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A conversation with Tony in Atlanta

At the coffee shop where I found lunch today, I accidentally caught the eye of a person sitting alone, by the fireplace, with a tea. I chirped a greeting as I went to my table, and he mumbled a response that I didn’t quite hear. “Pardon?” I said.

“Just trying to stay strong, y’know?”

I wasn’t sure if I did know. I was just coming off having finished delivering a talk, and was about to eat some kind of vegetarian sandwich at this Caribou Coffee location.

“Do you ever wonder why you’re here?” he asked. “I mean, what’s the point, really?”

I wondered if this was a suicide-intervention type of conversation and moved closer to make sure I could understand his intent.

“Oh, yeah, come have a seat,” he said, and I joined him by the fireplace on a decorative stump.

He was a black man in his 20s, overweight and wearing a grey, fraying “Jasper Canada” zip-up over an all-black wardrobe. His eyes were weary and his posture slumped.

“Do you ever just feel so tired of it all? Just so fatigued?”

I wondered if he was referring to health challenges, like an iron deficiency or mono that had gone undetected — that would be certainly less urgent than a suicide risk, but still important. I kept listening.

“I mean, why can’t I just catch a break? I try so hard, and every where I turn, it’s just dead-ends. Don’t people understand I’m trying to make good choices? Like, how one minor decision they make ends up have major impact on a person’s life, and they don’t see it.”

It was clear there was a whole life story rippling under the surface of this man. I glanced over at my spinach-and-something sandwich at the table where I had intended to sit. I had been planning to check some tweets from the conference. This conversation had a little more urgency to it.

“People say to me, Here’s what you gotta do, just avoid people who give you trouble, and you’ll be happy, and I say, for what reason? Show me one person who is actually happy. I see people who supposedly have everything, and guess what. There is nobody who is happy.”

He sighed, rolling his eyes in despair and tiredness.

“And besides, everywhere, people are making selfish, greedy decisions, and those decisions affect somebody else — and what if that person doesn’t have a safe, healthy family to go back to? Do they even imagine how much their decision affects that other person?”

I was trying to imagine what he was referring to. I wanted to hear more to understand this. I grabbed my sandwich and kept listening.

“I was adopted. My mom couldn’t take care of me because she was a schizophrenic and a drug user. My dad was a thug and didn’t want nothing to do with me. So I was adopted by my grandmother. I found out later I have a sister, who I still have never met. I tried living with my other sister to save money, but she started asking me for money I didn’t have. The whole reason I’m staying with her is to save money. Just when I had finally saved enough money to buy a car to get out of here, I had to give it to her. ”

He looked at me straight-on.

“So many of my relatives are in jail. So many of my relatives are dead. These are the paths available to me. How do you get by in a world that just doesn’t let you get ahead? It just really fucks you up.”

Then he asked, “What’s your answer for why the world is as fucked up as it is?”

I looked at him. Here I am, a short-term visitor to Atlanta, Georgia, from a small city in Canada. A white guy, from comparative privilege. I don’t have answers for this guy.

I pointed at his jacket and told him I was from Canada — he hadn’t realized he was wearing Canada swag, and laughed.

I told him I was here for a conference, and that I was really grateful for him sharing his story. It sounds like he’s going through a lot.

I wanted him to know that, as best I could tell, his lived reality is because of generations of dysfunctional systems ignoring his voice and story.

I shared a concept I had just shared in my talk: that our systems of work and government were designed more than 100 years ago. We are now at a turning point where people are starting to recognize our systems need to be redesigned — our systems were created before the word “empathy” was even coined in English. That we are the people who can make choices to centre these redesigns on actual love and collaboration and teamwork, to set up the next generations for healthier systems.  That it starts by restoring love and dialogue and empathy to the relationships where we find ourselves. That he can do that today in his world, just as we are doing with each other now, in hearing each other’s stories. And I admitted that a long-term view like that doesn’t necessarily help a person like him, today, living under the crushing weight of a hundred years of broken systems.

