ROM wasn’t built in a day…

I came into work at my usual 5:30am the other day and by 9:30am my left brain needed some distraction so that my right brain could do some thinking about this new Author Series. Ergo, off to the ROM.

The Royal Ontario Museum, is a world leader in inspiring wonder and building understanding of human cultures and the natural world, according to the visitor guide. It goes on to say thatthrough our nationally and internationally outstanding and innovative research, collections and programs, we strive to deliver a high and continuously improving level of service to visitors to foster life-long discovery and learning.’ Generally I prefer to focus on good things in order encourage proliferation of them, but sometimes I think an institution needs to have its mandate held up against its execution.

For twenty-two bucks, you kinda want to stay all day and get your money’s worth, and in fact, I stayed from 10am to 5pm, exploring two exhibits and the FOOD STUDIO, which for sure is only in business because it has a captive audience.

One of the features at the ROM is the Stairs of Wonder leading from the main floor to the exhibit floors; easy to find, wide and peppered with glassed-in exhibits of toy soldiers, giant bugs and a repertoire of Pez dispensers (oh, my mistake, the Pez dispensers are at Sadie’s Diner on Adelaide, my FAV downtown diner). This stair-well is nicely and cleverly designed to get people to take the stairs rather than the elevator.

The same is not true if you want a bite to eat. To get to the FOOD STUDIO you have to use your imagination. Rather than going down a dirty concrete stairwell, for instance, imagine instead (this is for you, museum directors) that you descend the Stairs of Gourmets, a stairs lined with exhibits like seed collections or the evolution of cutlery through the ages and cultures. Imagine that you enter not into an industrial cafeteria that could take lessons from Ikea, but into a giant dining room with reproductions of dining tables and chairs in all shapes and sized from around the world. Imagine that it was not one big noisy room but several rooms featuring different food-related exhibits like the growth from seed to table or the importance of bees and pollination.

Best of all, what if the food wasn’t the most bland pizza and lank salads ever, rivaling even a high-school cafeteria, but really was wholesome, organic even local foods? This is not a question of budget, it’s a question of imagination, of forgetting the importance of the human needs involved in the process of experiencing any civic or cultural institution. All this could even be outsourced if it is not part of the core competency of the museum (which I would want it to be if I was a museum director). There are plenty of great entrepreneurs doing invigorating things with food and learning.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to the Museum, I want to be wowed. I want to eat thousand year old food, food that will inspire wonder and build an understanding of human culture and the natural world, maybe have a chance to sample the food of Kings or the food of the Gods.

If it had at least been good pizza, I might not have realized this about myself.

Networking 101: What NOT to do…

I love an audience. It’s a family thing. I like the kind where I am on the stage and the audience is not. The kind where I have a pretty good idea of what I am going to say and how the event is going to go and some confidence that the curve balls will be few. So, to stand up and pitch my business to a group of probable clients is like… pizza. It doesn’t get much better.

I spent happy-hour the other night with the lovely people at The Corporate Source, and about a hundred guests. What CSI is to shared work spaces, Corporate Source is to networking groups; friendly, professional people with a genuine desire to enhance the business opportunities of members and guests.

As the Bootcamp expands beyond word-of-mouth I find myself making my first foray into networking thanks to Susan Aldridge, the Cold Call Queen, who seems to have taken me under her wing, introducing me to ideas, opportunities and people. I find that as I enter new communities I am at a loss with the one-on-one mingling and I have noticed a kind of process, (maybe universal?) that I use to fit in. After the initial hiding phase, I try to find something to do that forces me to meet people, like pouring drinks or fobbing open the door for guests. Then I try to make the space my own so that eventually I am welcoming people into MY space and it is natural to get to know them. Well, suffice it to say that I really like this group, would like to be a member and was determined to get to the find-something-to-do stage at Thursday night’s event.

This was my third visit with this group and the first two times I bolted after the formal part of the meeting was over. In other words, just when things were heating up for everybody else. So yesterday I pretended I was in charge of the name tag table. A clever tactic, I thought to myself. I introduced myself to people as they came in, found their name tag for them and struggled to recall their names as they were swept away by familiar voices. With so many people who were guests, most of them didn’t realize that I was too!

Then my plan backfired when one fellow’s name tag wasn’t there. Figuring he was a late addition, I mentioned it to a member nearby and offered to write one up if he had a pen.

