Coming out of hiding

It was a tense part of the meeting, when the neighbours were challenging city staff about who the city was going to invite to an upcoming meeting. It was one of those moments when I’m quietly telling myself: this is tricky, so make sure you say the right thing or this is going to go off the rails!

(Long story short: residents have lobbied for years for city hall to take action. City hall is now taking action and a small team of city staff met with a group of residents to update them and plan how to engage the rest of the neighbourhood.)

Who are you going to invite? Just the residents? Why should others have a say if they don’t live there? Property owners or everyone who lives there? What about developers from the outside? What about developers from the inside? What if the voice of outsiders drowns out what residents have to say? How will we know who is saying what? If everyone was mixed together in a room, residents and outsiders, how would residents be heard?

If everyone was mixed together in a room, residents and outsiders, how would residents be heard?

One resident kept asking the sticky question: who are you going to invite? The group had a long conversation about how to have many voices in a room, have them be in conversation with each other (rather than a line-up of people at a microphone), and distinguish who said what. Again the sticky question: who are you going to invite? To clearly hear the voice of residents, then only residents could be in the room. 

She just wanted to feel heard.

And when we heard that, we found our way. We identified a means to both hear local residents and invite the wider community that felt good. It took us a bit of time, we had to work through the discomfort of different opinions, but we landed on something that residents felt good about, and city staff felt good about. 

They heard each other. They accommodated each other. 

10 days ago a trio of wicked communications and marketing brains (read friends) gathered in my living room to help me put together promotional material to promote me and my coming book, Nest City. I was very uncomfortable being the center of attention. I was very uncomfortable talking about how to actively make myself more visible.

With supportive friends, I relaxed into being hosted, rather than being the host of the conversation. One served as a scribe and helped organize what I was saying so I, and we, could see it. 

They asked me the tough questions that I often ask them. They relished “Bething” me, putting me in the hot seat.

With their challenging support, two big realizations surfaced: 

  1. It is time to come out of hiding. 
  2. I am well conditioned to put myself in the background. 

I have been writing in hiding. I have a book that I have been working on for 13 years that few people have read. Since 2009 I have posted 434 blogs (this is the 435th) and the Nest City News started a few years ago. The readership of public writing is loyal, but not huge. (I love you dearly.) 

I don’t “toot my horn” because I’m well trained to not do that. The inner critic in me is active.

I don’t “toot my horn” because I’m well trained to not do that. The inner critic in me is active:

  • Only people who are full of themselves promote themselves 
  • You don’t have anything worthwhile to say
  • Don’t dream big because it won’t come to pass anyway and you’ll end up heartbroken
  • No one can actually do the work they want to be doing, so why should you be any different? 
  • No, no, don’t put yourself out there, it’s too risky
  • Don’t get involved in social media, you don’t have the stomach for it 
  • The best and safest place for you is in the background 
  • You’re not smart enough for people to listen to
  • You don’t have anything to say that people want to hear
  • Who do you think you are? 
  • Your writing is awful. 

I feel like this inner critic voice in my head is not me. But it certainly works hard to run the show. 

When I am with a group of people, I “hear” things others don’t hear. With the residents and city staff the other night, when we were talking about who to invite, I heard that what was most important was for residents to feel heard. If I wasn’t in the room, it is possible that that understanding might not have been reached and the tension may have brewed into blockage, leaving the shared project on rocky ground. 

When I am with a group of people, I “hear” things others don’t hear.

I hear how people misunderstand each other. I help them find clarity in what they want to express, and speak it in ways others can hear. I support people to hear the other, even it is uncomfortable to do so.

At times, I also hear what is happening in the room when nobody else knows it is happening. I can sense into “the thing” that is unsaid, and I’m willing to say it. 

I notice patterns in our behaviour that keep us from being our best selves, and I design conversational processes that erode those bad behaviors. I notice patterns in the complexity of how cities work that help me (and clients) navigate the systems of the city. 

I love to create social habitats in which information, or feedback, is received—even if it is hard to hear. Most importantly, I love to do this when it involves ways to improve our cities. 

I’ve just come out of hiding a bit. Just now. 

I’ve named two things that are my essential work, that I both love to do and clients want to do with me: 

  1. Create the conditions for people to hear each other.
  2. Navigate complex city systems. 

I’ve said this out loud, here.

What’s coming is a new website with a new look and feel that puts me, my work and my writing out front. I will continue to write to you, but it will come your way with a new look, under a new name. The “Nest City Blog” will turn into “Beth’s Blog”. The “Nest City News” email newsletter will turn into “Writing From the Red Chair”. 

I expect to write faster, which means more frequently.

I expect to have more readers. 

I expect to have readers that appreciate what I offer, and readers that don’t get me. I will look for healthy criticism and put negativity aside. I will appreciate the appreciation. 