Though I worried my words would seem hopeless and empty, he seemed to connect with them. He was with me, really with me, as I went through all that. For the first time in our conversation, he had a smile — as I labelled the trauma and terror of his lived reality as being broken and in need of redesign, he smiled.

But his response surprised me still:

“Somebody should communicate that properly to the children born into situations like mine,” he said. “We’re born, and we’re told that if we work hard we can get ahead. But it’s not true.When we work hard, we only find dead ends. Nobody tells us that we’re living in a broken system that needs to be changed. Somebody should notify the children.”

He is not being sarcastic about this. He is saying that the American Dream is advertised in such a culture-soaking way that those who are suffering within its dysfunction still don’t recognize that the system is broken.

I’ll repeat: They don’t believe the system is broken. They believe they are.

My new friend was asking:

Why isn’t this working for me?

Why can’t I get ahead?

Why are my relatives in jail?

Why is this so hard?

“Do you ever get tired like this?”

“What’s it like in Canada?” he asked. “How do you cope?”

I shook my head, at a loss for words.

I haltingly explained that we only have 35 million people in Canada, spread over more land mass than the US. I share that I was born into relative privilege, and that I had the benefit of a family that took good care of me. I wanted to talk about the suffering of indigenous people, but even then, I didn’t even enough first-hand experience to relate to my new friend’s reality.

I asked him his name — he said I could call him Tony.

I asked him what kind of work he wanted to get into.

He shook his head, as if I had asked the wrong question.

“People keep throwing themselves into jobs all around me,” he said, “anything to make money. But I want to ask different questions. I want to ask what kind of future we’re creating. I want to make sure what I’m working for doesn’t just keep creating the same fucked-up system we’re living in. I want to ask better questions. I want to make sure we’re working towards the right future.”

In the words he was speaking, he may not have known this, but he was cutting-edge. All those themes are on the lips of people doing the work of systems change: That’s Cascad.AI, that’s the Centre for Humane Tech. That’s the new movements for restorative justice. That’s the emergent future we talk about. That’s strategy. That’s inclusive design.

I wanted to respond to him in a way that would be explicitly encouraging as I could muster; though I was no longer picking up suicide-risk, Tony was clearly a person living within a daily reality that was highly discouraging. I didn’t know when the next person would be to speak something directly affirming and encouraging to him, so I decided to be it.

“Tony,” I said. “The way you are processing the world is brilliant.”

“You are a clear and amazing communicator. Please don’t give up. Don’t give up. I have no idea what somebody in a position like mine can do, but people need to hear your story and perspectives.”

“Oh, there’s something you can do alright,” he says.

I paused, not really sure if I could commit to much more than just this conversation. I did a time check and glanced across the street at the hotel where the conference was soon to resume.

Tony continued.

“When you find yourself the boss of something, or starting your own company, using your education to get yourself in a position of power, hire me.”

“Because it never works that way,” he says. “A person becomes the boss, gets in charge, and their greed takes over. They take shortcuts. They see a person like me and say, ‘I can’t hire him, I don’t like him…'”

“Yeah, right,” he said, exasperated. “You didn’t even get to know me!”

I thought back to my talk at the conference an hour prior, where I had said: “The goal isn’t just to prove that we as creators can produce great work. We need to create space to draw out the best contributions of all of us.”

All of us.

Can you imagine? If we were serious about co-creative practices that create the space for all, what would it really look like? If we were serious about inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility, what would it look like to hire Tony and train his curious, thoughtful mind and communicative, sensitive spirit to become a strategist and facilitator? To work with him on themes of citizen-centric government?

The time came for me to head back to the conference. Tony asked for nothing from me, and we exchanged only stories, not even contact information. As a visiting Canadian, I can’t hire Tony. But I can share his story here, in the hopes it could challenge us all to consider overlooked people and stories we can welcome and incorporate into our practices, to co-design systems that work for the next generation.

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The Co-Creator’s Charm

I drafted this on the flight over to Atlanta, and I’m intending to read it at the end of my talk tomorrow. The talk is called “The Creative’s Curse,” about how our creative ideas always get shot down by unwanted stakeholder feedback (and how to break that cycle). I’ll be walking people though stories and examples of a new frame being possible: ways to co-create and collaborate and seek involvement on purpose, not by accident.

