Category Archives: Entertainment

Holding Court on Mental Health

Before now, had you ever heard of a member of royalty talking openly about mental health issues – exposing very personal struggles – in order to help others?

Yesterday, a British charity posted a video of a Facetime call between two well-known royals: the Duke of Cambridge and the Lady of Gaga – er, rather, Lady Gaga.

It appeared to be a comfortable, convivial chinwag. Lady Gaga sipped from a teacup at her kitchen counter, while Prince William leaned forward earnestly in his Victorian upholstered chair.

They were there to chat about mental health. Lady G discussed how it feels to experience anxiety and depression, even in the midst of ostensible success and fame – and why talking about it makes it better. It raises awareness and stamps out stigma. Ultimately, it means more people will reach out for help.

“We have to make the strongest, most relentless attempt we can to normalize mental health issues, so that people feel like they can come forward,” LG explained.

Prince William agreed. “It’s so important to break open that fear and that taboo.”

The Facetime call was arranged through Heads Together, a British charity overseen by Prince William, his Duchess Kate and little bro Harry. The trio say their previous work with vulnerable people has taught them that all too often, fear and shame are stopping people from seeking essential mental health treatment.

“We shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” Prince William said. “Just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.”

In an interview the same day for the suicide-prevention organization CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), the Duke of Cambridge elaborated very Britishly: “There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip,’ but not at the expense of your health.”

The call ended with cute little waves at each other, and a promise to chat more when Lady Gaga tours the U.K. A royal friendship has been forged. And surely it will have a positive impact.

Fun fact: 83% of men and women surveyed say they find it helpful to talk about their mental health issues. Another 2% said they find it almost as therapeutic to sip from a teacup.

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It’s uncanny how similar this room is to my own home office. (Photo by Heads Together)

Lights, Camera, Kindness!

If you’re in the Dundas West neighbourhood of Toronto this Thursday and looking for some fun and warm-fuzzies, stop by Dundas Video. This establishment is known for serving up retro video games and movies alongside its alcoholic beverages. If that’s not enticing enough, on March 23 you can stop in to watch a new documentary about goodwill.

ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens & Compassion is a short film about Bunz Trading Zone, a community-based favour-swapping, item-trading, connection-forging group. (ISO means “In Search Of” and is frequently used in Bunz messages, as in: “ISO someone to help me remove my storm windows,” or “ISO beginner accordion lessons.”)

Clearly, the Bunz platform serves as a catalyst for many acts of kindness. It helps the cash-strapped. It helps the environment. It helps the community. It even helps the lonely.

It’s fitting for this documentary to make its debut in Toronto, since it’s here that Bunz first launched in 2013. But it’s gradually spreading around the world, with total membership now at 120,000.

“It’s cool, because you meet new, cool people, and you develop a sense of community,” a guy (short on adjectives, long on sentiment) says in the movie trailer.

“I think people are in need of some kind of… personal connection in this kind of alienating society we live in now,” someone else notes.

If Bunz can fulfill that need, good on it. You can find out more about the trading group in this news article.

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In the meantime, I’m contemplating what I might be ISO (drywall repair? Post-apocalyptic fiction? Homemade french fries? The possibilities are almost endless…) (Image courtesy of Justin Lee)

Only Sometimes Inspiring

I’m a fan of the TV show Speechless. The fact is, I was hooked from the pilot episode. This is probably the first time I’ve been treated to a prime-time sitcom that tells the truth about family life with a disability. When I say “telling the truth,” I don’t mean hiring able-bodied actors to pretend they know what it’s like (chances are, they don’t) to be blind or have a speech disorder or use a wheelchair, and exploiting stereotypes that further marginalize a group of people. (Here’s me giving you the side-eye, Glee creators.)

In one recent episode of Speechless, JJ – the character with a disability who is played by an actual actor with a disability – complains about “inspiration porn.” When another character asks what that means, JJ’s TV brother pipes up: “It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.” That may sound preachy, but it’s made funny because it’s delivered in a sardonic tone by a teenager who has this dictionary definition of inspiration porn so well-rehearsed that he manages to explain it in six seconds flat. In other words, this TV family (and, by extension, everyone in audienceland living with a disability) has confronted it a bazillion times before.

Does that mean people with disabilities can never be inspiring? No. All it means is that they shouldn’t be portrayed as heroes simply because they took a breath today, and then another one and then another one after that. In my view, people are inspiring when they do or say amazing things in front of people who do not do or say those things. It’s not amazing, for example, that someone went to school today or chaired a business meeting or put on pants. Why put him or her on a pedestal just for living a normal life?

This weekend, I saw actual inspiration. I was at a disability-themed trade show filled with displays of wheelchair accessories and sports equipment and modified vans. Naturally, there were heaps of individuals with disabilities in the building. So it wasn’t unexpected to overhear a conversation between two of them while I washed my hands in the ladies’ room.

Both women were wheelchair users. Both were beautiful, stylishly dressed and with impeccable make-up. One was in her 30s, however, while the other was only about 20 and with her mom. From the way they spoke, it was clear that the younger woman was fairly new at disability. And it didn’t take long to realize that the older one was taking the time to educate and encourage her. “You can’t dwell on it, you have to go on with living your life,” the older one (who we’ll call Mentor) said. “That’s so true,” said Protégé, nodding vigorously. “Don’t limit yourself,” Mentor said. “Oh, I like that one,” Protégé’s mom piped up.

The women were all smiles, clearly delighted to be having this conversation. And why not? Mentor was taking the opportunity to make a difference. We all know how great that feels. Protégé was getting the chance to chat up a role model. Maybe she hadn’t, yet, been able to meet that many of them.

Mentor was inspiring. Protégé was inspired.

And that, in my opinion, is how inspiration works.

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Photo by Photokanok / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Human Touch

Rock stars are probably at the receiving end of good deeds all the time.

Think about it. There’s all the fan art that gets mailed to you, those needlepoint portraits and balloon-sculpture likenesses. You score the most excellent swag at the Grammy Awards after-parties. Maître d’s are always giving you the best table in the house. Devoted groupies are always giving you… well, use your imagination.

Don’t you think an act of kindness is much more meaningful, though, when the do-gooder doesn’t actually realize he’s dealing with a famous singer-songwriter? That’s why I’m impressed with Dan Barkalow’s immediate response when he spotted a fellow motorcyclist stranded at the side of the road. He couldn’t tell who it was. But he didn’t hesitate to pull over and ask if the guy needed help.

It was only then that he realized “the guy” was actually The Boss.

As Dan and his biker buddies were already in rescue mode, they earnestly tried – but unfortunately failed – to repair the motorcycle. Plan B: beer. The buddies packed Bruce Springsteen onto the back of one of their own bikes, and everyone headed off to a nearby restaurant to have a couple of brews in comfort while the rock star waited for his ride. (Billy Joel later admitted during a live concert that he was the one who’d built the unreliable bike for his pal Bruce. Um, just because you can write timeless songs doesn’t mean you can tinker with engines, Billy.)

So how was the hang-out? “We just sat down and he was just one of the guys,” Dan told CBC Radio. Both men had been born and raised in the same town of Freehold, New Jersey. “We talked about some of the old days.”

Eventually, Springsteen’s ride arrived and he left, but not before picking up the tab for the table’s refreshments. “We offered. But he insisted,” Dan said. I agree that Dan deserves a free beer or two, because apparently this considerate man always makes a habit of checking on stranded motorists, famous or not. “We would stop for anybody,” he said.

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My friends and I were in grade 10 when The Boss got married. I still remember which of my classmates cried like babies. (You know who you are, girls.)

We Want It Lighter

As if the state of American politics hadn’t already inflicted enough stress on the world, we got the painful news last week that our beloved singer-songwriter and artist Leonard Cohen, poetic and angelic of heart, had died at the age of 82.

This kind of sorrow is unavoidable. We are destined to lose our favourite lyricists and musicians because time inexorably marches forward. Recently we also grieved for David Bowie and Prince. And the losses hurt, sure. It’s the difficult price we pay for the joy of their music.

But this occasion was markedly different. When the Leonard Cohen stories inevitably poured forth – you know the kind, they start out “I once met Mr. Cohen at a laundromat…” and get printed on the editorial page or related on radio call-in shows – we heard a recurring theme of kindness in all its forms: generosity, warmth, humility, grace and love. By all accounts, Leonard Cohen was a benevolent person with an open, unselfish character.

In fact his biographer, Liel Leibovitz, writing in Tablet magazine, went so far as to suggest that, moving forward, we should all make an effort to “do unto others as Leonard Cohen has done unto us and find an appetite for kindness that is only sated when everyone around us is feeling their best.”

It’s a worthy legacy. We are certainly in need of uplift this month.

If that’s not comfort enough for the distressed and the despairing, I’ll share one other quotation. This optimistic reminder was written and sung by the bard himself, in his 1992 song, “Anthem”:

“There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen’s final studio album, You Want It Darker, was released a mere 17 days before his death. On it he declares, unabashedly: “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” Well played, Leonard Cohen, so well played.

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Actor of Kindness

He may have played a murder consultant in Horrible Bosses, and answered to a nickname you’d never repeat in front of your kids (rhymes with smotherchucker). But movie star Jamie Foxx, in real life, does good. We know this because his foundation supports the health and welfare of children around the world. We know this because he’s put himself out there as the celebrity spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. We know this because he’s been personally involved in raising money for groups like the Global Down Syndrome Foundation (bee-tee-dubs: his sister, DeOndra, has Down syndrome).

We also know this because when Jamie Foxx picks up on a commotion in his ’hood, he races outside to lend a hand.

Jamie Foxx told reporters that he heard the sound of a car crash from his home in southern California. He called 911, then rushed to find a pickup truck overturned and on fire, with the driver trapped inside. Jamie and an off-duty paramedic were able to smash through the window of the vehicle and haul the driver to safety… literally seconds before the entire truck was engulfed by the flames. They surely saved his life.

“I’m just so happy that it happened here, and they were the right people here,” said the tearful father of the driver, a 32-year-old man who suffered serious injuries but is recovering. “I think we want to be willing to jump in when it needs to be done, but how many others really would?”

And (apologies, apologies, apologies) what does the Foxx say?: “I don’t look at it as heroic,” he told the reporters. “I just look at it like, you know, you just had to do something.”

This celebrity’s no smotherchucker, that’s for sure. On the contrary, he joins the 50 Good Deeds hall of famous… along with the likes of Melissa Etheridge and John Malkovich, both of whom have been featured in past blog posts after doing sweet things. It’s all about being human.

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“And for the most profoundly well executed good deed, the Oscar goes to…” (Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Like the Way Melissa Etheridge Does

I’m at that age where some of the adults I know – we’re talking full grown and fully established individuals – are folks I first knew as small little kids. These people are 20 years younger than me, yet they’re well over the age of majority. It’s freaky.

When I first met Danny, I was a university graduate living in the basement apartment of his parents’ house. He was four years old. Sometimes I babysat him, and often I walked him to school. He was energetic and spirited. Once, he rehearsed and then performed a rousing one-man-band rendition of “I Have a Little Dreidel,” just for me. The things you never forget.

The grown-up version of Danny works as a flight attendant. If I had to place a bet, I’d gamble that he’s the upbeat, friendly sort who rolls with the punches. I’ll bet his passengers like him. The respect, apparently, goes both ways… along with occasional starstruckness. Here’s what Danny wrote on Facebook last week: “Melissa Etheridge and her lovely wife were on my flight yesterday. Can I just say that they are the nicest, coolest and most amazingly CHILL people that I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with?”

Danny embraced this opportunity to let Melissa E. know how much her music has meant to him. One amazing performance in particular, he told her, “…influenced me as a kid to feel music with as much passion as possible.”

The singer’s reaction? She patted his arm, thanked him and called him kind. Her wife called him a sweetheart. (“I’m part of their family now, right? That’s how that works?” Danny added hopefully in his online report.)

Their flight out of Quebec City was considerably delayed while ramp crew took frequent warm-up breaks to prevent frostbite. (If you’re from this part of Canada, you know it was so cold last week that even the snowmen were shivering.) “Melissa and her wife were the ONLY two people to ask me how I was holding up and feeling while dealing with the delay,” Danny wrote. “Her wife was joking that Melissa should get on the interphone and do a couple numbers.”

He was struck by their graciousness, and their compassion. Especially while he laboured his way through day nine of a long 11-day work stint. “This was very much welcomed and appreciated,” he noted. “Both of them were complete class acts.”

Of course celebrities can be do-gooders like anyone else. They step in to staunch blood when it’s called for. They donate to ALS research while drinking scotch and looking classy. And they ask a weary flight attendant how he’s feeling, right when he most needs to hear it.

“It was definitely a moment,” Danny told me. Thanks to this and a couple of other musical encounters over the past week, he’s rediscovering his love for guitar playing. (Dreidel songs, too? We are left to wonder.) Melissa Etheridge not only cheered my young friend Danny, she inspired him. Rock on.
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