Saturday, February 25, 2017

Fast Enough to Get There



Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

I never thought I’d run. You hear stories of magical transformations that occur when people do but I never thought I’d become one of them. I honestly like running. It was uncomfortable at first and sometimes painful, but no more. It’s not like I go crazy distances and I doubt I’ll run in any real races. But what I’ve achieved so far seemed completely impossible in the beginning.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

Music was essential. Yes, BigBang and BTS. Distract me with hot rhythms to follow and singers to imagine- ANYTHING to get me through the next 30 seconds. My mind came up with countless reasons to quit and tried repeatedly to convince my body to stop. It just KNEW trying was fruitless and I had to drown out that voice. The playlist I created grew bit by bit as my distance did.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

Music is still my key. I’m a natural denizen in my brain- I could live there spinning yarns forever without paying a whit of attention to my body if my body didn’t complain loudly of neglect. Music helps me balance body and mind. The messages told by the musicians’ manipulations of their bodies fuel me as I manipulate my own. Powerful notes can lead to powerful strides.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

Inclines and declines. The rhythm changes as I adjust to different conditions. Now, I’m no longer clinging desperately to time, distance or the tunes. I’m rolling with them all and anticipating what comes next with the movement of my whole body. My mind is now a bit freer. It can chew on some other things during the process as the miles tick by or just sit there and enjoy the view.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

I test my blood sugar before I run. I test it again afterwards. I have glucose tablets at the ready in case something goes wrong. Of course, I also have the requisite water bottle and towel. I’ve adjusted well to treadmill running over the winter but I’m definitely looking forward to my first real season of outdoor running, despite the encumbrances of being a T1D runner.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

A T1D runner. A runner. I just called myself a runner! I look in the mirror and see a body changed by the miles. The weights I’ve added have also started to hone it a bit more. Sometimes I want to chide myself about what I could have done had I started this years ago, but I stop that thought. It took a crazy-long journey to get me to this point. I am here now.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

We each have a trail we must take. Some are straight and clear. Others more winding and relaxed. Still others are so cloaked in mists of the unknown that it takes bravery, ignorance or blind faith to walk it. I have a hard time describing my own trail, but I know one thing for sure: it’s one fueled by a myriad of choices and opportunities, flavored by fate. And I am grateful for it.

Pound. Pound. Pound. Pound.

Life’s a journey we should never say never to.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Truth, Youth and Love



I have hope for humanity’s future.


It’s so easy to give up when one thinks the statement “I’m just so angry” is not just a temporary barometer or one’s outlook but is instead a lifestyle today. “I’m so angry” gives you an excuse to just sit there. “I’m so angry” let’s you blame everyone and everything.

Except yourself.

I’m old enough now that I’m entering that time of life when I could fall back on a couple of other ridiculously unconstructive phrases: “Kids nowadays…” and “Back when I was…we...”

Instead, I’m going to stick with hope.

My experiences working for and now volunteering at a school show me there are shining, optimistic spirits still in existence along with the darker things we see in our overall world. Kindnesses are still shared. Happy laughter is still possible. Shining eyes filled with delight at exploration still exist.

Hope is not dead.

My interest in music from around the globe gives me another reason to be hopeful. I’ve met (albeit electronically) some pretty amazing people exploring this musical world- from fans to critics. I’ve written before (Together With You, Delta Blues in Korean Youth) about the strong messages that the members of the K-Pop group BTS have covered in their repertoire (both band-wide and solo projects) since they first began as teenagers & young adults in 2013. It truly impresses me.

Their current world tour setlist is packed with intense commentary on everything from self-esteem issues to personal relationship struggles, thoughts on depression and concerns about destructive school structures and the pressure to conform. They’ve stretched themselves to country- and world-wide concerns about government corruption and the importance of personal involvement and commitment to others as one grows.

Their fans are heeding the messages. Groups come together. Ideas are shared. Plans are made and amazingly helpful things are done. Whether it’s cleaning up after a concert or organizing clothing drives for the needy, there are positive things happening because people are stepping up.

There’s a population today under 30 with strong social consciousnesses. Thank goodness.

We need the hope. We need the reaching out. We need the standing up. We need the holding of hands.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

We're All Mutants!



I have diabetes and one of my sons has a birthmark that makes his hair all different shades and textures. I had a medical professional tell me once that we all have about 7 things “wrong” with us. That idea always interested me. It was always reassuring in a weird way.


