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Dad tries 11 hot sauces in the same bowl of mac ‘n cheese

The kids made me do it.

A normal Saturday lunch turned into some kind of hot sauce contest today, when my kids brought me 11 different hot sauces (and a SURPRISE Bonus Ingredient You Won’t Believe! #clickbait) to add to my mac ‘n cheese, grabbed my phone, and petitioned me to upload the result.

You’re welcome, kids.

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Participating in a world made better

What are we imagining when we talk about a world-made-better, where we are participants in its bettering?

What would we need for such a project?

Who would we partner with?

How would we move forward?

We might choose to believe we are loved, and that “we” (the collective we) are together in this.

We might choose to see that the universe we’re in is pushed forward by an almost magnetic, non-entropic energy — an “infinitely regenerative universe,” as Buckminster Fuller called it.

Step by step, we might elevate our mindset to believe that an impossible goal is, well, possible. That on another time horizon, in the multiverse, this dream we have, may already be coming true.

We might daily acknowledge that any progress would be eventual, and on the longest-possible timescale, and we’d still choose patience and hopefulness.

We might even let go of our own hobby horses and pet projects, if we could.

We might tune in to our own basic needs, and seek to meet them, and choose gratitude.

We might let go of pettiness, and abandoned grudges. We might acknowledge our own mistakes.

We might be alert, to dangers and distractions, since there’s real world-bettering work to be done.

We might see any hint of selfishly consolidated power or fame-for-fame’s-sake as a sham to be seen through.

We might see that the bigger-picture dream is the real goal.

And then we’d do the day’s work.

* * *

The above checklist has become a frequent rhythm for me to mentally run through. It might sound abstract or esoteric, or wacky or hopeful, or totally normal, or…I-don’t-know-what, you tell me.

There’s a passage most of us are familiar(ish) with, that goes like this: “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” (etc.)

It’s sometimes called the Lord’s Prayer. It shows up in movies, it’s quoted a bunch, and maybe in some of our heads. It’s an excerpt from a part of the bible where Jesus is answering a question where people ask, “How do we pray?” And he busts out that answer.

I used to think it was like a rote recitation: “Here, read this script, and you’ll be praying!” But after spending some time with it, I’ve come to think it’s more like a outline for an improvised speech. In fact, it’s what I used for writing the first part of this post. I took each line from that noted passage, and I translated it into my own words. Weird, right?

It’s a mental habit I’ve gotten into now, whenever my brain feels “off-script.” I’m like, wait, what are healthy thought patterns again? Oh yeah — try the outline. And I step into some mental iterations of this.

This summer, I collected some of my personal riffs and remixes of this, and put them together into PDF to share with a few friends. It’s not done, it’s not a permanent, it’s not a book, it’s just a growing collection of remixed passages that help keep my brain in a healthy spot.

You can download it here if you like:
Kingdom Poetry – Draft 1, Nov 2019

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Here and now

When I make space for quiet time, which usually looks like 10-ish minutes every 2 days, I’ll emphasize journalling. A scribbly note-taking of the basic events of the past couple days, with some notable insights. It may devolve into more poetic musings. It may be a chronicle of feelings, or simply a listing of facts. Sometimes work-thoughts are pressing and I’ll scribble a to-do list. There may even be the occasional doodle.

Since I was young, journalling has been a way to process what’s happening for me. Sometimes I get stuck in season where it seems that all I ever do is give myself an introspective swirly, repeatedly shoving my head in the toilet of negative ruminations, and my journal reflects back to me the stuckness of those times. It has caused me in numerous seasons in my life to give up journalling altogether.

This season, I’m in. For some reason, I’ve got a rhythm were the note-taking is sticking. The musings aren’t getting mired in the negative; they are constructively documenting what’s real for me, and helping me move forward.

Another habit I have for this quiet time is reading a book. I usually stick to some contemplative, poetic readings that can centre my mind and grant me some wisdom. David Whyte’s Consolations was one from this year. Brené Brown’s work as well; this year, Dare to Lead. Any text that brings thoughtful wisdom into the day will work just fine. I’ll read only a page or two, write down some reflections, and be on with it.