The opposite of a curse is what? It could be a blessing, but I asked Kendra for some help referencing the Harry Potter universe, to see if we can land on a more accessible term. She suggested “charm” — the type of spell that is a positive enchantment.

(adrienne maree brown, in her book Emergent Strategy, uses the idea of ‘spells’ to refer to any recipe or tool to help with facilitating a new direction.)

(Also, shout-out to my friend Zach for the phrasing in the second-to-last line in this particular composition. A post-shower musing he texted me last week wormed its way into my head at the right time for this.)

So this here is a kinda of spell, charm, blessing, mantra, quote, to help anchor creatives in their efforts to choose a new way of operating.

I’m most-of-the-way certain I’m going to share it in tomorrow’s talk, but I haven’t built it into the deck — this is so I can read it aloud directly from my notebook for that added sense of realness, and also because it may end up not quite feeling right, depending on the room vibes. It will be the very final bit, at the very end, if it happens. We’ll see where we go.

* * *

The Co-Creator’s Charm.
(For shifting towards a new mindset)

I am not an isolated, individual creator.
I am part of a community of co-creators.

I am not bound by today’s expiring paradigms,
I can operate from tomorrow’s emergent ways…

Whatever those might be.
One day we might have a name for them, and share a common understanding, but today, we are respectfully, curiously,
humbly and hopefully exploring.

I choose to seek a vision that is beyond me, and beyond today,
and I will try to put aside my own ambition
so I can listen more attentively
to what wants to emerge.

I will be a participant in helping make a healthy future possible
even here, where I work, on this project, today.

It will be hard sometimes, and it may take a while, challenging me in every way.

So: I will also take care of my own needs.
I will not beat myself up for times when I lose focus or patience.
I will not create enemies by othering or hating those
who make it hard for me.
I will be on the lookout to avoid short-term thinking and unhelpful shortcuts.
I will ask for help when I’m feeling drawn back in the old ways of operating.

When I find myself in positions of power, I will share it.
When I find myself noticing progress and beauty, I will amplify it.
When I see our vision of a shared abundance emerging, I will not claim it for my own, but continue to invite collaborators, to participate in this ongoing project of co-creating the future world we want to live in.

Now, let’s get back to work.

* * *

Update: I didn’t end up reading this during my talk. For two reasons:

1) The timer went on my hour, and I needed to wrap up. It wouldn’t have been fair to the listeners or the next presenter to tack this on, and it isn’t the type of piece to rush through in a hurry.

2) The talk had already stepped into the perfect, real-life emotional territory to end on. I was able to share a story about an experience I had getting to the end of my rope with a client, where the empathy that was offered me by both my boss and my wife shone radiantly. It ended with a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world” — and I encouraged the audience that their own humanity and emotion, in all its wildness, will indeed be what saves us.

It was that story that had people talking to me afterwards: they thanked me for my honesty in telling stories about failure, that humanized the pain we all go through, in a way that invited us to choose love and realness anyway, as the true long-term strategy. No “charm” needed.

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In between worlds

The flames from the kitchen fireplaces roared, and the dim lights flickered. Music was making people a little too loudly, or maybe that was the drinks. I’ve chosen not to drink this trip, sticking to coffee and water, yet now I feel like I’m stranded here by the food table, not knowing how to break in to the little pockets of conversation. I ask the server for a cup of coffee, even though it’s 7:30 pm.

We chat as he brings it over to me, and I ask him how he is doing.

“I’m in a good place,” he says.

“What makes the place good?” I ask back.

“Honestly?” he asks.

“If you’d like,” I offer.

“I’m launching my business this weekend, in a couple days, and it’s going to be a global brand. I’ve been so anxious about it. But lately I’m just settling and and ready for it.”

“That’s amazing,” I say.

I wanted to ask more but he was pulled away like pork

The server has helped make sure the food table is stocked with a grazeable selection of elevated southern cuisine — pulled pork, fried green tomatoes. And I’m standing here alone, shovelling it in my face, trying to get the courage to talk to the other people that are here.

