Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Complex Crystals of Us

I read a nice intro to Epictetus on DailyStoic today. Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who died in 135 AD, at the ripe age of 85. He was born a slave, but eventually became a teacher whose words are still studied today, almost 2,000 years later. This single quote alone holds great truths that we would do well to remember today. I picked it to help me consider exactly who, or what, we are.

I'm not just my body. If I lose my arm from the elbow, I’m still me, no less a human- just slightly modified. If I looked at that dismembered limb, I would not think that it was sad or angry to be torn away from the rest of me. I wouldn’t think it had emotions or thoughts on the state of things, or of anything else, for that matter. Perhaps that is not a rightful assumption, but it is a common enough belief today.

I’m not just my body and my mind. If I take my body, my thoughts and feelings and go live alone on a mountain somewhere, I could live fairly well. I might connect deeply with my surroundings and feel attached to them, but I would be doing so as a single member of my species. What if, instead, I took that same body, thoughts and feelings and lived in a community of other people? What if I became dependent upon those relationships: giving and taking, existing and responding to the group dynamics of a common species? Would I be the same person? Would I even be the same person regardless of the community of people I placed myself in? I doubt it. I’d still be me, just slightly (or perhaps greatly) modified.

We are body, mind and spirit. The concrete body. The mind that powers our personalities and thoughts. The spirit that connects us to other humans. 

Three separate facets of the complex jewels that are us.

I discussed this 3-part self in my guided journal for educators, Dear Teachers. I am also working on its implications for those living with type 1 diabetes in my NEW book, Dear Warriors, available later this year. Know a T1D with art talents? Please click and share the Dear Warriors link for details on my interest for illustrations by T1Ds!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Today's Feminism is for All

Suffragettes march in Bermondsey, south London, 1911
My 14-year old son informed me this year that “feminism” isn’t considered a good concept today. He seemed quite adamant that “everyone” thinks the term is a slam. His look while contemplating the subject screamed, “You look down on feminists, Mom. Come on.” Insert eye roll.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll definitely see that message in some camps. It’s yet another topic that has been divided and colored almost beyond recognition.

Sally Nicholls gives a nice review of the current status of the term in her article in The Guardian, The F-word: feminism must be reclaimed by today’s teens – they’re our future. Exactly as my boys indicated, a teen observed that:

“Feminism is a polarising subject for this generation. “You have one group that believes ‘feminism is cancer’, and that supporters are ‘feminazis’,” one 17-year-old told me.”

And they have “facts” to back up these claims. Wow. What an evolution of idea.

In the United States, women have had the right to vote for less than 100 years*, and that was achieved thanks to the work of suffragettes. My own grandmother was 20 years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified, to put it in perspective. That was one part of the puzzle. Being treated with respect encompasses much more beyond that. Suffragettes were just one type of feminist. In my mind, both of them are only 2 types of a bunch of connected -ists. Women, minorities, LGBTIA, those with chronic diseases or mental health problems, and various religions all face a range of biases today. Feminism can and should be rolled together with all these causes. We all deserve respect. None of these causes should be looked down upon by anyone, nor should members of these groups be denigrated for simply being who they are.

Together, we are stronger.

This idea is supported (I’m grateful to say) by some teenagers today, such as another teen in Sally Nicholls’s piece, who said:

“I really don’t understand why grownups think we don’t care,” one 16-year-old told me. “If you actually looked, you’d be blown away by how important feminism and equal rights for all sectors of society are for teenagers.”

Equal rights for all sectors of society. Yes!

As Sally Nicholls also discusses, the suffragettes and feminists of 100 years ago faced huge battles that seemed impossible, but they succeeded. Women can vote, divorce, own property and work outside the home. They can attend any college. Unfortunately, there is much work still to be done. However, while the obstacles are huge for all the groups I outlined, today I think we have a better chance. If we come together, we can improve things for all these groups.

What do “feminist” and “feminism” really mean today?

Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of all. A feminist, therefore, is a person who values and respects all people equally.

Properly performed, feminism does not negatively affect the rights of anyone. If performed incorrectly, one is actually practicing feminism’s opposite, chauvinism. Going back to my observation that “Feminism can and should be rolled together with all these causes”, perhaps a better term for what we’re describing would be egalitarianism.
Ida B. Wells, Journalist & Suffragist

In 1918, feminism was advocacy in comparison to men and was lead only by women. (Including some women of color, as described by Lynn Yaeger in Vogue's The African-American Suffragists History Forgot.) That's not the case 100 years later. Today, someone of any sex can be a feminist, because anyone can be an advocate for women. Just as anyone can advocate for ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, medical conditions, mental health concerns, etc.

