Friday, April 28, 2017

Life Is Interaction

On Being always has though-provoking podcasts. In my spring yard work craze this week, I was able to listen to Krista Tippett’s dialogue with Italian physicist Dr. Carlo Rovelli entitled All Reality is Interaction for the second time and it was even more rewarding than the first. I am anxious to read his book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, which they reviewed.

The very title of the discussion was a revelation to me. Dr. Rovelli’s assertion that life is not about things, it’s about interactions, made me pause to consider. At one level, it made me think of the old physics rules we learned in high school about energy moving from one form to another. We can picture everything as a dance and flow of energy. We expend and receive it all day long. To get to school, we use energy. When we talk, we’re converting calories to what fuels our brain, breathing and muscles.  When we reach out to pat a loved one’s shoulder, again, there’s energy conversion and interaction.

Then, he took it up another notch. He commented that we can either interact as warriors or as collaborators.

Talk about smacking me upside the head with simple truth. I had to set my branch clippers to the side for a minute  in order to sit with that idea for a bit.

Interaction is life. But WE choose HOW.

Why does this excite me?

Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck. Personally, I’ve had times where it’s seemed as though I wasn’t getting anywhere. Dr. Rovelli’s first assertion and proof establishes that life, by definition, is not static. It’s constantly moving. Even a rock, as he puts it, is a rock for only a while. It was in another state before it became a rock and it will decay into something else eventually. His words remind that there is always change, we just might not see it.

Sometimes the world feels excessively competitive and dangerous. From world leaders to us and the folks down the street, interactions can be weighted heavily towards “Me Versus You”. We can sit with “our” people on social media and separate ourselves a hundred different ways from “those people”.

Dr. Rovelli reminds us, using physics as his teaching prop, that the interaction of energy we experience doesn’t have to be that way. The idea that we’re all undergoing a constant flow of energy brings us together. With similar conditions placed upon us all, it makes sense to collaborate.

We should collaborate before we fight.

A kiss. A smile. A discussion. A birth. A death. A meal. A walk. We can’t hold any of these things in our desk drawer. They are interactions between us and everything and everyone around us. Dr. Rovelli’s thoughts challenged me to focus even more on building bridges and connections.

We can achieve so much more by holding hands than holding onto fears.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Gift Exchanges

IMG_20170423_091820.jpgKind of weird to be posting a picture with snowmen on it on this gorgeous Earth Day weekend morning, but I hand-washed this plastic plate after breakfast, and it got me thinking about special efforts and what they do for people.
Effort is a Gift
Both of my sons created plates like this in first grade. It’s no simple task. However, it’s a process that the teachers have willingly worked through every year, doing an incredible job integrating what ends up being a gift to families into a vital portion of the classroom curriculum. Each student is allowed the freedom to adorn theirs as they wish, and each is wrapped in paper that the students fashion by blending straight-out art with various mathematical concepts. In addition, students design, write and carefully attach cards to complete the package.
Little Things Matter
These plates sit in our kitchen cupboard. We don’t use them all the time, but on days like today, they get called on. I like the reminders of how much the boys have grown (thankfully Brennan’s printing and sense of time have both settled into more traditional lines). I also marvel at how some of their life-long characteristics are visible (he still enjoys creating detailed scenes- but perhaps now with more lasers and robotic cats). These plates are great cues to appreciate the genuine nature of our lives.
Spreading What is Held Dear
Our lives are constantly changing. As we dance in and out of schools, jobs, neighborhoods and even larger moves, hopefully we live those opportunities as best we can in real exchange. Another person’s or place’s traditions can become ours for a while, or eventually integrated into our own. Then, we carry it all into our next world, and hopefully share once again.

>We’re the sum of our experiences. Here’s to our lives filled with of a multitude of exchanges, punctuated along the way with sweet tokens like these plates, reminding us how far we’ve come, and who has shared in our journeys.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Self-Directed Living

Students directing their own learning.

We hear about it and talk about it all the time. We plan our days around it. We extol the virtues compared to the days of row-seating and podium-centered classrooms because of its amazing benefits in learning and growth.

