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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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Life

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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Life

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.

 

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Life

Tuesdays like today

This is Rosie.

I saw a lot of that mustard-coloured floral shirt today.

In the morning, around 6, after getting her changed alongside our other three kiddos.

During the next part of the morning, while we played with our baby chicks, tidied the house, and danced to Kanye West streams on YouTube.

During the afternoon, when she woke up from her nap while I was still working, and I invited her into my home office to play with post-its and pianos.

During the evening, while she cried as Kendra and I made dinner together, trying to keep her entertained as we sliced veggies, cooked rice noodles for the pad thai we’d be serving my in-laws.

In between the slats of the bars of her crib trying to comfort her in the dark as she cried after bedtime.

And now here, in this photograph Kendra snapped during a magic-hour stroll up our neighbour’s driveway.

I see a lot of Rosie on Tuesdays like today especially.

On Tuesdays I shift my working hours around. I have a “no meetings” block on my calendar each Tuesday morning, and during this time, Kendra takes a fitness class at the local Y.

It means that on Tuesdays like today, I stay up a little later to make up for lost time during the workday. It’s why right now, it’s actually not Tuesday anymore, but early Wednesday.

I’ve finished my work for the day. Ambient noise drones in my headphones, and my body shivers a bit — the house temperature has dropped for the evening, and the signals are all saying I should be in bed, but I’m excited to make space for this creating daily thing.

I’m hoping that choices like this, of unforgettably-present dad-ness and mom-ness in these early years especially, help our kiddos blossom and grow. I hope it’s building into my family a level of foundational strong care and connection that will never leave us.

The kids, they see a lot of their dad. I work from home. I chase them down the driveway saying goodbye to them in the morning on the way to school. I’m co-creating dinner each night, co-dousing them in the bath every bedtime, co-huffing at them for not listening every storytime. It means they see a dad that is engaged, connected, present — in happiness, anger, boredom, sadness and more. I hope it helps us show each other what it looks like to be real together.

The kids, they also see a lot of their mom. Kendra made the choice not to renew her license as a physiotherapist recently, to focus on spending time with our four kiddos. I hope that by empowering and supporting Kendra through my own life and work choices, that she too will be able to flourish and thrive, feeling like she can make the choice she wants to make, rather than being forced into any particular path.

With both of us at home like this, I hope that being here in the early years means we, too, have a shared foundation as we “grow up.” We’ve been back-to-back, side-by-side, this whole time. It’s creating a shared storyline we’re experiencing together.

So I’m working tonight, shivering in the home office, because of a choice to help out my family, whom I love, in ways that are life-giving and holistic and supportive. Catching up by using some time-shifted hours. I’m more of a night owl anyway.

You know who else is a night owl? Rosie. She’ll be up more than once before the morning, and Kendra will be the first-responder each time. When Rosie starts the day around 6 am, I’ll be able to help Kendra get a little extra time to sleep in by getting up with Rosie and the other kids.

And then we’ll start Wednesday.

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Life

Talking climate change with parents (Part 2)

Hello! This post was first written as a private email exchange between family members. I published it here enthusiastically, but didn’t check in with those I was quoting. That’s not very polite. I’ve removed the post for now, but will look to a future time to see about rebuilding some of the main thoughts (without the quotes) and we’ll see if we can get somewhere healthy.

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Life

Talking climate change with parents

Hi! When I wrote this, I was building momentum privately in the very first week of my Creating Daily project. I repurposed some emails I had exchanged with my family as fuel for the first week of posts. It turns out, if you’re doing that, it’s a good idea to check in with those being quoted first.

I’ll be removing these posts for now (part 1 and part 2), but will look to a future week to see about resurfacing some of the core thinking.

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Creating daily

Last night I stayed up late with a glass of whiskey and a blank 8×11 piece of paper and decided to get to the bottom of why I even have a website, or social media, or call myself a writer. I did what I could to pray, to listen, and then I just mind-mapped things.

The scrawls got scribblier and scrawlier and ended with one box that says CREATE DAILY.

It became an invitation to get into a rhythm of publishing, for five important reasons. Here’s what they are:

1) This space is for my own learning and processing.

It’s a chance to actually write and create, without being drawn into mind-reading. (That’s something I do in regular life: I imagine what other people are thinking. Then I shape-shift accordingly to suit their needs and expectations. Then I forget who I’m supposed to be.)

So this is about the potential for authenticity, for becoming clear on my own needs, perspectives, passions.

2) But this is also for my wise friends. They might be my closest audience. I get the chance to learn and benefit from them, and benefit them in the process. And me, I need a rhythm for this. Publishing doesn’t come fluidly, as a “natural social outpouring.” It instead needs be a “planned personal gift.” So this is a gift space. To show up alongside wise friends and learn together.

3) It’s a chance to live into my own vision. I have a statement on my wall that says (lots of things, but the key part of it says): “I will use my empathetic leadership and creative expressions to draw out our collective genius”

As you can clearly read, I’m not here here for:

  • emotionless following
  • anxious silence
  • individual showing off.

I’m also not here for:

  • empathetic thinking alone (that doesn’t connect with people)
  • creative ideas alone (that never get expressed)
  • collective dumbness.

4) I’m also curious: What will people discover that helps them come alive? It’s not just about me and my ideas: it’s about you, dear reader, discovering your unique possibilities.

I hope my learning and sharing makes it safe for you to do the same: share real stories. From spirituality, from parenting, from work, from life. 

5) This is a push against presenting an image. It’s a challenge for me to reimagine a web presence. It’s not for promotion, not for brand-building, but for love. For authenticity. For reals. I want to use it. To authentify the .com. Our job is but to live a life that is authentic, wise, visionary, and alive-ness making. This is for that. 

* * *

So with those five reasons, I’m going to try a rhythm this year of creating daily, on here, then curating weekly emails that get sent to my exiting subscriber list.

I killed my “Kevan Gilbert” public Facebook page, removed everything else from this site, and have started from scratch, to see if this can be something different.