Setting out.

I set out early in the morning for Vancouver. It’s the first day of my 10 day writing retreat. I’ve recently been accepted into a Masters Program in Relational Leading with the Taos Institute and Middlesex University in London. While I’m away I’ll work on the current two modules, continue writing in my book, build and send a couple of newsletters for Sunworks and The Coconut room, and find time to read. It’s a bit of a packed agenda, especially when happy hour in Maui starts at 3 p.m.

To start my retreat well, I meet up with my friend Sam Khany. He’s a brilliant young planner with a keen sense of philosophy and strong passion for expanding knowledge about the relational influence of space and design on community wellness and culture. We first met at the Vancouver Urban Forum, a conference that he helped organize in 2011. It brought together great thinkers to consider better ways that we can design and organize cities in ways that improve human experience and protect the planet and everything that depends on it.

Over fresh oysters and wine our conversation moves quickly from catching up with one another into relational ideas and what he observes as a rise in reflexivity globally due to social media and the ability for people to easily connect.

I’m interested in exploring a book he’s appreciated. Modernity and Self Identity by Anthony Giddens.  Perhaps Amazon can dispatch one of their delivery drones and have it to me in a day or two. Even as I am aware of the increase in dialogue in the world I wonder if the particular way in which we are connecting is actually isolating ourselves in circles of other like minded people, rather that opening us to difference that exists and therefore the possibilities created when we ‘bump’ into new ideas and different ways individuals and communities construct the world.

My particular interest is not in just increasing dialogue, but rather I’m fascinated with the idea of creating openings in the dialogic space to be able to stand back and notice the relational dynamic of the dialogue itself. I use the word dialogue to represent the interactions or signals between various participants. I believe it’s important to recognize we are part of multiple relationships and that they go beyond just our interactions with one another to include our relationship with our habitat, our bodies, the various communities we are part of, our internal conversations, and the natural world.

I’m less interested in the content and more interested in the process. To call attention to ways we can gently intervene both individually and as organizations. How can we become more fully aware that every conversation we have changes the world in some way – that we have the choice to shift those conversations and therefore create a better future.

How can we invite highly structured (rigid) organizations to become reflexive in their work?   Maybe it’s highly rigid communities.

I ponder what happens when we have time to ask questions like: What were we doing just then as we talked about what we were talking about? What was it like for you, for us? Why were we talking in that particular way?

To me these are reflexive questions. They call us to look outside of the content and become aware of ourselves both collectively and individually. I propose that reflexive questions help us become aware of the socially constructed ways in which organizations behave, even as they make us aware of the ways we are constructing our world through our own inner dialogue.

Sam and I talked about doing some work together in the future. It will be an absolute delight.

What a great way to begin my retreat and more serious work on my Masters. Deeply intellectual conversation, grounded in practical experience in planning and civic governance. Rodney’s Oyster House get’s bonus points for providing space for us for being always so welcoming and friendly.

Energy of change.

As I prepare for my vacation I find myself being unusually productive 16-18 hours a day, split between my work at Sunworks, The Coconut Room, The Metropolitan Block renovation, City Council, and a number of small projects in our building downtown.  Not to mention catching up our accounting for year end.  Last year’s efforts to be reelected put a number of things on the back burner and finally the pile is starting to diminish.   It was without a doubt one of the most difficult years of my life.

What is fascinating is that as spring approaches I feel an incredible amount of change around me.  Projects are moving and rapidly developing, some are nearing completion, others are just getting started.  Most are moving freely without a lot of effort.  What I begin to think about begins to happen.  This of course appeals to my belief in social constructionist philosophy. Our words do create our worlds.  I become more aware of the need to pay attention to this fast moving energy and the change that it is inviting.

I have an image of energy, squishing out everywhere, in a random way.  Like perhaps wet clay does through your fingers when close your palm, or a garden hose gone wild.  I recognize the need to sculpt and direct this energy for change — to pay attention to intention.

