Open Letter Emailed to Oprah Winfrey on June 13th, 2018

Dear Ms. Winfrey:

Welcome to Orcas Island!

My family moved to Orcas Island in 2010 for a simpler life. After camping on the island for the previous two summers, I knew then that this island was spiritually calling me home. And so, now at age 52, I often tell people that I have come to Orcas Island to die, mind you not for 40 more years! If, as a chiromancer once told me, I should live to be 92 then this will be my physical habitat where I will, in the words of Thoreau, “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

What belongings my wife (Mariah), son (Thian) and I had were stored courtesy of family until we got settled. We had little money and no work lined up. That was actually the plan. For three months we lived in a tent on property courtesy of an islander. Our son entered the public school in 2nd grade. My wife and I each sought employment and gradually moved into an apartment and finally a rental house in 2012.

After living for six years in one rental house – the longest duration that either my wife or I lived at a single address – we were required to vacate. Because of financial reasons the owners had to sell and we were not in a position to purchase the home. This could not have arrived at a worse time for us financially or emotionally.

My wife has stable employment and I am a freelance writer and a stay-at-home dad (although our son is almost 15 years old now and quite a capable young man). We have operated with a fixed income and have been spared the gouges of rental rate hikes over the years. Now, despite the fact that we have a modest rent budget of $1200/month, there is no suitable housing on our island for that rate. In fact, there have been only three or four, 3-bedroom houses advertised in the last six months. Astonishingly, even studio, one and two-bedroom housing is equally rare.

The housing crisis on Orcas is driving low-income employees off the island ironically resulting in job opportunities for those seeking to fill those vacancies. As long as we’ve been here, it seems “the Orcas way” is for an islander to have three jobs and it is quite often talked about humorously. People do what they need to survive here. However, the culture is changing. In addition to a large number of summer homes that lie vacant most of the year, Airbnb is reducing long-term, year-long rentals even more on our small humble island. Fewer places available for permanent residents lead to an economic problem that affects everyone from local business owners to tourists.

Madrona Tree, LLC, a company you are associated with has recently acquired a private residence and, in addition, an associate of yours, Bob Greene is apparently invested in some commercial properties on the island (see attached news article). While this seems to have caused some gossip in the community, the feelings are not necessarily good. As it is, each year brings a seemingly increasing number of tourist footprints and traffic. And while I personally welcome a regular periodic stream of visitors, most of us do not wish to see so much commercial growth that nature here gets uprooted for the West Coast’s version of Martha’s Vineyard.

There is, as always, another perspective. What seems to be a problem can be an opportunity for someone with your compassion and business acumen. This island needs low-to-medium income housing and, with the right investor at the helm, Orcas Island could thrive instead of struggle. Think of 10 or 20 acre parcels with affordable “tiny homes” that people can actually own or rent-to-own. This is community building at a fundamental level.

Ms. Winfrey, I want Orcas Island to thrive, yet, remain the peaceful “Walden” we islanders consider home. Will you help us?

Michael Armenia

Physical Address: the guest room in the basement of a kind friend’s home until we find housing

Mailing Address:
PO Box 323
Eastsound WA 98245

Who Am I? (A Knot On The Great Thread)

I am first and foremost a philosopher. Literally, I am a lover of wisdom (from Greek, philos means loving and sophia means wisdom.) I have at my core a primal need to know everything, like an omniscient divine being who has lost himself, and so I pursue knowledge. But, knowledge is not equivalent to wisdom. I think of wisdom as applied knowledge. Anyone can obtain information, but information alone is impotent. What one does with it, can be insipid or magically transformative in one’s own life and/or the lives of other people. The acquisition of knowledge begins when one picks up a book (of course, not merely a common and profane book, but one of considerable virtue. And the book is only one means, a symbol, of education.). But, wisdom doesn’t come until after one puts that book down and, having acquired new intelligence, moves forward productively, or perhaps in more modern vernacular, pays it forward. This is, to me, what it means to live a productive life.

