Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Frisson: A Crossroad of Body, Mind & Spirit

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Do you ever get goose bumps from music or movies?

When performing or simply appreciating an art, many people experience something called “frisson”: seconds-long thrills up one’s spine that can also result in cutis anserina, AKA goose bumps.

Jason Daley posted a great article in Smithsonian Magazine in 2016 summarizing research done on the subject, titled What Happens in the Brain When Music Causes Chills?. He also referenced an interesting piece written by PhD candidate Mitchell Clover, who studied under Dr. Amani El-Alayli at Eastern Washington University, titled Why do only some people get ‘skin orgasms’ from listening to music? in The Conversation.

So? What’s so big about “frisson”?

Frisson is a French word for “thrill”. In this context, it’s the thrill of excitement. When it seems like life is all about our problems, worries and what we lack, frisson can bring back a sense of awe and wonder. It can connect us to others and our true selves- what really thrills us. To me, that’s huge.

Art by definition is aesthetic. Sure, there is a concrete object (a painting, music score, video, book, etc), but that thing’s purpose is to affect the mind and spirit of the person receiving and interacting with it. Chills and goose bumps prove that art also directly affects the body.

Hmmm...connections between body, mind and spirit. Sounds familiar. And important.

Other causes of goose bumps include uncomfortably cold temperatures or when we become frightened. Why do these 3 different stimuli lead to the same body reaction? Those little bumps on your skin are a reminder of how it all connects. Our minds. Our bodies. Our spirits. Within ourselves but also with others’ minds, bodies and spirits. That's a key. They may be separate, but yet they can work together in a flow. I wrote of this in Boxes.

When things work together, they build to something beyond the parts.

What art gives you that thrill?

If it’s been a while, go out and live it again! Dance. Read. Observe. Craft. Perhaps it’s time to find something new that will get that electricity flowing. Whether you get goose bumps or not, we all benefit from soaking in artistic expression. Artists need audiences. Audiences need artists. We all develop in the process of performance and immersion.

I was reminded again of the immensity of artistic talent and expression in the world this week when I caught episode 23 of  Fantastic Duo 2, a Korean show for amateur singers who compete to sing with a professional. Just like similar US shows, it’s a joy to see the skills that exist out there at this very moment. It’s a goose bump wonderland. It reminds us of the beauty and potential in life.

I took this essay’s illustration photo while listening to Taeyang’s Eyes, Nose, Lips (OK, maybe I did hum along on the chorus line, too). I get goose bumps quite often- not surprising since I love to live in my head, to visualize, and to imagine connections and possibilities. Those activities, according to Mitchell Clover’s article, appear to increase your odds of experiencing frisson and goose bumps.

Taeyang may do nothing for you, but from Bach to Adele to Iron Maiden, there’s tingle-inducing art for all, if we look. Right now, I can picture you doing a search, hitting play and sitting back to enjoy something, with a smile on your face.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

I Heart Failure

Failure? Really? Don’t we want to gloss over that and talk about success??

Failure: (noun) lack of success; a falling short
Resilience: (noun) an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
(from: Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2017.)

I have meant to write about failure for a few weeks. Then, I found a 2015 article from Ross Morrison McGill’s Teacher’s Toolkit on resilience, titled Resilience Assembly, reposted on Twitter. I thought the piece offered some great advice as well as funny (but effective) visual tools. I especially loved Tom Sherrington's caricatures of student-types. I could see that it would all make great tie-ins to my main topic of failure.

My abs are really hurting me as I sit here typing this. I blame the pain and my need to talk about failure on Ben Booker and his Live to Fail workouts. Blame and thank.

More people are starting to embrace the need to fail. Ben takes it as a requirement to living. What does that really mean?

I wrote a bit about how this relates in education in my blog post Serendipity, where we ended up with the statement: Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn, but either way, you cannot lose.

The old word “lose” is moved in that action statement. You win or learn. You only lose when you do nothing. You have to bounce back. Be resilient.

Quoting Teacher’s Toolkit, 10 phrases to teach or promote resilience are:

  1. “Come on, laugh it off!”
  2. “Don’t let this spoil everything.”
  3. “Let’s take a break!”
  4. “Who have you spoken to about this?”
  5. “I know it looks bad now but you will get through this.”
  6. “What can you learn from this so it doesn’t happen next time?”
  7. “Don’t worry – relax and see what happens!”
  8. “This isn’t the end of the world.”
  9. “You could be right. But have you thought about … ”
  10. “What can we do about this?”

Ben’s muscle-building routine demands you work a muscle until it fails- where both the mind and body can no longer respond. Muscle grows under such controlled stress. The same goes for us. If we have and cultivate resiliency, we can reach higher and higher levels of body, mind and spirit.

