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I dream of a world made right

I dream of a world made right
By the power of love, not the force of might
Reconciled, and shining bright —
and we could go get it tonight.

But it will never happen,
because everybody says,
that it will never happen.
So it stays this way.

How can you say it’s impossible?
When you haven’t tried it at all?
How can you call it an obstacle
When nothing impedes you at all?

How can you say you’re exhausted when
You haven’t even awoke?
How can you say that it’s hopeless when
You’re the one stealing the hope?

 

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The Seed, Part 1

When my kids ask about death — and Ben and Addie did, yesterday morning…about the afterlife, too, and heaven…I simply say: “I don’t know.”

Yesterday, I said, “I think something unexpected is going to happen, but it’s hard for me to imagine. If you were a seed, do you think you would believe that could become a tree?”

We have joked about this before. I even wrote a poem/story about it, that I made up for the kids one day.

The Seed

I had a little chat

With my friend, the seed

And I tried to tell her

That one day she’d be a 

zucchini plant.

And you know what she said?

“I don’t think that’s true.

I think I’ll be dead.”

 

“No, no,” I said.

“Here’s how it works.”

And then I explained

That if she goes in the dirt

And gets all covered up

And then watered with rain

She’s sprout right back up

As a new kind of thang.

 

“Ha! “ said the seed.

Oh boy, did she laugh.

“That won’t ever happen.

It will not. It can’t!!

If I go underground

And get covered in dirt,

Only one thing can happen.

It’s this: I’d get hurt.

A tiny old seed

Like me cannot change

From my tiny round shape

Into a new kind of thang.

I’m a seed. That’s my world.

That’s my job. That’s my name.

I live in this package

And I won’t ever change.”

 

“My seed, my dear seed,”

I said back to her then.

“I wish you could see

That this isn’t the end.

The shape that you’re in

Is not your last form

You won’t stay a seed

In fact, you’ll transform.

You will break apart

And yes, it will hurt

And yes, in the dark

And yes, in the dirt.

But after a while,

Reaching up for the sky

You’ll break through the soil

And come up, alive!

You’ll be greener than ever

You’ll even be brown

You’ll drink up the raindrops

You’ll grow in the ground

Your leaves, they will flutter

And here’s where it’s good:

You won’t just look pretty

You’ll even grow food!

Beautiful vegetables

That animals eat

That people can harvest

And sell in the street

And when it’s all over

You’re not done the deed

You’ll also be growing:

…a hundred more seeds!”

 

I don’t quote know how to finish that poem/story, yet, but I’ve got a few ideas.

Addie thinks the seed should get eaten by a mouse.

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Learning so far

I’ve been doing this Create Daily project for 4 weeks now. 28 posts have been generated. 4 email summaries. Here are a few unsorted thoughts and observations:

  • I’m writing far more than any reader can keep up with. People who open the email may choose to read one essay, if they can make the time.
    • That’s okay, because the project is primarily to stimulate my own writing-and-processing muscles. Readers are an added bonus.
    • That’s also sad, because I sense I’m writing high-quality content a lot of the time (not every post). I need to ask myself what else I might like to do with this, besides the weekly email, to see about sharing it.
      • I can’t quite discern my own motivation for the “sadness” I mention above. I am curious if that’s me acting out of ego, a desire for validation, and to be seen…or if there’s a sense of stepping into a mix of “gifting” and “calling” that is also connected with some kind of reach or at least resonance.
        • Interesting that in the above statement, I say the phrase ‘my own motivation for the sadness.’ What is that? Sadness has no motivation. Sadness just is. I’ve written about that. Why would I expect “sadness” to have a “motivation”?
          • Anyway, I’m writing here, and saying it’s for personal reasons, and it is. And also, I seem to be harbouring an intention for some kind of influence.
            • I also really want to remind myself that the only potential influence I wish to have is one that bids the world-at-large to choose authenticity, love and the stepping-into-one’s-own calling.
              • If you’re reading this, we’ve hit now on my deepest hope: That you yourself would check in with yourself, your gifts, your genius, and ask if you are creating the space necessary for you to live that out. Don’t squelch. Don’t evade. Don’t defer. You are the only person with your unique point of view, your own unique position of influence, and you may be capable of bringing more love and possibility to the world than you’ve been acknowledging. It may be “small,” but it is in that sphere of influence that you get to reside. YOU are only one that is where you are. You are here for this. Don’t step back.
                • You’re doing amazing.
  • I am willing to let the “create daily” project slide when needed, if I need to give myself the grace. Things that might supersede it? Caring for my family. Being tired. The needs we have (where “needs” = sleep, love, well-being) can be prioritized over the goals we have.
  • Somebody this week said I was a “machine!” On some days, I do feel somewhat like a juggernaut: like I have been holding back for years, with so many unshared ideas and uncreated stories. Like this must be my calling: the daily telling of realtime stories of discoveries, the saying yes to creating new. And on other days, it just feels a little tiring, somewhat mundane, and painfully embarrassing, to be constantly throwing myself under this bus, instead of resting in the quietness of anonymity and not-sharing.
  • I will make mistakes during this process. I have so many lessons to learn. I am learning lessons at a breakneck speed. I have 10 years worth of lessons to learn. All the years where I was “supposed” to be creating daily — where instead I spent the time working to meet others’ expectations, putting on a show instead of creating authentically, or otherwise simply ignoring this calling — I now have to dogpile/avalanche into new lessons.
    • Lessons learned include:
      • Please ask people’s permission before you quote them on your blog.
      • Please create instead of making excuses.
      • Please meet your obligations and duties before creating
      • But don’t not create.
      • When you experience drastic and overwhelming senses of shame, ask yourself to explore the root cause of that shame, instead of simply deleting the blog or deleting the habit.
      • You’re doing a good thing. It’s core to your calling. It’s worth investing in. “The world needs people who have come alive.”
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Gross. Domestic. Love.

