Monday, April 23, 2018

In the Garden of Life: Rhizomes

It's finally spring!

Anyone who knows me, knows I love the outdoors. Plants, animals, soils, water, winds, clouds: I love to explore and wonder at things big and small. I love just sitting and taking in all the details that make up an environment.

This week, I came across something that ties that interest with another of my passions: philosophy. 

The idea behind it was not new to me; I’ve been talking about and working with the effects of this idea for quite a long time. It’s just that now I have an official term for it: rhizome theory. Humanity can develop like ginger or irises: horizontally, spreading outward in any number of ways and directions. And like these plants, sections can be cut and moved elsewhere to continue developing in other environments that result in newer evolutions.

I read Mark Gartler’s review of the subject on The Chicago School of Media Theory’s website to gain a better understanding. The rhizome theory was hinted at by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung but developed by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and clinical psychoanalyst FĂ©lix Guattari in the second half of the 20th century. It contrasts with the more traditional Western thought pattern that things (biology, government, art, etc) develop sequentially, in a tree-like format. A tree leads one to visualize 2 options: yes/no, plus/minus, on/off.

The tree model emphasizes a hierarchy, like a triangle, with only a few things/people on top, and that apex is considered vital to the survival of the whole. 

What if the system is turned on its side? What if ideas/information/power/money/choices are generated by any number of beginnings and shared across groups? An example is the World Wide Web.
Violets spread by rhizomes

“Unlike the tree, whose branches have all grown from a single trunk, the rhizome has no unique source from which all development occurs. The rhizome is both heterogeneous and multiplicitous.” - Mark Gartler

In a totally uninhibited WWW, things flow like rhizomes, but not to the exclusion of trees. Even the web, as Mr. Gartler’s paper notes, is actually structured like a tree: each section of a web address, separated by “/”, is a branch from the previous trunk. When some want to manipulate the web, those individuals are attempting to establish trees, with themselves as the trunk. Trees can be extremely efficient structures. However, if that main trunk’s intentions are tainted by greed or with the intention to manipulate, they will give rise to destructive entities. We’ve already seen that happen with the creation of fake sites and users whose sole purpose is to deceive and influence with no hard facts. In these cases, the scattered nature of rhizomes protects them somewhat from the domination of malicious trees. The rhizome’s weakness? That spreading can choke the ground with too much competition.

My own best experience with rhizome theory comes from a third passion of mine: K-Pop. 

I’ve written before (in Life and Fandom and Change of Pace) about my amazement at the ability of fans to come together in groups to define goals, establish plans and complete projects such as stadium-wide fan posters and light shows. Fans also work around the world to purchase screen time in New York’s Times Square and advertisements on public transit elsewhere. In addition, they coordinate and encourage each other on social media to promote their interests and share information.

Since I’m big into habitats and environments, I’m going to end with this opinion: we need both rhizomes and trees. 

The more diversity a system has, the more capable it is of adapting to changing conditions. A monoculture can be wiped out by a single harmful bug: a tree is done if its trunk is severed and burned. A K-Pop group like BTS is a tree, but its fandom shoots out from its base into a massive rhizome complex.

Both are beautiful in their own unique ways. Both can benefit from one another. Both are susceptible to rot and we need to tend them as we live in our gardens of life.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gritty KPop: 4 Things to Like About 5 Groups

Monsta X Facebook

Everyone needs some inspiration to keep them going. While groups like BIGBANG and BTS are still prominent, my Kpop running and workout soundtrack has become heavily weighted over the last 12 months with this roster of artists:

Monsta X
Stray Kids
Block B

Their birth years may span 12 years (from 1990 to 2002) and they all come from different management companies, but these groups have one important thing in common: a rough, dark, and intense energy. While some groups dabble in it, these groups seem to thrive on the frayed edges. I’ve been thinking about what characteristics they share that set them apart in a separate category that works well with working out.