Another text I’ll read in some quiet times, a pattern I borrowed from my own family, is reading passages from my bible. I used to have a  “Student Bible” I received when I was 10, but in a recent shift, I put that duct-taped volume on my bookshelf, and have been reading a different edition.

It’s a version translated by the late Eugene Peterson, who taught at Vancouver’s Regent College for a number of years. The version I’m reading (“Remix”) was designed and laid-out by Vancouver studio Burnkit, whose founder inspired my own journey into the world of design and creativity in the late 90s. (I came across their design work on an iconic postcard, and followed the trail until it led to their studio in Railtown, where the company I work for is now also located.)

Eugene’s work is “the Bible in contemporary language.” He’s done away with verse-numbering and thees-and-thous, and writes as if it’s colloquial storytelling.

In reading tonight, in his translation of the book of Luke, Eugene has written a part where this happens:

Jesus is being grilled by some religious leaders, who want to know when “the kingdom of God” will come. Jesus answers, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or “There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.”

Eugene/Jesus is saying, “It’s here, it’s now.”

It’s the type of stunning, glorious, gorgeous insight that took me so many years to consider. Maybe we are not waiting for anything. Maybe already, paradise and peace is possible, and the only thing stopping us from participating is ourselves.

Here and now matters. I’m asked to bring the best of my gifts, to love the people in front of me, and to participate in the renewal of all things.

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1-minute Messy Meditation: You’re Here For This

Last week, I wondered about the value of unrehearsed, unproduced unquiet moments of non-meditation.

I found the perfect moment today:

  • Weezer’s cover of Africa was playing on the stereo.
  • Some of us were singing, some were reading children’s books, some were dancing. I was washing dishes.
  • And Benjamin was wailing because we were not having dessert.

The sheer cacophony of it all inspired me to grab my phone and record an on-the-spot Messy Meditation.

I love this one. It’s got some fierce presence to it. The ambience is wild. It feels to me like it comes from the eye of the house’s hurricane, and it features the mantra I’ve been trying out for myself: “I’m here for this.”

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Fire, flood or feelings

I was told a story today.

Last January, in Montecito, California, it was raining. A lot. Too much rain for the slopes to hold it all. Incredible amounts of rock and dirt and mud began to break loose. A landslide was certain.

The storyteller told me about two people that he knew: Connor and his dad, John. When the slide started, they were in their home. They realized they could not escape the wall of mud about to slam into their home, so held on to each other as it struck. The house disintegrated. Vaporized. Connor and his dad were separated. John did not survive.

Connor was swept away down the slope.
He was electrocuted five times as he was carried away in the slide.
His clothes were removed by the force.
A piece of rebar pierced his neck.
He was pinned under a car and drowning in the water, until another car crashed into that car and released him.
He finally found himself near the ocean, found the highway, and walked naked until he was discovered.
(You can read more here and here.)

One of the reasons for the mudslides, was the fires.

The fires, as you know, are burning again in California.

The stories — of the slides and the fires — were shared with me by a team I was working with today. They had arrived on a delayed flight from California this morning at 1 am — our session started at 9 am — and meanwhile, their home in California had been evacuated due to the threat of nearby wildfires.

At the end of the day, one of the participants said: “I’ve never felt so taken care of in a session, like my emotional needs were really paid attention to.”

How could we not have? They’ve left a community on evacuation alert and come to workshop with us, they’re underslept, and fires are raging in their home communities. They need to have their energy and contribution paced well in order to make the most of their journey.

The other team member’s joking comment at the end of the day was this: “This was worth abandoning my wife during a firestorm to be part of.”

My own family, back at home, had also been abandoned by me. Today was a travel day for me, too. Trips away aren’t easy for anyone in our house. For me, it meant being up at 4:20 am, after a night that was all-too-brief. Though there was no firestorm, our daughter Rosie had an ear infection. My son Ben had sobbed when I told him I had a trip. Kendra had to take all four kids with her to the walk-in clinic to get care for our other daughter, Addie.

I reflect back on the session I led, and wonder what I had “done” that had led my clients to say they felt the travel was worthwhile, and that their emotional needs were met.

