Walking the Hydro Corridor in Scarborough

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I had worked at the Centennial College for 3 years before I found the walking trail behind my office at Ashtonbee Campus. It’s unbelievable to me now that I hadn’t explored my surroundings in all that time, but just drove to my parking spot, ran to my office, worked away and then drove home. Ashtonbee Campus is in an industrial area of south-west Scarborough, surrounded by big box stores, factories and a whole lot of ugly suburban sprawl. I was engaged and oftentimes overwhelmed with my job, first as a Professor and Coordinator of our Social Service Worker Program and then as an Academic Chair, to take a breath, let alone take a walk.

I can’t remember the first time I walked and found the Hydro Corridor path behind our campus, but I can imagine that something pushed me out the door. I walked behind the campus, across our student parking lot, and found a space of open air to ground myself and breathe. I found a bike path (that I later googled and learned that it goes all across Scarborough), and nature – trees and birds. There are so many birds in these trees – sometimes the sounds of their chirping is deafening. And that one walk felt so energizing, that I have now tried to get out and walk as often as I can. Walking helps me to refresh and recharge in the middle of the day, taking me out into the fresh air, and on an adventure of discovery.


My favorite discovery on my walk has been finding an art installation that is on the back of our Ashtonbee Campus. It brightly says, like a message in a bottle or a fortune found in a fortune cookie: “Read between the power lines. Look up closer.” The message also depends on where you are standing, as the ‘power’ and ‘up’ are on walls going inward, so if you don’t stand at the angle where you can read the full message, but you stand directly in front of the art, it reads: “Read between the lines. Look closer.”


I love this message on so many levels. First, I literally remember to look up at the sky (‘Look up closer!’), which is so expansive and changing, to see the clouds and revel in the nature that is always there above my head. I literally feel like I walk around with blinders on, forgetting the sky that is always above me. The message reminds me that nature is everywhere, between the power lines and industrialization, between the cars and roads. Take notice! Take notice of the plants growing in the cracks between the sidewalks. Listen to the birds living and singing in Scarborough. I don’t need to escape the city to revel in nature.

And at another level, when I stand directly in front and read the message: “Read between the lines. Look closer.”, I am reminded to think differently, to try to understand what is happening ‘between the lines’. This message seems to come at the right time, as I am usually walking because I feel a weight on my heart and mind. I am walking to sort out a challenge or an issue, either work-related or personal (or both). This message gives me hope that I will solve it, if I can think and/or feel differently about it, if I can ‘look closer’, revealing what is happening ‘between the lines’. I need to take my time, not be afraid to ‘look closer’ (and not be afraid to feel how that feels), and not jump to conclusions too quickly.

I have since found out that the Toronto artist, Sean Martindale was commissioned to create this art (along with Centennial students and high school students from Wexford Collegiate), which is called “Between the Lines”, as part of the Pan Am Path Project, connected to the Pan Am Games in 2015. Through this project, there are art installations all along the ‘Pan Am Path’ – trails connecting Toronto’s communities from the west end to the east. You can check out more of Sean Martindale’s work here: http://www.seanmartindale.com and learn more about the Pan Am Path here: http://panampath.org/art-and-trails.shtml and http://friendsofthepanampath.org/.

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Inspired by the Internet

I remember being in my last year of high school and my father sitting me down in front of a computer screen, excitement in his eyes, saying ‘This is called the world wide web. It is going to change our world forever.” I remember feigning vague interest to be polite, but frankly, I didn’t believe his prediction. More than twenty years later, it is clear that my father was right.

Being on the young end of the Gen-X demographic, I am not a digital native and didn’t grow up online. Even among my age peers, I have been accused of being a luddite – I resist new technology and I have been slow to embrace this seismic shift in our society (ask my partner, who has been pushing me along for 15 years!). However, now that I have a smartphone and am connected to so many amazing folks through various social media (namely, Facebook and Twitter), I cannot imagine a day without the internet. And I am so thankful that it exists – I embrace the learning/teaching and collaboration/connecting that happens every day!

What I love most about the internet is the opportunity and experience of collaboration. Sharing and collaboration has been the cornerstone of what sets the internet apart from its ‘cousin’ screen – the tv. While the tv is one-way communication (we receive entertainment, news etc from it), the internet is (or has the potential to be) two-way collaboration. While we may use it as one-way consumers of entertainment or info, as a tv/book/magazine (ex. Netflix, youtube videos, articles etc), to me, the real magic of the internet is it being a tool for collaboration.

