Sunday, May 26, 2019

Inspired by Nature and...?

Humanity can build connections with just about anything. 

I’m reminded of the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game as an example of our interest in finding them. Connections bring us positive feelings (including humor, love, empathy, and safety) and the potential for personal rewards (such as romantic partners, artistic inspiration, and career opportunities).

As a nature center naturalist, it’s been my desire to present convincing arguments that each of us and our human-made worlds (society) are linked to natural worlds in a variety of ways. (I use the plural because there are many social and environmental structures on Earth and all connected.) This can be a difficult idea to see, especially if we live inside and/or in highly urbanized landscapes for the majority of our lives. In addition, constantly worrying about basic survival slams the doors to the power that connecting to anything brings, wherever we live. Teachers know this as “Maslow Before Bloom”.

Lots of people from a range of social worlds play video games. I see a huge potential for connection to our natural worlds through this fact.

“It started simply enough as a hobby of Satoshi Tajiri (b. 1965), who as a child had a fondness for catching insects and tadpoles near his home in suburban Tokyo.”

He was also captivated by the science fiction shows of his childhood, including Ultraman and another called Ultra Seven, in which the hero had monsters in small capsules that helped his defeat enemies. Tajiri’s interests from the 1960s have lead to a global franchise that today is enjoying the success of its most recent product, the live-action movie Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

Pokémon was not created by a single mind and talent; it took many individuals and untold hours of work, revisions, and setbacks for this product to bloom.

While Tajiri had the vision of catching creatures, it was his friend Ken Sugimori (b. 1966) who drew the original artwork and Junichi Masuda (b. 1968) who created the music and sound effects that expanded the game’s appeal. Even that wasn’t enough for success. It took Shigeru Miyamoto’s (b. 1952) skills to pitch the product to Nintendo, orchestrating the deal that allowed the product the public access it needed on their platform. Since the early days, other creative minds have played powerful roles in envisioning and bringing the Pokémon world to life, including Shigeki Morimoto (b. 1967), who has been creating monsters for decades, including the first secret Pokémon, Mew.

Other societal trends have their basis in people interested in natural worlds. Architecture and furniture design come to mind. Inspiration can flow in the opposite direction, too. Landscape engineering, water flow design systems, and urban heat islands are all concepts that start with people but affect the world’s inhabitants on a larger scale.

Who knows what new things could be developed in the future if we continue to connect more and more?

Perhaps medical technologies could be advanced by a gamer’s tactics in a game designed by someone who’s into chemical reactions and parasites. Or a new song could be written by an artist who, while walking in a park during a rain shower, saw a bird eating some fruit in a tree. Maybe two people might meet on a trail and become life-long friends simply because one took a class that suggested they may find something cool out in nature and a way to track it with an app like iNaturalist.

Whether our lives are big or small, we’re stronger connecting to things and people beyond ourselves. We should give ourselves and others the opportunity to do that.

I hope to see you on the trail!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Our Collaborative Music

The following is an excerpt from my book about living with type 1 diabetes, Dear Warriors. The biggest gifts I received in writing this book were connecting to others and forcing myself to be more open to my humanity and that of others. The book has art from 12 others with this condition. I referenced several others within my writing as well. Overall, I believe the book became a testament to the universal fact that we're so much more alike than we think and we need each other, no matter what we may say, believe, or do.

We're stronger together.

I saw BTS again this past weekend on their Speak Yourself tour. I met some more amazingly fun and positive fans. My whole family was in Chicago with me, and we all experienced seeing and being within thousands of ARMY throughout the city. So many different people and yet...connected. My husband said he has a new respect for and comfort with the BTS fandom- it wasn't what he expected.

We weren't what he had assumed.

I think we all make that mistake a lot in life. We make assumptions. We grasp onto fears. We hide in ignorance. It's "safe" but we can all also make efforts every day to be more collaborative. Whether big or small- we can do more and live better if we take the risk to share our personal music.

Let me show you...


Artist: Natalie Force, 15
Age at diagnosis: 14

Title: You’re Not Alone

“When I was first diagnosed, I struggled with how alone I felt. I constantly felt that no one knew what it felt like to go through this. It soon became clear that many people are going through this every day of their lives. I realized I’m not fighting these demons alone and I never will fight them alone. The inspiration for my drawing came from how scared I felt in the beginning, to how I feel now knowing I can overcome this obstacle that life has thrown me.”


