We Are Not Strangers

We Are Not Strangers

My Grandma Del passed away last week. It was the day before my 43rd birthday, and about 2 months before her 88th birthday.

She was the last of my living grandparents. When Daniel called me to break the news to me, he woke me up, and the first thought that flitted across my just-waking mind was “Oh my God, I’m an orphan.” This made me smile later, through my sadness.

My sister Jen and I flew back to South Dakota and then drove 2½ hours into the northeast corner of the state to join the rest of our family to mourn our loss and to celebrate her life.

In the past 10 years I’ve lost my two other grandparents, Daniel’s grandparents, several friends, and several dogs and cats who were family too. I’m no longer the stranger to death that I was when my grandpa passed away 10 years ago. This time it felt like I was holding hands with my sadness, which meant that this time, in most moments, I could still receive the gifts of the present.

For example, this time I could notice how much good was still all around us.

I was conscious and curious about how previous versions of our family, and me, moved through difficult and sad times and how the right-now-us, and me, were moving through this one.

It felt like I was moving through my individual sadness and into gratitude for family and warm memories more easily and quickly this time.

I felt a tiny bit more present in the moment to comfort others and a teeny bit less like I was drowning in my own sadness this time.

I felt more comfortable saying goodbye at the viewing and crying with my entire family around me. I now know what my tears are, and I am rightly proud of them, and us, not ashamed.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable, but I was more comfortable than before. And I felt truly there, and truly blessed to be there.

Until the morning of the funeral.

When we arrived, the chapel was jam-packed full of people I didn’t know. Strangers to me, this rural town I visit just once each summer as an adult. My parents, Jen, and I were led to a separate room where all the rest of our family was. We learned that the four of us would walk into the chapel following the casket, because my mom is the oldest of her six siblings. Learned that everyone else would follow in behind us.

The thought of walking through that huge room of strangers, while vulnerable and crying, and not being able to see the rest of my family, terrified me.

I thought briefly of suggesting that we instead file in in order from tallest to shortest so that I could be at the end. Or alphabetically, so that I could at least be somewhere in the middle. Saying these things out loud didn’t feel appropriate to the moment, but the humor of the thoughts did make me feel a little better.

And as we walked into the chapel, for a few moments I was right. It felt awful to be following my beloved Grandma Del, in a casket, down a long aisle, and through a large room full of strangers. Too exposed. I felt lonely, then angry. My judgmental self showed up momentarily with the thought “This was poorly planned.” Ah, silly, silly girl.

Because then they began to sing. As we walked, heads down in silence, they sang Amazing Grace to us, around us, for us, and my whole world shifted.

I actually looked up at their faces. I even saw a few people that I knew. And in a couple of the strangers’ faces, I saw more tears and I saw pain that appeared deep, in some cases deeper than my own. And just like that, I was back to grateful. Back to blessed.

This community—my grandmother’s community—was completely surrounding our family with love. They were hugging us. Lifting us up. Demonstrating that we were more connected to each other, and to the entire town and surrounding area, than we’d remembered. Well, than I’d remembered anyway.

It’s funny. As a non-church goer, I don’t actually remember a word of the service or which Bible verses were read or any of the sermon that followed. I just don’t connect with words written thousands of years ago and with lectures and lessons from strangers, especially strangers on high.

During the service I mostly thought about all the flowers and plants sent by friends. I thought about putting the photo boards together with family the day before and about other fun things we’ve done as a family. Thought about my grandma’s house and yard and garden and holidays. I touched hands and shoulders and passed tissues to crying relatives.

And then I shut my eyes and felt the hundred or so rural, mostly conservative, mostly religious, farmers and townsfolk, sitting behind us, feeling our pain and crying our tears with us.

I thought about how they’d been singing to comfort all of us, including West coast city-dwelling, progressive, liberal, non-church-going, me.

We humans are not strangers.

How had I forgotten that?

We are not strangers.

As we moved out into the warm wind and June sunshine of the beautiful old Lily cemetary, my broken heart was at peace.


Grandma Del’s community,

thank you for the reminder I needed

at the exact moment I needed it.

You will not, cannot, be strangers to me again.

Rest in peace, Grandma Del.

We love you.