What kind of people will our youth end up being and what sorts of experiences will they have over their lifetimes as they are steeped in this mindset from an early age? In my mind, the effects will be both enormously positive and difficult to bear upon occasion.

Until recent decades, our educational culture revolved around an indoctrination system of key tenants (reading, writing, math, etc) until one began to physically mature into adulthood. At that point, large segments moved on to trades and a wide range of employments while others moved on to college, where the remaining individuals were set free to explore the vastness and diversity of thoughts in arts, sciences, mathematics and engineering.  I’m not saying that pre-secondary educational programs were 100% spoon-feeding operations. My own public and private experiences going back to the 1970s included room for creativity and self-expression. The homemade Middle Ages serf costume I created in 6th grade, complete with rags on my feet, is basic evidence of this.

We’ve ramped it up quite a bit since then, however. Earlier and earlier we’re directing our children to spend their days exploring subjects that interest them. Wider and wider is the world view becoming. Students are gaining freedom to design, build and produce products from their own research and their own brains.

It’s heady stuff! I felt compelled to note some of my own thoughts, fears and experiences.

Accelerated Evolution and Divergence of Life Philosophies

Great though it can be, diversity of thought can separate us from those who surround us the most intimately. We’ve always had separations within classrooms and grade levels based upon common interests and goals. It’s easier for this to occur now and it naturally carries over more into home life. There are adults today who voice concerns on how things are being done. Sometimes it’s simply confusion. Other times, there’s an element of disgruntled “That’s not how we did it.” all the way to “I’m not comfortable with my child doing this.”. What excites a child’s mind may not mesh with the traditions and practices of the family, leading to fractures and conflicts. We need to remember this as we move through our interactions with students and the wider society.

On the opposite side, children also have new today to connect with others they would not have had access to in prior times. Therefore, the child with a fascination with the violin or anime can find someone to talk to either in school or online. These connections based on shared interests can bolster a nascent interest and belief in self. “I’m weird.” becomes “I’m not alone.”.

If students are to lead their own learning, we need a framework big enough to catch as many students as possible within a net of safety, support and hope. They will be the leaders of this system soon and by setting them up as best we can, our future is more sure to be successful.

Larger Potentialities for Both Personal Failure and Success

There was a time when you grew up knowing how your work life would turn out. Children mirrored their parents’ roles to a large degree, with small improvements that led to slow-paced advancement in each generation’s means. Families had professions (farming, dentistry, factory jobs, small businesses) that were taken up and passed down to the next generation.

Today, we press for students to decide. We give them as wide a spectrum of options as we can so they can decide what directions they wish to fly. Students from humble beginnings can rise on their drive, creativity and initiative to levels unheard of in their family histories.

However, there is a real fear in our youth and our older workers, that this is a faulty, dangerous dream. Companies and workers no longer hold each other in such high respect that a long-term social contract can be drawn. Opportunities seem held for those with connections, not inventive concepts worthy of investment. Advanced degrees are demanded for even the most basic of positions, further distancing those who stumble or who have minimal means, to being able to flower into self-sufficient members of society.

Anxiety runs high in our world today. We would be wise to discuss this and work with it. How do we ensure that the exploration will lead to a life that can be lived and not one that is lost?

Closer to Star Trek Federation or Annihilation

I confess that I religiously watched Star Trek The Next Generation while in high school and college. I loved the concept of all sorts of beings working together for common benefits and exploring the universe. I could never see how it could actually ever happen in real life, however. The Earth back in the years when this show aired, 1987-1994, was so mired in fears and hostilities between countries, we all feared for this single rock, let alone the cosmos.

This was before the digital age we live in today, where I can chat with someone in South Korea or London instantaneously. We can relate so easily. Students today converse and study together across town, across country and increasingly, around the world. It’s unbelievably exciting. Student-led learning can build bridges which might help make dreams like those Gene Roddenberry had, someday and in some fashion, become a reality.

Unfortunately, the spread of hate and exclusion can move just as fast as the speed of friendship and sharing. Schools need to give time and tools towards concepts of inclusion, how to resist hate and how to excise its power. Culture as a whole needs to pay attention to this. With so much power available, hate and hostility cannot just be left alone to wander where they wish. It could destroy all we hope and work for.