Each person can develop a different formula to keep going based on their personality type. As described in Resilience Assembly, teachers can use different encouragements according to the student that is struggling. “Let’s take a break!” “This isn’t the end of the world.” “What can we do about this?” “Don’t worry – relax and see what happens!”

Let’s remember to turn those encouragements on ourselves and demand them from others, as well. “You could be right. But have you thought about … ” “What can you learn from this so it doesn’t happen next time?” “Come on, laugh it off!” “Don’t let this spoil everything.”

Do some of those seem like they wouldn’t work in the adult world? If they do, we’re not doing enough to embrace the need for, or impossibility of avoiding, failure. If we can’t apply these sentences to our everyday world, from personal to professional and on to societal, we’ll not reach out as far as we could. We’ll try to protect ourselves to the exclusion of real growth and change.

I titled this essay “I Heart Failure”. Despite myself wanting it to be different:

I see that failure is at the heart of everything.

I’d love to be perfect. I’d love to never screw up. But the only way for that to happen is if I just stop doing anything. That’s not really living. By embracing failure, our hearts can grow. We can experience more. We can do more. We can be more.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Candy-Sweet Recharge

After a brief hiatus, my interest in Korean Pop is coming up again in my writing today. But trust me, there’s a universal point that applies, even if KPop isn’t necessarily your cup of tea...yet. ;-)

2017 has been a colorful and trippy one in the Kpop scene. The images & moods in a number of music videos and albums this year can only be described as fantastical, near-blindingly opulent, sugary and/or intensely sassy.

The September 2017 release by BTS of their comeback album Love Yourself- Her and specifically the first music video for the track DNA, is the latest case in point. DNA is populated with surprising perspectives and kaleidoscopes of costumes, scenery, melody & dance moves.

EXO’s July 2017 Ko Ko Bop is another example. While the two songs’ messages differ vastly, both rely heavily on EDM and surreal visual clips richly painted in palettes of bright colors. You want to be in the Ko Ko Bop world, despite the presence of mullets.

The cover art for Red Velvet’s album, The Red Summer, also released in July, is decked out as an otherworld fruity rainbow wonderland, complete with a watermelon sky, blue pineapple trees and an orange-slice sun. Tamar Herman wrote of the album, including the MV for “Red Flavor”, in her Billboard article Red Velvet Offers a Taste of Summer With 'Red Flavor' Song & Video: Watch and described Red Flavor as a bright summer track. I know I have personally enjoyed working out to it since its release.

NCT 127’s song, Cherry Bomb, released in June 2017, takes a much harder edge musically but it’s splashed with cartoons (including cherries) and lyrics that harken back to children’s rhymes ("If you’re happy and you know it…") While their overall clothing choices are darker than others this year, they too are heavily soaked with saccharine tones of pink and purple.

Towards the end of the video, there’s some imagery of a military chopper and ammunition that I believe may hint at what all these songs might be trying to go against. This is my own opinion, but I wonder if this wave has formed, at least in part, because of all that is going on in the world. From politics to natural disasters, 2017 has been intense everywhere. Dressing in angsty styles and presenting videos with similar tension just doesn’t seem helpful or desired right now.

The messages in these songs aren’t hollow or simple. They range from believing in yourself, to living your life fully, to standing up proudly despite the odds. Youth today all over the globe are dealing with unheard-of-before extremes in all facets of their lives: school, bullying, jobs, drugs, racial problems, violence, etc. In trying to cope, going for pure colors and unicorn-world fantasies is an understandable choice.  Summer is over now, but we’re still seeking its brightness and warmth.

To me, in light of the realities we all must face, that’s a totally OK choice in order to recharge. I’d even put sprinkles on it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hopes and Opportunities

Today, I am sharing an essay from my book, Dear Teachers, which is available at and From the beautiful pictures of Marlene Oswald, I wrote messages to educators of my own life struggles and understandings in the hopes that they might help others in their own. I made writing space for the reader to connect because I think we all have things to share- we’re together.


Sometimes, I open my eyes in the morning feeling more tired than when I closed them the night before. My feet ache, my ankles crack and my knees pop as I stumble down the hall, seeking the healing warmth that is my morning joe.
I hear Time ticking. It all reminds me that nothing lasts forever. I can no more forever hold back the ravages of time as I can see the universe in a single glance. But I can be OK with that. I can still have hope and take opportunities.
Hope is feeling an empty page is an opportunity for a new tale or seeing a barren field as tomorrow’s harvest. Hope is what powers that step off the porch for the last time, turning our backs on one dream to begin a journey toward another. There can be more.
Both the veteran educator and the newbie can fall short. Whatever the cause, reality sometimes strips us bare despite our best efforts and plans. Yet, we can still have hope. We can take another chance.
We must remember a truth of all human life: what we have built will stand in some way, shape or form. What we’ve even tried to build will live on in another’s memory or their future discovery. The rusted fence may no longer hold back the wilds of nature or retain the builder’s fortunes, but it still stands. It is. It can be. Something. The life-giving windmill still sings a song, although today it may be a completely different tune and to an entirely different listener. It just needs an ear to hear it.
There is always pain. There is always discord. Yet, there is also always hope and opportunity.

