Powerful Mojo

I have this notion that I created the world. That my imagination continues to create, edit and modify the world as I inhabit and respond to it, as I grow, as I want new things.

And just as I created my world, so too did you create the world you live in, through your own desires and fears and goals.

This idea gets interesting when we acknowledge that we are both sharing the same world; that this place where your reality and mine overlap responds to my imagination as well as to yours. As I play with the idea I conclude that sometimes your vision is stronger than mine, so you get the green light or the good parking spot. Sometimes my vision is powerful indeed and people believe me and invest in the vision and it becomes real. Some people’s visions are so strong and communicated so well that we all get caught up in it and the world seems to change before our very eyes.

What if I could get people to believe in this idea? What could we do together with magic that powerful? What if this was my vision and I could find a way to communicate it so that enough people believed in and invested in it. Would it become true? Could something that most people believe to be impossible become a no-brainer in the future?

Oh, it’s happened plenty of times. You and I can both come up with examples. So why haven’t we as a species embraced this kind of magic?

I think that we are afraid of it. That we don’t really want to be in the driver’s seat all the time, be responsible for our choices, be the ones to decide what happens. I think we don’t always know what we want.

Sometimes it’s bad enough to want what we want, never mind having it happen.

Sometimes having something happen is bad enough, never mind realizing that we wanted it.

I envision life a bit like a Holo Deck or a global role-playing game where the rules are made up as we go. It might be that we come here to play this game, in spite of its hazards, for the emotion, the excitement, the adventure, the learning. It seems to me that however you phrase it, it always comes back to the same thing: the people. We play this game to be with the people. To build a community, to have someone to play with.

So maybe I didn’t exactly create the world, but I like to think I have a hand in creating World 2.0. And I like to think that you’ll come and play with me.

Examples and Opportunities

It’s my impression that here in Hamilton we have a disproportionately high percentage of the population living in poverty. And yet there seems to be an entire industry devoted to alleviating or eliminating it.

It has been my experience that two of the most valuable things that we can give to someone, at any age and in any situation, but particularly to people who are struggling with poverty, is access to examples and opportunities.

Most of us are not lifestyle innovators. We go with the flow and are influenced by peer groups and the examples that surround us. And there’s no good reason we should each need to reinvent the wheel. And yet, if the wheels keep turning and we’re still struggling with the same problems, problems we may not even be able to identify, then maybe we need a new wheel.

The key word is ACCESS. It seems to me that many of the classic efforts to fight poverty actually create barriers to access for many people. Consider low-income housing projects where they lump everyone in together providing no alternative examples to anyone, or schools within a public system that are not created, maintained or valued equally and therefore actively create barriers to opportunities for many students.

Once upon a time I delivered the mail for Canada Post and for a while I delivered to a particular stretch that was full of overly large buildings each of which seemed to be stocked full of people with identical problems as if some agency said, “Lets stick all of these people here and all of those people there, that will make OUR jobs easier.” But it didn’t make the lives of the tenants any easier, as evidenced by the building in which everyone in it was on some form of disability pension. Each of the customers that I dealt with was either blind, or in a wheel chair or was physically challenged in some way that made it clear that there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for them to help each other.

“Can you change my light bulb for me?”

“Lady, I can’t even see your light bulb!”

Another route that I delivered to had a good mix; it had a fancy condo building, a city homes building, a co-op townhouse area, a school, a community centre, a commercial strip and a park at the centre of it all. This model provides access to diverse examples for everyone and untold opportunities; for work, engagement or relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

Now the city of Hamilton is faced with some development opportunities, and I keep hearing about plans that are homogeneous. Plans that lump people into little ghettos; poor ghettos, old ghettos, business ghettos, arts ghettos. It doesn’t matter what or who you ghettoize, it’s still a ghetto. And it will become one unless enlightened people take advantage of successful examples and have access to opportunities to create value for others.

Lets mix it up folks. The gene pool benefits from variety and so does our community. Now is our opportunity to look for good examples and ask; “What do we really want to create?”

Wanted: A Heroes’ Hero

People have perceptions and expectations around money that continue to amuse and amaze me. If they think you’ve got some, then you are suddenly attractive on some level, if they think you haven’t got any, then they treat you like you’re contagious. And yet, it’s all perception.

A recent email debate on the subject of Free Food at CSI revealed to me that even Hero Central has plenty of people helping the world on empty stomachs. We put on a brave face, focus on results and count our lucky stars when some event or other has left-over muffins or Indian food.

