Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Awaiting Our Spring Thaw

It’s January 31!

In the early spring of cold regions, along the shores of lakes and rivers big and small, we can expect to see the ice melt and finally whither away as the days warm. Sometimes, these events are slow, and one barely notices as still, dull grays and whites morph back to dancing ripples and waves. Other years, great chunks and sheets of ice heave and buck into great piles that stack up on the shore. In those years, the body of water looks more like oatmeal than liquid at times.

We go from a seemingly stagnant state to a far more active one as we transition from winter to spring.

I can relate. I wonder if you can, as well?

Sometimes, our lives feel frozen.

I haven’t written about diabetes lately. I have an entire book sitting on my desk on the very subject. I triumphantly finished that first draft in September, and while I have been editing it on and off, it’s been slow. It has always been my intention to open it up to artists with diabetes for illustrating it, and finding a strong venue to publish it, but I have not actively pursued that, either. (If you know of anyone, or would like to get involved with this project, please message me!)

Changes to my healthcare have been frozen, as well. I started to look into a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device in the middle of last year. The layers of bureaucracy, procedural stumbles and ever-present long-range scheduling of appointments left me without final decisions and a depressed spirit as a new calendar (and insurance) year loomed. I admit it: I gave up. For now. When another large and uncalculated for expense looms in your family’s budget (this one’s over $2,600 just for the initial device), it’s easier to stick with the status quo.

Fortunately, nothing stays the same forever. If we’re locked and frozen today, tomorrow we may get to experience the warm breath of a springtime melt.

Sometimes, our transitions are smooth. Other times, they heave and chunk first.

I have a list of things I should do that I feel I can actually start to attack now. I’ve run into walls as I’ve explored leads. I’ve found new contacts. I’ve received encouragements as well as reality checks. Transition- melting and morphing- can be an extremely agitating time, can’t it? 

I may not have achieved my initial goal of a CGM, but my own care of my health has become better once again. Perhaps the very act of attempting is what was important in this case. Have you ever found an unexpected good or growth from a disappointment? That’s growth mindset (a great video there, by Sprouts, by the way. Check it out!)

Always, we deserve to hope for that melt.

Today, I stumbled across an African proverb on Twitter posted by Afreeque:

“Le soleil n'ignore pas un village parce qu’il est petit.”
The sun doesn’t ignore a village because it’s small.

I love this message. Even if you aren’t the smartest, wealthiest or most beautiful, you can expect to feel the sun’s life-giving warmth. The implication is, we all deserve it. There’s 7 billion of us on this one rock, under this one sun. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, medical states, economic conditions, ethnicities, sexualities and religious traditions. We all stumble. Freeze. We all can try again. Melt.

Best wishes to you in the season you find yourself in today.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Apples & Apologies

I like finding connections between words.

Take the example of the Korean word for “apple” and “apology”. The same word is used for both in Korean: 사과. I’m not sure how common it’s used in everyday Korean culture, but in Korean dramas, an apple is sometimes extended to someone with whom you want to apologize with. I like that. An apple is healthy and life-building. Apologizing is exactly that, as well.

I found another connection as I was recently reading The Invaders by John Flanagan to my son. I kept messing up on the word “bow”. In the bow of the ship, they had a bow. You can see the problem, right? I had to know the context of the word to use the right pronunciation. In this case, the letters are the same, but the way they are said sets them apart.

Bow...bow...but wait, there’s a third! The verb! To bow!  Of course, my mind made yet another connection. The bow of the ship is at the front. What is a respectful thing to do to someone, especially in Eastern cultures (but not exclusively)? You bow! You bow, "up front" or, "first"!

A quick description of bowing can be found in Day Translation’s Bowing the Head – Different degrees of showing respect. Bowing is a sign that you aren’t holding yourself above someone. The more emotion you want to show, the further down you bow. This is especially true if your bow is connected apology.

Why am I saying all this? Because I think we could all use some more apples, apologies and bows in our lives.


Did you do any New Year resolutions? If not, or if you’ve fallen, it’s OK. Grab some food today that you know is better for you. While you’re at it, if you can donate some food to someone less fortunate, think healthy as well as tasty. Everyone deserves nutritious food that also tastes good.


Let’s not just blow it off when we realize we’ve hurt someone. Let’s tell them we’re sorry and let’s truly mean our apologies. I find myself thoughtlessly saying “Sorry!” for silly things that aren’t actually my fault. Do you? Let’s not, and save those words for when they really matter. And then, use them freely and with genuine hearts. “I am very sorry for…”.


