Thursday, March 30, 2017

Change of Pace

Rap Monster & J-Hope, Cypher Pt 4
It’s another spring morning here in Wisconsin. The grass is showing a bit of green but the skies are leaden and everything’s cold and wet. It’s the kind of day to hunker down with hot coffee, comfy clothes and a good book.


That would be nice, eh?


Instead most of us will keep doing what we’ve been doing. We have lists and obligations. Chores and demands. Bills to pay and paychecks to earn. Yet, there’s a delicious release when we have the opportunity to buck the trend.


And take the opportunity.


What can we get out of doing something new and outside our comfort zone? Last night, I went out. On a Wednesday. Alone. In Chicago. To see a musical act of 7 Korean men young enough to be my own sons.


It was a great break!


Driving and parking were incredibly easy. The lines at the arena were daunting but the fans were helpful in sending me on my way. It was amazing to see so many different ages, ethnicities and persuasions (we’re talking approximately 14,000 people) together for one fun purpose.


I struck up some conversations with mixed results and ended up having a great time with one group in particular. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for sure, but I was impressed by the overall feel of the event. I wish folks would have taken better care of trash, but with the weather and slow entrance into the venue, it was expected.


Some things surprised me.


Instead of the free-for-all I expected, fan behaviors were fairly muted, in my opinion. During the actual concert, I was struck by how stationary most of the pit was. Granted, most were glued to the stage. Lights and some signs were waved but it was fairly controlled. I was in the back, getting lured to move by the beats, but felt a bit self-conscious as it didn’t seem to be the case with those in front of me. That didn’t stop me.  It wasn’t until near the end that I saw legitimate free dancing. I think the band even noticed the change in atmosphere at that point and commented on how great the response was.


These spectacles are carefully planned out and executed. Sometimes I worry that Kpop talent is managed too precisely and too completely. However, seeing a look on J-Hope’s face a few times that could only be described as blissful, makes me hope they all do get something positive out of it in the long run.


Fan projects were everywhere and I loved how much effort people put into them but as in all of life- some worked better than others. The rainbow ocean based on seats was phenomenal. As Billboard’s contributor Tamar Herman put it in a tweet from the Newark show, “I cannot get over the rainbow ocean at BTS's #WINGSinNewark show. The event was the largest successful fan event I've ever seen in person.” For everyone who worked on a project: your efforts are inspiring!


Final take-home: Even BTS likes dandelions!

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As the concert got underway, I smiled as I watched white dandelion seeds float across the concert logo. BTS’s theme has been around wings, which I thoroughly enjoy. To see them incorporate the same symbol I use in my own logo was pretty cool.


We and our wishes are like seeds floating by. We hope to find a nice place to take root and flourish. By not giving up on ourselves and by working with each other, we can find some pretty cool places to grow and experience some pretty amazing things.

Best wishes to everyone on our journey!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Today's the Day!


(If you are a Kpop fan and can spare a couple of minutes, I invite you to answer my 7-question survey. Thank you in advance!)

So, I’m calling this my mid-life crisis. Clearly, that has to be the explanation for why this 45 year old mother of 2 is driving to Chicago in the middle of the week in March to see the internationally popular and totally incredible, KPop band, BTS, perform a sold-out Wings Tour show in the Allstate Arena. Many thanks to my hubby, who got me the ticket and is taking days off work to allow me to take this journey, for that’s what it really is.

This is more than just a show. It’s a long, drawn-out experience.

I’ve been into this for a while but since January I’ve ramped things up to get a better grip. Tracking trends on social media. Following ARMY (the die-hard fans of BTS). Learning lyrics. Watching dance routines and music videos. Reading articles from a wide range of sources- from Billboard to AllKPop to XXL Magazine. Writing analyses of songs. Seriously, those around me have been putting up with a lot. 미안 해요. And again, thank you.

Why all the fuss? It falls back to my lifelong quest for understanding.

I’m at a unique point in my life. It’s a bit of nostalgia seeing how far I’ve traveled. I remember my own time when I could have been the uber fan with crushes plastered all over my personal space. How are things the same today? How are they different?

