Saturday, January 14, 2017

Happy Malanka!

photo credit: PlastCalgary via Flickr

Happy New Year, according to the Julian calendar -- today is New Year for Ukrainians, and the big celebration, Malanka, is New Year's Eve. If you were at a Malanka last night, you'll probably be too tired to read this...

The good thing is that it is New Year's all over again -- so if any of my suggested possibilities for a resolution so far have been interesting, you can make them now! Great redo if your first choices aren't working, too ;)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Building Community Through Conversations

Resolution: Build Community!

If you would like to build community and open conversations in a time of aggression & polarization, these books may be just the thing.

Community Conversations: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills, and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People / Paul Born
Toronto: BPS Books, c2012.
222 p.

How do we converse as diverse members of our communities? How do structure those conversations so that we're really hearing each other, and gathering in many voices? Paul Born tackles these questions in this very practical book of techniques and examples of doing just that. He is President of Tamarack Institute, an organization focused on this subject which has been working hard on these kind of massive projects for years -- their website is full of great resources to explore, following on from each of these books.

I really liked the structure and the practical nature of this book. Born talks about creating community through holding conversation -- and he means structured conversations with goals and outcomes and so on. There are 10 specific techniques shared which he has used to make this happen, and for each one he shares further online resources to explore. I can see how one or many of these would really benefit when trying to improve communication among community members. Some are very organizational, some are more relaxed and informal, but all have the outcome in mind.

The first part of the book is a general overview of conversing, engaging, collaborating & casting your vision; the second is a look at all 10 techniques he recommends. And what I love about both these books is that for each suggestion, there are numerous notes and links and resources shared for further exploration. This was a thought-provoking book, and I'm also very glad to have discovered the Tamarack Institute's website, newsletter, resources & more. Really encouraging to read of positive action occurring in communities.

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times / Paul Born
San Francisco: BK Books, c2014.
169 p.

How could I resist a title like this? It says what I'm feeling lately. How do we rebuild a sense of strong social cohesion?

Born discusses this conundrum, defining 3 types of community: shallow, deep & fear-based. I think we can look around and see all of this in our society now, though in this construction, "deep" is the ideal. As I read the key characteristics of each, it was clear to me that I exist mainly in shallow community right now -- with connections to others but not a traditional, deep sense of depending on others and having the drop-in-on-your-neighbour-when-they-need-something knowledge of those around me. But I also started to wonder if that was due to social conditions, or if it is that I'm an introvert, and the idea of hanging out with all my neighbours a lot doesn't actually sound that great to me! This would be very interesting to discuss with anyone else who has read this, hint hint.

Born outlines the four pillars of deep community: sharing our stories, taking the time to enjoy one another, taking care of one another, and working together for a better world. All of these are great principles, all of which I agree are vital to building stronger communities. But I'd like to see them expanded upon with a little more nuance, taking into account cultural and/or personality differences, as noted above.  

This book felt a little more personal, with lots of talk about Born's upbringing in a more rural Mennonite community, which I didn't relate to as much. It felt very extroverty and nostalgic to me, even while I'm obviously interested in the idea of community, which is why I'm reading it. These personal stories were a bit repetitive as well, and while there was lots of good in this bok, I ended up skimming a fair amount. It's good but I'd recommend trying Community Conversations first if what you're looking for is actionable steps toward fostering conversation and understanding.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Saving the World, Step One

Resolution: Save the World!

If you want to become more politically active this year and make your voice heard, here is a great read by the leader of Canada's Green Party (written before she was in that position, and was working as the director of The Sierra Club). It's focused on the Canadian political landscape but many of the points are useful to everyone.

How to Save the World in Your Spare Time / Elizabeth May
Toronto: Key Porter, c2007.
207 p.

I thought this looked intriguing, as I've always had a great deal of respect for Elizabeth May. Now that I've read it, I feel like I know a whole lot more about her, and have even more respect for her accomplishments.

This book really is about saving the world. It is a strategy document; how and why to go about making your voice heard -- from setting your goals, getting in the news, lobbying, fundraising, and more, it gives a logical overview of how to be both seen and effective. It's broken up into chapters on each topic, with stories from May's own life of activism and key points based on her experiences in both small and large groups. Each one builds on the last, with useful tips like giving a politician an answer: know the facts and the costs of what you are proposing, and don't be against something, rather, be for something better.

May insists upon decorum and decency as important to successful activism. This reminds me of a recent interchange in Canadian Parliament, where she took another MP to task for unparliamentary language. She clearly still holds to the importance of decorum in politics!

