Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Day a Piece of Plumbing Made Me Crack



One of my most-read blog essays was one centered on falling down. Back in November, I wrote Stronger By Falling and it’s message came back to me this week. I fell hard in the last 24 hours. The stupid thing is, a tiny piece of plastic is what did me in.


It’s January 2017- you’d think some larger crisis would have toppled me into the sobbing heap I was last night. Heaven knows there’s plenty to pick from and I know of others who are fighting hard internal battles. But no.


I was unable to stop a bathroom sink from dripping.


Go ahead and laugh. I’m hoping someday I’ll be able to but right now it’s all too raw. Things are too tenuous for me to get back on that bike yet. I’m sitting on the ground, supported by one hand as I hold my head to stop everything from spinning.


You know how it is: you set yourself to a task and you are met with one setback after another. You keep struggling on with your goal in sight. You tell yourself it’s OK and attempt to adapt to all the things you didn’t anticipate and couldn’t foresee. You remind yourself it’s not THAT hard. However, something that looked like it would take a few days (the drain was only a portion of the project) stretched to a week, then 2 then...over a month.


Maybe other things in my life played a role in my downfall- things I didn’t think were bothering me. It’s like when a real cyclist isn’t in top condition and is thrown off their game so a bit of loose grit they’d normally fly over cleanly sends them flying down to the ground. When things like fear, worry and doubt sit on your shoulders for too long, it takes a toll. I’ve had my share of those feelings trying to crack my optimism lately.


I did learn many things during this process and I met someone in my time of need who offered some kind words and legitimate assistance.  What a wonderful feeling that was- to not be laughed at and only talked to respectfully. My wavering confidence was bulwarked. I really thought I finally had it and crowed with proud delight when I believed I’d finally conquered this. However, when I went to show off my handywork to my husband at the end of the day, I discovered a sad, soggy newspaper announcing another failure on my part. Cue: Mental road rash.


At that point, reason was gone and full-blown helter-skelter thoughts took over and I wanted nothing more than to hide- to hibernate. Waves of self-recrimination began slamming over my head. Failure in this. Failure in that. Failure in that other thing, too. Can’t do anything right. All I do is make expensive messes. Why can’t I be better. I’ll never succeed. I should just quit. I should just throw everything I’ve ever touched away.
And yet...another day dawned today. I’m working on regaining my perspective. Things aren’t quite as bad as I’d thought. I hope I’m not quite as bad as I thought. I’m still on the ground so I can’t be sure. Yet. But I do think I’m strong enough to pause, take stock and look at my plans again.

The bike is sitting there, waiting for me to stand it back up again.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Remember, YOU Make the Weather

Remember (1).jpg
 Vic Goddard, Principal of Passmores, UK. Photo credit: Marlene Oswald
I already had an essay about the importance and value in investing in public education fleshed out when I stumbled upon this gem of a leadership mantra. Bam. 5 words linked to form pure awesomeness. I had to share it and explore it.


I wrote what I felt was a strong essay. However, when I looked at it again this morning, in light of all that is going on in the world today, I stopped yet again. It still wasn’t right. It was too flippant- too tongue-in-cheek. These 5 words need something else.


Mr. Goddard was talking as a school principal. He understands that his role is to captain the ship- the HMS or USS “INSERT SCHOOL NAME”. If the captain possesses traits such as enthusiasm, a keen human insight, creativity and having a deep knowledge of the craft, the mood of the ship cannot help but be positive and the weather, even it it is literally only a tiny bubble around the school, will be fair. The captain’s subordinates (teachers) and crew (students) will have hope they can weather the storms swirling about them and will do their best to sail onward together. I confess I’m envisioning a leader like Errol Flynn in his swashbuckling pirate roles to demonstrate the power of a principal’s role but but in truth, today’s female captains like Kate McCue are better real-life examples. Diligence, determination and flexibility are not nearly so glamorous traits but also play key roles.


What if the ship’s captain cannot construct that bubble of fair weather for the school? The same thing that happens when we are unable to do that for ourselves but on a much larger scale: feelings of defeat, despair, hostility, injustice and/or hopelessness for everyone within the bubble. Perhaps overwhelming amounts.


Guess what, though? We all create weather and are influenced by others’ weather. Whether you are a student, a parent, a principal or a president.