Free photo Notebook Page Fountain Pen Paper Pen Note - Max Pixel

Reflections on Hope: Who, what and where are my own hopes and my opportunities?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In Our Classroom. In Our World?

This great visual popped up on my Twitter feed this week. Thank you, Susan Zanti! These are powerful statements of living.

In our classroom:

We respect each other.
We try our best.
We are a team.
We learn from our mistakes.
We create.
We celebrate each other’s success.

With lightning speed, I saw a substitution I wanted to make. That I needed to make. That I wondered if I COULD make or SHOULD make it.

If “In our classroom”, then why not “In our world”?

We respect each other.

I don’t have to agree with the person next door or on the other side of the world. However, I can acknowledge their right, just as much as my own, to live and be in ways they see fit. I can choose to not judge or compare. I recall a phrase I found somewhere: “With harm to none, let it be.” I began my book, Dear Teachers, with a call to do just that each school year.

We try our best.

In my essay Yearn, Embrace & Try, I talked of the power in believing in the word YET. My garden may be a mess while another’s is gorgeous lines and perfect symmetry. I may not have much, but I own it by trying. If my mindset is that, I can lay my head on the pillow at night knowing I worked hard and tried my best. I can sleep the sound sleep of the honorable and try again come dawn.

We are a team.

Everyone on the planet is on the same team. We’re all human. We all love our families and friends. We all eat. We all breathe. We all seek a place and sense of belonging. In May, I wrote of this in I Need Somebody, the inspiration of which I later discovered is as an actual song lyric line of Kwon Ji Yong's (G-Dragon’s) June 2017 song, Super Star. Certainly, there are differences of perspective, appearance and orientation, but we go back to our first guiding principle for that: we respect each other.

We learn from our mistakes.

Oh, how we botch things up. We yell. We screw up. We get upset. We go down the wrong road. We’re misled. We get scared and lie. We tear down what we have desperately tried to build or become.

All those things are how we become bigger, stronger and smarter. One of my most popular posts was all about this: Stronger By Falling. Errors can’t (and shouldn’t) be avoided. What we have today won’t be perfect. Nor will it be tomorrow. But it will be better than before if we’re following those first 3 principles: if we respect and try as a team.

We create.

So, we have a catastrophe on our hands: what do we do? We roll our sleeves up and create some solutions. We design. We build. We revise and do it again. If we respectfully work together and try our best, we get that forward momentum working in our favor. Humanity has a creative potential that has given us everything from rich wool sweaters to the Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, and the fount is not drained dry yet.

We celebrate each other’s success.

Why grumble over another person’s success? If we’re not comparing ourselves to others, if we’re living our own lives following our own ideals, we should be content. As a corollary to the principle of us all being on the same team, when another succeeds, we all can move forward from what they have achieved. The successful one, in turn, will share his/her gifts because they understand they do and are nothing alone.

In our classroom. In our world?

How many of these 6 tenets apply to our lives today? How often are we adults following these classroom guidelines?

I’ve struggled with this imbalance for a long time. How do we have these 6 beautiful action statements for our children and then as adults, we have locked-in viewpoints? We don’t prize a sense of wonder. We see “us” and “them”. We make do and try to look “good, right and proper” at all times.

We have a term to describe living with inconsistent thoughts, beliefs and attitudes: cognitive dissonance. It’s rampant today, but it’s not hopeless. Yet. If it was inevitable, we wouldn’t see these posters from teachers and others going up on the walls and our Twitter feeds.

If we see value in these 6 statements of belief and action and if we truly believe in their worth, we need to adopt them fervently.

Educators are on board. The adults in the classrooms already see the benefit of operating under these notions. Some other individuals and organizations work under these premises everyday and many more are open to it. These folks need to jump in more. We need more visibility and advocacy. It’s the community populations, community leaders, corporation leaders, and national and international political & thought leaders who all need to affirm their buy-in and commit to framing our systems around these ideals.

In our world:

We respect each other.
We try our best.
We are a team.
We learn from our mistakes.
We create.
We celebrate each other’s success.

If they are empty words, these posters lose their value. We can just forget these notions and give our children guides that will at least be honest representations of the lives they can expect. They can see the hypocrisy anyway.

