The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo – Fernando’s Improv Podcast

Lots of insights and revelations in this episode. It’s a good one! Check it out!

The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Improv Life Podcast 

Man, today I had a very special guest. Literally, one of my favorite people in the whole world – David Escobedo, global improviser. Also, this was my first international podcast as David is in England!

Me and David go a ways back since we were both producers for Spectacles Improv Engine, a now defunct theater in Orange County, CA, USA. David and I produced a show called Ladies and Gentlemen, and ever since then I’ve been in awe of the guy. 

David is simply amazing. David is on the front lines of the global improv movement. He’s connecting with improvisers from all over the world, connecting with them and collaborating with them, discovering new ways to play and work with another. 

His Facebook page, The Improv Boost, is one of the most active and visited Facebook pages for improvisers across the world. David is a community builder, and The Improv Boost is proof of that. 

In this podcast, we talk about his improv journey, his recent experiences in the UK Improv Scene, his most recent insights and revelations, and much more.

Listen on SoundCloud

Here’s What We Talked About

  • Why it’s nice to have your name pronounced correctly 
  • The Mexican Food in England and where the good spots are
  • David’s experience as a Mexican-American man from San Diego in England
  • How there is a lack of awareness of Mexican culture in England, and how this ignorance causes people in the UK to celebrate Mexican culture with the things they know about it, which unfortunately are stereotypes, and how David has to educate people about his culture
  • David’s journey to becoming a global improviser
  • How David walking away from a theater that did not give him back the love he was pouring into it may have been one of the best things he’s ever done
  • Why he started The Improv Boost, and that by starting The Improv Boost he has transcended whatever box or finite boundaries a singular improv theater may have wanted to confine him to
  • Powerful quote: “When they mean family, they mean kingdom.” – Me, reflecting on David’s idea of theaters weaponizing the idea of family to keep students in line. 
  • David’s experience in arriving to the England Improv Scene and how it was five years behind the American Scene in terms of some of the community standards of holding people accountable and dealing with toxic leaders and their “petty empires.” 
  • Powerful quote: “It’s so important for people to realize that their journey in improv is not as someone’s student, but as their own journey in improv.” – David talking about why it’s important for people to study with a lot of people and focus on their development as an improviser, not as a disciple of a specific teacher or identifying with a certain community 
  • David’s encounter with tribalism in the UK Improv Scene and how he combatted it 
  • How the sense of classicism is different in England and how that affects how improv teams and communities develop
  • David leading by example in England and showing other groups how they can work together to elevate each other
  • How the British Improv Scene is developing independent of influence from the American Scene
  • How the Keith Johnstone school of improv is more prevalent in England and how that’s influenced the style over there 
  • How David’s experience in England has opened up his eyes to new ways to doing improv 
  • Individuality vs. Dividuality = Western culture vs Eastern culture 
  • Dividuality – your actions affect a larger community 
  • “Status is expressed how we treat other people” – David Escobedo 
  • You can’t learn to be more creative; you’re just as creative as you are. But you can unlearn to be uncreative – David echoing Keith Johnstone 
  • How people seek gurus but how they should be their own leader 
  • Some of the turnoffs David experienced while studying at some of the big LA improv schools 
  • How David to learn improv on his own, and reflecting on how he could create space for others 
  • The pitfalls of teaching, coaching, and directing 
  • The kind of teachers you should avoid at all costs 
  • The relationship between skills and community, and how Gurus sell one more than the other but how you have to have both 
  • How the UK improv scene is beginning to have conversations about boundaries as being inspired by the Me Too movement that happened in the US and forced improv theaters to have conversations about sexual harassment and create policies to combat it and create safe and inclusive spaces
  • Key quote – “You can have vulnerability without having boundaries” – Brené Brown 
  • How England’s long history and tradition creates a conservative environment that makes it hard to have open and direct conversations about difficult topics like sexism and racism 
  • Key quote – “Allow yourself to suck at something new…in the risk is where the genius happens” – David Escobedo
  • How Americans have to have more humility about our improv and how we relate to the global improv scene 
  • David’s overall experience in the UK, how it is being an American in the UK and having to explain America’s politics to UK folk, and the next parts of his journey 

It was awesome having David on the show, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. Thank you for being on the show, brother! 

Resources 

Here are some of the different Facebook pages David mentioned at the end of the show. Check them out! 

The Art of Yes – [From the Facebook Page] “Welcome to The Art of Yes! Our goal is to inspire others, share knowledge, and provide a forum for asking questions about improvisational theater (otherwise known as improv). All posts will be moderated, and we kindly ask you to refrain from advertising any shows or local events. We encourage you to invite friends, family, coworkers, basically anyone who is or may be interested in improv, to join the community. Hope you enjoy reading the Art of Yes as much as we enjoy creating it!” 

Today Improv – [From the Facebook Page] “Today Improv is a Los Angeles based company teaching improv for actors, improv for business and improv for everyone else. Change your life”

Improv MKE [From their website] – “What if you opened an improv theater and school that brought teachers from all over the country and the world who can teach others some of the things you’ve learned over the years and continue to learn yourself? That’s what Improv MKE LLC is all about! The organization is designed to create access, both in-person and online, for people to have fun, learn, grow, and play together in ways they never thought possible! Thanks for coming by. We hope you stay to play with us. YES AND, we also do corporate stuff! Entertainment, workshops, and custom-created programs and training are available! We do it ALL!! Mainly because Michelle is no longer a baby, and has a team.”

The Black Improv Alliance – [From the Facebook Page] “The Black Improv Alliance provides a space for improvisers of African descent to build worlds and tell their authentic stories unapologetically! We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in improv, one scene at a time.”

Thank You for Listening

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I am the 2015 Improv Collective Prom King!

Improv Collective Prom 2015: All the goodness of prom without any of the teen angst or raging hormones.

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Posing with Prom Queen Teresa Zang.

The Starlight Theater, 05 June 2015, 09:40 pm: A Packed House

The Costa Mesa Storefront theater was packed to maximum capacity on the warm Friday night, the first one of June.

The grandeur of the show’s prom theme had worked to get people excited for the upcoming spectacle.

The prom throwback was not just limited to the players however; the audience was also encouraged – dare I say expected? – to show up in their best prom dresses and tuxes. The Facebook event page’s encouragement was in full effect – various audience members came decked in high-school throwback opulence. And some came with just neckties and east coast business casual.

No matter, the audience’s participation through dressing up was only evidence that they were excited for the show. Every seat was packed, standing room only, with people peering over each others’ heads to get the best glimpse of the action on stage. These are the shows you live for.

It was a great night of audience energy fed improv. Everyone had great moments on stage, so it must have been a tough vote. Somehow, Teresa Zang and I were elected Prom Queen and Prom King. I think our kick-ass Oscar Winning Moment had something to do with it.

The Scene: Marital Strife – Alcohol vs Wife.

Teresa and I

Teresa and I were on track to have another dynamite scene. Photo courtesy of Improv Collective Instagram.

Salvation army is the suggestion. The scene starts. Teresa folds clothes. She folds clothes. Teresa is folding clothes. Teresa owns the stage with her commitment to her space-work. I take my time to make an entrance. I open the storefront door and casually make my way to down stage right.

“Your late!” she shoots at me, throwing her gaze at me like a baseball in a game of catch

“I’m sorry, okay,” I respond, catching her gaze and giving the ball back to her.

“I need you here. How are we supposed to make it if you’re not here? Your my husband. I need you to help me.” And bam, these three dense, packed-with-emotion, lines set up the rest of the scene.

“To the hell with this.” My character gives up the charade of caring, pulls out a flask, and takes an unapologetic swig.

Channeling the stakes of the moment , my character continues, “I’m an alcoholic.”

And it happens: a straightforward scene about being late for work and spousal disappointment Hulks into a loaded piece about alcoholism, marital struggles, familial obligations, and the inability to cope with failed dreams and the burden of continued living despite not knowing what to live for.

The next four-and-a-half-minutes are a thick, incandescent, four carrot gold rock of spontaneous theater magic: an under-appreciated, exhausted, overburdened wife and soon-to-be mother does not know how to save her husband from himself. The husband’s demons are preventing him from being happy with his lot in life.

Ultimately, the wife makes a passionate plea for the  husband to pick either her and their future baby or the alcohol. The husband, recognizing he has a second shot at life, picks his family and boots mistress alcohol out of his life forever.

The scene was an emotional trek though the swaths and pits of domestic turmoil, pending marital failure, the anxiety of looming parenthood, and ending with arrival at the Valley of  Sudden Redemption and Second Chances.

The audience loved it.

Why I love working with Teresa

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Teresa’s got the stuff to kick ass on stage and become a veteran improviser. (Picture one: with Keefer Robert Langner).

Teresa – The reason I love working with Teresa is because she stays in the ring and boxes you with equal ferocity. She never lets herself be overwhelmed by her partner’s emotions or powerful responses, nor does she allow her partner’s lack of emotion prevent her from giving her all to a scene.

With young improvisers, especially hungry and eager students,  sometimes the presence of an established veteran improviser –  he/she has been there, done that, and is merely there out of habit and instinct –  maybe too much for them to handle in a scene.

These players nerd-out at the opportunity to play with a favorite player, or they make it a bigger deal than it should be for the scene to run smoothly. I know this from first hand experience; all the aforementioned things I have done at one time or another. And now, that I’m on the other side of the coin, I can tell when some improvisers look forward to doing a scene with me.

Teresa, however, does not let the reputation of her partner intimidate her, paralyzing her from giving her all. She’s a power player that puts it on the line because she knows that’s the way champions are made. One day, she will be the veteran improviser.

Teresa, I wish you the best, and I hope you make it far in your journey and pursuit of whatever it is you are chasing.

Scene Synopsis: Good

Was there anything original in the scene? No. Did we make any groundbreaking insights on substance abuse and failing marriages? No.

But did we entertain the audience and tear a packed house down in the process? Yes.

Did we extract the best performance out of each other? Yes.

Did we capitalize on the moment to give the best possible scene to an excited audience at a one-of-a-kind event? Yes.

And did we kick ass and add another notch to our improv belts? Yes.

And did we create and share a unique improv moment that will never be again but live in the memories of all those who witnessed and participated in it? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Yes to everything.

It feels good to be king

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The accoutre-ma of royalty: my prom king sash and crown.

There is no validation like an anonymous popular vote that declares you the best amongst a bill of qualified and equally competent candidates. To know that people are rooting for you feels  humbling; to know that you won the game for them feels ecstatic. It’s good to be the King. It’s not everyday you can say that, and the lease on these titles are usually very short, so stretch out your fifteen minutes as much as your care because they’ll be up sooner than you know it.

For anybody interested, I’ll be holding court at a Barnes & Nobles near you.

Thank You

Special thanks to the Improv Collective for producing the event and having awesome promo behind it. Special thanks to Jeff  and Katy Ambas for organizing the event with all the appropriate flare and accoutrements of the event. Special thanks to all the wonderful performers – Jeff Ambas, Ethan Serna, Liam O’Mahoney, Miranda Lennert, and Hannah Fitzpatrick. And of course very special thanks to Teresa Zang for killing it with me during Oscar Winning Moment. And finally, to all the fans who came out and cheered us, giving us a reason to perform, thank you.

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One more for full effect. Thanks Teresa.

Till next time,

Fernando.

 

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The Fernando Show – A Retrospective on Taking Bold Risks and Failing Big

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Combining my loves for all things Fernando in one spectacular roll of the dice: this is the Fernando Show!

The Fernando Show Aftermath: Coco’s, 12:26 am, 22 March 2015, Garden Grove, CA

The Coco’s $12.99 Prime Rib rejuvenates my exhausted psychic state. Cherry Pepsi, drenched in ice, delivered in a plastic tumbler, gives me a jolt of caffeine and sugar to alleviate my throbbing headache. Prior to the tender broiled steak, I felt like I got punched in the face with a baseball made of ice. Or like a sack of door knobs wielded by Jimbo Jones from The Simpsons.  My right eye pulsates like the bass line from “Obsession” by Animotion

After writing, acting, and directing my first one man show essentially, my physical constitution is spent. I vaulted myself outside of my comfort zone and pushed beyond barriers I did not know I possessed. I’ve always been one to take risks on stage, whether warranted or foolish. The Fernando Show was a little bit of both. Fuck it: if you’re not jumping off cliffs occasionally to see where you’ll land, then you’re not testing yourself as a performer.

Too often, especially with young improvisers or experienced players on a hot streak or comfortable with their routine, a bold risk is the last thing they want to do. And who can blame them – why risk your hot streak or undefeated record for a short term risk that may or may not have a long term benefit? A bold risk entails potential catastrophic loss; or it can lead to a massive gain. Regardless, you’re exposing yourself to possible pain, humiliation, and failure. The wrath of a poorly executed risk can traumatize you into never taking one ever again. However, I’ve never been one to dwell in the comfort of the status quo for too long; I take risks because I’m afraid of becoming stagnant and boring in the long run. It’s all about the long-term payoffs.

Special Shout-Out to Liam O’Mahony –  Liam’s participation made this show happen. As my Andy Richter, his constant stage presence prevented dead air. His guitar playing transitioned the segments, and his support meant a lot during a time when I was not sure where this project was going. Its artistic brothers like Liam that make stuff like the Fernando Show possible. Thanks bro.

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Thanks for your help, Liam; there would be no The Fernando Show without your help and support

Lets’ Break it Down: The Starlight Theater, 09:40 pm, 21 March 2015, Costa Mesa, CA

09:40 pm: The Monologue – my jokes skewed towards Dennis Miller and Norm MacDonald tendencies. Out of 14 jokes, seven were about international politics, one about fracking, three about pop culture, one about public policy/city planning, and one mega-awesome joke about the Eagles. Suffice to say, I like jokes about politics. Maybe I can include a richer variety in the future, or maybe I can apply to the Daily Show as an international affairs correspondent? I forgot one joke, stuttered through others, but I did get some consistent laughs throughout this segment.

09:46 pm: The Astrologer Sketch – emulating my childhood Univision astrologer, Walter Mercado, I donned the altar ego of Benjamin Mercado Rodriguez Rodriguez Andersen Smichdt Chavez. Pre-Show Information: my original actor came down with a wicked flu 24 hours before the show, so I had to don the persona of Benjamin Mercado because I had no choice; it was too late to scrap the sketch and replace it with something else. I brewed the first of many coffee pots, and began to memorize. This by far was the longest and most challenging piece – I went through all 12 Zodiac signs, each with a rich and detailed horoscope. This was a more amazing feat than I had anticipated, and despite some this-shit-is-really-long moments, it was a triumph in remembering all the horoscopes; a lot of Pisces, Scorpios, and Aquariuses were in the house.

09:55 pm: Macho Man’s Hamlet, featuring “Top Notch” Frankie Segura – I combined my love for pro-wrestling and Hamlet in this sketch, an absurdest piece that got more steam out if its bizarre premise than it’s actual delivery. Some help from my friend Frankie Segura as Ophellia, committed the marriage of these two ideas to its conceptual fulfillment.

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The Four Faces of Savage

Although I looked great as the Macho Man Randy Savage, the execution of the sketch could have been better; juggling Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy with Macho Man’s mannerisms and cadence was more difficult than I expected. In the future, with some solid memorization of the lines and a firm grasp over my impression (one that does not destroy my voice), this could be a killer piece. Much love and kindness to my bro Frankie Top-Notch for helping me out with the sketch.

10:01 pm: Interview with “Top Notch” Frankie Segura –  One of the basic tenets of an interview is that the guests sit down when the host asks him to do so. Unfortunately, Frankie’s character was not in the mood to indulge my request to sit down with me. This request became the axis of the interview, and I should have prepped my buddy better. Regardless, it was a good test of dealing with an unruly guest, which I imagine the Biggs like Leno, Fallon, and Conan have to deal with occasionally. He never sat down, but it was fun interviewing my dear friend on stage.

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My brother, Frankie ‘Top Notch” Segura

10:06 pm: Slam Poetry with Calvin Fantone – my bud from work, the wonderful slam poet Calvin Fantone, delivered some great slam poetry that hit with the audience. Part of my vision for The Fernando Show was to have a variety show that showcased many different arts in a simple-but-rich tapestry of different art forms interweaving together and complimenting each other. Because of Calvin, I was able to do this. Thanks, dude, for helping out!

10:13 pm: Interview with Calvin Fantone – Although Calvin indulged my request to sit down, he was also difficult to interview. Again: my bad. I should have prepped him/done a mock interview beforehand. Talking to him was like pulling teeth out of a hippopotamus. I thought it would’ve gone easier due to our wonderful work chats, but the dynamics of dialogue change when you’re in front of a live audience and under bright lights. The interview had some laughs, and we got a peek into his inspiration and creative process. Regardless of the awkwardness, it was a lot of fun interviewing my good buddy on stage.

10:18 pm – 10:30 pm: Closing songs with Liam

1) Allison’s Song –  With Liam on guitar, we improvised a ballad strictly for my home-girl Alison. I waxed on the Defenestration of Prague, Russia, and that community college was a trap, but that together, through our mutual support of our respective journeys, we were able to make it out. This was a lot of fun because it was all true, and Alison is really one of my dearest friends around.

2) Working Class Jesus – a love song about a guy who will do what it takes to keep his girl happy. A funny song that was not laughed at very much, but that can always be worked. My improvised secular preaching before the last chorus was what really hit the audience. After rambling about life, I said the following:

“Sometimes you got to jump off a cliff and see where you land.”

And that’s exactly how I felt at that moment. I took a risk, and it was punching me with rewards and punishments in a back-and-forth ebb and flow of concept reinforcing laughter and concept punishing silence. Irrespective of how much show prep takes place before hand, there is still some performance magic you can capture with the spontaneity of the moment.

Final Thoughts

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Doing my first one-man show really kicked my ass

The immediate aftermath of the show was odd – I felt proud about pushing myself out of my comfort zone while feeling disappointed with the poor execution of some of the concepts. My head hurt from the lack of food, and I was trying to accept people’s kind words and compliments during the after-show schmooze despite not feeling the same way. My improv brothers gave me a pat on the back and said “Good job.” My front of bravado is only hot air sometimes, and the kind words from my improv bros meant a lot. I thanked the people that came out, thanked my improv bros, cleaned up the theater, and headed to Coco’s to process everything.

While at Coco’s, I processed everything that took place, so I came up with this of positives.

The Positives –

  • I played some different characters (characters are difficult for me)
  • I wrote and delivered a Weekend-Update segment that got some laughs
  • I sang some sangs
  • I put on a variety show – we had some stand-up, sketch, slam poetry, songs, interviews, and some improv
  • I put on my first one man show
  • I tried a new and exciting untested format that no one in my community has tested out, so yeah, I’m like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin combined.
  • I tested my boundaries and gave a clinic on how TO FAIL BIG

So yeah, I failed big. (I’ll make a list of what I learned from the Fernando Show for another post).But this quote from Conan O’Brien has put things in perspective

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.”

I’ll take this comedy Giant’s wisdom to heart and begin the process of furling myself into a comedy caccoon of self-reinvention. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Till Next Time,

Your Loving Friend,

Fernando A. Funes

 

 

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Horoscopes for the Week of March 15th, 2015

These are some horoscopes I originally wrote for “The Fernando Show.” Seeing as they are funny, I thought I should share them with the wider public. These are just for fun, and I did not look to the stars to deduce what the actual outcome of the week would’ve been. Enjoy and share!

Fernando

Horoscopes originally presented by Benjamin Mercado Rodriguez Rodriguez Andersen Smichtd Chavez

Benjamin Mercado Rodriguez Rodriguez Andersen Smictd Chavez:

Welcome artists, dreamers, gypsies, fellow travelers, and other bohemians of assorted sorts. This week join me, Benjamin Mercado Rodriguez Rodriguez Andersen Smicht Chavez as we look to the stars for answers to life’s quandaries, questions, and pop quizzes. So let’s begin!

Aries, the Ram, you’re the most important person in the room and everybody knows it. Your confidence in yourself is beyond reproach, and we would all be better off if we emulated your example. But beware this week as someone dear to you may call you out and your narcissism, selfishness, greed, and general disregard for the unattractive. When this happens, pretend to listen and really care about what they are saying, and your friendship will be saved.

Taurus, the Bull, your instinct to make everything beautiful around you is an aesthetic that only you possess. The world thanks you for that. And you also do what you want and you don’t give a damn if others get trampled along the way. A serious challenge – or opportunity – looms in the foggy mist of your future. But to capitalize on it, you must change your rigid daily rituals, lose 10 pounds, and become sober. Get off the couch, either actual or metaphorical, Taurus, and the world is your oyster.

Gemini, The Twins, you can play the game of life with aplomb, and nobody can read a situation like you, Gemini, because you have two brains, two personalities, two bank accounts, two passports, and two bitch faces. Beware of frenemies this week, Gemini, as you may get confused as whether to hug these people or slap them. When in doubt, do both!

Cancer, the Crab, precious, tender, and delicate Cancer, the world is a better place because you are in it, but nobody else recognizes it, huh? This week, the same challenge as last week’s: someone did not appreciate something you did at home or work: sweet, sweet, sweet Cancer, do not fester in the shadow of your own self-loathing; make your bitterness a public event and guilt people into appreciating you everywhere you go!

Leo, the Lion, your presence roars with all the brightness of the Sun, your ruling planet. Your charisma is fueled by both your fans and critics alike, so be careful this week when your co-workers don’t compliment you for doing your job at work this week. It is them Leo, for they hate you with a zeal reserved for tyrants and dictators. Rule them, Leo, and then they will love you.

Virgo, the Virgen, your artisan work ethic and excruciating attention to detail are legendary and necessary. It is Virgos that keep the world running like a German clock. Keep your eyes open, Virgo: someone will use a metaphor to communicate an important message to you. Don’t take the metaphor literally and you’ll be okay.

Libra, the Scales, the grace with which you approach life is inspirational; no other sign can bring such balance and harmony to the world as you, Libra. But beware, Libra: someone at work will not laugh at your jokes because they are not in the mood for it. This does not mean you’re not funny; it just means you need to work on deflecting awkwardness with humor.

Scorpio, the Scorpion, you Scorpio are the strongest and most enigmatic sign of all the Zodiac. Your brooding charisma simultaneously attracts and repels. Tread easy, Scorpion. Someone will forget to say hi to you at work this week, but that does not mean there plotting your imminent destruction through gossip and corporate intrigue. Smoke some weed and chill out.

Sagittarius, the Centaur, your autonomy and sense of purpose make you the master of your universe. Your wit and acumen are unmatched. But non-sexual intimacy lurks around the corner; a good friend will ask you for a beer, and you better go or risk further alienating him.

Capricorn, the Goat, your practical and patient approach life slowly reaps all you want in life. A new challenge this week, Capricorn: someone at work who is younger and better looking than you and who does not work as hard as you is up for the same promotion. Don’t undermine them; let them collapse underneath their own hubris.

Aquarius, the Water Bearer, the levity you bring to life reminds the rest of us to take it easy. You rebel against mainstream culture by creating your own universe, forever in progress. And for that, bravo! Beware of Vampires, Aquarius: this week a certain closet lover will want that bond to be validated and confirmed in the public eye. Don’t be a dick, and introduce this person to your friends.

Pisces, the Fish, your immersion in your life’s mission is transcendent and breathtaking. If only the rest of us could be as dedicated as you, then the world would be a better place. Someone at work will disagree with you this week and not back down. Do not escape into your private space where you’re always right. Face this person and offer them to escape with you, and that way, they’ll forget what their protest was and you’ll get what you want.

Until next time, fellow travelers! Until then, seize the day before it dissipates into the mist of the past; live now, live today, live forever in the moment, and most importantly, live because you will die!

Yours truly,

Benjamin Mercado Rodriguez Rodriguez Andersen Schmichdt Chavez

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