I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about how we’re all together in this thing called Life- that we have enough things in common that we can (and should) get along. I’ve tried to focus on the positives (Look, we all have someone we love!) or the humorous (Hey! We all have to poop!). I began to wonder if I looked at the not-so-upbeat side, maybe I’d have a more convincing argument.


I dug into it a bit more and it turns out that yes, we’re all messed up! Rob Stein wrote Perfection Is Skin Deep: Everyone Has Flawed Genes for NPR back in 2012 where he outlined some research on the subject of genetic mutation that had been done up to that point. This research included estimates based on one study of 179 individuals which stated that the average human has about 400 defects to his/her genes and at least a couple of those defects are known to be connected with specific ailments.


The study also indicated that although the test subjects had major defects, they were all functioning as healthy people. Their genes read concerns for failure but their lives told of success.


That reminded me of something my own father said to me in his later years as he struggled with the ravages of the lung disease, emphysema. I was a depressed and frustrated youth at the time and probably bemoaning how I should die because of some failure I perceived in myself. He looked at me and smiled, saying something like this: “You’ll be amazed at how strong your body’s spirit to live is. It will stop at almost nothing to survive.”


My take-home messages on all of this?


Our bodies want to be here.


They are our vehicles to experience and enjoy this world. For that reason alone, we should treat them with respect and support them with good choices and healthy living. Our very DNA gives us ways to cope with imperfection in unbelievable ways; stop-gaps and redundancies that allow us to succeed. Let’s not stand in its way through unsafe and unhealthy choices.


We all have problems so we should truly accept that fact.


None of us asked for the genetic roll of the dice we received. We should recognize that and support each other. That includes operating a health care system that acknowledges and helps alleviate the pain and suffering any one of us could face, and does regularly, through no fault of our own. That also includes offering all our children the best education system we can to help them reach their potential and succeed.


There are “problems”. And then there are real problems.


The very wackiness of our genetic code allows for an amazing variety in humanity. My son’s hair does not affect his ability to thrive- it’s just a part of him. The worst thing it does is make his hair stylist’s job a bit more difficult. OK, a lot more. Hair, eyes, skin, even how we learn- the more we just accept and work with how we look and are, the more time and resources we have for dealing with the real problems.

We’re all mutants. Let’s be proud of it together!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Plea for Education



The United States and The United Kingdom share common problems and futures regarding our public school systems. A healthy public school system offers a country hope for the future. It is vital to remember that as we make decisions today.


The current UK government is set on a course to dramatically overhaul their state education system, resulting in substantial cuts to many schools across all age groups. Some of the issues include per-student funding cuts, job eliminations, course offerings slashings, abandonment of infrastructure items and increasing class sizes.


I do not pretend to be an expert on their situation. It does, however, sound very familiar to what we see in the United States.


Educator Coach Angela Browne wrote her own response to the current UK crisis in her blog and it offers a personal view from the ground on what this development means to educators and their students. What really struck me was her emphatic response as she thought of a specific student in crisis: “‘Not on my watch will you be failed by the school system’, ‘Not on my watch.’”. She talks of struggling to deal with “children in crisis” as though there are situations with students who are free from crisis. In truth, everyone in education is dealing with crises, both academic and otherwise, with their students on a daily basis. Our children or their friends know first-hand and share the good, the bad and the ugly with each other. Schools need the means to address these issues in addition to the more traditional subjects.


In regards to the challenges wholesale budget cuts create for those in education, Ms. Browne sums up the plight educators find themselves in:


“Because of course, school leaders and dedicated school staff will keep going, they will keep advocating for the children in the communities within which they live and work, they will not fly off on that metaphorical jet plane. I can’t leave the children behind and yet the silk purse that I am being forced to sew in no way matches the ambitions for the provision I would want to have for them.”


Sound familiar? (Her silk purse and sow’s ear idiom is masterfully used.)


Schools cannot solve the world’s current problems- they inherit them. What they CAN do, is become the places from which we launch our FUTURE. As entire communities (towns, states, nations and beyond) we need to work on defining and strengthening what we feel matters most. We can’t have it ALL. We do have to evaluate our practices and be as efficient and as effective as we can. That all requires careful thought, stamina, cooperation, brainstorming, creative problem-solving, negotiations and broad-picture views. If we do that, we can then channel support through our institutions, including schools, to help reach our overall targets. Simple slashing to meet some financial goal without thought to long-term societal goals leads to escalating chaos and fractures.


I confess that I have had changes in flight plans regarding my own plans with the metaphorical jet plane that is the world of education, both as a parent and professionally. I struggle daily to understand what and assist where I can. One cannot truly abandon the field once one has been immersed in it.