Today, I also have a personal stake in the more masculine side of adolescence. I’m a parent of boys entering their teens and I want to understand some of what they may face from their peers or from within themselves. For some reason, I’m finding that Kpop, and especially bands like BTS, is offering me a way to approach this sensitive area in their lives. It’s different enough that neither of us is the expert and we can talk more openly. Or we can just jam in the car.

Lastly, I’m always seeking to see if my belief that humanity itself is more good than bad, and more similar than different, is valid or not. This band seems to support these ideas and I’d like a bit more confirmation. In today’s world, more so than ever.

What do I hope the night will provide?

With my age comes an innate hope that we all get in and out safely. Beyond that, BTS’s albums focus on prompting us to acknowledge pain and stick together while we struggle through our evolution. That’s the message I want to feel: Life’s tough but we can still have fun along the way. Together.

Let’s do this.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Boxes

Boxes.jpgToday’s essay was inspired by the 14-pound longhair cat that regally oversees our house, oftentimes from the confines of a shoebox.  Their allure seems irresistible and I’m regularly wondering why he pours himself into them. As you can see, the fit is a bit tight.

It got me thinking.

We All Come in Boxes.

I like to picture us all as being composed of 3 parts: body, mind and spirit. Our bodies are our boxes. They are our tools and vehicles that give our minds and spirits the means to interact with this amazing world we find ourselves in.

We don’t pick our boxes. Even if/when the technology becomes widely available to make detailed choices for what these boxes develop into through gestation, the owners themselves will never be the ones making those selections.

I was pondering life (as I regularly do) as I hiked a trail during Friday’s warm up. I’ve been dealing with some recurring back pain and my blood sugars have been a bit high this week so I wanted to take things for a test spin and I came up with some more ideas as I moved along.

Our Boxes Only Tell Part of Our Story

I believe we all have a unique blend of body, mind and spirit. I think each of us has a natural connection with one or more of them but we can affect that through effort. A philosopher can learn to play basketball. A footballer can earn a PhD in math.

Comfort in any of these three, including one’s box, can come early, later or not really at all. Our overall mind, body and spirit balance typically moves around as time passes, making it necessary to find a new equilibrium. It can be really tough.

Stacking Our Boxes Together

A few people are lucky enough to be born into boxes that fit the other 2 parts fairly well. With few disruptions, their existences flow from beginning to end in relative ease. Most go through many more difficulties as they struggle to come to terms with who, what, where and when they are. Lastly, there are those with daunting challenges to overcome- those with internal and external obstacles at every turn. It’s like we’re all in a cosmic driver’s ed class together with limited course materials, trying to figure things out and not run anyone else over while we’re doing it. Key words: All. Together.

Getting Comfortable in our Boxes

While the parts themselves are wearing out, I’m much more comfortable within my box than I ever have been before. Glasses, gray hair, shoe inserts and OTC anti-inflammatories are all proof of the declines and yet I feel good for the most part. Some days are better than others, but overall I feel content. I’m more accepting of my box today.

We can (and should) appreciate all the sides to our boxes. Mine has allowed me to experience motherhood. It’s forced me to experience diabetes. It lets me absorb and participate in the spectacle of a concert. It’s made me face ugly realities like discrimination, too. Light and dark both teach.

It’s true that we can affect the way our boxes look through cosmetics, appliances, fitness regimes, surgeries and the like. Ironically, it’s the young, the ones with seemingly everything going for them (from an older perspective), who fall the hardest for these ways to achieve something else. Why? I think the goal is peace.

Peaceful Balance of Box, Mind and Spirit

You feel peace when you feel like you belong: within yourself and within the space you inhabit. We all crave safety and a great way to achieve that is to not feel out of place. Real peace requires attention to all 3 parts over time until we can really understand and embrace them as they are. Some get there early. Some get there late. That’s OK.

Here’s to our boxes and that quest for peace as we head further down the trail!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When's It Gonna Change? Right Now.

