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Indybay Feature

Geoph Kozeny Memorial

Sunday, January 20, 2008
1:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Event Type:
Purple Rose Collective
Location Details:
Martin de Porres, 225 Potrero @ 16th Street, San Francisco

Memorial for the "peripatetic communitarian", alternative communities filmmaker, former co-editor of the bay area's Collective Networker Newsletter, and member of Stardance Community (now named Purple Rose Collective). Geoph Kozeny was a first class guy, a serious activist for peace and justice, a spiritual straight arrow, and a raconteur (second only in wit to his friend Craig Stehr).
Added to the calendar on Mon, Jan 7, 2008 10:35AM

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by repost (Laird Schaub)
Geoph Kozeny - Dead at 57
The Road Trip Ends
by Laird Schaub

I am typing this on the westbound California Zephyr, rumbling across the Great Plains in the rain and fog of mid-October. I am on my way to the Bay Area-to see Geoph one last time.

I started writing this piece last June, the night I learned that Geoph had inoperable cancer. Writing as pain management. It helped me to grieve over a keyboard, remembering and honoring a great life. Now it's time to finish it. While trains are not good for covering distances in a hurry, they are great for reflection. These two days of lumbering toward Geoph are, in fact, the perfect time to complete this tribute to my friend.
o o o

I first met Geoph in 1985 when I was pouring a sidewalk for our neighbors. Just as I was about to start forming up, Geoph showed up to visit a fellow community member. It turned out he had experience with concrete and was a whiz at laying out forms. We had fun and it was the first of my many joint efforts with the peripatetic communitarian.

Although he was on the road visiting Sandhill that first occasion, it was before he was On the Road-his two-decade journey promoting community that continued until pancreatic cancer stopped him this fall. His odyssey had gone full circle: it began New Year's Day, 1988 when he drove away from Stardance (the San Francisco community he helped found in 1978), and ended in the apartment of his dear friend and ex-partner, Eraca Cleary and her adult daughter Mindy (whom Geoph helped raise), just blocks away from the address in the Haight where Stardance continues as Purple Rose.

We were born within two months of each other, both Midwesterners, both diehard communitarians, and both inveterate punsters. We even looked alike, with our shiny pates and close-cropped beards (though in recent years I got thicker while Geoph got thinner). Our last carefree time together was at my wedding last April, when Geoph captured 10 hours of the festivities on video. It's a precious memory.
o o o

It didn't take us long to discover our mutual passion for community networking. Back in the mid-80s I was deeply involved with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and I recall the Assembly where Geoph volunteered to take minutes on his computer. Each evening he'd produce a printout of that day's proceedings that we could proofread on the spot. We never went back to stencils again.

Geoph was the one who unstoppered the electron genie at my agrarian community. When he got his spiffy Mac Plus (one of the first portable desktop computers) in the late 1980s he graciously shipped his old lunker computer to Sandhill so we could test drive the Information Age. My community was furious that I'd let the thing be shipped without permission and refused to let me open the box-fearing Geoph's middle name may have been Pandorra. After much gnashing of teeth, we eventually passed it along to another community with the packing seals unbroken. A few years later however-after Geoph had established a personal connection with the whole community-we welcomed his staying at Sandhill for six months while he toiled away on the first Communities Directory, Mac Plus and all, giving us all a less threatening taste of the brave new future.

Geoph eventually switched to a laptop and when he traded up for a new one in 1995, I got the old one and Sandhill entered the computer world through the front door. We've come a long way in 20 years (there are four computers at Sandhill today and sometimes you have to wait for an open machine), and it was Geoph who first gently poked a hole in our dike against the Internet. Geoph had an impish streak. Though never malicious, he liked to shake things up. Our first major networking project together was the FIC's first edition of Communities Directory, which took us more than two years to assemble. Dan Questenberry was the Articles Editor, Geoph was doing layout, and I was the overall project manager. Late in the process Geoph got together with Dan (who has impressive imp credentials of his own) and cooked up a scheme to organize the community listings from Z-to-A, breaking away from the tyranny of the standard alphabetic order. While I was willing to award them full credit for creativity, I made it clear that that particular impediment to user-friendliness was never going to happen on my watch.

Though thwarted there, Geoph managed to find a highly original way to obtain his first copy of the finished Directory-this baby that took 32 months to gestate from conception to delivery. He was, naturally, on the road when the book came back from the printer and Don Pitzer (head of the Center for Communal Studies at the University of Southern Indiana, where FIC was headquartered at the time) insisted on giving him his personal copy when he serendipitously bumped into Geoph in a rest area men's room off I-64. Now that was creative.
o o o

Geoph had an enduring passion for group dynamics and did a fair amount of facilitating. In 1995 he moderated the most powerful panel on consensus I've ever witnessed: Caroline Estes, CT Butler, Stefan Brown, and myself at the Community Quest conference in Winter Park CO. While the 100+ participants had a choice of three different options every workhop slot, almost everyone at the event was jammed into the room for that panel.

He'd stop at Sandhill every year between Christmas and New Year's to celebrate his birthday and share his latest game or puzzle. He'd invariably show up with a grocery bag full of fruits and vegetables, and his van full of tools. He would happily take his turn in the cooking rotation, tackle a home improvement project, or facilitate a meeting-whatever was needed.