Sometimes, you need a sassy, arrogant soundtrack in your life. NCT 127 tells us they are the “biggest hit on the stage” in Cherry Bomb and NCT U is the boss in Boss and the Stray Kids guys sing that they are mad, biting dogs not to be played with in Grrr Law Of Total Madness. Key to me is that their posturing, lyrically or in their performances, isn’t at the expense of some other group’s sense of self-worth. That’s critical. Block B, the oldest in this group, had some controversies when they began in 2012. They sneered at, instead of with, people and therefore erred.

Vocal Layering

Harmonizing is a normal part of Kpop, but how these groups handle theirs is what makes them stand together, and apart, in my mind. Monsta X’s Dramarama is a good example. These groups all have rich lower registers, including at least one darker, growl-laced voice, that create a solid base for the upper registers to soar over and around. Their producers do a great job painting audio pictures of sensuality, pain, struggle, anger, redemption and comradery. Goosebumps are a regular result.


NCT Black on Black
There are definitely other acts with just as good, if not better, choreo. However, Monsta X and NCT U both were on the 2016 Soompi Top 15 Choreographies list and the 2018 music videos from Stray Kids and NCT are getting rave reviews on top of their successes in 2017. In all cases, these groups jam intensely to their own raw music, heavily influenced by both hiphop and rap, and it’s a sight to see and experience. You can't help but start following their lead.


In December, I wrote that B.A.P’s Wake Me Up was my favorite song of 2017 for several reasons, including how they spoke out on social issues.  They stand out in this area but are not alone. Stray Kids’s Hellevator is a poignant look at loneliness and the effort it takes to not give up on dreams while their District 9 feels like a chapter out of a dystopia like The Hunger Games, as they discuss power and control. Life's madness must be acknowledged even as we seek to make things better with our own actions.

Kpop is many things- both good and bad. For something a bit darker, but highly energizing, all of these groups are definitely worth a look. It’s also extra exciting to contemplate what the future holds for the younger ones who are just starting out.

Is music important to you? I’d love to hear what songs you’re listening to lately and why. I look forward to reading your comments!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Cleaning our Glasses: True Sight

This started as an essay to support my book, Dear Teachers. It’s morphed to be applicable for all my writing interests so I'm posting it on all my blogs. I apologize for any redundancy.

I stepped away from writing for a bit. 
Truth be told, I needed to work some stuff out. It’s hard to ponder positives when you don’t see many in your life. 


That’s the overall focus on April’s essays: really seeing. I left March with an essay entitled “The Hum of Life”, with an important quote (which I attributed to Sudanese tradition, but may have come from elsewhere) that relates to vision:

“We desire to bequeath two things to our children:the first is roots, the other one is wings.”
We have to know where we’ve been in order to see where we are now and to plan for tomorrow. If we want our children to have strong roots, we must really examine ourselves deeply. Faults. Mistakes. Failures. Only then can we move to evolving real wings.

I started April with an essay entitled “Hidden Marvels” with a dancing picture of gorgeous, sun-drenched grasses by Marlene Oswald. I wanted us to remember that if we examine our errors, we must also notice the beauty around us. The potentials. The opportunities. The gifts. They can be hidden from our view so very easily. How?

All too often, we bury our heads in the sands of pattern and numb disregard. We see neither the horror nor the exquisite.

Blindness, whether from ignorance, avoidance or with intent, destroys. Sometimes it really hurts to look. However, it can also be our salvation. In my mind, it’s worth the risk.

Best wishes to you in the days ahead as we all widen our gaze to really see and to then act within that vision of reality. Please post your own responses to this idea in the comments section. I enjoy hearing back from my readers!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Answers to Ponder

On this March for Our Lives day, I thought it fitting to write about our realities, choices and opportunities to grow. One reality is, people argue. A lot. (Yeah, I used “a lot”. We could argue about that, too.)

Even teachers don’t all get along in one big happy.

Disagreements are expected and can be a healthy source of learning, but how do we find common ground? I write about the need to do so...a lot. I also write about how much we actually do share in common (good and bad) and how we can grow...a lot. My book, Dear Teachers, is an example of that.

Alas, there are HUGE HUGE HUGE differences in our experiences, even within the same country. People have much in common. We all are born, love, fear, get angry, laugh, and die. 