The weather we can control is what life coach Steven Covey referred to as our circle of influence. He described our world as being a series of nested rings. We have total control of our inner ring: ourselves. We can influence a larger ring called the Circle of Influence, including those around us. Beyond that, we have little to no control but that ring does touch our influence ring.


Image from: http://innomind.org/worry-only-about-the-problems-in-your-circle-of-influence/



We ALL have circles of control and circles of influence. We need to be aware of them and use them on a daily basis in positive ways. By doing that, we change ourselves, our communities and our cultures to something better than what we are today.


We tend to feel we have no control or influence when we are possessed by the demon known as FEAR. This emotion is deadly to both individuals and society on the whole. Think about it. When you are afraid, you lose your ability to think clearly. You react purely on instinct to protect yourself. Kids on the playground do it: they deny doing anything wrong, they blame others and they lash out physically or run away to hide. We do it as adults when we ban people and restrict people wholesale.


Living with FEAR as our driving force destroys us. It lures us into thinking there is no other way because it shrinks our feelings of control and influence. Our circles are still there- it’s just that they then become sources of those negative outcomes I outlined earlier. Defeat. Despair. Hostility. Injustice. Hopelessness. For us and everyone around us.


There’s hope! We can change our ways if we’ve slid under FEAR’s control. We can change our weather starting today and moving forward.


  1. Support our truth selves.


Each day, commit to our values and stand by them. That could mean anything from meditation, prayer or just giving ourselves a pep talk in the car every morning.


  1. Validate ourselves and those connected to us.


We need to feel like we’re moving forward. To achieve that, regularly give positive feedback. Say it, don’t assume it.


  1. Don’t allow negative ideas to gain ridiculous strength over us.


Admit mistakes. We all make them. In addition, let go of slights. Let others see us doing both to embolden them to do the same. Ignoring or denial of wrong is the root of many storms in our lives.


  1. Avoid the damage caused by irrationality.


Desperately want to go off on someone? Resist it! Back away to regroup. That way, we will not contribute to the rankness of attacks based on raw emotions and we can find another, more progressive way to deal.


  1. Build a sense of community.


Reach a hand out and ask for help. When you are able, extend a hand to help another. Also, show your appreciation. Sometimes we forget that we need to graciously accept help in order for someone to experience the blessing of giving.


We’re stronger together. The weather is fairer. The burdens are lighter. The rewards are far greater than living our lives based in FEAR.

Remember: YOU make the weather.

Peace and love to you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When NOT Having Something Is Good



Dingy days and flying fur. January has been been kind of rough. It seems like everyone has a long list of things they don’t have. Personal, professional, societal, philosophical- we’re all dissatisfied by not having something.

There are several ways we deal with feelings that we are missing out. We can ignore it, we can find like-minded people to commiserate with us, we can work alone or with others to actively obtain what we feel is missing or we can change our perspective about the situation.

Ignore It

If we ignore the missing piece in our puzzle, it (or our interest in it) may just go away on its own. This option requires no effort but probably has the lowest success rate on obtaining the original goal. But if the desire or need goes away on its own, that’s a pretty good deal, right?

Sympathize

Sometimes we can reduce our stress by commiserating with others.  Sharing burdens makes them feel lighter. For example, as a young mom, those precious moments caught in a store or coffee shop with an adult friend can be invaluable and feel like a life-saver. As I have a deep interest in education, I can relate to The Guardian’s recent pieces on the struggles that England is having regarding their education funding so I follow that. Or, when you’re trying to get in better shape physically, having a buddy or two to keep you moving forward and being there for your successes and failures makes the process much more enjoyable and fruitful.

Plow Ahead...

Then there’s always the “try try try again” method. We can put our heads down and just try to soldier on but we need to think with agility to avoid the other adage about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

...And Synergize

Let’s remember that when we make connections with others it can inspire us to find new ways to actively achieve our goals with the benefit of new resources being available. We’re seeing this type of behavior exhibited today in large-scale and I believe we’ll continue to do so moving forward. For example, I’ve been blown away by the skills and techniques exhibited by K-Pop fans like the US BTS ARMY to plan and coordinate events and projects. On a smaller scale, sometimes we participate in buying clubs or share babysitting, sports equipment or carpooling duties to stretch our means.

