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One of my tribes.

I’m writing this on the train from Vancouver back to the Bay Area, sitting in the glass-encased observation carriage as farmlands and forests sweep by, dramatically snow-capped mountains in the distance. We are in southern Oregon and it feels like every few minutes we cross another river near-bursting its banks. It’s all so lush and gorgeous, characteristic of the Northwest Forests I’ve had the chance to experience in recent days. Trains really are the best way to travel. While yesterday I had wifi from Vancouver to Portland this 18-hour stretch from Portland to San Francisco is offline, which I don’t mind as it’s a good time for clearing my head and doing some writing.

The past couple of weeks have been unusually stressful, with my visa to re-enter the US initially being rejected, stranding me in Canada with my pregnant wife left back in San Francisco and time ticking down to our departure from the US back to Australia, unable to help with the tasks of relocation or say goodbye to my friends in person. This is all thankfully behind me as I steam towards the Bay, with 17 days once I get there to finish packing and depart.

Despite the stress and frustration when in the future I look back on this time I don’t think this is what I’ll remember at all. Instead I think I’ll have overwhelming positive feelings about these two weeks, remembering the incredible support and love our friends showed both K and I, which managed to turn what could have been an awful experience into truthfully one of the most moving and uplifting of my life.

When we first announced the visa rejection on Facebook, the response was immediate and near-overwhelming. Offers of support and advice poured in. I was connected to Australian, American and Canadian diplomats, immigration lawyers, and people who had gone through the process before to get advice. I was offered numerous places to stay and people to connect with in Vancouver and Calgary. Our friends in San Francisco really stepped up to help K with packing up our house, at one point she had seven of them working under her direction, or just to deliver her food and offer her company and support.

Beyond these specific actions was the unbelievable sense of love, concern and solidarity we both experienced. When we could have felt very alone, kept apart by border and bureaucracy, we instead felt deeply connected to our community. It’s a feeling I will always treasure. Thank you to everyone who reached out and offered comfort during this time.

In the most practical and necessary way possible I also experienced incredible hospitality while in Canada. In Vancouver I stayed with a new friend who I had only met at a street party in San Francisco this past New Year’s Day. It’s not as random as it sounds, we share a mutual close friend who was at the party and she spent five years in Sydney previously.  While we never met we were part of the same cultural community in Sydney, the outdoor psytrance scene, and this sense of being part of the same tribe, despite having only recently met, was powerfully connecting, even as my intended 3 days in Vancouver stretched to 11. Last Saturday night we went to a psytrance party in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, and the feeling of the community there was reminiscent of the tribe we both missed in Sydney: open, fun-loving and expressive.

I had the same experience in Calgary, staying with a relatively recently-met friend who I share many social ties with, both having been part of the beautifully close-knit Burning Man community in Washington DC, but never having lived there at the same time. While in Calgary I also met a group of the local burners (Burning Man devotees) and the ease with which we bonded was both unusual and yet also expected.

The lesson: when you are part of the same tribe, you take care of each other.

I’ve thought a lot about tribes over the past several years, and it’s my belief in the power and abundance of our communities that inspires me about crowdfunding (or tribefunding as I increasingly think of it).

I believe a deeper sense of tribe is only possible when you share a form of cultural expression which is sub-mainsteam. In other words it is sub-cultures that form community. Sub-cultures tend to be based on participation, whereas mainstream cultures are based on consumption. Once a culture gets too big a certain level of intimacy and sense of connection and participation, of having something important and vital in common, gets diluted then lost. You can feel this even in San Francisco, where Burning Man culture has become mainstream, and the truly tight-knit communities are the next sub-cultural level down, groups of burners based around specific camps or sounds.

I also had the chance to connect with my other community, social entrepreneurs and changemakers, when I presented at events in Vancouver, Calgary and Portland, and loved the energy and passion of the people I met. I hope we’ll be able to support many of them on StartSomeGood soon.

It is my connection to these tribes, my pursuit of the subcultures I love to participate in, which has provided a platform for my last four years in America, which has allowed me to quickly make friends and find community in each city I arrive in.

I am so grateful for the support of friends new and old over the past couple of weeks, and for the tribes and cultures which connect us.

“True [dance] music consists of four main ingredients: a cup of spirituality, a tablespoon of love, a dash of togetherness, and a pinch of soul-penetrating beats.” – Bamboo Forrest.

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I was meant to be at SXSW this weekend, co-facilitating a “core conversation” on Monday with Stacey Monk from Epic Change about “positively inspired change campaigns” and hosting Pitch Some Good at Center61 that night. And seeing old friends and making lots of new ones, being overwhelmed by the options for free events and parties, listening to some amazing innovators and storytellers and seeing the latest in technology and marketing. You know, SXSW!

But instead I’m here in Vancouver writing you this note to say I’m not making it.

My plans were thrown completely off-course last week when I was rejected for a visa to re-enter the US. Not only did this make SXSW almost impossible, it looked for a time like I wouldn’t get back in at all to help K pack up our house and say goodbye to all my friends in person before our move home to Australia April 1 (so soon!).

The good news is on my second attempt on Wednesday in Calgary I was approved. Not only did they give me the single-entry visa I was asking for, they gave me a 5-year version. Which is awesome, but kinda weird to go from not allowed in at all to free to come-and-go for the next five years. Not that I’m complaining, but it does prove my point about the validity of my case and how I probably should have been approved in the first place, in which case I would have been in Austin by now.

