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Designing love-based systems

I was in Vancouver’s Railtown Cafe a couple months ago, in town to help facilitate a design sprint for a non-profit. 

Powering up for the day with a breakfast sandwich, as smells of fresh baking and coffee wafted over the counter, I encountered this article from Jesse Weaver: “Human-Centered Design Dies at Launch.” 

The perspective goes like this: we say we’re doing “human-centered design,” but inevitably, business goals trump the user’s needs. Every time. 

In the comment section, one user washes the criticism away as being misguided: “Of course it does,” they say. “Human-centered design is a business tool. And a business exists to make money. You want change, go work in the non-profit sector.”

On that very day, where I was running a design sprint for a non-profit, it included an executive leader who was dead-focused on questions about return-on-investment, without a thought towards his team’s health, his non-profit’s impact or sense of purpose. I will assure you that he felt no freer to measure well-being and human thriving than a leader in a conventional business setting. 

The non-profit sector cannot and will not solve this: and even if it could, are we really going to take any notion of humanity’s well-being and shove off the responsibility to a whole other sector? If today’s organizations see themselves as having no responsibility for humanity’s well-being, then it’s time to redesign these systems.

Are we not ready for this — to change the nature of business? Are we not ready to optimize for something healthier and more long-lasting? Are we not ready to push beyond this scarcity-minded behaviour? 

Some say an alternative is on its way: from human-centered design to life-centered design, says Katharina Clasen. “The Future is Life-Centered” says Jane Fulton Suri, of IDEO.

These are healthy and humble evolutions — it shows a tremendous humility on the part of designers to suggest that it’s the designers or the design process that needs to change. But as much as this ever-evolving field might healthily and humbly disagree, design doesn’t need to change. Design is fine. Design is available any time of the day to help you pay attention to needs and patterns and realities, build empathy, imagine the future, create possibility and make plans to make it happen. It’s the systems that abuse design or ignore it entirely that are killing us. And it’s those systems themselves that must be reimagined and redesigned. 

I have a new norm for us to build towards: love-based systems. Develop a metric to measure the presence of love in your system, and optimize for that.

You don’t have to call it that.

Oh, we don’t have to call it love — we can call it social connectedness, belonging, community strengthening, empathy, or your favourite synonym that makes you feel less uncomfortable. But it’s there, waiting for us, as the hoped-for outcome of every human in every system, the punchline at the end of every research report, the unstated inference in each of our interactions, the one thing that would change our world if we would let it. 

In other settings, the “love” conclusion shows up under different names.

danah boyd calls it belonging, in her keynote and article about media literacy. She explains when we see false information spreading, our temptation is to correct people who spread it. We fact-check our friends. But the information-seeker accessing that false information is actually having a need met through it: to have a viewpoint affirmed, to have a perspective validated, to feel part of something. To feel a sense of belonging. When we ‘fact-check’ it, we signal to them that they are not part of our community. They don’t belong. In effect, we exile them, causing them to move further into the community that issued the false information. The way to successfully respond to false information is by extending belonging and connection to the seeker. Love.

Johann Hari calls it social connection. Though addiction and depression are multi-faceted issues, one of the key elements in both is social isolation — a lack of connection. Not universally, not all the time, and not without additional complicating elements — but social isolation plays a role. Love, then, is the starting point.

The City of Vancouver calls it social connectedness, or simply, community. When a community is able to recover well from a disaster, showing true resilience, it is when community ties are strong. So as a way of being prepared for its own inevitable disasters that may come in the form of anticipated earthquakes, Vancouver invests in a strategy that aims to increase the social connectedness between neighbours on street blocks and apartment buildings. They recognize that socially strong communities are stronger and more resilient. Love, you could say.

Speaking of Vancouver, Dr. Gabor Mate in his own research into trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development, lands also on the need to build strong relational bonds as a pathway through these negatives.

I heard Lance Priebe talk on a similar topic. He pioneered early tools for internet community moderation, helping identify ways to protect children online from toxic culture and predatory luring, as an element of building Disney’s Club Penguin. In his current work, he’s been exploring the world of eSports; competitive online gaming. Child luring remains a problem, as kids who are hungry for affirmation and fame respond to YouTube commenters and Twitch accounts powered by people reaching out to compliment them on their skills, only to gradually discover more nefarious aims. Lance was encouraging parents about how to counter this reality: be the one to pay attention to their gaming in the first place. Treat it like you would their dance practice or soccer games. Show up, support them, get them into healthy habits, cheer for them, pay for their equipment, and be the person that is already paying them enough attention that they need not seek it elsewhere. Love.

