Civil Rights

My Story: Living With Bipolar Disorder & Giving Voice to the Voiceless…by Jon Ferreira

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Good evening, my name is Jon Ferreira, and I live with mental illness. For over thirty years, I have worked as a professional actor, director, writer, and educator. I have taught high school, university, and adult education. As a writer, I write reviews, political essays, social commentary, and have been published on several websites. Despite my many accomplishments, five years ago – at the age of 35 – I was diagnosed with severe Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD, and it changed my life forever. Tonight, I am here to describe my journey into the abyss, but also to share my resilient story of hope and recovery, and how I am living proof that it is possible to live a purposeful and rewarding life while living with mental illness.

Five years ago, I was living in Chicago, and finishing up a Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing. During my three years of grad school, I had been arrested for DUI, faced jail time and thousands of dollars in fines, lost my driver’s license and totaled a new car, gone through a painful breakup, abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered the deaths of two close friends – one of whom had Schizophrenia, and took his own life. On top of all this, I was put on probation in my theatre department, and nearly kicked out of the program. Not because of my grades – I had a 4.0 and was at the top of my class. It was because I was having interpersonal conflicts, and couldn’t effectively collaborate with my peers. I didn’t know how to deal with stress, and was driven by an unrealistic need for perfection in myself and in those around me. I couldn’t handle rejection and criticism, and often lashed out in defensive ways.

In my final semester of grad school, I was working as an assistant director at a theatre in Chicago, with three very famous actors. I was living the dream. What I didn’t know then, was that I was also living with mental illness. Quickly, the pain and stress of those three long years began to catch up with me, and I suddenly had a complete psychotic break. And yet, I felt greater than I had in years. I was sleeping only about an hour a night, but I was accomplishing so much! I was more creative than I had ever been, and began writing books, plays, and keeping a daily journal –which I would scribble in all throughout the day. I thought I was the next Hemingway. I had delusions of grandeur, and pictured myself writing the next great American novel or a hit Broadway show! I was juggling dozens of creative projects, including painting, drawing, and sculpting, and had transformed an entire room in my apartment into an artist’s studio, where I furiously created art around the clock.

I also started spending all my money on frivolous things. In addition to creating art, I was also buying antiques and collectibles at a local thrift store, and selling them online at a business I had created for charity. Soon, I began working as a head chef at a local bar and grill, and somehow I imagined that I was on the verge of launching the next hit restaurant in Chicago.

But there was also a dark side. I was becoming increasingly erratic. I began to hallucinate and hear voices, and came to believe that I was the Son of God—sent here to save humanity. I let my hair and beard grow, and began walking through the streets of Chicago barefoot, giving sermons on street corners and preaching to prostitutes. I walked alone through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, and nearly got shot more than once.

When I wasn’t in the streets, I was preaching crazy ideas on Facebook, and no one had any idea what I was talking about. I was completely unstable, and began fighting with people on social media. I lost a lot of friends during that time. Many people thought that I was just being a terrible person, without realizing I was having a complete psychotic breakdown. The few friends and family I had left were worried about me, but for many, this was the first time they had ever seen someone in crisis, and didn’t know what to do. After several failed attempts to get me help in Chicago, my family finally flew me back to Maine to receive the treatment I needed. There’s no telling how much longer I would have survived in Chicago. By the time I left, I was convinced the CIA were watching me, and planning my assassination. I was a danger to myself.

Within three days of arriving in Bangor, I was at PCHC (Penobscot Community Health Center), and had seen a primary care doctor, therapist, and med manager. Before long, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder and ADHD, and put on several medications. I was also referred to the NAMI Bangor (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group, and a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class, to receive lessons in mindfulness and dealing with interpersonal conflict. All of this saved my life.

But make no mistake. I thought my life had ended. As scary as my time in Chicago might sound to you, for me, it was thrilling and exciting. Those three months of mania had been the most stimulating in my life, and I had never been so inspired or productive. I thought I was God, and now, here I was back in Maine, on disability, and living in my parents’ basement. All I wanted to do was die.

When I first got back, I attempted to teach and work in local theatre, but once again, I had serious conflicts with my colleagues, and gave up altogether. I became increasingly depressed, withdrew from friends and family, and rarely left the basement. I was overly medicated and could hardly function. I used to be a passionate and articulate person, but now here I was, drooling and could hardly feel a thing. I became suicidal, and made several attempts on my life.

For ADHD, I was put on Ritalin, and before long, I was snorting it for the high. It was the only time I felt creative and alive—like I had felt in Chicago. I was snorting an entire month’s supply in a week, which would make me manic, and not allow me to sleep for six or seven days at a time. My life was spiraling out of control, and I prayed every day that it would just end.

And it nearly did.

But about a year and a half ago, everything changed.