This is day zero of the conference; we’re at the speaker’s reception. It’s at a classy southern kitchen five minutes away from the hotel, and I’m last one here. I arrived from the day of flying, checked in, showered, and headed over. I’m committed to talking to people, because, well, let’s make this thing worthwhile, right? From business development to plain old friend-making and story-telling, the point to travel isn’t to stay reclusive. But it takes a while to summon the social energy to make my presence known and try to start conversations.

I finally break in, thanks to the efforts of the conference organizer, Jen, who recognizes me and pulls me over — and then, the conversations become a little more fluid.

I’ll paint you a picture of Farahd, from South Africa. He’s wearing a furry-hooded parka indoors in Atlanta in December, and he’s travelled 27 hours to get here.

Farahd described to me the conditions in Cape Town, where 2-3 million people live in “informal settlements.” He describes that homelessness has always been a problem, and that he strives to have compassion in his heart when he has interactions with them. It upsets him when his partner treats disadvantaged people with disdain. Here in Atlanta, he’s noticed, though the streets are clean, there is still a sharp divide between the haves and have-nots.

Lately, he says, there has been a growing refugee population, and it frustrates him that his fellow South Africans treat them with such xenophobia. The refugees are protesting, holding up signs which show pictures of the physical mistreatment of their fathers and brothers in South Africa.

This week, he will be giving a talk about a campaign he helped launch to market the business school. However, he’s also taking some post-graduate studies at the business school, where his class is having conversations about values-driven businesses — and he’s frustrated that the faculty don’t seem to practice what they preach in the actual workplace.

I’ll tell you about the trio of guests from Mexico I met. With big smiles and hard-working English, we talked about life in our respective cities and countries. Mexico City, with its 23 million inhabitants, is a city for cars, not people. “If you come to Mexico, you will have a fun time. You will be stuck in traffic a lot, but anywhere you get out, you will have fun.”

They describe that there used to be a river here, but now it’s under the city, and the city’s old buildings are sinking. One of them is leading a workshop at the conference on hand-lettered typography.

I’ll tell you about my fellow Canadian here — he guessed I was Canadian because I had a hoodie on that said “peacemaker.” On the lookout for opportunities in Atlanta, he’s heading to an ASAP Ferg concert tonight. (I had no idea who that was either.)

From Scotland, America, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, we have arrived here in Atlanta, mixing our stories and cities and expectations and cities into one new blended experience. Each of us have talks to prepare, stories we’re telling, connections we’re hoping to make.

Tonight was valuable because it’s the first sense I can get of where people’s hearts are, and where their interests lie, which will invariably influence my own talk.

I notice Farahd’s eyes most intensely interested when talked about themes of “organizational justice.” Of why organizations feel the need to be bullying, exploitative and unethical, even though they may know better. There’s a clear and attentive thread about bringing humanity to the workplace. I will bookmark that.

This is a group of people that are practitioners in their specific fields — in universities, focused on visual design — and they will workshop with each other to get nerdy. My role, as the keynote, is to help provide a different perspective than usual. The talk I’m working on is heading more into the direction that Farahd was most curious. I’m thinking that with the right blend of humour and practicality, we’ll be able to find a good thread here.

My talk is on Thursday. I’ll be using tomorrow to continue to listen, learn and adapt.

For now, I find myself in a spacious room at the Hyatt in Atlanta, waiting to FaceTime my family back home, writing up a blog post.

It feels like I am in between worlds.

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See you Sunday

Three new sheets await Addie, Ben and Theo for tomorrow morning on the breakfast table — Rosie can’t read yet, so she doesn’t get one.

Addie’s says:
Addie. You are a caring, smart person with powerful joy. I love you and think you’re amazing!! See you Sunday.

Ben’s says:
Ben. You are a thoughtful creative person with big feelings. I love you and think you’re amazing!! See you Sunday.

Theo’s says:
Theo. You are an expressive, dynamic person with a magnetic personality. I love you and think you’re amazing!! See you Sunday.

