Heart of the Hammer

Heart of the Hammer Cafe: Where arts and letters meet coffee and tea; where neighbours come to visit with thee!

So I am opening this cafe, mostly so I can have a nice spot to hang out in the neighbourhood and also so that our neighbourhood groups can have a place to get together with quality fare. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of enthusiasm, well-wishing, offers of help, of stuff, of skills and of expertise. I am amazed at how things are just falling into place.

It is not a new idea for me. It has been rattling around in my mind, the business model adjusted from city to city, venue to venue, so that when a few things clicked into place, I just pressed GO. And of course tapped all the people with relevant skills and experience at CSI, in the Hub and especially in the family.

Occasionally someone gets caught up in pointing out all the impossibilities. All the things one ought to do or else. This pointing out of all the pitfalls serves as a platform for I told-you-so when things go wrong. Having gotten inured to this kind of onslaught over the years, I had come to think that maybe I was Master of the Impossible. But now I have a new theory.

I learned to fly a glider before I had ever been in a commercial plane, and in fact, before I even had my drivers license, so my first time above the clouds was a surprise. In a glider, you have no motor. You fly by Visual Flight Regulations, meaning that, you always have to be able to see the ground. Meaning that you don’t fly above the clouds. But one day, I was going for a check flight with Colonel Villeneuve and the tow pilot actually pulled us up through the cloud layer, which was magical… and silent. Somehow, you expect sound from a cloud, like static or soap-bubble popping, but it was like the pause in the movie soundtrack. I held my breath. And then we popped out above it which was… awesome. I actually gasped. Blinding white sunshiny brightness. And the soundtrack resumed.

I think that once you have seen for yourself first hand that it is always, always, always for ever and no matter what a sunny day above the clouds, then it kinda doesn’t matter what goes on below the clouds. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong or how long it took to get somewhere. After that experience, you have a big picture that helps you to put things into perspective, to keep your eye on the important things. Like family and community and doing things you love to do and helping others to do things. I think that if you focus on the important things it is much easier to succeed.

But now I realize that for some people it is more important to be right than to be successful.


Falling Through the Cracks

“Aw, you fell through the stairs and got hurt and no one was there to help you?” This, from Sophie, age 2.5. It’s the third time she has recounted the story and I can see the empathy and concern on her face. She pulls my sleeve down so that she can’t see the scrapes. This time, she adds a solution, “I need to find a friend for you!”

Sometimes you just need a little bit of sympathy. I found mine. I am awed and shamed by the compassion of a two year old and her sense of responsibility towards her fellow creatures. I wonder what happens to us along the way that we should find this so amazing, that we so easily ignore the pain of those around us, turn a blind eye to someone’s suffering.

Are we perhaps competing with each other, letting others fall by the wayside because then our chances of survival or success are better? Or is there just plain too much suffering around, too much need?

What if each of us took responsibility for those in our daily trajectory, the way Philip does with Tony, making it his mission to check up on him, advocate for him and give him a voice beyond his perch on Roncesvalles. Or the way Sarah does with the new family in our neighbourhood, taking on the challenge of helping them to integrate in spite of a language barrier. Imagine if everyone had mentors, advocates or friends who looked out for them. And what about the people who look like they don’t need any help at all?

Somehow, knowing that Sophie cares makes it all ok. I feel better knowing that she is watching out for me. Later that night, she began rocking herself to sleep chanting “I’m getting scared, I’m getting scared…” (Too much Hallow’een?) So I went into her room and did a little magic dance and hurled all the scary energies way up into the ether. Then I put up a little positive energy bubble to keep them away.

She may not beleive that I can do that, but maybe knowing that I care will help her to sleep a little better.

In Praise of Praise

I admit, I get a little nervous when I send love notes to people. I know it isn’t cool. There’s nothing like a little aloof drama to keep people reaching, but I make it my mission to speak my truth as often as possible.

It doesn’t always work. If you’re doing an MBA you might as well wear a sign that says CONTAGIOUS. If you work somewhere with lifetime job security, where the only way to distinguish yourself is by stepping on others, you might as well lay down.

But, if you’re lucky enough to be self-employed, to be able to choose your colleagues and clients, it’s a whole new ball game. Just say it! When you see or hear something that’s great, mention it. Chances are you’ll surprise someone. If you’re lucky enough to work at a place like the CSI, you find that you are not alone. You find yourself with other people who see the good things and aren’t afraid to point it out, other people who send love notes.

