Superheroes Review

Superheroes Documentary: This is a promotional image for Superheroes, a documentary about the Real Life Superhero (RLSH) movement.Superheroes is a documentary about the Real Life Superhero movement. Since it covers a topic dear to my heart and features a variety of individuals who I’ve met online or in person, I decided to track this film down and write a review.

From a technical and artistic standpoint, Superheroes is a delight to watch. The quality of the footage is excellent, both in terms of its visual appeal and in terms of its content. The film explores the personal narratives of several RLSHs, including their origin story, their mission, and the challenges they face along the way. The footage is very smoothly edited and includes a good balance of interviews with RLSHs, footage of RLSHs as they go about their work, and perspectives from “experts” and people helped by the RLSH community. The comic book themed transitions and graphics add to the atmosphere of the film and help tie the different narrative threads together. Ultimately, the creators of the film paint a very poignant and human picture of Real Life Superheroes, showing both the nobility of their causes and the personal challenges that often define their entrance into the movement.

As a Real Life Superhero myself, I noticed several shortcomings in the film.

First of all, there was an overemphasis on crime fighting. This is somewhat understandable given the fact that this is what the comic books often focus on and what the viewing audience may find most exciting and alluring. However, there is more to the RLSH movement than crime fighting patrols. The footage of Life and the homeless outreach at Comic Con were excellent examples of more service-oriented RLSH work, and the film covered these RLSH missions quite masterfully in the relatively brief moments when it chose to do so. But I worry that the emphasis on crime fighting patrols will skew the newcomer’s perspective on what it means to be an RLSH.

Second, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the personal challenges of certain RLSH were portrayed in a humorous or mocking manner. The focus on Master Legend’s drinking and flirtation with women, along with Mr. Extreme’s cluttered apartment, family relations, and time spent living in his van, seemed to perpetuate the notion that RLSHs are inherently imbalanced and dysfunctional. On the one hand, I valued this footage as accurate and humanizing portrayals of prominent members of the RLSH community. On the other hand, I feel it could have [and perhaps should have] been balanced by more footage of the many RLSH who have more stable living situations and more complex intellectual perspectives on the work that they do.

If I had been involved in the production of this film, I would have handled the above points differently. However, as I watched Superheroes, I made sure to keep in mind the fact that this is the first documentary on the subject to make it into the mainstream. That being the case, I would argue that it is an excellent first offering in the Real Life Superhero genre. We could really use a few follow-up films that explore special topics such as the charity and activism oriented RLSH, the RLSH with a stable work/family life, and the historical roots that RLSH are [knowingly or unknowningly] drawing on. But in the meantime, Superheroes offers us a compelling glimpse into a growing movement of people who adopt superhero identities in order to serve their communities. I don’t usually like to give “stars” to a movie in my reviews, but I’ll give this one 4 out of 5 stars to indicate the fact that while I have my reservations, I am happy to see that this movie exists and eager to recommend it to everyone interested in Real Life Superheroes.

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Campaign for Change is a Success!

Change Logo for Kickstarter: This is my logo for the Kickstarter campaign for "Change," an urban fantasy novel about climate change.I am pleased to report that the Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming novel, Change, has successfully met its goal! Thirty-nine backers pledged a total of $3,619 for the completion of this project. We received the last of these pledges just in time to reach the goal before the deadline.

Now that the Kickstarter campaign has drawn to a close, work on the novel can proceed at full speed. This blog entry is one of the next steps in that process. I’ll start by thanking everyone who participated in the Kickstarter campaign, then move on to describe what the next steps will be as I move forward with my plans to make Change a reality.

First of all, a great big thank you to everyone who made a pledge, spread the word, and otherwise supported me along the way. Your support is making this novel possible, both by funding the project’s expenses and by inspiring me in my work.

I’d like to offer a special thanks to my brother, Errol O’Neill, and my friend, Aur Beck, for their extraordinary levels of support for my first full-length novel.

I’ve known Errol for all of my life. He’s always been one of the most kind, considerate, and supportive people I’ve known. I’m very fortunate to have such a good brother. I’m also fortunate that he was able to support me in the process of turning my first full-length novel into a reality!