I expect to have relationships with readers, not just clients. 

I expect to enjoy putting myself out there, being bigger. 

I expect to be in more conversations with people who are listening for what is in hiding, in self, others and our cities, and welcome both the challenges and the joy of hearing, of revealing rather than concealing. 

Welcome both the challenges and the joy of hearing, of revealing rather than concealing.

What are your practices to hear what is hiding in you? In others? In your city?  

A writer inside and out

When I spend time out on the land, and I listen, it has things to tell me. Last month, while hosting Soul Spark with my friend and colleague Katharine Weinmann, I ventured outside to be on the land a bit before we got started. Continue reading A writer inside and out

Checking in with the Hermit in me

NestCity-BlogPostI’ve been home for four days and I still feel like I’m away.

A solid circle practice starts with a check-in, a simple way for everyone to arrive and tune in to both self and the group. It can be as simple as one word, or several minutes each, and it is an essential activity that allows me to “arrive” to a gathering, rather than be there physically, but not mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Today, I feel the need to check in with myself. Continue reading Checking in with the Hermit in me

Sharing book bits


Nest City Graphic

Notice what you notice. These wise words of my friend Michael Keller fuel the spirit of the Nest City Blog. Since April 10, 2009, 358 posts have appeared here, starting with a wee piece on what I learned about teamwork and leadership on the soccer field – when I swoop in and help my teammate I may be harming my team’s ability to perform. It is often better to give your mates room to do their thing.

That means I have to trust them.

All these posts later, this thought pervades much of what has emerged as the Nest City book: as we each pursue our passions in our city, in our paid or volunteer work, we are improve the city. It is a selfless act to do the work you want to do because, in doing so, we recreate and regenerate our cities so they serve us better in return. It requires that we trust everyone around us – that their particular work is helping the whole in ways we do not know.

Nest City is almost finished. It began as a slow release, and now that it is tangible for me, while I my hunt for a publisher, I choose to share it with you. It makes no sense for me to keep it to myself.

If you’d like to receive these wee bits of book, starting April 13, 2015, please subscribe to my newsletter – Nest City News.  Look for a box on the right that looks like this:

Subscribe to Nest City News

It’s all going to start on April 13, 2015.



Nest City’s third part


As I begin blogging parts of Nest City’s third part, I realize that I am at a point in writing where I feel the least comfortable with the terrain I am about to cover.

The ‘front end’ of my work, Part One – City Patterns was the most clear. It builds a broad foundation for my argument, that cities build evolutionary capacity. I introduce foundational impulse patterns that explain why cities exist, how they are created and the underlying values that evolve within and with us as our cities grow and develop. The content I was going to explore was clear and it was a matter of making it clear – a most useful blogging exercise.

As I embarked on Part Two – Organizing for Emergence, which explores the organizing patterns of humans as we create and live in cities, I had a frame that needed to be fleshed out. We organize to reach a destination, we experience uncertainty along the way, and the future that comes to pass is something unexpected at every turn. This is how the nest works: destination, journey and emergence. Compared to Part One, I content ‘ready’ to write and explore in blog posts; it was messy and disorganized. I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out.

Part Three – Nest City embodies the ’emergence’ piece of the dynamic explored in Part Two. I have a destination in mind (the frame for Part Three), I am on a journey publicly learning here with you while I write, and I have no idea exactly how this will turn out.

The direction I am moving in, however, is integration of destination, journey and emergence. I see a “nestwork”, a cog-like relationship of these three organizing patterns, and a sweet spot, that will shed light on how to co-create cities that serve us well. That is what I will be sharing as I explore, publicly, Part Three – Nest City.

My next post will recap the chapters of Part Two – Organizing for Emergence.

The following post will lay out the shape of Part Three’s four chapters.  


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This post marks the beginning of Part Three – Nest City. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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150th Nest City post!


Nest City Graphic


On April 24, 2012 I started to blog pieces of the book I am working on, Nest City. I declared it a slow release, bit by bit, however long it took.

150 posts in, I am exploring Chapter 7 of 11, essentially two thirds of my way through. With each post, I tighten my writing and I see more clearly the plot, the direction the writing is taking. With each post, I also see more clearly the direction I am heading on this personal journey.

As I head into the last third of Nest City, I realize that this part of the book is the least defined. All the writing I have shared about discerning direction and destination, being on a learning journey and exploring emerging thresholds is alive and well for me personally. I do have a sense of direction for this last third, but I have no idea what I will have to say. That will emerge, and that process will be a learning journey along the way. I will continue to share that as I go.

I have grappled with the decision to publicly work on my book as a blog. Other writers have asked why I would dare to ‘publish’ my work in such a non-traditional manner, why I would give it away. Or why I would give away my chances for traditional publishing. 150 posts in, I do not regret this decision. I am giving a lot to readers, but I am gaining so much myself – and my writing is too.