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Photo: earthday.org
There is always going be someone complaining about something- just as there will never be an end to reasons for complaints. “Perfection” in this world is impossible. As it’s said in Buddhism, there will always be suffering. However, being upset at perceived ills in the world is beneficial (and perhaps necessary) to us as long as we take the next logical step: action to correct those ills.


I’ve written before about having hope (Truth, Youth and Love) in humanity and this world. I still do. I’ve been given a few reminders this week of reasons why.


Global Networking


I have wide-ranging interests. On Twitter, I follow a number of professionals in the fields of education, mental health, philosophy and science based in the United States and the UK. Other contacts include professional writers from around the globe specializing in a rainbow of subjects. On a daily basis I receive messages of hope, frustration, humor and inspiration. I see that the struggle is real and while the details differ, it is shared by all. That’s comforting and inspiring to me.


Every single person on the planet with access to a smartphone can find valuable contacts and transmit powerfully positive messages anywhere. Yes, we must fight the urge to fall into the abyss of argument and attack, but the potential benefit of our current abilities to see The Other as more like us than not is enormous.


Awareness of Varying Cultural Histories


This networking doesn’t just count for today’s events. This ability to connect with members of the global community allows us to exchange stories of our personal and cultural pasts well beyond that of our personal circles of influence. As a simple example, if I mention something about a certain food online and describe how it relates to my past, someone from another culture can gain that perspective and offer to me a comparison based on their own story. We both grow.


Thus, the old adage of “If we forget our history, we’re doomed to repeat it” can now be applied in much greater terms: we can ALL learn from ALL histories. We can take lessons learned in one place, take its lessons and reconfigure things to help a situation in a whole other hemisphere. Powerful stuff!!


Young Adults With Strong Social Conscience


The benefits of this cross-cultural awareness is already in play today and young adults are assuming the mantle of responsibility. For example, the Washington DC-based rap artist Wale released a collaboration song with Korean singer-rap artist Rap Monster of BTS entitled Change. Teen Vogue has an interesting interview of BTS that includes talk of the collaboration and XXL Magazine described Rap Monster as someone to watch for in the hip-hop scene. Both artists have reputations as deep-thinkers. In this song, they caution listeners on a wide range of negative choices (personal and societal) and the lyrics say “I believe that real friends love you to no limit (yea) I believe that real change lies in the mirror (yea)”. How they will influence the future as hip-hop stars like 50 Cent and Kayne West have is exciting to consider.


In a broader view, Grist publishes a list each year of 50 innovators working on some the world’s biggest challenges. This year, the organization dubbed them Fixers. Each person on this year’s list has a unique perspective and mode to accomplish something constructive, from sustainable cities to improved sewage treatment. In scanning through their smiling faces and interests, I am consoled by the depth and breadth of both.


These are only 2 examples- I am sure you can name of many others. From neighborhood coffee shops and religious organizations to large organizations like Omaze and Heifer International, people can and are stepping up and speaking out for themselves and others.

I admit that today, we are capable of horrendous lows. However, I declare just as adamantly, that we can rise up that much higher. As Rap Monster and Wale say, it’s not IF or WHEN the world’s going to change. It’s right now.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Life's Puzzles

uxITG1489944233.jpgMy hubby finished a 1000-piece puzzle this morning. It was a tough one, based on the mesmerizing artwork of Barbara Takenaga. It had sat unfinished for weeks and then was put away in the bustle of the holidays, with hints that perhaps it would remain unfinished. He brought it out again in January with a glint of renewed determination in his eye. Today, he met his goal.


Two things struck me about this that I felt were worth exploring: art and effort.


Art


This puzzle was from Ms. Takenaga’s 2005 acrylic on wood panel entitled Gold + Red, a portion of which I used in my title picture.  Ms. Takenaga bases her art on the simplest of forms: circles.


Circles are complete, with no beginning or end. Cultures around the world, from the Egyptian Ouroboros swallowing its tail to the Chinese yin and yang, use them to signify unity and infinity. Ms. Takenaga blends varying sizes of circles and color patterns to achieve a sense of the grander scale of the cosmos. There’s a carefully constructed rhythm and mood in her work that both calms and energizes the viewer. One can imagine both the entirety of creation and the dance of microscopic cells.