Grandma and me

Eight tips for a new blogger from an old timer

Eight tips for a new blogger from an old timer

My friend and coworker Christopher recently decided to follow his passion and start blogging about honey at http://honeyfiend.com/.

Coworker with honey

Honey and book delivery from Christopher

He asked a handful of us what we thought, which already proves that he is far smarter than I was when I started blogging oh-so-many (ok, 3) years ago. Another friend is thinking about blogging as well, so I decided to share the message I sent him here…

Christopher, well, I’m finally back in Seattle and have waded through my email and work.

I love this Christopher. What a great idea. I can’t wait to share it. Keep it up!


P.S. Eight ideas from my experience…

  1. Allow yourself to be part of the story. I’ve experienced blogging the past three years as primarily a way to find my people, my community, and through them, my truer self and my own voice. That’s not what I intended it to be (you can see how technical Collective Self was in the beginning if you look in the archive), but that’s what it has become. My long-time blogger buddies and I have this in common. What you yourself are doing—leaving work behind that no longer suits you, listening to your deeper calling, starting to create on a subject you care about—is part of the story too. People who already know you will come to the blog to hear your story, not just for honey details. Strangers will come to the blog via their shared passion for honey. Those who stay long term will come to experience you as a friend and will stay as much for you, and your story, as for the details about the honey.
  2. Be yourself and trust others to be ok with that. Be the truest self you know how to be in each of your blog posts. This truest self will change over time. Stay true to yourself each time and those who were with you at the beginning will stay with you no matter where that self goes. Those worth travelling with will themselves change over time and so will not just be ok with you doing so, they will help you, inspire you, and push you when you need it.
  3. Write for yourself and for the most wonderful, fun, smart people you know. Like I’m doing now.
  4. Create only when you’re feeling deeply inspired to do so—and don’t bother with worry the rest of the time. I’ve noticed this has the benefit of ensuring that every post is worthwhile for you and for those who read it now and in the future. When you find yourself worrying, go do something outside and physical, for an hour or a week or a month. Worry does not leave enough space for creating great blog posts.
  5. Look for friends and colleagues, not a crowd of followers. In my experience, what you’re looking for at this point is the few people who love this subject (and you) as much as you do. People who will read every word because almost every word resonates or because you yourself deeply matter to them. People who are or will become friends and colleagues and family. People who will help you figure out who you’re becoming and what you’ll be doing next. Readership numbers don’t matter. Less is more at the beginning anyway. There can be more true community among 10 people than ten thousand. And it’s those 10 people who will best spread word of your blog anyway. I think we know this in our hearts. It’s our hearts we should be listening to on this matter. I’m not certain of much, but I’m certain of this.
  6. Allow ample time for those drawn to you and the subject to find you. I’m talking years, not days. Ours is a world of abundance, and there really is plenty of time for this and everything else you’re drawn to do. Rushing is the old, machine-model, humans-as-cogs world of work. You’ve stepped away from that world. You’re now in the world where humans author their own story lines and honor their own souls. Be yourself, be patient, and eventually people will be drawn to you like, um, bees to honey. 🙂
  7. Over time, find blogging peer mentors who are different from you and read their work. I keep a rotating list of my current mentors on my blog itself – that’s the blog roll. It’s not just people I recommend. It’s my teachers. My inspirations. My community. People I’m drawn to for our differences as much as our similarities. These are my teachers. Most of them know it, because they’ve become my friends. A few of them don’t. Yet.
  8. Bloggers blog. If you find that blogging is something you’re meant to be doing, it’ll eventually seem as habitual and easy as brushing your teeth in the morning. If it starts to feel more like pulling teeth, stop pushing yourself to produce, forget about it, and begin to create again only when you feel inspired. If it continues to feel like pulling teeth over time, then you’re not a blogger. I have plenty of friends who have decided blogging wasn’t for them. I did the same with traditional business consulting. Bleh. Like pulling teeth. Not for me. But blogging, for me, is piece of cake. For example, it just occurred to me that this list could be my next blog post. And it’s already done. Damn that was easy.
15+ signs that we’re part of slow web culture

15+ signs that we’re part of slow web culture

This month, slow web culture found Bas and Simone and Daniel and I. I think of it as like the slow food movement, only more webby.