Terrible at deadlines, Geoph was the eternal optimist. With him, you were never so far down that you couldn't pull it out in the bottom of the ninth (sorry Geoph-at my wedding he said during the ceremony that my writing had improved since I'd given sports metaphors an unconditional release).

Geoph typically set up the boiler room at board meetings & FIC events, and, if we needed any, he did the signage and flip chart graphics (his architectural schooling manifested in exceptionally legible marker work). He was always the last one to bed unless you counted his naps, which were taken wherever the mood struck him-in the middle of a workshop, under a coffee table, or even while licking stamps for a bulk mailing! And he didn't do mornings.

Geoph was kind and positive to a fault. While he didn't duck hard topics, he could be so gentle that you might miss that he was giving you critical feedback. Kind of like getting a shot from a doctor who is so skilled with a needle that you never feel the prick.

A music lover, he had a fine voice and was often seen playing his vintage Martin guitar and leading singalongs late into the evening. One of his most requested tunes was Junk Food Junkie, popularized by Arlo Guthrie. Geoph enjoyed lampooning hypocrisy and the irony of celebrating habits he didn't have (Geoph was scrupulously careful about what he ate and drank). He was a marathon driver, once making it from eastern Missouri to western Oregon in the same time it took Amtrak to get there. He left one hour after I boarded the train, and, driving alone, arrived one hour after me, even though the train was on time. I couldn't believe it-both that Geoph was so quick and that Amtrak was on schedule.

In the early years of the Road Trip, Geoph took countless pictures and gradually stitched together an incredible slide show of contemporary communities, which he offered up for an evening's entertainment wherever he went. While he used his slide show to introduce thousands of people to the wonderful world of cooperative living, by the mid-90s Geoph could see that video was going to be a much more potent medium, and he committed himself in 1997 to his most ambitious project: Visions of Utopia, a television-quality documentary that offered a balanced overview of the Intentional Communities Movement.

He completed the first 90-minute volume in 2002, and had virtually all of the raw footage shot for the second and final volume before the cancer claimed him. Working from his film and notes, I've agreed to pick up where he left off and oversee the completion of his magnum opus. We're in the process of raising $32,000 to accomplish this and have already gathered half the money in checks and pledges. (If you are inspired to help us with the other half, tax deductible donations can be made out to "FIC" and sent to: Visions of Utopia, Rt 1, Box 156, Rutledge MO 63653.)
o o o

As near as I know, Geoph wasted none of his precious last months in denial. While he was hopeful of beating the long odds of a bleak prognosis, he was nonetheless able to talk matter-of-factly about the disposition of his modest assets, and how to carry on his work. Part of what was special about Geoph was that there were never any topics off-limits.

His last 100 days were amazing. While he was weak and had lost a lot of weight, he was seldom in pain and he saw as many of his friends and relations as he could. He was perfectly willing to have work in the queue for how he'd spend his time; he just wasn't willing to do much of it when there was an interesting conversation to be had, or a card game that could bring everyone together.

His last outing was to attend a reunion picnic for Co-op Camp Sierra-camp being a two-week event every summer that was an anchor in his annual peregrinations. It was dear to his heart and he'd been one of the main organizers for as long as I'd known him.

In the end, he grieved more for his unfinished work and the connections he didn't yet have time to make, than for his unlived years. If you look up "networker" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Geoph.

It is amazing to reflect on the number of connections that Geoph's passing effected. Even as his voice grew weak and his speech became slow and thick, his mind remained lucid and his spirit was strong-he was drawing people into connection with one another right up until the end.

It was an honor to be an information conduit for news about Geoph during his illness. As his health deteriorated over the final weeks there was also great poignancy in helping decide who would get into his room, knowing that the visits both sustained him and exhausted him, as well as placing an extra burden on his heroic caregivers (Eraca, Mindy, and Geoph's sister Penny), who had given over their house and lives to hospice work and a steady flow of strangers who wanted to pay homage to their friend.

Through me, people sent poems, songs, well wishes, healing food, alternative therapies… and love. I was blessed to witness the breadth and strength of that outpouring, to bask in the reflected glory of the web of Geoph's life.

For a networker, it's all about the connections. So it made perfect sense that celebrating and reinforcing that life work was how he prioritized his final days. One of the most powerful things about his ending was a connection he experienced with his family-his mother Ginny, and sisters Penny and Kim. Drawn to his bedside, they met many of the people Geoph had built a life with and learned what Geoph had meant to them. As a result, Geoph found something precious that had previously eluded him-acceptance and appreciation from his family for his peripatetic life, and this late reconciliation of disparate parts gave him great peace.

I was privileged to be one of the last to visit Geoph, seeing him for the final time only two days before he passed away in his sleep. When I approached his bed to say farewell, he rallied to look me in the eye and squeeze my hand. His parting words were, " I could see you in three months, or next week. Who knows? It's all a mystery. Give my deep love to everyone." And now I have.

I learned of his death the night I arrived in Austin for the fall FIC organizational meetings. Most of his FIC family had just gathered and we were thankful that Geoph's passing had been as peaceful as it was, thankful that Geoph had been in all of our lives, and thankful for the chance to circle together in our time of grief.

Goodbye, my friend. I'll miss you, yet won't forget how you've touched me and countless others with the light of your dreams and the hope in your heart.

This Kansan rode with
The Light of Community
Into the Darkness
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