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Fill-in-the-blank stories

It was my oldest daughter’s 8th birthday today. I made Addie and Ben some dad’s-not-here mad-libs to fill out.

Addie’s said:
“Today my dad had to go to the dump to help people figure out how to waste money. He loves me like a Komodo dragon loves a ninja line. I’m turning 5 million years old!”

Ben’s said:
“Today, my dad had to go to Atlanta to help MCC figure out how to watch television. He loves me like a big fat cat loves a waste of money!”

None of those things are true, but I love them both. So much.

Today, what dad had to do was travel to Vancouver to help a college figure out to use their content better. (And I love you like a dad loves his crazy banana-brains kids.)

*

I got to spend the evening at my colleague and co-facilitator’s place, where we ordered Indian food, and waited to hear if the offer they placed today on a new house would go through.

It didn’t. We were sad. We drank wine and felt sad, and told stories.

*

I boarded an ice-covered plane this morning, thinking about Victor Frankl. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he talked of how one motivating factor through his experience was mentally-composing his book, and mentally-rehearsing talks for his psychology colleagues on-stage in Vienna, where he imagined recapping what he was learning about his experience.

Though he didn’t directly say this, he modelled that “the way we tell stories in our life gives us meaning.” When we see our current circumstances through the lens of “others can learn from this,” it changes how we experience it.

I wonder if that means that our current world of instagrammers, and bloggers are actually an incredibly meaning-filled generation? We tend to malign and demean those overly obsessed with documenting every waking moment. Yet what if they are simply working to see their current situation through a lens that transcends the now? They are imagining their own experience through the eyes of an unseen audience, are they not? Isn’t that a gift, to us and the world? Perhaps these are not mere selfies, but self-transcendence.

Perhaps that’s just me hoping that my own create-daily project has meaning…

*

The cabbie I rode with in Vancouver this morning explained why the softwood lumber industry is going away. Nobody wants to build anything with wood anymore. Use it in house construction? No thanks; most new homes in cities are condos, and are made of concrete. Ship it to overseas, to places like India? No thanks. A certain insect is destroying any wood that gets used in window-frames or doors; people are choosing aluminum as their material of choice.

I looked out the window as we drove and the only wood I could see in Vancouver was the kind that was growing from the ground, in the form of trees.

Perhaps the best use of trees is to simply stay rooted. Sorry, local mills. It turns out that the downturn of your industry means the uprising of healthy forest ecosystems. What’s bad for the economy ends up being good for the environment, and helping us all breathe.

*

It would have been nice to be there for my daughter’s birthday today. I tried to change my work schedule, but couldn’t.

It would have been nice for my colleague’s house offer to be accepted. They tried to up their counter-offer, but it was a no.

It would have been nice for the forestry industry to keep thriving. People have tried, but it’s out of one person’s hands.

As it went today, a birthday got missed.
A house offer was declined. An industry is declining.
And somehow, what happened?

Humour happened anyway.
Relationship happened anyway.
Meaning and breath and health happened anyway.

*

Update: I’m circling back to this story at the end of the week.

Six days after writing this post, we hosted my daughter’s actual birthday with friends. It was deeply beautiful, and I was deeply present for it after all.

Six days after writing this post, I got a text from my colleague. The offer they had put on their house? It went through anyway! The financing for the other buyer didn’t work out.

Two days after writing this post, I can confirm that chopping down trees is indeed the worst.

When I was living these stories this week, I knew none of their endings. I filled in each blank as I travelled blindly through each moment. And yet each one came to have a surprising resolution or tie-in that very week.

When I was preparing the weekly email that gets sent from this blog, I wanted to get a reading-time estimate. The website I used displayed this quote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

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Tasks and tiredness

Tired, today.

As in, ask Kendra if I can have 10 minutes to have a nap at 4:10 pm type of tired. (It’s amazing how refreshing/inspiring that can be.)

Still, tomorrow at 4:45 am I’ll be up to start a 2-day trip to Vancouver to help facilitate a design sprint. Which means tonight, I don’t have a lot of energy or time for #CreatingDaily. And still, I will.

Here’s what I want to share.

I recently created a system on my wall for sorting through tasks. But it’s not the system I want to tell you about, it’s three shifts in my thinking about tasks.

There’s a category I have called “How long will it take?” I use it to help estimate the time needed for any given job. After the standard intervals (2 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour, 1 hour+)  comes a new post-it, with these options:

  • A day, a week, a month
  • A year
  • Many years
  • A career’s time
  • A lifetime
  • A generation
  • An age

It’s my reminder that some things are worth pursuing even if they can’t fit into a workslot.

Next, there’s an area called “What type of work?,” which is meant to help me figure out the mode or zone of focus I need for the  tasks. After some common ones (like admin, performing/recording, writing, workshopping) there’s a new one: Empowering. It has a sketched icon of me handing a bag of money to a woman.

It’s my reminder that work isn’t always about me personally demonstrating competence in a task, or personally competing for success. It can be about giving away the power and authority and opportunity to other people. A conventional word might be “delegating,” but I chose a word that suggests it’s about granting a chance to someone from whom I might otherwise, obliviously, keep the work from.

Lastly, there’s a section called “When will it happen?” After the typical options like “Today, This Week, Next 4 weeks,” there’s one that says “Don’t.” It’s a reminder that not every task that comes my way is worth doing. Something things just need to be stopped, because they don’t bring value, or align with my vision. It’s a reminder to check the purpose of what I’m up to.

Beside all these notes on the wall, is my own personal vision statement for the year, to help me filter.

I’d share the rest of the system, or how it actually works, if you were interested, but the main things I want to share are:

  • Sometimes a vision takes a long, long time
  • Sometimes doing the work looks like empowering other people
  • Sometimes we need to simply not do a thing, in order to get on with what we’re here to do
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Dad tries 11 hot sauces in the same bowl of mac ‘n cheese

The kids made me do it.

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

You’re welcome, kids.

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Participating in a world made better

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

What would we need for such a project?

Who would we partner with?

How would we move forward?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we’d do the day’s work.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here and now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found the perfect moment today:

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

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

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

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Fire, flood or feelings

I was told a story today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes me wonder…

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

If not…why not?

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

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

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Shame Dogpile

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

I found myself experiencing three distinct reactions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…at least, those are my intentions.

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

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JANE FONDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.