All of art wishes to explore ideas of what is, what was or what might be to come. That's one reason I keep returning to my writing.


Effort


My hubby picked this puzzle for the pleasure of this deep image. The reason he wanted to buy a puzzle in the first place caters to his natural gift in doing.


He is a software engineer with an amazingly sharp and analytical mind. He easily sees things like the programs he writes: 0 and 1, yes and no, if and then. This sort of challenge is right up his alley: it has a beginning and and end with only one’s own efforts being the determining factor for success or failure. His ability to hunker down and get through a task is so incredible it’s one of the main reasons we have the life we have today.


Being able to break things down systematically and not losing sight of one’s goals is how we achieve goals both large and small. I’ve spent my life trying to build this skill and while I’ve come a long way, I still have much to learn.


Art + Effort


I see that sweet spot of Art + Effort as where we can achieve the highest success and contentment in our lives.


In programming, if one only has the technical view, the program may work but the code itself can be ugly and more prone to breakage. In art, a creative spirit without the guidance of planning and effort may leave the panel blank or the message half-spoken.

For you see, it’s a circle, just like those in Ms. Takenaga’s paintings. None of us is only one or the other. There is honest art in true effort and honest effort in true art.

Let's all keep at life's puzzles!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sunbeams in Our Lives


Today’s thoughts revolve around a phrase I just used to describe a friend: you’re a sunbeam.

Of course, I was reminded of The Temptations’ My Girl, “I've got sunshine on a cloudy day”. Now we all have that earworm to enjoy. We’ve had some gorgeous, sunny days this week but today broke wet and overcast. That dear, sweet sun is hiding for a while.

That doesn’t mean we see no sun. Just as in the song, we can feel sun-like warmth from those around us. There are people whose spirits flare brilliantly warm and comforting and we are drawn to their radiance instinctively. This person is one of those bright souls.

The cool thing is, we can all cast a glow!

Believe there is potential.

We must first have a mindset that good things can happen. With a growth mindset, there’s hope and hope is a critical weapon against the root of darkness: pessimism. If our view is fixed (thinking “That’s just the way things are.”), we see no point in trying. Sure, we may be using this technique to protect ourselves from hurt but we also shut out the opportunities to revive ourselves as well. When we look at life with some flexibility, our attitudes  and auras brighten.

Reach out to others.

There’s real truth behind the phrase “Many hands make light work”. Once we see potential in life, we can readily stretch ourselves out to our fellow human beings. Ask for help. Offer to help. Speak up. Speak out. The act of exchanging with others, whether something big or small, changes us. I’m reminded of the quilts and knit caps handmade and donated to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) that comforted us with the premature birth of our first son. Solidarity lightens the heart and outlook.

Love yourself.

When we think of ourselves, it it with loving eyes? Can we look in the mirror and tell that person they are good enough now and can do good things going forward? If we can’t do that, the lenses we are using will inevitably gray down the world we see and our potential to shine. When we struggle with feelings of self-worth, we fall into that pit of pessimism I talked of in the first point.

We all see problems in the world. We all have heartaches and struggles. Some experience so much darkness I cannot even begin to know how they manage. Yet, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It’s worth the effort to be as big of a sunbeam as we can be!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Finding Ourselves

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“ We all have idols.
Play like anyone you care about but try to be yourself while you're doing so.”
B. B. King


Today’s musing is a cross-cultural, musically-inspired look at a simple direction: be yourself. Seems straightforward enough until you really sit with it for a while.


First, you need to have a grasp of where you started.


When we’re growing up, we’re our parents’ children. We start with their framework and hopefully move on from there. Those first teachers need to allow for, and even encourage, that growth and not simply expect blind obedience. I had a childhood pretty soaked in obedience. To this day, I struggle with self-doubt. I drew today’s illustration.  I have a bit of a talent to draw, however, I never grew beyond the point of an imitator to that of a genuine creator. Why? Simply put: fear. Which leads to my next idea.