There have been a number of issues that I’ve failed to properly address over the past couple of years as our businesses developed.  I’m consciously paying attention to addressing the issues that seemed stuck, to explore the reasons I was procrastinating doing them.  Results are beginning to appear.  Some of the work, where people have been involved has been quite painful.  I no longer accept working with people who choose negativity as their approach to life.  I’m surrounding myself more and more with people that believe in collaboration and cooperation — openness, trust, and dialogue.  Some of this work is helping me more deeply realize what real friendship, love and kindness feel like.

And it’s reminding me of the many positive and kind people with whom I want to associate.  Some have been around me for years and others are new friendships. I’m particularly inspired by some of our staff at the store and the restaurant.  It’s been a joy to work with  these lovely women.

Even though there is pain in dealing with the difficult situations, there is much joy in the discovery of new friendships and the renewal of seasoned friendship — particularly those who have travelled along side me on my journey as they have travelled their own.  These connections are so important to life and happiness.

I’m in Maui now and working on my book manuscript which is a slow by passionate process.  In between I’m working on unfinished renovation projects here at the flat as well.  Yesterday and today I go to ACE hardware to purchase paint for the glass backsplash.  Over the course of several trips back and forth, the man working at the paint counter and I begin to talk about life while the machine shook the various colour samples.  He lives at a Buddhist centre in Paia.

At one point, he says to me that there are only two things in life to remember — intention and paying attention to intention.  I like this thought and certainly it fits with the things I’ve been pondering over the past few months.

We each need to find time to consciously explore our invitations to the world.  What is it that you most would like to invite?  That’s your compelling intention, the thing that attracts you and draws you toward it.  To engage your imagination and soul think about this question:  What is the single most compelling image  you have about your future that you’d like to journey toward?

Your image will hold appeal, mysterious cache, almost like a mesmerizing grip of joy.  With further exploration of that compelling future you’ll begin to find more specific questions to ask yourself.  When you carefully craft the right questions to ask, you are in a process of giving your future colour, shape, and texture.  You are breathing life into that future, life that will need to be nourished.  Intention that will be attention.   That future will start to feel tangible, as if it were just a few steps away, perhaps in another room, or around the corner — close enough that you can go there if you choose.

Once your image begins to form — it doesn’t need to be completely clear — think about how do you create a bridge from today’s present to tomorrow’s present.  Ask yourself, what is one most helpful or obvious activity I could do today, this week, or in the next short while that would take me one step closer or my compelling future?

Exploring your invitation to the world, your compelling future and its richness, and then intentionally taking one step toward it will invite the energy of change — the kind that joyously squishes out between your fingers like wet clay.

The space in between.

A week to write away from every day life, and to do it in Maui is a real gift.  As I write this week takes me some time to quiet my mind from all that has been happening at home.  Citizens often forget that elected leaders also have feelings, can hurt and feel pain like all humans.  Often times that hurt is the suffering of the community.  We become vessels which carry the collective desire and fear.  Of course there is great joy as well.  There is an expectation of strength and of being able to resist and repel the muck and delight in the joy and success — to take nothing personally.  Easy to say and harder to practice.

Political life is not easy and yet it may not need to be hard either.  I’m learning to be with my feelings but also be able to observe them.  I’m learning to empathize deeply with my fellow citizens and yet be able to allow them to be with their own feelings.

this week I find it difficult to get past some of what I consider to be my own shortcomings in working with the community.  Sometimes my best is still not good enough.  I need to reconsider self compassion and so on Wednesday of this week I take some time to find a ‘fellow traveller’.  I search the internet for a yoga practitioner with experience in multiple areas.  I find Maire.  She and I arrange to meet at Grandma’s coffee house just past Kula on the road to Haleakala. It’s a bit of synchronicity since it’s one of the places on Maui that I enjoy the most.

As a pull up to the shop a few minutes late, I see Marie’s beautiful round Irish face pressed up against screen door looking for me.  I instantly recognize her even though she looks nothing like the photograph on the webpage.  Big smiles all around and the first thing we do is hug and say hello again.  It very much feeling like a reunion.