With each blog post, I learn something about me as my writing is taking its shape. I could have done all of this privately, but then I lose the support I receive from readers. More importantly, for me personally, I know much more about what the writing will say when it does appear in ‘book’ form, as one comprehensive piece of writing, than if I did this privately. I know much more about the layers of meaning that I am exploring.

So writing and exploring with an audience matters.

To mark this milestone, I have launched a separate publication, Nest City News, an email newsletter series that explores the the human drive to thrive in cities. The purpose of this publication is to deepen the relationship between myself and readers, where we support each other in our work to improve cities. I make this commitment to subscribers – I will share my latest thoughts with you before I post them here on my website. I will share your stories as you share them with me. And, of course, as my writing appears in other formats, subscribers will be the first to know and have first access. You can subscribe in the form to the right. Next edition – March 15, 2013

Thanks, everyone, for your support as I blog along.

Nest City News Overall Small



“Nest City News”


Monday, February 25, 2013 marks the launch of Nest City News, my monthly email publication for city explorers hungry for cities that serve all inhabitants well. Our collective work takes place in many places and at many scales. We work with individuals, families, organizations, for government and business and not-for-profits. We share a keen desire to create cities that serve us well – and a keen desire to be the citizens our city needs.

On April 24, 2012 I began a slow release of the book I am working on, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. I have received significant support for this work and have decided to launch Nest City News as another way to support people in my growing “nestwork” that are working for better cities. I will share content with subscribers before I share it with regular website users. There will also be content only for subscribers, not share with regular website visitors. Here is what you can expect to receive:

  1. Insight into how cities work
  2. Ideas on how to organize cities
  3. Practices that enable Nest City work
  4. Stories from subscribers
  5. Upcoming events

I see a transaction here: I give the above, and I receive many things in return from you when you subscribe. I receive an opportunity to share what I see with you. You choose to be my audience. If you find value in what you read in Nest City News, you may find yourself exploring my website, my blog. You may choose to tell me what you find of value in my work or what would make it better. Your feedback is welcome! What you are giving me is a critical relationship with my audience that will strengthen my work.

The primary outcome I am seeking in our relationship is that we support each other in the work we do to improve our cities. How that will take place precisely has yet to emerge.

Will you subscribe?

This monthly publication will appear in subscribers’ email inbox the second Monday of each month.  To subscribe, look for this form on the right side of your screen, enter your name and email address, then click submit.

Subscribe to Nest City News

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A retreat from the retreat


My intention for last week’s writing retreat was to define, describe and discern.  I just didn’t define, describe and discern what I expected.  I had to retreat from the retreat.

I had a destination in mind:  chapter 1 of Nest City would be tight and clear; my book proposal reworked; and clear sense of what a ‘Nest City Manifesto’ would look like.  I stalled out on the first. Wednesday night I made my way to Strawberry Creek Lodge, settled in, and paused to think about what I wanted to accomplish.  Thursday morning I joined my writing colleagues for breakfast, left the table as soon as I was fed and headed outside into the icy, cloudy day for some fresh air and a visit to the creek, before dropping into the task at hand.  I worked feverishly.  I recorded exact time spent sitting and writing – 10.25 hours.  By bedtime I was exhausted, but still giving myself enough time to sleep so my body would be ready for more writing on Friday.

Friday was more of the same until, after an afternoon run, I sat down with my journal because things weren’t feeling right.  I see now that the land I explored that morning at the top of the valley’s bank, really was subsiding.  I did not register that the shaky ground I saw that morning was shaking within me.

To explore the tension I decided to try something new.  I drew three oracle cards: the first to articulate the situation at hand, the second to reveal what I am missing, and a third to point to my Soul’s most pressing assignment in the moment.  The three cards: accept what is, retreat, and nurture yourself first.  The message – accept the struggle, I am missing the retreat (at the retreat!) and a pressing need to nurture myself.

Stunned. I could not wrap my head around the “what is” that needed accepting.  I could not get my head around what it could possibly mean to be missing the retreat.  I could get my head around looking after myself, and I could get my heart engaged in looking after my Self, my inner Being that needs to be well for me to be well.

So I went rogue at the writing retreat and stopped writing.

I went to meditate with trees as the sun set.

I strolled through the forest, noticing the circle of life and decay, both vibrant and full of energy.  I noticed a trail I hadn’t seen before, despite having passed it innumerable times, leading down to the creek.  After a few steps I was spooked by a structure, on the surface of the land, caved in, screaming danger.  I walked back up the hill and abandoned my quest to explore a new part of the valley.

After a few paces along the familiar trail, I realized I was unsettled, that I needed to go back to the unexplored path and investigate, peek around the corner for a look.  I steeled myself and went back for a closer look, from a distance.  As I reflect on this, I see that this was Saturday’s reminder that I was on shaky ground.  That the ground could drop out from underneath me at any moment.

