Until next time

Stages in life – changes that keep coming, even as we grow and give our best attempt to move on quickly.

So many words get lost in the laughter. Things left unsaid because it makes us feel too deeply. Yet, from what we do say, I gather this much:

The fellowship, a blessing. The friendship, lasting. The support, real.

I am grateful to have friends to journey this season of life with, and to remind me that I need to show the same level of grace to myself as I desire to show to others.

Onwards, friends! And we will see you again, very soon.


Big and scared

…the wise are the hidden who hold out for heaven — and the applause that comes from God.

This is to choose the far greater.

I know you’re brave … and you’re scared. Because you keep doing big things that seems so small and you wonder where all this is really going and you only get one life here —

And though you’re weary, you do hard things and you keep getting out of bed and this is always the hardest part —

and you keep believing that Christ didn’t leave this world until He showed us His scars — and He won’t ever let you leave this world until you live to show Him.

~ Ann Voskamp

I am faster than something slower

There are moments when a kind of clarity comes.

Like you can see through dense fog to another perspective that you’d chosen to ignore in order to continue living with the various illusions that make life, particularly life with other people, possible.

They come in an unscheduled afternoon in which nothing happens but the slightest shift in perceptiveness.

I find now that when I wish to write, not only am I unable to muster the necessary concentration, but when I reread I find them to be superfluous words lacking authenticity, with no compelling reason behind them. I see frustration and a cajoling for inner change that seems shallow, because no change has been seen or felt. Void of energy, toppling nothing, shouting nothing. A mountain of words to obfuscate a poverty of spirit.

This afternoon I visited Jelita centre after years of passing it by, and bought a card game I recently felt some fondness for. I’m given to voluntarily playing card games; I think I’m getting the hang of doing poorly and not letting it matter. These are lessons children learn that I learn in 2018. (But what does it matter as long as it is well learnt?) I feel that the days are too short, and that I must play a game or two with the people I love, as I observe the sudden vulnerability of the human situation and the incomparable loneliness of chronic pain residing in this house.

I bought strawberries and an oblong melon this afternoon, the latter was too heavy for me to hold in hand on the bus ride. In what felt like slow motion, the bus jerked forward, and the large melon rolled exuberantly down the entire length of the bus, and to my dismay. I wonder why it was embarrassment that I felt, when it was the lamest thing that happened all week.

These are the illusions of things when in unguarded moments, remind me that life is rich with the laughter I don’t laugh. That there is a real asymmetry buried below things, things utterly beside the point, totally irrelevant.

Last evening, I enjoyed dinner at Craftsmen Specialty Coffee. I didn’t (and don’t) drink coffee, but the cafe was comfortable, with vibrant pictures with high-spirited strokes worth studying for the ten minutes it took to prepare the brioche. Out of habit, I slowed to consider whether the unrelenting heart wanted waffles, and was surprised to find that it didn’t. I must be a recovering waffles-addict, I feel. Self-control, this is the sort of thing that is up my alley. But I enjoyed dessert in the Chip Bee enclave, in the failing light of Friday, when the roads grow a few decibels more quiet, and the peals of laughter or collective groans from the World Cup watchers are a distance away.

My life runs like clockwork now. On occasions when I forget they do, when the day is not divided into smaller and smaller parts that I try to fit altogether, I remember not to feel uneasy about a life that is organised around protecting the ordinary.

Policy making

“On the morning of May 1st I found myself no longer the Director of MindLab. The world’s first and longest running policy innovation lab had been shut down. Political priorities had moved on from innovation to disruption.

For three years, I worked with great, ambitious people, embedded in and interacting closely with the political system, trying to distil and pioneer viable templates for the future of public organisations.

These are my humble lessons learned from working in this determined, resourceful, yet bureaucratic system:

1. Failure is not an option

In political systems, failure is not appreciated, because it exposes the minister and ministry to public scrutiny. And for public servants this is a huge concern, for various reasons. So it’s imperative that you rigorously return to the problem until it’s resolved. This must be what you promise at the outset, rather than promising a smoothly facilitated workshop.

2. Climb down from the ivory tower

Innovation units often define themselves in opposition to the rest of the organisation. Please, lose the arrogant centre-of-excellence attitude. Always be humble: no matter your effort, success is never yours alone. And remember that it actually makes you stronger if success happens in the core of the system, and not on its outskirts.