Inside we sit in one of the old wooden booths and talk about my writing and the direction it’s taking.  I conversation is very much about understanding self compassion and forgiveness.  We talk about how it’s impossible to work in community healing without first learning to be kind and compassionate towards oneself.

The coffee house heats up, and even though we are by a window which Marie as wedged open as much as possible, beads of sweat form on her brow.  It’s one of the drawbacks to having a full head of hair.  I’m grateful at the moment to be bald.  The conversation moves to dealing with conflict and it’s then suggest the time is right to be outside.

There is something about thinking and walking that works.  It’s as if the repetition of putting one foot in front of the other creates a rhythm and opens up space for understanding and dialogue.  Conversation never moves too quickly or slowly when I’m walking. Conflict is not a topic one wants to discuss sitting down.

Silver Cloud (2004)We walk along Thompson Road toward Oprah’s Maui home, toward a place formerly called Silver Cloud.  When Terry and I visited Maui for the first time, this is the road that we biked up.  I took pictures and later painted a piece in lieu of rent for the accommodations that were so graciously provided by some good friends.

Marie and I talk deeply about conflict.  I share that I avoid conflict and believe that there are better ways of arriving a good outcomes than having to deal with conflict.  However, we both agree that sometimes it simply can not be avoided.  It’s part of our humanity.  She invites me to consider conflict as a gift — something that I haven’t thoroughly considered in that context.  I spend some time in the afternoon and evening reflecting and seeing the usefulness of the question… ‘What if we consider conflict as a gift, where does that take us?’

The next day I have a chance to visit again.  This time we talk about art, about form and shape, and the nature of relationships between things.  I share how it’s not the edges of a form that give an object shape but the space around the form itself.  We do yoga under the clouds.  It’s an inspiring time.  I take all of that with me into my solitude as I sit and write this morning.

It’s been a brilliant time to be able to dedicate space and energy toward writing about something that I feel so passionate.  This space in Maui and this little condo has been a gift to me in the creative process.  It’s given me time and enough ‘white space’ for my ideas to flow out onto the page and for me to make connection with the universe.  What’s more is that there is some sort of organization that is beginning to appear in the work.  The form is appearing as a result of allowing the space around it to be.

I am not trying to write a book.  I am writing a book.

Preparing for Berlin – entry 1

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the nature of individual reflexive practice, and how reflexive practice manifests when it’s active, alive, and well in large highly structured organizations such as municipal government.

These are important questions that form the foundation of what I believe my work to be in the next several years.  Next year at the beginning of July I’m presenting in Berlin about reflexive practice in municipal government at a joint conference of Attractor- a Danish based organizational consultancy, and the Taos Institute, an academic association with a focus on social constructionist theory and practice.

It’s an outstanding opportunity for me to not only present on an international stage but also to be among colleagues far more experienced than I, and to learn.  What makes it thrilling is to be able to talk about the practical application of reflexive practice in government.  I’ll talk about what some of my breakthroughs have been, where I’ve discovered some of the pitfalls, and offer insights into organizational reflexive practice.

I’m interested in exploring how organizations can learn to be both the participants in delivery of services, adapting to an ever-changing landscape, while at the same time being active observers of themselves as an organization in process — being in the process and outside the process at the same time.  This goes beyond program development, implementation, and evaluation to a place were the organization itself becomes more conscious of how it’s own ‘talk’ influences the process itself and indeed its own future and that of the community.   Organizational reflexive practice allows time and space for its members to thoughtfully consider what they are thinking about as an organization and the language they are using.  Why those thoughts, why that language, why that behaviour?  What are the effects of those choices conscious or not?   Organizational reflexive practices goes far beyond the crafting of services and the measurement of their success.  It’s not an analysis of the doing – it’s consideration of thought and behaviour and how it affects the organization and the future of the community.

What are the techniques we can use to ‘hold a space open’ for ourselves to consider how our language, in all of its forms and the way we use those forms, creates the future of our community? Indeed, words do create worlds.

