Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reflections: 2018's Music

It’s grey and rainy today: a perfect day for reflection. That’s good. I just published my second book, Dear Warriors, so I’m tired. While it’s a bit early, I decided to think back on the music of the year and pick my favorites so far. Overall, many of this year’s songs seem to focus on honest reflection.

That being said, in my opinion, 2018 will be remembered as the year of BTS and self-love. I believe the world needed this focus and continues to. The term “self-love” is not based in conceit. It means to simply hold oneself as a unique person, worthy of being here just as one is. You be you. Let me be me. My book folds this idea into it as well. Those with type 1 diabetes, or any condition for that matter, should love themselves and deserve a place here with everyone else.

In 2017, I picked B.A.P’s Wake Me Up as my overall favorite song. While BTS had their own offerings, the overall sound, message, and video that B.A.P provided in this song made it my go-to for the year because it spoke of need and vulnerability.

That need and vulnerability were what BTS focused on in 2018, coupled with the power of self-love. May’s Love Yourself: Tear, the August compilation album Love Yourself: Answer, and the Japanese Face Yourself in April all zero in on exploring and loving the self. The individual works of J-Hope (Hope World) and RM (Mono), along with the digital diss track (Ddaeng) with Suga, follow similar patterns. It’s often said one must love oneself before one is able to look and love beyond. This is the truth BTS has examined in 2018, and they have done so from a host of angles. They challenged themselves and listeners to truly learn who they are inside- and to accept what they find. They have collaborated with a host of musical talent (both in front of and behind the microphones) to exemplify what that self-love can achieve when coupled with the skills and efforts of others.

Self-love is not limiting. It can allow for phenomenal growth at no one’s expense if done with positive purpose and no malice. “I’m OK.” does not have to be connected with the idea that “That means you’re not.”.

While the final focus for BTS in 2018 was on self-love, BTS didn’t ignore loving and being loved by others. Their efforts in Steve Aoki’s Waste it On Me focus on that idea that love from others is something everyone craves, even if it’s not exactly what one had in mind. On the flip side, Suga’s song, Seesaw, is my absolute favorite on the Love Yourself: Answer album for this: with enough self-love, one can get off the miserable up-and-down ride of a bad relationship.

Speaking of bad relationships, outside of BTS’s dominance, iKON’s Killing Me was my favorite for overall fun sound and music video. A song about a destroyed relationship that haunts, the rhythms and style demand movement and personal involvement. Their vocals, dance, and esthetic are spot-on. NCT U’s Baby Don’t Stop was my original song for this slot for similar reasons. The whole NCT franchise produced some great songs this year- I look forward to their continued presence.

I cannot end without mentioning some female acts that stood out to me. I love powerful female performances that emphasize both individual talent and unity. Girls’ Generation’s Lil’ Touch, Momoland’s BAAM, (G)I-dle's Latata, Amber x Luna’s Lower, and Amber’s White Noise all struck me with their unique strengths of message, performance, and song styles.

2018 has been crammed with some absolutely fantastic musical products. I’ve only scratched the surface. The bar has been raised regarding musical quality and message. How far will Kpop go in promoting stronger individuals and communities? How wide will the net of inclusion become for subjects such as rights and responsibilities around the world? Time will tell. I’m reminded that the first anniversary of Jonghyun’s suicide is approaching. His posthumous album, Poet/Artist, released this year, debuted on the US Billboard 200, an achievement he was not able to see for himself because he lost hope. His was one of many stories we need to hold in our thoughts as we move forward.

My thanks to folks like Jaeguchi and DKDKTV for their work on translating and interpreting the Korean originals!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Exploring the Warrior Spirit Together

Cover art by Amber Hall

This essay was originally posted September 7, 2018 on Healthline by Mike Hoskins for DiabetesMine. This was in preparation for the release of my new book, Dear Warriors, now available on Amazon. For signed copies, please contact me at

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- African Proverb

I first found this quote back in 2012 on Facebook via Voices Education Project. Little did I realize then how its message would resonate with me today as a way of being, and not just a great slogan for a childhood school sign.

Its importance has grown on me, and I can now trace its influence back much further than 2012, like a seed that was sitting there, waiting for me to be ready for it. Today, I can say that it plays a significant role in my daily thinking and actions, including my life with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

I felt very alone and inadequate with this condition when first diagnosed in 1994, a year after graduating from college and beginning a job as an environmental technician, where I helped to identify wetlands by plant and tree species. I treated T1D like my work: scientifically and systematically, down to spreadsheets. I spent years dealing with it by myself, shielding its difficulties and influence on me even from close family and friends. Later, having children began softening my approach, but I didn’t have my big growth of understanding until making my way into the world of education as a classroom assistant. It was there that I began recognizing our vital need for and benefits from collaboration: working together.

Something struck me. If working together is the best choice in schools, why not in the adult world? 