Slow web culture found us as we gathered stories for Different Office and recognized ourselves as craftspeople by listening to the stories of other craftspeople and taking great care with every word, and image, and person in the process.

It found us as I watched my husband produce photos that perfectly capture the joy and spirit of the people we interview who love their work and the work spaces they’ve created. It found us as we noticed that by pulling our crafts together that all our work is becoming exponentially better. And our lives too.

It found us as Bas and Simone sent me a rockin’ funny Foo Fighters video very late last Friday night (for them) when I was so frustrated and exhausted (from trying to help reunite four baby squirrels in our attic with their frantic mom outside, while Daniel was out of town) that I thought I would burst into tears at any moment.

And it directly found me (thanks Bas) when he sent me this message: “I just came accross this term: the slow web. I think that’s what we do 🙂 http://blog.jackcheng.com/post/25160553986/the-slow-web“.

Slow web culture defies simple definition, like we do. Fiesty buggers. I don’t really feel a need to define it. It’s just who we are. Yet I’m interested in how we got here. So I looked back at our exchanges across the spring and summer, and I found these signs that we were already part of the slow web culture, and we just didn’t know it yet. Please add the words “most days” to the end of each of these points. We’re still learning, always learning. Wouldn’t want to imply otherwise. Our signs:

  1. Life and work and play have become one fluid thing. Since Bas and I met, our work together has been a joy, and we’re becoming increasingly playful (not to mention quirky) through it, which makes our lives better, which makes our work better, which makes us more playful, which makes our marriages better, and so it goes…
    • “Thank you for confirming my genius, which was previously only confirmed by 3 cats and 1 dog.”
    • “Wow. Great mail. You write very well! You should write something. Stories perhaps :)”
  2. My sense of time has shifted–when I think about time now, I think in seasons, decades, or generations. There isn’t the same sense of rush as before. No feeling of not getting enough done on any given day. No guilt for taking a workday off. Here, Bas and I are discussing how big our upcoming collaboration, Different Office, will be. “Before I go to bed … what if it took 4+ years? It is a BIG goal. And we can do all the places we want to do even if you want to do a 1000 from your block. :)”
  3. Strategic planning gives way to spending as much time as possible with people we love, doing work we love, for communities and a planet we love. As we talked about the future of Different Office… “And I think if we get this ball rolling, cheap travel and getting some money on the side will be increasingly feasible. But that’s a multi year, long term bonus 🙂 Down the road stuff 🙂 Remember, the journey is the thing, not necessarily the goal itself :)”
  4. We are all in together. “I will commit to as big a number of stories up front as you will commit to: 50 or 100 or 200 or 500. Bring it. Big commitments among close friends don’t scare me. 🙂 Maybe we could make travel cheaper by telling people that sleeping in the work space is an important part of our story creation process. 😉 heh heh”
  5. We regularly, naturally talk about what matters to us, who we are, and what we want. Just the regular act of sharing this seems to be 99% of all the “planning” we need. And the conversation never ends because these things continue to evolve. The fact that I talk with Bas about this so much isn’t just helping our work, it’s helping my marriage, my friendships, my family, and my whole Seattle community.
  6. We receive and give emotional and seasonal weather reports. “I truly hope you have an incredible memorable and lovely time together with your family. I just had dinner by the sea. Lovely weather today.”
  7. We slow down or completely stop working when we have no energy, and we work faster when we are full of energy. For example, I had a rough June–unexpected chronic pain from oral surgery, worries about my extended family, and unusual gun violence in my neighborhood and city. I found myself uncharacteristically depressed. Not the “I’m a bit sad” kind but the “I can’t get off the couch for weeks on end” kind, which I’ve never experienced before. Bas and I decided to start our next project in late July. I did almost no work in June, taking time to grieve and heal, and worked less than half time in July.
  8. Getting closer to the people you’re with = cake. Everything else = icing on the cake. I love to work and get things done! And I didn’t fully grasp that relationships are at the dead center of my work until Bas and I released our first book. A week later I told Bas that he and I becoming friends across the past year was what mattered most to me. And that Daniel and I becoming friends with him and Simone was what mattered most to me about the coming year. This surprised me as I said it and was so deeply true it brought tears to my eyes. Now anything else that happens with our work–the first book, the new web site, future ebooks, our separate blogs, coworking space creating, consulting, speaking, paper-airplane making, whatever we do–it’s all just icing on the cake. Today, all our work feels like icing on the cake.
