Believe in Your Future

The Southern Illinoisan, the largest newspaper serving the Southern Illinois region, recently published an editorial titled "Believe in your future; vote for coal candidates". I believe in my future, and I believe in the future of Southern Illinois. However, I get the impression that the editorial staff of the Southern Illinoisan and I have somewhat different visions of that future.

Different visions are fine. However, the vision presented in this editorial is such a far departure from reality that I felt inspired to reply. Currently, I don't have any sort of public vision statement of my own on the subject. I plan on developing one soon. [Hint: I support Paula Bradshaw for Congress.] In the meantime, I'd like to share my response to the Southern's vision for the future of Southern Illinois (and the nation and the planet).

Here's the one paragraph version:

Our region's economic and cultural heritage was built by the hard work of Southern Illinoisans. When a new energy source called "coal" came along over a hundred years ago, Southern Illinoisans embraced it. Now it's time to show that spirit of hard work and innovation again by embracing the green forms of energy that are booming today. Chasing the ghost of coal will just lead us to miss out on newer jobs with a better future than coal. It will also lead to more of the droughts and other climate disasters that have hit us so hard these past few years. Instead, let's build a better future for ourselves and our children by supporting candidates who embrace green jobs.

And here's the longer version:

I do believe in my future and the future of Southern Illinois. That's why I will never vote for a pro-coal candidate.
 
Our region's economic and cultural heritage wasn't built by coal. It definitely wasn't built by the out-of-state coal companies that Southern Illinois coal miners had to fight against time and time again during the heyday of coal. No, the strength of our economy and our region was built by the hard work and perseverance of Southern Illinois workers. That strength is suffering at the moment, but we can rebuild it again by looking for real opportunities for jobs instead of chasing ghosts of the past
 
When coal came along over a hundred years ago, the people of Southern Illinois embraced it. They didn't say: "Hey, digging rocks out of the earth is strange, and takes a lot of work, so we won't go there." They heard about a new energy source that would provide them with new jobs, and they did the hard work needed to make that energy source a reality.
 
Now it's time to show that spirit of hard work and innovation again. There are new sources of energy available, ones that can create jobs in Southern Illinois and don't require us to destroy our futures in the process. It will take hard work and clear vision to make those jobs a reality, but we can do it.
 
Coal jobs simply aren't an option anymore. As this summer's record-breaking drought indicates, the effects of global warming are getting worse. This summer wasn't an isolated incident. The research shows that there will be more droughts and more unstable weather, and that the greenhouse gases released by human industry are the biggest force driving this change in our climate. Even if you don't believe this to be true, you can rest assured that the people who do believe it will do everything in their power to shut down every coal mine and fossil fuel plant in the country.
 
So instead of chasing after a dying industry, our leaders need to ensure that our research dollars and job creation efforts go into industries that have a future. Coal is not one of those industries. Even this editorial strongly implies that coal will gradually be phased out at some point in the future. Why base our entire region's economy on a dying industry? Renewable energy is experiencing tremendous market growth, as are various other green jobs such as energy efficiency and green agriculture. If we build our economy on these industries, our economy will grow accordingly.
 
So don't listen to people who are chasing the ghosts of the past. Vote for candidates like Paula Bradshaw who embrace green jobs. And don't wait until election day to do something about green jobs either. Do your own reading, ask your own questions, and see what you can do to support shifting Southern Illinois to a green jobs economy today.
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Site Updates for Summer 2012

For the past few months, I've been working on an update to the design and content of my website. Unlike past updates, I decided to make incremental changes to arrive at a completely new look and feel. Now that the major aspects of this update are complete, I'd like to show you some of the features and invite you to help me test the functionality, update the content, and spread the word.                                                                                                       

Here's a summary of some of the changes:

  • Look and Feel: Since much of the site focuses on my work as Real Life Superhero, I decided to go for a bit of a comic book look and feel. I didn't go all out with this idea, but I did use a dot background, square blocks, and black borders as a tribute to the panels and printing style of a comic book.
  • Comments: You can comment on blog entries now by logging in via Facebook. So far, this works fine for me, but I'd like to see some of my Facebook friends test this out and let me know if they encounter any problems.
  • Mission: This talks about my superhero mission, including a personal mission statement and links to my Causes page and other Real Life Superhero sites.
  • Origins: This tells my superhero origin story, including a short version, long version [still under development], poetic version, and the origin of my name, Treesong.
  • Media: This lists references to me in local and regional media sources. There are additional ones I haven't put on here yet, so if you know where I can find links to any of these, feel free to give me a heads up.
  • Heroes: This describes a few of the people who have inspired my own hero's journey. It only has a handful of people so far, but I plan on adding new ones whenever I think of them.
  • Documentary: This features a short documentary about my superhero work by SIU cinema student Chris O'Malley.
  • Radio Show: This links to the website and podcast to Your Community Spirit, the show that I cohost with Aur "Da Energy Mon" on WDBX 91.1 FM in Southern Illinois.
  • Poetry: This is a list of my recent and past poetry. I perform poetry locally at Transpoetic Playground, an open mic that happens once every two weeks at Global Gourmet in Carbondale.
  • Books: This is a list of my published books, including versions available for digital download.
  • Speaking Events: I've only done a few professional public speaking events, but I've done plenty of public speaking and would like to start doing more of it professionally.
  • Consulting: I'd like to start doing some paid consulting work for small to mid-sized non-profits as well as "green" and "socially conscious" businesses. I have over a decade of experience working with such organizations. Much of my work has involved troubleshooting various organizational and strategic problems for cheap or free. I enjoy this work, but in order to make it sustainable, at least some of it needs to be paid work.
  • Blog: You Are Here!
  • Humor: Anyone who knows me personally or listens to my radio show knows that my sense of humor is at least as relentless as my dedication to activist causes. I've started my own collection of funny and thought-provoking images here.
  • Green Tips: This contains a few tips on how to live a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle.
  • Weddings and Handfastings: Not many people know that I'm ordained. I'm available to officiate at a variety of ceremonies, including same-sex marriages, interfaith marriages, and handfastings.
  • Courses: I'm not currently teaching any courses, but this contains information on past courses and will contain information on future courses as it becomes available.
  • Reading List: This is a list of some of my favorite fiction and nonfiction books. As with my Heroes section, this is just a humble start that I will add to over time. I have an account with an independent bookstore in St. Louis called Left Bank Books, so any books that you buy on this page will support an independently owned bookstore as well as my superhero work. If someone could buy a book here and email me about it so I can check and see if the links are working properly, I would appreciate it.
  • Gift Shop: This contains a few fun odds and ends such as Treesong T-shirts, climate change bumper stickers, and more. This is its own website that could probably use its own overhaul, so let me know if you have suggestions for additions or changes to the product selection.

There you have it! If you get a chance to take a tour of all of the new and improved features, let me know what you think. I'm always curious to hear what people think of the site and my work as a Real Life Superhero. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by!

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The Dark Knight Rises Shooting

Early this morning, a heavily armed gunman wearing bulletproof body armor and a gas mask went on a shooting spree at the Dark Knight Rises premiere in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and injuring a total of about 50 people. I don't write in this blog as often as I'd like to, so I'm ordinarily not too quick to talk about the latest big news story, even if it's a big tragic event that happened somewhere in the U.S. But whether it's rational or not, this one really struck a chord with me. Why? Because I attended the midnight premiere of Dark Knight Rises here in Carbondale, Illinois.

I've spent the past couple of hours reading up on the story, watching the news reports, listening to the interviews, reading personal responses, and so on. It's such a bizarre and horrific scenario, and it seems to be touching a lot of people beyond those directly affected. As a highly empathic person, it isn't good for me to spend too long experiencing other people's grief in response to the tragedy. That would inevitably lead to a downward spiral of anxiety and depression. But I wanted to spend at least some time exploring it — both because it's such a terrible act of senseless violence and because I feel a sense of personal connection, however irrational or selfish that may be.

I went to the premiere here in town. If the shooter had lived in Carbondale, Illinois, instead of Colorado, this could have happened to me. I could've been shot, and you could've been reading a message from one of my friends about how I was wounded or killed at the Dark Knight Rises premiere.