Tim Leberecht echoes a sentiment like this in his work, The Business Romantic.

Frederich LaLoux in Reinventing Organizations explores this with his idea of Teal Organizations.

Ram Dass, passing away last year in Maui at 88, would get to this in a heartbeat.

Buckminster Fuller, renowned futurist and author, equates love with gravity, as one of the only constantly-in-play forces in the universe, referring to it “metaphysical gravity.” He called love, “omni-inclusive and progressively exquisite,” and envisioned elaborate scenarios for world-betterment based on this sense.

Barry Oshry calls it “partnership.” His conclusion after anthropologically studying human systems over the course of his entire career was that humans inevitably stratify into social systems that cause alienation, and the only way through this are deliberate stances of partnership and co-creation. Later in his career, he began to shift to a more direct use of the word “love.”

And don’t make me quote Brené Brown at you. Because I don’t want to reduce the work of her amazing books and talks into just one tidy quote. I might suggest that any of our work combatting shame, choosing vulnerability, is not just towards helping businesses ship more products, helping leaders Get Things Done — rather, it’s towards creating a planet where we see and experience love in abundance, as a fundamental measure of our quality of connection. 

“Where is it on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?” you might ask. “Why isn’t it the bottom of the pyramid, if it’s so fundamental, instead of at number three?” 

Besides the fact that love is clearly on the pyramid is this less-known fact: before his death, Maslow revised his hierarchy to place “self-transcendence” on the top, not “self-actualization.” Self-transcendence is described as “a shift in focus from the self to others.” The forgotten pinnacle, the missing apex, is this: centering on the needs of others. 

I offer these synonyms because I expect not all of us will be comfortable introducing “love” into the contexts where we work and live. Know that other names exist, but so does adequate research and data, showing that the whatever-you-call-it is foundational for health and thriving.

If we want to invest in social innovation, systems change, business success, economic thriving, health and well-being, invest in one thing: invest in love. It’s a worthy pursuit, a noble ambition, a viable product, a valuable metric, the key performance indicator.

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Every kindergartner’s roadside switchblade

I threw away a book last week. It was at a church book sale.

At first, the act of chucking a paperback into the recycling bin was thrilling. A heart-stirring act of rebellion. But later, as I drove away, I began to second-guess myself, wondering if that wasn’t simply an act of censorship on par with book-burning episodes from histories past. If there was content I disagreed with, wouldn’t it be fairer to find ways to engage in conversation with would-be readers?

But then again, if you saw a knife on the ground near a group of kindergartners, wouldn’t you lunge for the knife?

That happened to me, by the way.  Last spring.

May 28, to be exact: it’s forever burned in Ben’s head as his best-day-ever. “Dad, do you remember May 28, 2019?” he’ll occasionally announce out of the blue. “When you took the day off work to come on our kindergarten field trip?”

I certainly do, son. I fondly remember the kindergartners poking their fingers at the jars of hot sauce and mayo on my patterned shirt, then teaching you all a very loud marching chant that kinda annoyed your teachers, and also, helping save your classmate from that knife. 

It was at the very start of the trip, where the 20-odd kiddos waited in line for the city bus. I heard Ben’s classmate say, “What’s this?” and hold up what was clearly a toothy, rusty, dirty, discarded switchblade.

“Don’t touch that!” I hollered, and very safely wrestled the kindergartner for possession of the blade.

“We do not pick up knives that we find on the side of the road,” I announced, in one of those moments that feels very much like a Thing You Never Thought You Would Have To Say.

It became a legend for the rest of the field trip, and beyond. “Did you hear that someone found a knife?”

Anyway, back to the book.

I had tried to be sneaky. The book I wanted to discard was within reach, and I thought that placing it under the table to grab later for disposal would be less attention-getting, but somebody saw me. “What are you doing?” she said, as I awkwardly crouched to put the book on the floor.