Tomorrow morning, 4:45 am, I’ll be up and boarding a plane to Calgary, and then to Atlanta. I’m gone until Saturday. That’s the longest trip I’ve taken all year long. Five entire days, I’ll be without my family, and my family without me.

The parts I feel worst about being absent for are the parts for which there are no substitutes or helpers: early mornings, and the middle of the nights, when nobody else but parents will do. It’s a lot for a solo parent to handle.

Kendra’s says the hardest parts are the dinner hours, trying to get food prepped, while also managing kid homework, with end-of-the-school-day wild energy, and solo parenting.

I’ve got a keynote talk to give on Thursday.  I’ve got lists of tasks and jobs to do on airplanes and hotel rooms in the meantimes. I’m hoping to make it worthwhile, using downtime for creative output and reading, seeing the conference as a chance to give a compelling talk and meet new contacts. And, oh yeah, I’m getting sick.

Last time I was in Atlanta was in the airport on our way to the Bahamas for our honeymoon.

I will breathe deeply, and hope for rest, creativity and connections. I will hope that my family back home will thrive during this significant absence.

4:45 am will come all-too-soon. I never sleep well on the nights before flights with early-alarms, awake at every second moment to check the clock.

Bedtime.

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Ben’s Traffic Lights

I was putting the kids to bed in the BAT Cave tonight (that’s Ben, Addie, and Theo’s bedroom, get it?), and frankly, it was not going very well.

Probably it was Theodore’s fault, but I’ll take the blame, since I’m the Parent. I was getting quite huffy, grumpy, upset and not-having-any-of-it.

That’s when Ben interrupted.

“Dad! I have an idea of what we can do when we start getting angry.”

(I love that he said “we,” and that he’s problem-solving together about ways to manage big feels. Dream come true.)

He goes on to explain that we can use the traffic light system.

“When you’re mad at Theo, you can say, ‘Theo, my light is red, I need your car to stop. When you are fine with what’s happening, you can say, ‘Theo, my traffic light is green, you can keep doing this.’ And when you are starting to get upset you can say ‘Theo, my light is yellow, I need your car to slow down and get ready to stop.”

I tried it out. The red light had a nice, clear, expectation-setting firmness to it. When I laughed a couple times during stories and songs, Ben asked if my light was green, but I assured him it was still yellow.

As I was getting ready for Ben’s part of the night, I knelt down next to him in his bottom bunk and told him I really liked his traffic light idea. I asked him if they’ve been practicing that in school.

He shook is head, no.

“You made that up?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Just tonight?”

He nodded with a smile.

“Is it okay if I write about that on my website?”

He agreed.

Benji is inventing emotional management tools to teach his parents (and now the world) as a six-year-old. The next generation is gonna just fine, folks.

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Tears from today

As I watched Addie and her friends rush back and forth from piles of snow into the hot tub during her birthday party today, a tear appeared in my eye. I was thinking of this writing project, actually, and that many of the parents of kids at that party might actually read this. And how it’s us, really, just us flawed and faulty fathers and mothers, trying every day to make it possible for these kids to know they are loved. I thought of how it’s damn hard to make sure our own well-being is actually being well, and that our own deepest relationships are relationally deep, so we can show up remotely whole and steady for the job at hand. It’s not easy to keep it together, and yet these children here, who are at the same time so adventurous and invincible, while also completely fragile and vulnerable, they need us. There’s nobody else.

I watched their antics while a song played inside the house:

None of this is in your control
If you could only let your guard down
If you could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won’t let you go

And it was that combination of thoughts and sights and sounds that was responsible for a sudden rat-trap of squinting eyes clamping down on the instant appearance of watery droplets beside my eyelids.

I would have lingered with the thought a little longer, but a hot tub full of eight year olds and younger siblings doesn’t really let you loiter. Within seconds, I was up on my feet trying to prevent the consumption of pool chemicals and announce that the pizza was here, and the party continued.

That was the second time a tear had appeared in my eye today. The first was earlier in the morning, while I was reading a book. I had simply been trying to shore up some strength in anticipation of the big day ahead, and in search of some alone time, I had retreated to my bedroom.