I know it isn’t just here, but for sure it is still the minority of workplaces that people are happy, look forward to coming in and to being with each other. My sister works for The Strategic Coach, a Toronto-based coaching outfit serving the who’s-who of entrepreneurs and from what I hear, people have loved to come to work there for over fifteen years. I like to think that those entrepreneurs who have been through the Coach program have also gone back to their companies and changed things for the better; that they have employees who like the company they work for and enjoy being part of the team.

But it takes a sense of confidence and well being to tell other people what’s so great about them, and we don’t always have it all of the time. In the wrong place, among the wrong people, this kind of openness is taken as weakness, spells you out as a loser. Then, it takes a great deal of courage to be true to yourself much less speak it. So cheers to the positive people everywhere!

You know how I can tell that we have not even come close to critical mass? Cause it’s still such a surprise and delight to wake up and find a love note in your in-box. Thank you Colleen!

Oh for the day when we can take that sort of thing for granted!

Love me – Love me not

I’ve been a little flaky with my time lately, double-booking myself right and left. I hate having to choose between two good things but it’s even worse if you’ve already committed to both.

One morning I had booked myself at two conflicting community-building events; one at the office and one in the neighbourhood. At first I thought it was a no-brainer. The office one was just a breakfast party, while the other one was a pow-wow involving the Hamilton Spectator, Mohawk College and Trivaris coming together with social entrepreneurs of all stripes to see what kind of partnerships might be possible to help build stronger communities. All three of these organizations are tremendously generous, industrious and visionary in their conviction that communities start with people, and I love them for it.

You too, on reading this, might conclude that this second opportunity was a goldmine of potential, ripe for idea expression (my forte?), resource tapping, and yes, an ulterior motive to pitch my community blog as a Community Column to the Spec. Until almost the last minute, so did I.

But when I asked myself what these two events had in common, it was the community-building. And when I asked myself what differentiated them, it was the community-building. I have been at the Centre for Social Innovation and with the South Sherman Hub for the same length of time, but because I see the work people daily-ish, my own integration, sense of belonging and commitment has progressed a lot faster and further than with the neighbourhood group where we meet only monthly and with a rather high turnover of attendance.

I realized that at work, there would be people expecting me (since I had sent out the invite, if nothing else) possibly even missing me, whereas at the Hamilton meeting, no one actually even knew me as an individual. As a representative of the hub, they might expect someone, but not me in particular.

So I went to work and we had waffles and eggs and home-made jam and freshly squeezed orange juice and an unbelievable number of people showed up early and everyone kept saying “we have to do this more often!”. I wonder if choosing the CSI Breakfast is one of those things that Philip would call “not a business decision”, meaning, I suppose, not founded on sound business principles. I wonder how common it is and if there really is a payoff to choosing the sound business principles over the  people we love and who love us back? And therein lies the answer to what motivates me; those people.

Maybe it was Seth Godin, or possibly that other guy, who claimed that what we all want most is to be missed. I beg to disagree. If that were true, I’d have gone to the high-potential meeting while enjoying being missed at the low-stakes breakfast.

I think what we all want most is to be wanted.

Mi Casa Su Casa (My Coat: Your Coat)

There I was thinking about the perfect sort of wool coat that I would just love for this fall, while aware that I can’t really justify the cost or the need for yet another coat, when all of a sudden while digging for papers in the attic, I find a pristine Hudson Bay 4-point blanket coat.

Hudson Bay 4-point blanket

Hudson Bay 4-point blanket

You know the kind; off-white wool with the coloured bands.

I try it on, and voila! It fits! What kind of magical universe do we live in anyway, where you just want things and they appear?

I tell myself that this coat fetish is the result of too many years without one. I remember being 11 years old or so and delivering the Globe and Mail at 5am. I’ll admit that I was probably the worst delivery girl ever, constantly zoning out and wondering, “Did I give one to that house and they brought it in already, or did I forget it?” I hated to collect money and would usually burst into tears when I had to ask, particularly if the people didn’t have it on them since I was always behind in the collecting.

