Journeyman's Row
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Dear Ms. Bialik,

Posted on December 22, 2016 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Best known for role as the lead character on NBC's series, (Blossom), during the early and mid-1990s and more recently since 2010 for playing the character Dr. Amy Fowler on CBS' comedy (The Big Bang Theory), she is an unforgettable face, a strong voice, with a unique combination of intelligence and talent. Actress and neuroscientist, Mayim Bialik. Although, I had only remembered her from her days starring as Blossom and hadn't followed much since, once I began researching the National Alliance on Mental Illness recently I was elated to discover her recent activism for this cause. With charisma and determination, Bialik has turned the national spotlight onto mental health in a big way. So, for this blog post I want to highlight her efforts and show my appreciation for Bialik's courage as well as the social similarities we share.


"As hard as it is to live with a mental illness, it's also hard to love someone with a mental health condition when we don't know how to help." Mayim Bialik, also added to my Words of Wisdom page. She is absolutely correct, and her point of view excellently reflects the concern down to a one-on-one personal level as well. Many people affected by mental health issues have disrupted social lives and relationships with loved ones that are also in peril, or are kept hidden from their view. Even as basic and fundamental to our daily lives as relationships with the opposite sex. For how many years have I longed to find lasting companionship with the right woman? A few more than the twenty two years afflicted by depression and anxiety. The pain resulting from that longing and failure, in large part as a result of mental illness, is something that when I finally reveal just how immense it has become will undoubtedly raise more than a few eyebrows.


In another one of Bialik's YouTube videos, entitled "Hurts To Be Different", she talks about one of the stereotypes which not only do I embody but also that I have been perceptive of ever since my youth: being a nerd. Well... I still prefer a different term, just about anything else to describe it because all through school and probably as early as elementary grades I hated the words nerd, geek, and dork. I can still remember with mind numbing clarity when a fellow classmate, in Senior High by the way, made fun of me by calling me nerd. "Nerrrrrrrd" was how he said it, just to give you an idea of what I mean. Ever since, it has stuck in my mind and memory. I was, I am, and I will always be different because I fall into this category of liking things and being socially inept which the majority of the popular cool crowds have nothing to do with. Bialik talks about this disconnect in her YouTube video in a way that is so very comforting to hear.


If you want to be the devil's advocate, yes everyone is different. In high schools across the country, for years the differences haven't just been between nerd types and popular kids. But the people who have embodied the nerd stereotype have some of the most troublesome social stigma difficulties of kids growing up from school age. Bialik gives some effective and wonderfully described examples in her video to support this. Also important for me to clarify is that her point of view doesn't influence me to agree just because I am a (nerd) too. Being different period does hurt when it comes to social stigmas. Arguably, anyone could have had the courage to stand up against mainstream society whether they were of celebrity status or not. Mayim Bialik also describes her personal experiences with her own and her family's mental health issues and how it has affected her for a number of years.


Bialik also has a PhD in neuroscience and had studied obsessive compulsive disorder for her dissertation, which puts her in a unique position of having firsthand scientific experience with the medical aspect of mental health. She knows what she is talking about and this is a rarity for mental health advocates in this day and age. To be as recognizable as she has become through acting, Bialik is a valuable voice for advocating on behalf of NAMI and mental health concerns. Her willingness to be seen and heard talking about mental illness issues and her own experiences empowers victims like myself to pursue advocating with more determination and courage. What regular advocates like me are capable of doing right now, while social stigma is still very strong, is to bear the crucial weight of this stigma as we speak out.


By becoming the bridge between the majority of victims who don't need to speak out right away, who don't want to speak out whether it is from stigmas or not, or don't have to speak out because their affliction isn't as debilitating, the regular advocate provides an important service to soften the blow of unwanted public scrutiny. Attention, which if exposed in some cases, could lead to a loss of employment, fear by co-workers and the general public, further discrimination and inappropriate prejudiced attitudes towards them. Make no mistake; confronting and pushing back against social stigma is like surveying a mine field before attempting to pass through it. Painstaking care and attention to the approaches is vital if advocates in general stand a chance of protecting the anonymity fellow victims. I was reminded of this in a most humble way recently, and will endeavor to keep the promise as well as striving to become more of a beacon for hope as I can, even though I too struggle with depression and anxiety disorders at the same time.


Look up to outspoken advocates like Mayim Bialik and myself, as others rise up to create the advocacy safety net and begin to fight back against social stigmas. Know here from me, that regardless of what mental health issue you may have, however severe it might be, or where you live across the world, the time is here for a definitive difference to be made. I pledge to be #stigmafree and do the most I can for advocating on behalf of mental health and awareness. It will not be easy, but improving the lives of fellow victims is worth the struggle. Enough is enough and it is time for fear to be put in its place.


I can only hope that someday, maybe in the near future, Bialik reads this and knows that she is not alone as well. To coordinate efforts with her would be an honor, because her courage and wisdom is what makes this challenge possible. Thank you for your determination and all the hard work you put into your advocacy, Ms. Bialik, and here's to working hard for making a more positive future without social stigmas keeping people from getting the help they need.