I was addicted to Ritalin, had gained nearly 80 pounds, and had been rushed to the emergency room several times. I finally said to myself: “You gotta get busy living, or get busy dying.” I realized I was trying to kill myself slowly, and things had to change. I decided to get busy living. But I needed to find purpose again. I had been on disability for over three years, and knew I couldn’t work. Yet, all my life, my work in theatre and education had given me all the purpose I needed. After all, I had sacrificed nearly everything—including a wife and kids—for my career. For the first time in over thirty years, I could no longer work, and had to find a new purpose for living. Before I could even get healthy, I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I needed to find something I loved again. One semester during college, I had lived in a castle in the Netherlands, and had traveled all throughout Europe. However, I had never made it to Portugal—the country where my family came from. I decided that whatever it took, I was going to take a trip there.

You have to understand that I hadn’t been on a plane in four years, and was absolutely terrified. I have claustrophobia and severe social anxiety, and I was worried about trying to navigate language, culture, and transportation in a foreign country. I was concerned about breaking from my routine, and becoming disoriented in a strange and unfamiliar place. Every day, I went back and forth between thrilling excitement and absolute crippling terror.

In order to ensure that I was safe and had a good time, I knew that I had to plan this trip very carefully. I spent hours each day pouring over maps, watching travel videos, reading books, researching the culture, and carefully constructing a detailed travel itinerary. By the time I arrived in Lisbon, I knew that city like the back of my hand, and didn’t even need a map to find my way around. My trip was a resounding success! I had no problem with the flights, communicating, or staying on schedule. You see, despite the limitations of my disease, I had managed to turn an unfamiliar place INTO a familiar place, and Portugal became like a second home. Living with mental illness doesn’t mean you have to stop living, it just means you have to plan better!

When I came back from Portugal, I was a new man. I had a renewed sense of purpose, and a feeling of accomplishment. For years, I had been crippled by insecurity and low self-esteem, but after my trip, I had nothing but confidence.

The first thing I did was quit Ritalin. Next, I renewed my gym membership, and started swimming and working out 3-4 times a week. I changed my diet, and lost over 40 pounds. I worked with my doctors to get me off the more sedating medications, and found just the right combination of meds. I started walking several miles each day. And after years of being told I should volunteer, I finally did. Within weeks of my return, I began volunteering for NAMI Bangor, where I currently serve as a Media and PR Assistant, and help the President—Betsy—with outreach and advertising for all our NAMI events—including this one. I enrolled in a training program at Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, and now tutor and mentor adult literacy students, as well as work with children reading and distributing books. As a tutor, I spend hours each week creating lesson plans and instructing adult literacy students.

I also researched and learned as much as I could about Bipolar, and soon realized that having a daily schedule and routine was vital for my survival. I started planning my days, and keeping a strict calendar. Every morning, I wake up at 6 am, do yoga, make coffee, drink a smoothie, and listen to NPR. I work out, relax in the sauna, swim, eat healthy, and attend weekly NAMI meetings and weekly therapy sessions. I devote a few hours to reading and writing, and a couple hours to watching tv. I craft lesson plans, teach students, coordinate NAMI business, and volunteer on political campaigns. The point is…I stay busy. I finally got out of that basement.

I can’t tell you how much NAMI has meant to me as an organization. It literally saved my life. In group, I talk with other people suffering from mental illness, learn coping skills, get advice, and have access to helpful resources. I’ve made deep and lasting friendships, and found fellowship with others who have been where I’ve been. After years of trying to convince my parents to attend a family meeting, they finally did last month, and they loved it. It allowed them to talk with other parents, and get a little bit of perspective about me and my disease. They were finally able to vent, and to grieve, and to seek the advice of others who knew the pain of having to care for a loved one. They are now committed to attending every month, and I’m happy to say that they are here with us tonight.

Recently, I switched to a new therapist, and I’ve made more progress in two short months than I had in over four years! I cannot express how important it is to find a good therapist, and I would recommend it for everyone, whether you suffer from mental illness or not. There is something deeply profound and therapeutic about taking to someone who knows what they are doing. If you’re interested, NAMI can help you find the services you’re looking for.

I’ve also decided to move back to Boston, and return to work again. Over the next year, I plan on applying for college teaching jobs and to start directing again. However, I will never stop volunteering. It gives my life purpose.

I want to say that despite the fact that I have made significant steps in my recovery, I still have bad days. Even bad weeks. In fact, these last few weeks have been tough for me. Every so often, I go through a brief, but deep depression. There are times when I still have fleeting thoughts of suicide. When I don’t get enough sleep, I am always at risk of becoming manic. It’s important to understand that there is no cure for mental illness. Only management. Those of us in recovery are each on our own path to wellness, and realistically, that means times of dizzying success, and times of great struggle. There are relapses and stumbles along the road, and there are times when I honestly don’t know if I’m gonna make it. There is no silver bullet for mental illness, and it’s something I will live with for the rest of my life. I will always be susceptible to the darkness. However, it is treatable, and with planning and vigilance, it is possible to lead a healthy and productive life. It takes work. A LOT of work. But as they say in AA, it works, if you work it.

