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…:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reflections: 2018's Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Exploring the Warrior Spirit Together

Cover art by Amber Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Broad Brush Strokes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cause and Effect of Our Actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Strong Enough to Show Weakness

It takes a special strength to show weakness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thoughts on Thriving and Suffering Behind Walls

In my book, Dear Teachers, I wrote the following essay focusing on the walls students construct. I felt the need to look at it again today in regards to the everyday living of all people. You, me...everyone.

"April- Week 34- The Heart Within

“No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Faces are walls. Barricades. Facades.

We all build them from time to time and to varying degrees. It feels safer to hide.

Some of the students we meet have epic skills in this, honed by years of experience. It is perhaps the teacher’s most challenging task to massage these walls and tease out the mortar and stones that have been used from abject need. We all want to survive; for many, a constructed face is an effective, if crude, way to do that. We do it as field triage in moments of hardship and necessity. Unfortunately, it’s a pattern of behavior that can be carried into and throughout adulthood, affecting all facets of our lives along the way.

If we hide long enough, the act becomes the actor’s reality. The effective cocoon clasped so tightly around the genuine heart may eventually suffocate the very thing we sought to protect in the first place. We are then left a weakened shell, like an oak whose heartwood has been consumed.

That authentic heart is the unique and golden center of Self. It deserves the freedom to feel the sun’s full warmth."

After the essay, I ask the reader to consider what is at their heart and what sorts of walls have they put up. As part of my book follow-up that I did over the course of last school year, I wrote this essay in reflection, entitled The Heart Within:

"I just finished writing a big essay on my main blog, called Spring and the Death of Denial. It was in response to a fantastic conversation on a philosophical radio program called On Being. Now, I’m hopping back into Dear Teachers, and am struck by how this week’s essay, the last of the April focus on what’s really there, connects to that.

When we don’t want people to see who and what we really are, we throw up defenses. When we don’t trust the people that surround us, we again build barriers. Within those walls, we are one thing. Outside of those walls, we are something else.

To grow, we first have to admit the walls exist within all of us. They come from our families and traditions. From our own pasts. From our own needs. From our own fears.

In this week’s essay, the image from Marlene that I chose was a close-up of a lily in full bloom. The center of that flower is bright yellow, while the outer edges are a deep red, trimmed in that same golden hue. We don’t get to see the full complexity of that bloom until it really opens up. How can we get ourselves blooming like that? How can we get each one of our students to bloom like that?

The walls that separate us from both our true selves and from each other have to come down.

I wrote, “If we hide long enough, the act becomes the actor’s reality.”. By that I meant that every single one of us is affected by all these walls we build. If I don’t reach out beyond the walls I was born into or have built myself, I miss out on understanding the real beauty of both myself and others. Others miss out on my gifts. We both are lessened. We’re like the bud in the background of Marlene’s shot: there, but not yet gorgeously exposed.

As Rev. williams pointed out in her talk, this work is hard. Sitting with who and what we really are is tough. But, in my mind, it’s critical to getting our world’s garden to really bloom."

The Nathaniel Hawthorne quote claims that no one can truly lie to themselves to the very end. From our perspective, some people appear to never sway from their own sense of reality, safely encapsulated within their constructed fortresses. I find solace in Rev. angel Williams kyoto’s thoughts that even the “winners” in unfair situations are suffering from the very systems they’ve benefited from and cultivated. Those behind castle walls are not truly free. I can see such truth, if begrudgingly, in that.

My thoughts and writing here came from a hopeful opinion that we all start from a child-like, wonder-filled place. It’s what we face from madly ego-driven minds that damages and alienates us. If society is set up to support the child-like spirit, the need for walls will get less and less. If we set things up to allow all hearts to bloom, we will all benefit.

To reach a place where the child-like can thrive will require extremely hard work. Some have begun, and the tools are out there for all to pick up.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

6 Choices to Improve our Speech Game

As I’m always going on about how we need each other, and how I insist that we’re stronger together, I thought it was time that I examine 6 specific choices we can make that will allow this to happen. I’m interested in physical and mental health care, education and k-pop. I believe this actions can help in all these arenas- and beyond.

