. What a wonderful tribute. Thanks for sharing Graham.
    I have to confess I am not an unbias observer since I am Lorn’s Mother-in-law, Shakti’s Mom and Thula’s Grandmother.

    Liked by 1 person

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