“Nothing,” I said, very convincingly, placing it back on the table and backing away. I disappeared again into the milling crowd, circling like a discreet vulture, waiting for the time to strike.

I finally spotted an opening.

I might have just let it sit there, unpurchased, undisturbed; after all, what do I care? Let the people read it if they wish. But I couldn’t help but see it as one sees sunlight glinting off a rusty, roadside switchblade.

The more I looked at it, and considered leaving it there, the more the alarm bells would ring. I couldn’t, in good conscience, allow someone else to pick it up and take it home.

It was a book called Every (Young) Man’s Battle, and three key inspirations were causing me to take aim at it.

The first was an Instagram story.

There’s a fellow named Brendan Kwiatkowski, originally from Fort Langley, currently taking his PHD at the University of Edinburgh, with a focus on the messages about masculinity that shape our culture. On Instagram, he’s sharing aspects of his research and questions under the account name Re.Masculate.

A few weeks ago, he spent time revisiting the work of Every Man’s Battle through his current research lens. Sharing photo of page after page of the book, he exposed the messages and language of the book, showing words that convey messages like women are responsible for men’s feelings and actions, and passages that suggest that men’s motives for relationships and emotional disclosure are almost always sexual.

(Though the Instagram story has now expired, Brendan went on to share more of his perspectives through this interview/essay on a different blog, a dialogue on Purity.)

The second inspiration was that I just finished reading Linda Kay Klein’s 2019 book, Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free.

Klein artfully and authentically uses her own personal storytelling, memoir-style, to talk us through her own experience of growing up in a culture that shamed women (and men) for their basic sexuality. She uses her story as a framework for her research: over 12 years, she interviewed dozens and dozens of women that grew up in similar environments, and in her book, retells their stories with faithful, clear-eyed directness.

“How did you come to believe that about yourself?” she at one point asks an interview subject, referring to feelings of worthlessness and shame.

The interviewee begins to unpack the reasons why she believes she’s broken, but Klein interrupts to clarify. “I meant, what external messages did you internalize that caused you to believe that about yourself?”

The interviewee can’t even answer the question. She just pauses. She says (paraphrasing): “Thank you for asking that. I never even considered that I could ask that. I’ve only ever seen these messages as coming from internally to me, as being fundamentally about my own brokenness. It never even occurred to me to ask if there was an external source from whom these messages were coming.”

There was.

There is.

This book was one of them.

And that’s the third inspiration.

I don’t want anybody else to accidentally absorb any more messages that trick them into a sense that their defaults are design flaws, or that their very self and sexuality is shameful.

So, heart racing, I hustled that book into the blue bin, like a roadside knife from innocent hands.

Driving away, I wondered if that was the equivalent of censorship. After all, why not start a dialogue instead?

Did the infamous May 28, 2019 not teach me anything?

Step 1, remove the knife.
Step 2, talk about why you removed the knife.

Consider this blog post the second step.

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Never thank a thenk

It all started with an innocuous ad in our local library: a call for submissions for a poetry contest, from an entity called the Canadian Chamber of Contemporary Poetry.

Submitting poems

It was quite a collection. Did I write all 36 of them in one sitting?

I recall a poem called Laundry Day, told from the point-of-view of an overworked mother lamenting domestic duties: “Oh, how I hate Mondays / It is the laundry day / I have to clean up the dirty clothes / And that’s why I hate Mondays.” A poignant line lodged in my memory goes: “I’d move to Argentina / But I still have baby Corina.” (See, even if she escapes the house, she can never escape responsibility.)

As for the aforementioned 12-verse epic Simba of the White Mane, well, there’s an actual book called that, pre Lion King. I literally saw the book lying in my basement and straight-up stole the title.

Other classics from my 36-poem collection included a hilarious novelty poem called “The School Was Overflowing,” and I can’t recall if it was about overcrowding or flooding, just that it was quite the zippy read.

Anyway, with all these poems to choose from, I was a surprised when I got the letter in the mail telling me that the Chamber had selected one of my poems.

Just one? I thought, feeling disappointed. Not all of them?

And, why this one?

It was a seven-line Seuss-inspired nonsense poem, called Never Thank a Thenk. It went like this:

“Never thank a thenk
Cause if you do
A thenk will think
About the things he thunk.
And if a thenk thinks his thunks
He’ll do the things the thenk has thunk
And a thenk thinks terrible things.”