 #‎StigmaFree: Mayim Bialik

A Chance-llery inspiration

Posted on November 12, 2016 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

When I returned to Penn State Altoona as what is referred to being an adult learner student, given my age being five to ten years older than typical post-high school enrollees, much about my life perspective had changed considerably from what it had been in the past. In 2008, I soon found an unlikely inspiring figure as I began volunteering with two student organization groups for the first time ever. Now, I believe it is time to share with all of you who this person is and the impact she has had on my life.


Penn State Altoona's Chancellor and Dean, Dr. Lori Bechtel-Wherry.


I can still remember in 2008, having recently joined the student group Criminal Justice Organization (CJO), helping setup a Meet and Greet event with the Chancellor attending. From the very beginning, Dr. Bechtel-Wherry came across as a kind, genuine, and disarming person that I found myself hanging on her every word when she spoke. Quite a remarkably endearing personality. In the two years before I graduated, I crossed paths with her several times and was delighted by the fact that she remembered me for the work I had done. I felt honored. Time to return the favor.


Shortly after I graduated in May of 2010, I applied and was selected to join the Alumni Society Board chapter for Penn State Altoona. Not being sure where my volunteering initiative would take me in life, I bore witness to one of the catalysts which undoubtedly convinced me to seek out doing more. Dr. Bechtel-Wherry, and her Commencement speeches. As you will see on my About page, one of my favorite volunteer activities as an alumnus was to hand out alumni pins to the graduates at six of the Commencements I attended.


Given the fact that I was already inspired by the Chancellor's calming demeanor, it was easy for me to find inspiration from a speech she would give. On the other hand, her Commencement speeches were something entirely different. Graciously so for the dear words of an individual that Dr. Bechtel-Wherry quoted from, who formerly inspired people across the world with her wholehearted kindness.


Mother Teresa, and her Do It Anyway Poem, cited from PrayerFoundation.org:


"People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.


If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.


If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.


If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.


What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.


If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.


The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.


Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.


In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."


The first time I recall hearing the Chancellor read Mother Teresa's poem aloud, during the Fall 2010 Commencement, I felt myself supremely uplifted with each individual verse. Forgiveness, kindness, honesty, happiness, goodness, and compassionate faith. Filled with so much positive encouragement, I felt guilty for not finding this poem before. Not only did it reaffirm my beliefs and faith, it also strengthened my yearning to volunteer and help other people. Possibly more than I may ever realize. Who knows?


At this important moment in my life during 2010, money making career decisions crossed paths with non-profiteering volunteer choices in a stark way. In fact, after I graduated Penn State Altoona the first time during the fall of 2002, the following summer I ended up attempting suicide. Lightning did not strike me twice. A testament to my strength, sheer will, valuable lessons learned, as well as the many friends I had made since.


I also very, very much loved helping to hand out the alumni pins to the graduates after having discovered a better emotional place within myself, and to pass that energy on to them. Plus I got to where my only suit and look pretty spiffy in public. ;)


Perhaps another reason why I felt so empowered participating in the Penn State Altoona Commencements wasn't just from Chancellor Bechtel-Wherry's speech or Mother Teresa's Do It Anyway Poem, but actually a greater connection to my fellow peer students and college friends. In order to encompass the entire back story of my volunteer experiences, let us wind the clock back (Again? Oh, I know). Let us begin from where I first began volunteering during the fall semester of 2008, as well as reveal some astonishing comparisons between both times I attended the university.


Don't forget to keep those seat belts buckled. This journey is far from over.

Dear Mr. Hanks,

Posted on October 28, 2016 at 4:00 AM Comments comments (0)

While I prepare to go see his latest film later today, Inferno, allow me to introduce someone who has long been a positive and very endearing influence from the big screen for much of my life. A man whose stoic and emotionally moving performances have captivated many people ten times the world over.


Mr. Tom Hanks.


A person who, for me personally, has quietly yet so memorably been a face to remember and remarkable voice as far back as the late 1980's. Comedy, drama, adventure, animation, action, and mystery. Of many talents no doubt, Tom Hanks in fact came from a most modest background and forged himself with earnest determination. Doubtful about what he was capable of accomplishing, perhaps not feeling as special as others might themselves feel they were, someone who was just as genuine as they come.


Although I have not seen it in years, I will never forget the drama Hanks shared with man's best friend. I must have watched Turner & Hooch dozens of times while I was growing up, and often found myself brought to tears by Hanks' remarkable performance. To make an audience laugh, cry, and invest so well in the characters he portrayed, comedy was certainly a memorable beginning. Who could forget his roles in A League Of Their Own and especially Forrest Gump? This was an actor destined to leave his mark in life it seemed.


In 1995, in my humble opinion it was Hanks' role in one of the most compelling and powerful dramas in recent memory which began to set him apart. A film that may have even played a unique role of its own on my fascination for history from then forth. Apollo 13. As I had explained about the indelible impact that the film had left upon me in my October 21st blog post, much of that came from the strong performance of Hanks. Certainly not to sell short the other star-studded cast members, by far the film was one for the ages in all aspects.