Since being diagnosed, it has taken a lot of courage for me to admit that I live with mental illness. At first, I was scared and ashamed, and didn’t tell anyone. Over the years, I’ve slowly “come out” to friends and family, and three months ago, I revealed my illness on Facebook, where I’ve received nothing but love and support. Tonight is the first time I have ever publicly spoken about my disease. But it won’t be my last. It’s time we end the stigma of mental illness, and I am personally committed to a life of advocacy. Most people had no idea that I was suffering in silence. And that’s the point. That’s why I’m here tonight. And that’s why I will continue to speak all over the state and the nation, to small groups and large, to community organizations and in front of legislators who have the power to fund mental health care and reform our broken system.

But I’m also here to ask for YOUR help. If you’re afflicted with mental illness, I encourage you to seek therapy, and perhaps attend a NAMI support group. If you suffer in silence, as I once did, I would ask you to consider being open and honest about your condition, and living out loud and proud. It’s not easy. There is still much work to be done. But the more of us who come forward with our stories, the more people will realize how common mental illness truly is, and the easier it will become to accept. The more we normalize mental illness, the closer we get to treating it as you would any other disease of the body. Like every great social justice issue, SILENCE IS DEADLY, and we have lost too many people to mental illness. Every day, in this country, we lose 22 veterans to suicide and undiagnosed PTSD. Over 40,00 people take their own lives every year in this country. For those of you who have friends and family who suffer—and I guarantee you do—I would ask that you educate yourself about their disease, and look for ways that you can advocate for all of us. This is an epidemic, and we need your voice and support. It starts as small as offering aid to a friend in crisis, but it doesn’t have to end there. We here at NAMI have several resources to help, and I encourage you to seek us out. You’ve already made the first step in coming here, and I thank you for listening to my story.

Love the Sinner: Modeling Tolerance for Those Who Hate & Celebrating Victory For Those Who Love

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In a way, marriage equality is kind of like winning the lottery, but then realizing the cash prize is all your own money already. It’s like having a fortune you were born with and entitled to, but somehow deprived of and kept away from by generations of short-sighted and powerful men clinging desperately to your birthright, in fear that they’ll lose theirs. Marriage equality is not a threat to the institution of marriage. It’s a threat to the people in power. Power that has been hoarded over like a vast inheritance since time immemorial, and is suddenly being distributed to those who not only need it the most, but those who innately possessed it all along. Those at the top are scared, because for one of the first times in history, those at the bottom are not only hungry, but patient. They’re clever and capable enough to use the system against itself, in order to right past wrongs and ensure we all live in a society that serves every citizen, regardless of gender, orientation, faith, skin color, wealth, and all the other characteristics that make us unique and different, yet unmistakably alike. But this journey is one fraught with peril, for we must be vigilant that the oppressed doesn’t become the oppressor, and that love trumps vengeance every time. If ever there were a moral imperative, that would be it.

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I can’t help but think of the great Dickens’ story, Oliver Twist. As we all know, Oliver is a poor orphaned boy who doesn’t know his parentage, and is one day sent to a miserable workhouse to toil his days away. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes up forward, bowl in hand, and begs Mr. Bumble for gruel with his famous request: “Please, sir, I want some more,” to which Bumble increduously replies, “More?!?” In the end, we of course find out that Oliver had money all along, and had a rich inheritance denied to him all those years. In that time, he had been abused and beggared by society, and cast aside and worked to the bone by the rich and powerful. Even Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and other poor castoffs took advantage and exploited poor Oliver. And yet, throughout the course of the novel, Oliver is always generous and kind, and even when he earns his much overdue inheritance, his kindly benefactor Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his meager inheritance to his no-good half-brother Monks because he wants to give him a second chance. Oliver, being prone to giving second chances, is more than happy to comply, and he shares it with the dissolute man.