I was moving through the last few pages of this particular book. It’s by David P. Gushee, called Changing Our Mind. It’s a book primarily for audiences who are Christians, and it serves as a call for healthier, more intentional inclusion of LGBT Christians in church communities. It’s a little more academic than usual, written by an ethicist, though written quite accessibly.

The squint to trap that lone tear happened as I heard the echoes of past boldness, of emancipators and activists staking their claim for liberation. I’m hearing Lincoln, MLK, and I’m blinking away a tear because…

After what has been pages and pages of painstakingly careful language, we get to one of the last chapters, where we read the transcript of a speech in which he is addressing a gathering of youth from within this community. It has taken a long while to get here. He says:

“I will henceforth oppose any discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be.”

There seems to me to be no greater risk and hope than to make a promise like that to a community who is suffering. How do I read a thing like that and come away untouched?

The third time a tear appeared today was when I finally got to connect with Kendra after she returned from the funeral service she attended.

When I first met Kendra, in university, there was a mentor she had in high-school that was still a letter-writer and an active influence in Kendra’s life. Kendra had gone to prom with her son, and been a mentor to one of her 3 daughters. And it was a different daughter, only 27, who passed away last week.

Kendra described her experience at the service today. She described seeing the father and son together carrying the casket, in which lay their daughter and sister. Kendra shared the message she had drafted for her mentor, who had lost her daughter — a stunningly sensitive and heartfelt note. Kendra reported that her own tear ducts appear to be functional and in working order. I could verify that mine were as well.

*

This morning, during the obstacle course, Benjamin came in last place. He cried, and cried, and cried, and cried, and cried. He wailed and howled. His tears were the loudest I had heard all day. He believed that by coming in last place, he would be the last to get a slice of Addie’s birthday cake.

I heard myself trying to logic him out of it: explaining that the obstacle course had been designed for 8 year olds, not 6 year olds. That it was for Addie and her friends, not for the siblings. That he had still done really well, and I was proud of him!

But I thought back to the book I mentioned a couple weeks ago, called It’s Not Always Depression, which mentions how our core emotions just are, and need nothing more than simply to be felt.

So I walked beside him with my arm around him back to the beginning of the obstacle course, and simply said: “This is sadness, Ben. If you think of Inside Out, Sadness is at the control panel right now, and she’s allowed to be there. We can just let her be. This is what sadness feels like.”

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Obstacle course

I spent this morning before work creating an obstacle course around the back, for Addie’s 8th birthday party tomorrow. Friends will arrive, and we’ll gather for a fire, marshmallows, and a timed sprint through this ridiculous, ramshackle bucket-and-pipe course.

The day itself tomorrow will be a bit of an obstacle course.

Not only will seven eight year-olds, plus my own four kids, require hosting and guiding through the proceedings of a birthday party, Kendra will need to step out near the end. She’ll be attending a memorial service for a childhood friend who passed away unexpectedly.

An obstacle like grief doesn’t announce itself in advance; it just shows up, and leaves it up to you to figure out how to move through it.

What obstacles are you moving through right now?

Are they of your own design? Did you see it coming? Or is it taking everything you’ve got to stay balanced, keep on your toes, and keep moving forward?

I look back on the week this has been: the delicate dance of travel and emotions and Christmas and kids and work and relationships and grief and parties and all the other things that would never make it to a public blog like this, and I admit that I don’t feel safe, or comfortable, or confident or sure-footed. I feel short of breath. It’s a course that is challenging, and it’s tiring, even in the midst of great joy and lovely surprises. We are moving rapidly through an obstacle course that is only partially of our own design.

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Extra batteries

How can it possibly be true that I am in a good mood right now? It’s 8:47, and all the kiddos are finally in bed. For the record, that’s about 1 hour and 17 minutes later than I would tend to consider appropriate.

One reason is that I had a little breakthrough with Benjamin this evening: I helped him see that I “get batteries” when people listen to me and say nice things, and I “lose batteries” when people don’t listen me, and they say mean things to me.