Revisualize

The last mechanism I’d like to explore is that of changing our perspective. As I’ve written before, I have had Type 1 Diabetes since 1994. It’s a chronic disease with downright scary side effects and potential outcomes. I could scream and howl at the injustice of having this disease. I could rant and rave about the mental and financial costs to myself and my family. (Yes, in case you’re wondering, I have.) But do you know what? Because of T1D, I don’t have a limited understanding of my body. I don’t have any diagnosed eye damage, heart damage, kidney damage, nerve damage or skin damage. (Yet.) I don’t have a fear of working my butt off (yes, pun intended) to eat well, lose weight and get into better cardiovascular health. This disease has taught me some hard lessons and I don’t fear dancing and having a great time with fans at a concert when I’m twice as old as many of the other attendees because I’m still enthusiastically alive and I want to celebrate that fact.

The Forge’s Fire

Not having everything we initially want or need ends up being good for us. Yes, it’s miserable at times. However, it teaches us to chill. It teaches us to reach out to others. It teaches us to think and decide what REALLY matters to us. It teaches us to come up with creative ways to achieve our goals. Lastly, it can teach us that perhaps what we initially feared or hated the most is actually the defining fire that our inner self and soul will emerge from.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Word Soup We're Living In



Serious: this essay isn’t rated G.


I love, love, LOVE words! I think there’s a word or turn of phrase to to describe or make ANY situation better. Smash your fingers in the car door? Yup- I have several really good ones for that. A kid figuring out a math problem they’ve been struggling with FOREVER? Oh yeah, I’m right there narrating the pleasure and exultation with glee.


So it really pains me to have a dislike for any words. I’ve been struggling a lot with this concept lately. My middle school son is coming home regularly with tales he’s heard and quotes of what he’s been called that are taking my already wild hairstyle to all new levels of crazy.


At first, I thought I might be just getting old and just needed to chill. Perhaps I was simply too old-fashioned to think it was harmful for 11 to 14 year old boys telling other boys to suck someone else’s d*** or that they are “<insert colorful adjectives of your choice> bitches” or <rhymes with punts> . This language seems to float in and out all day, every day.


I received assurances that yes, our language naturally changes all the time, in a great article by Betty Birner, PhD of Northern Illinois University. As Dr. Birner points out on the Linguistic Society of America website, “Language will never stop changing; it will continue to respond to the needs of the people who use it. So the next time you hear a new phrase that grates on your ears, remember that like everything else in nature, the English language is a work in progress.”


That lead me to ponder the needs these students are experiencing. Our words help us deal with life. What needs are these words meeting for those alive today?


While it’s definitely not the most “grating” term  (that adjective doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction to some of the words my son has shared with me this year), I decided to focus on the word “bitch” to examine this idea of need large-scale. Arielle Pardes wrote a marvelous piece, The Evolution of the Bitch, in Vice in 2014 that gives a comprehensive review of the term’s evolution in meaning from its birth in the 15th century to the present. Some people argue that words like this have lost their negative connotations- that they can actually be terms of endearment. I agree with Ms. Pardes, however, when she writes that the term “bitch” still relates to relative power: women with “too much” power are considered bitches. She continues with a remark on the reverse: “But when men aren't asserting enough power, they're called bitches too.” The word is still clearly double-edged. In my mind, it’s because we’re still not living in a world where every person is treated with respect and as equal.


Back to those middle school kids and their needs. I think they are attempting to assert their dominance and power. I think they are trying to self-protect via any means available to them. Those means include learning this sort of stuff via a multitude of sources-  probably both electronic and through their more immediate surroundings.


Why be concerned? Soaked into their everyday lives, the weight of these words will color their relationships from here on out. I believe this is showing up in our culture already. In Wisconsin, Aurora Health Care is investing millions of dollars through their Better Together Fund to assist colleges and their students deal with and prevent assault. Carroll University is using some of their funding to help teach male students how to demonstrate “healthy masculinity”. Are the mouths they had as pre-teens at least partially responsible for displays of “nonhealthy” masculinity in their late teens and early 20s?


I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to explore tough topics: politics, race, love, hate, war, peace, pleasure, depression, growing up/old and dying. Explore these themes in writing, vlogs, music, video games- everywhere. However, let’s use the entire depth and breadth of the world’s many beautiful languages. We all have something to say. We should all feel like we can say it and get our points across without it being at the expense of someone else. Let’s do all this eye-to-eye, not looking down at the other.


It’s going to take quite a bit of work to get there- but I think the goal is achievable and also of great importance. For the 11 to 14 year olds to come and beyond.


