Superheroes Anonymous 4: Prologue

Note: This is the first of several articles about Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes being held in Portland, Oregon. This series, written by Treesong, is a collaborative project of Heroes in the Night and Song of the Trees.

In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a Greyhound bus here in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. After two days on the road, I’ll arrive in Portland, Oregon for a conference called Superheroes Anonymous 4, where I’ll be spending about two days in the company of fellow Real Life Superheroes. Considering the amount of time, energy, and support that has gone into making my trip to this conference a reality, I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on what it is and why I’m going.

A Real Life Superhero is just what it sounds like: someone who wears a special costume or uniform, adopts a special name, and goes around providing various forms of community service.

Some of us are self-appointed urban guardians, conducting neighborhood patrols to prevent crime and ensure the safety of people in our communities. Some of us are charitable volunteers, offering our time and energy and money to people in need and the community organizations that serve them. Some of us are activists or advocates, choosing one or more social or environmental causes to organize around in our community. Many of us are some combination of the above, or choose our own way that is hard for others to define. At the end of the day, we are people of conscience who love our communities and have chosen a bold new way to serve and protect them.

When I first heard about Real Life Superheroes online, I knew immediately that it was right for me. It was what I had been trying to do with my life for years without fully understanding how to put a name to it. However, I definitely understand the initial skeptical response of some people. Why superheroes? What’s the point of adopting a superhero name and dressing up in a costume or uniform?

Really, I can only speak for myself. Some people’s approaches are very different than mine, and some don’t even like to be called Real Life Superheroes. For me, though, what it comes down to is the difference between despair and hope.

For about ten years, I was what most people would call an activist. It started when I was a college student and continued well after graduation as I decided to stay in the Carbondale for the long haul. I would join community groups, organize community events, and speak out about political causes that were near and dear to my heart.

This was an intense way of life. At first, it felt very empowering and rewarding. I learned more about the world, I met wonderful people, and I felt like I was starting to make a difference. But as time went on, it started to seem more and more like an endless struggle. There were so many problems in our community, and even more in the world beyond it. I had a growing sense of urgency about what needed to be done, but a diminishing sense of what I or anyone else could do about it.

For a few years, I sank into a rut of despair, without the time or energy or hope necessary to do much in my community. But then, I came across this Real Life Superhero movement, and something clicked.

Superheroes are archetypal figures of inspiration, empowerment, and hope. Most efforts to increase community involvement focus on some combination of guilt (“If you don’t help this cause, you’re not a good person!”), anger (“Look at what they did to that forest!”), or fear (“The world will end if you don’t help this cause!”). This may work in the short term, but it leaves people feeling guilty, frustrated, afraid, and ultimately powerless. It emphasizes the idea that we’re surrounded by troubles, and that we’re constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by these troubles.

The Real Life Superhero approach to community involvement, on the other hand, is rooted in the idea that each of us can become a beacon of hope and an agent of change in an otherwise bleak and apathetic society. Real Life Superheroes are everyday citizens just like you who have simply chosen to go the extra mile and do some good in our community. We have no superpowers, and some of us don’t even have any fancy gear or special martial arts training. We also don’t have all of the answers to the problems facing our community. What each of us does have, though, is our own unique set of skills, experience, and passion that we bring to our work. We see some problem or need in our community, and we take simple and direct action to resolve it. It’s that simple for us — and it can be that simple for you, too.

Learning about and talking to Real Life Superheroes from around the world has been an amazing experience. Embracing the superhero archetype and becoming a Real Life Superhero myself has given me the renewed energy and vision that I needed to start being active again in my community. Taking action, in turn, has been the antidote to my despair, leaving me with a sense of hope for the future. Now, instead of seeing community service as a “chore,” I look at it as an adventure.

And THAT is why I’m going to Superheroes Anonymous 4. I feel inspired again, and I want to follow that inspiration wherever it leads me. I also want to meet up with other people who feel the same way and see what we can do in the span of two days to learn together, to grow together, and to serve the people of Portland and beyond.

I realize that most people don’t “get it” the first time they hear about it, and some people will never “get it” at all. This approach to community service certainly isn’t for everyone, and I don’t recommend it for everyone. But I find it profoundly inspiring. Other Real Life Superheroes find it inspiring, and many people in our communities find it inspiring too. As long as we’re doing good work and inspiring others to do the same, that’s the important thing.