Since time began, minorities such as gay people and blacks have suffered lives like Oliver Twist, and had to live in the shadows, and slave away quietly while others got rich and lived loud and proud. They were oppressed and exploited, and always made to feel like an unwelcome outside. During the Civil War blacks and whites both fought for the preservation of the Union, but knew they were fighting for something greater. They were fighting to emancipate a group of human beings who had been enslaved, beaten, killed, and mistreated for centuries, all in the name of PROFIT! Slavery was a rich legacy in the South, and that war opened a wound that has never healed, and has recently started to fester and ooze. But that fight was won by and for the African Americans in this country, and we are all the better for it. Of course, we all know that hard and bloody conflict wasn’t enough to deliver equal rights and protection to black men and women, even when ensured these rights by laws and Constitutional Amendments. And thus, nearly a century later, blacks once again raised the banner, and peaceably demonstrated and marched to win the rights they were supposedly born with, but had never properly enjoyed. Again, they were met with violence and terror, yet they persevered and stayed strong. Their efforts, like the efforts of their ancestors before them, were successful in earning them their long overdue rights. Today, we are seeing another movement on the rise, and its another cry from the black community, who have suffered at the hands of whites again. Contrary to the condemnation of many on the Right, the African American community is not whining and moaning, nor are they too lazy and unmotivated to work and make a living for themselves. This is a group of people who have supposedly been granted equal rights and are protected by American law, yet are still victimized by the sheer color of their skin. They are denied employment racially profiled, discriminated against in the workplace, denied loans, given subprime predatory loans,unfairly assaulted and terrorized by law enforcement more than any other group, met with violence by overzealous gun owners, subjected to poor and inadequate educations, and many other small and large offenses. In short, they are forced to live in a society and under a government that wasn’t built for them. Even the very language we use is loaded, and full of implicit and explicit racism. It’s around every corner. It’s called Institutional Racism, and it permeates our global culture. Having dark skin is a liability in this world, and there’s seemingly nothing anyone can do about it. Except there is.

In the book, Oliver Twist lived an impoverished life of squalor and deprivation. At every turn, he was taken advantage of and denied his rights. Literally, this poor boy was denied his inheritance and natural birthright. Such is the case for minorities, women, and LGBT Americans, and more globally, citizens of the world. There are millions of proverbial orphans out there, in search of their homeland, and it’s often the land beneath their feet. But they are not truly home, because they are unwelcome there, and met with hostility. Poor Oliver had a fortune all along! He was born with it. So are all these people throughout the world. MORE?!? Yes, more!!! Naturally, the analogy I’m drawing is that Oliver was just asking for the bare minimum. What was due him. He was just looking to survive. He just wanted what he thought he deserved. So too are oppressed and persecuted Americans and global citizens everywhere. A meager bowl of gruel. No more than anyone else gets for free.

What Bumble saw was not just a meager bowl of gruel, but a valuable chess piece that he was withholding from Oliver, as he played the classic Master-Slave paradigm and deprived the boy of not only his meal, but his humanity. Yesterday was a victory for equality and social justice, but we it should be obvious that we still have a long way to go. The fact that the LGBT community has been fighting this battle for centuries, all to win a right that men and women have enjoyed since time began, should tell us how far we still have left to go. They broke even! They fought to win back their own inalienable right we were all born with. I am not saying this to minimize their effort and the sweet satisfaction that comes with earning their rich reward, but just to demonstrate how deeply rooted this bigotry and intolerance really is. Everyone who fought and died and shed their blood and tears for this cause is a hero, and I am so humbled by their struggle. I have tried to help in my own small way, but it’s never enough. I just hope we take this time to celebrate how far we’ve come and all that we’ve accomplished, but remember…the rights they earned were theirs already!!! Now let’s start capturing the rights and rewards the powerful and intolerant have been enjoying since the dawn of time.

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As we move forward though, I only hope that we can strive to keep the civil in civil rights. This was a major victory for those who have struggled, fought, died, and surrendered so much all for being who they are, and to try and win the right to love whomever they choose. There’s understandably a lot of anger and resentment out there. And I am not gay, and would never presume to know what it’s been like for all these brave men and women everywhere. But as a human being — which we all presumably are, first and foremost — I can only hope that we aspire to be better than our “masters” and have the integrity to not gloat or taunt the opposition, but celebrate proudly and respectfully. Would they do that for you? NO. But that should be the very reason we do that for them! Winning a decisive victory like the LGBT community won yesterday is a special moment, but it shouldn’t be about flipping the tables, subjugating the bigots, or punishing the plantation owners. Just the opposite. I feel that those of us who support marriage equality should conduct ourselves with dignity, compassion, mercy, empathy, and a heart big enough to forgive past injustices. I’m not asking anyone to forget, just consider forgiving. Otherwise, that’s a lot of hatred and anger to carry around and constrict you, when you’ve just won your liberty! We don’t ever want to become like them, but we will if we allow hate and retribution to dominate and guide our words and actions. Rather, if we can lead by example and model civilized and open-minded behavior, eventually time, attrition, and exposure to diversity and tolerance will eventually turn hearts and minds. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” You can’t win the hearts and minds of a people you’ve just decimated and dehumanized. The debacle of the Reconstruction proved that. We’re still reeling from the reckless and thoughtless treatment of the South after the Civil War. We won no hearts and minds then.

