Clark Kent, Superman, and Kal-El

Superman, Clark Kent, sad, reflective, by Alex Ross: This is a drawing by Alex Ross of Superman a.k.a. Clark Kent. The Man of Steel sits alone in his Supermain suit with a troubled look on his face and his Clark Kent shirt hanging from his shoulders.

As many people know, the story of Superman has had a formative influence on me since early childhood. When I was in preschool, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be Superman! They clarified, asking if I wanted to be a doctor, firefighter, astronaut, and so on. But I was firm in my conviction. I wanted to be Superman.

Now that I’m older, I know that I can’t be Superman. Honestly, I don’t think it’d be fair or kind to anyone involved to invest that much power and responsibility in one person. However, the heroic archetype still appeals to me, and Superman still shapes how my subconscious interacts with that archetype, so I may as well use the Man of Steel as a metaphor to describe what I’m experiencing.

As the story goes, a large meteorite crashed on a small Kansas farm about twenty years ago. As it turns out, this was no ordinary meteorite. It was a spacecraft, and its sole passenger was a small child from another world. A farmer and his wife, the Kents, discovered the child. Since they were childless, they chose to adopt this child of the heavens, raising him as their own son. As young Clark Kent reached maturity, he began to realize the great power bestowed upon him by his celestial origins and chose to dedicate that power to the service of humanity. Donning the robes of his homeworld, he became Superman, champion of truth, justice, and freedom.

This is where most versions of the story end. Superman is an incredibly powerful character, both in terms of the superpowers he possesses and in terms of how compelling his story has proven to be. But I’d like to argue that in its richest telling, this story involves not one archetype, but three: Clark Kent, Superman, and Kal-El.

Clark Kent is the Mask, the persona that this character adopts in order to hide his true nature. The benevolence of this character shines through in all three of his personas, but the Clark persona is the furthest removed from his source of power. He is meek, timid, unable to speak or act with confidence or strength because he has chosen to mask those characteristics in order to “fit in” with those around him.

Superman is the Hero or Champion. In most moments, this character is content to mask his true power with the Clark persona. But in moments of crisis, he casts this mask aside and becomes Superman, an incredibly strong and virtually invulnerable defender of the people. To people around him, and perhaps even to Superman himself, his heroic acts make him seem like he has reached the peak of self-actualization. But has he really? We call this person Superman, but Superman isn’t his true name. It’s a title that defines who he is relative to the people that he serves. But who is the person who holds this title? Who is this visitor from another world who plays this role of service to humanity?

Kal-El is the Higher Self, Deep Self, or True Self of this character. It is the true name given to him by his father, Jor-El, on his home world of Krypton. In the film adaptations of this story, his identity as Kal-El is shrouded in mystery — a crystal from his home world, a Fortress of Solitude in the distant north, a hologram of his father explaining his history and his identity to him. To almost everyone in life, he is Clark Kent, the well-meaning but ineffectual reporter, or Superman, the nigh-invincible champion of justice. But to his father, and to himself, he is something more — a mystery, one whose true nature is never fully understood or revealed, even to him.

Why do I revisit all of this comic book and movie mythology? Because I want to explore these three aspects of my own identity, and to encourage others who feel similarly inspired to do the same.

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life alternating between the roles of Clark Kent and Superman. When I first started my involvement in community service work as an undergrad, I was Justin Patrick O’Neill, mild-mannered volunteer who was socially awkward and painfully anxious and just followed other people’s lead. Over time, I became Treesong, bold community activist who traveled across the country on numerous occasions, laying his health, life, and freedom on the line in service of people and planet.

For a while, this worked for me. My meek Clark Kent side endeared me to people, and my bold Superman side inspired many others to believe that change for the better is in fact possible. But eventually, I noticed some serious flaws in how this Superman narrative plays out in real life.