I’ve known Aur for over a decade now, and in that time he’s become like a brother to me too. We share a heartfelt dedication to ecological and social justice causes. We’ve also been doing a community radio show together for over ten years. From his renewable energy business, Advanced Energy Solutions, to his many courses and lectures on renewable energy and other green issues, Aur has shown a tireless commitment to making his practical vision of sustainable living a reality.

I’d also like to give a heartfelt thanks to a few other personal friends who have shown me extra support along the way. My friends Courtney Hahn, Steve Hahn, Rhiannon O’Neal, Christopher “Eel” Williams, Dan Raino, Zach Seibert, Jon-Paul Diefenbach, and Josh Guess (author of “Living With the Dead“) have all gone the extra mile to support my writing and my teaching. They’ve also helped me stay sane (and well-fed!) throughout the process of starting this novel and running this Kickstarter campaign. I am blessed to have many friends, but you have each in your own ways played a pivotal role in this process.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone else who made a pledge for Change: Kimberly Ellis, Tabitha Tripp, Dinah Seibert, “vilkacis”, Bemjamin Seibert, Melissa Hubbard, Joshua K. Vaughn, Lauren Kitover, Jessie Sims, David Hutchings, Julia Murphy, Don Ellis, Niki Henderson, Sarah Palm, Kristie Purdy, Jennifer Bull, Martha Ellert, Katie, Andi Darnell, Tim Kirkpatrick, Joel Landry, Marisa Winegar, Hugh Muldoon, Summer Marshall, Susan Kaman, Heather Jacob, Jessica Bradshaw, Jeremy Keith, Alex van Vucht, Retha Daugherty, Wes Foskey, Gregg Sperling, and Cheyenne Adams.

Thanks again for all of your support! Your pledges will pay for the cover art, proofreading, publication costs, and other expenses as I write, revise, and publish this novel.

So what’s the next step?

The biggest next step is writing! I’ve cut back on other projects so that I can focus as much time as possible on finishing this novel. My work on Change includes a combination of writing the text itself plus ongoing work on my notes, plot outline, and research relevant to the plot.

I’m also pleased to report that I’ve found a local artist to work on the novel’s cover art! I’ve already had my first meeting with her, and I’m very excited about the progress we’ve made so far. She’s going to do one or two preliminary mock-ups based on what we discussed at that meeting. Once she’s done that, we’ll meet again and decide where to go from there.

If you’re one of the lucky people who pledged for Change using Kickstarter, you’ll receive regular updates from me through your Kickstarter account. For those of you who didn’t pledge, I’ll also be sure to post about any major updates here on my Song of the Trees blog.

The projected release date of Change is Winter 2011. This gives me several months to finish the text, receive feedback from a few good friends, make my final edits, have the final draft proofread, receive the cover art, and have the finished product available in print and digital form by the end of November. It’s going to be a busy four or five months, but it’ll be worth it!

Thank you once again to everyone who has supported this project. I’ll be sure to keep you posted as work progresses. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful Summer! [And I hope everyone in the Southern Hemisphere has a wonderful Winter!]

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Dimensions of Health and My Healing Journey

I’ve had several experiences recently that have lead me to reflect on the different dimensions of health. At first, I thought this was purely personal musing on my part, not necessarily something worth mentioning in my blog. Then, I realized that it was a “teachable moment,” so I decided to share.

I’m in the middle of a year-and-a-day cycle of profound change. The first outwardly visible sign of this cycle was my spontaneous decision to start jogging every day for the next year and a day. Since I was inspired to start this jogging on Samhain, the Celtic New Year, I knew that it was probably part of a deeper cycle of change in my life. And so far, the changes in my life have born out that perspective. In fact, I am convinced that this cycle is the final stage of my transformation from Justin Patrick O’Neill into Treesong.

I know that not everyone who reads this blog shares my spiritual beliefs. If any of what I’m about to say doesn’t make sense to you, or doesn’t seem believable to you, I encourage you to take it with a grain of salt and see it as a colorful metaphor for a process of psychological development. But this is my blog, so I’m going to describe my experiences in the way that I experience them, and you can draw whatever conclusions you like.

I changed my name to Treesong because my move to Southern Illinois and my involvement in various environmental groups triggered a profound personal transformation. To be honest, I’m tempted to say that I was “born again” as a Pagan since it feels like I’ve reincarnated without dying. Whatever you want to call it, I became a new person — possessing many of the same core qualities as my former self, but experiencing and manifesting them in new and different ways.

