Did you know, I just read this, by the year 2050, the oceans are gonna run out of fish? What if I have a child one day, and they get dumped and all I can say is, "Oh, honey, don't worry. There are plenty of . . . plastic bags in the sea."
I'm a professional comedian. And my sense of humor keeps me sane and helps me tell the truth ever since I was a kid.
I'm seven years old. I'm swinging in this hammock that my parents installed above my bed. And I like to do acrobatic tricks on it. And I'm trying to process what I've just read. We are chopping down the rainforest in the Amazon. We're losing a hundred and fifty species every day—creatures and plants that took billions and billions of years to evolve are dying every day. And adults know that what's happening is bad, and they're doing it anyway. And even though I love their crispy French fries, I decided to take a stand and boycott McDonald's. I start the Earth Club at my school, and I decide it's my job to save the entire planet, which will be way easier than saving my parents' marriage.
By age twenty-six, it hits me. I can barely save myself from my various addictions, much less save the world. Turns out I'm not the Messiah.
But it's not until November 4th, 2016, that I realize something even bigger. I'm at La Peña in Berkeley, and we are all watching the election returns. Next to me is Adam, my gorgeous conscious philanthropist boyfriend. His hand is on my knee. Missouri falls to Trump. And in that moment, it seems like everything hopeful in my life is slipping away. I can feel my gorgeous boyfriend is about to break up with me. My home country is about to vote someone into office who will waste the last moments that we have to rein in climate change. And I can feel my comedy career also slipping down the drain because at this moment, I realize not only am I not going to save the world, for the first time in my life, in my hopeful heart, I realize, that it seems possible no one will save the world.
That moment and many others after—pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, the death of George Floyd, countless lies and scandals from our president—are the moments that break my hope. And since then, I haven't found anything funny. A surgeon loses their sense of sight—they can't take tumors out anymore. You know what's coming. A winemaker loses their sense of smell—they can't make excellent wine anymore. A comedian loses her sense of humor—she can't make people laugh anymore.
I feel more and more angry every day as the California wildfires caused by terrible droughts have me lying in bed at night. I'm choking on the smoke. My breasts ache for too many weeks in the month from the endocrine disruptors in my food supply. I can't drink the tap water because it's polluted with carcinogenic pesticides. All I can think of is about our culture, this culture of harder, better, faster, more, more, and more, this destroy and dominate nature, dominate women, children, jungles, oceans, fish.
It just seems like any joke that upholds this patriarchal system is just another brick in the wall causing the destruction of the earth, which just so you know, I'm calling the patriarchal dynamic. It is not the fault of men. Men, you are imprisoned as you know in this system as much as anyone else. The truth is, I'm at a place in my life where I have no humor. I have no laughter. I have no jokes. And clearly, neither do you at this moment.
After four years of humorless despair, in November of 2020, I go with my medicine teacher to the woods of Santa Cruz. We're in the mountains. I ingest a handful of mushrooms and some ketamine, trying to find some answers.
And my hips start to shake involuntarily. They're rattling. They're rustling the leaves below me. The sun starts peeking through the trees, and suddenly, I'm shaking. I just start to relax for the first time in four years. And I'm overcome finally with awe and gratitude that billions and billions of years of miracle upon miracle has created all of this. It's created you and me. And this awareness, us in these human bodies, the awareness to actually recognize the miracles that we have evolved into. So much energy is coursing through me, lightning shooting up my spine out my fingertips, through my pussy. This is what it feels like to be enlightened. I get it.
But I remember what my lineage calls these mushrooms. I remember they're called Los Ninos Santos, the little clowns, and they're laughing at me. They're laughing at how silly and seriously I am taking myself, and they're laughing with me, and they're laughing through me, and they're laughing at my tension and my anger and my fear. And they're telling me that these are all in the way of my aliveness, and they tell me then the answer that even if everything on the entire planet dies, it's all gonna be okay because right here, right now, my job is to shake and feel and laugh for no reason at all.
And that might be the only thing that does, in fact, save the world.
So let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room. I know what the burning question is and, yes, I do give fifty percent off all manicures. And I think that's worth it. It's fine. Okay, now that the mood is a little bit light, let's go ahead and get down to the brass tacks.
On August 28th, 2011, I opened my eyes to white fluorescent lights—confused, dazed. I can't move my mouth. I can't talk. My eyes are darting from side to side. What is going on? A nurse walks into the room—her eyes just as surprised as mine. She looks at me. I look at her. She darts out of the room. The next thing, a man walks in wearing a white lab coat. Comes in. Pulls a breathing tube out of me. He says, "You're gonna be all right, son. Welcome back." Moments later, I pass out. Next time I wake up, it's not a doctor I see. It's my family. It's my mom. I'm still confused. I have no idea what's happened. "What's going on?" I say with a raspy voice. "Where am I? What's going on?" My mom leans in, gives me a kiss on the forehead, and says, "Sweetheart, it's gonna be okay. You're gonna be all right."
The extent of my injuries was very, very severe. And I had a long, arduous task of recovery ahead of me. I went from being this very independent, successful military man to someone who was completely now dependent on the people around me. And so this transition that happened so fast, it was very jarring, to say the least. And I was very angry. And when I say angry, I mean, I was an asshole.
To this day, I still feel sorry for those nurses that had to deal with me and my grumpiness because it'd be 3:00 a.m. I still hadn't had the strength to lift my arms up and scratch my head. 3:00 a.m. in a medical ward, "Nurse, nurse, nurse." I got other military guys telling me, "Casio, shut up." I'm like, "Man, my head itches. Please, nurse, please come scratch my head."
Months would go on, and slowly I would regain functionality in my legs. And then the day came when this one big heavyset black African American man and another African American woman stood me up for the first time in six months. And I'm screaming at them. "I can't do this. I cannot do this. This hurts. Put me back." And they yelled back at me, "You're gonna do it, man. You're gonna do it, sweetheart."
And this repeats itself for the next three months every day until eventually, I'm walking back. One step, two steps, three steps. “Okay, that's enough for today. I'm gonna go sit down, back in bed, and go back to sleep. Maybe tomorrow we'll double that.”
I went from being this really independent man to relying on people. And that was a very hard transition. And at the time, I kind of criticized and, I guess, tortured myself mentally for asking for help.
But eventually, after months, I could walk out of that hospital on my own. And then I got a piece of myself back, which was nice because once I could finally walk back into that hospital, find those nurses that put up with all my bullshit. I went up to this one woman who was there the whole time when I was there. I was like, "Ma'am, I'm so sorry for being such an asshole." She's like, "Hey, sweetheart." She's from southern Florida. She's got a nice thick Southern accent. She's like, "Sweetheart, you don't have to apologize for anything. You were one of the good ones." We embraced. Finally, said our final goodbyes, and that was it. And here I am today, standing in front of you all.
The word ibu means mother. Being a mother is a gift. In Balinese society, being a mother means being everything. We are the house organizer, cook, nurse, babysitter for our children, nanny, even a nun who always bows and prays for the grace of the Lord for everyone's well-being and prosperity. It is a privilege being a mother in our society, but unfortunately, there wasn't enough luck for me to be a mother for my own child. I could not do what most mothers do. I was born in a jungle. I grew up in a jungle, and I live in a jungle. It wasn't a privilege for those who had financial struggles.
I thought I wasn't lucky as a child who lived without my parents and moving from one place to another. I thought, Why am I not lucky? Why are my parents not around? It triggered me to attempt suicide when I was nine for the first time. The next attempt was when I was fifteen. Finally, my siblings, my parents, and I reunited. And we built a hut in the jungle again with monkeys, snakes, and all those other wild animals as part of our family. The neighbors came to my dad and wanted to buy me and my sister because they thought this was the easiest way to get money for our studies.
The Universe again designed my life. I was married at a young age. I had no experience. I had not been in any relationship with men or women. I didn't know how to respond. I didn't know how to deal with this unpleasant situation I faced because no one taught me. No one showed me there were possibilities and opportunities. Again and again, I attempted suicide, but I could tell I wasn't smart enough to end my life. I always ended up in hospital. I thought the story would end when I finally got divorced, and I had to leave part of my blood, my daughter, when she was eight months old. That was the biggest pain.
I found myself being a mother without part of my blood and found myself being divorced, which had been taboo in our society. I did what people do around the world at the moment, lockdown. This is my second lockdown. I told the next in the family compound, which is my mom. A mother is the key of weakness and strength. She gave me such sharp words. "Okay. If you don't want to go out, if you don't want to open the border, kill yourself inside. But before that, you will see my dead body outside." That's the moment when I promised I would open the border. I will move. I will face whatever is in front of me next, whatever comes next. I gained weight, which I had lost during the marriage—from 53 to 35.
I did harm myself in the past because I didn't know where to go. I didn't know what to do. How could I know because no one taught me? But I'm glad I did. Of course, only after so many tears. When I gained weight, I was happy. But then men came by one by one and asked my price. "How much are you per night?" It was just because I was divorced. Again I didn't know how to respond. And of course, it made their partners, girlfriends, or wives afraid I was taking away their partner. A few of them even spat on me. I could not again respond to that unpleasant behavior, those actions. But one thing I could do was cry. I still had tears to help me.
When I realized I was not in a healthy environment, I decided to break my mom's rule, to keep me just in the village where I couldn't deal with all the gossip and people looking me up and down. I decided to move forward. I'm glad I did, even though it was not easy for the first three years. I continued my studies in university and kept myself as busy as I could because that was the only way to be able to lay down on my bed. Otherwise, I could not stop thinking about my princess—my daughter. Can you imagine when a part of our body is separated because of a patriarchal society?
My second journey began when I met many women who struggled with many different issues. Not only being divorced but having fertility issues, single moms, mothers having children with special needs, transgenders, sexual illnesses, and all those things. The more I met, the more I realized this has been happening for such a long time in my society. It has been taboo to talk about them. People always think it's a shame to talk, to share, but then I realized this needed to be shared. I brought them to sit together and to let them know they are not the only ones who struggle. Let them know there's a space for them, which I didn't get, which I didn't find. Because again, I had no opportunity to broaden my horizon in the past.
The idea came to put them together and share because every time I shared my story, I found it to be a natural way of healing. And I thought if it works for me, it should work for others. That's when the idea came to create a women's center. Not only a women's center but a place where everyone can come together. The Universe knows how to lead us to start something at the right time. I ended up taking care of children and adults with special needs, which helped me to understand myself deeper and better, helped me to keep the three Ps—my passion, my patience, and perseverance and to see the results of what I'm doing, what I'm learning.
I found the biggest teacher ever in my life who taught me how to be happy no matter what my situation. And again, the Universe always knows, and I think this is what I've been following in the natural way—Bali time—slowly but surely, even though many times I'm not sure.
It's okay. A few years later, the women's center created more and more people willing to learn and share. And now we end up a center of community where we embrace everyone, no matter what their background, no matter where they're coming from. And what I'm doing is not something new. Instead, I'm doing CPI—Copy, Paste, Improvise. I copy and paste all those beautiful things—the heritage of our ancestors—improvise, add value, and make it joyful and meaningful in our activities. And I'm so grateful to have my family who loves me dearly, even though they don't know what led me to end up doing these things.
But I believe with the three Ps, everybody is a teacher. Every place is a school and every moment is a lesson. I learned. I grew from all those people I met, from all those places I've been, and from all those unpleasant situations I went through. And again, I believe so much in nature's way and the Universe's know-how. I learned how to embrace, be a friend, and get along with pain, to help me to have forgiveness for myself and for everyone else.
And this year is the biggest gift. On December 22nd, it is Mother's Day. The Universe gives me the biggest reward. She was in my family compound when she was eight months old. And after sixteen years, it's been a long journey. And I'm grateful for having family and friends and all those who struggle, those children and women in my community who stand next to me. They remind me how strong I am in my long journey of waiting. And this gift, my princess just stepped out after sixteen years in my family compound last Wednesday.
This is the biggest reward to keep my three Ps—my passion, patience, and perseverance. And this also proves when you are ready, the Universe will make it happen. Trust me. And another beautiful gift I received this year is from the government being the Mother of the Year. Happy Mother's Day.
I'm at a new school and for good reason. It wasn't going well. You see I'm nine years old and I'm at a private school—a French school. So I've got my white button-up shirt. I've got my maroon cravat. I've got my wool gray slacks. I'd love to have some new friends. So I walk into this courtyard, and I see some kids playing over on the wall. And as I walk over to them, my eyes widen because they've got paper and pencils and drawings and maps, and they've got these dice that look like gems.
And I say, "What are you doing here?" They say, "We're playing Dungeons and Dragons. You wanna play?" "Y-yeah." Now I didn't know what Dungeons and Dragons was. So I was like just happy to be accepted to do anything. And so they said, "Here. You can be this character." And then I was on a boat, and in one hand I had a sword. And with my other hand, I had the tiller, and we were going towards this island. And then I looked in the water, and I could see these gems in the coral. And there was a treasure chest and I wanted at it, and I just jumped over and into the water. And I swam, and I could get to the gems and the chest except for I was wearing thirty pounds of chain mail. And I couldn't get up out of the water. And I drowned to death.
And with tears in my eyes, I stumbled back away, and I was devastated. I didn't know what to do. My new friends, my new opportunity, my new school. It just felt like the world was crashing in on me.
To take you back a year . . . I woke up to pounding on the door, and I had a little peephole in my bedroom where I could look down and see the front door, and I could see a woman there, and she was screaming for help. And curiosity got the better of me, and I went down the stairs, and I followed her out to a man lying dead on the ground with blood pooling out all around him. And my dad turned and saw me. "Get back in the house!" I ran back in the house, and I went in under my sheets.
And that's when the nightmares started. "Mommy, don't go in there. Don't go in the closet. There's a witch in there. She's coming for you. She's coming for me. She knows you're here." My imagination had gotten the better of me, and everything every night was one nightmare after another.
So I went the next day, a year later, back to see those boys after a night of crying myself to sleep, and I sidled up to them, and I was like, "So I died. Is that it?" They said, "Oh, you wanna make a new character?" I was like, "Yes!" And that became this moment where I came alive, and a whole new world came out for me. And I found a new place for my imagination. My imagination a year before that felt like a curse. And every time I went to bed, I was so fearful. And I don't want to tell you that Dungeons and Dragons made my life better because life is what it is. And life offered me a lot of different opportunities to face challenges.
At ten years old, I was looking down into the coffin of one of my classmates. And I could see his white face, his cold body lying there. And at fourteen, I was hit with it again. One of my best friends had passed away, and it was announced at school while I was sitting there eating a bagel that just turned to sand in my mouth, as this was one of our brotherhood. This was one of the people who had gone on these journeys with me. We had slayed dragons. We had faced monsters. We had rescued damsels, and we had formed a brotherhood. And we had felt like we had connected with something.
And then there I was at fifteen, and I was standing on a balcony with my dad. And I was just telling him, "I just don't know if I can go through this anymore." I was so cynical. "I just don't know what it's worth. I don't get it. I don't know what we're doing here. I don't know what this planet is. It's for rent. You know, like, what am I doing? I feel like I'm in a Tron light cycle, and I'm racing with my friends inside of a giant machine, and we're trying to beat each other and cut each other off just to get jobs." And this is the way I was looking at the future. I'm trying to get myself into university. "Who can get in there?" It's like, "Why do I even wanna do this? What is the point? Why don't I just pitch myself over the railing right now?"
He talked me down from that ledge. And I carried with me this feeling of darkness. And it kept creeping back in on me. But I did have this imagination and this feeling that when I played role-playing games, there was something in the pain that my characters would go through that wouldn't stay with me. It was just in the game. Why was that? Why did I not mind the pain in the game, but in reality, it was so prevalent? It was so intense. And so, using my imagination, I thought, Well, why don't I role-play my own suicide? I didn't act it out. And I don't mean it in that way. I mean, in my mind, in my thoughts, like what would it be like if I just let everything go and just let go of all this intensity and let go of all these things that are haunting me because every time I was just getting upset. I was just getting anxious. And so I made a decision that day. "I'm committing suicide. I'm done. I'm finished. And I'm just gonna stick around to see what would've happened after."
And I'm standing before you here today, having manipulated myself. So that the next day when I woke up, I actually felt a lot lighter. And I walked up to that girl that I wanted to ask out, and I asked her out, and I went up to the bully in our tennis team who kept correcting how I was playing. And I told him, "Let the coach coach me. Stop riding me." And, you know, I also had to come clean with some of my friends. And I remember really clearly deciding, all right. And I went to a couple of different friends of mine, each on my own. And I said to them, "You know, remember I told you about that girl that I got together with last summer at camp? Well, I didn't, and actually, I'm still a virgin."
And it was really hard to do these things, but I started to feel lifted. And I had used my imagination to bring me to a new place. And role-playing stayed with me. It was always a place I could come back to. And I did when things got difficult, especially when I had a few long-term relationships. And in one of them, I just decided and said to her, "Look, let's get married. We don't have to get married like for real, but let's get married, you and I. Let's make our own vows. Let's commit not to leave each other. Let's commit not to walk out the door. Let's figure it out. Let's hash it out. Let's figure out what's going on—why I'm always trying to win in the relationship, and I'm hurting you. And I don't like that, and I don't want that anymore. And I wanna figure it out." And you know what? We got married for a year, and we renewed that vow for another year. And we stayed together for three years.
We made it work, and we worked it out, and we played it out. And when it didn't work anymore, it didn't, and we let it go. And it was okay. We were okay. She left, and she found love. And I left, and I found love. And she's still sitting here with me in my life twenty-one years later.
And you know, I've been trying to figure out how can I share this experience of role-playing and using our imagination in a positive way to uplift ourselves and to move forward in our lives.
And so I wrote a book. It's called the Teacher-Gamer Handbook, and I just want everyone to have it—adults, teachers, gamers, psychologists, educators, social workers, community leaders. These are all people that could benefit from this. But the real people who benefit from it are the kids. The kids who are trying to make their way in the world who don't have tools or who don't know how to imagine or use their tools of imagination to move themselves forward when they face tragedy, when they face upset, when they face heartbreak, when they face their identities, and they try to work through their pasts and their futures.
So I just want to share the joy and the gift that I've had of figuring this out. I feel like I'm very serious right now, but I wanna say to you that there's so much freedom that I found in it and fun and play and risk-taking. And there's so many things that are creative about it that I just wanna share.
And I took a really big risk myself actually, working in a public school, working in a very official environment—I brought meditation into the school. But I didn't ask if I could do it. I just did it. This was in an inner-city school in Canada, where the retention rate was 50%. So one out of two people by the end of the year dropped out of this school. And so, I just taught my students how to meditate and how to bring it into their lives so that they could just ground themselves and get to work and find a way to connect with themselves. And they did. They connected with themselves. They found a way to empathize with each other and the world around them. And they developed skills—life skills—and they went into their lives, and they started to crush it. And the retention rate of the school went up to 80%. Yeah, we quadrupled how many students were actually staying in the school.
And actually, from taking that risk, I got hired by a prominent globally recognized school—Green School. And that's how I got to this place where we are.
And I just want to be able to share that commitment, the commitment that I have to try and move education into a new realm of using our imagination. And that's risky because as an intellectual and as an academic, I know that people don't always appreciate imagination. They want to keep it really straight. They wanna keep it really straightforward. And I struggle with that. I try to figure it out because it's tricky. How do you bring imagination into school and make it legit? And I want that to be something that people can try. And so, I commit myself to bringing role-playing games into schools worldwide. I don't know how it's gonna go, but I'm gonna do my best. And you can count on me for it.
I feel trapped. I can't breathe. My stomach!
Hi, I'm Felicia. I'm a leader. I do not always feel like a leader, though. I was appointed to a leadership team within an organization, and it was so much fun getting there. I might know a couple things about success. I'm from an overachiever family. For example, keeping my focus, an eye on the ball. My father - pro ballplayer, being results-oriented and sticking the landing. Sister - gymnast - agility and strength. Brother - wrestler - discipline and dedication. Me - professional ballet dancer. Now we can't forget the most important person of all, the one that keeps us together with love and care—our chauffeur mom.
These fundamental values given to me at a young age are all a recipe for success. And all I wanted to do when I got to leadership was dance. But when all of the successes were off, there was this overwhelming force that came over me, and it all came tumbling down. "Oh my gosh. I'm so excited. I have so many ideas." "But Felicia, not too many ideas." "Oh my gosh. I'm so excited. I put my heart and soul into this, and I killed it." "Great, Felicia, but do you really want credit for that? Nobody else does. Why don't you just go do what all the other leaders are doing?" "Go be friends with this person, but not this one." "Go and do this, but not this." Is everyone telltale-ing on each other? I'm surrounded by fact-checkers. Do don't do don't everything.
It's getting dark. My light—it's dimming. My motivation gone. My creativity gone.
Now the catalyst. Let me set the stage. Multi-millionaire, big house, big desk, small me, small chair. I go to him with a problem about another leader's abusive behavior. "Felicia, I've known this person for a really long time. Are you sure you want to stay on leadership?" "What? Yeah, no. Yeah. He just threatened me." His desk just got bigger and my chair smaller. "Felicia, leaders. They don't create problems. They make them go away. "Huh?" I think he's . . . Yeah, he's showering me with semantics now. "Felicia, you need to learn how to fly above the fray and not let anything bother you." Wow.
That day I was in complete and utter astonishment that a guru in personal development, mind you, had no care for my thoughts and my feelings, let alone be in alignment with his teachings. Teachings that I spent hours upon hours on. I played a critical role in his organization. I sold his products. I vouched for him and the company. Whew.
It took courage to do what I was doing, and it was not acknowledged. I was angry. Was I being bamboozled? Was he a sham? Because if he was a sham, what does that make me? I'm a person of my word. I feel trapped. Every time I speak, the wind is taken outta me. I'm sick. I can't do this.
Shortly after I stepped down from leadership, I thought that I could still do the business and be successful, but that just was not the case. But only if I could push, and push, and push through the bullshit, it would all be okay. I felt completely and utterly loony. What was wrong with me? Why didn't I want it? But you know what I really wanted? To be in alignment with who and what I was—a good fricking person. So I left success and money behind me. And I did it by keeping my focus on my values, which is my end result with the strength to say, "Fuck you" to a multi-millionaire while driving through life with integrity—chauffeur smart. I found my power of choice. I found me. I feel grounded, at peace and in alignment.
I learned a great lesson. I learned that all I needed was right here inside me. My family values were more important to me, more valuable to me than anything a guru could ever teach me. I finally feel like a leader.