I am a material manifestation of spirit. There is a unique quality that makes me an individual among other manifestations, and I often use the word, soul, to communicate this aspect. Yet, I do not consider my soul as a separate entity from all other souls, other manifestations of spirit. If the cosmic spirit/material manifold were a thread – what I call The Great Thread in my meanderings – a thread that is infinitesimally thin and infinitely long with no beginning and no end, as a circle with an infinite radius, my soul is merely a knot along its path. Every form in the cosmos is a knot on this thread, some more complex than others; animals are more complicated than vegetables which are in turn more complicated than minerals, elements, and atoms.

I have been graced with this opportunity, of living as a human, to experience what life is like when perception is limited to four dimensions (three perceived as physical and one temporal). And I believe that the purpose of my existence is to process my experience of reality and transform it into something that can exist in form outside of my soul’s consciousness. To live and express outwardly is to love and to share. This brings me to the next sense of who I am to be in this incarnation – an artist.

I am an artist. My path to becoming an artist has, however, been quite protracted and my biography to this point is not the subject of this essay on which I consider to be my place and purpose on Earth in the 21st century. One thing that has been consistent from my birth is that I am (my soul is) fed by the process of creation. The process is my sustenance, not the byproduct, the journey, not the destination. However, the byproduct is my contribution to humanity. It is, therefore, essential that in sharing my life’s experience (as a knot) with others (the Great Thread), I must never veer too far away from my artistic endeavors, lest my soul should whither and this form of me should die.

When I say that I am an artist, I am most commonly asked about my medium. I would never limit myself to a single medium or, for that matter, any particular form of art. As a visual artist, everything that can be seen is my media. In the performing arts, the stage is my canvas for drama. As a composer, whatever can issue sound is an instrument. As a writer I have previously considered only non-fiction as productive for me and I have published (albeit in small quantities) essays, reviews, poems, and a non-fiction book. I’ve recently awakened to the notion that fiction can be a formidable art form as a vessel for wisdom as it has been with classical literature since the times of Ancient Greece and Rome. Besides the story itself, there can be any number of layers of subtexts woven into intricate tapestries conveying anything the imagination can conjure.

In fact, I have recently come to the conclusion that to be a fully actualized human, one must be a wholehearted and steadfast artist. And to be a great artist, one must be a skilled alchemist. One may have the common misconception that art is limited to contrivances like paintings, sculptures and other works that have aesthetic appeal. But, true art is merely finding and expressing form and inciting thought or emotion by the transformation of one or more substances, often but not always offering a fresh perspective. Repeatedly providing a gastronomic delight to diners in a restaurant can makes a chef quite the culinary artist. Indubitably you have heard of the ‘culinary arts’. Well, I assure you than anyone has the potential to be a great artist – a hair stylist, an auto mechanic, a clerk or a dishwasher. Success is simply an alchemical mix of substantial input, process quality and the legacy you leave for The Great Thread.

Finally, I come to who I am now – a writer.

My creative life, my being, was transformed during 2012 with the production of Bertolt Brecht’s play, “The Life of Galileo.” I’ve been working on my magnum opus for over four years now and it remains in its infancy. With an epic historical drama of love intrigue, religion, and philosophy in Renaissance Europe at the crux, it has become a much larger work that includes the visual and performing arts. The first limited edition tome will include the play I’ve been writing, essays, a musical orchestration, set design, graphics and more. Once done, it will be my source for a film treatment of a series I would like to produce (for the likes of Netflix et al). At the moment, I am cathartically processing some of my life’s hardships this year by writing a children’s story book which I will self-publish hopefully before Thanksgiving and a biography that will likely take longer.

This is who I am. This is who I must be now. If I am to give anything to humanity in this incarnation, it will be done so by means of paying forward what I have gathered while existing as this knot in The Great Thread.

Book Review: “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff

Robin by Dave Itzkoff
Henry Holt and Company 2018
Reviewed by Michael Armenia

More than a tome rich in biographic details, Dave ­­Itzkoff’s Robin is a vivid journey through the life and complex mind that reveals a Robin Williams that I never knew existed. The book presents a driven polymath and colossus of a human being that cannot be imagined solely by viewing his live comedy performances, his work in film and stage, or through the subjective viewpoints of his fans and critics alike. The book is not a mere chronology in the life of a comic; it is an intimate and heartfelt introduction to a heroically passionate and compassionate human being who lay behind a public persona.