The beauty is that together, we can make things better for all of us.

*Edit on August 6, 2018
Let me be clear on this 1920 date. All women in the United States should have been granted this right by 1920 via the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution. Women of color, including journalist Ida B. Wells, were among the women who pushed for this change. Some states had already granted women the vote. A number of southern states opposed the amendment. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia did not immediately ratify it. According to, Mississippi didn't until 1984. There has been a long and continuing tradition in the United States to stop people, especially people of color, from voting. We must all use our rights with purpose and consistency to respect the blood, sweat, and tears shed by our predecessors.  

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Old Places & Tired Things

I’m showing my age.

I catch myself remembering places. Homes with creaking floorboards and woodwork caked with thick layers of paint. Basement shelves festooned with cobwebs and garages with untold treasures tucked away in tattered boxes and old tin cans in the half-lit gloom. The visual memories tickle my smell memories. If I breathe in, I my mind could trick me into believing that the dry, odd funks I recall would again fill my nostrils. Dust, age, grit. Lives lived hard, going back decades. Generations.

I didn’t understand what that all could mean. There’s a value in those worn things.

Having the latest and greatest things isn’t important. Having what you need is.

Being seen with the “right” people isn’t important. Giving love and support to and receiving them from others are.

Seeing all the current shows isn’t important. Being able to enjoy a good story with someone is.

Being The Best isn’t important. Having the opportunity to be a good and genuine YOU is.

Our ancestors were no angels. They worked hard. They suffered much to survive. They screwed up. They had to start over. They used and reused. They fought. They improvised. They made deals. They shared with their family and friends. They practiced skills they hoped would benefit both them and their loved ones over the long-run. They defended what (and who) they thought of as “their own”.

We have more resources today and have more complex tools, but we also have bigger problems. That’s not an excuse. We should be able to devise ways to ensure we all have a chance. We claim we’re more advanced than those who existed 500 years ago. We should show it.

We should be able to expand our circles and include more of each other in solutions to our problems. It’s not “us” versus “them”. Today, we have more and more ways for things beyond our own immediate control to affect us directly, painfully and perhaps catastrophically.

Our own country’s founding documents include 3 “inalienable” rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I wrote of this recently in Personal and Public Ikigai in the United States. What amazingly constructive things could occur if we revisited those ideas in our world today? I’m reading that piece again in light of the March For Our Lives campaign. To do, “that which the world needs” and “that which you love”. I believe they may be embracing this idea already.

“What the world needs.” Powerful notion.

Sure, we could hide from each other. Sure, we could try to protect “ours” in smaller and smaller buckets. But, there are other possibilities. What if we take what we’ve learned from out past and apply those concepts of what I defined earlier as what is really important. 

What if we worked towards everyone having what they need (wages, health & mental care), everyone giving & receiving love & support (volunteering, networking, focusing on positives, not focusing on defending), everyone being able to sit with someone else (collaborating, not yelling and blaming), and everyone having the opportunity to be a good and genuine self (respect the other’s sex, sexual orientation, color, ethnicity and religion)?

If we have hope, we can try. Today we can reuse and improvise in brand new ways. We can work from “I can” and “We will” instead of “We can’t” or “I won’t”.

The kids of today’s kids will have the same opportunity as I had to walk among the bits and pieces of what will become the stuff we left behind. They should be able to discover truths and connections with their own lives and futures. Hopefully, they will both be bright.

They may be, with our help.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Love and Hate: That Builds. That Hurts.

We all have our own opinions. I thank my sister-in-law for sharing Todd Starnes’s commentary, "The Devil Smiled" about one of this week's shootings. It allowed me to hone in on my own perspectives regarding our place and responsibilities today. Sometimes different, sometimes similar. I tried to respond within the same structure as Mr. Starnes wrote.

For whatever reason, I feel my perspective is at least a bit more...hopeful? It would really be sad if there was nothing you and I could do moving forward to make our world a brighter place.

Here it goes:

While I have absolutely no proof, I’m not in charge of whether I take the next breath or not, so I like to hope there’s something outside of me that powers everything: me, you, the birds, the trees, the water and land. Everything. That idea gives me hope.