As time goes on, I realize more and more that I don’t like being Clark Kent. I don’t want to spend another moment being anything resembling Clark Kent. Because Clark Kent is a ridiculous character when you really stop and think about it. Here he is, this incredible celestial creature with almost incomprehensible powers and abilities, and he spends most of his time in a suit and tie, in some cubicle at the Daily Planet, conforming to society’s expectations while masking his true power. It’s one of the most stifling forms of self-repression imaginable, and I’m doing everything I can to exorcise the last vestiges of Clark Kent from my psyche.

People find this story so compelling because they too are stuck conforming to society’s expectations and want to be something more colorful, more powerful, more real. But once you’ve discovered that brilliance, that power, that genuine life impulse, why hide it? Why not flaunt it?

That’s easy to say, but hard to live. We hide our brilliance all the time because we are afraid — afraid of being judged, afraid of being rejected, afraid of losing our jobs, afraid of losing our families, perhaps even afraid of losing our freedom and our lives if others react violently to our genuine identity.

But I refuse to live in fear any longer. I’m in the midst of a year-and-a-day cycle of personal transformation and liberation, and I swear to myself and to the world that I won’t live in my own self-made prison any longer. I’m shedding my suit and tie, opening my heart, and taking to the skies. Clark Kent is dead — and at some point, I should hold a proper funeral for him.

My choice to become a Real Life Superhero was the first concrete step in that process for me. However, it’s not the last. This may sound ironic coming from a self-proclaimed superhero, but I don’t want to be stuck in the role of Superman either. Superman is surrounded by people less open, less powerful, less free than he is. He spends most of his time hiding his inner radiance behind a mask, and in those rare moments when he truly shines, he shines only for other people. People need him to save them from their troubles, and their troubles end up defining his role in the world.

I don’t want to be Superman anymore. I still consider myself a Real Life Superhero, but I don’t want to be stuck in the position of Clark Kent OR Superman. I want to be Kal-El — or perhaps more accurately, I want to be Cranncheol, the Irish translation of the name Treesong. I am a passionate person, and one of my greatest passions in life is serving others in their ongoing struggles for healing and liberation. I want this passion to be at the center of my life — but I no longer want to mask my inner radiance in the presence of others, as Clark Kent does, or define myself in terms of how many other people need my help, as Superman does. I want to embrace my inner bliss, my innermost desire to be truly alive, and let that inner light shine for the liberation of all beings, myself included.

This is what I want. And so, this is the life I live.

I choose to shine. I choose to allow the ecstasy of my inner divinity to flow freely through my body, my emotions, my mind, my heart, and my spirit. I choose liberate myself from all illusions and attachments that inhibit this flow of divine ecstasy. I choose to let this divine ecstasy shine through my life in a way that inspires others to reconnect with their own inner source. And I encourage others to do the same.

Posted in Uncategorized


I’ve started formulating a framework for a transformative approach to both personal and planetary healing work. This framework is still in its early stages, but I’m feeling inspired to write about it, so I thought I’d share.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry titled “The Future Refused To Change.” This entry explored the dystopian future that has been set into motion by an interlocking network of social, economic, and political institutions. These institutions concentrate money and power into the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Climate change and other ecological disruptions are rendering our planet increasingly difficult to live on, while Big Business and Big Government are making our economy and society increasingly difficult to thrive in. If we take no action, our world will be reduced to a smouldering ruin by these institutions.

On what seemed like a separate tangent, I’ve also been exploring and reflecting on all of the ways in which individuals and groups fail to communicate and cooperate effectively with one another. Different people hold different perspectives on the nature of interpersonal relationships, social/economic/political structures, community development strategies, and reality itself. If their hearts and minds aren’t open to including the wisdom (and transcending the shortcomings) of multiple perspectives, then they end up simply fighting with each other.

As I was walking home tonight, it occurred to me that there is a healing response that speaks to both of these problems. There are seldom simple solutions, but I believe I’ve come up with a simple framework for our thoughts and actions that can lead us to discover many creative and effective solutions to our personal and planetary problems. That framework can be summed up in a single word:


A catalyst causes or accelerates a process of transformation by its very nature and presence in a situation. Catalysis has a very specific meaning in chemistry, but this technical definition serves as a metaphor for the quickening presence of individuals in communities and communities in societies. And just as a chemical reaction requires a balance of the right elements and conditions, personal and planetary catalysis requires a balance of the right elements and conditions.