However, this is when I first met the wonders of the universe. I’d like to say that I thought of it like The Force, an energy that binds and pervades all of us, but truly, I thought it was just me. (You can’t imagine what a relief it is to read stuff like The Secret and find out that all of you can wield the force as well; whew, so I don’t have to save the universe all by myself!) Anyway, maybe it was just mind over matter, when on cold winter mornings in Guleph (Ontario) I used to head out to deliver my papers, no coat to speak of, and I’d do a little “please please please” dance to the moon and stars in the hope that they would keep me warm. It generally worked, at least long enough to get the papers sorted, stuffed and delivered.

This is my excuse when people think I have quite enough coats already. “I don’t have one for THIS occasion,” I tell them, and hope that I never have occasion to need a newspaper delivery coat again.

So I text around to find out how this coat really wound up in my attic (after test-driving it on a walking tour of the neighbourhood with my dear Stella) and find that it is yet another in my brother Andrew’s collection of ladies coats (?) that don’t fit him (??). His girlfriend assures me that he is saving it for his ebay retirement scheme and ok’d the notion of me keeping it warm till then.

What is family for but to give away each other’s clothes and fulfill all your little fashion whims?

I’m in Love with Seth Godin

You know what I like about Seth Godin? He seems to follow his own advice, even to the point of responding to overzealous fan-mail (some of you are familiar with my overzealous fan-mail).

If you aren’t following his blog, then you probably already have a vibrant, successful enterprise with more business than your wildest dreams could possibly accommodate. If you want to follow his blog, it’s real easy and it may give you and I something to talk about.  You’ll find it is a flood of instant gratification…

I confess, I haven’t read his book. (s). I feel like we’re still on a first date. You know, dragging out the anticipation a little. But one of these days I’ll go on a bender and read ’em all.

When I first got serious about making the Bootcamp a full-time gig, I thought I would go around and collect a Board of Advisors, much like Brian Scudamore did when he started 1-800-Got-Junk? But you know, I’m not really that formal. I like to grab my good examples where and how I find them, like, for instance, reading someone’s blog, or going to where they are.

So I find I do have a wealth of clever advisors, though they don’t all know that advising me is part of their job. Some I go to with specific questions. Some I have regular dates with to see what will happen. Some sit beside me at work. With others, I just keep my ears open really wide when they’re around.

I’m thinking Mr. Godin (ok, maybe we haven’t quite gotten to the first date part yet) is a well-rounded person with length and breadth and depth to his vision. I see he is offering great opportunities to non-profits at the moment and I wish I could send him some of the mission-driven organizations from CSI. So to them I say, brush up on your Godin toute-suite and apply.

I expect it will be a transformative experience and I hope you will kiss and tell afterwards.

Knock-knock: HELP!

The guy next door beat the snot out of his wife on the weekend. The nine-year-old knocked on doors.

It took two neighbours and three cops to end it.

They say he’ll be out in six months.

I remember in high school, walking home through cabbage town, a sunny afternoon, sound of kids ahead of us, when suddenly a large man in their midst was wailing on them. The kid noises turned to small boy screams. And my own. I don’t know what kind of stuff I was screaming but my own frenzy didn’t penetrate his. He battering-rammed a kid’s head into the stone wall of the church, gave him a couple of kicks to the gut and stalked off.

The kid’s friends collected him and then melted into the neighbourhood while we followed the guy for several blocks. “I know what it’s like to get beaten up by a gang of kids!” he shouted at us. The people we passed knew who he was. We ducked into a shop to call the cops but the lady said no. My friend insisted. The cops came and he was arrested.

We were subpoenaed many months later, “Tell us in your own words what happened.” I think my own words were more colourful back then. “So, you’re saying, after all that, he just picked up his grocery bag and walked away?” I knew it was a trick question but couldn’t see the trick. “Yes,” I offered. “Is that your final answer?” In the end they argued that he never did put down his grocery bag, so how could he have done all this with one hand? How could I be remembering correctly if I didn’t notice that? Mr. RM was given community service for his trouble.

Houray for neighbours. One called the cops. Two ran to intervene. Several looked after the kids. But what happens next? How do you help in the long run? How many nine-year-olds have to ask for help? I’ve mentioned this guy before, wondering if it’s possible to be universally inclusive. And if so, how? How will it end? I feel like he is a bomb that has already gone off.

Can we really hope to contain the energy or deflect the damage?