“Well that was an oversight, wasn’t it?” he said. Yikes! Had I just gotten myself blamed for a name-tag snafu? I didn’t quite know what to say.

“I’ll write one up quickly,” I offered.

“That’s kind of shabby,” he answered. I felt a little rebuked, as if I HAD been in charge of printing name tags. My mind racing furiously for a solution, I looked at our pile of emergency blank name tags and wondered why we had them if they were shabby?

The fellow we were discussing had long since wandered off and was now setting up at the podium and I finally realized – he’s the key-note speaker!

“Ah,” I said, “Maybe no name tag is better. Everyone knows who he is.” (Except dolts like me who don’t read the invitation!)

“Yes,” he said, “I can’t believe it. I guess I was so focused on getting all the guest names, I forgot about the speaker.” Whew! So he was talking about himself all along!

Next time I need something to do at one of these things, I’m going to take up smoking!

Business Development Bootcamp… or Bust!

I can’t possibly overstate the benefits of working out of a great place like CSI; the people you meet, the magic that happens when you do…

I took over my new office in July and it has taken me over two months to get it set up the way I want it. I have also taken on a room mate at the office and at long last he can do his work without hunching over a file cabinet to do it. Of course, being me, part of the room mate deal was, “but we do things my way, right?” When I refer to ‘my office’, there are any number of people at CSI who will say, “Isn’t it Dimitris’ office too?”, well, yes, I meant that in a descriptive way, not a possessive way. Really.

I have no idea where I’ve been all summer, but it wasn’t at my desk. So now I’m rubbing shoulders with the room mate on a regular basis, our office is beautiful and we’re both getting things done. Dimitris Stubos, aka CSI Finance Guy specializes in accounting etc for artists and non-profits. It’s the ‘et cetera’ that’s getting interesting in his case. Like all great Super Heroes, Dimitris has his day-time costume that he wears on the job, posing as a money-guy who understands artists. But when he takes his costume off, he’s really an artist who understands money.

He says I have a great relationship with money. All of you who know me will laugh at that, but his explanation made a lot of sense: “You give it away like you have an endless supply, it comes to you out of nowhere when you need it, debts don’t bother you, big numbers don’t bother you. It’s truly a means to an end for you.” I like that.

Between Dimitris and Linda (administration and book keeping at Bestseller Bootcamp) I feel like my cash-flow is in good hands, though it took me a while to convince them that the best plan for the Bootcamp was to put six degrees of separation between me and the money. Now I go to them and say, “Do I have $200 for a file cabinet?”, and that way I know I’ll always have enough for the things that really matter – like wine on the rooftop!

So Dimitris and I headed out for a ‘Back to September’ brainstorming breakfast which means me coming back with more accountability than I can handle in one day. Our conversation went something like this:

Dimitris: Have you ever thought of blah blah blah?

Rebecca: Yes,  yes but not until I have blah blah blah.

Dimitris: Why can’t you do it now?


Dimitris: Why don’t you do a this n that?

Rebecca: I need to have a thingee first.

Dimitris: Why can’t you do it yourself?

Gees Louise. It’s all about accountability. I have my personal Business Development Bootcamp going on right in my office, and with Idea Guy an elbow length away, he knows how much time I spend on Stumble Upon (it’s research!) so I have no excuses. This week we got serious about a monthly newsletter, weekend writing retreats, week-long exotic writing retreats, the youth program, an author reading series, an internship program and more(!).

“Dimitris”, I said, “I am having proprietorial feelings towards you,”

“Wow,” he said, “I don’t think anyone’s ever had proprietorial feelings towards me before.”

…I doubt that very much!

If you can’t beat ’em…

I was regaling the nephews one evening over dinner with stories about me (naturally) when during an anecdote about fighting at school I asked them about their experiences. At seven and nine I figured they were no strangers to bullying and just plain surviving the Canadian penal, I mean, education system.

“What do you mean,” says the nine year old, “like, people hit you?”

I was stunned. Do we really live in a world where a kid in grade four has never been beaten up at school? I had always thought that if I had kids, school was one of those things that I would protect them from, conjuring up elaborate home-school schemes that would have tested the finances of a Sultan. Never did I imagine that things would improve.

I remember getting picked on for things as stupid as out-of-season clothing. I remember being the bully now and then, particularly punishing towards little TB, the sweetest guy ever by the accounts of people who knew him later. I suppose his great crime was being… content. I couldn’t stand it.