My first section will explore purpose and its role in conversation.  What constitutes purpose?  How can we learn to recognize statements that masquerade as purpose? What is the difference between action and purpose? What may happen when compelling purpose is clear?

Other sections might include:

  • A look at how quickly organizational change can happen once the organizational language begins to change
  • The role of kindness in conversation
  • The damage that  fear and anger may cause and what can be done
  • The importance of narrative
  • The role of doubt in conversation
  • The beauty of uncertainty and certainty
  • Inspiring conversations
  • The remarkable power of invitation
  • Choosing a path with the clearest view
  • Being a whole leader for others
  • The strength in grace
  • Drawing strength from personal reflexive practice
  • Systemic congruence, the effect of one conversation on the whole
  • Holding up a mirror
  • White space, the value it creates in processes and how it helps shape the big picture
  • Why one word is important
  • Time to think, to be, and to do
  • Colour and texture of envisioning.

It’s with excitement that I embark on this journey and I invite you to join me.  I’ll share bits and pieces of the work as I continue to develop my presentation and accompanying writing.  I look forward to questions, thoughts, suggestions, and comments.

Attractor – the elastic space.

The conference started at a reasonable hour. A practice that felt good and allowed time for thinking and moving into a good space for the day.

I found it most interesting to consider the cultural and individual context that each participant brought to the gathering. What any word’s meaning exists for me can be very different than someone else. The way the Danish or the Americans construct meaning in English create new ways of thinking about various ideas we are exploring together.

There has been great presentations about the nature of dialogue and the role of models in reflexive practice. It’s nice to be surrounded by others that try to work reflexively. The challenge for all of us to be part of a process while at the same time be aware of the dynamics, internal feelings, body language, surroundings, aesthetics, and individual context.

I imagine all of us in a process holding onto the edges of a giant rubber band. Pulling a space open by consciously working together and in harmony and trust. Allowing the space within to be open for participants to explore, question, be uncertain, and relational. We are in this sense dual-natured, being both the practitioners who create a positive space and the participants in the centre that trust the space will remain open.

It’s this idea of process consciousness that I believe allows groups to become reflexive. How does a group develop group skills to enable them to hold dialogic and context awareness, as well as work with the content itself?

Attractor – Summer Institute

July 2, 2011. 

I’m flying to Gatwick this afternoon and will arrive early tomorrow morning. The time change is seven hours. I’ll spend the day with Alan, a close friend and fellow philiosopher.  Around 5 p.m.  in the afternoon I’ll catch a flight for Copenhagen.  The Taos Institute is hosting a summer series on systems thinking and positivity. The first experience I had with this organization was about five years ago when I attended a four day Appreciative Inquiry Course with David Cooperider in Carmel, California.  

Since then the thinking I was doing has developed and accelerated  my approach to community change, and help me begin to craft a different way of being in the world.   Since then I continue to explore how communities and organizations evolve and devolve, what stalls positive change and what helps it grow.

Society is vastly unaware of how language and thought shapes our future. Most can’t see the dynamics and organic processes the exist just below the surface of conversation.  The subtle interplay of process, language, emotion, and unconscious desire for knowing on our human experience create our future. 

My work is to bring a level of awareness to this interplay, to help the people and organizations I’m involved with become reflexive about the dynamics at work.  To understand how the language we choose to use internally or externally, our inner voice and outer voice, will alter these dynamics and therefore the future. 

Without bringing reflexivity into our present concsiousness we hold back creativity, innovation and paradigmatic shifts in human consciousness that presently struggles for life and that need to survive.  The unquenchable societal  hunger for certainty and the fear of change, cripples creativity and the ability to adapt. 

Many if not most of the  institutions in our present and our history, from governmental, to military, to religious and even to family, are rooted in certainty. Although bright stars do exist, our reflexive ability needs nurturing.  Our future needs require us to shift the way we use language in the positive direction. Away from problem solving to life giving creativity.  Our reliance on past thinking must be questioned, the good exacted and built upon, the inflexible and certain replaced with possibility and uplifting questioning. We need real focus on purpose. 