It’s an obvious concept. We’ve explored it before. But tonight, for some reason, Ben really connected with it. And he made it his mission to be a good listener and say nice things tonight. What an extraordinary difference it makes to have people create kindness intentionally.

Extra batteries were necessary, needed and valuable today, because today made no sense.

My workday today consisted of co-facilitating a room of 6 clients from a video conference in my home office, and then connecting live every 30 minutes to a video call with different strangers to facilitate a separate interview, which were broadcast on-screen in the client-room from them to watch and take notes about. It concluded the fourth and final day of our design sprint this week.

After only a 20 minute break after the workday, I then had to join a video call with the board at our church to work through financial conversations.

Good mood, does not compute. Extra batteries required.

Batteries came from the events after work: Dinner was a new deep-dish recipe Kendra had discovered in a cookbook; a delicious beef stew with cremini mushrooms. We invited Frank and Kathy, aka, grandma and grandpa, to join us from their downstairs suite, and wine was enjoyed.  After work, after the board call, our family finally decorated and straightened yesterday’s naked and maligned Christmas tree.

There was also a moment after that long work day of remote facilitation, where I stayed still. I wrote 12 lines in my journal in the style of a rhyming children’s poem, that broke off into a 6-word prayer.

That moment, trying to shore up energy and focus and health and presence and well-being enough to recover from a draining day and get ready for some massive context switching into my remote mini-board meeting and then into family chaos…somehow, peacefulness found me, and persisted.

It’s now 8:57 pm. All the kiddos are finally in bed. I’m going to read aloud to Kendra some chapters from Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series (we’re in Clay’s Ark), have a little more wine, and then it’s bedtime.

*

In one other quiet moment today, I found myself judging myself mentally for doing this project at all. The whole thing. The blog, the create daily, everything. A sneering, hateful internal bash of myself for this whole embarrassing wannabe concoction. A vile stew of internal hate piling upon me for even attempting it, for exposing myself to the world.

I wondered to myself what influences in my life have caused me to think that a writing project is silly and wasteful. I didn’t figure out the origins of that voice, but I recorded this simple note on my phone:

A voice in my head says this is frivolous.

A voice in my head says I don’t have time for this.

A voice in my head says I was made for this.

At least for now, I’m going to see what I can learn from this.

I don’t know why those voices offer me shoulds and shame, but they are present and they are noisy. It takes a daily muting to leave them alone.

…but at the end of the day, I can’t tell you why voices in my head are sometimes mean to me, and why sometimes they abate and show kindness.

Must be the extra batteries.

PS – This song, Voices, is worth a listen, and connects with today’s reflection.

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Tree-farm freak-out


Family traditions are not very well established in our household; our oldest is now 8, and over those 8 years, it’s been challenging to establish norms and pathways that are age-appropriate for all involved.

Anyways, one tradition that is two years running is the act of hunting for a Christmas tree. We print off a permit, drive up into the forest hills with another family, bring hot chocolate, snacks and saws, and bring home a fresh-scented pine to occupy our home for the season…until it wilts sadly and sheds its needles and gets tossed off the deck in the New Year.

But this year, the friends weren’t available, so our forest hills were the Canadian Tire parking lot, where a local tree feller-and-seller fella had set up shop in a fenced-in area with a trailer and a dog and an axe and a beard. We pulled up in the pitch-black night of 5 pm, and emptied ourselves out of the van like the clown-car that we are.

Immediately, we dispersed, finding our preferred trees and asserting seemingly-random preferences. We moved from the $100 trees to the $40 trees, and clumps of children would form around certain trees that seemed to attract attention, where they would jump up and down in loud delight, hollering “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” in support of their deciduous decision. The adorable scene brought an affirming smile to the bearded fellow who waited for our tree choice.

We narrowed it down to two options: a $60 tree that shone a little glossier, and a $45 tree with more of a “matte finish.” Comparing heights, bushiness, and whatever other intangibles one evaluates when choosing a tree, we selected the $45 one, paid the man his money, and continued on our supposed-to-be-merry way.