I think it was just a matter of checking in. Every now and then, asking questions like:
Is this working for you?
How are we feeling about the direction we’re heading?
Are we cool to keep going?

It makes me wonder…

Would I have ordinarily been as sensitive as this, if there had not been the floods and fires?

If not…why not?

We are all humans, which is surely extraordinary enough. Beset by our own unique needs and realities, we need these to be incorporated and acknowledged for us to be at our best.

I choose to work in a way that leaves a place for taking care of each other — whether through fire, flood or feelings.

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Shame Dogpile

Last week, I launched my Creating Daily project. And for those first seven days, I wrote for the audience I could see: myself. When I sent my first weekly digest email on Saturday night, that officially changed. What was once private, immediately became public. The curtain opened.

I found myself experiencing three distinct reactions.

First, I felt a deep sense of peace and pride as I breathed in the gratitude of having launched it. It felt (and feels) right. “This is what I’ve been meant to do all along.” It seems like a missing piece has slotted into place.

Second, I felt a deeply encouraging, fist-pumping yes as friends responded well to the personal themes I was exploring. They shared their own stories of parenting and anger, of joys with family, of writing projects, of dreams of heaven. After just two days, it’s incredible already: I’m finding honesty generates honesty, and stories beget stories.

Third, I also found myself experiencing a horrified, dizzying vertigo, as feedback arrived I didn’t expect, that was less harmonious.

Brené Brown talks about the “vulnerability hangover” she experienced after her first TEDx talk. I like that phrase. I can identify with the sense of a full-body, pulsing wave of “What have I done?” come over me.

I care about people. I care what you think. And yet for so long in my life, I’ve let fear of what others think keep me from moving forward with things like public writing projects. The moment a negative reaction hits, I turtle. I’d sooner not share, in order to avoid the terror.

When I received that surprising feedback, my first instinct was to delete the blog, cancel the project, and disappear forever. As they say, better suppressed-safely-down-into-the-depths-of-my-being than sorry.

And yet. I know the purpose with which I started this project, and I already see the distinctly beautiful fruit. I don’t want to let that fear cause me to back down from this project.

Instead, I want to learn to get used to a new operating.

I will listen well to new stories and perspectives, and allow myself to be changed. I will seek counsel, take advice, heed insight and pay attention. Wisdom from others is a gift.

I choose to write based on my own sense of direction, not a sense of guessing or mind-reading about anticipated reactions. I choose to develop resilience in the face of challenge, and move forward humbly even when I make mistakes. I choose to use my gifts anyway — even if it doesn’t always land well.

I acknowledge that reactions will come from perspectives that are different from mine — I will let that influence me appropriately, but not let it overtake me.  I will not let those diverging opinions stack up on me like a shame-dogpile.

…at least, those are my intentions.

Thank you to each of you whose comments and stories and emails and texts have communicated that threads I’ve shared already have reached you. It means a lot.

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JANE FONDA

“Step inside of my plain Honda
We goin’ up to see Jane Fonda.
Step inside of my green Nissan,
We goin’ up to see Liam Neeson!”

This song fragment has been kickin’ around my head this week. I’ve been hollering it in garages and showers and hallways, extending the lines into different versions. And while I’ve recorded a few voice memos of different versions, this one’s my fave. Benjamin got into a call-and-response rhythm, and totally nailed it. (100% sure he has no idea who either of those celebs are, but all my kids can be heard singing this little stanza these days.)

Obviously this draws from Beck’s song Debra, which has the unforgettable line where he croons in a falsetto, “I say lady…step inside my Hyundai. I’m going take you up to Glendale…”

I also really enjoy that emerging acts like Brockhamption write their song titles on ALL CAPS, just for sheer decisiveness. Yes, this IS THE TITLE OF MY SONG. WE CAN’T CHANGE IT NOW.

I found myself entranced with the activity of trying to identify lackluster vehicle models to pair with rhyming celebrities. The two in this couplet were my favourite, but here were a couple other no-gos:
– Porche Roadster / Portia De Rossi (poor rhyme, car too fancy)
– Embarrassing Ford / Harrison Ford (too easy and samesey)
– Navy Jetta / David Guetta (…)
– Zamboni / Tie Domi
…by then I realized I was ruining the magic. All we need is Jane Fonda and Liam Neeson.