On the level of interpersonal and group dynamics, one such balance is the golden mean between coddling and trolling.

Coddling is the process of inhibiting healthy development by enabling unhealthy behaviors. This is usually done out of a sense of compassion, with the coddler not wanting to challenge the individual or group because of the discomfort that is likely to result from such a challenge. But ultimately, coddling does not serve the coddled. It avoids short-term discomfort at the expense of long-term growth and evolution.

Trolling is the process of inhibiting healthy development by attacking healthy behaviors. This usually arises out of a sense of callousness, because the troll either doesn’t care about the other person’s feelings or is willing to trample on those feelings in a misguided effort to challenge the individual or group to learn and grow. But ultimately, trolling does not serve the trolled. It drives people further into their defenses without challenging them to release those defenses.

In the past, I’ve tended toward coddling over trolling. If an individual doesn’t want to talk about or act on difficult topics, I’ve tended to just accept the fact that they’re not ready to deal with anything that challenges their comfort level. No point in stirring up a bunch of unruly emotions if they’re not ready to process those emotions anyway, right? If a group doesn’t want to clarify its focus or change the way it operates, I’ve tended to just accept the fact that the group is dysfunctional and unwilling or unable to change. No need to have a long-winded debate about process or strategy if we’re just going to fall into the same old patterns anyway, right?

Coddling is much more socially acceptable than trolling. But that doesn’t make it any more conducive to individual or group development. When I coddle, the people and groups around me end up being stuck in dysfunctional patterns because I haven’t done enough to challenge these patterns. And I end up being stuck in dysfunctional patterns because I have to walk on eggshells around other people and wrestle with groups that writhe and flail like 10-headed hydras.

I’ve just about had my fill of coddling (and being coddled). But I don’t want to respond to this coddling tendency by swinging to the other extreme and becoming a troll. I want to respond by becoming a catalyst — acting with courage, and relating with love, and speaking my truth, in a way that will catalyze liberatory transformation in interpersonal relationships and group dynamics.

The challenge, though, is that each situation requires a different catalyst. A close friendship, a casual acquaintanceship, an informal community group, and a formal institutional setting, all fall in vastly different places on a continuum of self-expression. Polite behavior that is very productive in a formal setting can be very stifling in a close friendship, and expressive behavior that is very productive in a close friendship can be very disruptive in a formal setting.

In order to be a catalyst for liberatory transformation in all areas of our lives, we must develop different skill sets and explore different sides of ourselves, standing ready to shout loudly and proudly in one moment while listening quietly and speaking softly in another. We must learn when to offer tender comfort to the weary and when to offer relentless challenge to the complacent. In all of these cases, we must let our truth, our love, and our courage shine through in our every thought, word, and deed — but we must express these traits in a way that catalyzes positive transformation rather than coddling people when they need to be challenged or trolling people when they need to be comforted.

On a broader scale, this “catalyze” principle has the power to change the world.

In order to change the future of this planet — in order to avert the apocalypse by liberating ourselves from the destructive institutions that currently rule the world — we must catalyze institutional change at each and every level of the world stage. Just as individuals can catalyze change within small groups, small groups can catalyze change within larger social, economic, and political institutions.

Some of our institutions need to be challenged to evolve or dissolve. Others need to be supported in their growth and evolution. If we learn the difference between the two, we can serve as living catalysts, challenging oppressive institutions and supporting liberatory ones. Each of these institutions, in turn, serves as a catalyst for even deeper transformation in society at large, leading to the very sort of revolutionary shift in institutional structure and group consciousness that we need to liberate our planet from the forces of oppression and destruction that currently dominate the globe.

The time has come for each of us to be a catalyst for personal and planetary liberation and transformation!

Remember, a catalyst creates change by its very nature, and the change it creates does not exhaust or consume the catalyst. Instead, the catalyst sparks change all around itself simply by virtue of who or what it is, accelerating the process of transformation going on all around it and sticking around until that process is complete. In this way, even a lone individual can eventually make a difference in the global process of liberatory transformation — and a large group can work together to bring that process to completion in the blink of an eye!