First of all, I feel such a terrible sense of sorrow for the losses of everyone who was in that theatre and everyone else affected by this incident. I've never lost anyone to murder, but I've lost important people in my life before, so I know how difficult the grieving process can be when tragedy strikes. These people were brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, friends, neighbors, lovers, and simply human beings. Those relationship ties have been suddenly severed. Anything those people would have brought into the lives of those around them and the world at large has suddenly been lost. My heart goes out to them, and I wish there were something I could do for them. 

Second, I can't help but think about what it would have been like if it had happened here. I feel this strange twinge of survivor guilt, like there's no good reason why I managed to make it home safely while the people at another premiere event who did nothing differently than me ended up getting shot. I talked one of my friends into going to the midnight showing, so even though it's completely irrational, I feel like it would've been my fault if anything had happened to my friend. It makes me wonder if there is some poor soul in Colorado right now who is regretting talking their friend or loved one into going. I also really feel a need to stop and reflect on my life and consider what would have been lost if I had bled out on the floor of the local movie theatre last night. How am I spending my time and energy? What am I doing to create a better life for myself and those around me in the all-too-short time I have in this world?

Third, I can't help but wonder what the shooter's motivation was. My friend and fellow author Josh Guess commented in his blog entry about the Dark Knight Rises shooting that he doesn't care what made the guy do it. Maybe that's the right attitude to have; maybe it's best to focus on caring for the survivors and not give undo attention to whatever pet ideologies the killer (or the many pundits analyzing the situation) was trying to advance. There's no justification for what he did, so why bother? But a part of me really wants to understand it. Maybe understanding it will help prevent future incidents; maybe it won't. Regardless, I want to know what was going on in his head — and in his life — that led to this unfortunate outcome.

Of course, tragedies happen every day. The world is full of about 7 billion people. Over a hundred thousand people die every day, some in very tragic circumstances. As we speak, people are starving to death, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, while food gathers dusts on our store shelves and rots in the dumpster out back. As we speak, people are dying in wars, including the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. So maybe it seems ridiculous to some people to notice or care when some guy in some other state randomly shoots a bunch of people in a movie theatre.

But we need to stay human. We need to be living, breathing human beings who are capable of empathizing with our fellow human beings. We need to stop letting the onslaught of bad news wear us down into a callous apathy. Human beings are social creatures, full of great potential for empathy and love and mutual care. Even if we don't always know what to do about it, we need to remember how to feel empathy for people who die in random shooting sprees, and people who die of needless starvation, and people who die in senseless wars, and the survivors who keep on living with the pain and could benefit from the support of their fellow humans.

So my heart goes out to the people of Aurora, Colorado who were victims, survivors, and family members of the victims and survivors. My heart goes out to all of the emergency personnel who had to deal with — and are still dealing with — this crazy situation while also dealing with their own fear and anger and grief and confusion. And my heart also goes out to anyone else who was touched by this tragedy. It's okay to feel sorrow for the suffering of your fellow humans, even if you don't know them directly. Hopefully in due time, the outpouring of concern and support will help some of the survivors through the difficult process of healing. And for now, that's about all we can do.

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St. Louis Earth Day 2012

I've wanted to check out St. Louis Earth Day for years now. Somehow, in years past, the timing never worked out for me. This year, though, when I heard that the theme was "Heroes for the Planet", I knew that I had to be there! My friend Aur "Da Energy Mon" put me in touch with one of the organizers so that we could discuss how to bring a Real Life Superhero presence to the festival. Before I knew it, I found myself waking up at 5:30 a.m. on Earth Day so that I could get ready and head to St. Louis!

It was a cold and rainy morning. When I woke up for my daily jog, it was still dark outside. After jogging a little less than usual and gathering my supplies, I was ready to head to St. Louis.

I had originally hoped to find other ecologically-themed RLSH to join me for St. Louis Earth Day. However, there aren't many of us out there, and the few I've met online don't live very close to St. Louis. Therefore, I was unable to find any RLSH from outside of the region to join us in St. Louis this year. On the bright side, avoiding cross-country flights is a good way of shrinking our ecological footprint by reducing our carbon emissions!