Becoming Treesong has been an intense, amazing, and ultimately rewarding process. I really feel that as Treesong, I’ve come closer to embodying and embracing the best of the core qualities that have defined both Justin and Treesong. I’ve come to realize, though, that I never fully completed this process.

My journey to Idaho for a summer of forest defense work was the first step in this process. My studies at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing were an important turning point in this process. And at first, I thought that my initiation as a Wiccan Priest was the completion of this process. And on some level, it was. But somehow, this new identity — this new way of experiencing my core essence and manifesting it in the world — didn’t fully take root.

Really, it’s hard to say why. To be honest, I’m sure it had a lot to do with the fact that Southern Illinois really doesn’t have a lot of people like me, and I didn’t have the material and social support at the time to foster me through the final stages of this transformation. In any case, I encountered heavy resistance (both inner and outer) to my efforts to create a new life as Treesong. I was feeling the intensely active and creative energy of my new life, but caught in the patterns and circumstances of my old life, leading to a downward spiral that almost made me lose sight of who I am.

When I encountered the Real Life Superhero movement, it snapped me out of this downward spiral. Suddenly, I had a new way of understanding and explaining my life’s calling. Activism had become depressing to me because it focused on all of the tragic and often soul-crushing problems in the world that needed to be solved. But this concept of becoming a superhero was inspiring to me because it focused instead on my own personal power to act in the world.

And so, I became a Real Life Superhero. This breathed new life into me, improving my personal attitude and giving me the energy I needed to return to a life of community involvement. In my first year as an RLSH, I had some wonderful experiences, including helping out with dozens of local projects and traveling to Superheroes Anonymous 4 in Portland for an intense weekend of both personal training and public service.

When I came home from Portland, though, it was clear to me that there were still some serious barriers in my life left over from my time of low energy and low activity. My physical health and fitness was still in a sorry state; my income was virtually non-existent; and I was still caught up in a few patterns in my personal life that I simply couldn’t seem to shake because they were coping mechanisms for the fact that my tremendous inner fire was being actively dampened down by my life’s circumstances.

And so, as I fumbled around trying in vain to figure out what to do, the answer came to me spontaneously, without effort or warning, through the wisdom of my body and my heart rather than some keen mental insight or brilliant strategy.

I started jogging.

I felt stuck, I felt frustrated, and I didn’t know what else to do. But I felt an intense desire to do SOMETHING. So I put on my boots, stepped outside, and started jogging.

The first few laps were extremely rough going. I could barely even jog a lap around the block at that point. But somehow, jogging made me feel better. The inner fire that used to burn me up inside was suddenly transformed into a healthy physical activity that would heal me rather than hurt me. I jogged another day, and another, and soon I realized that I had made an unspoken commitment to jog for the next year and a day.

The jogging, though, was only the beginning. I also realized that this was a time to break all of the remaining unhealthy patterns in my life.

When I felt like a community activity was draining my energy without actually providing a meaningful service to the community, I would do my best to change the pattern. If I couldn’t change the pattern, I would step back and look for a new perspective on the situation, or find some new way to be involved in the community.

When I felt like I couldn’t be open and expressive with someone, I would do my best to change the pattern. If they were mere acquaintances, I simply spent less time with them, or stopped caring whether or not they wanted me to be genuine around them. If they were someone closer, I sought to find some way, any way, to break the pattern and express myself more fully in their presence. If they understood, and liked what I had to share, our friendship deepened. If they didn’t, then at least our differences became clear, offering us both the opportunity to reflect on them and work through them rather than failing to understand or acknowledge each other’s differences.

These past few weeks have been tough work — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. But when the going got tough, I got tougher. When I felt tired, instead of just dragging my feet and not getting much done, I rested deeply for a while, then found the energy to do something productive and inspiring with my life. When I felt depressed or discouraged, I reminded myself that it was okay to feel that way sometimes, and embracing it with a healing response rather than denying it allowed me to move through it that much more quickly.

And so, while my outward circumstances really don’t seem that much different, I find myself in an entirely new place today. I’m still jogging every day, and now I jog a mile almost every day. I’m filled with all sorts of creative energy, including new ideas for stories, inspiration for my novel, and academic inspiration for my work with the Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education. And I know that if I can sustain this uplifting pattern for even just a little while longer, my major remaining physical and financial and personal hurdles will start to shift dramatically, and the whole process will take on a life of its own.

