Roach Motel

My community-mindedness wanes in the face of cockroaches. In fact, my mental faculties pretty much shut down. I am visited by childhood memories of a black floor scattering to reveal shrapnelled-linoleum in the glare of a kitchen light bulb flicked on quickly. The quicker the flick, the quicker the scatter. I remember a bright spot when we learned of some researchers who were looking for the largest cockroach and we thought we might have a chance of producing one. Having not yet traveled we were oblivious to those of tropical proportions. Ours weren’t really big, just fruitful.

When I think back, I don’t know how we were able to sleep, or to function. We were kids I suppose. I remember having to shake everything before you put it on. I remember gym-bag trauma. I remember being doubly invaded when the house next door caught fire – “No Fair!” I remember a story that my mother wrote, about small boys whose country home becomes infested. In the misguided belief that it was their mother’s worst fear, they bury the family treasures in the yard and proceed to burn the house down. Rather than rebuild, the family moves away and when, one day, the boys hop on their bikes and ride back to the property to unearth the old photos and other mementos, they are both killed in a road accident involving a large truck. I think the moral of the story was that it could be worse, but I’m not sure.

I think about how we are trying to engage people of all stripes in our community-building effort and I wonder if it is misguided? If the result is the spread of roaches rather than the spread of inclusion? I am looking for the boundary that says ‘you can play too, but not in my living room’. A boundary that wont make me starchy or cranky, or make me move to the suburbs. Maybe that’s what the churches and community centres are for, to keep the mess contained, keep it on neutral ground. Is this just cold feet? Getting out when the going gets tough?

Is there a way to be inclusive without including the roaches?

Show Biz

Annahid Dashtgard wasn’t at CSI long before she initiated Games Lunch where tenants get together to play games. An expert in community-building and leadership it was evident that there was method to her madness. Playing cards sounds like such a simple thing, perhaps cause we all did it as kids, teens and young adults. I remember playing Euchre tournaments to win pizza. But nowadays, we have to be marshaled into it, usually on a Friday night with beer and poker chips.

In a lot of environments, games in the workplace would be blasphemy, even when it is on your lunch break. In a lot of environments, they don’t get it: the positive morale, the rapport, the networking that inadvertently happens when you interact with other people, professional people, in a professional environment. Games lunch is a nice way to remind ourselves that we are all just people even if we do have to sell something.

That being said, I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like if people everywhere carried a deck of cards around with them, sort of the way people used to carry a pack of cigarettes. And then instead of going outside for a smoke break, they could go outside for a card break. That’s when it hit me! Most professionals do carry a pack of cards around with them – business cards! And lo! Show Biz was created.

A tribute to open-source fun, this Bring-Your-Own-Businesscard game is one that anyone can learn and anyone can teach. It is fun to play, involves luck and strategy and is a great tool for getting-to-know-the-people-at-the-table situations. I would love you to play-test this at your own office and please send feedback so that we can update the rules of play as needed. Show Biz: Show me your Business card… Enjoy!

SET UP

Each player contributes a stack of business cards to the deck equal to the number of players, ie: 4 players = 4 business cards each = 16 cards in the deck. Each player introduces himself with his name and the name of the business or organization. You will need at least 4 players, more is better.

OBJECT

To win a complete set of business cards with no duplicates and none of your own.

START

Deck is shuffled and each player is dealt two (2) cards. Remainder stay in deck which is left face down.

PLAY

Pick up: Choose a card from either the deck or the discard

Ask: Choose another player and ask for a specific card. If player has it he must surrender it to the asking player.

Discard: Player must discard face up to the discard pile to complete turn, even during final turn to go out.

SCORING

1 point for each unique card

0 for each duplicate

-1 for your each of your own

CHALLENGE

You must ask for a specific card by the person’s name or the business name. This is where it pays to remember at the introductions – No writing it down!

VARIATION

For faster games or large groups deal out 1/2 of deck.

Trust me – no really!

I worked at a day camp when I was 19 or 20. I was the “Integrated Camp Counselor”, though I don’t know what part of my experience made them think I was qualified – a couple summers as live-in Mother’s help?

The idea was that rather than sending kids with different abilities or needs to segregated camps, they would have a summer camp experience along with the other kids in their neighbourhood. The integration aspect was something that everyone became involved in; the counselors, the kids, the bus driver.

There was no formal training for the counselors or the campers. A slim file came with each kid with special needs, often saying little more than “autistic” or “down’s syndrome“. Being the pre-Google era I would learn what those terms meant when the kids showed up and learn what was needed from the kids themselves. While this whole camp lives on in my memories, the person who made the biggest impact on me was Big T. She came with a slim file that said “retarded“, but she also came with a friend, Little N.

Big T was prone to violent outbursts and also to entertaining the crowds with bawdy, grown-up, vaudeville-style antics. She was not self-sufficient, and Little N, who got on and off the bus at the same stop, would pick up after her, rescue her lunch or her knapsack. Big T never noticed or acknowledged the help and I wondered if they were friends or if someone had told Little N, ‘now you look after Big T’ and she took it to heart as a responsibility. Little N was quiet and rarely spoke.

We had no goals to achieve with these kids, beyond having a good summer, and so the idea of integrating was a little vague. We all did the same activities and the other kids pitched in when they needed to. Though communication was not great with Big T, she and I were developing a special rapport. One day, relaxing after lunch under a tree, Big T came up and sat on my stomach. She then leaned over and picked up a rock the size of my head. The look in her eye meant business as she held it up ready to launch at my face.