So… catalyze individual and interpersonal transformation in your personal life. Catalyze a transformation of group dynamics in your community groups. Bring your presence and your energy to community groups that have the power to catalyze liberatory transformations in the social, economic, and political institutions that surround you.

Become a living catalyst of liberatory transformation! The world is a strange and complicated place, and it can be very hard at times to figure out how to do this. But if you set a positive intention to be a catalyst, and put enough time and energy into this intention, you will find a way.

Posted in Uncategorized

Robin Hood

Robin Hood (Errol Flynn): This is a photo of Errol Flynn as Robin Hood in "The Adventures of Robin Hood."

Wherever the rich steal from the poor, Robin Hood appears to settle the score.

Robin Hood is not a lone individual. He is any person, and every person, who knows in their heart that the hungry must be fed and the working people of the land should not labor to fill the coffers of distant tyrants.

Do not wait for him to come and save you; do not mourn his absence in the land you call home. Instead, go out into the streets in search of him, for you will only find him in the company of those who struggle for justice.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Future Refused to Change

Most if not all die-hard video game fans are familiar with a game called Chrono Trigger. This pioneering console RPG allowed the player to control a cast of characters on their journey through space and time to save their world from a terrible apocalypse. The plot was rich and complex, including several possible endings. The most bleak of these is the one in which our heroes fail and the apocalypse isn’t prevented. This version of the tale ends with the poignant words “But… the future refused to change” hovering over an image of their ruined world.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m caught in the real-life equivalent of Chrono Trigger. I’ve seen into the future — and what I’ve seen isn’t pretty.

But... the future refused to change.: "But... the future refused to change." In this photo, this poignant quote from Chrono Trigger is superimposed over an image of the Earth to emphasize the dire state we find ourselves in. Art by LegacyChrono.Our social, economic, and political institutions have created a bleak future: one where climate change, pollution, war, and destruction of ecosystems causes the end of life as we know it. No more forests; no more wetlands; no more savannas; no more prairies; no more coral reefs; no more megaflora or megafauna. All that remains are lichen, fungi, and bacteria that are hearty enough to survive when our society’s death throes raze the majority of the planet and blot out the sun.

If this sounds bleak, that’s because it IS bleak. And much of this downward spiral into global apocalypse will likely happen within our lifetimes. So far, our efforts to change this future have failed. So far, the future has refused to change.

But there’s still hope. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog entry or doing the work that I’m doing.

We can change the future. We can create a world that is the opposite of the barren husk that currently awaits our grandchildren. We can create an abundant life for all humans while actually increasing the biodiversity and long-term sustainability of life on this planet.

How do we do it? I wish I could say it’ll be easy. It probably won’t be. But it IS possible, and it’ll be well worth the effort. Here are a few thoughts on how we can all get started.

The first step is self-education. What are the current threats to the health and survival of the many ecosystems that support life as we know it on Planet Earth? Two of the biggest direct threats I’m aware of are climate change and pollution. For more information on climate change, visit For more information on simple steps that individuals can take to “go green,” check out Treesong’s Green Tips.

The second step is interrupting the cycle of destruction. How are we as individuals, communities, states, and nations contributing to problems like climate change and the pollution of the air, land, and water? How do we break this cycle of destruction? Reducing our emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions at the individual, local, state, and national level is an essential part of this process. So is supporting activist efforts such as that seek to educate the public and put pressure on our leaders to make the necessary changes.

The third (and perhaps most important) step is the constructive program — in other words, taking positive actions to create new systems that are healthy for both people and the planet. A few examples of this include supporting the creation of green jobs, incorporating the principles of permaculture and other ecological approaches into the design of our homes/farms/businesses/cities, and transitioning our food systems toward eating more locally.

Do I have all of the answers? No, not by a long shot. But given the future that lies ahead if we do nothing, I feel inspired to speak and act based on what I do know, in the hope that we can create a better future together.

Posted in Uncategorized
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.

My Books

Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.