We live in an extremely fractured culture, and many of us feel it's me-against-the-world. I wondered: are we asking too much of our children to emphasize the power of interpersonal skills and relying upon each other, or are we not asking enough of ourselves as adults?

Even teachers struggle with feelings of inadequacy and separation. While they can be incredibly skilled at nurturing those around them, they can ignore their personal care and worth. Using my interest in writing, I penned my first book, Dear Teachers, for them. It sought to provide a school year of supportive messages based on beautiful nature photos taken by my friend, Marlene Oswald, covering subjects like needing teamwork, being present in the moment, feeling safe enough to reveal oneself, making time for self, accepting that we all suffer, celebrating our diversity, and enjoying the tiny sweetnesses of life. I asked the readers to focus on themselves and to further the team concept of the book I added writing prompts and space for the reader to include their thoughts. In the end, I wanted all readers to feel and see their dearness and ways to move forward in their lives.

After that experience, I was finally able to look at diabetes through similar topic lenses. Could I reveal facts and stories from my own life that others might relate to and enjoy? Could I create an interactive framework for a book to help us all deal with this condition and see our dearness and place in the world? How could I make this book an example of going farther by going together?

I knew I wanted to stay with the “Dear ___” base, but for the longest time, I didn’t know what word or words to use, so I left it blank. The term “Warrior” has been promoted and fought over in the diabetes world for years. I’ve always been on the side of the argument as voiced by people like Craig Idlebrook in Why I Wince When People Say They Won’t Let Diabetes Stop Them on InsulinNation in 2016 and by Mike Hoskins in Why I’m Not a Diabetes Warrior on DiabetesMine in 2017. I didn’t like it because when I pictured a “Warrior”, I thought that was going back to that "alone" theme. I didn’t want that; I couldn’t go back there.

Then, I sat with the ideas of "Warrior" and “togetherness” some more.

Just as some people pointed out to me that my Dear Teachers book and “Teacher” moniker apply to anyone who has kids in their lives, the “Warrior” term applies to anyone alive. We’re all Warriors. We can be Women’s Rights Warriors, Cancer Warriors, Homeless Warriors, Parent of a Child with a LIfe-Threatening Condition Warriors, Racism Warriors, LGBTIA Warriors, Environmental Warriors, and more. And any combination thereof. From that perspective, I could embrace the concept.

It was always my intention to have a variety of people with type 1 diabetes provide the visuals for this book. If my message was legitimate, I felt I would see support in other people’s artistic expressions. For six months, I asked people with T1D on social media to send me images they felt represented who they were. I didn’t specify the subjects, style, or media because I didn’t want to influence their work and thoughts. As they came in, I placed one at the start of each section of the manuscript, ending with 12 artists and a total of 16 images. One image stood out to me as symbolic of the Warrior spirit, so Amber Hall’s Jamie was highlighted on the cover. Two images in the introduction are my own, but I can’t take full credit for those.  Actress Anita Nicole Brown, another person with T1D who reached out to my requests, inspired one. Sometimes, I had to edit an existing essay, but I never had to write anything from scratch. I shared the pieces with the artists as I placed them, learning more about each person as I continued building the book.

I could never have created this book without them. I could have written a book (fast) but not this one (far).

Dear Warriors grew to be my view of what ALL people deal with, a few things only people with T1D have in their lives, and the things we can do to live more fully within ourselves. It evolved to fold in the importance of togetherness into this term “Warrior” that sometimes feels so incredibly individualistic, unobtainable, and isolating. The subtitle even changed to be much more inclusive. I ended up choosing “A Memoir and Guided Journal for Those Touched by Type 1 Diabetes”, because this book is a bit about me, a bit about type 1 diabetes, and a whole bunch about how we’re all in this as fellow Warriors.

We can do this. Each story is a bit different, but we can go far if we go together.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Broad Brush Strokes

I was surprised to see that I’ve written 29 essays on this blog this year. I thought it would be much smaller because I’ve been so busy writing and rewriting my latest book, Dear Warriors, which will be out later this month. Dear Warriors is a memoir and guided journal for people touched by type 1 diabetes, and I’m nervously excited to see it come to life and fly into the world.

In reviewing my essay topics, I should not have been so doubtful on my word count. Beyond my book, it’s been a busy year, and I covered quite a range of topics. From the power of music like BTS through our need for mental flexibility and on to the definition and importance of today’s feminism, I’ve had many thoughts.

I have another one brewing: there’s an extreme danger when we try to lump and simplify people in terms that separate us.

At face value, my current book may sound like an example of this human tendency to paint each other in broad strokes. It’s for people touched by type 1 diabetes. However, one of my main premises of Dear Warriors is that we are ALL fighters on life’s battlefield and that we ALL need each other. For 160 pages, I look at all the ways we can and should be with each other, whether we have type 1 diabetes or not.