It’s important to remember that we’ve got allies out there in those bigoted masses. Think about how appallingly racist the South was at one time. Yes, I’m aware there’s still an alarming number of racists still there. But I’m talking about the average citizen in my own mother’s lifetime that actively and vocally supported segregation and even violence against blacks. It makes me think back to my time in Pittsburgh, when I saw a provocative and compelling traveling art exhibit called “No Sanctuary” with dozens of photographs depicting actual lynchings in the South. The horrifying bodies were hanging grotesque and lifeless, but the real horror was in those that looked on. Every picture chronicled a shameful moment when a huge crowd of white folks gathered to see the black man hanging. There were women and children, fathers and husbands, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The town grocer was there. The used car salesman. The elementary school teacher. And those kids. Big eyes and smiles, as they learned what it meant to hate. Unlike inalienable rights, Intolerance isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we learn. For many bigoted Americans, they are still clinging to their legacy, and they’re terrified what would happen if they were to lose it. It’s the only life they know. To them, THAT is their birthright. It’s all they know. They think that that is their genetic inheritance. They are “Just as God made them.” This is actually not the case. They are solely the product of their environment. Sure, some are more prone to anger and violence, others have less brain capacity, some others still are less able to comprehend nuance and grey areas. But we are kidding ourselves if we actually believe that all bigots and right-wingers are slow and unintelligent people. They are certainly as diverse and varied as any of us, they just tend to be more vocal in their beliefs and condemnations, and adhere strictly to their principles and faithful devotion. But that describes many on the Left. It’s convenient to point figures at churches and houses of worship, but even these are as diverse as the spectrum is wide. Just as many of them want to save us, we must desire to save them. The difference is, we must do it with love, and not hate. We must find ourselves in them, and at least make the effort to convert the stubbornly bigoted to the path of peace and equality. They must understand that it’s not about taking away their rights and enslaving them, but building a safe and supportive community together. I know that I sound pie-in-the-sky and probably unrealistic, but they are our neighbors, and unless this country breaks up into separate sovereign and ideological territories, we all have to live together. They think they are born that way, and gays choose it. It’s important to change that misconception, first and foremost. They can only learn through repeated contact, not through isolation and exclusion. The Left can be just as partisan, uncompromising, and resort to just as much base demagoguery as the Right. We must somehow find a way to reach across the aisle — both literally and figuratively.

Unlike the misguided beliefs of those who deny the theory of Evolution, and cling to the idea that they were born in God’s perfect image — gay men and women rightly declare that they too were born the way they are, and that genetics determined their identity, as much as environment. Even transgender people clarify that the bodies they were born with aren’t necessarily how they see themselves and how they necessarily identify. Biological Gender (sex) includes physical attributes such as external genitalia, sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, and internal reproductive structures. At birth, it is used to assign sex, that is, to identify individuals as male or female. Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. It is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s sex (gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither (gender identity) as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors (gender expression) related to that perception, including their gender role. Together, the intersection of these three dimensions produces one’s authentic sense of gender, both in how people experience their own gender as well as how others perceive it. They rightfully insist that they be allowed to self identify on birth certificates, for example, with or without sex reassignment surgery. Ultimately, we are who we think we are, and how we see ourselves. How can anyone deny another person the right to be who they are? Especially considering such declarations harm absolutely no one. And yet, many still see it as a threat to traditional family values, and the cherished beliefs they were raised on. Unlike the learned hatred of many in this country, gay and transgender people inherited a genetic legacy, and that should be enough for them to proudly and openly live it.

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As I approach the conclusion, I just want to implore people everywhere to celebrate and savor this momentous occasion, but never forget that the fight still goes on. Rights are violated and denied everywhere in this country, every day of the year. There’s a considerable number of those bigots and intolerant folks around this country, in every city, town, and state. But remember, they are also our own friends and neighbors. They are sometimes our very own families. They are us. That lottery I spoke of is something we all are born with, it’s just that many of us have been robbed and deprived of ever enjoying our rich inheritance. It’s alarming that there are still so many people who wish to deny any human being their guaranteed birthright. Although a hypocritical and conflicted man himself, Thomas Jefferson was nonetheless visited by a muse the day he wrote the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Right now, we are still fighting to get to the same starting line and ensure we all are afforded those same rights Jefferson eloquently penned.