Still, it was easy to be excited. My poem was going to be published, and I don’t even like poetry! I signed the appropriate paperwork, and my parents agreed to pay the $20 for a physical copy of the book it was to be published in, and I wrote a dedication: “To my mom, who inspired me to enter the poetry contest.”

As you can imagine, the experience had a strong impact on my sense of identity. I can write. I can win stuff. And it’s easy!

As my childhood went on, I began to recognize that I had been scammed. Well, “scam” might be too strong a word, but at least “taken advantage of.” A poetry contest that publishes so many participants’ entries, asks for an entry fee, and asks winners to purchase their own published work, is not exactly an above-board literary honour. The “Canadian Chamber of Contemporary Poetry” was a virtually non-existent organization trying to hustle young writers and make a buck, while, sure, promoting Canadian literary talent.

It’s hard to untangle formative experiences, and deconstruct identity. Before this contest ever happened, what did writing mean to me? If the contest hadn’t happened, would I have held the idea of “being a writer” so close to my identity? If it wasn’t an external authority validating my work, what would I myself say about my own writing? Do I even want to do this, or was a foundational childhood experience errantly influenced by predatory publishers?

This week, the words from “Never Thank a Thenk” popped into my head, and I spontaneously began to recite it out loud, to myself, in a dramatic voice. I stopped cold once I finished, as a new meaning dawned on me.

I’ve always known, unconsciously, that a “thenk” was a proxy for myself. The deliberate misspelling of a common word with an alternative vowel? That’s being a Kevan in a Kevin’s world.

As I recited and rethought those lines this week, I realized it’s a poem about a person who doesn’t trust himself to think independently, out of fear.

To “never thank” would be to never acknowledge or welcome or support one’s self.

Following that viewpoint, the poem could be interpreted this way:

“Don’t be too kind to yourself,
Cause if you do
You might think
your own thoughts.
And if you think
Your own thoughts,
You might act on your thoughts,
And you think terrible things.”

It blew my mind right open this week to see the unconscious message loaded into my own childhood poem. To be clear, I don’t believe 8-year-old me wrote that meaning purposefully. But I recognize that internalized message as a lifelong pattern from inside my own mind:  distrusting myself, fearing my own thoughts, anxious about my own worth.

Can you see it, in the same pitiful light I’m seeing it? A poem whose very meaning is about self-distrust, being shipped off to be validated by external authorities?

I won’t give my kid-self too hard a time. He was doing the best he could (and he did great). But one of the things I still need to return to is allowing myself to trust, care for, welcome and acknowledge my own self and voice.

The literal retranslation I’d like to shoot for would end up meaning this:

“You can acknowledge and welcome your authentic self.
When you do,
it gives you the freedom to connect
with your honest thoughts, feelings and needs.
And when that happens,
You’re able to make clear-eyed, unafraid choices.
Your thoughts don’t define you, nor force you to act.
And your mind and heart is perfectly worthy.”

So let me try again, re-encoding the message to younger version of myself in the hopes it can carry forward to today’s version, still carrying the same Seuss-inspired novelty vibes, but this time, with a new slant:

“Always thank a thenk
Cause when you do
A thenk can think
About the things he thunk.
And when a thenk thinks his thunks
He’ll be the thenk he always was
And a thenk thinks thinkable things.”

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Wondering about oneness, again

Some days, when my inspiration and aspiration light up like barbeque flames, I catch a sense of possibility. It’s the hope for interconnectedness that is true peace, absolute renewal. Some days it flickers on, like light returning after a power outage. Other times, it’s like it was never there, like the sun in the middle of a long, cold winter.

On Sunday night last week, that glimpse appeared again, and I let my fingers fly to try and express it. It was messy, unclear, and abstract, like trying to explain a dream involving childhood homes a person who was there-but-not-there…but enough to get a first draft, drafted.

I still can’t tell if I’m deluded by this, like an earworm of a song lyric that just needs to be removed, or if it’s a melody yet to be written.

I feel about it like one might feel about anything that’s both personal but unfinished, possibly misleading and possibly healing: like I need to learn from it.

Maybe we can learn together?

* * *

Oneness.

The world is one. All things. Your idea of self, your idea of God, your understanding of the planets and solar systems and the universe, all of them are part of the same equation.