Addendum to those interested/involved in K-Pop:


The desire to shock and stand out are also at least partially responsible for the heavy presence of these words in the entertainment industries. I’m from the US music market but I have a personal interest in the K-Pop scene as it has historically offered a product that is fun, energetic and not reliant upon the types of misogynistic or violent themes other music genres have explored. I sincerely hope the artists in K-Pop think long and hard before emulating the rougher terms and behaviors just to sell something. Never say something or do something just because you think it’ll get you fame or to fit in somewhere.

I’d also like to propose that someone in the K-Pop industry, if they are looking to make further advances into the US market, look into connecting with some schools within the US to offer an Asian Studies program with K-Pop as a portion of the curriculum. Many students love the musical style already and the schools will be able to get behind a vast majority of the available content. Imagine what connections could be made between the two cultures! There is a hunger out there to learn about other people and their music. I’d love to help make this happen. If you agree, please comment or DM me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Whoops! Our Balance Broke!

IMG_20170118_084127.jpg

My husband’s work has a relationship with Happify.com and through that he received a bag of decorative polished stones with good things to remember etched on them: hope, inspire, etc.

Somehow, this one cracked and I was struck by the irony: broken balance.

This beautiful stone that had such pleasing colors and textures along with such a positive reminder was ruined. However, it still has a powerful message to give us.

We try to tie up our lives into cute packages to fulfill expectations from somewhere: ourselves, our families, our friends or our communities. We try to “have it all”. Is that going to work or are we going to end up with a bunch of meaningless pieces when things get tough?

Oh, to take some time and figure out what we really want! But wait- we’re always changing so what then? It’s time to look again. Maybe we weren’t able to embrace something like exercising before. Maybe we have a new connection in our lives who can help us achieve a goal we’d set aside before. What was doesn’t mean what is. What are we now, and where do we want to go?

We’ll each fall a hundred times or more. Our balance will slip. Our growth will shift us in directions we might never have anticipated. That’s OK! In fact, it can bring us hope. For isn’t it better to change in midstream with our own free will than have that “balance” we thought we had shatter when we least can afford it to?

Here’s to us all figuring out what really gives us balance!


In other news:

VerboStratis Wants- YOU!

I am having a blast writing about subjects that are near and dear to my heart but I’d like to turn the table and ask you for some inspiration! Pick a topic. What matters to you? What insights might we share together? I’d love to explore it with you- maybe I’ll connect your idea to a famous quote or a personal experience of my own. Who knows! That’s part of the fun.

If you have a topic you’d like me to write an essay on, please share it in the comments section of this post. Think someone else you know might have an idea? Please share this blog or my post on Facebook or Twitter and tell folks to head over and comment. You have until Midnight CST on Monday, January 23 to post your suggestions.

If I get one topic I can use, the resulting essay will be posted on Wednesday, January 25 (#WednesdayWisdom). If I get more than 1 suggestion, I will make a call and pick. Either way, you will be thanked and cited within my resulting essay!

(One more thing: It’s a pleasure to write but love unfortunately doesn’t pay the electricity bill. If you have gained something positive from my work and can spare a bit, please consider a small donation to help cover the costs of producing this blog over on the DONATE PayPal button. If you can’t do that, advertising is powerful stuff and you can do that for free just by sharing my blog on your own social media streams. Thank you!!)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Team Humanity: Post-Truth Playing out on our Playgrounds

It’s tough for us adults to attempt living in a world described as “post-truth”. What about the little ones who will soon inherit this world we’re creating? A philosopher took a stab at the big picture in an education & family BBC article this week.


I’d like to ask: “How does a post-truth world playout on the playground?” I wrote about it once already, but I’d like to revisit the idea with a story.


Set Scene:

You’re a recess supervisor. Your job is to walk the school playground, eyes forever swiveling back and forth, up and down, ensuring all the students are getting some play into their busy days within the structure of a safe and inclusive system. Playworks is a great example. You see a student pull another student off the monkey bars by the back of their shirt and take their place. The pulled student lays on the ground in the wood chips, silently looking up and surrounding students continue on.

You approach and attempt a teaching moment on how one should behave on the playground. You are met with an exclamation:

“What did I do!? I didn’t do anything wrong!”

You press your point and describe again what you observed and try to get the student to come up with another, more helpful, series of actions. You’re ready to offer them ideas to do that.