How we, that’s another story altogether.

We're doing a poor job today in working together and respecting our differences. With my writing, I seek to connect and explore what "together" really means. Some may scoff at my goals. Others may sneer at me and call me newly “woke” to the problems. Maybe. Better late, than never? Perhaps. Still have a long way to go? Probably. Always looking to learn something new and change? Always.

I think we all have an obligation to do that.

I wrote the following questions out a few months ago when a teacher pointedly remarked that his needs and experiences didn’t match what he saw in Twitter’s education world. He expressed frustration that he would love to have what other teachers moaned as “problems”. 

He felt alone.

These questions are based on my desire to help bring us together in understanding of each others’ experiences. From blindness, we can start seeing. From seeing, we can move to doing. By doing, we can shift gears to change. I’m trying to do the same in other projects on healthcare and mental health because I have immensely personal experiences with those two subjects, too. We have much in common. We have different experiences. We can reduce that gaps and our societies can benefit.

If we don’t reduce our gaps, we’ll all soon be living in tiny mental and physical forts, protecting our resources and unable to tap into others. That teacher feeling alone? To me, that’s an outsider looking at a fort he can't enter. Right now.

I imagined asking a variety of teachers and members of different communities to answer these questions and then allowing them to look at the overall responses.  I was hoping to build some empathy. I’m dancing a dangerous border, apparently, as can be seen in the recent problems at Oconomowoc High School when students were given the opportunity to take a privilege aptitude test.

My intention is to simply remind people (including myself) of what kids are facing in their personal lives. As the H. Jackson Brown, Jr.  quote I selected summarizes, children reflect the care they get. This problem and its consequences were also pointed out in a recent Education Week article, entitled This Map Shows How Much Is Stacked Against Students in Your State.

Our children are our future, so if they have it unnecessarily rough or inherit a world where their peers are viewed as enemies...That’s one ugly garden to consider.

I posed this questions to give a tiny glimpse of the range of experiences kids have in the United States. I was inspired by what I learned in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted. I welcome edits or additional ones to further clarify if you have any suggestions based on your experiences. Imagine the different futures available to different kids based on the answers. Imagine the immensely different present realities these kids are living.

All in the same country. Today.

We can and should do better. It’s not teachers’ responsibility to fix everything. It is teachers’ responsibilities to be voices and cultivate voices. It’s administrations’ responsibility to advance those stories outward, connecting to communities. It’s communities’ responsibility to amend the systems to reduce these differences in experience.

See. Do. Change. Grow. Together.

Answers to ponder. Most of my students have at home:

1)     at least enough nutritious food for a week
2)     1-2 days worth of nutritious food
3)     a few snacks/soda
4)     no food
5)     what home?

Answers to ponder. Most of my students personally:

1)     don’t have a family member or friend who’s been jailed, shot &/or violently killed
2)     know of someone personally who has told them they have experience with family or friends getting jailed, shot or with violently killed
3)     has a close family member or friend who was jailed, shot &/or violently killed
4)     has multiple family members &/or friends who have been jailed, shot &/or violently killed

Answers to ponder. Most of my students have at home:

1)     high-speed internet & multiple electronic devices 24/7
2)     high-speed internet & 1-2 electronic devices to share w other family members
3)     no internet but have devices & access to a public library wifi
4)     no internet, no electronic devices or public library services
5)     what home?

Answers to ponder. Most of my students personally:

1)     were read to regularly at home from birth to at least age 5
2)     were occasionally read to at home in early years
3)     were never read to at home
4)     do not have a steady home, let alone books or time to read

Answers to ponder. Most of my students have at home:

1)     enough to pay for housing, utilities & necessary expenses, with leftovers for fun
2)     just enough to pay for housing, utilities & necessary expenses
3)     need support to reach enough to pay for housing, utilities & necessary expenses
4)     overwhelming debt, & have been evicted & services cut at least once in last 12 months
5)     what home?