  9. Being our whole, geeky, messy, quirky, amazing selves is ok and strongly encouraged. I love context and tend to ramble in my storytelling on the Collective Self site. Bas is a quirky minimalist on the Shinkonia site. Stubbornly being ourselves online led us to each other. These differences–not just our similarities–make us a really good match to work together. By embracing both these selves, we’ve landed on what works for the Different Office site: a context-rich (me) + minimalist (Bas) + photography-rich (Daniel and Simone) work space. It’s the same self + another self for all of us. And it’s all good. We are becoming more ourselves with each other, and better selves. And more quirky. I’m beginning to strongly suspect that we’ll all hit eccentric before we turn 45. 🙂
  10. We have real community. Since I began working for myself, I’ve wanted doing my work to be as dead easy as, say, loving our Grady dog or watching my favorite SciFi show. To sustain work, and to grow it, I feel, I need it to be easy as often as possible so that when it’s tough I have ample energy to keep going. To make this happen, we need real community. Real community is about creating energy together and being so grateful to the people you’re with that you’re internally compelled to give spontaneous gifts of self. It’s the people who know and love the good and the bad of you. Know what you need as or even before you need it. It’s the people who bring soup over when Daniel’s sick, help me with my website when I can’t figure something out, send me funny videos when I’m about to cry, or paint garden marker rocks with me as a form of group therapy and relaxation. Ten million followers or “likes” does not a community make. Soup and a funny video–delivered right when you needed them most–does. I have an easy way to recognize my community today. In person, I feel inspired to give them home-canned goods. Online, I feel inspired to give them ample time, energy, and ideas. Gladly, gratefully, and all for free.
  11. Community revealing/building is part of our weekly work flow. We don’t do marketing. We share what we’re excited about as we’re excited about it. Showing people who we are and what we’re doing together is a natural part of who we are and how we work together. Found this gem in one email exchange: “Marketing plan = non existing 🙂 We’ll be fine. 🙂 People who need it will find it. On to the next project. :)” We’re so thrilled about the people we’re working with and the stories we’re gathering that we take the time every week (on occaision, every day, when we’re really excited about something) to share our excitement with our communities, which are like extended family (the good kind, not the crazy uncle kind).
  12. Work critiques are spot-on and gentle, silly, and/or joyful. The only critiques of my work that I hear come from people I respect (those I work for, work with, and love–or from myself), and they are delivered to my ears gently, often via playful teasing. “Uhm yes. All sounds fantastic and awesome. Just don’t forget to shoot pictures from the actual storytellers this time hehehehehehe.” I do the same for those I’m connected to. I’m not saying everybody needs this. I’m saying that I need this, and that I get it, which wasn’t true for me until I joined the slow world.
  13. Worry doesn’t worry us much any more. Fear is good if a bear is about to attack you. Yet in my world, individual worry doesn’t serve me, my friends/work mates, communities, or our planet nearly as well as collective work/play does. So I stay focused on our collective work/play, and consciously notice and then let worry go most days. When I don’t, Daniel, Bas, Simone, housemates, and other coworkers here step in to help me let it go. Often without me asking, because I still suck at asking for help. So I’ve come to see individual worry as a gift–a doorway to slowing down and getting closer. We also regularly, happily take the time tell each other what we’re doing and preempt potential worry points. Found this gem from an exchange in July: “Oh. I might get carried away with this site stuff. I’ll find my balance 🙂 no worries…” I work with superheroes.
  14. What we once saw as different threads of our lives and work, we now often experience as a woven together whole. Both Bas and I see our collective work, and our separate work, as one big giant quilt of connectedness. He’d choose a more superhero-esqe and masculine word than quilt, perhaps, but the experience is the same: “I was thinking … it’s amazing how things can come together all of a sudden.”
  15. Wonder and awe are a regular part of our experience. One of my favorite work tasks today is the “menial” task of listening to our Different Office interview audio recordings and transcribing them into written words. I type out the words and I also type out all the things in between: the giggles, the belly laughs, the speechless surprise, the unexpected connections and learning, the moments of shared self recognition, and the finishing of each other’s sentences. Humans have the ability to get so close, so quickly, that they can finish each other’s sentences having spent less than one hour together. Wow, just wow. It gives me goosebumps every time it happens. And today, it happens all the time.