In my heart, I’ve been Treesong for years. But now, over the course of my current year and a day cycle, I’m changing all of the outward physical, emotional, relational, and financial aspects of my life to better reflect who I am and what I’m doing with my life.

This has been a bumpy process. My mood and energy levels have been somewhat irregular as my physical, emotional, and mental patterns change, releasing much of the pain and confusion of my previous life. A few of you have ended up not hearing from me as often simply because I’ve been busy, and a few others have chosen to step back because they didn’t understand what I was going through, or don’t have as much interest in the person I’m becoming. But for the most part, the people in my life seem encouraged and inspired by these changes. I’m certainly becoming healthier, and for the most part I’ve been much happier, too. I’ve had a few friends comment on how I’m starting to look more healthy and vibrant, and a few others congratulate me on my renewed interest in my personal training and my creative writing.

Ultimately, this entry has been about my health journey rather than my original point. But I’d like to draw this to a close by getting back to my original point.

Health and personal empowerment work is very complex. We all carry our wounds in unique ways, and the journey from illness to wellness is complex, difficult to understand, and different for everyone. I’ve known this for a while now, but it really sunk in for me yesterday as I was making a video for my upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

The video itself is fairly simple and to the point. I introduce myself, talk a bit about my project, and encourage you to support the campaign. What really served as food for thought, though, was watching myself in the monitor for an extended period of time.

It was an eye-opening experience. Reading other people’s body language, quality of eye contact, etc., is second nature to me. With little or no effort on my part, I receive a wealth of information about people that supplements the more intuitive and esoteric experiences that I have of their personal energy and character. However, I had never really taken a good hard look at myself in this way to consider how other people who are sensitive to such cues would “read” me.

What a strange experience! In just a few minutes of watching myself on a computer monitor, I learned more about myself and other people’s opinions of me (both good and bad) than I had in years. I was reminded of how dull and lackluster my eyes can be when I’ve been pushing my body to its limits, and how talking excitedly about something or someone is often the only thing that can bring back that brilliant shine. I saw how stilted some of my movements look to an outsider. I noticed what it looks and feels like when I don’t hold eye contact and don’t have a warm expression on my face. Basically, I saw myself as someone would see me if they were only paying attention to my body language and quality of eye contact rather than hearing and seeing the deeper cues about who I am and what I’m like on the inside.

And in those few minutes, so many things became clear to me. It became clear to me that the way I hold myself physically (and often emotionally) is still closer to Justin’s clashing anxiety and depression than it is to Treesong’s balance of exuberance and steadiness. It made me understand why someone who does body-oriented work for a living still sees me as a wounded soul in need of healing rather than an incredibly strong and beautiful person to love and cherish. It made me understand why a manager would doubt my ability to do customer service work effectively, especially on my most exhausted days. It made me understand why friends and acquaintances sometimes think I’m tired or in pain even when I’m feeling wonderful.

Ultimately, it made me realize that unless someone knows me well, or is actively looking to discover my spiritual side, or both, my outward appearance and mannerisms really do make it hard for them to see the incredible passion and inspiration that I bring to my life. Yes, even my inner fire sometimes wavers — but it’s burning far more brightly and steadily than anyone would imagine if they’re simply looking at coarse physical cues.

This really made me think about the different levels on which hurting and healing take place. Yes, there is a general tendency for inner health to invigorate the outer body. There’s also a tendency for inner hurting to lead to physical sickness. I’ve experienced both. But psychological and spiritual patterns can change much more quickly and deeply than physical processes and structures. So you can’t get a full picture of someone’s current emotional and mental state simply by examining their physical fitness and energy levels. That may give you clues into how they’ve held their energy earlier in life, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s going on inside of them today.

Someone who looks very healthy on the outside may be in the midst of a profound downward spiral of emotional and mental distress that may ultimately erode their physical health. And someone who is plagued with the outward signs of exhaustion and emotional holding may in fact be experiencing a profound emotional liberation that will ultimately improve their physical health. Even for highly empathic people, it can take a bit of conversation and exploration to figure out what differences there may be between outer appearances and inner realities.