Perhaps your brain would like to continue to explore possible combos? We can get a whole full-length song written and produced on here.

Full disclosure: activities like this are taking place in my mind and my house whether or not I’m on a “creating daily” project. Now we have the “benefit” of getting these snippets out into the world.

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Peace is (literally) possible

Speaking only literally, we are all connected.

At the very basic level of literalism and logic and linear thinking, we are all interdependent.

Without employing any metaphors, appealing to emotion, referencing spirituality, or being remotely mystical, the following statement is true: we are one.

Whether through the exchange of oxygen, shared eventual ancestry, our experience of the weather and water cycle, the participation in global markets, our presence on the internet, we are not separate from each other.

The only thing separating us are the stories we tell each other.

When I tell a story that says I’m separate from them because of [ language, beliefs, location, anatomy], the only thing doing the separating is me.

All our physical reality is pushing hard to remind us that there is no such separation. Gravity itself pulls us towards common ground. I mean that only literally.

Peace is possible, if only scientifically and literally and logically. It’s only our stories that keep us at war.

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How do YOU deal with anger?

That’s an honest question.

I was dropping my big kids off at school the other day, when I ran into another parent-friend of ours coming the other way. “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Terrible,” he said, face flat and eyes lost. “Things are not going well with mornings in our house. I think we need help. I don’t know what to do.”

We headed to a nearby coffeeshop and got into it. I heard his story, which I resonated deeply with: the high levels of stress and frustration that come with the everyday conflicts of parenting, the unintentional escalations, the feeling like there’s no clear way forward.

In those moments, I can feel anger sweep up through me like mercury in a thermometer being thrown into a fire. A hot face, a dizzy head. A tightening. Where does it show up for you?

I don’t have a familiar, lifelong pattern or habit or skill for dealing with anger. To be honest, until I become a parent, I really had no experience at all with true anger.

I can still recall a conversation with colleagues in my old office in Vancouver — it would have been in 2010, before I had my first kid — where I said something along the lines of: “I don’t really get angry.”

At the time, I pictured myself as a pretty mellow person.
What I realize now is that I had never been truly provoked.

It’s a statement about privilege and safety, true, but also one that testifies to the extremes of engaged parenting. It brings you to the intense edges of emotions you never knew you had.

My wife and I say that becoming a parent increases your “emotional amplitude.” Picture a sine wave, or an audio waveform. Before parenting, it’s highs and lows that dip into the -5 and +5 range. After parenting, it’s highs and lows that wildly vacillate and fluctuate into the -100 and +100 range. It opens you up to an emotional volatility that simply wasn’t available before. Though “anger” is the subject of this post, pick an emotion, and the same will be true for that one.

You heard from me this week on Tuesday. But not on Wednesday. Why? Because Wednesday started at 5 am thanks to Rosie, with me clocking in at 4 hours of sleep (due to my over-ambitious day-and-night). Bedtime was needed as early as possible. Which wasn’t actually possible, because Rosie was busy not-going-to-bed. By the time she was asleep, and we were too, the night passed in a flickering stumble of wake-ups-to-help-the-kids-with-their-wake-ups…and the day started again with Rosie crying herself awake, to start the day, at 4:45 am.

And that’s just the general atmosphere. The default conditions. It’s boot camp, folks; it’s military basic training at depot, only depot is your house. We are underslept, deprived of self-care, and asked to perform tasks of nurture and care-for-others.

I insisted before I became a parent that I would be a voice to tell healthier, happier stories of parenting, revealing the joys and positives, not just being a complainer. And that’ll happen, for sure. (Again, see Tuesday. Awww, so cute.). But these realities on the inside of parenting are hard to fully draw out and explain. There is simply no backup.

Your body and soul and self and parenthood are the essential ingredient being employed to raise the other human being(s). The cereal comes from the cereal box, the milk comes from the jug, but the parenting comes from the parent.