However this weekend’s conference goes, I hope that this spirit of inspiration will continue, and that more and more people will discover their inner superhero. Even if you don’t feel a need to adopt a new name and costume, know that you have the power within you to make a difference for the better. And stay tuned for more updates on Superheroes Anonymous 4!

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Hero Fest 2010 Thank You

Hero Fest 2010 was great! We had three bands, five or six different information booths, brochures from other groups not in attendance, and plenty of people from the community out to enjoy the day’s events.

While it’s still fresh in my mind, I want to say thank you to all of the people who made this festival possible.

First of all, a big thank to our musical acts: Amphetamine Gazelle, Magilla, and the Parsley and Sagebrush Dynamic Duo. Amphetamine Gazelle got us started with some high-energy music; Magilla offered an impressive combination of original material and superhero-themed cover songs; and Parsley and Sagebrush offered a great folk perspective on heroes with their earthy and social justice oriented tunes. I was sorry to miss out on some of Parsley and Sagebrush’s set, but glad that they were able to play a few extra songs!

I’d also like to thank Aur Beck of Advanced Energy Solutions for providing solar power and overall logistical support for this event. His company’s Mobile Solar Power & Training Trailer is a wonderful resource for our community and region, and he also helped us haul tables and chairs and people to and from the event.

My thanks also go to Leaf Lad a.k.a Jon-Paul Diefenbach for all of the help carrying around tables/chairs, transporting people, and offering his overall support for the event. (Hopefully I’m not spoiling your secret identity!)

Thank you to all of the people from Gaia House Interfaith Center, Peace Coalition / “Raging Grannies”, Green Earth, and Art of Living who came to provide information booths, and thanks to other groups who provided information for us to have on hand. Group turnout was lower than expected due to the Labor Day weekend, but those who made it helped the festival serve its purpose of offering ways for people to get involved in the community.

Thank you to Scott Thorne of Castle Perilous for offering a free comic book to everyone from Hero Fest who wore a costume. We took a group trip over there during the festival and had a good time checking out the comic book characters that helped inspire the Real Life Superhero movement.

Thank you also to Sarah Miller for offering yoga and joining in the mask-making at the arts and crafts table. We weren’t able to entice people into sharing in the yoga asanas, but it was fun to hear about Haruman, the original yoga superhero, and do the Warrior 3 asana while people sang a superhero song.

Finally, thanks to everyone else who attended or helped with Hero Fest 2010. This may have seemed small and simple to some, but people seemed to be having a good time, and I feel like this was a happy and successful start of a new Carbondale tradition. Next fall, with a full year to prepare, we will have more community groups, more bands, more costumes, more activities for children, and more of that great positive feeling of community togetherness that we shared today!

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Life and Death

For the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with the most basic questions of economic survival. And now, for the past week, I’ve been dealing with the sudden and unexpected death of my mother. Given everything that’s been going on, now seems like a good time to talk about life, death, and everything in between (and beyond).

My mother, Maureen, passed away in her sleep last Wednesday morning. She had been dealing with chronic pain and other health issues, but nothing that seemed to indicate just how soon she would be leaving us.

I don’t know what to say, really. I loved my mother, and I still love her, wherever she may be. I don’t claim to understand what exactly happens in the afterlife, but I believe that she is at peace, and I believe that she may be with my aunts, my grandfather, and other family and friends who passed on before she did.

Wherever she is, I’m sure she was touched by the response that people had to her passing. We held a wake and a funeral on fairly short notice, and yet dozens of people (almost a hundred?) came over the course of two days to pay their respects and express their love and appreciation for her. Family, neighbors, former co-workers, friends of family, all showed up from as nearby as Brookfield and as far away as Arizona. In her more self-effacing moments, my mother seemed to think that she didn’t know very many people, or that people didn’t give much thought to her. But many people came to mourn her passing, and so many of them had heartfelt appreciation and affection to share that went beyond the usual polite expressions of sympathy for the family.

A few of my friends here in Carbondale and elsewhere had started getting to know her through Facebook. Some of my other friends never got to know her at all. To those who never had the opportunity to meet her in person, though, I just wanted to take a moment to say that she had a hand in many of the good traits that my friends and loved ones seem to respect and cherish in me.

