Campfire, marshmallows and conversation

Many moon ago, Movers Mindset had a weekly team meeting with 5 people. It was simply a video call to socialize. Work-related discussion was allowed, but mostly we were just talking about training, sharing instagram videos, discussing news and events in our sports and its surrounds, … that sort of stuff. Just hanging out with people who have a shared interest.

From the start we knew we didn’t want to record those calls. That suddenly makes everything too permanent; You have to show up looking not-insane, and you automatically hold back some of your energy to be on the safe side. But we also felt that we were losing something by having no artifact at all. Much of what we were discussing and sharing in the team call would be of interest to others— but we didn’t want non-team-members attending our private call. Thus, no recording. The meeting gave us what we needed, and that was good enough.

Time passed. (And many great team meetings were had.)

One day, as I sat around wondering how to make the already-great calls even better, my mind drifted as it so often does. It wandered back to the 80s/90s and I thought of the seemingly endless hours I’d spent on text-based chat with people in far off places. Stuck underground in some computer lab, (for real,) I’d open a text window and visit some distant friend. It was real-time interaction, but in a restricted medium; Restricted, at the time, because that’s all we had. But still, it was magical to have real-time access to other people. It felt so much more alive than bullentin boards (the online kind), Usenet, and email. Still wondering how to make our team meetings better, I recalled this once-in-a-lifetime experience I had.

It went like this…

A group of friends had all being doing Parkour together for several years. To be clear: We found ourselves doing Parkour together, and wound up a group of friends through countless shared experiences. (Ask me in person and I’ll tell ya’ some stories.) Two of the group eventually got married. The fellow ended up deployed to Afghanistan in a intelligence role with special forces. (I may have the details wrong, sue me.) Suffice it to say: Half a world away from everyone, and while not physically in immenent danger, his day-to-day surroundings drove him to depression. One day he apparently reached the cliff’s edge and in a fit of frustration he sent a message to a dozen-or-so of us, (which included his wife,) with an enormous brain dump of his current state.

He’d sent a Facebook Messenger direct-message—apparently one of the few channels he was permitted. This wall of text arrives in my phone, with a bright and cheery *ding* I suddenly have this giant message from my good friend. I was delighted to hear from him, but all of it was news to me, and frankly none of it was good. Then, two magical things happened:

We promised that we’d do pushups immediately when he wrote to us, if he promised to never miss a day. It had a terrifically witty name—which I’m not sharing because then I’d have to tell you his first name. Every day, around 2pm my time—but it was unpredictable—*ding* and I’d end up doing pushups right in the middle of the super market. Literally. Once I got caught driving, and pulled over to the side of the road to do my pushups, and message back, done! It didn’t take us long before those of us on the dm-list were racing to see who could reply, “done!” first. Our far away friend became a sort of evil pushup assigning drill Sargeant. But there’s a twist. On day one, we all did 1 pushup. On day 2, we did 2. Then 3. Then 4… And yes, we were somewhere above 100 by the end of his deployment. (Spoiler: He returned home safely.) He repeatedly told us that every day he pretty much spent the entire day planning his daily entry in the back of his mind, and day-dreaming about making us all suffer the next number of pushups. Somehow, we small band of merry idiots managed to create a small daily dose of inspiration for our far away friend. (We all got pretty good at pushups too.)

The second piece of magic happened because we were all there for it in real time. We’d each do our pushups—as the numbers got stupid-large, you’d do them in sets and start reporting your reps in real-time. And somehow, the entire thing became performance art. Soon, we were having our friend pick an “animal of the day”, and it had to be different each day. Finished our pushups, we’d try to find and share funny photos, making up our own silly captions. We tried constantly to Rick Roll each other. We did anything we could think of to make our friend, and each other, laugh. Because we were doing this at the end of our friend’s day, he’d eventually “call it” when he was ready for sleep, and we’d all drop off. Years later, we still have in-circle nicknames for each other, and inside jokes that make me giggle even now as I’m typing.

One day, after it was over, I realized how special it had all been. I opened up Messenger on my desktop browser, and I tried to scroll back through the thousands of messages. I wanted to screenshot it all and somehow make a book to give just to those who were involved. But my browser crashed from all the images, animated GIFs, etc before I got even halfway.

Now, back to those weekly meetings I wanted to improve…

Having that story about our far away friend flash through my mind was the spark I needed! In our team meetings, I wanted to capture some of that ephemeral, asynchronous-messaging based, magic. I wanted our cool meeting to somehow also be a little bit performance art that left us with something that others could enjoy, (and even find useful.) My “campfires” ideas was born.

Campfire, marshmallows and conversation! The MM team gets together occasionally in a sort of free-form discussion that’s not quite a chat, and not quite a discussion. It’s a cross between instant chat and performance art.

Each week, as before, we had a completely ephemeral video call. But at the same time, in real time, we would all co-create a long Google Doc. That sounds silly—it is. And it’s hard to do as things move around in the document. But it feels like instant messaging. At the end of the set time, we ended the call, and I simply copy-n-pasted the contents into a Discourse thread.

We eventually stopped doing them as the team shrank. But if you want to see what they were, they’re all still there, in https://forum.moversmindset.com/c/campfires/37 — they still make me smile, and I’m so glad we did them.

What—you might wonder—makes we write all this up now?

I’m bringing back this beloved idea as: Campfires in the Podcaster Community.

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