Thursday, May 16, 2019

Our Collaborative Music

The following is an excerpt from my book about living with type 1 diabetes, Dear Warriors. The biggest gifts I received in writing this book were connecting to others and forcing myself to be more open to my humanity and that of others. The book has art from 12 others with this condition. I referenced several others within my writing as well. Overall, I believe the book became a testament to the universal fact that we're so much more alike than we think and we need each other, no matter what we may say, believe, or do.

We're stronger together.

I saw BTS again this past weekend on their Speak Yourself tour. I met some more amazingly fun and positive fans. My whole family was in Chicago with me, and we all experienced seeing and being within thousands of ARMY throughout the city. So many different people and yet...connected. My husband said he has a new respect for and comfort with the BTS fandom- it wasn't what he expected.

We weren't what he had assumed.

I think we all make that mistake a lot in life. We make assumptions. We grasp onto fears. We hide in ignorance. It's "safe" but we can all also make efforts every day to be more collaborative. Whether big or small- we can do more and live better if we take the risk to share our personal music.

Let me show you...


Artist: Natalie Force, 15
Age at diagnosis: 14

Title: You’re Not Alone

“When I was first diagnosed, I struggled with how alone I felt. I constantly felt that no one knew what it felt like to go through this. It soon became clear that many people are going through this every day of their lives. I realized I’m not fighting these demons alone and I never will fight them alone. The inspiration for my drawing came from how scared I felt in the beginning, to how I feel now knowing I can overcome this obstacle that life has thrown me.”


“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”
- Lao Tzu, Philosopher

To me, my soul is the part of me that connects me to others. It’s akin to the spirit I talk about through this book. When I care for someone or something, my soul is involved. Art, pets, people, and places: when we feel that deep sense of linkage, our soul is touching the soul of that other. That’s how I see it, anyway.

Sometimes, we don’t feel that connection. Natalie’s image does a great job depicting what that feels like. Here, she shows people with T1D, including herself front and center, in carefully drawn detail and frozen flat-footed by the situation they find themselves in, whereas everyone else around them continues with their own lives, seemingly oblivious. She furthers that theme of disconnection by showing every single character, Diabetic Warrior or not, going about their business…alone. Everyone is alone. Natalie has illustrated that very “solitary warrior syndrome” that I say is not the only option we have when we consider the Warrior term.

From the Lao Tzu quote, one soul can speak outward to be heard. The reverse is true as well: we can open to the universe’s music, and our souls will be nourished and restored.

From what Natalie’s mom has told me of her and her diagnosis, of the three parts of ourselves that I’ve outlined, Natalie lived actively in her body before T1D. She has excelled as an athlete. Physical talent and a bright personality can allow easy entrance into this other part of ourselves: that community and spirit. Disrupt the confidence in and performance of that body side, and you might find yourself experiencing a plunge of the spirit: alienation. I see that in Natalie’s tears, her worried face and the Blue Circle, the “universal symbol for diabetes”, above each Diabetic Warrior’s head. Marked. Different. Alone. She drew the other Diabetic Warriors with small smiles as if they were somewhat comfortable- more so than she felt. Why? Perhaps she believed they had the condition longer and were more comfortable with it and what it takes to deal with T1D even as they still appear alone.

Natalie portrays a range of alienation levels between self and other. I’m proposing in this book that we all have a spiritual component that can take hits but also grow, therefore we have another bond with each other instead of a divider. Alopecia. Fibromyalgia. Cancer. Race. Religion. Gender. Sexual orientation. Eating disorders. Those dealt physical and mental trauma. All these life factors can tear and destroy. And yet, I’ve known people with struggles within all these areas and have been awestruck by how some have handled their lives. These are Warriors with songs we can all learn from.

Each condition affects how we identify ourselves and how we relate to others. These variables alter our music: we feel it, and others see it. Sometimes what we face deepens and richens our song of life. Sometimes it causes strife and off chords develop. The wild oscillations can become unbearable noise. If we consider these truths and apply those details to the various shadowy figures in Natalie’s picture, their vagueness disappears like fog burned by the hot summer sun. Those faceless masses become companion Warriors, each with circumstances, each needing others and what they possess. We are different, but also the same.

Lao Tzu described music as being in the soul. What if we say that music is our soul? Each person has a song deep within, including notes of struggle. Those songs are audible to the world if we share them. That’s key: if we share them. If we do, the world’s chorus can fold those tunes into the overall score and we can all benefit from the net effect. We can. We should. We must.

By doing that, as Natalie described, “It soon became clear that many people are going through this every day of their lives.” I believe Natalie’s eyes will soon dry enough for her to sing her song loud and proud as time marches on.