Answers to ponder. Most of my students personally:

1)     Are happy and have hope for themselves and the world
2)     Are usually satisfied but worry about their own and the world’s future
3)     Are regularly anxious about their future
4)     Are regularly anxious and dealing with real hazards in their daily lives
5)     Are constantly battling direct dangers and severe feelings of anxiety and hopelessness

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It Pays to Bend: The Benefits of Emotional Flexibility

Isn’t this a great image?

Ayden A., 10, drew this. He has type 1 diabetes (T1D), like me. His mom sent this to me in response to one of my requests on InsulinNation for art by those with this condition.

I want to connect with others with T1D. I also want to practice my preaching that we're stronger together. I'm looking to answer: What will happen to me and my writing if I work with other artists?

For my art requests, I’m intentional vague on what I want to see. My parameters are flexible. I’m simply looking for images that people feel tell something about themselves and their stories.

Flexibility is a powerful and scary skill to practice.

We like control. Flexibility requires a release of control. It takes courage. I was reminded of this in a great TED talk by Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David, called The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. She's also written a book on this flexibility, called Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.

As I was absorbing this talk, my mind went back to Ayden's picture. I’d had a strong reaction to it initially. With Dr. David’s words running through my head, possible reasons appeared.

In Ayden’s art, I see a pumpkin with two faces in it. One, a regular smiling face. The other, what appears to be a devil in red, also smiling. Both faces are framed together within a single segment of the pumpkin’s rind. Perhaps Ayden feels like he has different things inside one whole. I know I feel that way. There are days when I’m feeling great. And there are days when absolutely everything feels awful and I wish for a “get off this crazy ride” button.

Both his faces are smiling broadly, but very differently. That reminded me of Dr. David’s admonitions on false positivity. In the loss of her father, she described herself as the master of being OK. She wasn’t and hiding it only made it worse. We do that quite a bit, whether we have diabetes or not.

That devil’s grin has teeth.

If we try to smile all the time and simply reply, “I’m OK!” without thinking, we’re lying.  We’re hurting ourselves. We have a huge pile of emotions, none of which are bad. We need to accept them all and be open to what they can teach us about ourselves. To me, Ayden’s picture shows that. Having only just entered double-digit age, he’s depicted a whole person (pumpkin) contains many feelings.

We are complex. Our lives are complex. We can’t hold everything in a certain place.

Dr. David indicates in her talk that many people want feelings to go away. Alas, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” We are not our anger, fear, jealousy or disappointment. Nor are we happy. We feel these emotions and they tell us something about ourselves and situations.

Life’s not all neat and perfect. That’s another thing I like about Ayden’s drawing. He colored within lines but there’s a mix of the real and the imaginary. There’s a corner that maybe should have been green, but is red. The pumpkin is partially blue. He’s added hearts and stars with pencil. Not everything is just simply blocks of color. And why not? Life’s like that. Unpredictable. Pleasure within pain. Growth within change.

Dr. David used the term “tyranny of positivity” to describe our culture today. Let’s loosen its control by embracing flexibility. When we’re feeling sad, it’s good to explore it and its causes. When we’re feeling glad, it helps to look at why. When we’re at our wits’ end, it’s best to admit it and look for steps we can take. We need to face the emotions we’ve come to understand as “bad”, both to ourselves and those around us. As Dr. David concluded,

"Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion and especially the courage to take values-connected steps."

We can all benefit if we do this. In fact, if I had one complaint in Dr. David’s theory, it would be a greater emphasis on the need for us to understand how linked we all are and how we all need to participate. I know so many people who have been reduced to living with this one mantra: “Keep your head down and just get through it.” The “it” can be anything. Sometimes diabetes feels like that. There isn’t even the false positivity to hide behind.

We can (and must) all help each other out. We can all get through more if we do it together.

I’ve been able to understand more things by looking at Ayden’s art and listening to Dr. David’s research, just as I was able to flesh out my messages of support for teachers in Dear Teachers using the images of my friend, Marlene Oswald.

I thank Ayden for his work, both artistic and as a Diabetic Warrior, and his mom for the opportunity to show this in one example and I hope to do more in the days ahead! Stay tuned and keep sending that T1D art (from all ages!) to!