I’m not saying we are or should be, all the same. Instead, we are alike in our human variety and fragility.

I worry when I hear phrases like, “All ____ people…” where the blank is filled with descriptives like white, black, European, Asian, transgender, or heterosexual and the message is an attempt to indicate that all people with the listed characteristic(s) think, believe, or act in the same way.

We’re more complicated than that. Personalities are dictated significantly by our DNA, but our life experiences and personal interests can mold the people we are today as much as our attitudes and genetic makeup.

Throughout our lives, both nature and nurture work in each of us.

I was raised Catholic but have only practiced a sense of universal spirituality for my entire adult life. People are regularly surprised by my interests in Korean pop and hip-hop and that I’m trying to learn the Korean language. I’ve walked away from situations that belittled either myself or others and know that my financial life is worse for it, but I do not regret my decisions. My Goodreads Read List includes everything from Fantasy and European lit to Buddhism and Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law. I’m not a fan of any sport because fandoms were never in my life as a child and today I fear the overall violence, greed, and industrialization of it. If I had to pick, I’d choose soccer because it’s a worldwide sport of everyday people. As a teen and college student, I loved the idea of Star Trek’s Federation and honestly believed it could happen as I watched The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I love teaching kids cooperative games that bring them together in laughter. I think dance and yoga might be great requirements in the elementary-level gym. My clothing choices are for comfort or value and include lots of second-hand. I don't Pinterest. I’m a quiet person but I’m still in contact with my closest high school friends. Together, we span the world genetically and have been physically far apart since graduation, but I bet we could come together again today with things to share with each other. I’ve studied kung fu under a student of a student of Bruce Lee and broken cement blocks with my bare hands. I have diabetes and if I contract another health problem, I would rather not pursue treatments. I love nigori sake and tequila. Not together, of course.

I say all these things to show that just because I’m a married, white woman with two sons, living in the American Midwest, I’m probably a bit different inside than what I might seem on the outside. Because of my experience, I cannot help but look outward and believe anyone I want to pigeonhole probably isn’t exactly what I assume them to be, either.

We start somewhere. We can move through all kinds of evolutions of self if we are open to change, if we have our basic needs covered, and if we have access to people and ideas that can provide that variety.

So, for this 30th essay of 2018 in VerboStratis, I shall leave it at this thought:

The only broad strokes we should paint are the ones that speak of our universal humanity, our universal imperfection, and our universal need for one another to truly grow.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cause and Effect of Our Actions

The following was written by Carina Hilbert @CarinaHilbert on Twitter on August 12, 2018. She writes from a classroom perspective. I believe anyone can use the wisdom of her thoughts and I challenge myself and anyone else who reads them, to do so. Swap “students” or “kids” with “people”. Swap “classroom” for “workspace” or “home”.

“I have been seeing a lot of posts in my TL lately saying that negative behavior in the classroom is always a sign of learning struggle or that the student needs more support. While I agree that’s true a lot of the time, it isn’t true all the time.

Some students act out due to boredom. They don’t need more support, and they aren’t struggling: they’re bored. Just ask them, and they’ll tell you. These tend to be active learners, kids with engineer minds, kids who see the big picture quickly. Give them more to do.

Some kids act out because they know they’re safe with us to do so. It’s like how kids are worst at home because they’re safe to act that way and still be loved. That can happen in the classroom, too. It takes solid conversation with that kid to find out why it’s happening.

Some kids act out in class due to power dynamics. They want power, feel like the teacher has all the power, and so they undermine the teacher in order to get the level of power they need to feel safe and comfortable. (Here’s a secret: give them power. It’s okay.)

Some kids act out in class because they are overwhelmed with something going on in their private lives. They’re struggling with a move, with grief, with depression, with anxiety, with a million things, and they need a safe space to process that. Give them that space.

Some kids act out because they hate the book, the material, the curriculum, the subject. It isn’t that they don’t get it; it’s that they really don’t like it. Listen to them. You might be surprised at the insights they have.

Some students act out because something physical is going on. They have to go to the bathroom every day at that time, but you don’t allow enough bathroom passes. They have chronic pain and the short fuse that comes with it. They’re hungry. Respect those bodily needs.

Some kids act out due to mental health issues that aren’t being treated right. In schools, we get all kids, including sociopathic ones. Work on those relationships, and be ready with many different strategies and backup plans. Work with your admins, too, on safe spaces.

Some kids act out because they pick up on our exhaustion, our racism, our biases, our disrespect. Kids read us every second of every day, and if we, deep down, don’t like a kid, trust me, that kid knows. We have to eliminate those biases as best we can can every day.

In all reality, there are as many reasons kids act out in class as there are kids. Get to know your students, work on those relationships, and also work hard to make sure at least your classroom is safe for all learners. A safe space in the building for cooling down helps, too.