The trip to and from St. Louis was fun. I traveled with Advanced Energy Solutions, a renewable energy company based in Southern Illinois that serves Illinois and several neighboring states. I used to work for AES, so I know the people who work there and was glad to have an opportunity to spend some time with them as we traveled to and from St. Louis. They were going to the festival to talk about renewable energy and use their Solar Trailer to power a large energy efficiency display.

When we arrived at Forest Park in St. Louis, traffic was slow, and there was a rainy chill in the air. Eventually, though, we made it to AES's booth, and my Real Life Superhero booth was just a few yards away.

Since I was the only one operating the RLSH booth, I decided to keep it simple. The main visual display featured a few RLSH profiles from the Real Life Super Hero Project. I also had copies of my quarter-sheet flyer and a new handout titled "You Can Be A Superhero!" This handout describes a basic process for developing a coherent and compelling superhero identity by considering your Costume, Qualities, and Quest.

At first, I'll admit that I was a little concerned about how the day would go. Since I had few materials with me, my booth was ready over an hour before 11 a.m., the official start of the day's main festivities. It was cold and rainy, and the few people who were in the park at 10 a.m. didn't have any interest in my booth. But right at 11 a.m., the sun peeked out from behind the clouds for a moment, and the day started to brighten.

The booth went well! I spent almost every moment from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. standing at that booth and saying hi to people as they walked by. Since I wasn't selling anything, I didn't feel obligated to do aggressive outreach and pull in every person who came within ten feet of me. But I said hi to hundreds of people, and if my booth caught their eye, I would start talking to them about Real Life Superheroes.

Over the course of the day, I must have talked to at least a hundred people, maybe more. The depth of the conversation varied. Some people simply noticed the costume and wanted the one or two sentence explanation of who I was and what I was doing. Others wanted the full story and spoke with me at length about the work of RLSH and costumed activists. I gave two or three mini-workshops about how to become an RLSH, and I refered people to two of my favorite RLSH website: reallifesuperheroes.org and reallifesuperheroes.com. I also talked with people about various projects and activities that I and other RLSH are involved in such as neighborhood watch patrols, homeless outreach, food drives, charity fundraisers, responding to domestic violence, and of course, ecological issues. There were maybe one or two people who seemed incredulous about the idea, but everyone else seemed either mildly supportive or genuinely excited about Real Life Superheroes. Especially given the context of an Earth Day festival, they really seemed to get the idea that costumed activism can bring a positive new angle to community involvement.

One of the highlights of the day involved my opportunity to speak on the main stage. At any given point, there were usually a couple hundred people in the large open area near the main stage, and the audio can be heard throughout much of the festival grounds. This makes it a fairly big deal to be given the opportunity to speak on stage. I'm used to public speaking, so aside from a twinge of anxiety right before showtime, I was mostly just excited to have the opportunity to speak. It's good I was calm, though, because when it was time for me to speak, we had technical difficulties! The MC did a personalized introduction, but my mic wasn't working at first. The sound people eventually turned it on, but it stopped working again halfway through my talk, so I had to walk across the stage to use the other microphone. In spite of all the technical difficulties, though, it was a good opportunity to speak about what an RLSH is and how everyone in the audience can become a Hero for the Planet, regardless of whether or not they wear a costume.

After a long and fruitful day at the festival, it was time to go home. I packed up my booth and met up with the AES crew. After eating dinner together, we headed back to Southern Illinois.

Thank you to everyone at St. Louis Earth Day for putting this awesome event together! Thank you also to Aur "Da Energy Mon" Beck and the entire crew at Advanced Energy Solutions for giving me a ride to and from the festival and for doing their part to bring renewable energy to the people of our region. St. Louis Earth Day was a very positive and productive experience, and I plan on returning next year. In the meantime, there's plenty of work to do here in Southern Illinois and beyond! I encourage you to be an everyday hero for your community and planet, regardless of whether or not you wear a costume. If you want to talk about the details, you know where to find me.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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