And a parent, like milk and cereal, can become emptied.  On a daily basis.  It’s an extremely vulnerable state. (Again, that “extremely vulnerable state” is simply the default condition.)

What happens when you introduce the element of “aggravation”?

When all you’re trying to do is provide legitimate care for your kids, and the activities are resisted. Making a dinner, that doesn’t get eaten. Asking for cooperation in the process of departing the house to be on time for school, and have that request be resisted or ignored. (And those are the easy examples, right?)

Leading to what? What’s your choice? Did you notice you had a choice, or are you already raising your voice? Just like you said you wouldn’t.

Where I go then, is to all the tools I know, the tools I love:

  • I love Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication. “Any anger is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” So express the need. Follow the format: what are you Observing, what are you Feeling, what do you Need, what do you Request.
  • I love It’s Not Always Depression, by Hilary Jacobs Hendel. Notice your anger, and don’t run from it. Notice how it shows up in your body. Breathe it in. Remember, feelings just are.

Sometimes these work so well. We de-escalate. We calm down. We get where we need to go. We make a joke. We remember grace.

Sometimes we do need help. I gave my friend the name of a counsellor and therapist in town I’ve been able to visit a few times over the years. Sometimes we need tools and supports and other ways out because we simply don’t have what it takes on our own.

Don’t get me wrong: my family reality is one filled with a great deal of joy, of laughter, of loving and nurturing. As I humblebragged about in the Tuesday post, I’ve chosen the path of being an engaged dad with utmost pride in that decision. And yet…

Parenting, at its engaged extremes, is easily classifiable with other high-stress professions like first responders and military personnel.

On Halloween nights, as we glimpse behind door after door in this city’s neighbourhoods, the one feeling I’m left with is, “How are we all doing this?” By this, I mean, life and parenting itself, period. The amount of pain and emotion and difficulty we have to carry, the ways we have to pretend it’s not hard, the lack of tools and equipment and resources, the unfamiliarity we have with the language of emotions, how bad we are at asking for help…how is anybody coping? Are all these apartment units and houses simply facades covering up massive sinkholes of sheer suffering? Or is everybody just doing a lot better than me?

I am one of the more “emotionally literate” men I know. I can identify my emotions and talk about that. I have tools for processing them, and habits of quiet time. I have friends I can be open with. I have a mutual, supportive, incredibly engaged partner I get to co-parent with. I am privileged to have close family supports, and children without significant health challenges. And even still, the ability to handle the true challenges of parenting remain the highest difficulty of all of my life’s projects. How on earth is anybody thriving?

I’m asking this because we need to talk about it. We need to share resources, tools, approaches. We need each other. We need to be open in conversation with fellow parents, like my friend was with me. We need to pave the way for future parents and children to navigate these realities, and step into new possibilities.

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1-minute Messy Meditations

For work, my colleague and I are working on a well-produced audio-based guided meditation to share around for the new year. As I’ve been exploring the web for examples, I noticed how calm, careful and controlled they are _ every single one. Great enunciation, clear audio, quiet rooms, nice music, controlled breathing.

It made me wonder: what would a guided reflection or audio meditation be like if the narrator was improvising, the audio was terrible, the room was loud, and it was wildly not-calm-at-all? In my dream version, the meditation has the narrator breathing loudly into the microphone, losing track of his words, interrupting himself to yell at his kids, swearing as he drops something, and failing to complete the meditation. I’m picturing a Zach Galifianakis character attempting to pull off the guru vibe, but unable to get past his own internal hangups.

Because really, that’s me. A messy man with a full mind and a noisy living room, trying to eke out some peace.

I pulled out my iPhone and decided to try to the art of the Messy Meditation right then and there. Here’s how it ended up:

Not long after that, my daughter Rosie wasn’t really going to bed — she was chatting in her little 18-month-old voice, wandering around her bedroom, and clearly not sleeping. I thought: perfect. What she needs is a slightly satirical Messy Meditation. Here’s how that one went:

I’m finding it a lovely juxtaposition. Next time I notice wildly noisy environments, I’m making it my mission to pull out Voice Memos and see how brief, unprofessional, un-calm and un-scripted we can make these.