Itzkoff tracks Robin’s entire life and covers enough family history enabling the reader to watch Robin grow up and relate to the experiences that shaped his development. From childhood antics, through Julliard, into the professional world of a comic and his rise into stardom, Itzkoff takes us through his relationships on and off stage; his lifelong friends like Christopher Reeve and Billy Crystal among many others, his three marriages and his children. You will find yourself empathizing with his personal and professional achievements as well as the struggles and pain that accompanied it; his battle with drugs and recovery from alcoholism, as well as the neurological disease which ultimately brought his life to a premature and tragic end.

Soon after Robin’s death, my son introduced me to the fact that Robin was an avid cyclist. He owned over 50 bicycles. There was probably a lot of trivia about him that wasn’t mainstream knowledge and Itzoff’s comprehensive tale opens up a real offstage world in which we may have never imagined Robin after his hours on stage or set. Consider his passion for collecting and playing with toy soldiers, a lifelong hobby, or his interest in science, history and people.

Manic and frenetic as an entertainer, he was also quiet and contemplative, absorbing everything around him, things he saw, news he read, or conversations he overheard. He was not just a genius comic with an uncanny memory, but a truly skilled alchemist who turned life’s experiences, be they comic or tragic, into entertainment. This was his way of connecting to people, all people, and seeking validation which for him was an addiction. The book shows this magical side of Robin Williams.

I was an immediate fan when Mork from Ork appeared first on Happy Days and then on his own show, Mork & Mindy, his first big break in Hollywood. I followed his career and thought him to be not just a brilliant comedian, but a first rate actor. I did agree with some critics that no matter the film role he played, he rarely transformed into the character; rather he portrayed Robin Williams playing as a character. Robin, himself, was such a unique and formidable character that it seemed this quality would everywhere overshadow his portrayals. You cannot take the ‘Robin Williams’ out of Robin Williams. In the end, however, those close to him saw the changes in his personality that led to unusual behavior and ultimately the taking of his own life. What he and those closest to him thought to be his suffering from Parkinson’s disease in his waning months turned out to be Lewy body dementia, as was determined post autopsy.

The book, Robin, was engaging and when I put it down it was merely because I was forced to do so by circumstances in my life. But, I swear I did not want to. By the end I had discovered more aspects to Robin and, despite having already seen and appreciated most of his work, I now look forward to reviewing the gamut of his films with a transformed perspective. I’m quite sure I will see his roles on another level; which means Itzkoff’s book is, at least for me, bringing Robin back to life for a second chance to reach me in ways I may have missed before. I like to think that others may feel the same; so, once you enjoy this fabulous book, may you then be further enriched by revisiting the works of Robin Williams, a truly great artist.

© 2018 Michael Armenia

To Rise Above The Stigma

First, I must explain that while I hope everyone in the world will read this letter, my target audience is small: you may be someone I’ve never met or someone I know who is battling internal demons and, for fear of embarrassment, disapproval, or repercussions you sublimate your feelings instead of expressing them. At some point in life, we all experience something in our lives that leaves us feeling anything but pride. We all make mistakes, errors in our thinking or execution of tasks, and sometime misguided judgments about other people and even ourselves. In the latter case, we can find ourselves with low self-esteem perhaps leading to anxiety and/or depression. What we most need at that time is to feel like we are not alone. Unfortunately, sublimating and not sharing can lead to serious mental health issues.

Now, I’m neither expecting nor will I engage in a debate here and I’m not sure I even have the courage to discuss this matter further, but I am open to the possibility. I also do not wish to elicit sympathy for myself as I share those events in my life which have prompted me to write this letter. I merely wish to reach out to those people in particular who definitely need to hear (or in this case read) that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are people in my community and the world at large who can and do understand what you are going through. There is a critical point at which you have to embrace yourself and love yourself totally by letting go of fear. This is such an instance for me and I am going to be vulnerable in public.

In any given day I have worn many masks to obscure reality. But, why hide the truth? As Alan Watts once said, if you are a real person you are a genuine fake. The word person is derived from the Latin word, persona, meaning “an actor’s mask”. I’ve just about reached the end of my rope trying to be a genuine fake (except when I have acted on stage in dramatic plays). My mind is weary and my heart aches. It is time to be wholeheartedly and unapologetically me. And that means I must be willing to be vulnerable and make sure that every choice I make is done out of love and not fear – out of love for myself and not out of fear of what anyone will think.

Fear is natural. However, it is only an indicator and should not serve as fuel for action. A balance of rational thinking and intuition is what fear calls for. Fear is part of a battle cry, not part of the battle.

In almost every relationship, I feel like a skinless watermelon trying to retain the shape and integrity of my delicate structure. With this article I’m opening Pandora’s Box and fearlessly embracing whatever emerges. I want to feel the freedom that comes with openness and hope to dismiss any complications and repercussions that result. This is a challenge for me as I am facing what I perceive to be the most threatening social anxieties as I attempt to find my place in the community, this country and within the sphere of humanity when the zeitgeist of living on Earth now causes me the most outstanding angst and unhappiness I’ve ever experienced. I do have purpose, passion and direction. Yet, at the same time I just don’t fit with the society of which I’ve been raised. The most prevalent feeling is that I don’t belong in this world at this time. It feels surreal. This is not my life. Ah! But, it is my life. We are not defined by what happens to us. We are defined by our reactions to the events that befall us. No one controls another person’s perceptions and feelings. And as Benjamin Disraeli so apply put it, “Never apologize for showing feeling, my friend. Remember that when you do so, you apologize for the truth.”

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who I met about seven years ago committed suicide. Close in age, we had a lot in common from our university major to the passions of activities in our later life such as music and studying the Latin language. Unfortunately, in recent years my social skills have been stifled by anxiety and shyness resulting in passive-aggressive attempts at friendship. Thus, my friend and I never engaged in the kind of heart-to-heart dialogues that serve to nurture a trusting and growing relationship. I’m still in shock and I don’t understand the reason for his death. I do know, however, that many of us go through such pain at times such that our rationality may be blurred by the emotional furor of a single moment. Anyone can lose it at any time. Did my friend see this coming? I also wonder whether or not people who take their own lives feel that they are unique in their seemingly unbearable pain. What if there was more support from family, friends, the community, and health service providers – the kind of support that demolishes any stigma associated with mental illness? Sometimes it seems that people brag about their bouts with the flu, whilst keeping their manic-depression in the closet or not talking about a family member’s schizophrenia, for random examples. These unresolved issues festering privately can be debilitating and destructive.

I’ve been very cognizant of my mental states of late and this is the worst month of the worst year of my life. As much as I want to be left alone and aloof from society, it is neither practical nor possible. What I am realizing is that this also may not be in my best interest.

When I moved to Orcas Island with my wife and son in 2010, we lived in a tent for three months. At first, neither my wife nor I were employed. Moving here was a deliberate choice to start living intentionally. During our third week here I had a bowel obstruction which is not unusual for me since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1999. And as I lay there enduring intense abdominal pain one day on the park grass in Friday Harbor while my wife and son explored the town for the first time, I was utterly happy. Frankly, I was content to die then and there if that was meant to be. There’s no better place on Earth to suffer than in the San Juan Islands. We’ve come a long way since then.

Having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder some time ago, I have been taking medication daily for 15 years with great stability. But, a fear of heart disease in 2016 from seriously high triglycerides and cholesterol brought about some panic attacks and subsequently some feelings of depression. But, my heart health turned around for the better and the depression I had experienced seemed to subside as the year 2017 progressed.

Having survived a horrid case of the flu that lasted between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I rang in the New Year with a second bout of it, the worst of it manifesting on the eighth day. Amidst recovering we learned that the house we had been living in for six years – the longest I had ever lived in one house – would be put on the market soon. We would be given the first right of refusal to purchase the home, but we knew there was no way we could afford it. Our rent was very reasonable and lower than average, so, this was going to seriously challenge our already strained financial situation.

While we were living in limbo not knowing how much longer we would be living in the house, I received news that my mother passed away on February 19th. She had been in hospice for some time and it wasn’t a surprise, but my mom had such tenacity that I didn’t really expect her end to be near. Notice of our lease termination followed in less than two weeks. Originally we had 60 days to vacate; however, we were able to get an additional two-week reprieve at a cost of half-rent to completely move out and clean before May 15th.

A few weeks after this notice and giving the confluence of several unlikely factors which for brevity I will not elaborate, I was stopped on the evening of March 9th by a deputy for speeding only to result in my arrest for DUI. I cannot express the surreal state of being handcuffed in front my son and taken away from him. I felt that I had let him down completely by not exercising judgement at any time that evening. I let my son down. I let my wife down. I wondered what my sister would think when I tell her? Her son, my only nephew, was killed at age 23 in an alcohol and speed-related, single-car crash in 2011. I just wanted to die. I could not believe that I was such a dead-beat father. What have I done? I thought, “This is not happening to me.” And shortly after midnight, I found myself signing documents at the Sheriff’s office in the wee hours of March 10th which happens to be my birthday. A happy birthday it was not! As a result of my action, I will be serving one day in jail this month with 363 days suspended provided successful completion of my obligations during the five-year probation period. I must get a court-ordered alcohol and drug assessment by a counseling agency and submit to any recommended treatment. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not have a substance abuse problem. And, while I cannot legally consume alcohol or any non-prescription drugs for five years while on probation, I cannot even fathom drinking alcohol ever again for how much this has soured my taste for the once enchanting bitterness of Bombay Sapphire gin. Of course, I have also incurred fines, a suspended license, and I must wait some time, perhaps another year, to drive when I can afford an ignition interlock device and the required liability insurance imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles for at least one year. There can be no bars, pubs, or taverns for me during probation either. I never frequented those places anyway. But, this is my future- the minimum mandatory sentence for a first offence in Washington State. No sentence, however, could be a tortuous as I have been to myself for the last two months in the purgatory between arraignment and plea.

Now we are in the throes of the final week’s tasks, moving out of our house and renovating the leak-damaged 16-foot travel trailer we will be living in for several months until affordable housing is available. (For those non-local readers, our island is amidst a growing housing crisis.) I find myself still reeling over my friend’s death, wishing I could turn back the clock for this entire year. I hold back tears constantly, not because I am afraid to show emotion, but because it makes my eyes swell and I can’t get anything done in the moment. Ultimately, that is all we every really have, isn’t it – the moment?

I’m not alone. A lot of people are suffering from the various slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – battles with cancer, the deaths of loved ones, financial woes, etc. How can we help each other? I would not be surprised if there were support groups for anxiety and depression on Orcas Island. However, this much is not readily apparent and that, my friends, is the problem. Whether the matter is a mental illness, a criminal record or some other shame, how do we rise above the stigmas, not as individuals, but as a community? How can we help each other in dropping the persona that portrays everything as being peachy and provide safety for those who need to be vulnerable to survive?

The world – our country – is not peachy. It’s in a sad state. Everything is not OK.

How am I at the moment? I am alive and that is enough for now.

Earth is a beautiful planet and I still find amazement in human potential. But ignorance and lack of compassion for our fellow humans flourishes. If it isn’t blatant to you, look to humorous and satirical treatments of life today in the arts. You really don’t have to scour between the lines. Sadly, fear seems to be a prevalent driving force.

Now more than ever I want to run away to wander with animals and wonder with awe at nature. But, instead I am dropping my masks. Consider this letter a lifeline to my remaining a part of society. I challenge anyone of you who wants to join me, whether you are suffering or not, to drop your masks. Please don’t just tell me that I am not alone. Show me! Be vulnerable and unapologetically you while acting out of love instead of fear. I dare you to put the humanity back in the human species: we must be inclusive, not exclusive and that requires an open heart (again, this requires vulnerability.) Stop striving to be a genuine fake. Help me overcome my social anxiety and perhaps one day I will gladly step back on stage at the Orcas Center and proudly wear a persona as it should be worn. Let’s rise above the stigma. And if you see me around, please do not hesitate to hug me! I sure as hell need it. And I bet, so do some of you!

Poem: Divinity in the Key of All and Nothing

I stood staring at the structure.
Packets of cold and warm streams of air,
Flow steadfastly against an elastic metallic fabric.
Expanding and contracting forms undulate along the draping surface,
Billowing like smoke with a design, a purpose.

Hauntingly like the bowing of a saw,
The sweet motion produces the most alluring music.
The longer it falls on the ear, the more it sounds like echoing voices.
This is the source that teaches choirs of angels to speak.
Soft, then loud. Dynamic.
It is in this world but not of it.

Divinity in the key of all and nothing, both tonal and atonal.
If seeing and hearing were not enough to tantalize the senses,
I could feel it.
I could smell it.
I could taste it.
The most perfect synesthesia.

Transfixed for hours, I stood from midnight until dawn
When the rays of the rising sun pierced the glass building in slow motion,
Illuminating the structure and overpowering its ambient glow.
The spell was broken.
But I rejoice. It resides inside me now without end.
Inspiring and sedating, I call upon it at will to charge my energy and sooth my spirit.

I walked away forever transformed.
A moment of sadness ensued.
For, who I was when I first arrived is no longer.
First, mourning an intangible and ineffable loss.
Then, letting go of attachment to who I thought I was.
Sublime freedom remains.

© 2018 Michael Armenia

The Fool

In 2016, I had the opportunity to tangibly explore a vision, an out-of-body and extemporal experience, a dream from many years ago. The circumstance of a curated art show, the theme of which being the Major Arcana of the Tarot, afforded me a chance to express my vision of a jester depicted as The Fool card. I elected to focus primarily on the spontaneous (disregard for time), risk-taking, playful  and somewhat mischievous aspect of the fool. After much deliberation, I left out the more traditional elements (the staff/bindle, fox/cat/dog nipping at his heel) as they would distract from my focus: time, wisdom, and folly.

I find myself in the middle of a room, filled with antiques, artwork and other home furnishings. The room was not very dark, but the only ambient light was from an entryway into another brightly lit room and the adjacent dining room. Just inside the entryway of where I stood I saw a hanging clock. At first, its shape and details could not be determined  from my first position, as it was back-lit from the sun shining through a window in that room. Looking at it from an angle, I saw that it was a jester clock hanging from the ceiling on two chains. It was either enamel painted wood or metal. There were two noticeably surreal things about this clock. The first was immediately striking as the jester was sitting upside down. The chains suspended him from the backs of the legs. He formed an L-shape with his head hanging low and his arms extended. “What is he doing,” I thought. Then I noticed that the point above the twelve o’clock position was hanging downward from the jester’s boot at the point where most often is found a bell. Peculiar.

I turned to the right to the adjacent dining room which was brighter because window drapes had been drawn open. What caught my eye was the dark walnut brown dining chairs having seats upholstered with a silk brocade of the deepest green, somewhere between emerald and hunter green. The seats matched the drapes just on the other side of the dining table. All the light in the room was natural and the sunlight penetrated the room so that dust particles could be seen dancing all around. There was no one else with me in the room, but it was alive and electric. I moved further into the room where there was a sitting area to the left. In the corner were three banners with family crests, coat of arms, or some national affiliation. As of this writing, I cannot recall any other specifics including colors on the banners. I explored the room more until something woke me up.

This jester would persist as one of my frequently visited memories.


While envisioning “The Fool” for this art project, I was committed to keeping the subject (the fool) in an inverted sitting position.  A major difference between the jester of my dream and the fool is their relationships to the clock. In the painting, not only is the jester not part of the clock, but he is dismantling it. And the clock is not hanging from him, but it is above the entryway.

I’ve depicted two banners with coat of arms instead of the three in the dream. These pertain subtly to the subject in the following ways. On the left is the Coat of Arms for “Erasmus” who wrote “The Praise of Folly” and whose work was banned by the Vatican’s Index of Prohibited Works. On the right is a nod to William Blake for his famous quote, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.”

While the jester of the dream had a intriguing human face, the fool of this work is faceless, sexless, and perhaps not really human. In fact, I’ve used the Sun, a symbol of wisdom, to imply perhaps that wisdom cloaks itself in fool’s garb.

Most apt to my vision is another quote by William Blake:

“The hours of folly are measured by the clock;
But of wisdom, no clock can measure.”

Now, let us ponder what this jester is really thinking!

High Resolution Image of “The Fool”