In Hope-filled Summary

We live in a time with more potential than any other. The risks and rewards are equally higher. We can do this. It takes never-ending hope, flexibly working together and always going back to who we’re doing this for in the first place: our children and the future.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wounds & Vulnerability

“Because of the wound, your heart is still dripping with blood.
How could you forgive them?”
Perfect Wife, Episode 5

I read this subtitle line last night and I had to write it down. Today, it brought me back to Brené Brown, PhD, whom I’ve previously thought could be my much smarter and successful pseudo-dopplegänger, because her thought processes seem so like my own. I rewatched her awesome 20-minute 2010 TEDx Houston talk The Power of Vulnerability this morning and found some connections between the two pieces that I’d like to share.

Life beats us up.

If we are at all involved in this crazy and beautiful world, we get bloody as we march through our days. Being involved makes us vulnerable to its vagaries. The more we’re out there, the greater the risks and rewards. What rewards, exactly? As Dr. Brown asserts, connecting is the very reason we’re here.

That involvement makes us feel fear and shame.

When we’re wounded, what is our response? In the Kdrama quote, the character is not dealing well with it. All she can see is the blood: fear and shame. Dr. Brown lists several harmful ways we react to these feelings: numbing our emotions, making the uncertain seem certain, trying to make everything perfect, blaming others and acting like what we do doesn’t really matter.

When we’re left dripping with blood, we desperately want to defend ourselves and show we are right- to be the victor and not a victim. It becomes a battle of “me versus them”. If we wallow in these feelings of fear and shame, as Dr. Brown explains, we fracture our sense of connection with others, making ourselves feel even more victimized. In that ultimate quest for connection- any kind of connection- we may end up in a group caught up in a cycle of perpetuating fear and shame.

Can we empathize instead?

When there’s not a catastrophic emergency in front of us, we can easily acknowledge that we’re all imperfect. We can see that everyone has a history, struggles and conditions in their lives that affect how we react to and deal with events. Can we do the same when we’re dripping in blood? That requires having a strong enough sense of self worth and compassion that we can move our focus from fear and shame towards forgiveness and empathy.

Are we strong enough to be vulnerable?

Forgiving sometimes feels like giving up, and who really wants to do that? The character in the show quote is nowhere near ready to forgive. She carries the burden of blame, regret, retort and defense. She feels vulnerable and is afraid of that fact. We’ll have to see in coming episodes how that weight affects her actions. Will she, like us in many cases, gain strength to have a change of heart?

Vulnerability can be looked at from a different perspective. Showing it proves the very imperfection we all admit to but try to hide, which can bring on those feelings of fear and shame. Alas, as Dr. Brown details, there’s no escaping it: the experience of fear and shame show our vulnerability, which leads to the growth of connection.

What does connection ultimate give us?

If it’s the reason why we’re here, what does it actually do for us? The most well-connected people have a strong sense of self-worth. I liken it to the old phrase of being “comfortable in your own skin”. They feel assured in where they are and what they are doing day-to-day. They appreciate themselves and everyone they feel connected to as they are right now, and are open to dealing with the blood that drips somewhere every moment of every day.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Captains of Our Ships

Alcott (1).jpg

UK Headteacher Hannah Wilson, @TheHopefulHT, posted this quote in a tweet recently. Unafraid of sailing my ship? I used to be terrified: so scared I’d make the wrong move that I didn’t make any moves whatsoever. At least, looking back now it seems that way. In truth, I probably made the moves that I was capable of at the time.

I’m capable of so much more today.

Lately, I’ve been getting kind of weepy at times. OK, I’ll confess to some actual sobs once or twice, even. Why? Because I can perceive how freaking big and beautiful this world is, and I want more. I sense my mortality in one hand and in the other, more connections to people and places than I ever have had before, and it sometimes overwhelms me.

In the quote’s framework, I’m a sea-proven captain at the wheel of my schooner in the midst of a raging gale, howling with laughter as I face the storm. My giddiness battles with fears of losing it all, not fear in experiencing it.