This is almost a little too hard to think about. Somehow you get into a groove of thinking of things in terms of us and them or those in need and those who help. And the reason this is hard is that if you’re working on fighting poverty, there is some plan to get people from A to B to C. But the people doing the helping are already at C. They already have an education and certain developed-world expectations of themselves and are generally doing the job they love to do, but financially speaking, they’re at the c-for-ceiling.

If you live in a large city and have a spouse and two kids, the poverty line is $37,000. (2005 stats) And yet it is fairly common for someone working in the social-sector-white-collarish jobs to earn, say, $27,000. (2009) If your spouse happens to be a stay-at-home parent or an artist or some other low-income situation, this could very well represent your total family income. I know we live in a free-marketish world, certainly in one where we are privileged to choose our careers, but we all benefit so much from the work that our social sector people are doing.

I wish I knew how to launch a campaign to find us a Heroes’ Hero.

We all make choices. Some people buy fancy cars and live in tiny little condos. Some people rent big houses and have no car. I pay a cleaning lady but can’t afford home internet, cable tv or a car. Everyone makes choices and the differences in our choices is what makes us interesting to each other, and what creates the opportunity for relationships. Mike bought a tall ladder so now neighbours can borrow it when they clean their eaves troughs. One neighbour has a weed-wacker so Mike borrows it to trim the yard. You see where this is going. (I have an office with a wine rack, so other people store their wine there!)

Sometimes people say to me “You don’t know what it’s like!” And I want to say, “Yes I do,” but what I don’t want to do is have a race for the bottom, play the game of who suffered most. I’d rather say, “What do you need? Where are you going?” And help you to find a path or the strength to take it.

In the mean time, some people are doing what they like to do and going where they want to go and helping other people tremendously, and they still only get $27,000 a year. For that, I wish I could find a Heroes’ Hero who could somehow issue Christmas bonuses to everyone, an annual trip somewhere warm, some new technology for their home or a kitchen makeover. Or just feed the heroes. Imagine what a difference it would make in the morale of these Everyday Heroes? (Not to mention their grocery budget!)

So next time you meet someone with $40 million dollars, send them to me. We’ll invest it, and the interest can put about $20,000/year to each person at the League of Canadian Justice; the people who make school breakfasts possible, who keep rivers clean, who advocate for the voiceless. You can be sure that it isn’t going to happen on its own.

And I beleive that the Heroes are as deserving of some joyful perks as the next guy.

Community warms my heart… and I hope to warm your spirits!

The cafe is shaping up so nicely that I find I don’t want to leave at the end of the day. Now that the furniture is in, I have twice sunk into the window seat and fallen asleep after a day of painting, cleaning, meetings and schlepping things from home. Luckily my dog Stella wakes me up. She has been my constant companion during the set-up so I was dismayed to discover from the Public Health inspector that she wont be allowed to keep me company on the night shift in the cafe. There goes my erstwhile bouncer. Not everything is smooth or how I imagined it, but in a strange way, all the little bumps seem to be edging me each time into better directions.

I am amazed at how helpful and encouraging the people involved have been from the city planning office to the inspectors to the adjacent shops on King street. It’s like a whole new community that I belong to suddenly. It feels like a new language which previously I had been ignorant of and now I can understand what the people are saying. Now they are talking to me and not just around me.

I remember when I was looking after the kids and had become a bit, I don’t know, agoraphobic? At home I always felt like I should be out making more money, at work (Canada Post) I felt like I should be doing something more meaningful (school) and then at school I felt like I should be at home being leaderly or helpful. Meanwhile, I somehow lost the ability to communicate with grownups, to converse about anything other than what the kids were up to and I knew that wasn’t so interesting to my peers. I came to hate answering the phone and used to take a different route home from the subway every day so that I wouldn’t pass anyone I knew, like shop keepers and what not. I couldn’t figure out how to say hi to them if I wasn’t shopping.

Nowadays, I am quite happy to blah blah with people as I pass them, and surprised when I say “Hey, I’m opening a cafe around the corner” and they say, “Yeah, I heard, when are you opening?”. How great is that? People know me and I know them and they’re not afraid to say hi to me and I’m not afraid to say hi to them. And maybe they’ll all come in for a cappuccino or a Cameron’s and I won’t be weird about serving it to them.

So Bootcamp people, CSI people, family people. I haven’t forgotten you. Just got to open up shop so that I can spend the downtime on reading and writing and helping other people write. Of course, I am being scolded by the brothers for envisioning downtime in the cafe. “That’s your vision?! You’re supposed to envision line-ups and being unable to keep up with demand!” It’s true, I do hope there is demand, but I really am looking forward to the quiet times to doodle, day-dream or actually converse with the people who drop in then.

Maybe it will be you… Stay tuned for the Grand Opening!