Too many schools don’t have a safe space for kids to cool down, talk through what happened, and rebuild any relationships they damaged with their behavior. We are too quick to punish without understanding. Work within your school to fix this, and you’ll see a huge change.”

Young or old: we’re a complicated product of the days we’ve lived and the realities we’ve faced, coupled with the innate skills and interests we have on the inside. We all need the things Carina describes here to be our best: safety, security, a sense of belonging, mental health, physical health and a belief that life’s challenges can be met and are worth risking ourselves for.

These concepts that Carina has outlined are at the root of my current book-in-progress, Dear Warriors. Dear Warriors is a book to support and inspire those with type 1 diabetes. However, as I wrote it, I saw universal truths that apply to everyone. We’re all Warriors. And what do honorable Warriors do? They help each other out. They give each other space, but never abandon each other. They use their individual talents together to get the job done. That’s what Carina is suggesting, too.

Know each other. Give to the other what you have and they need. Take from the other what they can offer you. Stick together. Work together. That will lead to positive change for everyone.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Strong Enough to Show Weakness

It takes a special strength to show weakness.

It’s a skill I don’t have much of. I often wonder if I’m truly as weak as I think I am, or if I’m just making excuses and hiding. I was reminded of the power of others’ perceptions in battling this fear while watching a TV show recently. Once again, a teacher demonstrates the power in pushing onward. Once again, I see how another’s lifting can give you the strength to both try more and reveal more.

South Koreans are brilliant in the art of television variety shows. Among the current gems is Master in the House. This show offers a look inside South Korean culture with a cast of four talented young men, actor Lee Sang Yoon, 36, comedian Yang Se Hyung, 32, singer/actor/entertainer Lee Seung Gi, 31, and singer/dancer/actor Yook Sungjae, 23, who seek wisdom from an different experienced “elder” every week by following them for two days and one night. Each show has a unique setting and is loaded with goofy stunts and banter between the castmates. Each master brings a completely different style and life message for the men to reflect upon.

In episodes 27 and 28, they meet Seol Min Seok, a 47 year old teacher of Korean history. Seol Min Seok majored in theater and film. For 23 years, he has used that background to teach in ways that take people into important moments of Korean history. He brings the past’s people and moments alive, and in so doing, has developed a huge following within South Korea, including a YouTube channel with over 270,000 subscribers and over 55 million views.

In viewing him on this show and on some YouTube videos from another variety show, I was struck by his blending of old-school and modern teaching techniques. He stands before traditional rows of tables and chairs filled with his students. There’s a whiteboard or chalkboard as his backdrop, which he expertly uses. It’s his animation and style that pull the students in, demanding their active participation. His delivery is magical. This is “lecture” at its finest and most effective.

In Episode 27, Seol Min Seok takes the cast to the border between North and South Korea. He tells them that during the 70 years the countries have existed separately, the people within the countries have begun using their shared language differently. There will be a need, if the two countries hope to come together, to work on understanding one another. 

“If people can’t communicate with each other, we can’t do anything.”

He gives the hosts a pop quiz of examples. It turns out, in the two Koreas, Korean terms for “squid” and “octopus” are reversed today. So when a South Korean says squid, a North Korean pictures an octopus. In South Korea, there are many loanwords from English that have been incorporated into the Korean language, Hangul. For instance, the term 아이스크림 is used today. It’s the phonetic translation of the English words “ice cream”. In North Korea, they apply the same technique, but have picked another word: 에스키모, or eskimo. What some ice cream in North Korea? Ask for an eskimo. All world languages evolve and these were fascinating examples to me.

My absolute favorite part of this time with Seol Min Seok came at the end of Episode 28. He took the hosts to Dankook University with the intention of having them give spontaneous lectures about themselves (My History) to a random gathering of students. Think “busking” but with lecture instead of music. They were to use the lecturing and storytelling techniques he’d taught them to talk about themselves and engage the audience.

The hosts were terrified. Reading a script is one thing. Talking about oneself is something completely different. Seol Min Seok let them feel their nervousness, but he never abandoned them to it. He orchestrated their anxiety by suggestions that emphasized their strengths both individually and as a group. True expert educator mode.

I won’t give all the details of what happened. It’s really worth a watch to see people who make a living being in front of cameras dealing with genuine feelings of embarrassment and fright. Yang Se Hyung, the comedian, is especially sweet as he talks to himself, saying, “Time passes. This will pass.”. Why is he so concerned? In an academic setting where only the smartest of the smart are granted entrance, he scored extremely low on the test needed to attend such a school. He felt like he shouldn’t be there.

Showing weakness is painful. And yet, no one is perfect. How do we keep moving forward? How do we resist hiding in fear?

These are vital questions to consider and answer in the time we have. As I was reminded in Master in the House, it takes not only what we have inside, but who we have outside, supporting our efforts and views.