My ship is a quirky one. Many are confused by it or laugh a bit over its route. From many viewpoints, it’s not the most successful of vessels. But it’s mine more and more every day.

I can finally say I’m really learning to sail it.

I’m a late-bloomer. I know people who had a vision in their teens and twenties and haven’t wavered much through the years I’ve known them. I’ve always been jealous of that consistency and frustrated with my own inability to emulate that behavior. I’ve bounced from one thing to the next, immersing myself in the moment but never being able to say, “This is it!”.

While I’m having a blast on my ship, it has a few holes in the hull. Income and medical needs are two that would sink or dry-dock me without the support of others. I’m not alone in that; we all rely on other captains and crafts in this fleet of humanity. It’s critical to do so.

Other captains teach us what they have learned of the seas. They offer suggestions based on their own travels. They sympathize with us and laugh with us. Sometimes we separate as friends and other times as foes. Regardless, it pays to remember they are sailing as we are: imperfectly informed, supplied and equipped. We can acknowledge that even when we disagree with course.

I’m hoping to meet a slew of new captains and their ships in the coming years. Perhaps ones who will help grow my writing career. Others who may help me flesh out ideas on Asian Studies project-based learning at the high school level, connecting youth with experts in music and other arts to create something new and culturally bridge-building. Possibly some will push my ship on a completely different and currently unknown journey. I’m open to it. Not knowing what will happen is part of the fun in traveling.

We shouldn’t be afraid. We each have a different way. How wonderful if we can embrace what is ours and moving toward the sun. It rises and sets, whatever choices we make.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What's Blocking Creativity?

The always-amazing American author and illustrator, Patricia Polacco, posted a link today to’s article “How Society Destroys Your Creativity” and called on us to consider the message behind the short film Alike by Madrid-based animators Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez.

Initially, I felt like the film was an attack on schools and teachers and believed it wasn’t very accurate. For one thing, the makers depict a parent loading a backpack full of books for their child to go to school. My kids are 11 and 13 and haven’t been given an actual textbook to lug, ever. In addition, most educators I know are some of the most forward-thinking, rainbow-of-ideas people I have the pleasure of being acquainted with. My twitter feed is filled daily with creative thoughts and images from educators around the world. We still have a way to go and funding needs to be there to fully realize it, but the interest in and groundwork for creative, project- and problem-based education is so strong I would say many children find going to school exciting today.

Then I thought of the typewriters depicted in the parent’s work and looked again at the film in purely symbolic terms. That’s when a message dawned on me. The article brings it up directly: it’s our entire society.

Childlike Mind

The child can be anyone. Young or old, if you get excited about new people, places and ideas, you possess a childlike mind. This type of mind is a sponge and craves information and explanation. It rests upon trust and hope. In this image, the child is happily imitating a violin player. Typically, children start there. However, in today’s world, the childlike mind often gets attacked and erased by the siloed mind.

Siloed Mindset

This term is from business but in a broader sense, I use it to describe viewing the world narrowly and with distrust. Turn the silo on it’s side and you have tunnel-vision. The adults all look the same, act the same and drive the same vehicles. Anything outside of the definition or “normal” is a problem. The film’s creators decided to depict everyone with a heavy briefcase. In my mind, the briefcases are a stand-in for our smartphones. Our days are spent glued to screens, following and responding to a select number of interests, limiting our perspectives. We complain about their burden, but do little to resist.

We have favorites. We may like some favorites’ favorites. Then it ends. The rest of the world’s amazing stuff becomes invisible. We indoctrinate our children into siloed thinking. They see us from Day 1 absorbing our feeds. We give our children our phones, earlier and earlier. We put them on the same path as we are on.

This truth is made evident when the 2 mindsets in Alike met The Novel Idea.

The Novel Idea

The childlike mind is ecstatic at the discovery of a musician playing beneath a tree. The musician is the novel idea that adds color and texture to the world (this scene is the only visually dynamically area of the film). That childlike mind wants to jump in and full explore this wonder. The siloed mind sees no point, stays on the sidewalk and presses to move on and do “what’s important”.