After my talk at the conference, a fellow speaker named Steve and I were chatting.  I had quoted Marshall Rosenberg on my slides, with the quote: “Any anger is a tragic expression of an unmet need.”

He had snapped a picture of the slide and texted it to his wife. “This is our kids,” he texted. He was saying: “It’s crazy; our kids can go from zero to freak-out in two seconds, and it’s exactly that: a need that wasn’t met.

“Right?” I said. “And we’re learning it all alongside our kids. Is it any easier for us, even as adults?” I asked. “I mean, were you taught how to be aware of your needs and express them, in your upbringing?”

Steve shook his head emphatically no. “That was not us, not in our house,” he said.  The sense of emotional literacy, a fluency in naming our own emotions, didn’t come from our families of origin in this generation, or the generation before.

I gestured at the towers of Atlanta’s skyline visible through the windows behind Steve. “None of these founders of any of these organizations would have experienced it either in their upbringings. 90 years ago, each of them would have experienced distance from their own parents, and had no tools for expressing their needs meaningfully.” Love would not have been expressed verbally — an unnecessary luxury or indulgence, a forgotten accessory. And naming their own inner realities and needs? Unlikely.

And thus, the great drama plays out. A sea of individuals, bereft of true sense of belonging, unable to express their own deeply felt needs, pushing forward to Make Their Mark On The World. Questing to prove their value and worth, fishing for affection from others through their greatness. Skyscrapers rise and companies are born, being cemented into loveless corporations, being officialized into loveless systems, all born out of a great quest to be seen.

I had used the Rosenberg quote on my slides as a way of saying: until we get conversant in naming our needs, we’ll keep using work as a way to get our needs met unconsciously.

Steve and I shared a bitter laugh at this, as we connected the dots: this was us, too.

We had both been “lured” as speakers to this conference by a flattery-wielding conference organizer, who had convinced us we were too valuable to say no. We each left our families, who needed us, to demonstrate our worth on the stage instead. Every job has trade-offs, and occasional travel is part of mine — but had I blinked long enough to ask whether I was seeking affirmation elsewhere instead of investing up-close in my own family? Five days away makes a big impact. Was this one a worthwhile investment? Had we checked in with ourselves to be sure of our own motivations and needs?

The ability to become conversant in the language of our inner lives, to name our needs, and more importantly, to access the help needed to address them is still so recently developed.  From mental health supports, to gender equality that allows parents to meaningfully support one another, to having workplaces and cultures that encourage and support some aspect of this interpersonal investment — that’s still emerging.

The expectation of “love” being foremost isn’t new to the species, but the tools for supporting each other in this quest are a little fresher to the west. It’s thrilling to think of the transformation that awaits our organizations, cities, countries, families and selves as we gain a greater awareness of this. And it’s tragic to think of how far we have to go.

When I think of my conversation in the coffee-shop and the work ahead of us in true, deep, systemic reconciliation, I am even more convinced that love must be the forefront of our motivations and focuses. The daily practice in our closest relationship. The metric we evaluate, the factor we’re accountable to. The grace we extend, the vision we hold up, the ambition we pursue. If it’s not, we’re only going to be recreating the same challenges all over again.