Whether figuratively or literally, let’s bow: let’s show each other more respect. Why not? What do we really have to lose? Let’s not lash out online or in our cars to strangers, for example. Let’s try to remember that we all have stuff going on- sometimes really bad stuff. Let’s volunteer our time and our minds to those beyond our own doors a bit more. By doing that, we both respect others and ourselves more.

We’ll see similarities that will help us remember that everyone is on the same ship...together with us.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

On The Shore of What Is and What Could Be

Brian Crosby’s photographs inspired me again this week, this time on the ageless beauty of the sea and shore. His image at Whitehaven in Cambria spoke of a balance that I wanted to explore. While not revolutionary, I felt it worthy to be considered again. I do try to apply a unique KPop hook at the end, so I hope you’ll stay with me.

Life’s a dance about what we have and are and what we could have or could become:  What Is and What Could Be.

I see our schools are one place where What Is and What Could Be come together on a regular basis. Not the only place, but a consistent one.

What Is

We’re all a part of What Is. Adults and children: every single human alive today. Our kids are living and breathing What Is. Sometimes it’s privilege, comfortable and sure- one’s life is spread out and the way is fairly clear to see. Many times, it’s not. What Is is messy. It’s good times and things, but it’s also stress, poverty, abuse and job loss or underemployment. It’s differing abilities, preferences and creeds. It’s unexpected calamities. More and more, It’s us against them. It’s fear and anger. It’s blaming someone else. Our teachers experience What Is not only in their own lives- their days are spent soaked in the What Is of hundreds of people. Day in. Day out.

In the midst of What Is, our schools seek to guide young minds to the the concept of something of fluid (and some feel, scary) power: What Could Be.

What Could Be

Today, teachers have technologies and pedagogies (the fancy word for “ways of teaching”) that could lead to amazing advancements in the world. They have ways to guide minds to operate together, debate constructively and to be open to trying and failing and trying again.  They have access to worldwide sources of information on today’s cutting-edge discovers and research and for their students to share their own findings near and far. I doubt I’m too far off when I say that teachers today seek to form people who will lead the world- a world they hope will include their students warmly and allow them to contribute meaningfully.

They do, at least, when not so beaten by What Is that they lose sight of the promise of What Could Be.

What Could Be is fluid, as I said before. I picture it as the ocean and What Is as a rocky island. What Could Be is all the stuff that we wonder and dream about. It’s bits of what we know and splashes of novel things sloshing around with potential, but no real form yet.  It’s neither good nor bad, and What Could Be washes constantly on the shore of What Is, eroding and depositing, molding it over time.

Natural Progression Unless...

That is, if What Is allows it to. What Is can build barriers against What Could Be. These barriers can be laws that select for the status quo. They can be the withholding of information to or access to resources for certain people. They can be the silencing or defamation of contrary voices. These barriers can even be as simple as plain unknowing ignorance, disinterest and/or stubbornness by enough people to slam the brakes on the hopes and dreams of others seeking What Could Be.

To be open to the potential of What Could Be, we have to have hope that things can get better than What Is. We have to be willing to take risks with What Is and practice with new ideas and ways. We need to be willing to help each other and to risk failure. We have to be willing to stand back up and try again when we do fail, because we always will face calamities.

That last paragraph? That’s what you learn in school. That’s what we should practice regularly in our jobs and personal lives, too. All of us.

The ebb and flow of a seashore is a reminder to us all of the amazing and exciting dance we face if we’re willing: What Is and What Could Be. As Block B asks in their 2017 hit, Shall We Dance:

“I don’t want to be locked up
Gather the crowds, let’s break the taboo
We need to spread out
Or else we might become scarecrows
We can make empty lots into royal spaces
This is the peak, don’t exit out now
To the left, to the right, rock all night

Gather in a circle
Hesitant people won’t get in
Turn on the music and don’t give a care
Ya’ll just vibe with me, baby
I like that person over there
Pop it up, burn it up, more and more
Hey you guys, wanna play?
Don’t just watch, join us

Shall we dance…?”

Yes, we should.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Personal and Public Ikigai in the United States

What drives you?

This concept of ikigai (translated as “life-value”) has been on my mind recently. It can be thought of as one’s reason to get up in the morning. It’s where we find value and purpose. It can be expressed visually in the diagram here, produced by the Toronto Star. Right at the center of 4 key concepts lies our ikigai.

That which you are good at.
That which you love.
That which the world needs.
That which you can get paid for.

I’d like to consider how I think our own culture embraces this idea and ways it does not...yet.

That which you are good at.

Do we DO what we WANT to do or what we think we SHOULD do? My oldest sister passed away recently. At face value, she didn’t have much. She relied on social services and eked out a living many others would find difficult. However, she was very content with her decisions and I am so glad and grateful to learn this.