The athlete within Natalie taught me a lesson. On sports teams like those she plays in, each player has a different role and needs to display various skills. The same applies to the world full of Warriors. We all do better by bringing ourselves and our talents together. Both before and after my T1D diagnosis, I’ve undergone that drifting alienation that Natalie has depicted in her drawing. By receiving this image (and all the others in this book), reading the attached messages, and sitting with it all, I’ve also experienced an example of the opposite of alienation and apathy: empathy. I felt her music resonate with mine. I’ve sensed our spirits touch. When we build identification like that, we can keep moving forward. That touching is what gets us through our dark times.

When we don’t feel alone, we have hope. With hope, almost anything’s possible! 

It all comes down to connections. We each need exposure to different songs, and the world needs to hear ours, too. Where? How? It depends. Things like family, friends, religions, special events, personal interest groups, social media and professional organizations are a few. And we can’t sit on the sidelines while we’re there. We must actively participate to feed our souls. Are we going to a concert? Let’s introduce ourselves to those around us. Do we have a medical condition? Let’s speak clearly and calmly without embarrassment and look for comrades-in-arms. Are we attending a family event? Let’s really be with the family and not just merely suffer their presence or hide our true selves. Are we traveling? Let’s earnestly move within that new place and interact with its people. By doing these things, we may gain new friends, appreciations, and songs.

Shared meals, art, events, stories, and time bridge the gap between us and the “other”. Touching other spirits, we can begin to see we’re part of one big music-filled dance instead of single notes scattered across an empty keyboard.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Looking Up in Hope

My son took this photo on Friday when we went for a walk in the woods. We’re definitely seeing more sunlight and feeling its effects. Those birdsongs of spring warm the soul just as much as that burning orb warms our bodies and minds.

It all inspires hope.

Hope, like this photo, speaks of looking up. Up, or perhaps the proper word choice is “out”. Without hope, we close ourselves off and protect whatever we feel is on our inside. We exist. I’ve felt a lot of that in recent months. I actually didn’t even realize how closed-off I’d become until a door opened. A door I’d given up on and had to be shown was there.

We exist in any number of permutations of our selves over time. Every decade of life can bring a host of variables that alter the how’s, where’s, why’s, what’s, and who’s of our daily living. Those variables fuel the forge that melts us into what we are. The forge never quits until our final quenching.

Time alters us.

It can force us to shut parts of our selves off as we seek to survive. Those abandoned parts shrivel and rot like apples left on a tree as winter hits. We push them even farther away as we seek pleasure in the things we do have in our lives. We don't want reminders.

If we’re lucky, we can still have a good life. It’s just different than what we had imagined.

What happens if a time comes when that old place of wonder and delight is again at our doorstep? Can we see the opportunity? Do we risk opening that door? Can we walk into that realm again, but as the person were are today? We may need help to see the promise of potential that’s maybe- just maybe- within our reach. If we can accept that there's a future we can help mold.

We need help to look up. To hope.

That’s where I am right now. I know the person I was. I know I’ve gained a ton of perspective and experiences over the years but I’m still trying out this idea of looking up. It’s tempting, but I’m also afraid. I'm tiny. I wonder if I should just keep my head down and leave it all to someone else. I worry I’ll just take an opportunity away from someone else if I step forward.

But the birds are singing. The sun is warming. The sky is calling.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Before Mindfulness With Mindfulness

I bet some people still look at the term “mindfulness” as a joke and consider the practice a waste of time.

An article in today’s KQED Mind/Shift newsletter caught my eye: How Making Time for Mindfulness Helps Students. From my experience, mindfulness cultivates grounding, leading to a sense of peace and a reduction in how anxious I feel.

It’s extremely windy here today. Winds like these want to keep things stirred up; they work to pull and twist things out of place. I like the contrast. Our inner world and outer reality can feel just as wild as this windstorm- even wilder.

The KQED article does a great job outlining some keys to successfully putting mindfulness into practice in a school setting. It even mentions the need for staff to have “buy in”. For anyone who agrees with the first sentence I wrote, I’m hoping to increase your buy-in.

To begin, not everyone has the luxury of practicing mindfulness. If you’re reading this, you probably do.

Living paycheck-to-paycheck. Unexpected expenses. Overwhelming debts. Overdraft fees. Payday loans. Chronic medical conditions. Eviction. Loss of utilities. Unemployment. Fear of unemployment. Underemployment. Violence. Bills. Accidents. Hunger. Addictions. Isolation.

People who live with several of these (and other) types of pressures on a daily basis exist everywhere. These are windstorm generators and no one is immune. Some people experience more due to the choices made by others. You yourself may feel drawn to one or more of them.

Imagine being a child with these types of fears surrounding you every day. That’s a big part of the push for mindfulness in schools. Without other options, survival instincts can lead to choices that include lashing out, withdrawing, hiding in past times, making excuses with generalizations, or practicing self-harming behaviors that begin by “feeling good”. Everything we adults do to survive, our children will try.

