Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One Green Paperclip In Fort McMurray

Yesterday the youngest Intrepid Junior Blogger came home with a sheet of paper. At the top of it was the title "One Silver Paperclip", and she explained it was a project she had been assigned in her Social Studies class. As she began to explain it to me I stopped her, because it's a story I knew and had heard before, and always found intriguing. It began with a red paperclip, and a man named Kyle.

For those who don't know the story it can all be found at Kyle's website - the whole story of how he took one red paperclip and "traded up" until he had a house in Saskatchewan. But the story wasn't really about owning a house, or even a paperclip - it was about his experiences and adventures along the way, people met and memories made. It was about making connections with others, based around a paperclip, and then a pen, and then a decorative knob, and on and on.

The Intrepid Blogger and I talked about it, as she had been assigned a project to do this same experiment but with friends and family. She was quite interested in the idea, but we didn't talk about it very much until this morning at about 7 am.

She came to cuddle with me before school, as she does sometimes, and she told me about the red paperclip, and Kyle, and the things that happened to him. She told me about his time spent with Alice Cooper, and being interviewed on TV. She'd done a lot of reading about his adventures, and it was pretty clear she was making some connections in her head, too. I looked at her and said "ok, so do your school project, but what about doing one with just us? And how about we take it just a little bit bigger?". The eyes grew wide, and that's how the One Green Paperclip in Fort McMurray project was born.

I immediately took it to Twitter to gauge interest - and within minutes had replies, including an offer of a radio interview with Jerry Neville of Country 93.3. Now, I tend to reject interviews of any sort, preferring to be the interviewer and not the interviewee, but I'll do anything for the Junior Bloggers, so I agreed. And then people started to express curiosity about the idea. I started to sense that just maybe this could be very, very interesting - for all of us.

I told the Intrepid Junior Bloggers about the offer of the interview, and we talked a bit about what this was all about. Was it about getting a house or a pen or a decorative knob? No, they said. It was about seeing where an idea, shared with others, could go. It was about engagement. It was, in the end, about community.

You see, I prattle on a lot about community. I'm pretty sure the Junior Bloggers are occasionally rolling their eyes when my back is turned as I go on and on about the incredible things communities can do, and about how you can build things with them - not just concrete things, like a school, but ideas and beliefs and excitement. I think both the Junior Bloggers and I all had the same epiphany this morning.This was about seeing what our community, Fort McMurray, the one we love and call home and are so very proud of, could do with one green paperclip. It wasn't about owning a house or getting a new car or about things - but about people, and about community, and about sharing ideas with others and seeing what happens when you do.

I suppose I could call this a "teaching experiment", but I'm not teaching the Junior Bloggers anything. I'm hoping the experience will teach them a bit about community, and about connections, and about excitement, and maybe even a bit about Fort McMurray, too. I'm thinking it might even teach me a thing or two. We decided on a green paperclip because it ties into the ideas of conservation, re-using, and recycling (after all, barter is perhaps one of the oldest forms of recycling of goods). We don't have many rules about this, though, just that all trades need to be local, and we haven't put a time limit on it - because there is no time limit on experiences. You just kind of need to allow those to unfold like a road before you. The key is just following the road and seeing where it leads - and we are letting one green paperclip lead the way.

Shortly after I left the house this morning I found myself in my hair stylist's chair. While sitting there I told her about what I do, the blogging, and the writing jobs I've found, and my excitement over the potential in this city - and then I told her we had just embarked on a new adventure, with one green paperclip. She looked at me, this lovely lady who does my hair (her name is Ellen, at Pamper Me Beauty in Abasand, and people, she rocks in so very many ways, from her stylist skills to her feisty personality), and she said "I want in". She said "I will trade you - one mini-makeover gift certificate!". And it was as simple as that. The first person I shared the idea with - the first person I told (in person) about the experiment - was almost as excited as me. I texted the Intrepid Junior Blogger immediately to okay the deal (she and the other Junior Blogger have the final say on all trades - I'm just doing the legwork for now) and said that it had begun - and so it has.

So, at 6 am this morning the One Green Paperclip in Fort McMurray project didn't exist. By 7:30 it was known by a few people, and about to be known by more (radio interview is scheduled for tomorrow morning, just after 9, on Country 93.3 should you wish to listen in). By 11:00 am we had secured our first trade, and tomorrow morning I will have done one radio interview, passed on one small green paperclip, and have in my hands one gift certificate. Which leads me to just one question, people - whaddya got to trade? :)

My thanks to Kyle and his
one red paperclip project for
the inspiration, to a grade 7 teacher
at Ecole McTavish for assigning great 
homework, and to the Intrepid Junior Bloggers -
because they give me my very best ideas
every single day.

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