She raised her son, encouraging him to explore and get messy at times. She worked with and taught children for a number of years, focusing on the children’s interests and abilities and sharing her own style. She designed and worked in elaborate Halloween displays that many enjoyed. Later, she found value in volunteering at her nursing home. She built things. She helped other residents. She befriended many people over her 69 year lifetime, letting her spirit be what it wanted to be. It was a beautiful thing. People will remember her, for sure.

That which you love.

I absolutely love to write. I’ve been focused almost exclusively on nonfiction essays for the last couple of years, but I have many stories in my mind that I play around with when I have time. Writing this blog has been scary but so enjoyable. Talking with people about writing ideas and researching possible topics have eaten up many enjoyable hours. It has all allowed me to grow in terms of knowing myself and understanding the world more clearly. I feel driven to share my discoveries and remaining questions. I am so glad and grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do and feel this.

There’s the rub. How many people have this kind of opportunity? Many people are forced to operate with only one goal: survival. Why? We need to consider what our systems encourage.

That which the world needs.

Do we feel safe enough and encouraged to do what the world needs? The recent scandal involving youtuber Logan Paul’s disgusting choices of behavior while in Japan demonstrate a response to what the world WANTS. He did what he did because he’s been trained to get paid for his destructive behaviors. There are many other examples today.

The world needs small-town people like my sister. We also need big-picture inspirers. The world needs risk-takers and connectors. It needs spirits that question and pose challenges to do and be more. It needs positive, perhaps offbeat humor and humble caring. Do we encourage these types of behavior? I don’t think so. Many want to cling to the status quo. Many are scared to stand out. Many cluster in homogeneous groups, finding the safety of anonymity a better choice than trying to do or be something else.

The Logan Paul example leads to the last part of ikigai. Along with seeking to behave in ways the world needs, we as a group must also financially incentivize what the world needs, not what it wants.

That which you can get paid for.

The unemployment rate may be really low, but when an announcement by Walmart boosting they will raise their base pay to $11 an hour is followed immediately by news that their subsidiary, Sam’s Clubs, is closing several stores, one is left wondering about the worth of that statistic. As reported January 11 in the Patch article Sam's Club Abruptly Close Wisconsin Stores, “After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we've decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy." This appears to be another example of a corporation adjusting their strategies to maximize profits, despite the billions of tax cuts (on top of billions of earnings previously reported) they have just received from the current administration.

Capitalism does not need to be like this. Even some millionaires have stated they want things to be different, as reported by The Hill in November 2017. Corporations are products of people’s work. If the people work from a mindset of moderation and for the benefit of all customers (fellow people), laws and behaviors will evolve accordingly.

This concept of life-value is already deeply ingrained in our world.

The United States Declaration of Independence describes 3 inalienable rights (rights we are unable to give up, even if we’d want to). Today, we have advanced enough (or should have) so that document’s definition of “Man” now truly includes EVERYONE. Not surprisingly, all of these rights support this notion of ikigai, or life-value:

Life: That which you can get paid for. That which the world needs.
Liberty: That which you are good at. That which the world needs.
The Pursuit of Happiness: That which you love. That which the world needs.

Please note that the ikigai concept of “That which the world needs” applies to all 3 parts of our inalienable rights. Why? Because we have both a personal and public side to our 3 rights. For example, if I love to write, I have an obligation to the world to write something that will help and not harm the world.

We ALL have the right to have a life we value and which is valued by a bigger whole. If we can get closer to living the 4 statements I started this essay with, it is possible for more and more people. I repeat: it’s hard, but not impossible. We must ask ourselves what are steps we can take today and moving forward to help us get there.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Who's Afraid of Who? 4 Thoughts on Fear

A friend posted this memory on Facebook and I thought it has some universal connections worth exploring.

We all live in a network with others.
This quote depicts a chain of connection:teacher→principal→superintendent→school board→parents. It implies that parents control everything and everyone within that chain because it flows in one direction. However, we ALL live in multi-directional relationship with each other, and those relationships form webs, similar to this visual.

Agreeing that parents are a huge influence in this chain, they are only a part of a larger web. Parents, teachers, administrators and principals are community members and whether we see it or not, ALL community members have an interest and role in what goes on in our schools (and in all our other communal endeavors). Our communal work guides what we have now and what we and our children will have in the future. All members should have an understanding of and involvement in their community abilities, goals and needs.

Being driven by fear is real but is not the only option.
While there’s some error in the visual’s message on one-direction flow of behaviors, it nailed the mark on how our responses to others can be guided by fear. Every single person alive today has experienced fear and its influence. Fear of getting fat stops us from eating a whole pie. Fear of alienating a spouse stops us from snapping viciously when we are frustrated.