But the book as a whole is inspiring. She's a very positive and optimistic person despite her lifetime of fighting for change against the status quo. This quote early on is the heart of her message:

"Is it winnable?" may be the world's most pointless question. Our assets are not quantifiable. Persistence, passion and commitment will outrun mere money every time. 

The biggest and most despair-laden question is the big one: "Are all our efforts too little, too late? Is the planet so damaged by human-caused pollution -- toxic wastes, ozone depleters, greenhouse gases -- that no matter what we do we are doomed?"

Get a grip! This is a dangerous frame of mind. It provokes nothing but grief and drains your energy into sheer paralysis. Philosopher George Grant once told me, "The greatest sin is the sin of despair."

For Americans in our present climate, you might find this Indivisible Guide useful, as it provides a strategic step-by-step plan to making your voice heard by your Member of Congress in the same way that May speaks to the Canadian governmental structure in this book. However, May's book still provides plenty of practical, tactical info for every protestor, activist, or concerned citizen of any country to take to heart.

It is a little dated already in some ways -- social media in particular, which May acknowledges will change before she even finishes the book -- but otherwise a useful and thorough overview of activism techniques for Canadians. I finished the book with a lot more understanding of May and more respect for the years of work she did even before joining politics. And many ideas!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

All In: Entrepreneurial Inspiration Part 2

Resolution: Start that business you're dreaming of

All In / Arlene Dickinson
Toronto: HarperCollins, 2013.
304 p.

This is the second book I've read by Dickinson; she is a very successful entrepreneur & was an investor on Dragons Den for years. Plus, she's a decent person, both online and as shown in her first book Persuasion. I'm more likely to take advice from someone like her who is first of all a good human being, then a businessperson. And an experienced, successful one at that. 

All In is partly business advice, partly life advice and just a little bit also a promotion of her new (in 2013) online community, You, Inc. While I'm not all that interested in the online community, I was very interested in this book. 

Within the first few pages I was able to see things differently thanks to her comments. And the book supports the idea of being "all in" -- when you're an entrepreneur you don't think about "work life balance", as often working is life and vice versa. This is a book about the entrepreneurial lifestyle as a whole, not a simple look at how to start a business.

She does state that sometimes you do have to sacrifice things you might have wanted to do because of business needs (she gives the example of having to cancel a vacation with her girlfriends because of a business crisis that arose suddenly) and that sometimes people might have a hard time accepting that, especially if you are a woman. I like that she doesn't sugarcoat the hard work that it takes to be in business for yourself, and also that she doesn't play down the fact that much of this is harder for women because of systemic issues. She also believes that some people have an entrepreneurial personality that will make it easier for them to manage this kind of lifestyle, and I agree; a tendency toward both risk and optimism seems like it would be helpful, as a natural inclination.

Anyhow, if you are at all interested in the self-employed life, or even if you're not but you know others who are, this would be a great read. It will help you understand the personality and philosophy behind someone who is "all in", who is focused on their business first. And it will help you judge whether that kind of commitment would be something you would be up for - and if so, it will encourage you to jump in. All in. 

For more thoughts from Arlene, you can find her most often on twitter, at @ArleneDickinson or on Facebook

Monday, January 09, 2017

Lighting Your Fire: Entrepreneurial Inspiration

Resolution: Find Your (Business or Life) Passion 

If reading about all those creativity tips gets you excited about changing your life, here's one to read on finding your passion, whether that's for life in general or more specifically, in your career. 

The Firestarter Sessions: a soulful & practical guide to creating success on your own terms / Danielle LaPorte
New York: Harmony Books, c2012.
333 p.

Danielle LaPorte is  a cheerful, passionate life and business coach, well known now for her website and her many courses, books and products.When I first saw The Firestarter Sessions a couple of years ago, though, it was my introduction to her work. I've just reread it, and been re-energized by it at this time of year.

The format of the book reminds me of my recent David Usher read: it also has random sized fonts on various pages, and lots of questions and lists to fill out. Here's one example of the interior, from her website:

It's bigger and more content-heavy, however. LaPorte is a very strong, encouraging, positive voice whose specialty is business & entrepreneurship. She's run various online businesses & been successful in many areas. Now she's sharing her experience. It's a bit "girlfriendy" for me, but not too much so - it didn't put me off the book at all. Nor did it stop me from checking out her website and the many programs & resources there. I guess I'm late to the game with Laporte -- she is apparently one of Oprah's "Super Soul 100". Things I didn't know...