And to go one step further, for me, internet collaboration beats other forms of collaboration because it is open to the whole world, crossing all boundaries of geography, race, age, expertise, education etc. Collaboration through the internet has been termed ‘crowdsourcing’ (See Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crown is Driving the Future of Business by: Jeff Howe), which harnesses many people’s knowledge in order to solve a problem or create something. Another term used for this is ‘collective intelligence’, making the case that groups with their collective intelligence, have the capacity to far outperform individuals. And the theory behind the success of crowdsourcing is that diverse groups (and the internet is the epitome of diversity) outperform homogenous groups. As Howe argues in his book, ironically experts often experience greater barriers to problem-solving because their expertise narrows their ‘out-of-the-box’ abilities. Individuals with passion but without expertise come at the problem with a creative openness to fresh ideas.

The other critical factor of collaboration on the internet is that people are not being paid for collaborating. They are doing it for free. The motivation of a monetary reward is taken away, and that frees people to connect and collaborate based on their internal motivation – to make a difference in the world, to share their knowledge, to connect with others etc. Daniel Pink’s amazing TED Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” illustrates what research already knows – monetary rewards stunt creativity, narrow thinking and limit the ability to effectively problem-solve.

The example of amazing crowd-sourcing internet collaboration that is most widely known is Wikipedia, where 31.7 million registered users have contributed their knowledge (with an estimation of 100 million total volunteer hours) and research has shown it to be just as accurate as expert-written encyclopedias. Here are a few other internet collaborations that I find incredibly inspiring:

  • Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs – Eric started the concept of a ‘virtual choir’ where people from all of the world join the choir, learn their part in a song and upload a video on youtube of themselves singing their part. The videos are all put together to make beautiful music and a virtual choir of thousands of voices singing together is unbelievably powerful! The most recent Virtual Choir was made up of 8,409 videos from over 100 countries in the world. You can read more about Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs here, and check out the newest song, Fly to Paradise, here.
  • Participatory mapping projects – technology has been amazing in providing an opportunity to crowd-source geographically, so that maps are created to share information quickly and effectively, and to visually represent our communities accurately in real-time. There are lots of examples of participatory mapping – globally, Unicef is on the cutting edge of using mapping as a tool for social justice (one example – youth mapping environmental risks in their communities). And at the grassroots community level, participatory maps are being created using Google Maps to map out and better understand the underground sharing economy.
  • Sharing science and experimenting together: Michael Rubinstein is a computer scientist who created a ‘motion microscope’ that captures and amplifies the smallest of movements, so you can for example, witness the pulse under someones skin or the constant movement that is taking place in our bodies even when resting. But for me, what is more amazing than his invention, is that he is sharing his code so that others can play around with his tool and innovate further. On his website, anyone can download their own video and virtually try out his microscope to see what motion magnification will do. Through this shared technology, people have seen their babies wiggling around in-utero, their friends move differently (when they are supposedly standing still), and even their pets heartbeat. And the innovation continues.

And last but not least, I am very inspired by the “Humans of New York” site/Facebook page, where a guy named Brandon decided to photograph people on the streets of New York, and he now has over 12 million followers on Facebook (including me). His reach is so far, that when he photographed Vidal, a middle school student from a dangerous neighborhood in Brooklyn who was inspired by his principal (who made him feel that he mattered), people were so inspired that a fundraiser raised $100,000.00 in 45 minutes and $1,400,000 in one month. What started out as a fundraiser for a class trip to visit Harvard (so students can expand their idea of their own potential), has now turned into a scholarship fund for students to go to Harvard! And of course, the first student who will receive this scholarship will be Vidal, who started this tidal wave of social media support.

Showing My Work…

I just finished reading “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon, and it has inspired me to think differently about my humble little blog here, The Ignition Condition. Kleon has challenged me to be more open, to share my process and thinking and my true vulnerable self. Just starting my blog over a year ago was a bit frightful, so I am proud of the work and writing that I have done so far. However, I have been pretty safe in this blog, sticking to my topic of ‘community and volunteer development’. While I continue to be passionate and curious about community and volunteer development, I find myself everyday thinking and wanting to write about other topics that I am passionate about and that I want to explore. So, whether in the long run, I need to change my title or tag line of this blog, for now, I’m just going to let myself be open and write about what I care about and what I want to share. I definitely know that community and volunteer development will still be a central theme, but I don’t want to feel restricted. What else am I passionate and want to write about? Parenting, parenting as a lesbian mom with a chosen ‘alternative’ family (you can read a description of my family here – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-new-canada/article12913575/), parenting two boys and wrestling with the complexities of masculinity and boyhood and how to raise my boys to be amazing men. What else? Mind/body awareness, mindfulness, Buddhism/spirituality, awareness of the present, trying to live my life with integrity and passion and how I struggle in doing this every day. What else? Teaching and learning, struggling with how to teach and make impact, how learning can be transformative (or not), how to support post-secondary students to be successful and what does success mean in the long run. Lots and lots of questions surfacing here. And last but not least, music, oh sweet music…integrating music into my life, singing and writing music, sharing music with others and listening to great songs. So, who knows what this will look like, but I want to be open in my writing and see what happens. I want to explore my thoughts and ‘share my work’. Thanks Austin Kleon for your inspiration!