You are met with: a blank stare into the distance. Eventually the student responds hotly with, “They pushed me before. Whatever!” They move to get back on the monkey bars. By now, the student on the ground is standing back up, complaining loudly about how the other child always does this, and even worse, stuff. Other students start congregating, chiming in agreement, listing events while others yell that they should be able to do whatever they want.

You feel a rising sense of frustration and you may grimace as you tell them to go play nicely. You’ve heard a shout of alarm from another part of the playground and you excuse yourself to check on that.

End Scene.

Firstly, what were you originally looking for when you approached the situation? Ideally, everyone has a right to be out there playing. Everyone should have a turn. Anyone can make a mistake, apologize and correct themselves.

Next, what is missing in the participants’ responses- even your own? Answer: Team Spirit. There was an overall avoidance of facts and and over-reliance upon personal beliefs and emotional response. All of it was aimed at one thing: self-preservation. In addition to the pusher’s choices, the pushed person should have made different choices, as should the crowd. The pushed child and crowd should stand up and both should speak calmly and with clarity of what is expected of the team we all call our own: humanity.

How to move forward? How to step ABOVE and BEYOND post-truth?

The beauty of living is that you always have another chance as long as you’re breathing. The situation can get away from you but the teaching moment is not lost forever. In this story, the adult needs to continue to promote effort, compromise, sharing and helping every single day. They need to catch those students making strong, positive choices and with genuineness, applaud loudly for all to see and feel. The squeaky wheel (the shouts of outrage and pain) should not be the only thing that gets greased. During a quiet moment, the adult should talk again about the painful situations- we all have them and we can learn from them.

Sports need rules and teamwork. Humanity needs them as well.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Slainte! Health to You!!



I caught a cool piece this week on the BBC about an interesting group in England that still performs a wassailing (wishing health) blessing on the orchards in Worcestershire. It’s an ancient practice that originally was done to ensure good crops for the coming year and to drive bad spirits away.  It involves drinking. What’s not to like? lol!


As I look out on an incredibly depressing and gray day, I can see why one would be tempted to try anything to banish the bad from one’s life. It feels a bit hopeless right now in the Northern Hemisphere.


The new year is under way and life is falling back into regular routines. Are we eating well? Exercising? Dealing with the bills and family struggles successfully? Are we feeling healthy?


I feel the breath of evil spirits on the back of my neck: whispered desires to quit, hide, snap at people and pork out on a rack of freshly baked cookies float through my head. Those things can all eat away at our health- both mentally and physically.


There are some lines to remember in the old Christmas carol “Here We Go A-Wassailing”:


“Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a cheese,
And of your Christmas loaf.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.”


My take on these lyrics? Whatever we have, we should share it with others. By doing so, we become richer- healthier. The negative thoughts get burned by the light shared between you and I and we can move forward through these dark days.


So, as January ticks on, let’s smile at each other as we pass. Let’s play with the children in our lives and laugh with them. Let’s “go a-wassailing”to spread health to ourselves and those we know.

SlĂ inte!


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Support the Real You



Authentic adjective: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character


This word is tossed about quite a bit as our goal for our experiences, food, friends, and overall lives. We want them all to be “authentic”.

With the world at our fingertips, we can (unless someone tries to trick us) find truth with a few taps on a screen. We can also lose ourselves in increasingly realistic digital worlds that feel true. We *are* the rogue or paladin. We *are* going to take that sniper down. We can try on new television and music genres and find favorites from around the world (I’m looking at you, Goblin and BTS).

Which of these things is authentic?

I believe that, except for the intentional deceiver, they can all be authentic. Legitimate journalism uncovers facts. In a video game, we all know the rules and expectations. When this middle-aged woman is jamming to k-pop while going about her day, I’m truly enjoying the moods and melodies created by the artists.

It’s all authentic- true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.

I think the factor that removes all hopes of authenticity is negative intention. There can be no truth with that fly in the ointment. If your actions are performed with the intention to deceive yourself and/or others, everyone is robbed of authenticity.

It all becomes a lie.

So, let’s be authentic and see where it takes us. Whatever speaks to you, acknowledge it and what it is doing for you. If it scares you a bit, all the better. Being uncomfortable allows us to grow.

As for me, I have a confession. That BTS link goes to their 2017 Wings concert schedule, which is sold out. The Chicago date in March? Thanks to a certain someone, I’ll be there on the floor, authentically (and probably loudly and ridiculously) experiencing the spectacle- and I can hardly wait!!