However, while we all feel fear, we do not need to be controlled by it. As Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”. If we can step through our fear (or jump, as this picture represents), we can have the opportunity for more and feel the thrill of accomplishing what we thought was impossible.

Fear = distrust.

When I first read this post, I immediately wanted to reply that it’s not that the kids aren’t afraid of anyone, they just don't trust anyone. All the parenting books agree that kids want and deserve an understandable structure to live within. Children’s Hospital Colorado outlines The Top 8 Things Every Kid Needs and the top 3 are:

  • Security
  • Stability
  • Consistency
When children don’t get these things regularly, a very understandable response is to put up walls. They want to protect themselves using what means they have before them.

Kids aren’t blind to reality. Whether it’s on their own street, online or in the news, they see the disconnects between the links in their webs. When we, their community, are all splitting up Us vs Them or Right vs Wrong in the vast number of horrible ways we do, they can't make sense of it or find a consistent response they can successfully fall back on.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are teachers whose reality fits that first visual, both in the US and well beyond its borders. From my experiences and in my reading, I’ve discovered places suffering within this type of fear-based environment and others where people are living as vital nodes within their overall community’s web.

We can ALL work toward a better reality. We probably will never get it right 100%. New trials and tribulations will always arise. However, we can get to a better place by trying together.

What are your personal truths? Who can you reach out to and help? Where can you go for support? When do you feel the deepest sense of community? What could you do to step beyond those zones?

Best wishes to you as we step a bit less fearfully forward into tomorrow!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Living in Now: 6 Actions of Gratitude

Gratitude seeks to be expressed to those who inspire.

At the end of my book, Dear Teachers, I listed a few people who have electrified my mind over the years. Krista Tippett is one of those people, and I was reminded this week of her influence when I listened to her December 21, 2017 podcast of a 2016 conversation she had with David Steindl-Rast, called Anatomy of Gratitude.

Brother David was born in Austria in 1926, and has lived a life that’s taught him the importance of living with gratitude. It’s a fantastic interview that I encourage you to check out. In addition, I’d like to list a few connections I see between what he talked about and the overall theme of my January book essays, summed up in the illustration: sometimes we need to GO. This theme applies to all of us.

Gratitude demands awareness of what we have.

To experience gratitude, we must be grateful: appreciative of benefits received, according to Merriam-Webster.. I wrote in Hustle When It’s Time, “There are times we should GO.” We plan ahead so much. We lose track of so much. What we have right now is very precious. It takes effort and attention to see and feel it.

Gratitude cultivates joy, which can be a long term state.

As Brother David described it, the awareness of all that we have, not what we lack or want, can allow us the pleasurable sensation of joy. This is different than happiness, comes and goes with each new acquisition or quest. Joy can be a state of being where we can see that Life is tough, but the gratitude we feel sustains us and gives us hope.

In my own writing, I described that joy, in A Time to Unfurl, as being in the right place, which allows one’s beauty to unfurl like the petals on a flower.

Gratitude gives us the strength to squeeze through the anxiety of change in order to grow.

I loved Brother David’s story of how our birth is our first experience of anxiety. His sense of the term “anxiety” is not the typical helpless one we many times think of today. To him, we feel anxiety when we’re on the edge of growing into something bigger. It’s uncomfortable and scary. However, if we GO, we’ll grow and blossom. If we STAY, if we can’t get beyond the fear, we stagnate and die.

I wrote of this in my essay, Embracing the Storm. “There will be storms. After they pass, we can see the light break through the clouds together.” That last word brings me to my next point.

Gratitude leads to connections with others, which will be our strength.

We’ve all had experiences (hopefully!) where someone has told us, “You can do this! It’ll be great!”. That person sees potential and wants to share their joy. We've also all rooted someone on (again, hopefully!) in that manner ourselves. When we are aware of our gifts, we want to share that feeling and those gifts with others.

Brother David mentioned a quote from Raimundo Pannikar which summed this up beautifully: 

“The future will not be a new, big tower of power. Our hope in the future is…well-trodden paths from house to house. That is the image that holds a lot of promise for our future.”

We grow as individuals and as a whole society when we share with each other on a regular basis. It doesn’t happen when we lock ourselves away. It doesn’t happen when we wait or worry constantly, and we absolutely must come together so that we can give and receive the next action of gratitude.

Gratitude is active availing ourselves of the moment's opportunity.

That was one of Brother David’s last thoughts and brings me back to my own on our need to GO. We get opportunities. We make opportunities for others. When we are filled and living with gratitude, we can give and receive more and more, in larger and larger circles.

That’s a key for success for us all.

Need help practicing gratitude? Check out Unstuck's 9 suggestions here!