Returning to Ms. Browne, she does not continue with the farmyard analogies for long, however, where one can become mired in fruitless fatalism and pessimism. She goes on:


“The time has certainly come for creativity, for entrepreneurship and for thinking outside the box.”


Sound familiar?


I hope so because I recently wrote about ways we use to deal with failing to obtain what we want in my essay When NOT Having Something is Good. Her words match my own: creative thinking, working together, redefining what we really want and not giving up.


Why is this all important? The answer goes back to the theme of Ms. Browne’s essay: Not on my watch. We have a societal duty to work as hard as we can to educate our youth as well as we can. Our investments in them are returned back to us all as highly functioning adults making their own contributions to the world. The alternative option, of abandoning our watch, of continuing to strip away funding and making this not a priority in our governments, results in thousands and eventually millions of unskilled, ill-informed, maladaptive and miserable people. These abandoned students will more likely become citizens who either do not have the means to adequately support themselves no matter how hard they try or who will be choosing ways to do so that breed even more, ever-widening suffering for themselves, their own children and those around them.


But this negative scenario doesn’t apply to everyone, right? You are absolutely correct. If we keep going down this road, along with the abandoned masses there will be the few who can afford to buy themselves and their children a proper education. There will also be further isolation and fear of “the other” as more people migrate out of organized educational systems altogether.  “Good” primary school entrance will go the way of higher education: affordable only to those with the most means and a long term debt burden for those who can’t. The odds of what side of the coin we’ll end up being on in this sort of future is looking more bleak as time marches on.


What might help? Dramatically lowering the student-to-teacher ratios. Adding mental health specialists to all schools. Offering social and emotional skills training programs for all students. Building on the existing electronic academy formats to connect more people, ideas and industries together. Big picture ideas need to be laid out and implemented.


It also demands of us the ability to zoom back in all the way on Ms. Browne’s “Not on my watch will you be failed by the school system”. That student looking up to us for help today is depending on us to be there for them.

For the sake of us all living today and those yet to come, I hope we will be.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Together With You

You_Never_Walk_Alone (1).jpgA new album from BTS came out today and these lyrics struck me as so beautiful (thank you, BTS-trans), I had to share.


“Together with you, I can smile.”


The sun is shining and winds are howling today in Wisconsin. The dry, brown grass and naked tree branches madly rattling about can leave one feeling bleak and alone.


Desolate.


I have a ton of things I need to get done. I have gobs of worries, big and small. I have insecurities, fears and doubts that at times, overwhelm me. Sure, I’d love to “fly” like a majestic swan of rising accomplishment and pride. But many times I fight the urge to “fly” the other way- in tears of defeat and failure. We all do.


Yes. We have to remember we’re not alone.


The details of who we are don’t matter- what we do, who & what we like or what we think. We. Are. Not. Alone.


There are roughly 7 billion of us on the planet as I write. 7,000,000,000 people. We all came from a womb. We all breathe. We all eat. We all sweat in the heat and shiver in the cold. We all have someone around us with whom we could share a smile if we’d tried. I like to sit with that idea for a while: picturing the things I share with people who I am close to but also with those who I only know in passing. It helps build my sense of community. Then, I can actually DO something with those whom I’m not deeply connected because I’ve already made a connection of some sort in my mind. My mindset changes and so do I. I can reach out and talk to someone, volunteer somewhere, write to someone or simply be there to listen to and acknowledge another’s life.


I have benefited immensely from others reaching out to me over the years. It can be terrifying to admit to needing help or being in pain. I cannot express how grateful I am for the words and deeds I have received from others. Some were painful. Some exquisitely put. All have contributed to who I am today.


English writer John Heywood (1497-1580)  is credited with coining the phrase “Many hands make light work.” He also gave us “Two heads are better than one.” and “The more the merrier.”. I find it wonderful that both an Englishman who lived over 450 years ago and a bunch of 20-something Koreans living today all felt the need to remind us all of this key fact in our existence: we are stronger together.

We can lift each other up- we can be each other's wings. Here’s to a week full of wings!!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Let's Play!



“I’ve never played this game.”
“That’s OK, we’ll teach you!”


“Great job trying to make that shot!”
“You got me- I’ll try again next time!”


“Mrs. B! Let’s play kickball!”
“I’d love to! Let’s go!”


Sophia Boyd wrote a great article for NPR this month on recess in US schools. The organization that brings us Jump Rope for Heart, SHAPE America, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have released new recommendations on how schools across the country can implement high-quality recesses.