Anyhow, this read ties in nicely to the whole idea of expanding creative ways of thinking, in this case focused on personal development. The tone is firm and positive - she is an Oprah/Marie Forleo/Gretchen Rubin kind of writer. But she also has an edge of take-no-crap Canadianness that I really enjoy ;) If you're ready for a book that requires honesty from the reader, this would be it.

I find her style and the content of this book inspiring, for real. The questions she asks really help to move past the excuses we all make to ourselves, and to identify what it is that we want to happen -- and then what needs to be done to get there. No thinking small or yes-butting here. This is a book that would reward rereads and re-working of the questions and answers each time you engage with it. I can see it being helpful especially to those who are ready to make changes, and who are accustomed to writing their way toward finding answers for themselves. If you are thinking about life changes this year, check this book out, and then take a visit to LaPorte's website for more. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Happy Ukrainian Christmas!

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Happy Ukrainian Christmas to all!

On this day of celebration, I'll be reading some Ukrainian Canadian literature
 and eating lots of good food -- always important for a proper Ukrainian celebration!

Best Wishes to everyone who celebrates :) 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Let the Elephants Run, with Big Magic

Resolution: Be More Creative

If one of your resolutions this year is to amp up your creative juices, either of these recent reads might be helpful!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear / Elizabeth Gilbert
New York: Riverhead Books, c2015.
276 p.

Another book by an author I am generally dubious about... Gilbert's Eat Pray Love has to be one of the books I've disliked most in recent years. Argh, so self centred! But I gave this one a try because of its topic.

And it's not bad. I like the focus on personal, everyday creativity. There are some pretty interesting points that she makes. The idea that we just have to show up, to be ready to do the creative work, is key. Persistence is the point that resonated most with me. She covers other areas, like Courage - managing and working through fears and expectations of greatness or horribleness in one's art. Or Permission; to give yourself the name of artist/creative person without having to be "successful" to do so. There are many things I enjoyed and noted down from my reading of this book.

But like many other readers, I have mixed feelings about it. Unfortunately, Gilbert's disingenuous argument that the arts are not as necessary as things like plumbing or roofing, that you shouldn't quit your day job, that most people won't succeed so just be happy with your mediocre hobby (well, I am also being a bit disingenuous here and perhaps overstating her case in my annoyance) bothers me, coming from someone who has made quite a career in the arts, via her creative life. I think she was trying to reduce the sense of perfectionism & fear that keeps people from beginning anything, but perhaps went a little far in the opposite direction!

Anyhow, this is supposed to be a recommendation for a book to help you with your creativity! And if you aren't bothered by some of the things I've mentioned you may really love this one. Even I was inspired by it, and found some good takeaways. Gilbert still seems awfully self-satisfied to me, but if this book were distilled down into something more like the length and breadth of her TED Talk on the topic, it would be just right. 

Let The Elephants Run: Unlock Your Creativity and Change Everything / David Usher
Toronto: Anansi, c2015.
227 p.

As the blurb for this book states: creativity is not magic; it is a learnable skill that any person or business can master.

So, equal but opposite approaches to the genius of creativity between these two books!

This book has much more of a freestyle, creative feel in its own right as a physical object. The pages are covered by random large font statements, colour, illustrations, lists for the reader to write things in, and there are even some photos tossed in there. Usher both recognizes that creativity shows up differently for different people and states that creative people can use that creativity outside of their original "field". For example, he always thought that his creativity was linked to music, but began to realize that his creative way of looking at the world, of understanding things, was applicable to his other interests in tech and business. So one's creativity can be brought to focus on varied areas of life. I love this. It's so true, and important to recognize the many sides to a creative mind. 

He ponders his own experiences, and shares his thoughts on the two pillars of creative success: freedom and structure. Everything he says ties these two elements together. I enjoyed this book and found it quite inspiring, and fun to read. I must admit I saw David Usher speak at a library conference a couple of years ago, and he performed one of the creative exercises he discusses in this book: it was delightful in person, and I found the book just as charming as he was as a speaker - he is quite charismatic. So this may have coloured my experience of reading this...but it's still a good read for anyone interested in creativity and how to foster it in everyday life.

So, get out there and create :)


Further Reading:

Another book on creativity that is based in the author's world is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. It's a little more intense, perhaps, and delves more deeply into the necessity for discipline as an artist. But it's one that I find very, very inspiring, even if I will never be a full-time dancer, or artist of any sort, myself.