I literally went in somewhat interested in history, fairly infatuated with the frequent science fiction playground of outer space, but came out from the movie a changed person. Hanks' humble and riveting performance made me hang on every single word he spoke, expression he showed, and action he committed. Although a performance of his that was outdone in just only five years afterward, in 2000 when I graduated from high school.


Even though I did not go to see as many movies during my first bout of depression as I should have, when I did see Cast Away I cannot describe how emotionally moved I was for Hanks' absolutely perfect acting. True, some skeptics could ignore the movie on the grounds of it not being realistic or interesting watching the portrayal of someone stranded on a distant deserted island. But if you dismiss a movie like this so easily, where is the wonder and imagination in life?


The psychology Hanks draws from is fascinating, particularly with how he befriends a simple inanimate object, a volleyball inscribed and aptly named Wilson, and manages to portray a compelling character in harsh conditions no one would ever want to face. Let alone the sad aftermath of his return years later. Brilliant performance from beginning to end. Only a year later, his next film upped the ante and was a contributor to my burgeoning inspiration by movies.


Enter the film, The Da Vinci Code. As I often find, certain actors and actresses so embody their roles that I cannot envision or feel the same if someone else were to take their place. Tom Hanks as the character Robert Langdon is one of those examples. What his strong performance also enabled with the plot of this film was that, for the first time, I became empowered to imagine outside the box of typical thinking because of a film.


The Da Vinci Code changed the way I viewed religion in general and encouraged me to have a more open mind. Particularly with the conflict of religion versus science, as is portrayed more directly in Hanks' follow-up Angels & Demons. Coming from a Protestant Christian background myself, you might think I leaned away from my faith. Instead, the film strengthened my faith in Christianity and Christ's true teachings, because I reassessed what I believed in at that time.


I found both faith and science within religion. So what if Jesus actually married and included a woman, Mary or otherwise, into his religious teachings. Or if Mary had indeed fathered his child. The Church needn't cover it up now or centuries ago, because his messages of healing, miracles, love and forgiveness still hold true. God is still a force to be reckoned with. Nothing changes, in my humble opinion. Behold the power of film. And Tom Hanks. :)


With only a matter of hours before I go to see Inferno, I felt it was a fitting and important tribute I pay to Hanks and to break up the monotony of serious blog posts as of late. I hope many of you have a renewed respect and appreciation for the actor as I have over the years. Thank you very much, Mr. Tom Hanks. And if you thought this blog post was long, wait until I get to the likes of Robert Downey Jr.  ;)


Now, without further ado, I think it is time I explained the why I have been meticulously forging ahead for in this part of our journey. Why am I doing this in the first place.


Why me, specifically.

Dear Mr. Dreyfuss,

Posted on October 18, 2016 at 4:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Now that we are well underway, I thought I would talk about a specific person I'd mentioned earlier this week. Of all the actors and actresses I will undoubtedly talk about here, with regards to my passion for film, this actor not only starred in a number of wonderful films but also devotes his time in recent years to public awareness campaigns. Some might know him as Mr. Hooper from the Oceanographic Institute, psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin, or composer and dear high school music teacher Mr. Glenn Holland.


Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Dreyfuss.


To date the only celebrity I have ever met, and personally one I will never forget nor will I ever be able to repay him for as much as he has inspired me. Remarkably, just as I got to this point of the blog post I realized that Dreyfuss was in fact a major driving influence in the way I blogged as a student back in 2009-10. The reason for this was both his endearing acting performances, but also specifically for a speech he gave at Penn State Altoona during the Fall 2008 semester that I attended.


The event, held as part of a larger Distinguished Speaker Series for the university, showcased Dreyfuss' inspiring speech about independent, critical thinking. Specifically encouraging the audience to check facts if something seemed to be amiss, and not necessarily to believe everything we might be told was true. No political motives involved, just an empowering point of view that left me with more self-esteem and affirmation about how I was raised to process knowledge. Which now, for me, applies imperatively to politics given the muck of corruption that has infested both mainstream media and our government.


Without being able or willing to question reported truths, how could we know whether a national-level media outlet or brazen political candidate was being truthful? Because they say so? I don't think so. The latter which controls the governing and freedoms of our future generations; not something to be taken lightly. Dreyfuss conveyed these points in such an absorbable, comfortable fashion you couldn't help but soak up the speech. When I began blogging as a college student the following year, I applied Dreyfuss' style of telling it like it was and leaving the readers ensured of getting the truth as well as plenty of perspective on the many topics before us.


As for the rest of what I took away from that speaking event, this next series of posts will begin to unravel the truth behind the role that inspiration plays in my life and why experiences like Mr. Dreyfuss' speech now leave such a positive, profound effect on me personally.




P.S.  If you ever read this, Mr. Dreyfuss, you have my utmost respect and gratitude.  Thank you.