And it’s easy to participate in this.

The easiest participants are nature and babies. I mean infants of all stripes, from baby tigers to baby humans. To be infantile is to never second-guess one’s safety and loved-ness, one’s connectedness to Other. Even human babies take a decent while to realize they are not the same being as their mother. Their instinct, when they see their ma, is to believe: that’s me. I’m her. She is I.

All of our very being and matter is composed of interchangeable parts that were once part of others, or eventually will become part of others. We’re like a waterfall, always in motion, atoms spilled over into the global pool of shared matter, only we like to pretend we’re fixed, static, stuck, solid, permanent. We’re merely cascades.

We were never separate. We still are not. We simply occupy a series of constructs to reinforce the belief of separateness.

“That’s you,” we say, holding up a mirror or a photograph. “Your name is SEPARATE PERSON XT100359.” And reality is severed into an illusion.

The only thing keeping us separate is our own stories, but there is no separation between “us” and “them.” We are already fully functioning, flourishing members of a floor-to-ceiling civilization that includes all things.

Whenever we claim territory, nations, names, what we are doing is causing a violent separation of ourselves from other.

What we are invited into is a realization that there is no separateness. No detachment. No divide. No barrier.

You are the same as the Other; the Other you fear.

Even the Other you revere.

When we talk of the “Universe” or of “God,” it’s simply our name for that that Capital-E “Everything” we’re describing.

Not just that, but an Everything that is conscious.

Better than that, it is Love.

I think of words from the Bible where one of the last prayers of Jesus was for his followers to be “One, as the Father and I are One.”

What could that mean? Could it mean we are already connected to the very being of the universe? That we are offspring of the Everything, if only we could see it?

All of us are already connected.
Peace is already possible.
You and I (and them) are already one and the same.

Any element of war or conflict or difference or disharmony is an artifice designed to support the Ego’s war to claim it’s not the Same as Everything.

It’s not that this is certifiable, empirically proven. I don’t claim that this is theologically, philosophically vetted and approved. What I have to say is not to be guaranteed or plunged into. But what I would wonder is this: could it not be explored?

If you were a scientist, could you generate a hypothesis or two to discover if this were true?

If you were a theologian, could you not begin a process of inquiry to explore the possibility of this?

If you were a pedestrian or a plebe like me, could you not allow this to be fully imagined, a world to be mentally inhabited, to be conceptually wondered-about, to see if it bears living into?

The reason why we don’t build the impossible is not because we’ve explored it, vetted it, and rejected on the grounds of implausibility. It’s simply because we have not imagined it. Again: The reason we don’t participate in the impossible is because we have not imagined it.

If it were true that we were already One, what would be possible if we chose to act in this way?

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Row your frickin’ boat

Some people are, ah, really great at sports. And sportz. And at using their bodies to perform feats of athleticism that require focus and ferocity. For me, not so much.

With organized sports, I can’t seem to tune out my teammates and competitors enough to focus on the job of defeating them. I mentally review the decade of middling mid-field soccer I played in my youth, and see it mostly as an exercise in getting exercise, while wishing people weren’t such focused jerks so we could talk more. Maybe if we had, like, a twenty-minute opening circle first so we could understand where each other was coming from? Maybe if I was a more skilled player, and my dominance was effortless and natural?

Even watching sports is a challenge. I get a little distracted by the logos on the boards, the music playing over the speakers, and can’t quite avoid running an intense cultural commentary in my head about every single dynamic I’m observing, instead of just following the gameplay.

So when it comes to working out, I haven’t really found a good rhythm. I don’t mind the gym if I can listen to a good podcast, or a long walk where I can think by myself, but getting into focus and intensity has always been a challenge.

This past couple weeks, though, something clicked. It was music. In my headphones. And a rowing machine.

The first try was a playlist that just happened to be Arcade Fire, and the friction and intensity and ferocity in the music itself activated the beast within. I rowed for more than 30 minutes until sweat was dripping down my face.

The next visit, I upped the intensity of the playlist, and found again that the sweat didn’t just break, it poured. This was a fierceness of fitness I don’t usually hit.