So those are some of the signs I found in our experience. There were many more. I stopped at 15 because I’m hungry and need to go make lunch and then sit in the still-warm fall sunshine and figure out what I’m going to can for winter this weekend.

As we slowed down, ample room showed up in our lives for all these things, including wonder and awe and goosebumps. Based on our experience, these things weren’t in our direct control. But slowing down was. And letting go of things that didn’t really matter to us anyway was, and always is. I can’t make wonder and awe happen in my life or in my work or in my storytelling. But we can give them room to show up. The more room we give them, the more they show up.

For me, slow web culture is about noticing something amazing that I love, giving myself as fully to it as I can, and letting go of everything else–all with the hands-on help of close friends and community. It’s about falling in love with who we are as humans and about falling in love with what we do: the crafts our hearts can inspire, minds can devise, and hands form. And it’s also about helping ensure that when our great, great grandchildren hear the words “rat race” that it won’t occur to them–not even for a single moment–that they, as humans, could enter one.

What we do for ourselves, we do for them. That’s slow web culture. Our culture now, too.

If money is a red herring on the way to freedom, how else can we keep score about how free we are?

If money is a red herring on the way to freedom, how else can we keep score about how free we are?

I was part of a discussion this week within which this question–asked by my friend Flemming Funch of France–came up. Beyond the sheer amazingness that is Flemming himself, as a writer I intend to always stay close to him for the ample alliteration alternatives his very being offers.

One way I know I’m with the right people in any given moment is that new or deepening questions and answers well up within us. Questions that inspire us and feed us and prompt us to examine and share our own experience–like this one did. Questions that cause unique-to-us answers to spill out of us before we have time to think, judge, and stop them. In Lori Land, these are signs of a truly great question (TGQ).

Thank you Flemming for a TGQ. And thank you too, sassy-baby-fist-wielding superhero Seb Paquet, for starting the discussion.

Here’s what spilled out of me when Flemming asked about how we keep score about how free we are if money is a red herring…

“Flemming, off the top of my head…

  • how many moments of the day we’re conscious of being grateful
  • how many others we empathize with automatically
  • how many moments are learning moments
  • how more deeply ourselves we feel when doing our work
  • how much like play our work feels
  • how connected to everything we feel
  • how readily we smile and laugh
  • how ok we feel about doing what we do in any moment
  • how comfortable we are with discomfort
  • how conscious we are of what’s happening in a moment from all perspectives in the room not just one perspective
  • how free to be themselves others feel in our presence
  • how free we feel to be ourselves in the presence of any one or any situation
  • how much we trust the people and questions who show up spontaneously in our lives
  • how ok we are with letting things go
  • how fully confident we can be that abundance will hold us in the face of the illusion of scarcity
  • how much power we can see in a single kind word
  • how present we can be to find the good intent in a situation or person
  • how well we know ourselves and what we truly love

Good question. :-)”

The nice part about seeing this welling up in writing is that I can now see what I’m really working/playing/living/being for. This is the payment that I receive from my work/play/life/self/existence. On my best days, it’s also what I share and witness radiating outward from my communities, groups, and individual self, and then feel coming back to us in spades.

My own welling-up answer proves, if nothing else, that I LOVE this question and the guy who asked it. Also, perhaps, why I’m so well suited to blogging and storygathering. I struggle with bringing enough pithiness/briefer sound bites/empty space for others in conversation. I’m better here, where others can take all the time and empty space they need to ask and answer questions for themselves or roll their eyes and walk away without guilt to find their questions elsewhere. I look forward to the day when I become a poet and playing pithily with all others becomes as natural as breathing.

In the meantime, others in our discussion had the briefer answers that I sometimes ache for. For example, “the percentage of time we spend playing” feels like a pretty damn good measure of freedom to me.

This caused me to think several things at once. For example, another good answer could be “we stop keeping score altogether and become deeply satisfied with just being free.”