I’m looking out at all the broken branches littering the snow-crusted ground. I hear the winds moaning outside, wildly whipping the bushes and skeletal trees. But I don’t feel the cold, because I am safe inside a warm house. I’m wearing woolen socks so my toes are toasty and my hands are warm on the keyboard. I smell the coffee still in my mug and the lingering smoky trail of bacon from this morning’s breakfast. I can smile at these truths.

That last paragraph is a bit of mindfulness. It’s what is now (whether I like it or not) and what I have now. It’s an appreciation. From there, I can consider beyond. 

Why bother?

From What's Under Your Cape
Survival instincts can hurt both ourselves and others. They can blind us to others’ pains and to other options that could help everyone involved. We’re capable of so much goodness. We have to be open to working through the roughness, though. These are things that must be noticed, taught, and learned again and again.

How much are we really suffering? How many gifts do we really have? What other options might be out there for us? Who can we go to for help? Who can we reach out to in order to help? These are the types of questions we can answer by using mindfulness instead of simply surviving. If we’re capable of it, we should try.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Abilities, Choices, and Opportunities

It’s February 10 and I’m writing for the first time in months. I turned the writing spigot off back in October after I published Dear Warriors. Why? I was drained. I felt flat and dead in all three parts of the self that I had tended to and examined so carefully for that book: my body, mind, and spirit were all numb.

Now, in the coldest and (subjectively) most ugly part of the year, the exciting urge to tap the keys has awakened once more. Why? An idea has been turning in my head. 

We’re all what and where we are in life right now because of three key things: our abilities, our choices, and our opportunities.

I’d like to use this clove of garlic as an example. We received several heads from one of my husband’s coworkers, who grew and harvested their crop last year. These bulbs have enhanced several family meals with their hearty flavor and bite. But this week, I found this clove had begun to sprout and even tiny knobs of roots are bulging from the bottom.

Without proper planting in soil and a supply of light and water, this clove’s attempts at becoming another garlic plant are doomed. It has a certain amount of food and life inside it- some ability to grow- but its “decision” to sprout will not end up being successful within the environment it is currently located.

We can look at ourselves as garlic cloves. We each have some abilities. We each can make choices. However, there are factors beyond us that inevitably affect those internal truths: the opportunities we have and are given by others change what we are today and who we will become down the road.

In today’s news, a lavish birthday fete for a one-year-old has led some to feel bad about themselves and their situations in comparison. That child has found itself in that environment and their life will be influenced by it. What they will do with it is yet to be seen. There are others who we feel have great abilities, but waste them with choices like taking drugs or propagating -isms that harm both themselves and those around them. Then, there are those who rise up through extreme effort, capitalizing on what they do have talent-wise, with the help of others who support them in their quests. (Yes, BTS, I’m thinking of you, your teams, and your 18.3 Million ARMY fans around the world, including myself.)

Abilities. Choices. Opportunities.

So, for those who argue that “you can do anything with enough effort”, I say that we still need others’ help and enough talent to get it done. For those who think “some people are just [insert slam here]”, I say it’s possible there’s a choice factor, but we can also help or hinder them. As in my garlic example, the garlic is trying to grow, is it not?

That garlic didn’t just happen nor did it call itself into being. It needed its progenitor. It needed a farmer. It needed time. It needed the sun. It needed water. It needed soil. My family needed all that to happen in order for us to enjoy our meals as we have, too.

It’s all connected. We’re connected. We’re stronger together with our choices, abilities, and opportunities.

It’s not easy seeing life that way. But, it’s the closest thing to truth that I’ve found to date.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Mountain That Was 2018...With a free excerpt from my book!

Here’s my Twitter profile, where I declared my intentions for 2018 as the new year began.

I wanted to write about my passions: type 1 diabetes, health care, mental health, and K-pop. Such a weird combination, I know. But, it’s who I found myself to be and I wished to be true to that self. I also did not wish to work in a vacuum. I craved learning from others and sharing that wacky self of mine with the world.

How did I do?

I wrote 32 entries on Verbostratis, which totals at least 8,000 words. I also published my second book, Dear Warriors, which came in at just under 35,000. In addition, I closed out the year of reflections on Dear Teachers in June with 21 blog entries on that blog, which would add another 5,000 words.

Seems like quite a bit of writing, but that is significantly less than 2017. However, there are connections I made in personal writing that aren’t reflected in these figures. I asked many people for help in developing Dear Warriors. I shared and listened, which was something I wanted to focus on this year.

I still feel pretty darn insignificant, though. I can see more clearly how incredibly tiny I am in this world and confess that my marketing efforts tanked completely in the last half of the year as my confidence sunk. I talked a lot, but do not have much to show for it. The relationships I started this year, especially those with the artists in Dear Warriors, are the real gems of my year. Professionally, however, I failed: selling 4 books total on Amazon in 2018.