All this to say: once I drop Addie at karate on Tuesday and Thursday nights, you’ll see me at the Y, rowin’ my frickin’ boat, puttin’ numbers on the board with Pusha-T, ’88 Jordan leapin’ from the free throw.

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Mini-me, the maniac

I’ve envisioned that my inner critic lives in an undecorated basement suite in the bottom of my mind. He is constantly on edge, moody and wields a knife. He reminds me of Derek from the Good Place: an unfinished algorithm, wildly unpredictable, humorously over-devoted. He’s my ego, constantly protective and over-reacting.

Moments will arise where I sense my inner critic lunging at me, and I’ll visualize a scene in that poorly-lit, unrenovated basement suite. A rectangular dining room table is between us. Usually, he’s stabbing his knife into the table and yelling about something.

“Okay, alright, I hear you,” I’ll say. “It sounds like you really care about…” and I’ll fill in the blanks.

“Yes!” he’ll say, and slump into the chair, a little more open to dialogue.

And we’ll have a made-up conversation about the grievance he’s advocating for. I’ll let him know I hear him, I’ll avoid stating that his claims are absurd — I’ll hear him out, and ask clarifying questions.

This elaborate scheme with the basement suite, that’s new this week. (Some people visualize an oompa band, I have a knife-wielding maniac)

I concocted the visualization trying to bring to life some advise from my counsellor.

“Get to know your inner critic,” he said. “Get curious, instead of judgemental, what he’s trying to say. Ask, ‘What do you have to say to us?'”

So I’ve been trying that. We’ll talk. I’ll ask him to put the knife down. I hear his demands and say, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Usually, my inner critic has a half-decent point, he’s just being an unrestrained jerk about it.

But making his acquaintance? I think it’s helping both of us.

Image from @scotthepainter on instagram
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more than me

more than me — beyond me —
Where are you.

how can i see you as holy
when today i
can’t even see.

something so far off and eventual
as your supposed “kingdom”
is such a tease.

is it here within our hearts today?
and if so, why do i feel so alone?
is it eventually a total renewal?
if so, why the wait? why the suffering? why not now?
is it a far-off place in the sky?
how can i care about such a nightmare
that abandons my friends
obliterates this planet
and keeps you so aloof?

the things you want.
what are they? (i’ve been so focused on my own needs)

on earth as it is in heaven.
i can’t help but accelerate at the thought of it.
present tense, there is perfection.
here and now it can be true.
all we do is ask.

those needs? straight up:
i need to love myself with clear confidence.
no more traps of self-hate and negative rumination —
my body, my body of work, my roles
fully reassured of my goodness.
i need to love fiercely my wife, as Christ loves the church.
Dedicated, Devoted. Persistently, Patient. Sacrificing everything for.
i need to be present and affirming with the kids.

forgive me for how i have
torn myself and others to shreds

may i forgive too.

i don’t want
to get
stuck again
in easy outs
wishful thinking
dangerous
dead-ends.
help me.

you
say you’ve
got a
kingdom
that works,
compatibly, with
today’s world.
power it on.

i want that
next-life aliveness,
here.

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Copycat

About myself, I’ve discovered this: I’m an interpersonal Weird Al.

By that, I mean, I am a parody artist of rooms and people. I can sense and take on the values and expectations of people I interact with.

In my work, as a facilitator, this is wielded well: groups find in me someone who is attuned to their reality and can speak back to them their needs. I can summarize and synthesize well, because in many ways, I have simply taken on their burdens am speaking from their point of view.

I can also find that if I’m not careful, I can lose track of my own point of view on an issue. I drift into becoming a performance artist that is simply the embodiment of other people’s expectations.

The art of getting acquainted with what my own needs are, is a very slippery pursuit. It’s part of why quiet time, and time away from people, is crucial. It builds a self-understanding that becomes a stronger fortress, letting me more intentionally slip into “facilitator” or “listener” mode without losing my sense of self.

I remember a scene from a high school bus trip for a band and choir festival. An older kid I respected had lent me a CD to listen to. As I sat in the seat across from him, I noticed we were both wearing a similar plaid jacket, and were reclining in a similar pose, listening to what would have also been the same artist. I nodded at him to point out our similarity and he smiled back. I had hoped it would built solidarity and respect, a camaraderie in being seen as twins. And maybe it did, but I instantly felt a strong sense of embarrassment and shifted my posture, and gave the CD back.