This briefer response also caused me to think more deeply about who the “we” is for me in the question. Because if I care about how free we are, then who my “we” is seems at least as important as how I define what “free” means to me. My own definition of free isn’t complete until I understand the unique answers to the question for everyone within my “we” too.

For the record, my “me” is planet earth and my “we” is all the living beings of earth. These definitions will expand the moment that visitors from elsewhere show up, but for now they keep me plenty occupied. And plenty free, as defined by me.

This brings me to the heart of what I want to experience. I want to experience all living beings on earth aware of themselves as wholly free, as defined by themselves. This means my “me” is happy. This means my “we” are free.

Yep, that’s a truly great question alright. It just introduced me to myself.

What is a friendship incubator?

What is a friendship incubator?

I’ve been feeling lately that “free community coworking space” isn’t adequate language for what we are here. Work isn’t at the heart of who we are. Not really.

Then today, several random things happened and I ended up coining and defining the term friendship incubator for myself. Here’s what happened:

1. My new, already-dear-to-me friend, Susan Evans at Office Nomads, sent me this message.

From: Susan
Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2012 8:07 AM
To: Lori
Subject: Fwd: Trust & Friendships – Issue #23

Did you see that you made the Coworking Weekly this week? 🙂 Check out the last link! Hope you are well, S

Thank you Susan. I would not have seen this without your help. My plate is full this week and although I also receive Coworking Weekly there was a 100% chance this particular week that I would have deleted it without looking at it. I agree with the rest of Seattle: you are a fucking rock star.

2. Woo hoo! Coworking Weekly called our coworking space/last blog post/me quirky by introducing the post as follows…

“Quirky as it may be, one coworker’s blog post on best, friendly practices functions as advice and anecdote. Simple tips for greeting coworkers and maximizing comfort in a space go a long way to maintain good vibrations.”

Thanks for the share, but holy crap, quirky? If there is a better adjective that a creator/writer/space holder/community story wrangler can aspire to I cannot imagine it. It wasn’t that many years ago that I had a mid-30s crisis because someone described me to others “meticulous.” Bleh. But quirky I love. Woo hoo! Thank you Alex Hillman! I share this here because this step led me to the next one…

3. I decided it’s time to fully embrace quirky. God help us all.

4. I decided to start paying closer attention to Coworking Weekly and immediately read this other article in the newsletter. This article is from the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times–reading I would never have done without editor Alex’ help:

Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is it Hard to Make Friends Over 30?

This quote from the article struck me as vitally important to our space/me:

“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.”

Thank you NY Times’ writer Alex Williams and professor Rebecca Adams.

5. It dawned on me that what we are is a friendship incubator. This is what matters most to me. Why the hell have we not been leading with that?!

6. I updated our space’s description on Facebook.

“Friendship incubator & free community coworking space. Wednesdays, 10 AM to 6 PM, other days by appointment. Photos: http://collectiveselfphotos.tumblr.com. A place to make friends & swap/share skills & stuff. Run by 3 social cats & a sappy dog.”

7. I began forming a definition of friendship incubator. Wrote a draft. Shared it with Daniel and got his input. Shared it with the space community via Facebook. Refined it. Eventually it occurred to me to look for a definition online. I didn’t find one.

8. We recognized ourselves as something new.

So here is the current defintion of friendship incubator coming out of our space:

A friendship incubator is a space, group, or person expanded and reimagined as an open host for community that fosters friendship by, for example, increasing proximity of community members; expanding the potential for play and repeated, unplanned interactions; and providing a setting within which people are encouraged to be themselves, let their guard down, and confide in one other. The friendship incubator embraces her/his/its own nature, leads with community and friendship, and allows other things–including business–to emerge from within. It is the quirky, playful, kind, irreverent, relaxed, free, untucked, and/or unpolished cousin and friend of the business incubator.

9. I kicked myself for not having this epiphany yesterday. That would be the day our first-ever coworking space postcards (thanks Tabitha!) went off to the printer. Sigh. There is a night of hand-writing “friendship incubator” across 250 postcards in my future. If you want to come over and help, holler.

10. We’re looking for our community.

If you are a friendship incubator, we’d love you to meet you, hear your definition of yourself and/or the term friendship incubator, hear the story of your experience, and share a meal.