Personally, I side with the posters of things like In Our Classroom. We’re stronger #together.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Skill, Will & Thrill

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Monsta X at Rosemont Theatre, Chicago 2017

I found an interesting article on NPR’s MindShift by Katrina Schwartz called How Do You Know When a Teaching Strategy is Most Effective?. She discusses work by John Hattie, who builds rankings to hone in on what are best (and worst) influences on student outcomes. What really interested me was what Dr. Hattie said of students: they bring 3 important things to the learning table: skill, will and thrill.

Wow. Those 3 words vibrated inside me for their implications for us all.


Natural talent? It’s rare. If you’re lucky enough to find something quickly that you’re good at, great. In most cases, however, we learn skills over time. It’s the whole reason behind schools, apprenticeships, mentorships- even libraries and museums. We all need to absorb information, process it, and then work on applying it.

This truth requires something of us, though. We all must develop a comfort with screwing up. Both in the doing and in the embracing of the process in others.


Have you ever felt the flush of shame at not doing something correctly? Have you felt like you want to climb in a hole to avoid the laughter and derisive comments of others? Have you ever decided to not participate in something because of your fear you’d fail or be on “the losing side”?

In my opinion, we do a very poor job at accepting failure in ourselves and others. We’re starting to, but we have a long way. I love how fitness professional Ben Booker drills the phrase “Live to Fail” in his workout videos over and over again. He looks great now, but he recounts how he hit “rock bottom” and only grew when faced with utter adversity and failure. One can take comfort in that idea. It can give us the will to go on.

How do we build our willpower? Not only does our culture need to embrace failure as a normal part of growing and we need to welcome it for ourselves as well, we need excitement. We need…


I asked some hard questions before. How about some more positive ones: Have you ever felt you were a part of team that could reach a goal? Have you ever had an idea that kept you up at night with excitement over the prospect of achieving? Has your whole being suddenly and completely lit up with a flash of insight?

If you’re not interested in something, or don’t know the “Why” behind it, determination and skill will only get you so far. Your body and mind might be geared up, but if the spirit is dead, results will be mixed at best. Anyone can (and should) get pumped by a challenge to overcome IF they feel some ownership and IF they feel a real potential to succeed. We need to cultivate our thrill factors to keep ourselves involved in the game, so to speak.

How? We need to put it all together.

Yes, here I go again, bringing up that T word: together. But here’s the thing. If I sit on an island alone somewhere, I have that island’s worth of potential success with my own skill, will and thrill. If I look to the world, though, I have the WORLD of skills to tap into. I have the WORLD of wills to help support my efforts. I have the WORLD of thrills to witness and experience. And they have mine.

Which could have a bigger or better outcome?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Yearn, Embrace & Try

I wrote the above tweet on August 16, 2017, inspired by Barbara Gruener, the author of What's Under Your Cape?: Superheroes of the Character Kind. Her blog has amazing education and mindfulness resources, including links to her book. We traded books over the summer and has unofficially mentored me- of which I am very grateful.

The idea of working with “YET” in school is very common today. “I can’t do that kind of math” becomes “I can’t do that kind of math...yet!”, for example. In her blog, Barbara took the word and broke it down into powerful action words: Yearn. Embrace. Try. Those 3 words sparked a quick Twitter-friendly poem from me which I’ve now put into an image for today’s illustration.

I yearn.

I don’t know everything and I don’t know how to do everything. Let’s embrace that. It’s fairly easy to tell someone else that we’re all a work in progress. It becomes a bit harder to admit that we ourselves don’t have all the answers.

I can embrace.

Despite what I lack, I won’t run away and hide. This is another hard one to embrace. It’s so much easier to stick with what we know. Many of us grew up believing we have to be “the best” and to not run the risk of showing weakness by stretching ourselves. We need to be OK with nervous butterflies in our stomachs. The concept of “YET” feeds into that. It reminds us that we have both a right and responsibility to grow. I should embrace learning something new.

I can try.

If I put some effort into it, I may LEARN to be able to do that math. Or get closer to it. I have a duty to at least reach out and try. I should do it proudly, without fear. Why? To show ourselves and others that Fear shouldn’t run the show of our lives. That big mountain of impossibility called Fear can loom up in front of any and all of us, at any given moment. With practice and help from others, we can rise up against it and build something good.

We’re yearning, embracing and trying TOGETHER.

This concept is for us all. Whether it's hobbies, our health, our jobs, even using new technology- we may not be there YET, but we can yearn, embrace and try. Let’s remember that we’re all in YET together. We can move forward in YET, together. We can grow stronger in YET, together. YET covers it all: our minds, our hearts and our bodies. Together.

Where are we on the journey? What kinds of encouragement can we offer ourselves today? I’m thinking YET is a great place to start.