As someone said at the wake, she was a voice of conscience for many people in her life. She lived a hard life in many regards, especially at times when her life was touched by crime and poverty and other major life challenges. These challenges took their toll on her, and sometimes that toll was more than she or those around her could handle. But unlike many other people in similar circumstances, she took these hard times as lessons in the importance of social justice. When money was tight as a single mom, she fed her children first, and only ate after we had eaten our fill. When men mistreated her, she taught her sons and daughter to respect women and pay attention to women’s rights and feminist issues. When she herself was struggling away at minimum-wage jobs, she joined in boycotts to protest the use of toxic pesticides on grapes that poisoned workers and the land. As she grew older and her life circumstances grew more stable, she devoted a good portion of her newly discovered free time to writing letters, following news stories, and making donations to various ecological and social justice causes.

Of course, I had many other influences in life that inspired me to become socially and ecologically conscious, including my brother and all of the activists I met in Southern Illinois and beyond. But in honor of her passing, I’d like to give credit where credit is due and say that my mother had a good hand in shaping the man I am today. Hopefully, the next time you see me out in the community supporting some cause or organization, you’ll think of her and send your best to her, wherever she may be.

Now that I’m back in Carbondale, however, my thoughts have been thoughts of life and renewal rather than death.

Life is too short for us to waste our time on the things in life that don’t matter. We should listen to our hearts to discover our true calling in life and pursue that calling with every ounce of passion we have in us.

I’ve believed this for a long time now, but watching someone I love pass away unexpectedly has really driven this message home for me. I’m still feeling too chaotic and confused to really focus this into action today, or put this into words properly tonight, but the feeling is there.

Are you happy with your life? Really, truly happy with the job that you work, the state of your friendships and intimate relationships, your role in the community, the state of the world around you? Or are you just going along with the status quo because it seems easier, safer, stabler than rocking the boat?

In yoga, as in meditation, we often talk about taking the time to be still and listen to our breath. Really, pausing to do this several times throughout the day can tell us volumes about whether or not we’re really happy with our lot in life. Is your breathing naturally deep, slow, relaxed, untroubled by muscular tension in the neck, back, chest, hips? Or do you find your muscles tight, and your breath originating from your chest and throat rather than your abdomen?

Listen to the wisdom of your body. Muscular tension and shallow breathing are your body’s way of saying no when your mind and your voice refuse to. No, I don’t like this job. No, I don’t like this relationship pattern. No, I don’t like responding to problems in my world with apathy or cynicism.

If your body is saying no to these things, then your heart is probably saying no too. And life’s simply too short to say no to the deepest genuine desires of your heart and spirit.

Why live in a persistent state of No when you could be living in a persistent state of Yes? Take the time to consider what you really want in life, and then take the time to do what you can to make it a reality. Even if the road is bumpy and unfamiliar, or doesn’t lead where you originally thought it would, you’ll be on the right path.

I believe that our deepest purpose in life is to find the divine spark within us and to make that spark manifest in the world around us. Somewhere deep inside of you, there is a great love, or a great passion, or a great inspiration, that has the power to transform your life and touch the lives of everyone around you. It may be something simple and humble that others will seldom take notice of, or it may be something grandiose and profound that will change the world as we know it. But whatever it is, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find that spark within you and bring your light into the world.

I feel like for a long time now, I’ve been doing a good job of finding that inner light within me. But I haven’t always been able to bring it out into the world around me. It often seems like I need more energy, or more money, or more time, or more people in my life who believe as I do and have the time and energy and money to try something new and bold and exciting. And so, I take what I really want and I put it off until tomorrow, or I hide it away until I find the right people to share it with, or I settle for less than what I want and hope that maybe I’ll do better someday.

But life is too short for this attitude. They say that justice delayed is justice denied — and the same is true of our hopes and dreams. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone’s wildest dreams can be realized in this lifetime, or even that they ought to be. But I do believe that each of us can find a sense of purpose deep within ourselves, and that we can turn this sense of purpose into meaningful actions and relationships that may be more rewarding and amazing than we would have originally thought possible.

I’m still working out the specifics of what it is that I want to do with this life. But I know that it will involve writing, and I know that it will involve teaching, and I know that it will involve doing what I can to support the community groups of Southern Illinois and beyond. It will also involve sharing my life with many family, friends, and loved ones.