The Battle

The childlike mind tries to stand its ground. At first, it’s colorful rebellion. The siloed mind even gets some pleasure from that fire (the adult’s color brightens) but fights accepting it as a possible way of living. Having a siloed mind can get you through your days, at least. It’s safer. It’s predictable. Up front, it’s easier to just go along. By being persistent (a key to this mindset), the siloed mindset wins. In winning, everyone gets duller and duller.

The Resolution

I won’t give all the details, but the parent eventually relents and the 2 minds come together under the tree. Who knows how well they get along from there, but during the credits we see the parent and child, now both in strong colors, attempting to extend their influence to others. It’s a call to do the same in our own worlds.

There are no guarantees in this world. Lots of times we have to put our heads down and just get things done. However, there’s such importance in finding some color in our lives. It will enrich us and those around use. The color is contagious. It may be small. It may not seem like much. However, even the brightness of a single flower can be seen and appreciated in a field a gray and may release seeds that spread far and wide.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dream and Bloom


There are days we dream of.

Getting car licenses. That first day of school. That last day of school. The day we get our first paycheck. The day we get the keys to our homes. Our first dates. Our union ceremonies. The day we experience someone or something that we’ve only pictured in our minds. For example...yes, you know I'm going to say it: the BTS concert I just went to.

Our minds paint pictures for us of what could be. We can walk through detailed stories that exist solely within our own heads. And yet, they can feel real and meaningful because of the weight we put into them.

These mental journeys can be helpful. They allow us to have a general plan for how we’ll react in a given situation. They can help us decide what to focus on in our lives. We can stretch the pleasurable feelings by adding anticipation, hope and wild dreams to those Big Days.

And then it’s over.

The world continues to spin and the sun rises and sets. We all basically have less than 30,000 sunrises in our entire lives- if we’re lucky. Those Big Days account for only a handful.

What do we do with the rest of them?

We can very easily slide into a funk after those heady days we’ve longed for have come and gone. We can find ourselves at a loss when routines come back, knocking at our doors, as they always do. However, there’s quite a bit we can do to make the transition easier, however. Personally, I'm not in a funk. It was a great experience and while I'd do it again in a heartbeat, I'm able to move on. I think it can be explained by 3 things I practice in my life.

Celebrate today.

In essence, what we’re trying to do here is reduce the mental distance between “normal” and “Big”. Most of us have loads of pretty average days but that doesn’t mean those shouldn’t be appreciated. Simple moments can be savored and they can become special. Doing what you do with attention can make the most mundane things, like cleaning the living room, a way to show love and to grow. It’s how we treat our average days that define the long-term relationships, careers and overall lives we make for ourselves.

Expand your goal list.

If we pay attention to that day-to-day living, we’ll naturally be able to do bigger and better things for ourselves. For example, by paying attention to what we’re eating we can learn different ways to cook. Learning different ways to cook can bring other people, places and events into our lives. If we really enjoy the music we’re listening to, we might try dancing or exercising to it. Dancing and exercise can increase our energy and mood levels so we can enjoy more music-oriented activities.

Be both inspired and inspiring.

There have been many, many times in my life when I’ve looked at myself as less-than-able. I’ve looked at others in awe and curled up and away from being noticed because I didn’t think my efforts were of value. That’s a really bad practice. If we admire someone, we should emulate the spirit they are showing in our own lives and ways. We should honor their efforts be making our own- whatever that may be. J-Hope wrote this in the lyrics to his song, MAMA (thanks again, BTS-trans!). He sings about how hard his mother worked as he grew up so that he could reach his goals. He declares his gratitude and that what he's doing now will help her moving forward.

That type of cycle (appreciation and effort) can and should be followed by anyone and everyone. By doing so, someday we will be the ones inspiring someone else to step up their own game.

So, if you love singing, sing. If you are inspired by helping children, help children through your job or volunteering. If video gaming or design are your passion, find a way to make that work as a career or hobby. There are no guarantees. Your life will take crazy turns and there will be dark days. However, each sunrise that you get to see is another chance.

A chance to dream, do and eventually bloom.