 PLEASE NOTE: If you want to just skip the reading, scroll down to the awesome video from Teaching Tolerance on Countering Online Hate Speech.

1. Believe everyone deserves space to speak.

Whatever your size, shape, skin tone, sex, sexual orientation or preferences, religion, political opinions, ethnicity- you name it: you deserve a space to speak. We may not agree with each other, but we both deserve the opportunity to state our cases. If we follow the other ideas I list below, we should be able to coexist. We may get along life BFFs. We may choose to disagree and have little to do with each other. Or, we may choose to see where we can work together despite our differences. Whatever the case, neither of us should try to silence the other.

2. Acknowledge everyone deserves space to be.

Ever want to just run away from it all and hide? Believe that you deserve the space you’re in. Breathe in that fact and exhale the fear and/or anger talking. Ever feel like that other person should just go and die? Believe that they deserve the space they’re in just as much. Breathe in that truth and exhale the fear and/or anger talking. You and that “other” person are both human beings. As bystanders, if we see someone trying to silence another, we should calmly and directly say, “I think __ has the right to their opinion and I think what you’re saying is hurtful/sexist/etc.”. If we see someone run in fear, we should calmly and directly say, “I think you have the right to your opinion. I told them I think what they said was hurtful/racist/etc.”.

3. Think and speak with “we” in mind.

No one likes to be looked down upon. We should talk in ways that keep us looking at each other eye-to-eye. You may not believe it, but the way we say things affects how others take in what we say. Choices like “You people need to…” and “You women should just…” kill respect, light fuses and try to place the speaker as someone high up in a fortress, looking down on those they are addressing. Switching it around to “I think we could…” or “I disagree with that opinion…” will still get our point across. I used both “you” and “I/we” in this paragraph. Which sentences made you feel more more relaxed or more defensive?

4. Choose to meet face-to-face.

 I’m really tired of the phrase “keyboard warrior”. As I’m exploring in my book for those with type 1 diabetes, the term “warrior” does not need to mean a vicious, cut-throat and cloaked vigilant. It’s true that we can do/say things behind the anonymity of a screen that we might not do in public. That’s why meeting with and talking with people directly is vital to our humanity. The students behind the March for Our Lives are doing this over the summer, with their cross-country bus tour Road to Change. Coffee shops, concerts, conventions- even video conferencing like VLive or on our phones- anywhere were we see and hear each other in real-time can build our connections with others, helping us see the other points I’ve outlined so far. The keyboard time can be turned toward building those relationships, too, so we become warriors standing in solidarity against hardships and things, not each other.

5. Understand that opinions are biases, not facts.

I’ve emphasized “opinion” here, because what we think and feel cause most of our wild behaviors. What about facts? Facts can be used as weapons to stoke opinions. I’m reminded of the amazing reply that Adam Savage gave to the question, “What’s your biggest science no-no?”. His reply: “Bias.”. Facts shouldn’t be affected our attitudes; at their root, they simply are what they are. It’s vital to look at facts calmly and ask ourselves what is the exact truth involved, and what is what we feel or wish. I can say, “---- are kings!” and cite data to support. The data are facts proving some relative influence in the world, but my original statement is purely biased opinion. I can say, “Politicians are killing people with T1D” and cite data on insulin prices. The prices are facts but my original statement is simply my opinion to get my point across that we as a country need to look at health care. We should clearly label each other’s and our own biased opinions.

6. Instead of seeking a victory, practice forgiving. Or at least, forgetting.

When we feel attacked, our instinct can be to retaliate or run. When we read something that ticks us off, our knee jerk reaction might be to “put that person in their place”. Even when we reach out to defend someone in need, we need to remember these other points I’ve outlined and not seek another’s annihilation. Hurting others keeps that destructive cycle going and should not be an used- even if we feel justified and tempted to use it in the defense of someone else.

Forgiveness. If we can’t manage that, let’s choose forgetting and calmly walking away. Those options remind us that we all make mistakes and there’s hope for eventual change. They remind that we all have baggage. That none of us is superior to another. That no one is a lost cause and we can all someday, somewhere, help someone out and do something good.