Then, you need to have opportunities to face your fears and grow into something else.


Ideally, as we mature we are given general guidance with enough loose reins to allow us to try and fail or succeed on our own and then absorb the experiences before trying again or moving to something else. That, in my mind, is the idea behind the project-based and differentiated learning models in today’s schools. B.B. King’s statement encourages musicians to try playing like someone they admire but he adds that twist again: make it your own. How? It’s not about imitation, it’s about YOU, which brings me to the end.


Lastly, release yourself to your gifts...in their own time


Finally, back to the bird sketch. The bird is a crow-tit, or 뱁새 in Korean. BTS references this bird in several of their songs, especially in one called 뱁새 Silver Spoon with another translation by BTS Trans here. Why? They are going back to an old Korean saying: if a crow-tit tries to walk like a stork he will break his legs. A crow-tit has it’s own ways to be successful- it’s stupid for it to try to be a stork. No matter how hard a crow-tit tries (the song uses the term “try-hard” in translation), it won’t be successful.


Some people may be lucky enough to realize early on the one thing that says to them: this is ME. For most others, I think, it’s a slow discovery. It creeps up on you over time that things feel more comfortable, the world seems more clear and the people around you more dear. Through daily struggles you find yourself inhabiting that crow-tit’s body more readily and you eventually find yourself singing in its- your- own voice.

However long it takes is how long it takes.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Baring the Soul



It’s all about revision.


I’m on version 3.0 of my first book that will be published soon. Maybe I’m at 3.3 since I keep tweaking little bits after the last full go-over. Or 5.3 if you want to count the random ideas that floated in my head well before I officially put fingers to keyboard. I keep finding things I can revise to make a line flow more cleanly or an idea stand out more sharply.


It’s a tiny book. The words are simple. But it’s from the heart and I want to put it out there. I’m excited and nervous. I’m brushing that line of fear where I want to pull the trigger...but…


What if it could be better. A lot better. Or perhaps better left unsaid.


It doesn’t matter what creative expression you are into: writing, music, poetry, painting, knitting, weaving, vlogging, metalsmithing, game coding or quilting. You create and you fear. You make and you tear down. You form and you bury the results in the corner. Or, you show the world.


Showing bares you naked. You have to admit, yes, I did that. That’s my message. I’m responsible for that. It’s the ultimate spotlight for growth or collapse.


Some people seem completely OK with this process. Some people are incredibly prepared to do it and seem destined to succeed. They have amazing personalities, backgrounds, degrees and experience that scream “My products are legit and valuable!”. That’s not me. Yes, I have my mind and my experiences but most of the time I think that’s not nearly enough. Then, I remember all the people who have contributed to my life over the years and I realize that what I write can be an ode to them. It’s not all about me. I can pay respect to those people who gave of themselves and their gifts by sharing a bit of my own self moving onward. I can hope that may end up being a gift to someone else down the road.


I want to share my inner self in this place and time. We don’t get to go back and rewrite or revise our lives. But what we can do is learn and adapt what makes up our days as we go forward. That can cause little chances that add up over a lifetime to a point where we end up barely recognizing  the “you” of where we first began.


So, I revise my book. I fight the urge to hide it until it is “better” and welcome the reactions of others. Those interactions will become part of my story from here. That both thrills and terrifies me in equal measures. I press on. By sharing, we can connect. By connecting, we can see new things. When we see new things, we can revise. And when we revise, we grow.

It’s all about revision.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Prepping the Field

While I usually prefer Eric Carle’s own words, I’d like to thank him this time around for his take on this bit of advice from that wise entity known as “Anonymous”. I made a connection with it and a short, farm-based essay that I wrote back in December about needing both patience and effort in life. I want to sit with the spirit of these two thoughts some more.

I’m a thinker. Writing lets me live in my mind for hours upon hours and that can be great but it can also be a crutch. If I’m lucky, I may end up with an organized bunch of words and sentences at the end of the day. I may have discovered something I didn’t know before in the researching of an idea. And yet, when it’s all said and done, what’s the point? What exactly is my “plowed field”- my final goal?