Holding onto that idea, within that everything...

I see kids witnessing us adults say we’re all equal, but some get a pass when they do wrong & others get thrown away.
That hurts.

I see our Pledge says “under God”, but despite the fact many citizens cling to that phrase, we don’t serve the weakest and poorest as Jesus commanded. As all the big religions do
That hurts.

We ridicule women, LBGTIA, religions and ethnicities. Our ideas of “good and traditional” exclude so many in so many ways.
That hurts.

Corporations and rich people seem to play by different rules than the rest of us, so many ask, “Why bother?”. Protecting the self is becoming king.
That hurts.

We don’t talk about sex and violence openly. We don’t talk about love with one another. We just don’t talk with each other. 
That hurts.

If God is in all things, it’s in all of us and all of it. All we touch and see is originally God’s work. God can and should be beyond gender, politics, ethnicity, religion or country. We are the ones who turn on each other. We are the ones who decide to rip apart the beauty of what’s around us.
That hurts.

“The Devil” is our ego running a muck. It’s us. “The Devil” is us when we think we’re better or more right that someone else. 

What we call “the Devil” is hate. That hurts. We can do a lot to fix that.
What we call “God” is love. That builds. We can do a lot to build that.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Fear and Ice

Sometimes, overwhelming waves of emotions engulf me.

They take my breath away with their power. I feel helpless and naked in their presence. It hurts. It burns. Sometimes, it feels like they could kill me, these emotions.

How to respond?

I consider that question, as I sit in the glaring winter sun. There’s a long icicle outside my window. It’s gleaming in that sun’s rays. Hard and clear, it’s locked- literally frozen in time and space. It looks so strong and proud- so sure in its place.

I start to envy it. Cold. Solid. Lucid. Everything just goes right through it without a care. Without any involvement. No response.

I step back- consider a bigger picture. Life’s a mix of what’s there and what we hope and fear. If I freeze into a block of ice, I might manage. However, that won’t erase what’s around me.

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross was a psychiatrist who studied death and wrote the book On Death and Dying. She jumped into life and made some great contributions to the world (we need even more thoughts that what she provided on death and dying) and also became involved in some big mistakes (at one point she was scammed by a spiritualist).

I’ve written previously about the need for us all to embrace failure as part of life, in I Heart Failure. I add all this all to my thoughts on fearful levels of emotions. I want to hide when I’m afraid I can’t handle it. I want everything to stop and freeze when I’m thinking I’m not strong enough.

That ice is beautiful, but it’s solidity is a false front. That sun will win, eventually. Nothing is truly alone.

We’d be best to accept the sun, as well. Life and people are most beautiful when left to do and be. To mix in wild combinations. To try and fail. To try again. To not attempt to hide and be alone.

Beautiful people don’t just happen.
Beautiful things don’t just happen.

They both take interaction. Give and take. And time.

May we all have the strength to allow that and see it through.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What is the Point? Equality, Equity, Reality & Liberation

What’s the point?

I saw this tweet from educator Cat Flippen yesterday. If you’re not in education, you may want to, after reading this slide from Trevor MacKenzie’s keynote at the EdTechTeam’s Southern Summit, blow its message off with scorn. “Kids don’t know how easy they have it.” “The point is, you have to put your head down and get the job done.” “Quit being a cry-baby.”

Many kids struggle with doing things because they don’t see the point. I think it’s a far more universal problem than just in our kids.

Why do I write this here? Because we all have skin in the game. This is not just about our kids, although most of us do have children in our lives in some fashion, even if it’s “just” the neighborhood kids down the block. We all have a role, responsibility and interest in this world as long as we’re breathing. It matters to us all.

Have you ever put your hands up in the air in frustration and said, “What am I supposed to do about it?!? Why should I even bother!?!” It’s those feelings that give rise to the idea “What’s the point?”.

If we have no hope or feel no value, we see no point.

From Kate Crawford at the same summit, came a tweet about finding and focusing on students’ passions to inspire growth. It came through another educator, Becky Anderson, who asked what would life be like if this practice were widespread- what if we were all able to live as we love? In my mind, it could be a path to, or product of, liberation.

