We Will Talk About These Days: Isaac Merz

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Isaac Merz performing on stage with guitarInterview conducted by Marcie Bramucci (People's Light), 2020.

Location: Zoom, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Isaac Merz was born in Asuncion Paraguay and adopted to the United States when he turned one. Born with a missing left hand and missing parts of both of his feet he has learned from an early age on how to adapt and invent creative ways to get things done. Raised by parents that embraced a "no limit" mentality, Isaac defied his doctors' opinion that he would not be able to walk or participate in many normal day to day activities. Not only did Isaac walk, he played sports his whole life, earned a black belt in Karate, studied theater, and taught himself how to play the guitar. Isaac found that living as a singer songwriter was a fantastic way for him to express and share himself with the world. By taping a pick to his left arm he had created a unique way to be able to play the guitar the way he heard it in his head. His most notable work is done with his Pittsburgh based band Merz, Miller & the Wolves. Through Isaac's journey of haring his music and unique story, he has found a love and passion for helping others work towards their goals. He has recently worked for certification for Transformation Coaching and is currently writing his first book. Isaac at the age of 38 has turned his life's focus to helping others find and celebrate their own uniqueness.

Marcie Bramucci is an artist and arts producer, with experience in theatre, film and television. As the Director of Community Investment at People's Light, she seeks out opportunities and resources for increased access, engagement and connection within and across community. On behalf of People's Light, she is the proud recipient of Art-Reach's 2015 Cultural Access Award for the theatre's relaxed performance initiative and inclusive practices. She leads a cohort of area theatres who collaborate toward increased arts access and inclusion. Marcie has advanced degrees in Theatre Arts (Villanova) and Arts Administration (Columbia) and lives in Malvern with her husband and three little ones.

view from balcony of Isaac performing on stage with band

Marcie
Would you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Isaac
My name is Isaac Merz, I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I'm a singer/songwriter, I also do transformational coaching and I currently work for Whole Foods in Wexford, which is north of Pittsburgh.

Marcie
Thank you, Isaac. So, tell me a bit about what your typical day looks like now, and what it looked like pre-COVID.

Isaac
I do work as an essential worker at Whole Foods. I'm part of the morning team on the produce side of the company, so I bike ride from my apartment at 5 o'clock in the morning to get up to work and start setting everything up at six. I work from six to two four days a week. I then come home and start working on my home recordings for my band, editing videos, I also do videos for my new You Tube channel which revolves around my transformational coaching business that I just launched during these COVID times. I'm also currently writing my first book. So, I have a lot of activities that are revolved around working from home, so I'm very busy during these times.

Marcie
I didn't realize the transformational coaching grew out of the COVID moment. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Isaac
The timing [of COVID] was perfect. I started on a journey of transformation for myself of self-development, self-understanding and self-awareness. I started really focusing on embracing my uniqueness, and that has been the rock of my coaching practicing. I started feeling pulled to share and help others on their journey and, as I was feeling a sense of progress and progression in my development, COVID hit. I noticed all around me, as the world shifted, a lot of people just seemed to hit panic mode. We live in abundance and we are taught to fear and to live in scarcity, [so] COVID was going to add a lot of pressure to people. So, I thought that this would be a time now to just really step into my own true story, share my experiences and help people that are out there watching YouTube at home anyway, so it's easy to connect those dots, I guess.

Read the rest of the interview

Marcie
What was it that set you on this path for your transformation?

Isaac
Three years ago, at 35, I hit a place in my life where I felt that I needed to seriously make a change. And that change was no longer going to be my place of work, my place of living, the relationships that I was in - that I had to focus on changing myself. And that would help me get out of a place of not being financially where I wanted to be, artistically creative where I wanted to be. I had no goals. I had no life - like no life in the purpose sense. Like I was just floating. I felt like I had no control over what I was doing. And that lack of direction added into wanting to fight out of a depression that I fell into. I feel, you know, when you're living a life that is not filled with, you know, purpose and self- worth and drive and goals and achievement and understanding of yourself, your wants and your needs, you can fall into a depression, and I was there. And I hit that low point at 35 and I knew that I wanted to change.

Marcie
You mentioned depression and I wonder if you could frame that a little bit more for me [in the context of disability]?

Isaac
I was born with missing pieces to both my left and right feet, missing my left hand, so I wear my 'disabilities' on my sleeve. Hiding from my story and hiding from sharing myself on an honest true level creates turmoil in my head.

Growing up, you know, you - as a young child you don't really feel the impact of outside judgements and opinions of you. I grew up in a loving family that supported me, and they gave me every opportunity. No one in my family ever told me what I should and should not be doing and my mind was just able to grow and explore and create the life I wanted. As you grow older and you're trying to define yourself, you look around and then that's when the mind game of what other people have versus what you don't have starts seeping in and as long as you're chasing other people's stories, other people's gifts. Then you really start to lose sight and you lose your ground. I was losing my footing, I was losing my ground, I was hiding myself from the world, and if you don't share your gifts or your true self then you will find yourself on shaky ground. And I found myself on the shakiest ground.

You know there's a price and promise. The promise is your future. The price is the past, and being able to learn from your past, what worked what didn't work. Not beating yourself up for what went wrong or past relationships that went wrong or not being able to, you know, get the jobs that maybe you wanted or the creative outlets that you wanted. So, it's letting that all go and understanding the price is just lessons, it's to be learned from, understanding yourself.

So, I went inwards and redeveloped my philosophy wanted to redefine who I wanted to be for myself. Comfortable with my disabilities, comfortable and strong in my relationships, fearless when it came to creating art and expressing myself, fearless with taking actions and taking risks. Not looking for the easy way out. And it's a slow game and it's about redeveloping your brain because your brain is just going to hang up on you and try to get you to revert backwards. So, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of awkward motivational tapes if that's what you need. It takes reading positive things, and making small adjustments and the, eventually, you pick up steam.

And I, you know, over the course of the last three years, I've seen the results of these amazing achievements come through. And then how I know that I'm in a place of strength and I have a wonderful relationship with myself and I've a great story to share and fantastic relationships with my family and my fiancé and I have a great network of friends and it all came from taking things back to that moment when I decided that self-development was going to be the key to unlock the future that I want and that I deserve and I desire.

Marcie
The COVID moment really allows new routines. It's a helpful time to hit restart, because nothing is set, really. It all could be possible.

Isaac
Now, you filter through social media and you just see people's cries of help. The number of times I've read "I'm bored, I'm lonely, I'm confused, this all stinks, this is unfair, bad president, bad this bad that...everything is blaming, blaming, blaming; this is not in my control, this is way too much, how could you expect me to do anything other than think about how bad things are. I see that all the time. I almost want to show people, like, if a disabled, South American, living in the United States during the Trump presidency can accomplish this list, any of us can change what's going on in the world.

Marcie
How do you racially identify?

Isaac
I was born in South America, in Asuncion, Paraguay. I am a Latino, and more than ever recently in my life I have felt more connected with, wanting to just, be more part of that world. I'm planning on going back to Asuncion. I've always lived with this dual citizenship.

I was adopted at birth, that is nothing to me. What do I know from there - what is that [place]? But then, later in my life, I do feel that its important to be more reconnected with my actual heritage of culture, and roots. It's like I don't seek family members, or, you know, I'm not going to go down there just to, like, find my mom or something like that. But starting a family with Jamie [fiancé], and I'd love to, you know, bring our children, if we're lucky enough to have children, obviously, to go down there and be like, "yeah, this is where I was born". I think this is a product of truly embracing my full story. Without trying to self-filter. I never felt, like ashamed or in any way negative towards being adopted, but I never fully, I would say I never fully absorbed the weight of it, you know, because it was so nonchalant in my family. You know my family, they were always open about, hey, you're adopted, that's just how it is, and my parents adopted four other kids, so, and had three of their own, so our whole family dynamic was this, like massive, like we are just a big family. Some people are biological, some people are adopted, everyone's kind of different...

Now when I think about my family, I'm like, wow, this is kind of interesting to think that my child will be my first true blood relative, and that strikes a new sense of like well what does that truly mean in the grand scheme of things, of like, how cool would it be to know more about the heritage of my blood? And that's probably why a lot of us reconnect with our family at age thirty, you know, I think that's a big piece of it. I felt pulled closer to home.

Marcie

It sounds like the biggest impact that COVID is having, aside from your coaching business, is your work at Whole Foods.

Isaac
Being an essential worker...it's like being drafted into a war. No one was asking us like 'hey, would you like to continue being a grocery store worker during this time? You know, everyone panicked at the beginning and the flood of people that came. It was unbelievably stressful. You know when you work at a grocery store you have a good job and you want to work hard at your job, but you never kind of feel like your actual dynamic in your community is pretty essential. It felt cool to just go there, keep going there, keep working. It's amazing to me now, how at the beginning we were given hazard pay and treated with a lot more elevated thank you and gratitude towards your coming to the job. Now that's slowly going away and they're taking away things. I think you can see how the incentive government PACS are shying away from giving bonuses to essential workers because that might involve giving minorities money and our government really has an issue with that. And that has been a really wild, eye opening experience, to really feel, like, [they're saying] "Just keep coming. We appreciate you but we're not going to help you out".

I was never expecting a bonus or more money; that was not what I was seeking. The one thing that would be acknowledged, I think, that gets forgotten is I personally haven't seen my family since the beginning of this because of the fact that I work at a grocery store. And that is a bigger thing that I think people need to realize. I'm not saving the world, I'm just like, stacking apples, but that choice to continue that work has cost me a family connection for months and months and months. And that's what surprised me the most. I don't think that people realize that that is also a huge part of this. That there's a lot of people who are sacrificing friendships and family time. I just get nervous even going to see other people because I'm like, listen. I'm a front-line worker, and also, living with Jamie, like, she has to work, and I go to work. We're constantly looking at each other like, 'God it's going to feel horrible one day if I have to come home and I'm sick from my job and is working at Whole Foods really worth being sick'. We think about this a lot, you know, because they don't pay me enough to pay that hospital bill, if I was to get sick and go to the hospital. That's not even close, you know.

Marcie
So, what motivates you, what's been part of that decision to say, "I'm going to go to work again today, this week".

Isaac
You're stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I'm so grateful that I'm still employed. And I'm so grateful that I have income coming in and my - I've watched lots of friends, especially my friends that rely in the world of entertainment, just lose everything. There's no solution for venues, there's no solution for production people or lighting engineers or actors or all the people. I go to work because I'm grateful, 100% grateful. But it's a danger.

Marcie
You mentioned with not being able to see your family. What does connection look and feel like to you now. When do you feel most connected?

Isaac
I believe we humans need that personal space connection so right now I do get a sense of community and connection when I go to work, that's another reason why I feel it's good to go to work. Zoom chats are a hard way of saying that you're still connected; it doesn't fill us up the whole way. And I still feel like there's an emptiness even though I conduct almost all my interactions with my friends, my bandmates my clients with Zoom chats and family, you know every day. But more and more, I think as people start to feel more restless or comfortable, it's like those small little moments that you're willing to put a mask on and share some distanced space with someone. I still think that that's still even better than what we're doing like when we do Zoom or any kind of super distanced "connecting". It's a replacement it's not a solution.

Marcie
On the other side of COVID, how you would like for things to emerge?

Isaac
I think that this is a wonderful opportunity for us as humans to reestablish value in human connection, appreciating each other's faces, all the minor details that have been taken away. The value of understanding that our individual actions effect other people on massive levels. I hope that in this time that people do connect with themself and can understand that if you are truly restless and finding yourself not really enjoy spending time alone in quarantine or in small groups with the same number of people, this is a wonderful opportunity to redevelop your connection with yourself, truly evaluate the relationships that you have around you. I think there's endless amounts of growth that happens when something comes and levels the playing field. And I think [COVID] levels the playing field.

You know, on the topic of disabilities... now, when you have these moments of great equalizer, you don't have to consider yourself being judged or at a disadvantage. Your actions are your actions; your story is your story. No one's at a better place than you or in a worse place than you, you know.

Marcie
I've heard from other people with disabilities that they feel there've been benefits to COVID; feeling like they have access to things now that they didn't access to in a very different way that's on their terms. Is that something that resonates with you?

Isaac
I think that because I've lived my whole life with having to adapt to challenges I really feel like I'm more prepared. This is an amazingly easy thing for me to wake up and have challenges in front of me. You know, I've been doing that ever since I wanted to walk, tie my shoes...everything. I believe that possibly that would be [the same] for a lot of people facing disabilities. When you have a disability you are adapting and you are believing in yourself; you are a place of solutions, not a place of scarcity or a place of lack.

A lot of people who are struggling with the life now in Corona time, are just coming from a huge place of lack of belief in themselves, of what is possible and what they actually, you know, can have now. Too often we focus on what has been taken away. So now you have a choice, you know. Do you define yourself in Corona times or does Corona virus define you?

I have a song that's really great. It just came out with the band. It's called Ambition, and it was a song that I had written years back and it was... I had had a roommate who was a brilliant musician but had no drive - an infuriating lack of drive, we'll say. [He had] the gifts of the world, but he struggled with addiction and he struggled with - he definitely had some mental illnesses going on. But he wasn't in a strength place at that time. His heart was there but it was too much for him. I think it fits this time right now perfectly.

Marcie
I would love to hear it.

Isaac
It has a good groove, its motivating, its uplifting but the core of the message of the song is "let's get it going."




People's Light

People's Light, one of the largest professional theatres in Pennsylvania, forges cultural and civic connections throughout our rapidly growing region. In the landscape of American regional theatres, we count ourselves among the few located outside of a metropolitan area. Our home in the heart of Chester County places us at a unique crossroads of rural, urban, and suburban populations. Throughout our year-round season, we produce contemporary plays, classics, new forms of music theatre, and original work. Beyond the stage, we host a wide array of cultural experiences and education programs that inspire meaningful engagement with, and sustained investment in and from, our surrounding communities.

The seven-acre campus at People's Light features a restored, 18th-century farmhouse, two black box performance spaces, scenic shops, classrooms, rehearsal space, picnic areas, and our administrative offices. We also serve as a local polling place. The farmhouse is home to our for-profit business: a premier event venue, The Farmhouse at People's Light, and an on-site restaurant, The Farmhouse Bistro. 82,000 people visit our campus each year. Nowhere else in the region can patrons see exceptional theatre, attend a town-hall discussion, have dinner with friends, take a class, celebrate a wedding, and cast a vote, all in one place.

Our ties are local, our reach is national. We surround our productions with activities that connect us with our neighbors, weaving the onstage work into the fabric of community life. We lead the nation in accessible theatre practices, and strive to create programs and performances that can be enjoyed by everyone. As part of a longstanding history of new work development, People's Light commissions and produces world premiere plays, many of which go on to additional productions across the country. We established a nationally recognized model for locally inspired plays that aim to awaken a greater collective consciousness of our American experience.


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