If a farmer patiently stands there all day, looking at the field and picturing what to do, that ground won’t get plowed and there will be no harvest. The farmer has to get the tools from the barn to the field and then apply him or herself to the task of carefully slicing those even furrows until the job is done.

It’s not that the farmer shouldn’t think. Without thought, the final product would be a haphazard success at the very best or an abject failure at its worst. Thought first, then patient effort. We cannot stop at the imagining. We need to see things to the end.

We all have different ends in mind- different “plowed fields”. The process of me writing a piece is only part of my task. I need to share my work and inspirations. Making positive connections with others is the point where I can say that I’ve actually done my job. It’s taken me my entire adult lifetime to realize this. I now see that I must keep seeking out new ideas, processing them and then blogging and tweeting, publishing a book and reaching out to readers and other writers on a regular basis. Sometimes this fills me with joy. Sometimes it leaves me feeling raw and exposed. Sometimes I fight voices telling me it’s a foolish endeavor and that I should quit. When that happens, I must remember the vision of the finished field I have in my head and keep my hands on the plow and my feet moving forward.

Whether your completed field is becoming a great parent, painter, electrician or pig farmer, we all need to follow the same basic script. Picture it, ponder it and then work it. When we stumble, we have to pick ourselves up and keep going. Yes, perhaps we’ll have to make changes to our plans along the way, but if we persevere, eventually we’ll reach a harvest.

That harvest is the final success. It may not be what we planned when we decided to plow the field and plant the seeds. However, it will be what we can call our own.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Compassion in the Mirror and Beyond


Special thanks to UK education leadership specialist Viv Grant of Integrity Coaching for her tweet this week with this very important reminder from the American author and Buddhist practitioner, Jack Kornfield.


This one also goes out to the other new connections I’ve made in recent months, especially Will Lee and Hannah Wilson. I’ve felt great compassion coming from your work.

Compassion. In my mind, it’s one of the keys to our existence. The standard definition describes a sense of pity and concern for what others are going through. When someone is killed for no other reason than the color of their skin or when famine and violence threaten innocent families simply trying to live, we should have a sense of compassion. Compassion leads to action and action is what really matters. Action shows what we really stand for.

What benefit is there to looking at ourselves with compassion? It might help to literally go to the mirror and do so. Look into your own eyes and say, “I see you and what you’ve gone through.”.

Sometimes we can’t face ourselves. We feel as though the problems within and around us are simply too much to handle and we turn away. This can put us on the slippery slope toward defeat. If we fall into a mindset where we feel helpless and hopeless, then our vision becomes blind to anything else.

There is a mountain of pain in this world. Yet, there is also great goodness. If we can look at ourselves and cling to even a single positive, we have hope. If we have hope, we can keep looking. We can keep trying. And when we try, anything…or at least something...is possible.

Fail? Regroup and go at it again. Perhaps you’ll inspire someone else to make a move. Even if you don’t get a single acknowledgement of your attempts, you can still look yourself in the eye in that mirror and again show yourself some compassion: “No one can take my work away from me.”. Eventually, your efforts may make a surprising difference in your life… or in another’s.

I was soaked in self-loathing in 8th grade, as many early teens are. I was a highly emotional, artistic girl struck down by a self-doubt and peer ridicule that I was not able to handle alone. A classmate found me one day, hiding in the art supplies storeroom, bawling my eyes out. Through a series of goofy jokes and pointed observations, he helped me see some sunshine despite the maelstrom I was being swallowed by. He showed me compassion. I learned later that he took that amazingly compassionate spirit and reached out to a multitude of others through his short life. To my lifelong regret, he did not receive- or feel- the compassion he himself needed, taking his own life in despair. He turned his glance away from the eyes in that mirror and couldn’t find a way to look back.

Let’s shoot for as perfect a compassion as we can manage. It starts with ourselves. It must then spread out to the larger world. To each other.

Compassion. Action. What we really stand for.