We’re never going to eliminate all the negatives in humanity. But we can reduce their influence by the choices we make every day. As in parenting, kickback from those soaked in these destructive behaviors will occur when we begin. However, if we persist, support and work together, we can make positive changes.

Helpful links from Teaching Tolerance:

Teaching Tolerance Countering Online Hate Speech This is a great video with specific examples and sample responses to use when we encounter hate speech online.

How Does "Fake" News Become News? This is a light-hearted but informational video detailing how confirmation bias and filter bubbles affect what information we tend to believe and spread. If your social media are negative, you have built it that way. With help from this video, you can change it, too!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

New Superheroes & New Generations

I immediately fell for “Anpanman” on BTS’s newest album, Love Yourself: Tear. The rhythm is incredibly infectious and the layers of vocals, including a luring synth-modified V for the Intro, pull you right in. In typical BTS fashion, though, once I dug into the lyrics, a whole new attraction arose. I used and thank for their translations.

I did not know of the Anpanman superhero and his world before this song. He was introduced in 1973 in a Japanese picture book by Takashi Yanase, who worked on Anpanman until his death in 2013. The franchise has spread across Asia for 45 years, becoming extremely popular in both merchandising and publications, including manga, a comic strip, and a long-running TV show.

Music enjoyment was impacted this week by another mass shooting and killing spree in a high school in the United States. We crave solutions. I think there are 4 lessons in this song that we can use to help construct a more positive future that might make conditions less ripe for horrific situations such as this.

1. We have a personal responsibility to help each other.

Suga sings:

I don’t know
But I have to do this, Mom
Who can it be if it’s not me?
You can call me say Anpan

Anpanman is quite a the odd character. BTS members have historically described their own awkwardness in detail. Yet, they persisted.  As they have risen in fame, their advocacy has spread beyond themselves and surroundings to others. They firmly believe that the more one has, the more one should give.

That attitude of servitude needs to spread.

2. We must work with what we have and give it freely.

J-Hope sings:

I don’t have biceps or pecs*
I don’t have a super car like Batman
It was my dream to become a hero
But the only thing I can give you is Anpan

Anpan is a Japanese jam-filled bun. Anpanman fed children using his head, which is an anpan. Not the most glamorous of superpowers, but what’s more basic and vital than keeping people well-fed? Many of the characters in his world had connections with food and I like the symbolism of that: the importance of feeding each other with helpful things. BTS live who they are- they give what they have. That’s a healthy view of life.

Whether with food, advice, or moral support, we should feed one another well.

3. It’s going to be tough and we’ll fail.

Jungkook and Jimin sing:

But still, even if I have to use all my strength
I will stay by your side
Though I’ll fall again
Though I’ll make mistakes again
Though I’ll fall into a mud pit again
Trust me, because I’m a hero

I love that BTS admits we’ll screw up. We will ALWAYS fail along the way- the only way to avoid failure is to do nothing. To blame other people. We see this type of behavior pattern so much today and it has to stop. We must try. Accept temporary setbacks. And try again. Together.

That is the true mark of a real superhero.

4. New voices and songs can accomplish much.

RM and Suga close out the song singing this:

I’m a new generation Anpanman
I’m a new superhero Anpanman
What I have is this song here
Lemme say “All the bad men, cop out”

We all carry a song of some kind. I hear similar messages echoed in voices, like Cameron Kasky, that rose to prominence after the Parkland shootings. To me, the young people like Naomi Wadler, who stood up at the podiums during the March for Our Lives, said things similar to what BTS is declaring. I hear the same intent in the actions of people like James Shaw Jr.. It doesn’t matter what skills we have or don’t have or our age. It just matters that we will work together to force the bad attitudes, behaviors and ways to stop controlling things.

I, for one, welcome the new superheroes and generations.

*Translation note: This line is a perfect example of why we need translations from those who really understand the languages involved. As a basic learner of Korean, I can't see how this line translates to this. I see it as saying something like, "I don't have an awesome cape". I'll go with the biceps and pecs interpretations, although as was seen on the BBMAs, BTS definitely has pecs.