So, my mental health took some blows. My writing efforts ceased after I hit the “publish” button on Dear Warriors in October. Life’s financial requirements drove me to search for and find an hourly wage once again. Part of me is incredibly grateful to have once again found a means for a steady income of sorts and a chance to learn in a new environment. Part of me is sad that my writing dreams appear to have shriveled and blown away, more than likely forever.

There are now 7.7 billion of us on Earth, most in the same boat as me. Many are in far worse straits. I remind myself that happiness can be felt by anyone at any moment right alongside the other less pleasant emotions we have. It’s not necessarily connected to wealth, health, or status, but it is linked to a sense of connection. We suffer when we feel alone.

That brings me to my overarching goal for 2018: exploring the statement “We are stronger #together”. My efforts in Dear Warriors raised my belief and understanding that we must be with one another in order to flourish. Whether we like it or not, or see it or not, we need each other. Educator @ChristieNold recently pointed out in a Twitter thread that she has struggles picking battles, as suggested by @ValeriaBrownEdu. They are immersed in cultivating social justice and a future with a better framework via the Education world. While we differ in the details of what we do, they are Warriors by my side as I am at theirs.

To me, “together” also means around the globe, thus my heart and 3-part globe emojis. My interest in Korean culture continued through the year. I didn’t make it to any Kpop concerts, unfortunately. However, I did continue studying the language, foods, music, and current events. I can’t relate to it all, but I can see things I can connect to. That gives me hope.

My 2019? I just want to witness. I want to simply be and do in love and hope. Together.

Please enjoy the following excerpt from my book, Dear Warriors. I think it does a good job of depicting my view on what we face (whether we have type 1 diabetes or not) and how we’re together. As in all my work, I’ve added a reflection at the end for you as the reader to use if you wish.


“The man who moves a mountain
begins by carrying away small stones.”
- Chinese Proverb

Of the 7.5 billion or so people on the planet today, I’d say my life registers a “5” on a 1-10 scale of success. I’m better off than many and not as well as some. I’ve done nothing of any real consequence: I have no parks or animal species named in my honor. However, when I’m grounded in confidence, I can feel good reflecting on what my story has been up to now.

This quote talks of carrying away stones, implying the mountain is an obstacle to be destroyed. I want to stretch that idea a bit. Mountains exist both before and after us. They can be impediments, monuments, or both. We Warriors can take a raw challenge (the original mountain), and through effort, we can transform it into something that is ours. Something we can point to with pride.

We make a new mountain. The mountains that exist today are the product of many Warriors’ yesterdays. As an example, consider the fight for civil rights in the United States. It’s a series of challenges and achievements over time that is still slowly progressing.

For a second example, let’s look at the world of music today. Pick an artist you enjoy. That artist may be cutting edge, but their art is built upon that of other musicians near and far. No musician is without muses or inspirations. I know of a heavy metal band out of New Dehli, India called Bloodywood. Listening to their music, one can pick out several Western metal genres, but their Indian lyrics, themes, and instruments shine through. They incorporated a group of dancers in one music video, adding an almost Korean pop vibe. Inspiration flows in all directions; songs coming out of The United States and Europe today have flavors from around the world, as well. These are mountains morphing, splitting, and merging again and again.

Sometimes we may argue that we haven’t moved anything; there are no mountains or note-worthy accomplishments in our lives. However, they are there if we look: friendships built, art created, parties hosted, transportation provided, medical milestones reached, children nurtured, and careers led.

Mountains can be moved and formed by individuals or groups. Therefore, my mountains aren’t necessarily yours (but they could be) and yours could be insurmountable by me or, on the flip side, built with the help of others, like me.

Our mountains move with day-to-day effort. For Diabetic Warriors, the small stones include regularly checking our blood sugar, eating well and exercising. Staying hydrated and finding time for things we enjoy are also stones, as is sharing our stories. When we do these things regularly, we’ll move a ton of gravel. Acknowledging those daily accomplishments allows us to wake up the next morning, revved up for another day where we can move even more.

This work we do isn’t very glamorous many times. It can be tedious or even painful. However, it’s part of every life. It’s hard. It’s valuable. It’s respectable. Our active living moves, builds, and reforms reality for ourselves and others. How can I be certain? I have seen it repeatedly in my life and those of many others, from classrooms to cubicles. Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption is an example of this, too.

Let’s not be blind to the pebbles. Let’s not forget the importance of those stones that make up our living. It’s a huge accomplishment and worthy of recognition. We don’t necessarily want to build these mountains, especially when it is based on a subject like our medical conditions or fighting for social justice. There are days we cringe at the mere idea of another day moving rock. However, these mountains are ours to claim as monuments to our efforts.

We’ve earned every stone.

REFLECTION: I’m proud of this. It’s big to me. I’ve built or I’m building…: