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Thursday, January 30, 2014

3 Things I Learned from the 2014 AFSP Leadership Conference



The weekend of January 24th, I had the privilege of representing New York City at a national leadership conference for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Nearly three hundred people from all over the United States came together to learn more about how we can increase our effectiveness working toward suicide prevention in our respective states and communities. I’m writing this the morning after the conference and found that I came away with three pivotal and overarching lessons:

1) Great Things Happen Between the Lines—After breakout sessions, during meals, and at the end of each conference day there was ample opportunity to speak to fellow conference attendees. It was in these conversations that collaboration, brainstorming, and the real work began. Intelligently designed partnership is the fastest way to achievement. You’ll never find partners if you don’t open your mouth and ask people about themselves and how you can help one another. Simply put: when at a conference for anything, use every drop of your time wisely—and don’t be afraid to speak up.

2) Evolution is For the Go-Getter—In 1987 AFSP was simply a research organization dedicated to suicide prevention, in the early 2000’s they added the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk component to give survivors of suicide loss an opportunity to gather together and to give the organization another arm for fundraising, and in 2014 AFSP is adding a collegiate component to give the organization a shot in the arm and a voice to students who may have lost a loved one to suicide or who may be struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Bottom line: if you want to achieve great things, you must be willing to evolve and adapt to get what it is you want.

3) We Need a Bigger Tent (and so do you)—Include everyone tangentially related to your mission. Along these tangent lines, there may be a group of people who want to be included under your mission (and rightfully so) and who may be feeling underserved or excluded. These underserved populations may hold an overlooked key in helping you unlock the formula to achieving the entirety of your mission. AFSP has always been an organization dedicated to research, then they added programs for prevention, then for those people who have experienced the loss of someone to suicide. In 2014, they are including suicide attempt survivors as people who will be benefitting from new programming—effectively arming a large population of people who will stand up and fight for themselves and this cause. The takeaway: look at every angle and make sure you’re using every possible resource you can to achieve your goal.  

These are just several things I learned and if you want to get involved with an organization who treats their volunteers well, and who spends their time and funds wisely; AFSP.org is the one. Ping me and I can help you figure out how to get involved. Thank ya kindly :)


Thursday, January 23, 2014

In honor of my dad's birthday: A Peek into the book The Gospel According to Josh...

So, I’m writing this post on January 20th, the day after my father’s birthday. I was going to post something on Facebook about it but it felt inauthentic (for me) so I’m writing here instead. Below is a little snippet from the GATJ book, the first time I felt like I truly met my father… which was after his death. 

A happy sixty-fifth birthday to the guy. Thanks for everything.

And thanks to you for reading :) 

--

Searching for a pair of boxer briefs beneath a smattering of unmated socks, a wall of nostalgia washed over me like an ocean wave—reminding me that the bottom drawer was full of my father’s personal effects that I took from his bedroom the day after he died. I hadn’t looked at or even thought about them since the day I brought them into my apartment. Sliding open that bottom drawer, I carefully removed a few old Life magazines with covers featuring Diana Ross, Henry Kissinger, the inventor of the Polaroid camera, and Nikita Khrushchev. I also took out a copy of one of his old driver’s licenses and an enormous, dusty American flag that the U.S. Government gave my father in honor of Haakon’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The last of what I pulled out were three old photo albums that I, until this day, had never viewed. 

Inside the first photo album were pictures of my father from the early 1970s while on vacation with some of his friends and family, a few years before he met my mother. He had an odd, thin mustache and looked much happier than I had ever seen him. While thumbing my way to the back of the album, a thin leather-bound booklet that I didn’t recognize slid out from between the pages of the plastic sleeves. It was light brown and threadbare. The pages were yellow and tattered, and the whole of it was held together by a rubber band. Inside the cover was my father’s trademark handwriting—neat little words in all capital letters. 

This was his old diary. In it were the childhood games he used to play, the names of some of his old neighborhood friends, and the girls with whom he was smitten during his Lutheran elementary school days: 

My first cigarette was great. But since I’m thirteen, I was scared to smoke when my parents got home so I threw it inside our piano. My dad smelled it and got it out in time. I didn’t even get in trouble. They just told me not to burn the house down. Neat!

As I flipped through the pages, his writing became more perfunctory and his dated entries were few and far between. Toward the back he wrote about his early twenties and talked briefly about his time at Park College in Kansas City, Missouri. 

He listed all of the jobs he had ever held (teacher, substitute teacher, amateur lawn care specialist, store clerk), but what he seemed most enthusiastic about was the law. He wanted to be a lawyer. A few pages were marked only with the words, i want more out of life,” written over and over again—reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s deranged character in The Shining

 My father almost married a long-term girlfriend, a woman who was in love with him whom he found “utterly beautiful but emotionally unstable.” He also doubted whether he could commit to just one woman, and subsequently broke up with his long-term girlfriend at a coffee shop to keep her from going on a “psychotic rampage.” On the last page was a list of places he had traveled to: Germany, England, and Italy; along with a short list of places he needed to visit before he died: Jerusalem, Norway, and Vancouver. 


I learned more about my father reading twenty pages of his diary than I ever had in the twenty-five years I had known him. Conversations about television shows, family members, or his opinions on biblical doctrine always came easy, but we never talked about anything deeper. Who he truly was, how he felt about women, or what he wanted out of life—those were things that only a skilled and meticulous excavator could uncover. And my father didn’t keep company with any of those scholarly diggers. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winning the Race Against Yourself




A thousand people, including you, crowd together at a start line to begin the race of a lifetime—a race that makes a triathlon look like a leisurely stroll in the park.

Holy cow, how will you ever beat so many other people to the finish line and win the race?

About a quarter of the way through the race, four hundred people drop out due to poor conditioning. Through the next quarter of the race, another three hundred people drop out because of leg cramps. During the next leg of the race, two hundred fifty people drop out because of exhaustion. By the last portion of the race, it’s you and forty-nine other people racing toward the finish line. At this point, you realize you’re no longer racing against anyone but yourself. 

In nearly everything we do (work, art, relationships, entrepreneurship, etc.), our race is a long marathon and not a sprint. Physical preparation is needed to run the race but many forget that mental preparation is needed as well. Doing the dirty work day in and day out without seeing the fruits of your labor on a consistent basis can be difficult. But with mental preparation, one is able to gain insight as to whether the should pack it up or continue in the race (and for how long). 

Note 
Mental preparation can be: Self-coaching, working with a coach, working with a mentor, reading, studying, and short trial runs of your race. 

Keep running your race. Find ways to measure mini success in pursuit of the longterm goal. Don’t forget it’s okay to take a breather too. Mental and physical rest is an important part of the journey. 

You and no one else owns the race you run. You’re not competing with anyone but yourself.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Front Page Feature Article for Astoria Magazine: "Astoria is for Lovers and Second Acts"

Back in September '13, when the GATJ book was first published; I was asked to write a feature article for Astoria Magazine, since I live in Astoria and I've been known to string a few sentences together from time to time. 
My article "Astoria is for Lovers… and Second Acts" was published in the magazine for their January 2014 issue. Give her a read when you get a chance, the article is below! I hope you enjoy!

-Josh





Astoria is one of the best communities in all of New York City. We have the museum of Moving Image, Socrates Sculpture Park, and the new SingleCut craft brewery. We have swaths of Greeks, Italians, Turks, Bengalis… and me all living in harmony in one centralized location. If Astoria were a pizza pie it would the “deluxe” with a little extra of your favorite topping, the “everything” dripping with umami, it would be the pie that people would wait ninety minutes for outside in the pouring rain just to get a slice. But why am I telling you this? Why wax poetically about Astoria?
Because after going through three circles of hell and a near death experience, it’s the place in the world where I got my second chance at life. It all goes back to the word “community”— a pivotal piece of the puzzle in defining one’s quality of life. I found my community in Astoria.
But much like a slingshot, we have to stretch backward in order to gain the proper amount of momentum to propel forward with this story. We have to start with a few of my predecessors—a few guys from New Jersey named Haakon and Douglas. My paternal grandfather, Haakon Rivedal, died long before I was born and is someone of whom I have very little knowledge. I know that he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, was shot down over Hamburg, Germany in 1941, and I know that he killed himself in 1966.
Forty-three years later, in 2009, Haakon’s son Douglas, my father, killed himself. I was twenty-five years old at the time. By the time I turned twenty-five, I thought I’d have the perfect life—a few years singing on Broadway, followed by a starring role in my own television show. After which, my getaway home in the Hamptons would be featured in Better Homes & Gardens, and my face would grace the cover of the National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Instead, my resume was filled with an assortment of minor league theatre and an appearance on The Maury Povich Show—my career sidetracked by my father’s suicide and a lawsuit from my mother over my father’s inheritance. Life looked less like a happy-go-lucky Disney movie and more like a George Romero zombie flick. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this new information.
So, I did what any normal person would do in that situation. I decided to take all those sad, ridiculous, and tragically funny experiences and followed in the footsteps of Eddie Izzard, John Leguizamo, and that really desperate weirdo that shows up at the local coffee shop on open-mic night; and created a one-man show for myself, The Gospel According to Josh. In less than a year I put the show up in the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York City, got great press reviews, and got invited to do a run of the show at The Media Theatre in Pennsylvania.
But while my professional life was reaching new heights, my community, my personal life was continuing to plunge ever so close to the abyss toward Captain Nemo and his Nautilus. My relationship with family and even friends at this point was nearly non-existent. And my girlfriend of six years decided it was time for us to split up. In a span of less than two years I lost three important people and two families.
How does someone deal with that many losses in a row? Ben & Jerry’s? Therapy? Tae Kwon Do? Not this guy. I kept piling on work and artistic projects and avoided my problems until they exploded in my face. In January, 2011 my thoughts took a downward spiral very fast. I thought I had nothing left to live for if I didn’t have the ex-girlfriend, my family, or a successful acting career. There was also something going on inside my body which I couldn’t explain. For three weeks, I could barely eat and I had trouble sleeping. A terrible pain constantly coursed through my body and a knot was growing inside my stomach, born of malnutrition and anxiety. I was able to pull off working a few days each week, but not without questions of why I looked so ill—questions I wouldn’t and couldn’t dignify with a response.
In late January I had four scheduled days off in a row from work and nothing to do but stay inside my apartment.
The first three days were a blur. I stopped showering and didn’t even leave my bedroom. On the fourth day I decided it was time to make it to the bathroom and clean the stink off my body that now smelled like a cross between a sweaty foot and rancid taco meat.
For the first time in four days I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and my skin lily white save for a few blotches of pink and yellow that gave a more complete color palette. Compassion for the man in the mirror quickly soured to displeasure and disgust. I didn’t know this pathetic piece of a man anymore and I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.
I found myself backing away from the mirror and moved my body back through the doorway and over to my bedroom window.
In front of my fourth floor window was a radiator too hot to touch from the steady flow of heat emanating from its center. My bare feet found a pair of slippers lying alongside my bed and I carefully stepped onto the radiator. The bottom opening of the window was protected by rusty bars fastened to the window’s frame but the top was free. I pulled it down till both top and bottom portions of the window were aligned and the hole on top was large enough for me to pass through.
I pushed my head through the opening and looked out at the building across the street. It was singed from a fire that nearly destroyed its top three floors a few months prior and whose smell of ashes made its way to my nostrils whenever the window was open and the wind was blowing in just the right direction.
With my large head still protruding through the opening, I gaped at the sidewalk lined with cars and heaps of trash spilling into the street four stories below.
My arms shook like weeping willow trees in the middle of a violent tornado. The wind was whipping around something fierce. Tears dribbled every which way across my face, wetting the hair on my temples. With my left hand I supported the weight of my body and with the right, I slapped myself repeatedly. My temples were now completely soaked. With the right hand back in place, I hoisted my torso halfway through the window. But before I could pass all the way through, a strange and unfamiliar voice spoke to me. It was powerful yet tender and barely audible, but the voice told me that this wasn’t the way and this wasn’t my time. I held myself suspended for a few more moments, my body halfway out the bedroom window. I then climbed back through and sat beside the radiator. I needed help
To whom could I turn to ask for help? I hadn’t asked for anything from anyone in a very long time, maybe decades. It was a matter of pride. I had paid my own way for everything since I was fifteen years old. But if I didn’t ask for help here, my pride was going to get me killed.
So, I called my mother. The person who gave birth to me, raised me, and then completely betrayed me. But none of that mattered anymore. She knew my father and she knew me all too well. Maybe there was something she could do or say that would make it all better, like when I was a little boy. I just wanted my mommy.
I called her and she did exactly what she was supposed to do. She became my mom again and talked me through what I was going through. She wasn’t judgmental. She listened to what I had to say and told me I could call her anytime if I needed anything. After hanging up with her I knew that I wasn’t going to die that day, not by my own hands. How I would live—that was another story.
In the first few months of my recovery, I began a slow and steady climb back to life. I had to take baby steps. I started seeing a therapist. I began tapping back into the community by reaching out to old friends. I worked on rekindling relationships with my family. And I decided that best way I could help myself would be by helping others. I took that one-man show, my Gospel, on the road and started talking to college and high school students about how to get help if they were depressed or suicidal.
Around this same time, a good friend needed new a roommate in Astoria and so I crossed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and put roots down in the 11102 zip code. I had much more room to spread my wings and was in close proximity to old friends with whom I needed to reconnect. The hustle and bustle of Manhattan was and is not nearly as present in Astoria and I was able to find a new creative life. Words flowed effortlessly from my fingertips once again and in the two years that I’ve lived in Astoria, I wrote and released a full-length memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, an accessible and expansive addendum to the one-man show. I’ve completed commissions to write the book to three musicals and will have a short story published in early 2014.
But in spite of that professional success, the greatest achievement I’ve garnered in the past two years has simply been life and connecting to a community—friends and family. And finding a place in the world where I can live, and be creative, and feel comfortable being myself—Astoria, the home of my second act.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Extra, Extra… Read All About It. The Inspirational True Story Behind (Insert Your Name) Will Finally Be Told



So I'm announcing a new off-shoot of The Gospel According to Josh that's big and bad and involves you. 

The Good News Project
(Woohoo!!)

"The Good News Projectis looking for guest bloggers and writers — A weekly series where writers, psychologists, and everyday schmoes can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world—let us learn from you! (See below the guidelines to learn about the inspiration for The Good News Project)

Guest blog Guidelines


Your blog must be about you—an inspirational moment, an epiphany, finding your dream job, discovering your life’s purpose, your coming of age.
What did you learn, how has it changed your life, and what can the reader take away?

The fine-ish print:
  • It can only be 1000 words maximum, including your bio (ratio no less than 4:1, content : bio). 
  • Short paragraphs and bullet points are welcome.
  • Posts with grammar and spelling errors won’t be accepted.
  • No foul language in your post.
  • Your post can’t be overly promotional, it’s a story.
  • You can have outgoing links in the text, but not if they lead to spam. You can, at most, use 10 outgoing links.
  • Your post can’t promote a religion or religious domination. However, you can write about your faith and how it’s impacted your life.
  • You may repost your own content on your site, blog, or on someone else’s website or blog as long as it’s properly attributed (and linked to) as having appeared on this blog first (if that is, indeed, the case).
  • You may choose to share your story using your name in the byline or anonymously by using your initials (i.e. "J.R.") 
  • Send inquiries and posts to: josh@gospeljosh.com
Why is this "The Good News Project?

It's inspired by my book and one-man show The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah. Gospel (non-religious) means "Good News" and my good news is that I'm alive, and thriving, able to tell my story and help other people.
On the international tour of my one-man show, I've found incredible people who've felt voiceless and worthless yet who were outstanding people with important personal stories waiting to be told. These personal stories changed my life and the life of the storyteller for the better. 
My one-man show continues through 2015 and I'm looking for people in all walks of life, online and offline, to help give them a voice and share their stories with the world.

What Does Your Body of Work Say About You? (Setting Yourself up for a Great New Year)




I was thinking about the year I had with GATJ—the book launch, the play, the incredible people I met, the students that got help. 

It was a great year... and I aim to have another one. But some evolution needs to happen. So I began to look at my past body of work to strategize for the future. Here’s what I came up with and I hope you find it useful as well!!

Two separate items to consider when evaluating your body of work in whatever field(s) you’ve chosen over the years.

1) Do you:
  • Fulfill promises?
  • Compromise?
  • Accommodate?
  • Do the bare minimum?
  • Find solutions to complex problems?
That string of bullet points could stretch miles long. It’s important to take stock and look back at how associates, employers, customers, and partners have found their experience working with you.

2) What kind of work have you been willing to take on presently and in the past?
  • Do you discriminate when taking on employees, customers, partners etc.?
  • Is it work which you knew you were not able to complete?
  • Is it work (in name and/or in quality) that you can display with pride?
These are two questions that are important to ask at the turn of a new year. I’m not as concerned with legacy as I am with what these questions will help with in your present and future.

Examining your entire body of work should show patterns. Behaviors or habits (good or bad), that helped you succeed or sabotaged your success. 

Yes, strategizing and exposing these patterns can help you set yourself up for a great day, week, month, or year. 

If, when reflecting on your work record and you see some things that you don’t like, maybe even some seemingly insurmountable issues—worry not. It’s never too late to write a new and glowing chapter in the archives of your history.