I’m thrilled to be able to take these eight days to explore thoughts and refocus my efforts to be both part of the systems at work and at the same time outside an conscious of them. It’s my goal to blog however briefly my experiences and reflections during the conference. 

On the beach

On Christmas vacation, we sit on a Hawaiian beach and watch the waves roll in and slip away.  Trotting down the beach comes a big fat dog — it is happy.  It stops right in front of us, digs a hole, and leaves a little present in the sand.  We look around for the owner but no one seems to own the dog.  Then a woman appears who seems to know the dog and was following it along at a distance.  She said that it didn’t belong to her when Terry points out the sand trap.   She just giggles nervously.  She and the dog wander back to the other end of the beach.

I sit here for a while, I know what I want to do.  I want to take a plastic bag I carried with me and go pick it up so that it won’t be stepped it.  I am somehow embarrassed.  I can feel that everyone who watched this incident happen are annoyed.  It feels like peer pressure to sit and do nothing more.  Finally I resist the feeling and quickly go to the place with my bag and scoop the poop, then tucked it behind my chair.  I hope that no one notices and contemplate how ridiculous it is to be thinking about what others think when I want to do something that I feel is right.

A short while later a young native Hawaiian man comes up the beach with a plastic bag and a slotted scoop.  He is looking everywhere and scooping up things from the sand that don’t belong — bottle caps, cigarette butts, bits of plastic.  Things left behind by others.  The fat dog follows behind him.  When he gets to us I ask if the dog is his.  He says ‘yes’, but doesn’t stop to chat, just carries on with his task.  I comment that ‘it’s a nice dog’.  He doesn’t respond.  And what would I have said he he had responded?

I sit there thinking about how this young man is not afraid at all to do something good for everyone.  It doesn’t embarrass him to be cleaning the beach.   I determine to pay more attention to my feelings and let my actions be congruent with them.  The next time I want to do something good I’ll be quicker to have this internal discussion about the conflict in my feelings and get on with it.

I assume that he is doing this to help keep the beach clean but I wonder if he knows that by setting this example for others that he will help keep parks and beaches all over the world a bit nicer, as all of these vacationers return to where they live.  Some of them will have experienced similar insights.  We must not ever think that our actions exist in a bubble.  He reminded me to leave every place I visit in better shape than I found it, and he also reminded me to pay attention to living a life congruent with my values — a belief that I’ve held closely for a while.

Surrounded by goodness.

It is a most interesting day.  I’m inspired by people and their capacity for trust, connection, empathy, joy and kindness.   First thing this morning I get up and go to the gym.  It’s leg day and I really would rather sleep just a little longer. I stay in bed as long as possible then hasten the journey.  Corey pushes me but it feels good.  I’m glad I go today.  Next stop is home where I need to connect with a friend whose mother has just died.  He is doing well and notices how much support and friendship he has around him.  When we talk he wants to know if there is anything that he can do for me.  No, I say.  I tell him that I’m fine and to focus on his family.  We’ll talk when I get back next week, but I’ll attend the funeral on Thursday, but I’ve heard it’s important to remember the date 1 month out, 6 months and the anniversary of a loss, when the world is continuing and the formal grieving seems to have passed.  I’ll mark them in my calendar.  He is always outward looking and I think that is what makes him such as gem in my life.

Next, I’m late for a meeting with a colleague and friend.  We start to work but soon realize that we are having some trouble working well. We are not at our usual high capacity of collaboration. So we spend the morning working on our feelings and challenges.  Listening to one another’s perspective and gaining insight in our own.  It’s an amazing experience, painful at times but I realize that when one avoids ‘lumps’, one may have harmony, but real depth and trust comes from sorting out difference and hurt feelings.  When one builds on a foundation of trust there is a deeper and more meaningful richness that allows connections to strengthen and those can take you places that you couldn’t go along.  Oh for the joy of friends that are willing to travel with one another on their solitary journeys.