Women and minorities face obstacles seen and unseen, written into the very fabric of our nation. Our world. White men wrote the rules at one time, and we are still living by them today. When you listen to Fox News or hear soundbites from candidates like Rick Santorum, it’s easy to lose hope, and give up on the human race. The obstacles still seem insurmountable, and the protracted war un-winnable. And yet, think of those lynching pictures I witnessed, with the shocking faces of the curious, amused and entertained spectators looking on as a human being hung lifeless and desecrated. Then think of all those white people that gathered with signs to block a little black girl from integrating at an all white school. Think of the KKK, with its once swelling active membership. And then think about today. Sure there’s still bigotry, but I’d bet that over half those people who peered our from those pictures evolved in some small way over their lifetimes, and learned to at least tolerate the rights and liberties of their once maligned black neighbors. Some likely came to support and befriend African Americans. How do I know this? Because history has proven that the entrenched racial hatred which once permeated the South, and the majority of those who once oppressed blacks and supported segregation. eventually came to change their opinions, as their views on race grew and evolved. Sure, there’s still racism, but considering it’s been less than fifty years, that’s incredible progress. And yet, still not enough.

We must remember those faces of hatred and bile and remember that even some of them managed to change, and see the humanity in their fellow man. As we move forward, let’s try and remember the humanity of those who have and still would oppress us, and be better than they ever were, and kinder then they might deserve. They may be our foe now, but tomorrow they might be our ally. Hatred is learned, and though challenging, it can be unlearned. When we use the hashtag #LoveWins, we must try not to fiercely hold onto that love, but extend it to those who would not likely extend it to us. That’s the true definition of love. And only through love can any of us truly hope to live.

We must never give up hope. I always take comfort in the wise words of those who came before me, so I’d like to share a few meaningful quotes:

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” —Galileo Galilei

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” —Nelson Mandela

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.” —Isaac Asimov

“I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other man’s rights.” —Abraham Lincoln

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Economy of Despair & Stewardship of the Soul

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It’s occasionally frustrating to accept how out-of-step one person may be with the rest of the world, and how divergent their values and broad interests can be from the society they emerged from and were presumably shaped by. It is in lonely and isolating moments like this when I surrender myself to hopelessness and despair. In these times, I cannot help but be gripped by negativity and anguish during those moments we all have of uncertainty and self-doubt. Although infrequent, I find myself most often vulnerable when I seek validation and affirmation from my peers. The mind can be a lonely place, and inevitably ends up being a sounding board for various sundry complaints and criticisms  — both real and imagined, and both at the micro level (you) and the macro level (the greater society). In times of reflection and clarity, I find it useful to write and record my various griefs and grievances with our troubling world, and the various factions that inhabit it. It’s probably worth noting that although many of the questions ostensibly appear to be bitingly acrid and shockingly negative, they are in fact indicative of a deeply seated optimism and hope for the human race. Although obviously bitter and hopeless at first blush, perhaps it may help to keep in mind that I wouldn’t express such concerns so passionately, had I no faith they may some day be remedied. These items are by no means a complete or comprehensive list, but a sample of themes and obstacles I see as standing in the way of a peaceful, fair, and equitable world. Many betray my own distrust and disillusionment with the zeitgeist of our age, and all its many incarnations.
Is it possible to deplore the shifting values of your own generation, while not being labeled a lunatic or cultural heretic?

Can we move forward and inch towards egalitarianism, while abandoning common sense and that which makes us uniquely human?

Is it blasphemy simply to question the role of technology in our lives and suggest safeguards?

How does one embrace the inevitable zeitgeist, look to a more equitable future, and retain the curiosity, scholarship, and rigorous aestheticism of the past?

How does one make peace with diverse interests and curiosities in an increasingly specialized society of parochial common interest groups and homogenized learning environments?

How do we continue to work towards a democratic society that educates everyone equally, while not diluting the content, rigor, or meritocracy of scholarship and those who work tirelessly to excel, both for the virtue of acquiring knowledge and the urge to succeed?

How does a society effectively become smaller and more connected, while inversely becoming more hostile,  ignorant and disdainful of each other’s cultures?

How does a society assimilate new cultures without stripping color and cultural heritage, and neutralizing everyone into a dull, homogenous pablum?

How can a single adult navigate a world built for families and breeding, without fear of reprisal and scorn?

How is it more acceptable to allow a mind to wither and atrophy, than for a body to age and betray the inevitable ravages of time and neglect?

How can a society become ostensibly so self-obsessed and motivated by praise and attention, without losing its ability to empathize and protect our weakest members?

If time travel were possible, could a man ever find solace in the erudition and aesthetics of the past, while being forced to endure their primitive beliefs about faith, science and racial hierarchy?

How can one so repelled by the virtues and priorities of many of their contemporaries ever hope to enjoy any sort of life in the public sphere?

Can those afflicted by varying degrees of mental illness and depression ever find empathy and support in a nation terrified of ‘crazy and dangerous individuals’ intent on hurting and killing innocents unpredictably? Will those afraid of unprovoked and random attacks ever be convinced that only an infinitesimally small number of mentally ill are ever violent, and that they have a much higher and probable chance of developing mental illness in their own lifetimes than they do of being hurt by someone else who suffers from it?