How can we coordinate ideas about designing reflective communities?

How can we coordinate ideas about designing reflective communities?

“Important: This document is for people who like reading documents. If you don’t, stop reading now” (first line of the Collective Self free coworking space onboarding document)

“How can we coordinate ideas about community to start designing reflective communities where none seem to exist? What are some of the best practices of designing community among people/organizations/groups so that others may learn from and with them?”

This blog post is for Carey, who asked these questions in response to a recent blog post here. And for anyone else, like me, who needed to hear somebody else voice these questions before I recognized them as my own.

Carey, you already did the most important thing. You reached out to talk to someone and you asked for help. That’s the most important part, I keep learning. That’s the community creation work engine. Reach out. Get help. Reach out. Give help. Watch. Get inspired. Repeat. The-mad-ninja-skills version of this process contains just one word: Play. So if you can start there, by all means, just start and finish there. 🙂

I like to start where I am, embrace those I’m with, try something that seems a bit crazy to us as individuals, and learn together as we go. Play together. It’s helpful for me to believe (thanks to group experiences) that we learn more–together as learners–than I ever can as an individual expert. Helpful to know that my goal isn’t to become an individual expert (oh, how tempting!) when what I’m after is community. My goal is community! My deeper self IS community I’m learning. Playful community.

I’m not knocking education (says the girl who got a doctorate degree mostly to make more equally socially awkward friends). But I am knocking putting the design of reflective communities solely into the hands of learned experts. Because isn’t that kind of what’s already been done? And didn’t that land us with what we’ve already got? Neighborhoods full of individual experts who talk a good game but don’t know their neighbors as friends and human beings?

So look to yourself and your groups and community for best practices. I just started looking for and paying close attention to abundant groups within which people felt free to be their whole selves (including a few of my own, and also those that felt abundant but looked nothing like mine). After enough study (yes, I’m a nerd), I eventually found myself part of multiple abundant communities and a whole culture of people who care about becoming and creating said communities. These people were all around me–just waiting to be discovered!

Here are some amazing communities doing amazing cross-community work that I look to for inspiration. These are only those I myself, or my trusted community members, personally rely on, use, and love ourselves:

There are tons of others out there. When I want really deep learning, I find community centers in my own neighborhood and/or those that are emotionally local to me, and I spend as much time there with them as I can. Distant others can inspire, but they don’t hold our answers. We do.

For example, I’ve hooked up with the emerging Seattle orchard steward community and the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance community, in addition to starting a coworking space out of my home. I watch my neighbors community build at the Central Cinema, Katy’s Coffee, Tougo Coffee, and Earl’s Barbershop. I also read local blogs like http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/, http://centraldistrictnews.com/, http://beaconhill.seattle.wa.us/, and http://seattlebikeblog.com/. I also regularly watch the Facebook groups of emerging local community-centered groups (City Fruit, Alleycat Acres, Popcycles, Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance, etc.). I watch the interactions between people, what they share, how they share and grow, etc. I regularly watch emergent online groups I’m asked to be a part of too.

I also follow the work of emotionally local others (friends, long-lost brothers/sisters/parents/playmates) who just happened to be in other countries and states. These are my heart neighbors. I read their blogs, follow their tweets, chat with them whenever I can, and even work with them when the opportunity appears. I’m currently designing work travel to coincide with where my heart neighbors live so I can see their smiling faces. Some of my heart-local buddies include http://www.projectshrink.com/, http://lenellemoise.blogspot.com/http://www.deepfun.com/, http://dwellingherenow.blogspot.com/, and http://www.readinclover.com/, and https://natplays.wordpress.com/. You’ll recognize your heart neighbors by how free to be yourself you feel in their presence. More free than you could imagine on your own.

I need a lot of help. Because I’m brand new at this community creating/becoming/designing myself (as evidenced by our free community coworking space’s page: www.facebook.com/collectiveself). On my own, it’s tough. Together with all these other people, it’s a piece of cake. Literally, often cake is involved.

We are an emerging community. As an individual, I don’t design it, not if I’m honest with myself. I let go into it. I open myself up. I ask for help. I ask for cake. I need community. Eventually, we experience community together, look into each others eyes, and say “Oh, hello community!” Then, on the back side of that, we can sound all smart and designer-y and talk about how we got there.