Standing on the train platform to take MARTA on the red line back to the airport earlier today, I thought of my friend Tony’s comment about the meaninglessness of trying to pursue happiness. And yet, some writers would elevate happiness as a worthy aim, some countries even going so far as to measure Gross Domestic Happiness alongside Gross Domestic Product.

I wondered, what about Gross Domestic Love? It made me smile as it brought to mind the kind of squirm-inducing affection between parents that makes kids say “ew.” Gross, domestic, love: a national pursuit and household project.

During the final session of the conference, a video was played of a young man from Scotland who had been through the country’s foster care system since he was an infant. He now has a goal of reforming that experience, to help “bring love to the system.”

It was one of the first times that the word “love” showed up at the conference as clearly as that, spoken by a Scottish youth with a heavy brogue, a tragic story and a huge ambition.

I’m on my way back from Atlanta now, on the plane. I’ll be tired when I get home, but Kendra will be much more so. Solo parenting for this many days, on the night-shift with a nursing child, on the early-morning shift with the same kid rising at 4:45…really, solo parenting for any amount of time — that’s expensive, exhausting work.

Here is my work: returning home, helping up-close-and-personal with the humans for whom I am most directly responsible. Bringing love and attention to the person I married, the tiny humans we’re raising together. Showing my own ramshackle real-life emotions and processing our realities together, getting conversant in the language of naming our needs while deepening the sense of love between us.

It’s empire-building. It’s as big as founding a company. As massive as launching a non-profit. As worthy as creating a hotel chain. As impressive as leading a country. Very clearly and easily stated, much more significant than speaking at a conference in Atlanta.

Part two: Designing love-based systems

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The invisible fight

“If you give your life to a cause in which you believe and if it is right and just, and if your life comes to an end as a result of this, your life could not have been spent in a more redemptive way. I think that is what my husband has done.” – Coretta Scott King

I walked through the National Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta today. It’s a full-sensory experience that immerses you in the sounds of conflict, the sights of the fight, the shifts in human culture, and helps you encounter a living sense of history.

With headphones on, sitting on a diner stool at a replica diner bar table, I experienced an audio simulation of enduring a lunch counter protest.

I sat with my hands on the counter, as the audio created the sonic experience of men surrounding me. They called me names, and spoke right into my ear, husky and venomous voices spitting at me from all sides. I could hear someone at the diner get dragged away, feet kicking on the tile floor while they attacked him, all the while the voices closest to me screamed at me, daring me to step up and fight back. They kicked my chair. They kicked it again. They roared at me to get up. The whole thing shook and rattled; haptic feedback on the museum’s stool was making it jolt, as violence erupted all around me.

I opened my eyes as the audio ended and saw my own face in the mirror.

I rose, recovering my breath, and stepped to the wall of 400 mugshots of willfully-arrested Freedom Riders, people who had allowed themselves to get taken to jail: faces of white people and black alike, joining the protest.

I stepped into a scene resembling Birmingham Jail, with Martin Luther King writing letters in the very spirit of the Apostle Paul, challenging his church to not give up.

To the March on Washington, where millions arrived and King delivered his extemporaneous “I have a dream” speech.

Into the riots that ensued, and the bombings: a young girl with my own daughter’s name was killed in a church bombing in the following days. A stained glass window featuring Addie Mae, one of the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing

Into the assassination of King, at the Lorraine Hotel. The black metal stairs we walked up in the museum mimicked the same railings where he stood when he was shot, as neon from a replica hotel sign flashed. MLK Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel

Into a room simulating the church where his funeral took place, and we see that this man, who has inspired so much, and caused so much change, was simply gone, leaving his children and wife behind.

Did it end in victory?

Laws changed, yes, and changed the reality of many for the better. And yet from my encounter with Tony yesterday, the long-term effects of a long-term reality have yet to make their way to some communities that are still experiencing the long-lasting effects of trauma.

We might get the impression that in our world, that the fight is over. The Civil Rights movement has ended, and these events are in the past. But that was just the visible fight, the one with a spokesperson. The invisible fight is still taking place every day.

* * *

In the basement of the museum was a display of Martin Luther King Jr.’s letters, journals and plans. After the civil rights movement, he became involved in something called the Poor People’s Campaign. That movement has a 2020 version, organizing for June 20, 2020: a national call for moral renewal.

What other efforts might be happening in my own community and country that represent grassroots efforts to help create change? What might I participate in, or even start? How can my church play a meaningful role, as the network of churches did in MLK’s day? What might it look like to be a citizen working towards healthy change for today’s injustices?

I don’t know the answer, but I remain more open than ever to continue listening and partnering.

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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.