3. Don’t promote methods

Yes, design methods might be utilitarian and easily applicable, but they don’t help usher in a sustainable change to how organisations work. Instead strive to leave a cultural dent in everything you do, by challenging inherited assumptions and behaviours, and using the power of example to prove impossible wrong.

4. Be generous

Ideas, successes, appreciation — pass it all on. Infuse what you do into the organisation’s workings without taking credit; let it take root and grow strong in the gardens of your colleagues. Only then will it become relevant and scale to truly valuable proportions. Yes, the celebration party will be on a different floor, but if that really matters to you, you’re in the wrong business.

5. Stop dreaming

Be realistic, be pragmatic, be sensible. Changing government and political structures is a tough job. Also many of the processes and behaviours you’ll find in these systems are there for good reasons. Instead, commit to audacious ambitions, to change what’s changeable, and to doing what creates real value — for the organisation and society.

6. Be an awesome colleague

Build professional friendships, be ready with advice, a hand, a shoulder. Hold your colleagues high, and lift them even higher when needed. Have a cup of coffee, have their back, cover their ass. Always give more than expected. And leave room for surprise.

7. Celebrate nuance

Acknowledge that in policymaking there are no perfect targets for your beautifully designed silver bullet. Insist on curiosity and pay attention to the periphery — of the problem, the solution, and the organisation. Ignore hierarchal legitimacy and praise anyone who brings you a surprising perspective from the corners of your organisation.

8. Create legitimacy through relations

Policymaking is a complex, fast-moving target; it’s difficult to draw baselines and it’s impossible to isolate and measure the impact of interventions. That’s bad news in organisations thriving on the idea of evidence by numbers. However, building genuine, compassionate relations will fortify the overall organisational narrative of the value your efforts bring. And hopefully you’ll stay around a bit longer.

9. Stay true

Remember your initial ambition and moral compass, and when organisational turbulence arises, stick with it.

Hello, mum

It’s me.

I have a big hole in my heart where bits of my heart should be. I am not sure when the cracks first formed, but they did, and my heart shattered exactly where the foundations were weak.

They were weak to begin with.

A “shattering” heart sounds more violent than it is. It was not as sudden as that. I sensed all was not right some time ago. But I thought these things usually go away by themselves when ignored, like when I ignore the black stray cat prowling this neighbourhood. I pretend it can’t see me, and soon it is gone.

Correlation is not causation; I should have remembered.

So this feels like a tragedy of varying proportions, but I must concede that I may be overly dramatic. There was nothing scoops of ice cream and sleep could not solve. I tried both and it didn’t put the pieces back together again. It doesn’t work today. The pieces of heart slid off like flakes of old leather off a peeling jacket, or like dust clumps when you shake an old cushion.

This morning, I arranged your flowers (which you rearranged) and collated messages from the three of us. I wrote in my best creative handwriting possible, which turned out inappropriately garish.

You asked me who “mommy” was. I thought you were being philosophical, but realised you identified with the British “mummy“. So I said “mommy” was short for “monster”, which is a bad joke, but the real explanation was that I had carelessly wrote with ‘Mother’ in mind, but stopped at the “t” because no one uses “thank you mother” like that, except in 1960s England or maybe in Angelina Jolie’s Beowulf.

I’m trying to grow up and be braver but I’m not getting better at self-care or self-management. So when you tell me off furiously for over-stretching myself with my various commitments, I admit that it is true. I am far more limited than I realise.

And now, pieces of heart are littered all around. And I am too tired to pick them up and glue them back in, so I will heed your advice today – stay home, lie down, “rest”. Because it is Mother’s Day, and you listen to your mother on their Day. So let me put on Tchaikovsky’s first movement for strings on loop, and sleep, because you are right: I am not invincible. I have never felt invincible.

I have never felt more defeated than I do now.

The symptoms and the illness are not the same thing. The illness exists long before the symptoms. Rather than being the illness, the symptoms are the beginning of its cure.

The fact that they are unwanted makes them all the more a phenomenon of grace – a gift of God, a message from the unconscious, if you will, to initiate self-examination and repair.

Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled