Along for the Ride

A few weeks ago, my super-talented friend and colleague Karin Melberg Schwier gave 50 Good Deeds a lovely shout-out on her blog. She called it “a completely happy place you should go to from time to time to restore your faith in humanity.” Did I mention Karin is really pretty?

Karin went on to share that she and I had been corresponding lately about some of her recent good deed experiences. Yes, friends do send me their tales of kindness. They do this well and often. It’s usually the highlight of my day.

Apparently, positivity happens frequently in Saskatoon, where Karin lives. On her blog she told a new story, this one about giving a ride to a total stranger on a violently windy day. It happened after the stranger helped Karin’s stepson sort out a jammed newspaper box. When Karin offered a lift and the stranger explained where she lived, she graciously added: “I hope that’s not out of your way?” And they were off.

Here’s the part I particularly enjoy. It was out of Karin’s way. As in, 180-degrees, wrong-way, totally-opposite-direction out of Karin’s way. But Karin never let on. She happily drove the woman home. On her blog she reflected, “We had time.”

From this completely happy place, I’m signing off…

Karin and stepson Jim sharing a laugh, perhaps over the audacity of their plucky good deed. PHOTO BY HEATHER FRITZ

Karin and stepson Jim sharing a laugh, perhaps over the audacity of their plucky good deed. (PHOTO BY HEATHER FRITZ)

Strait from the Heart

Fundraising gimmicks? Trust me, I’ve seen them all. Racing around in underwear to collect donated clothing? Yes. Playing piano for 20 hours straight, to support the arts? Yep. Posing semi-naked in a calendar, along with your fellow buff – uh, I mean brave – firefighters, to raise funds for cancer research? Oh my, yes.

Here’s what I had not seen, until now: A young magician who’s willing to spend two weeks inside the (increasingly rank, we assume) confines of a straitjacket, in the middle of a hot Canadian summer.

But that’s what’s happening this July. His name is Mark Correia, and he’s doing it to raise money for Parkinson’s disease. Mark, who is also an actor, is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts and currently enrolled at The National Theatre School of Canada. Mark is a longtime admirer of Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 and currently supports research through his non-profit foundation.

“Michael J. Fox has been my personal hero for as long as I can remember,” Mark says. “When I first saw him in Back to the Future, I knew I wanted to act for the rest of my life.” And the way Fox now copes with Parkinson’s has made quite an impression on Mark. “When he was diagnosed with a life-altering disease, he was able to turn it around and become an activist and inspiration for those like him… He didn’t let something he couldn’t control get in the way of something he loves.”

Mark adds: “That’s what life is, taking what is thrown at us and and using it to move forward.”

Speaking of moving forward, just how do you take public transit – or, for that matter, get through airport security – in a straitjacket? How about bathing, dressing and, um, relieving yourself? “I’ll leave that to your imagination,” he says coyly. Let the fun begin. Mark will accept “task ideas” via email or YouTube comments, so if you’re feeling particularly creative, why not challenge him to weed his mother’s garden, or, say, make a pasta sauce from scratch?

Mark anticipates that the biggest trial may actually be sleeping in the jacket. He says he’s done it before, and it’s truly miserable. “That is one of the worst parts. When you wake up, your limbs are sore and blood isn’t really circulating.” Good thing he’s young.

Besides, it will be worth it in the end. Mark hopes to raise at least $25,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation – and even, if the stars align, make an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Want to help Mark reach his goal, and potentially see your own name on television? Donate $100 to the cause, and your name will be permanently written on the outside of the jacket. Or give a smaller amount. If you can’t afford to donate, you can still get your helper’s high by liking him on Facebook, or sharing his YouTube video to spread the word.

Besides raising funds and increasing general awareness of Parkinson’s disease, Mark has high hopes for his upcoming summer stunt. “Hopefully I’ll inspire people to use the work they love to effect positive change in the world,” he says. “We can all do our part.”

Here’s how the straitjacket will look at the start of the stunt. Methinks, after a fortnight, this fresh snowy whiteness will be but a distant memory.

Here’s how the straitjacket will look at the start of the stunt. Methinks, after a fortnight, this fresh snowy whiteness will be but a distant memory.

Let Me Count the Ways

Ever wish you could add up all your good deeds?

It’s one of the vexations of day-to-day life, isn’t it? You perform so many thoughtful acts, you just can’t easily tally them all. If only – if only there was a way to keep track, you’re thinking.

There is now.

It’s called the 100 Good Deeds Bracelet. It’s made with 100 coloured glass beads and a braided cord that wraps around your wrist. Every time you do one good deed, you move a little rubber ring over by one bead. When you’ve passed 100 beads, you’ll hit a button stamped with “1GD.” Bingo! You’ve performed 100 good deeds, faster than you can say “what does the 1 in 1GD stand for?”

The concept was invented by a dad, and refined into a bracelet by a creative artist and activist. We at 50 Good Deeds (or perhaps I should call us 5GD) think it’s a fun idea – sort of like a tiny, wearable abacus of kindness. Happily, the bracelets are also rather blingy (but do come in boy colours, too).

Buying these bracelets and supporting the 1GD initiative means creating employment for vulnerable women. Ergo, as it’s pointed out on the website, making a purchase counts as your first good deed. And you’re off to a great start.

So pretty, I’d wear one just ’cause.

So pretty, I’d wear one just ’cause.

R.I.P. Archie Andrews

As a preteen, I was a huge fan of Archie comics. My entire digest collection – if I still had it – would have generated quite a buzz on eBay. I admit, in the years since, I haven’t kept up with the zany adventures of Archie Andrews and his hand-drawn entourage. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t a trifle saddened to hear that our favourite red-haired blockhead (whoops, I’m mixing my comic references here) is destined for, sob, a premature death.

Yes, it’s true. In a line of the comics called “Life with Archie,” Archie Andrews’ life will end abruptly before he’s had a chance to reach a ripe old age. Jughead will lose his best friend, Reggie will lose his competition, and Veronica and Betty will always wonder what could have been.

While I don’t know all the details, what I can tell you is that Archie will die a hero. This much, his creators have revealed: Archie will sacrifice himself in order to save someone else’s life.

So while regular Archie readers will mourn his passing, they may find the storyline inspiring. Publisher Jon Goldwater expects fans will “laugh, cry, jump off the edge of their seats,” he said last week in a statement.

Goldwater also noted: “Archie has and always will represent the best in all of us – he’s… good-hearted, humble and inherently honorable.”

Sorry you’re leaving us, Archie. But you’re leaving behind a legacy… if not in real life, at least within a juxtaposed sequence of illustrated panels.

Egad.

Riverdale won’t be the same, ever.

Riverdale won’t be the same, ever.

What Happens in Vagus…

If you read this blog often, you know that performing acts of kindness is good for your own health. Ever wonder how that works, exactly? I’d like to think that when you do a good deed, the karma fairy throws a little extra lucky dust your way. The truth is… well, a little bit like that.

Research shows that when we have positive social connections with other people, it improves the functioning of our vagus nerve, which in turn regulates heart rate. (Yep, that’s the same nerve that also sends you running to the bathroom when you’re tense before a client presentation. But we’re going to stick with the heart rate thing.)

So a psychologist at the University of North Carolina thought it would be neat to find out if people could boost their vagal nerve function by, um, imagining they’re being nice to other people. Yes, really. Instead of actually going out and performing good deeds, they sat at home and practised a loving-kindness meditation in which they mentally brewed up feelings of compassion and goodwill aimed at themselves and others. Two months later, those who’d begun the study with high vagal function (it’s known as “vagal tone,” and is not to be confused with abs) showed an increase in positive feelings.

Then it gets better. That spike in happiness was associated with even more social connections. And that led to an even better vagal tone. The researchers call this an “upward spiral.”

And it’s the kind of research I just love. (Kind, get it?)

Honey, you may have good vagal tone, but now you’re just being a show-off. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIN / FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

Honey, you may have good vagal tone, but now you’re just being a show-off.
(Photo courtesy of Marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Power Hour

Did you observe Earth Hour on Saturday night? How did you choose to mark the occasion? In my city, some people spent the time between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. enjoying an acoustic music performance at a downtown pub. Others demonstrated their commitment to the planet with a candlelit yoga class (I imagine there’s something to be said for downward dog in the dark).

In fact, millions of people were expected to participate around the globe, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Here in Toronto, our use of electricity dropped by a somewhat shabby six percent. That’s not quite as much as last year’s Earth Hour, although on my own street the rate of participation seemed unnaturally high – I noticed several darkened houses, displaying a high respect for energy conservation in my ’hood (unless, of course, those folks were simply out somewhere, dancing to pounding techno-pop under strobe lights).

Sure, turning off the lights for an hour is a symbolic gesture. But that doesn’t make it less meaningful. Or less fun. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all more attractive by flickering candlelight. And by the same token, everything’s a little more interesting.

At 8:30 in my house, the family – including the dog – gathered together in one dim room for a snuggle and deep conversation. We passed the hour (quickly, it seemed) with several rounds of “Would You Rather,” each one sparking a spirited three-way discussion. Likewise for two other games we invented on the spot, one I’ll call “What Would Your Happiest Moment on Earth Look Like” and another called “If You Could Have the Answer to Any Mystery on Earth, What Would It Be” (contenders were “what’s beyond this universe?” and “who borrowed that book from me back in the seventies?”).

You know, when your kid is 14 and life is a whirlwind, having an hour to talk together as a family, with no electronics, noises or distractions, is pure gold.

So as much as observing Earth Hour was a sincere gesture of goodwill, I have to say, the privilege was all mine.
Globe

What Goes Around… (Part 2)

If a convenience-store clerk helped someone in need and ended up infuriating her boss and risking her job, you’d forgive her for wondering whether the good deed was worth it.

But I doubt that thought ever crossed Ava Lins’ mind. The 19-year-old woman was working her shift recently at a 7-Eleven in Salem, Massachusetts, when a homeless man came in to escape the freezing cold. Ava felt for him, and poured him a one-dollar cup of coffee.

Her boss caught her in the act of kindness, so to speak. Ava realized he was angry and tried to cover her tracks – first by insisting the homeless man had paid the buck, then ponying up the money herself. (Friends, we at 50 Good Deeds don’t condone fibbing, especially to direct supervisors. But we do condone hearts in the right places.)

In any case, her boss wasn’t buying it. He promptly took Ava off the upcoming work schedule, and openly contemplated sacking her.

But Ava was convinced she’d done the right thing. So she lodged a complaint with 7-Eleven headquarters. At first, she got no response. Then she posted it on the 7-Eleven Facebook page. That’s when the story started to take off, eventually making the mainstream news.

The result? Ava was offered her shifts back at the store, and received reassurance that she wasn’t fired. But she also received something more: hundreds of messages of support. Plus a bunch of better job offers. One came from an organization that assists homeless people. As its spokesperson explained to a reporter for Boston Magazine: “After demonstrating the core values and beliefs of restoring hope and dignity to people who are homeless, we knew Ava would make a perfect fit for our organization.”

Ava took the job. “I’m extremely overwhelmed by the support, and really thankful,” she told the reporter.

Not every story like this gets into the news, mainly because most people don’t get canned from their jobs for being nice (unless you work as, say, a prison guard or a dominatrix). In other words, lots of free coffees go under the radar. So kudos to Ava for her kindness, but also to all you other generous java-gifters out there. You know who you are.