I knew that different schools have different means to offer recess activities but I was unaware of this fact expressed by Ms. Boyd: only eight states currently have written policies requiring recess.


The January 2017 report, Strategies for Recess in Schools, gives new recommendations of fact-based ways to achieve positive recesses for K-12th grade. One of the contributing organizations to this report is one that I have personal experience with: Playworks. I have written regularly on the intense struggles one kids can experience on today’s playgrounds, which carry into the classrooms and beyond. I’ve described the successes I have witnessed using Playworks strategies. The spirit of programs like this is to teach what I call “bridging skills”. Bridging skills help connect people. On the playground, the 3 critical portions are: involvement, inclusion and explicit expectations.


Involvement


Students, teachers, other school staff, parent and community volunteers are all encouraged to actively participate in the initial design, long term maintenance and daily practice of the program. No one sits on the sidelines, watching like predatory birds, waiting to swoop in when a problem arises. It’s all ages at all levels: working and playing together and if problems arise, dealing with them together.


Inclusion


Recess is a time for EVERYONE to participate. Whatever recess is put in place should allow for the entire population to be involved. There are no “good” players and “bad” players- only TRYING players and SUPPORTIVE players. This part can be really tough to accept initially with a traditional winner/loser mindset. It’s essential, however. We all have a right to try and we benefit for experiencing the opportunity to encourage others to do so.


Explicit Expectations and Enforcement


Everyone needs to have and understand the same recess rules and they should be tailored for each age’s abilities. Physical activity should be performed in a safe environment with known consequences for not doing so. Other than restrictions like these, each school can (and should) tailor their programs to fit their community.


But...Why Bother?


There is much talk today about cutting back our national involvement in the education of our youth. Let’s make no mistake. If we want vibrant opportunities for a majority of our future Americans, we need to spend some time and money today on building bridging skills like these.


Bridging skills are rarely taught in video games, where a majority of today’s youth spend  significant time. Even today’s youth sports programs struggle to find balance- there’s an extremely strong emphasis on winning in many programs. There is a time and place for competition but children should be allowed to just play for play’s sake as well. Elisha Goldstein, PhD, wrote this of play and aging in 2011 in his Huffington Post article The Joy of Play: “Youth is a matter of mind and attitude.” If our children don’t even have this first chance of joy, what will their aging look like?


Bridging skills will help us throughout our lives. Our children need to learn how to, and practice, interacting with others just as much as to exercise, read and do math. These social and emotional skills aren’t just picked up by all children naturally or in the course of their everyday lives or from a lesson in class. These skills need to be presented to and then practiced by students to be absorbed for use in all the other situations they find themselves. As adults with modern-day problems, we should see this for the reality that we all face. We probably all could do with some reminder lessons on helpful ways to handle situations with others.


Those quotes at the beginning of this piece? They are what you’ll hear on a playground that’s living the recommendations outlined by folks like SHAPE America. Along with genuine laughter and the other sounds of healthy active living.

That’s the kind of research we can all benefit from!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

K-Pop Love in Latin America



Confession time: while today’s subject is one of definite interest to me that I wanted to explore eventually, I decided to jump on it now for a couple of reasons. First, I haven’t written anything FUN about my music tastes in quite a while. Secondly, lately I’ve been feeling a bit left out of the love from South and Central America! I had a couple of contacts on my blog last year, but it’s been silent for far too long!! Where I live has a rich and vibrant Hispanic community- I’m hoping to sway some of my contacts to spread word of my blog to their dual-language familiares y amigos- ¡Por favor!


Music can definitely take us out of our everyday problems. The ways that tunes and beats crisscross the world, getting absorbed and adapted tell us that there’s a beautiful something we all share. I take strength from that fact.


Back in 2013, Anjani Trivedi wrote this in Time magazine: “a Korean wave is sweeping through Central and South America, attracting large audiences and inspiring cultish devotion.” Ms. Trivedi described the interest as being rooted in K-Pop’s flashy stage presence and positive messages, which I also see as keys to the interest here in the States, along with gorgeous performers and a growing edge to the music and artists. The wave is doing nothing but grow stronger.


While K-Pop groups are incorporating more and more English into their songs, there is definitely a two-way love affair between South Korea and ALL of the Americas: K-Pop groups are writing songs with Spanish influence and/or lyrics and covering a growing range of Spanish-based melodies. Lee1086’s 2015 Soompi article 9 Gorgeous Spanish Songs by K-Pop Artists gives a great summary of a few acts and songs, including one of my personal favorites, Super Junior’s Mamacita.