But at this stage, having only got my passport back yesterday, is too late for me and SXSW this year. StartSomeGood is a bootstrapped startup and as such my co-founder Alex and I mostly pay our own way to events such as this. After two return Vancouver-Calgary trips in the past week and a second $140 visa appointment fee, combined with the brutal cost of the last-minute flights available from here to Austin, I came to the sad, but accurate, conclusion yesterday that I just can’t afford it anymore, especially with the impending costs of moving home and re-establishing ourselves in Australian in anticipation of the arrival of our first child in August.

So here I am, 2,574 miles from Austin and the event I had such a blast at last year and was so looking forward to this year. But this isn’t meant to be a mope, just an explanation I can link to as I keep getting tweets and messages asking me where I am.

I’m a got lemons/make lemonade kinda guy, so my fall-back plans are pretty excellent. I’m about to head over to Vancouver Island for the weekend to get some nature (and some good music) into me, both of which I crave after the intense stresses of the past week. The forest is where I go to unwind and this, more than the frenetic exhilarating intensity of SXSW, is probably what I need most emotionally right now.

On Monday I’m catching the train to Portland where that night the Social Media Users Group at Collective Agency, run by my good friend Todd Pitt from Zero Strategist, are kindly hosting a social entrepreneurs salon for the occasion. If you in Portland please come along and if you know someone else who would find this interesting please send them the details. I’ve never been to Portland and am really thrilled I get to check it out, even if only briefly (24 hours before back on the train to San Francisco) in the final weeks of our time in the US. And I love a good train trip, probably my favourite way to travel.

So that’s what’s going on – thanks for asking!

If you are in SXSW please check out Pitch Some Good on Monday night at Center61 – RSVP and details here - where 8 social innovators will share their story and ask for your support. The event features a live crowdfunding exercise which will determine which of the ventures gets the $1000 main prize contributed by RackSpace, in addition to the funds donated by the crowed on the night.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, have an amazing time.

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Okay so this is already out-of-date since I wrote it a few days ago but I’m posting it anyway to kick-start this blog. I wanted to leave it in the form it was written but, quickly, my visa was denied in Canada so I’m not making it to SXSW. I’ve got a second interview coming up and my only aspiration now is to get back to San Francisco to help K pack up and ship our life back to Australia and say goodbye to my friends in person.

I’m sitting on a bus crossing the Canadian Rockies, 13 hours into a 17 hour trip. I’m here in Canada getting one last visa to the US before moving back to Australia. I’m taking the bus specifically because I wanted to cross the Rockies at ground level and couldn’t afford the train. I was very impressed by Greyhounds description of their new buses: more legroom, power plugs at every seat, wifi. This, however, is not one of those buses, so I’m missing a number of skype meetings I had planned and am limited in the work I can do.

But maybe this is a good thing. For starters, knowing my laptop will only last a few hours I’ve been sparing in my use of it, mostly staring out the windows at the gorgeous scenery (which is what I’m here for after all!). And being offline has encouraged me to finally write post for my long-form (and long-ignored) blog.

It’s been shockingly long since I posted here and a great deal has happened in the intervening time. Those of you who know me personally or follow me on social media, and really that must be nearly all  of you, are probably abreast of most of this already, so I won’t labour over the details. But here are the highlights:

  • In August/September More Carrot mounted another successful expedition to Burning Man, expanding the farmers market to hot and prepared food and sending a mobile market out into the city.
  • I finished at HopeLab in October. Despite my love for the organization and people there my actual role wasn’t the right one for me, for a variety of reasons I may blog about more later.
  • After leaving HopeLab I focused on StartSomeGood.com, which has brought so much more energy and excitement to my life. I’m loving being a full-time entrepreneur again.
  • I spent a week in Tucson working with Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis at Creating the Future, which has had a profound impact on my thinking and on how we express things at StartSomeGood, which I blogged about here.
  • K and I did an introduction to Shamanism course in October which deserves its own blog post sometime. Interesting stuff.
  • In November/December I spent three weeks in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, traveling with my sister and a close friend, learning to scuba dive and visiting ancient Mayan cities:
  • Upon returning from that trip K and I discovered she was pregnant and due in August! Woh! Not part of the plan (yet) but a delightful surprise, we’re super-excited to embark on this new journey together.
  • But as one journey begins another comes to an end, and K and I are moving back to Australia in April, and looking forward to catching up with many friends and re-exploring Sydney. We’ve been hearing really good reports about all the cool things happening there at the moment and are excited to re-engage and catch up.

So there you are, you’re up to date if you weren’t before. Life is very full and very exciting. There’s so much I want to pack into these last eight weeks in America – visiting friends and places I haven’t made it out to, (such as I’m doing in Canada right now), returning to a couple of my favourite camping spots near San Francisco and spending lots of quality time with my favourite people. And I’m going to be absolutely cranking away at StartSomeGood, before I get separated from my team mates by even more timezones than usual.

We’re starting to see a real return on our efforts now, with more and more ventures getting in touch and looking to utilize our platform. We’ll be hosting a great event featuring social innovators called Pitch Some Good during South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, which I’m also speaking at – please come along if you’re in town.

You can also check out some of our success stories from our first nine months in our eBook: Start Some Good: What’s Next for 2012?:

Now that this big update is out of the way I’m going to try to make a commitment to blogging more often, hopefully on topics more interesting than me.

Cheerio!

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