Can an increasingly compartmentalized and loyal public ever embrace cultural pluralism and the virtues of curiosity and diverse interests?

Will we as a society learn to be less polarizing, and appreciate seemingly conflicting styles, pastimes, passions, and interests, recognizing that two superficially opposite things need not be mutually exclusive and consumed ‘either-or?’

Will we ever stop leaning towards extremism and absolute fidelity to a position, at the expense of compromise, good will, generosity, respect, and good sense?

Can art and sport ever peacefully coexist and ultimately attract devotees who enjoy both endeavors?

Is there a useful and valuable place for faith and religion in an increasingly secular, scientific, and faithless world? Can science and religious belief belong in the same universe, and not seek to disprove the other, but have ‘faith’ that there is something uniquely human and valuable in both systems of thought?

Invariably, there are innumerable other questions I grapple with, and things that challenge how I avoid/confront/attack the world in which I live. At this point in my life, I have received all the formal education I’m going to get, and for the first time since I first began school, I am adrift without the structure of education. I have three formal degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts, and several certifications. Until now, I have ostensibly been in school or teaching school for nearly 25 years, Learning and academics have fundamentally been apart of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always thirsted for both knowledge and structure, and school always provided me with that. I have also spent over thirty years working as an amateur, collegiate, and professional actor, director, designer, and crew member in the theatre, and boast a resume of well over a hundred and fifty plays, musicals, and other live performances. My career was my life for much of my adult life. When I was performing on stage, I was learning how to in class. For various reasons, I no longer actively work in the theatre or are enrolled in any school or classes. My life has lost much of what defined me up until now, and much of my life is occupied by attending to my physical and mental good health and learning coping mechanisms to pursue other interests, diversify my loyalties and pastimes, and find new and productive ways to thrive in the relatively unstructured culture outside academia. I will not lie and try and convince you that I haven’t faced serious challenges over the last three years. I have. I suffer from debilitating depression, mania, and crippling anxiety, and am acutely sensitive to stress and other taxing realities of life. I continue to teach because it gives me great pleasure to educate others, but many of the more social aspects of my life have changed or been eliminated entirely. Although I’m convinced nobody reads my blog, I continue to write, as a way to reconcile myself with my demons, hopes, and desires, as well as challenge myself stylistically, intellectually, and artistically. With few opportunities to engage in the deep and rigorous intellectual debates and challenges to my thinking I once was exposed to in the classroom — and woefully took for granted — writing allows me to play the dialectical, and explore an idea, concept, or feeling with some degree of rigor and regularity. I have a complicated history with social media, and a few isolated instances of frequent and erratic posting, writing provocatively on other’s walls, and generally abusing the accepted standards and rules of the medium. Although not a regular or frequent occurrence, these isolated incidents have been problematic and hazardous to many a personal and professional relationship. I have since mended many fences, but I must be vigilante, and realize I have many of the same temptations a recovering alcoholic has towards drink. The chemistry of my brain demands constant intellectual stimulation and craves nourishing art, politics, sport, and other distractions to feel occupied. Only at the age of 35 was I finally diagnosed with severe ADHD and an overactive mind. Social media is a dangerous elixir, and there are endless conversations to engage in, and things to learn. Nowadays, with a safe and reasonable use of social media, no classrooms to deliberate in, and a an unfortunate absence of friends in my immediate vicinity, I must find healthier outlets to my intellect and imagination. In many ways, writing has become an acceptable substitute for the intrinsically more public and social art form of live theatre. I no longer crave the instant gratification I once did, nor feel as satisfied in the entertainment field. Some would suggest I have become more morose and withdrawn, and while that may be true, I have also become more reflective, accountable, and healthy in my approach to the world. As the list above demonstrates, I have daily frustrations with much of the state of the world, and my perception that much of our cultural and technological progress often comes at the expense of other things. I worry about the world, yet still engage it, in my own modest way, and believe it or not, have proud hopes for its future. But first, we must wrestle with just some of the many concerns I expressed above. I often wish I could find employment in a think tank, where I would be spoiled by constant stimulation and debate, while also serving a more practical and applicable function. My sensitivity often leads me to want to save the world from itself, and all its sundry ills. My epistemological, sociological, metaphysical, and ontological observations and thinking prompts are far fancier than my solutions and answers. My remedy and absolution of guilt stands at the center of most organized religions, and is nothing more than love, empathy, abstaining from judgement, communication, common sense, and faith in the intentions and good faith of others. I say that these are the backbones of many world religions, but the application and follow-thru has historically been fatally flawed, misguided, and corrupted by the acts and motives of humankind. Nevertheless, they are words and ideals to live up to, and with considerably more vigilance and commitment, we might be able right half this world’s wrongs. If we could only see ourselves in our foe, we may make more concerted efforts at peace and reconciliation, rather than empty promises and posturing.