The outpouring of love and support that I received after my mother’s passing reminded me that I’ve already come a long way in making my dreams a reality. Sure, I don’t currently have many of the outward material signs of success that people usually look for. My income is low, my debt is slowly growing, and my current lack of steady cash flow is a major barrier to some of my personal and professional goals. However, I have more friends and loved ones than I can even count! If we were all teleported away somewhere, there would be more than enough of us to fill an entire village. So rather than lamenting what I don’t have, I choose to celebrate what I do have. And I do have an entire community worthy of friends, a rich spiritual life, great love and kinship in the present moment, and great hope and prospects for the future.

Thank you to my family, my friends, and everyone else who was supportive and consoling about my mother’s passing. And thank you to everyone else who has brought joy into my life and helped make life worth living. I hope to live another 50 to 100 years in good health and good spirits, but even if I were to pass on tomorrow, I would feel very blessed with the richness of relationships and experiences I’ve had so far in this lifetime. I thank all of you for your presence in my life, and look forward to spending more time with you on this wild and crazy journey we call life.

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Plan B

So, I haven’t heard any official news yet about my most recent job interview. However, signs indicate that I’m probably not getting this job. Therefore, I’m putting renewed thought and energy into developing a Plan B.

Plan B is a long shot. It involves doing everything that I’m doing now, but better. Instead of writing occasionally, I will write daily, and submit at least one work of fiction and non-fiction per month. Instead of waiting for John A. Logan College to respond to my requests to submit more class proposals, I will organize and promote my own classes at another local venue, possibly in cooperation with other people who want to teach professionally in a non-traditional setting. Instead of waiting for people to invite me to give talks and lead workshops, I will promote myself as a public speaker and workshop leader.

This certainly isn’t the “standard” or “traditional” approach to securing a full-time income. But the standard approach really hasn’t worked for me. It’s time for me to develop a plan that plays to my strengths. It’s time for me to let go of the belief that earning money and pursuing my life’s ambitions are two separate things. It’s time for me to start believing that I can earn a living doing the work that I actually want to do, and that I have the skill and the passion to do, rather than limping along at an unpleasant minimum wage job in order to earn someone else a profit.

If you have any other suggestions, I’m open to them. I’m very poor right now, so I’d be willing to work a part-time job unrelated to my writing/teaching/speaking if I could find one. Here are my limitations and strengths:

LIMITATIONS

* I’m currently unable to do heavy lifting or manual labor for an extended period of time. I won’t be able to finish rebuilding my core strength until I have more food money.
* No Wal-Mart and no McDonald’s. First of all, I doubt they’d have me, given my hair/beard/beliefs. Second of all, I have vowed not to support either of them, and I would rather go hungry than go back on this vow.
* No Multi-Level Marketing or similar direct sales schemes. Period.
* I currently have no transportation and have never had a license. I intend to change both of these facts, but that will obviously require time and money.

STRENGTHS

* I have many miscellaneous computer skills, mostly focused around web design. Not enough to secure a full-time web development job, apparently, but enough to meet most people’s needs.
* I have the communication skills and patience required to tutor and/or teach. I have taught professionally before and enjoy doing so.
* According to my grade school IQ test, my IQ is around 145. I’ve scored between 135 and 145 on shorter IQ tests I’ve taken as an adult. In other words, I’m a quick learner, and complex intellectual activity is second nature to me. In fact, I love doing challenging intellectual work to ensure that my mental acuity doesn’t diminish over time.
* I can walk anywhere in Carbondale city limits and can take Jackson County Mass Transit to anywhere in the county.

Ideally, I’m looking for work related to writing, teaching, or public speaking. But I need the money, so I’ll do any work that plays to my strengths and is not ruled out by my limitations. Unless I get any impressive suggestions from friends, though, my current plan is to see if I can get any more hours of part-time computer work and earn the rest of my income by increasing my writing, teaching, and public speaking.

Yes, I know this is a long shot. But as the saying goes, crisis is opportunity. My difficulty finding traditional employment has given me the opportunity to embrace my passion for my own creative approach. I’m confident that if I can make enough in the short-term to survive, I can build my career over time and eventually make enough to live quite comfortably.

If I’m wrong… well, then I’ll have to develop a Plan C. In the meantime, I’m going with Plan B. Thanks for listening, and as always, let me know if you have any questions, thoughts, suggestions, or other random comments to share.

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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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