A part of me wants to go back and explain all of this to about two or three dozen people in my life who I feel have had a hard time understanding what’s going on with me because of the differences between my outer body and my inner experience. But then, I came to a liberating realization.

I don’t have to tell them. I’m going to show them.

My jogging, yoga, and personal process work is already starting to shift how I hold my body, and how my muscles and the coloring of my face look, and whether or not there’s a glimmer in my eye. One or two people close to me have already mentioned the difference, and I suspect others are noticing it without even mentioning it. It’s a bit more subtle now, but it’s only going to get more noticeable as time goes on. By the end of the year and a day cycle, I fully expect the change to be so dramatic that even people who pay no attention to my energy or body language will recognize it.

This is a dramatic realization — and an inspiring note to end on. It’s been a long road, and the drain that this journey had on me in the past is still visible in my body. But my heart and spirit are full of passion and vigor, and my body is starting to catch up. I’ve reached the point where physical exercise and activity are actually invigorating, and exciting, and something that I feel naturally drawn to. This being the case, I have great confidence that by the end of this year, I’ll be a much more integrated and empowered individual, with the energy of my body rising to meet the energy of my heart and spirit, making me ready to take my healing journey to a whole new level and change my community and my world for the better.

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Advanced Energy Solutions

Advanced Energy Solutions Group, Inc.: Advanced Energy Solutions Groups, Inc. (AES) is today’s leading renewable energy provider in Southern Illinois. AES offers a large selection of services such as:    * Finding the right renewable energy solutions for your home, business, or institution.  * Selling, designing, and installing customized solar electric, solar thermal, and wind systems.  * Personal help by phone for all of your technical renewable energy questions.  * Mobile solar education classes and an installer training network.My mission as a green superhero includes promoting renewable energy. Switching to renewable energy technologies such as solar power, wind, and micro hydro will benefit the people in our communities by creating green jobs. It will benefit the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will also benefit home and business owners by giving them a clean, reliable, and cost-effective source of energy, freeing them of dependence on fossil fuels.

These are three of the reasons why renewable energy is one of the most important green issues today. It’s also why I’m going to take a moment today to tell you about one of my employers, Advanced Energy Solutions.

I do part-time computer work for a company called Advanced Energy Solutions. Advanced Energy Solutions sells, designs, and installs renewable energy systems. Our specialty is solar electric (photovoltaic) systems. Over the past 11 years, we’ve installed systems throughout Illinois, Missouri, and a growing range of neighboring states. We also provide other services such as energy efficiency analysis, solar installation courses, and a mobile solar trailer that powers events and serves as an educational solar energy demonstration.

Do you own your own home and/or business? If so, contact me for more information about how Advanced Energy Solutions can provide you with a solar electric and/or solar thermal (hot water) system to meet some or all of your energy needs. I can answer basic questions about the technology and the process of purchasing solar, including a rough estimate of what the price may be for your home or business. If you like what you hear and think you may be ready to install a system, I can refer you to one of our sales people for a detailed estimate. [Yes, I do get a commission for such referrals, even though I’m not a sales person.]

If you live more than a few hundred miles away from Southern Illinois, we probably won’t be able to install your system. We’re building a network of local installers, though, so if you’re interested in solar, contact me and I’ll see if we can work something out.

If you don’t own your home, you’re probably not going to be able to install solar. There are, however, other ways you can promote renewable energy.

One is by asking your landlord if they’re willing to install solar. This may be a long shot, but it can actually be a sound business decision, especially if your landlord has multiple units and includes one or more utilities in the rent bill.

Another is by promoting green jobs initiatives. “Green jobs” is a broad term that includes renewable energy installation, green technology research and development, energy efficiency programs, ecological agriculture, and just about any other industry that creates jobs and income while also improving the sustainability of our relationship with our environment. Ask your local, state, and federal politicians what they’re doing to support green jobs, and check out green jobs groups like Green For All, Apollo Alliance, 1 Sky, Energy Action Coalition, and Blue Green Alliance.

Whether you’re interested in purchasing your own solar energy system or simply interested in promoting green jobs, I encourage you to learn more information about the benefits of renewable energy and what you can do to make the shift.

Renewables are ready! With the right combination of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation, we can power the world and achieve independence from fossil fuels. It’s a long road from here to there — but you can take the first step today!

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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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