I realize that I see the world in simplified terms, and perhaps have no business interjecting my thoughts. At the same time, I also know that somehow my mother raised me in such a way that despite my many given flaws, I have a unique capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and resolution through open and honest communication. I have damaged many relationships over the years, and some irreparably, but I never stop trying to repair past wrongs and look to within myself for lessons learned and chances for self-improvement. As such, I have a considerable number of friends and family, each from very different national, cultural, educational, vocational, and religious backgrounds. What they all have in common is me. Because for one reason or another, I have a sizable capacity to accept and tolerate a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultural value systems. I have always traveled widely, sampled foods enthusiastically, and greedily embraced new and foreign cultures. But that hasn’t always meant leaving the country. America is packed full of its own multicultural challenges, and these days, there are plenty of chances for cross-pollinating with ‘them’ and the ‘other’ than ever before. Sometimes without scarcely leaving your own hometown. Yet still, we are rigidly guarded in our beliefs and interests, and myopic in our stilted view of the world, and what it takes to peaceably coexist and even work in collaboration, towards one common goal. For some reason, although I have very firm beliefs and values about certain inherent rights and civil liberties, I make an effort to understand the motives and animus that fuels another person. I practice concerted empathy and do my very best to see the other person’s side. That may be surprising to some, given my aggressive debates on social media, and seemingly steadfast opinions on how things ought to be. And I still feel that way. Love, freedom, unconditional acceptance, and empathy are my guiding principles, and must underly every choice we make as a society. However, I recognize that as humans, we all more or less share the same feelings, wants, and needs. Sometimes educational inequities have stood in the way. For some, poverty and abuse were mitigating factors. Others are simply willfully ignorant and combative, but even for them, I try and hope that clarity and egalitarianism will one day knock on their door. However noxious their beliefs and ignorance may be, I’ll never accept that most humans are beyond saving. Having said that, I am also a realist, and at least superficially, a cynic and pessimist. Yet still, my eternal and deeply buried optimism will not allow me to deny someone redemption, the right to change, and opportunities for personal enrichment. I’d rather be called naive and unreasonable, than to stridently and emphatically deny someone their capacity for change and progressive socio-evolution. As I said before, though we may all talk a big game (myself included!) about acceptance, love, and a deniability of prejudice and bigotry, in practice, most of us fall far short of our stated goals and beliefs. In fact, most of us are intractably territorial, selfish, suspicious, and unyielding in our relations with others. Or rather, those who look and feel different than us, and who we presume holds none of our cherished morals and values. Therefore, most attempts at peace and reconciliation are ceremonial, at best, and neither party is a trustworthy negotiator. How could they be? When we bring all our grudges, prejudices, and inability to humanize those who sit across from us at the bargaining table, we betray ourselves as actors not in good faith, and essentially only present to uphold certain beliefs and ensure they lose no ground to their enemy. There is rarely an atmosphere if trust, respect, compromise, humility, or accountability for one’s own actions and culpability.

I am by no means a saint, or some charismatic figure of peace and social justice. I’m just a simple man who was raised a certain way, with perhaps a unique perspective, and the sincere desire to negotiate peace and understanding between all the valued and polarized groups in my life, and in the world around us. Although I fail quite often, I always attempt to see both sides, and find strengths and weaknesses in each tenable side. As a theatre artist, educator, and writer, I always strive to seek compromise and find common ground amongst cultures, and value the building of bridges, rather than burning them. That being said, many of my best laid plans and good intentions were thwarted by my own troubled mind, insecurities, stubbornness, and sometimes combative nature. More often than not, my abject failures have been impulsive and irrational outbursts of hurt and anger, and seldom ever premeditated. Invariably, time and distance provides me with empathy, understanding, and a renewed desire to make peace and find helpful solutions moving forward. If only I could always be successful in my application of collaboration and compromise, and if only our world’s most intractable and disingenuous community leaders, clergy, politicians, corporations, scientists, and other players could show an honest commitment to peace and negotiation. Perhaps we’d finally be able to live in a world where everyone can feel safe, supported, respected, and accepted. I firmly belief that once those needs are met, the rest more easily falls into place.

My philosophy and world outlook aren’t complex, but nevertheless, ask a lot of people. Such stark nakedness and vulnerability might frighten most people, and the trust and faith it takes to surrender beliefs and assets for the sake of compromise may just be too much to ask. And yet, I firmly believe that there is no other viable way. The cost of Peace is embracing humility, adopting respect, parting with those things that most likely divide you, and ultimately, committing to finding a way to put faith in your foes, and turning them into partners. It takes good faith and steel resolve. Only then can we ever hope to learn that we share infinitely more in common with out enemies, than the vexing thorns which have for too long kept us apart.