 

 

Playing in Playgrounds

Spring is coming soon, and with Spring, comes playgrounds. With two very active, rambunctious boys, I spend A LOT of time in playgrounds. I love playgrounds – how they are free and spark both imagination and physical movement, how they create community amongst parents who are generally relaxed and don’t have a lot to do except chat with each other. I love how children are uninhibited on playgrounds, feel free to move, jump, climb and leap about. My son is the happiest when he is moving, and full of joy when he is playing in playgrounds. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood with many playgrounds within walking distance of our house, and we make full use of all of these playgrounds. Norway School is the closest playground, so we go there when we have just an hour before supper, when I know my son needs to run off some steam. “Froggie park” has a great splashpad, so this is a summer favourite. And of course, Kew/Castle Park is excellent with the castle (that my son has now figured out how to climb into the middle) and the potential for imagination games with the boats and hiding spaces. I have probably clocked over 500 hours in Kew/Castle Park over the past 7 years.

Besides Kew/Castle Playground, my other favourite playgrounds are:

Dufferin Grove Park – hands down! This playground is in the west end of Toronto (Dufferin and College), so far from our house, but we love it so much that we are happy to make the trek to go here. Dufferin Grove Park is an amazing example of successful community development, where residents were extremely active in reclaiming this public park, which used to be unused and scary with crime and drug dealing. Residents have worked tirelessly with city officials to vision and implement that vision into a community-based park. Residents continue to be extremely active in the park, and there are all kinds of community activities that take place at Dufferin Grove. There has even been scholarly research done on the volunteer engagement model at Dufferin Grove, as a best practice. There are so many wonderful elements of Dufferin Grove Park, but what I love the most is the digging area. They have dug out a giant area of dirt and rocks and wood, and they have water streaming through. They have child-sized shovels and watering cans, and my son has spent hours upon hours digging and carrying water, making rivers and making dams, hard at work.

-Toronto Island – Franklins Children’s Garden – a great example of integrating imaginative play with movement. My son also loves this playground, as it has the Franklin characters built into the playground. Lots of fun!

-Montreal – Salamander Park on Mont Royal is amazing! We have also spent hours here, it is beautiful because the playground is located on the mountain, and it is designed in a unique way to encourage children’s motor and cognitive development. It is a visually beautiful playground, and different from any other playground I have ever visited.

All this writing about playgrounds makes me wish I was a kid! Of course, there are now Adult Playgrounds that I might try to check out when I next next in New York! Wouldn’t this be a great stress-buster? I wonder if I would feel inhibited trying this out, or maybe not? Maybe I could let go and ‘be a kid’ for an hour or so.

Here are some amazing playgrounds from around the world! I hope to visit some of these in my lifetime!

Rainbow Loom Reflections

If you have a child in the 6-12 age range, then I’m sure you’ve heard of Rainbow Loom. It’s the new craze in the schools, and the top selling toy in Canada and the U.S. The toy was invented by a Malaysian father who one evening was watching his daughters make bracelets out of rubber hands with their fingers. He tried, and because his fingers were too large and clumsy, he couldn’t do it. So he hammered some nails into a board, making a makeshift ‘loom’ and started playing with the elastics. He and his daughters realized quickly that they could make really amazing, more intricate patters with the loom…and the rest is history. You can read his story here – http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Family/Features/2013/12/13/Malaysianborn-father-strikes-gold-in-Rainbow-Loom-in-US.aspx/.

My 7 year old son is OBSESSED with rainbow loom. It is pretty much all he talks about with his friends and what he does when he gets home from school. He has been obsessed now for three months, and I would estimate that he has clocked over 50 hours making bracelets. The bracelet patterns are separated by beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and he is now doing the advanced patterns. I have found this all very interesting to observe. Beyond the development of skill (fine motor/dexterity etc), this Rainbow Loom fad has been incredibly positive for my son at a deeper level, uncovering and strengthening values and facilitating new learning, in these three ways::

1. Gender Bending: At Mo’s school, both boys and girls are into it and are making and wearing bracelets. Before Rainbow Loom, I have found this age to be very gender separate – the boys do their activities and the girls do theirs. Despite LOTS of conversations about this and the fact that Mo is being raised by two moms who are feminists and make it clear that ‘you can be who you want to be’, Mo has always been a ‘boy boy’ – his top interests have been trucks, superheroes, weapons, wrestling and sports. And before the Rainbow Loom, Mo has never been interested in making a craft or wearing a bracelet, and he would say that ‘only girls do that’. This change and interest in bracelet making has been fascinating to me. Quite frankly, it shows me the power of peers, that I think (unfortunately sometimes) is stronger than the power of parents (Hold On To Your Kids by Neufeld and Mate is an excellent book on this). Anyways, I love how it is now cool for boys to make and wear bracelets.