I leave exhausted but lighter and more happy than I’ve been in a while.  I feel relief and a sense of surety that the work we do together will continue to be strong and inspired by one another.  On my way back to my office, I’m enjoying the sunshine so much that I decide I will take a detour to go meet the women that own and operate Babycakes, cupcakery in Red Deer —  Andrea and Diana.  I love their store and think I’ve found my new happy place away from distraction.  It’s a place that I’ll occasionally escape to, read for a while, and think.  Their cappuccino is excellent and then I bite into a ‘brown sugar mama’ with penuche icing.  I think I have died and gone to heaven.

We visit for a while on and off between customers.  It’s time to get back and focus;  perhaps I am putting off the paper work on my desk.  I decide to buy a box of these wee cupcakes and take them around the building to the tenants and staff AND I have to buy the cool t-shirt that goes with these things.  Who knew that they were such a phenomenon?  Downtown, with cupcakes in hand I wander the building spreading sugary chocolatey fudgey joy.

In the afternoon Carson and Lousie from Idea Market appear to size up the new office and see how I am making out with the painting and cleaning.  It’s good that they came by.  It’s going to be wonderful to have more creative people in the store — especially this team.  They are hearing great things about moving into the downtown of Red Deer.  Tomorrow we will get the painting and cleaning nearly finished and will hopefully be working on the details before I leave for Ireland.  More great people.

After work I come home and spend some time with my niece Kathryn who has just nicely moved away from home, but into our suite.  I’m pleased that she has come to live with us and look forward to some good times.  In some ways it feels like I’m a parent.  Kathryn is grown up, smart and charming.  She shows me that she’s mostly unpacked things and set up her apartment.  While we talk I suggest that that I have an old, but funky two seat chair with wooden arms at the store that she can borrow and perhaps recover.  We decide we’ll take her car and go get it.  At the store we haul the thing out of the basement and onto the quiet street.  Will it fit in the back seat?  No!  Will it fit in the trunk? No!  We stand there and think about our options.  We could put it back into the store and come around to collect it tomorrow.  I say to Kathryn to give me a couple of minutes someone will drive by that I know that will have a vehicle big enough, if that doesn’t happen we’ll go with plan b.

A black truck comes along the road and pulls into a stall near the RBC bank on Ross.  I can’t really see who it is but think I’ll ask for a favour anyway.  This is Red Deer after all, people like to help one another.  I excuse myself as I walk up to the man descending from the cab.  ‘I wonder if you can help me for a few minutes?’  As I get closer I see that it is Davin, a young man and I’ve had business dealings with a couple of times.  We chat for a moment and he agrees that he’ll help us for 10 minutes or so, but he’ll be late for his band practise.  Being kind and helpful is more important to him, that says something about his character.  He backs his truck up to the store and before he is out again Kathryn and I have loaded it the back.  ‘It is small’, he says.  ‘I know, I thought it would fit for sure in the back seat,’ I reply.  30 seconds later we are off to the house.  Kathryn leads the way.  On the way he tells me that he and some friends have purchase Records to the Rafters from Bill, the former owner whom I also know.  We exchanges notes on the retail music business and catch up a bit.  I’m really happy to have made this connection because he share things with me that we’ve had trouble discovering at Sunworks.  5 minutes later we’re home and unloaded.   We agree to get together and chat more.   Kathryn stands beside us keen to hear that they carry music she likes.  Then he’s on his way.

I sit here typing this because it feels like something that should be shared.  I had interactions besides these, with colleagues, customers, lovers, and friends.  Many of today’s experiences came from not being afraid to express my fears, my needs, or my appreciation.  All my interactions today were important and wonderful.  I think how very lucky I am to be surrounded by so many good people, not just in this City but in my life.  Doesn’t get much better than this.

The Empathic Civilization.