“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”
- Lao Tzu, Philosopher

To me, my soul is the part of me that connects me to others. It’s akin to the spirit I talk about through this book. When I care for someone or something, my soul is involved. Art, pets, people, and places: when we feel that deep sense of linkage, our soul is touching the soul of that other. That’s how I see it, anyway.

Sometimes, we don’t feel that connection. Natalie’s image does a great job depicting what that feels like. Here, she shows people with T1D, including herself front and center, in carefully drawn detail and frozen flat-footed by the situation they find themselves in, whereas everyone else around them continues with their own lives, seemingly oblivious. She furthers that theme of disconnection by showing every single character, Diabetic Warrior or not, going about their business…alone. Everyone is alone. Natalie has illustrated that very “solitary warrior syndrome” that I say is not the only option we have when we consider the Warrior term.

From the Lao Tzu quote, one soul can speak outward to be heard. The reverse is true as well: we can open to the universe’s music, and our souls will be nourished and restored.

From what Natalie’s mom has told me of her and her diagnosis, of the three parts of ourselves that I’ve outlined, Natalie lived actively in her body before T1D. She has excelled as an athlete. Physical talent and a bright personality can allow easy entrance into this other part of ourselves: that community and spirit. Disrupt the confidence in and performance of that body side, and you might find yourself experiencing a plunge of the spirit: alienation. I see that in Natalie’s tears, her worried face and the Blue Circle, the “universal symbol for diabetes”, above each Diabetic Warrior’s head. Marked. Different. Alone. She drew the other Diabetic Warriors with small smiles as if they were somewhat comfortable- more so than she felt. Why? Perhaps she believed they had the condition longer and were more comfortable with it and what it takes to deal with T1D even as they still appear alone.

Natalie portrays a range of alienation levels between self and other. I’m proposing in this book that we all have a spiritual component that can take hits but also grow, therefore we have another bond with each other instead of a divider. Alopecia. Fibromyalgia. Cancer. Race. Religion. Gender. Sexual orientation. Eating disorders. Those dealt physical and mental trauma. All these life factors can tear and destroy. And yet, I’ve known people with struggles within all these areas and have been awestruck by how some have handled their lives. These are Warriors with songs we can all learn from.

Each condition affects how we identify ourselves and how we relate to others. These variables alter our music: we feel it, and others see it. Sometimes what we face deepens and richens our song of life. Sometimes it causes strife and off chords develop. The wild oscillations can become unbearable noise. If we consider these truths and apply those details to the various shadowy figures in Natalie’s picture, their vagueness disappears like fog burned by the hot summer sun. Those faceless masses become companion Warriors, each with circumstances, each needing others and what they possess. We are different, but also the same.

Lao Tzu described music as being in the soul. What if we say that music is our soul? Each person has a song deep within, including notes of struggle. Those songs are audible to the world if we share them. That’s key: if we share them. If we do, the world’s chorus can fold those tunes into the overall score and we can all benefit from the net effect. We can. We should. We must.

By doing that, as Natalie described, “It soon became clear that many people are going through this every day of their lives.” I believe Natalie’s eyes will soon dry enough for her to sing her song loud and proud as time marches on.

The athlete within Natalie taught me a lesson. On sports teams like those she plays in, each player has a different role and needs to display various skills. The same applies to the world full of Warriors. We all do better by bringing ourselves and our talents together. Both before and after my T1D diagnosis, I’ve undergone that drifting alienation that Natalie has depicted in her drawing. By receiving this image (and all the others in this book), reading the attached messages, and sitting with it all, I’ve also experienced an example of the opposite of alienation and apathy: empathy. I felt her music resonate with mine. I’ve sensed our spirits touch. When we build identification like that, we can keep moving forward. That touching is what gets us through our dark times.

When we don’t feel alone, we have hope. With hope, almost anything’s possible! 

It all comes down to connections. We each need exposure to different songs, and the world needs to hear ours, too. Where? How? It depends. Things like family, friends, religions, special events, personal interest groups, social media and professional organizations are a few. And we can’t sit on the sidelines while we’re there. We must actively participate to feed our souls. Are we going to a concert? Let’s introduce ourselves to those around us. Do we have a medical condition? Let’s speak clearly and calmly without embarrassment and look for comrades-in-arms. Are we attending a family event? Let’s really be with the family and not just merely suffer their presence or hide our true selves. Are we traveling? Let’s earnestly move within that new place and interact with its people. By doing these things, we may gain new friends, appreciations, and songs.

Shared meals, art, events, stories, and time bridge the gap between us and the “other”. Touching other spirits, we can begin to see we’re part of one big music-filled dance instead of single notes scattered across an empty keyboard.