What do I mean by “liberation”? Here’s a tweet from Maggie Schumacher with a visual. Ms. Schumacher was at The Wisconsin State Reading Association’s (WSRA) conference in Madison, WI. (BTW, here’s a link to an article from the person who appears to be the creator of the original graphic that this one is based on, Craig Froehle.) In essence, living in liberation means there are no barriers- we all have access to what we need and no one is being held back, up or down.

Reality today is that some people have a large number of things going against them and some have a large number of things going for them. These things can include one's sex, sexual preferences, religion, physical or mental abilities, ethnicity and/or economic level.  There’s also a group in the middle that sloshes around a bit. That group has, historically and rather loosely, been considered the middle class, and was where the “average” citizen found him or herself. As our social structures have evolved, that’s changed dramatically. Many in that group find themselves sliding toward the group with more things going against them. For instance, are you living paycheck to paycheck or overwhelmed at the cost of college today? Do you worry regularly you may lose your job? Has a boss messed with you for their own advantage and you've felt helpless to do anything about it?

Our kids see and sense our struggles. They hear our hate and fear. They live it all- the bad and the good.

It’s natural to want to do something if we feel there’s a problem. We want to scratch the itch. If we don’t have the tools or means to fix something, however, we get frustrated. Same goes for our kids. They throw their hands up and ask themselves: “What am I supposed to do about it?!? Why should I even bother!?!”

It’s hard enough to get to equity from today’s reality, let alone liberation. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that we can’t at least try. Today, we try it in the classrooms with things like personal learning programs. We try to get out of, and give the most to, each student. We do it when we focus on social and emotional learning: how people can work together cooperatively and practice respect for one another. It has to go beyond the classroom.

If we respect one another, we don’t begrudge helping someone out when they need it. We also try hard and stay involved when we feel respected and included. That goes for young and old, alike. 

If respect and cooperation for all were key values, our laws would curb disrespect and foster growth of all people. We’d respect people’s choices as long as they didn’t harm others. Our social structures would support human value as best as they could. Do they do these things today?

Maggie Schumacher referenced Dr. David E. Kirkland, Director of NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, whose own thoughts (from his blog) include this:

“...I have been wondering about the role of schooling in shaping better people. For example, I’ve been asking questions such as how does one finish school still holding discriminatory perceptions of people? Are we not doing our jobs as educators?

Just as we wouldn’t allow students to finish school unable to read, write or calculate, why must we let them finish school unable to love and accept others?”

Now that’s quite the question. Why must we (or why do we) let students finish school unable to love and accept others? Sounds idyllic. But what an idea. And not one that lies in the laps of educators alone.

It will take conversation upon conversation. Everyday people reaching out to each other. Citizens actively deciding what really matters and not standing on the sidelines. It will take coalition-building. It will take creativity. It will take resolve. But there would be a point and a purpose.

Why not try?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Never Done Until We Are

I’m going to focus today on this quote from author L.R. Knost and a blog from the incredibly inspiring Hannah Wilson.

I’ve written before on how nothing stays the same forever (Hopes and Opportunities and Life is Interacting), even if it feels like it does. As Knost says, we cycle through things we consider awesome, terrible and, well, boring. Lots of boring.

Ups, downs and flatness. We need to accept and deal with all of them. I’ve written about the painful let-down fans experience after attending a big concert, in Life and Fandom. Fans can fear the flatness and downs of normal life. They are not the only ones who do so. Any activity that absorbs large chunks of our days can end up affecting our abilities to experience a rich and fully-lived life. To truly thrive.

We can’t (or shouldn’t) hide forever.

Hannah Wilson talks of this in her blog, Values-Led Leadership: Moving from Surviving to Thriving. That’s my interpretation of her amazing story, anyway. She admits that she found herself existing in the title of “Educator” to the point where she had a panic attack. She had lost herself to her job.

Thriving requires knowing and living truthfully within ourselves.

Hannah offers ways to help us define those things in her blog. She uses references from a variety of sources, who all support these key steps to thriving:

       Know you why
       Engage in coaching
       Know your values
       Be authentic
       Live your values
       Articulate your vision
       Be resilient
       Be outward-facing
       Find your tribe
       Find your fit

Is life breathtakingly beautiful?

I’ll be honest: I’m struggling with that one. I look at Hannah’s list and can see an action plan to a beautiful life. I can also see where I myself have clearly failed. (And hope to change that, as there is the promise of YET.)  I see Knost’s “amazing” and “awful” as applying to both my own actions and the world I find myself in. Therefore, some of it I can take the credit/blame for, but other parts seem grossly out of my control- verging on a sense of hopelessness. We need hope to see beauty.