I went on an analog quest: a long walk to find my road, and time with my little red notebook.

I spent time with words, contemplating the meaning of key words in my writing: habitat, nest, conglomeration, conglomerate, conglomeration, hive, conglutinate.  I played with words that connect to the writing to come: manifest, manifesto, proclaim, declare, display, exhibit, voice, perspective, whole, holon, view, role, inhabit, inhabitants.  I sketched what I saw in the forest – the habitat and its inhabitants.  At last, some insight into questions I have been sitting with for a couple years, began to emerge.

I have been pondering how my writing and my corporate, work identity intermingle.  It seems simple now.  My work out in the world takes place through POPULUS; it is a forest habitat for many nests, one of which is the Nest City Blog.  Over time, I will have Nest Publications,  articulating ways to work in the world and how I see cities working in the world.  Each of these will have their own life, first in the immediate nest habitat in the POPULUS forest, then further afield when they leave the nest.

A second, big question has been looming about my relationship with readers/followers.  I have been explicitly sharing bits of the emerging book.  I have made commitments to share what I see here, with you, without contemplating fully what I expect in return.  While I believe I receive much in giving freely, without explicitly naming what I ask for in return leaves me, with a deep and significant energy imbalance.

So here is the transaction underway.  I give content, awareness, and understanding about the relationship between cities and citizens.  I give my time where asked.  In return, I am given opportunities to work with passion.  I receive feedback about the value of what I offer, and what specifically is of value so I can, where passion aligns, provide more value.  I receive what I need for this work, in money and otherwise.  This whole dynamic allows me to see where this work wants to go, where it wants to take me, what I need to do to best support it.  I am a nest within which this work is unfolding.  I am the work’s immediate habitat, and also a creator of the habitat further afield in the forest.  If I am not well, I can not look after the work well.

So the retreat was a retreat into me, not writing.  Yet all about writing in the end, since I am the writer.

Before I left, the sun came out and I could see what was happening under the riverbank.  It was giving way to Me.



Retreat to define, describe and discern


I spent the summer solstice of 2012 at a writing retreat at Strawberry Creek Lodge, hosted by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.  In a wee solstice manifesto, I made a commitment to readers to hold nothing back, to share what I find as I write.  One of the things I shared in that post was that I was submitting a proposal for the book to New Society Publishers.  My goal was to have it ready by the end of the retreat, but it was ready to send the first night.  Off it went.

For the fall equinox, I found myself again making my way to Strawberry Creek Lodge.  As my mind meandered on the drive, I realized that I had not yet heard from New Society Publishers about my proposal.  While I was driving, the email response came in: not interested.

I can’t help be curious about the timing of my submission – at summer solstice – and the response – at the fall equinox.  I can’t help be curious too about being at the same place for each of these events, and the exchange between me and New Society Publishers took place the first night of each of my stay’s here.  I haven’t a clue what it means, but I am curious about Earth’s calendar.

So here I am, on another first night at Strawberry Creek Lodge, sorting out what I will do with my time here.  As I retreat from the hustle and bustle of life, I also retreat back into my work to refine and revise it for another round of agent and publisher search.  Here is what I commit to for the next 4 days:

  1. Distill Chapter 1.  I haven’t looked at this for a few months.  Fresh eyes will see fresh things.  I aim for a tighter narrative for the city’s journey, and our journey in and with cities.
  2. Describe my book proposal as a compelling narrative.  I aim to re-examine my proposal to find the book’s narrative.  I need to find the book’s heart.
  3. Discern the Nest City Manifesto.  As I concluded June’s writing retreat, I made a commitment to share with readers a ‘report’ that documents the gist of Nest City’s first part.

I will keep you posted.

Nest City on pause until October

I have spent the last three months posting instalments of the first three Chapters of my emerging book, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.  These first three chapters constitute the first Part One – City Patterns (click here for a recap).  The two remaining parts of Nest City, which focus on how to organize for the emergence of cities and how to integrate our activities for emergence, will be posted beginning in October 2012.

Yesterday’s post articulated the roles I will be playing with for the Integral City eLab in September, which will shift my blogging attention for the next two months.  For August, I will be blogging about the speakers and ideas we will be exploring in the eLab.  For September, I will be blogging about the events and ideas of the eLab itself.

This is a wee reminder that Nest City will be on pause until October.  Also a reminder that the side trip will be full of juicy Nest City-related material.  The side trip will be worth it and  I look forward to sharing it with you.

August – guest blog about Integral City eLab speakers/ideas

September – guest blog Integral City eLab stories

October – back to Nest City blog

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Integral City eLab 2012 – Co-creating the Future of the Human Hive will be taking place September 4-27, 2012.  We will be exploring how to design prosperity systems for the human hive.  Please join us if you are interested!