Did I even like this artist? Not in the slightest; it was George Thorogood, for goodness sake — an artist I’ve never looked up again except now, to remember how to spell it. I remember finding the music to be thoroughly unappealing out-of-date rock; I was simply listening to because it was lent to me. While the jacket was mine and the pose comfortable, the posing wasn’t. I caught myself in the act of accidentally becoming someone else.

On the Ennegram, this “performer” personality shows up as the 3. The ability to shape-shift into different caricatures and archetypes as the moment needs.

I’ve realized lately that this is reason #1 that I’m choosing to continue my writing project. It’s a chance to daily explore and express what is true only to me, only when alone. The stories and experiences and emotions that are uniquely mine. “For learning and alive-ness making.”

A line comes to mind:

I am whatever you say I am. If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?

From the year 2000, it’s Eminem saying that.

Commit to the public record? Put a thing online? Why?

To keep myself me. Solidify my sense of self like a ghost getting a foothold in the physical world. Here’s me otherwise —I am whatever you say I am. 

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Giverable

I was feeling miserable today, and trying to imagine my way out of it.

This isn’t etymologically accurate, but I thought of the word miser in miserable: one who hoards wealth. In this case, I imagined, a hoarder of terrible feelings.

What’s the opposite of somebody who hoards? One who gives away. The opposite of miserable, would be to be giverable.

Generous of spirit, giving away graciousness.
Generative, in creativity; generating abundant ideas.
Giving away truth; making it plain how one is feeling.

To be giverable would be a much more desirable state than the greedy Scroogery of misery.

But having this thought, it changed nothing.

Having a sick day allowed me to burrow into the cave of my bed, and it helped somewhat.

I decided to go for a walk, with timid steps tip-toeing down the driveway, restrained by reluctance, an anti-gravity saying “Stay home, nothing can change.”

I kept stumbling forward, into the mud and slush and along the gravel roads.

Am I off-track, in the grand swings I’ve taken at life, at the voices I’ve listened to, at the paths I’ve taken — am I simply deluded?

I found myself more than halfway around the block, and I simply drank everything in.

I noticed the sky was blue, and the sun was shining; winter was fading away. My jacket unzipped.

I noticed the wind on my face, steady, soft, unrelentingly consistent.

I noticed the whinny of a horse, a familiar refrain from a day long ago when those same sounds were sending me different messages.

I noticed I’m on a road I once saw as a symbol for no-trespassing.  And here I am, fully committed.

There need be no going back. This is a new season. I’ve listened well, I’ve heeded the call. We are well into something all-new.

By the time I returned home, hardly a trace remained of the mood-miser who had stumbled down that driveway in the first place. I was finally giverable.

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Welcome

Hi there,

I was wondering if you would like to join me on a somewhat eccentric internet journey.

I’ve been doing a create-daily blogging project since November 2019, and I realize that I don’t really want to do it just for myself. I’d love to invite more people to come along.

The things I write tend to be from the heart and off-the-cuff. I’m exploring a range of themes, from the emotions of fatherhood to the possibility of peace, strange dreams to spiritual curiousities — in the form of the written word, song snippets, kids poetry and drawings and more. For example:

It’s a chance to create an outlet for the creative voice that has been idling in my life for a number of years, laying dormant from a lack of time, but really, a lack of prioritization and an abundance of fear. I’m doing my best to bring courage and wholeheartedness to this project, which is also why I’m inviting you to come along: I’m here to engage authentically with life, hopefully giving you the courage to try the same in your own world.

Here, I endeavour to offer you no hot takes; simply warm gives. There are no like buttons, comment boxes or share icons. It’s a quiet space for reflection and experimentation.

I write daily, and send an email round-up weekly. Most people choose one essay/article/item to read each week from that email (I mark my recommended piece with a ⭐).

My hope is to develop a rhythm of regular expression that helps unearth new thinking — a way of “learning and aliveness-making,” for myself, and for you. I want to practice realness, authenticity, and self-expression, on the frickin’ internet, of all places.

I’m also working on a book project, and hope this can be home where I share writing, thinking and progress on that — and that this community will develop into something that helps grow a readership over time, full of its own wisdom and authenticity.

If you’re into it, please join me. The sign-up box is in the footer.