2. Teaching and Learning – especially Online: Mo learns how to make his bracelets through online videos, where someone is showing and teaching the step-by-step instructions on each pattern. Rainbow Loom has official online teaching videos, but kids are now putting up their own on Youtube, and Mo seems to like these ones even better. He listens to a 10 year old girls voice going through the steps, he can press pause and rewind when he’s missed a step, and he learns new patterns extremely fast through this method. It’s interesting to watch him learn in this way, and its amazing to see kids teaching and learning from each other online! Mo asked me about making a video himself to teach Rainbow Loom, and I think this would be an ambitious and interesting project, to see how he teaches (at the age of 7!).

3. Generosity: Mo is giving everyone his bracelets – our neighbors, his friends at school, the dental hygienist when we went to the dentist… He is making so many of them, and there are only so many he can wear on his arm. He is very proud of his bracelets, and I realized that 7 years old normally don’t have a lot of opportunities to practice generosity, because they don’t have money or things to give away. Rainbow Loom has provided an opportunity for him to practice generosity, and I love to see this in action.

Here are a few photos of Mo doing Rainbow Loom…

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International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today, December 3rd, is recognized by the UN and around the world as the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”, and in that spirit, I want to share two examples of community based projects that I think are amazing, by breaking down barriers – both physical and attitudinal barriers. Both of these projects have inspired me:

1. The StopGap project – Luke Anderson, who is an engineer by trade and in a wheelchair, started making these cool ramps because he was frustrated by the inaccessibility of so many places in the city. He now has an army of volunteers and is giving out these ramps for free to businesses, so they can be accessible – see the StopGap website here – http://stopgapblog.blogspot.ca/. I love especially love this project for a few reasons: 1. It’s Toronto-based so I get the pleasure of looking out for and seeing these bright StopGap ramps in my city!, 2. It shows that a small piece of wood has the power to change our behaviors and connection to place – accessibility means that people make different shopping choices and may interact different with others in our community. and 3. Luke Anderson has not trademarked his ramp and is not trying to make money from his initiative. On the contrary, he provides a very detailed handbook on his website with instruction on how to build the ramps, as well as how to connect with businesses and recruit volunteers, so you can start this in your own community.

2. DanceAbility – http://www.danceability.com/index.php. I have a personal connection to this project, as I used to do Contact Improv and through that, participated in some DanceAbility workshops. I am not a very physically coordinated individual but I have always loved dance – not to perform but to experience it. Contact Improv really pushed me out of my head and into my body, and profoundly changed me in how I live in my body in this world. DanceAbility is about promoting dance for all people, regardless of ability or disability, and through this openness, danceAbility performances challenge unspoken societal perceptions of what people with disabilities should look like or should be doing or not doing. See this amazing video to see what I mean – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNS106c8iXw. Most of our interaction with others is through words – verbal, and now more and more, through written communication. DanceAbility provides a space for community interaction on a profound and transformative level, through bodies moving and communicating through dance.

Dancing at the Montreal Tam-Tams

I went to Montreal with my family this month, and the highlight of my trip was the Sunday Tam-Tams at the mountain. I love the Tam-Tams. The Tam-Tams is a public drumming, dancing, playing activity where hundreds of people join together on the mountain on Sundays to have fun. On the internet, it says that the Tam-Tams started in 1978, which is incredible that its been going on for so long. I love dancing. Not performance dancing, but social dancing, jamming, improv dancing. I hardly ever do it anymore and I’ve become more inhibited as I’ve gotten older, which is a bit sad but the truth. But this Sunday a few weeks ago, I let go and danced like I was 19 again, joining in with the drums and the other dancers.

I used to be really involved with the Contact Improv dance scene, in Toronto, Peterborough and in Montreal. Contact improv is a social dance – people meet up once a week to dance together, not with any music or choreography, but just free-form contact dance. Contact means exactly that – body contact. Weight distributed – sometimes you are slithering on the ground and sometimes you are flying up in the air like a bird. I am small, so I was often lifted in the jams and I would feel so weightless and free. I never was afraid.

Its wonderful to find community spaces to feel free – free to be uninhibited, free to dance. The Sunday Tam-Tams is this kind of event, open to everyone. People of all ages and backgrounds are there, and you are free to do what you want – play hacky-sack, chill out on the grass, drum or dance or sing. I didn’t speak to anyone there but I didn’t need words to feel part of the Montreal community.

If you are ever in Montreal, join the Tam-Tams on Sundays.