In those days it wasn’t just kids who got physical. I remember trips to the barn, following the dangling belt. I don’t remember the strapping, but I remember the use of power, being forced to walk to your punishment of your own free will, a grown-up’s assertion of who is boss.

I remember kindergarten, a harrowing walk past rabid German Shepherds and a teacher who had to show that kid who’s boss. “No you can’t go to the washroom now, it’s time for story circle.” So I sat in the circle, crossed my arms and didn’t take my eyes off of her as a great pool of pee spread outwards and the other kids fled in horror. Then I went home instead of to the washroom. Why does everybody have to show a kid who’s boss? Was there some doubt in her mind as to whether she or I was in charge? Did I really have issues with authority all those years, or did the authorities have issues?

For twenty years Mike, aka the best, has been trying to get me to cooperate.
“Why can’t you fold the sheet yourself?” I ask, bewildered. “Because I want to fold it with you,” his equally befuddled reply. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know you when you were little”, I tell him, “cause I would have beaten you up for sure.”

At the latest Hub meeting, we apparently had a breakthrough while discussing Movie Nights. A number of us, sitting in a circle talking about our latest effort to engage our neighbours, and one after another, people chimed in as to how they could contribute to spreading the word about it. Like a hacky-sack the ideas bounced from one to the next until the movie night sub-committee was ready to run with it on their own.

David Derbyshire, our veteran Hub builder pointed out our successful use of collaboration and the asset-based method in forwarding the Movie Night planning and we all congratulated ourselves. And I wondered if a couple decades of reluctant cooperation has gotten me ready for collaboration, which seems to be a lot like cooperation, but with more people.

And nobody had to show any body who’s boss, and nobody had to pee on the floor to make a point.

When Issues Become Assets

With the South Sherman Hub we are learning about Asset-Based Community Development and the work of John McKnight. The idea here is that you engage residents to focus on the good things in the neighbourhood. I imagine that ultimately, all these good things and people being engaged around some central principles makes it a lot easier to tackle the hard things when need arises.

The South Sherman Hub, like several other Hubs in the Hamilton area, has received support from the Hamilton Community Foundation and part of our communication with them about the results of that support involves filling out an annual report.

We have had an interesting evaluation process whereby the foundation engaged the Hub members in creating a suitable forum for feedback. Hopefully this will ensure that we are measuring what we are actually trying to accomplish and not some standard goals that have nothing to do with our activities.

My favourite question, of course, was “Do you have a favourite Hub story that you’d like to share?” Here’s mine:

Attitudes Change When Issues Become Assets
While setting up for the neighbourhood street sale and BBQ, I spied an empty driveway that would be perfect for the BBQs. “How about there?” I asked a neighbour, “do you know them?”

“Forget it, they are renters,” was the reply. For a minute I wondered if that meant that they were not allowed to use the driveway. Then I realized that what it meant. I have been trying to bust a few stereotypes whenever this comes up by reminding people that “I am a renter!” but we had too much to do for one morning so I left the neighbour to get her own things done. Later that day in the thick of the fray, we spoke again and she said to me, “ I met those people after all – they are really cool!”

I think that this would not have happened without conscientious community-building efforts, and a casual, low-stakes environment like a neighbourhood fair.

Kudos to you ABCD people!

Community payroll

Bright summer sky and squirrels with cropped tails.

“Hello, how are you?” from the lady on the street in Chinatown… context… context… oh yeah, from the Vietnamese restaurant.

“Rebecca, Camila’s looking for you,” says Getnet at CSI. “She’s calling this line if you want to take it here,” says Amelia, who I haven’t actually met yet, but this is a good opportunity for an introduction.

“Rebecca, have you heard of Potluck House?” asks Colleen, knowing I am a foodie. She tells me all about it.

Email from Lynlee after dropping in while we were at work;
“Stella went out for a long pee and Artois came inside. Kitty went out just as I was leaving and I tried to explain that she would be out there all day, or at least until Mike gets home. Thus, it was an informed decision on her part.”

Arriving home Saturday my neighbour across the street says “Your cousin was here. I told her you were at the park.” (Drat – forgot about that visit!)

This sort of thing just doesn’t happen if you don’t have some kind of community. It’s all about relationships; brief ones, wishful ones, reciprocal ones, enjoyable ones, forgetful ones, all of them. Where did all these lovely people come from? I wish I could put them all on the payroll.

Maybe life is the payroll…