As you know I read… and I try to apply what I learn to the world around me.  I experiment with my learning and share what I am able.  Currently, I am reading a book called The Empathic Civilization, by Jeremy Rifkin.  I’ve waited to tell you to about it until I was well into it.  I wanted to be sure that my enthusiasm about his ideas was not premature.  Now, I have to tell you that this book and the concepts behind it seem to embody and connect some of the most important thinking for our time.  This book could change how interact with others in this world — instill confidence that your smile and thoughtfulness are important and that they do affect change  —  that our connections with one another are the most important part of our society.  It will also compel you to rethink the direction of humanity.  It questions whether the human race will survive and whether it can can come together to meet the rising challenges we face, but at the same time offers tangible ideas. Will we connect on a deep human level and work together?  Mediocre and slow change will not serve us.  Dramatic collaboration and fearless empathic communication must guide our collective thinking.  This book is not an alarmist siren-call (at least not up to page 201).  It’s a ‘must read’ soon. You need to know.

Here is the link to a page about The Empathic Civilization.  There is a great short video by Jeremy on that page that gives a bit of an overview of his ideas.

I feel so strongly about this book that I’m ordering 50 copies into Sunworks.  Drop me a wee note if you would like one be to set aside for you when they come in: pharris@sunworks.ab.ca I’m looking forward to a grand discussion with everyone that reads it.  Who knows, we might be able to get the author in Red Deer somehow.  Perhaps RDC would consider inviting him for the Perspective Series.  As always please feel free to drop in and chat — it’s always better in person.

Showing not telling.

When I was in high school I had a teacher named Sheena who was an incredible influence on me. Many of us are blessed with great teachers, they are a real gift to us. We probably don’t think to look them up later and then tell them how important they have been to us. I’m fortunate enough to keep in touch with my friend Sheena all these years later. Thanks Sheena.

Here’s something that happened in grade 11, I recall.

I was quite active in the arts in High School and took every art course that I could from Sheena. It was a way for me to express myself during that very awkward time of growing up — 6’5″ and 170 lbs — need I say more. During those years I was found at one of two ‘safe’ places, either the bowling alley or in the art studio.

I had taken an interest in ceramics and was becoming quite creative in the use of clay. Some of my pieces are in my office today, if you ask next time you are in I’ll show you. Sometime at the start of a new semester a new group of ceramics students arrived. I may have been the teacher’s assistant, or just a senior ceramics student — not senior by much — this was high school after all.

Out of the blue Sheena asked me to teach these students how to wedge clay. Wedging is a process that removes the air bubbles from the clay so when the piece has dried it won’t explode during a kiln firing. I was terrified of having to teach these students. I’d been picked on and bullied all the way through school, but that is a story for another time.

There were about five students gathered around the 4′ x 8′ wedging table, with me at the end. Each of them had a freshly cut piece of clay to work with. I just couldn’t speak so with trembling hands I slowly began to work the clay, pulling it up from the back of the slab with my fingers and then pushing it down with my weight on the palms of my hands. Not entirely different than kneading dough. It’s probably called wedging because if done right it creates a piece of clay that resembles a wedge shape.

One-by-one the students watched and slowly started to follow my hand movements and wedge their own clay. I watched them, I watched their eyes, I watched their hands. Over the course of 10-15 minutes everyone learned to wedge clay. I said nothing. I recall relaxing at the end and making a few suggestions but even that I’m not sure about now.

It’s likely that I taught others later but I don’t remember anything other than this first time.

As I think about this today I think about how this style might reflect my personality. Where words often fail me, I can show by example. I can prove that something can be done by demonstrating it. There have been times and continue to be times when I simply can’t explain something with my brain but that I feel to be right elsewhere in my body. The building of Sunworks has largely been like that.

Perhaps this is why I think that experimenting — giving things a try — is so important for community development. For example, how can we be certain of what we’ve been told by traffic engineers that blocking two lanes of traffic on Ross Street by City Hall would cause traffic to back up? Then, lucky for us, the lanes get blocked from construction for two years, and we make a discovery which we can demonstrate, and that leads us to the creation of a park (see Creating Cenotaph Plaza entry). Showing not telling is perhaps an underutilized form of teaching and learning.