A sliver of moon shone down on us, clouds obscuring it lightly with tendrils of cotton-candy fog. Pools of orange light puddled on the dark pavement. Nearby cars in the lot coughed idly as they came and went.

And like a caged wolf, our son wailed.

The howling that ensued — could we have predicted and prevented it?

The sheer force of the tantrum that followed — was there a hint that it was coming?

This was not the tree he wanted.

The ferocity was is if he was resisting an attack from a killer in the parking lot, as he fled to the van for safety.

Our saccharine family-portrait moment in front of the tree-seller became less than charming. We lashed our unwanted tree to the roof of the Sienna, and our son screamed as if it was his own body on the altar being sacrificed to the gods of Christmas.

Into the darkness, our perturbed clown-car (imagine us now with painted-on-frowns and smeared clown make-up) steered our loud-mobile away from our fake forest.

Dinner happened. Bedtime happened. No emotions were left to decorate the tree that evening, so it slouched against the wall, unadorned until morning.

When the sun finally rose the next day, while eating our breakfast next to our our slouching, naked tree, our son said, “I’m glad we choose this tree after all.”

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Airborne toxic event

What’s the difference between:
attentively drawing out a shared perspective
and
compassionately encouraging someone else’s point of view
and
passionately expressing a personal point of view?

I did all three today.

In a workshop setting, I found myself professionally engaged in mode #1. I listened, I heard, I rephrased. With a 16 eyeballs staring at me as 8 mouths expressed any combination of ideas, I took those clouds of words and stitched them together into sensible, coherent strings of meaning. (What a strange word picture.) I was wielding attentiveness, neutrality and care — dancing between statements and assertions and opinions and reactions to help point out what is similar, and suggest ways forward. I heard from the many, to help people see what we all had in common in our pursuit of the possible.

In that same setting, I found myself needing to zero in one just one key perspective. A person whose reality hadn’t been properly incorporated or addressed. It needed closeness. Direct affirmation. It needed authority to be given to it. It needed to be amplified. It was a voice being lost in the mix, and I needed to help make it matter.

And in that same setting, I found myself feeling like an obnoxious blowhard, a gesticulating pontificator. Thankfully, it was after-hours and on a lunch break, but nonetheless, it was me in swagger-mode, making unverifiable claims, fishing for attention, aiming for provocation, making grand sweeping statements to ensure I was heard, seen and understood.

That third mode? I didn’t like it as much. But…

Quick side story?

Our gas line had been disconnected earlier today to allow some work next door to get done safely, and then reconnected. But the reconnection hadn’t worked — the gas wasn’t coming back on, our house was getting cold, and the technician was called back. I just finished chatting with him at the front door, as he explained what had happened.

An air bubble had gotten trapped in the gas line during the previous disconnect/reconnect. It was blocking the gas from flowing, which meant the furnace couldn’t light. The furnace tried once. Tried twice. Tried a third time, then the house went cold: the electronic nature of the furnace only allows 3 attempts to re-light the furnace, before disabling itself for safety.

But that meant the air bubble was staying trapped. To get the air bubble out, the exterior vent at the meter needed to be opened long enough to purge the air bubble by venting the “polluted” (air-bubbled) gas.

I didn’t like the moments today where I over-pontificated. I annoyed myself. And yet, it helped me hear myself sound like an idiot, so I could let go of those toxic perspectives. Sometimes I don’t realize how dumb my ideas are until I see the look on another person’s face reacting to my toxicity.

Letting go of those perspectives helps me get back to the main work at hand: amplifying the unheard perspectives of others, and helping others pay more attention to what they have in common, rather than what divides them. Or, if you will, lettin’ that old air bubble out, so we can light that furnace, and heat that house.

That’s one hella cheesy perspective, folks. But it’s whatcha get tonight — I’m back home after 2 days of travel, and this here Create Daily post is the only thing standing between me reconnecting with Kendra with some wine, cheese, and The Crown.

The moral of this airborne toxic event: If you’re finding yourself in a place where you’re ranting, let it be so you can get back to the work of listening to others, and pushing for what else is possible.

I’m out. Crown time.