But planning didn’t get us here. The act of planning and designing got us close enough as individuals to recognize community that we couldn’t recognize on our own. As we got closer, we began to play, and community happened on a small scale. And as we get closer, we play even more, and community shows up with sidewalk chalk. It’s just there. Some days now, I find it in all directions around me, and I’m so flooded by community and grateful for it that its beauty makes me weep. This happened to me earlier today. Other days, like last Wednesday, I sit here at a coworking table for 10 with just one other person, and I think “Ok, community, where the hell are you?”

On the nitty gritty details side… Another coworker and I take turns sharing things with our coworking community via the Facebook page, but at the moment, 99% of the good stuff happens here face to face, via Skype face to face, and via email. Think as our community here grows, involvement with our FB page etc. may increase. I’m not entirely sure. For me, patience is a key, because I can already imagine a large, thriving community here even though what we actually physically have here in our coworking space at the moment is a small, thriving community.

We’re not doing traditional advertising, because we’re not after a million Likes or Followers. Community takes time and is worth it. I think the number of Likes on our community coworking page should genuinely reflect the number of people who either cowork here now or would cowork here if they visit Seattle (plus the few friends and neighbors I’m patiently waiting for to leave their ball-and-chain jobs to come work with us here). But maybe that’s just me. I want community members. I want to be surrounded by the faces of old and new friends. People who I’m “all in” for and who are “all in” with us. This means getting to know people as whole human beings. It means taking a caserole to a neighbor whose husband is in the hospital. It means crying on the phone together when she loses him. It means walking on my feet to get to know more people in the neighborhood. Asking for help with things I’m not good at every single week (this week: creating a coworking space post card to hand to people as I meet them in our neighborhood and asking a well-known community creator in our neighborhood to come spend a day in our space). Watching movies together after work.

I’ve also been taking photos at get togethers and events and getting them posted to places where members of my emerging communities can see each others’ faces and names. Here are three of mine:

My hope is that eventually other group members will start posting photos too. I ask periodically. Will it happen? It did in one of them already. Yea! Hopefully, eventually, all three, and until then they are places I can go to see the faces of the people I love. And I can use them as indicators of my own need to get closer to those within these communities.

And you need patience. Did I mention patience? It bears repeating if I did. I seem regularly to need more of that. In fact, I’m actively looking for a coworker who exceeds at patience for our space, so that patience can sit with somebody better suited to it than me and/or so I have a patience mentor.

Working in the gift economy appears to be another great way into finding yourself part of an entire culture dedicated to creating and becoming more reflective communities. That is, give yourself, your time, and what you love to create with all your being as a gift to others. Wow, could I say a lot about that one. Think that’s a whole other blog post or three.

From my perspective today, anyone who is setting aside “I should” for “I love” (or “belief” for “friendship”) is—in that very act—creating a vibrant, thriving community. Whether it can be seen yet or not, the seeds are there. Because communities centered on “I love” and friendship are amazing communities. My evidence is the 15 stories in the book that Bas and I just created: Different Work. And my own Central District neighborhood. And the Beacon Food Forest community here in Seattle. And now the free coworking space we’re creating here in our home. The physical space of our home/work space has begun to feel like a community coworking space whether there are people in it or not. The space holds the community when they’re here and the potential for community when they’re not. It’s beautiful. Even its flaws have become beautiful to me. The trick is for me to learn to be happy with the full community state and the empty, potential for community state. And learning to find peace with not being “in charge” of things, including the schedule, which nothing teaches me quite as well as true community.

One final piece of evidence is my life. Because when it comes to believing in and becoming abundant, thriving, and reflective communities, as my new Booted friends would say, I’m all in.

Socially awkward and all.

Ideas, coordination, design, reflection–for me, all these almost magically appear when we’re “all in” together. Most days, I no longer worry about coordination, design, or even what the ideal community would be anymore. I don’t need an ideal community. I need mine. The friends and strangers who show up at my door. So I focus on being “all in” where my heart truly is and letting everything else go. And I notice that I am surrounded by people teaching me to do this now. All people teach me this now. I think that is the design that community itself creates and teaches.

We are the design.

And we are unbelievably beautiful together.