I think a bridge between these two women’s thoughts and our realities can be found within Knost’s phrase, “soul-healing”. Hannah’s list emphasizes connecting with other people: getting a coach, facing outward, finding your tribe, finding your fit. To me, those address our inner selves: our souls. That can give us hope.

If we don’t touch other lives, our own will be hollow. So…

Breath in...
Hold on...
Relax and exhale…

Living is beautiful. Living is hell. Living is.

Never done until we are.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Enduring Our Daily Deaths

"The sharpest lesson of life is that we outlast so much—even ourselves—so that one, looking back, might say, ‘When I died the first time….’”

    -- Jessie Benton Fremont on endurance in the face of adversity, 1878

NPR’s Steve Inskeep posted this quote on Twitter this week and it resonated with what has been brewing in my own mind. I’m going to apologize ahead of time. This essay isn’t going to be upbeat. I have some seriously dark thoughts I need to process. They have to do with enduring things- why we want to, and sometimes, why we do not.

I confess I did not know of Jessie Benton Fremont and had to look her up. She lived through the American Civil War and, according to, was a political force to be reckoned with, as well as an author in her own right. Mr. Inskeep has given me another life to explore.

Although not pleasant, I can agree with this quote’s point that life is a series of deaths. We lose our youthful dreams of Santa, superheroes or magic. For homeless children, the expectation of a warm bed at night is a mirage. Many, young or old, lose the belief in love given or received. Dreams of marriage many times end in painful divorce or long-suffering unions. Careers are imagined and prepared for and while they may be begun in nervous anticipation (if one is lucky enough to be hired in the first place), many soon find themselves mired in the realities of confusing mandates, office politics, excessive or inappropriate expectations, reorganizations or downsizings.

It’s not all gloom and doom. I’ve written repeatedly of the incredible beauty we can find in life, even in tiny things. A song can uplift and inspire, as I wrote in Frisson: A Crossroad of Body, Mind & Spirit. When we have children in our lives, we can actually re-live and enjoy some of those things that may have died for us years before. Or, if we have passions we’re able to follow, we can feel immense satisfaction and joy in their pursuit.

It doesn’t have to all be about deaths. But…

The initial inspiration for this whole essay was a discussion at home where my husband wondered why companies let people go due to budgets but then in the same year, invest in a long list of things like automatic defibrillators and the training to use them. Our kids remarked that they thought the machines are required and they themselves had the school ones reviewed with them at school.

The thought of someone automatically bringing me back to life if I collapse in public didn’t fill me with reassurance as I thought it would, or should. Especially when I see so many people struggling to get by. While there are many things I enjoy and would like to continue enjoying, do I want to be brought back if my body stumbles? I wondered.

I don’t think I’m alone in this doubt. We’re eager to live when we feel valued. When we feel safe. When we feel like we matter. We never want to leave a party if we’re the life of it, right? On the flip side, if we’re at an event and it’s obvious that we don’t fit in and people are shying away from us, we’ll find any excuse to slip out. If we feel like a burden or a failure, we shrink away. I look at my life and world and I wonder. Is this party for me?

We outlast so much- even ourselves.

Being our own worst enemy- that’s what I think this part is reminding us. I see so much of this in both myself and the world. My grumblings here may be a case in point. I know I’ve made bad decisions for myself over the years and that we all have done so in a broader sense. I and we have survived until now, despite our efforts.

It can be really depressing. It can all seem impossible. I wrote about that reality, too. In Regret: A Look Back, I focused on another person’s struggles with those feelings, which led to suicide. From that piece, I am reminded of an answer.

What can we do? Endure...and connect.

Hang on and reach out. When we feel down, something outside of us can lift us up. That means we have to be there for each other. Let’s have hearts, eyes and ears open to receive those messages, as well. As the picture and quote I chose for this essay indicate, we can bloom if we endure the tyrant- whatever or whoever that may be. I have to sit with those directions, myself. I need that reminder to sink in.

So, here’s me reaching out in one way. Who do you turn to to pull you through the deaths you face in your days? What writings, people or general things convince you to keep going- to outlast the onslaught?

Share them. Here. With friends. With neighbors. We can all use resources. They can help connect us. That could go a long way in reducing the adversity we feel, and therefore increasing our ability to endure, as we move forward.