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Common Reading 2022: What To Do When Everything Feels Broken by Daniel Alexander Jones

What To Do When Everything Feels Broken — Daniel Alexander Jones

“What To Do When Everything Feels Broken” is a TED Talk by Daniel Alexander Jones, who channels his alter ego of Jomama Jones to tell a story about how her uncle broke her piggy bank. Jones’s captivating performance sends a message about the power of falling apart and picking up the pieces again.

Discussion Questions

1. How does watching Jones’s performance compare to reading it on the page? How do the visuals and audio of the TED Talk enhance (or diminish) the message of the story?

2. When was a time when you or someone you know reached a breaking point like Uncle Freeman that allowed you/them to start again?

Class Activities

1. Jomama Jones’s story is set in “the spring of 1970,” and she makes some historical references to that time, including the death of Fred Hampton. Research Fred Hampton and the history of civil rights during that time. How do your findings contextualize the story of Uncle Freeman?

2. Take some time to review Susquehanna’s Counseling and Psychological Service’s website and see what services they offer students.

Introduction — Stacey Pearson-Wharton

2022 marks my 30th year of providing professional mental health therapy for others. I have had the honor of working with the elderly, middle-aged adults, and college students. I have helped people rise and renew themselves through national tragedies like 9/11, campus critical incidents, and individual hurts and traumas. In my experience when working through these difficult situations, the incident is often a series of discrete difficult events happening simultaneously.  

The global pandemic, racial upheaval, attempted insurrection, and contentious elections of late have brought seasons of compounding uncertainty, fear, and loss. 

As you read this transcript or watch the video, you may be experiencing your own “breaking apart” or “breaking open.” I encourage you to cry it out or express it in any other way that you can—journaling, tweeting, exercising, painting, running, screaming, hugging, talking, or dancing—just to get it out. 

As you experience the monologue, pay attention to the main character, Uncle Freeman. Uncle Freeman was a seasoned elder who became overwhelmed by the crises of life. Uncle Freeman found a new self in the process. There are three things that we can learn from his experience. 

  1. Uncle Freeman knows that his freedom is connected to others. His work with his niece and in the garden with the other children bought him true liberty. 

  1. Uncle Freeman was honest about his despair and cried about it, talked about it, and did what he needed to keep moving toward hope and renewal. 

  1. Uncle Freeman was open to being different and doing something new in order to find his true freedom. 

When you believe things in your life are in complete chaos, remember Uncle Freeman. Breaking apart can, in time, create a new opportunity for you. A new lease on life could bring freedom like you never knew. 

Look inside yourself now. What is one thing you can do when things are hard to move toward renewal? 

About the Author

Daniel Alexander Jones is an award-winning performance artist, writer and director. His work onstage, on record, and in digital media as his alter-ego, Jomama Jones, include Black Light (Joe’s Pub) Radiate (Soho Rep, and national tour), Night Flowers (JACK), the albums Six Ways Home, Radiate and Lone Star, and a series of annual online New Year’s Messages.  He has taught across the United States and held faculty positions at Goddard College, The University of Texas at Austin, and most recently at Fordham University, where he is a Full Professor in the Department of Theatre and Visual Arts. 

Additional Resources

SU's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers a variety of mental health resources year-round, including a 24/7 support line at (570) 372-4751

Learn more about Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)


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