Today, the hugely successful band BTS, who is building relationships with US artists like Raury, will be continuing their overall American relationship in style. In 2015 they did their first world tour, hitting both North and South America. They returned in 2016 to headline KCON LA and NY in the United States. This year they will be heading back out to the Americas in March to perform 2 shows in Santiago, Chile and another 2 concerts in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They will split the 2 cities with a stop at KCON Mexico on March 17. After Brazil, they head north for 5 concerts in 3 cities across the United States. I am sure that 21st Century Girl, with its hot Latin beat (and also some Bollywood influence, imo) and positive message of self-love, off their 2016 Wings album, will be a huge performance hit on both continents.

Music speaks to us in ways that spoken words cannot. Whatever genres you prefer, I hope you have some energizing, uplifting and beautiful music in your life this week!!!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Plaid Effects


Preface: I had begun this essay a couple of weeks ago, well before the Twitter #DressLikeAWoman protest went viral. I would like to point out that as of right now, there appears to be no proof that President Trump has made specific references to how women should dress since he took office. Things he’s said prior to that are well documented so I will not make any remarks on those. The spirit of the movement interests me. It has led to women from all walks of life to share how they really live- and dress- to a wide audience and with pride. That’s a great thing.

If you weren’t aware, I went to an all-girl Catholic high school. Yes, many many MANY years ago I actually WAS what so many girl bands have pretended to be and what an entire genre of fantasizers dream of: a plaid be-skirted school girl. My time was even before Katie Holmes graced the halls, so I have a long view on what I’m about to discuss.

Misc K-Pop artists, Taken from Timmdee’s article The Not-So-Innocent Side of the “Innocent” K-Pop Girl Group Look.
I had many opportunities in high school to take on a variety of roles and challenges- both academic and otherwise. The school managed to provide a fairly diverse community that allowed the students to begin developing into their own selves before sending us off into the wider world. I remember some teachers who challenged me to think critically, speak clearly and act decisively in whatever it was that I believed in. I thank them for their efforts. Even the people and things that bothered me at the time taught me something in the long run. The uniforms we wore made life a bit more simple and allowed us students the opportunity to weigh our daily accomplishments more on real merit than whether or not we “looked good” doing it. I had an amazing high school experience and it has definitely positively influenced my life to this very day. Some ways in the exact opposite direction that my parents probably intended when they first enrolled me, but that’s a tale for another day.

It wasn’t until well after I graduated that I discovered how close this adult-to-schoolgirl interest had been existing alongside my life back then and only in recent years how worldwide this phenomenon has become. Yes, men way older than should be looking really do like those uniforms. I would recommend that anyone NOT in a school with uniforms really reconsider donning the look to appeal to this particular interest.

As Timmdee points out in his Soompi.com article, “sexy” is fine and everywhere- male, female or anywhere else along the spectrum. It’s an essential part of adult lives. However, when someone tailors their demeanor or speech to appeal to a notion that puts themselves or another in an inferior relative position, that’s when the trouble begins. It propagates destructive stereotypes. It negatively affects everyone involved: adults, any children on the sidelines and all those teenagers.  All of them. Girls in school skirts are just plain sexy? Why can’t girls wear school skirts (or pants or whatever) simply to show the world they are going to a tough school? At this point, it’s perhaps easier to get rid of the school uniforms than to change the societal view but would it solve the actual issue?

When women decide to assume roles like this they take away from their own real merits: intelligence, humor, athleticism, artistic abilities and hard-earned maturity. It’s hard to say no to, but it’s an important effort. This essay dovetails with a previous essay of mine (The Word Soup We’re Living In) on using words that work to keep us all on a level playing field with each other. Here, I’m advocating the same balance on what we do. The future daughters of the women of today may face even more intense challenges because of the choices made today. We have the power to make other, more positive, statements for a better future.

Kids and teens need to try out new things: ideas, interests, clothing, jobs, etc. Teens are watching and trying things out for themselves (as they should) as they stand at the doorway to adulthood. Adults should be there as guides, challengers and supporters. They should not be participants in a system that by definition puts one member in a belittled, vulnerable position.

To all women today: I encourage you to work daily to express all the amazingly positive qualities women possess. I am encouraged by new networking sprouting up today, like 500womenscientists.org. Show your physical, mental and spiritual strengths to the world in ways that inspire those younger than you, impress those who are equal to you, and amaze those older than you.

Let’s show the world what we can all be- truly respectful of ourselves and of others regardless of gender.