My 13th and 14th summers were spent as a live-in Mother’s help. As a kid, I had the benefit of being exposed to a lot of different lifestyles, and this particular experience helped to shape me. My job was to care for an 18 month old and a 4 year old intermittently throughout the day and occasionally at night. I remember being amazed early in the relationship at the idea of just saying no. There was no yelling, no slapping. Nobody took it personally that the little guy kept throwing his food on the floor. They understood it as a learning experience for him as they kept saying, ‘no’, and by golly it was for me too – a lesson that stuck.

As I looked at Big T with her rock over my face, I knew that being afraid that she would do it would force her to. I knew that she would live up to whatever I was expecting from her. “T,” I said, “if that rock falls on my face it is going to hurt a lot. Put the rock down.” After a few repetitions, she launched the rock at the ground, an inch or so from my face. She got up with what could only be called a warning look, and stormed away. There were other, smaller challenges in getting to know Big T.

On her last day of camp we went swimming. Big T got rowdy on the bus and the bus driver scolded her and told her to sit down. Thwarted, she turned to pulling Little N’s hair. So there’s me with the “no”, “no”, “no”, but this time it was Little N who was bearing the brunt of it and as I became more desperate in my no’s, Big T became more insistent in her pulling. She wasn’t even looking at Little N, she was looking at me.

What I couldn’t think of at the moment, was that to Little N, it was probably just hair pulling, nothing more. For Big T however, it was so much more. Finally I reached across and pulled Big T’s hair, in a desperate ‘how do you like it’ maneuver, and she stopped immediately. Big tears welled up in her eyes as she looked at me, but they never fell. She looked straight ahead and closed up for the rest of the day. That was it. The trust was broken. I never saw her again.

And now here we are in this community-building effort, trying to reach out and integrate everyone, to find ways for each of us to leverage our strengths to be part of the community. And I think of Big T. And I think of the great patience it takes on the part of some and the courage and trust that it takes on the part of others.

Note to self: Don’t pull hair to make a point.

For the love of Blog!

I am really loving this world of blogs.

I would like to say something clever about the blogger community or about how the internet brings us together in ways that are often overlooked when we bemoan the lack of facetime with loved ones, but who am I kidding? I just really love these blogs and admire the work of the people who are doing them. They are like street performers for the whole wide world (www? ha ha) and I want to make sure nobody misses them as they walk by – look here!

What I really like is:

  • When the blog is personal and literary as well as topical – like Jay Robb’s blog – rich reading; we learn something and we feel like we’re getting to know him.
  • When the blog is artistic as well as topical – like Homeless Man Speaks or The Sartorialist – where Philip Stern and Scott Schumann air poetic views of the world and we come to see things in a different way. They both have a delicate sense of the understated, or unspoken.
  • When the blog is about or for the audience – like Seth Godin’s Blog – which delivers almost daily new insights and ideas, not to mention the occasional reprimand. Seth Godin has that magical Seinfeldian ability to identify and name everyday things that we are oblivious to, empowering us to fix or embrace them.
  • When the blog is fascinating in that alien-voyeur kind of way – like Binary Bonsai – part machine, part grapefruit? Michael Heilemann lives in a different part of the world than I do, and I don’t mean Denmark, I mean, technology and the present. I don’t always know what he is talking about, but I’m guessing my subconscious does cause I keep going back for more.

Each of these blogs has a wry view of the world that I enjoy. They each have a unique way of giving us something that makes us want more, makes us check back regularly for updates, speaks to everyman and makes us feel individually identified at the same time. It is very gratifying to find that there IS something new each time I check back.

How great is our world that these people are putting things out there with us in mind? How great that we can access their wisdom, art, ingenuity without necessarily taking their classes, living on their street or being in their circle?

Could there be a better time to be an artist? A writer? A reader?

Doing it

Years ago, in response to sister-nagging, my brother stuck a new sign on his bedroom door. Right next to the one that said:

I am a bilingual illiterate; I can’t read or write in two languages

the new one read,

I am a human being, not a human doing

Like nothing else in the whole wide world, having my own business has given me a sense of security and stability, a sense of purpose and relevance, and an achievable measure for my sense of self-worth. I suppose our self-worth should be some kind of birthright, but mine isn’t, and with the number of people who hate their jobs, I wonder that there aren’t more people running their own businesses. There’s no two ways about it; looking for clients is way way way better than looking for jobs.

I had made attempts at self-employment previously, usually with an unsustainable business model, ie, the people who need me can’t afford me. After much persuasion from my little sister Rachel, poster-child for the Rotman MBA, I undertook a Master’s in Business Administration at Concordia University, where I learned what I needed to learn, namely, how to turn an idea into an income.

I have ideas galore, more than I will ever be able to use so that wasn’t the hard part. Figuring out a profitable business model was. So I followed the advice of the Strategic Coach and focused on creating value for others. In my case, I’d been running Bestseller Bootcamp for a few months when the people in it said, “Rebecca! This is your new business!” And I wondered, could it really be?

After my mother died, we found a note in her purse addressed, “To my children in the event that I should die suddenly”. Among other things it said “Do your work well” and I have often wondered about that. It certainly isn’t much fun to do things you don’t do well. With your own business, you can stick to what you’re good at and let other people do the rest, which presumably they are good at. I am still wearing more hats than I would like to be, but because I had to wear all the hats in the beginning, I have learned that some of the things I thought I would hate, I really enjoy. Through the fantastic exposure of working out of a shared business centre like CSI, I came to realize that the most important thing that you CAN’T delegate is the relationship-building, which leads to a sense of belonging, a sense of community.

Through my neighbourhood involvement I hear more and more stories about people starting their own businesses, often from a position of adversity, and I think there is nothing greater than to hear about people taking their future into their own hands, doing what they want, building the life they want and sharing what they love with the people around them.

If I was a super-hero, I would be Self-Employment Girl, or MYOB Chick. As it is, I’ll just have to settle for putting up my own sign, one that reads:

If I can do it, you can do it!