I don’t typically pay much attention to daily news.
This is because I know if really big news hits, I will hear about it from someone.
Such is the case with Nature‘s recent discovery.
It would seem our universe is quite a bit more vast than we may have previously assumed it was.
With study results titled, “this is the most detailed map yet of our place in the universe,” I eagerly scanned the results.
Then I wondered – with surprise – why I wasn’t feeling surprised.
Perhaps is it because I have watched and rewatched the movie “Contact” for years (this movie, of course, is a film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel by the same name).
In the film, budding scientist (Jodie Foster) asks her dad if there is other life “out there.”
Her dad wisely responds, “Well if there isn’t, it would be an awful waste of space!”
I guess this has always just made sense to me.
Several years ago a friend called and asked me if I wanted to go with him to see a film called, simply, “Milk.”
I like movies in general, and this one sounded innocuous enough. So I said, “Sure!”
I left the theater sobbing.
I was furious with my friend – for inviting me, for not warning me, for reminding me of how deadly stigma and fear can be.
I was furious with the whole world – how could such a bright light be permitted to burn out just when we need bright lights the most?
I was furious, period.
I have never forgotten the movie, and I will never forget what Harvey Milk posthumously taught me.
In his San Francisco mayoral election campaign, Milk exhorted voters, saying:
Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better. [emphasis added]
In the film, he explains his strategy by saying that when someone close to you knows that you struggle with a particular type of issue, they are more inclined to vote favorably on that issue at the polls.
Their inclination has nothing to do with the issue itself, and everything to do with how much they care about you – one single person who struggles with that issue and will be helped by their vote.
In other words, when given a choice, people don’t vote for issues. People vote for people – people they know, people they care about, people they love, people they don’t want to lose.
As you may know, I suffered with anorexia and bulimia for 15 years before I started my recovery work. I suffered with severe, crippling depression and anxiety for another decade beyond that. So approximately three-quarters of my life to date has been spent battling one type of issue or another – and battling the stigma and fear surrounding it.
This has formed my belief that the specific type of issue I have, versus the specific type of issue you may have, versus the type of issue a loved one of yours may have, doesn’t really much matter.
We basically need the same building blocks to begin healing – love, empathy, an open door to share and be heard, laughter, friendship, a way to serve, a willingness to be served, and the awareness we are not – are NEVER – alone in our struggles (even if the names of those struggles may change from one person to the next).
Harvey Milk taught me this.
On that note, I have a very dear friend who struggles with bipolar illness. She is one of my oldest, closest friends, and I care for her very much.
You see, I work from home, so I don’t go out every day.
The other night I watched one of my favorite actors, Nicolas Cage, in a movie called “Joe.”
If you have seen the film, you know it is a bit, well, gritty.
Joe himself is rough around the edges (although at times he appears nearly genteel compared with some of his neighbors).
Why am I bringing up this particular movie in a column about mentoring and recovery?
The truth is, as I get older, I find hope in the strangest places, and often it comes in the form of a story of “mentee meets mentor.”
Joe and Gary may have appeared on the surface to be an unlikely mentor-mentee match, but they were a match just the same.
And when the movie ended, what I remembered most – and continue to remember – is that mentoring bond between Gary and Joe.
It is awfully hard to believe he is gone.
I am so very sad!!
In a recent Facebook post about his death, Williams’ friend, writer Anne Lamott, shared how sad she is, and also shared how she has always viewed laughter as “carbonated holiness.”
As a fellow depression sufferer, I too have found much-needed upliftment and release through laughter….and often through laughter at Williams’ antics.
He had that rarest of gifts – the vision to perceive exactly where the fine line lies when addressing serious subjects from a lighthearted perspective.
Two of my favorite Robin Williams movies are “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Good Will Hunting.”
But my current reigning favorite is this six-minute interview clip from 2011.
In the clip, Williams speaks about his work, his life, his kids, his childhood and young adult years, his fame, his addiction, his recovery…..and his fear.
Recently I finally got to watch “The Dallas Buyers Club,” starring two of my fav actors – Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.
First of all (and just for the record), Matthew McConaughey will always be hot.
Not quite as hot as STING, but still quite hot.
Second of all – oh. my. goodness. what an actor he is!! If I hadn’t seen his name on the credits I would not have recognized him. And what courage it must have taken to alter his appearance so drastically – to literally embody a role of a dying man – and still emerge with his sense of personal self intact.
I was also so impressed with Jennifer Garner – for her acting, of course, and for having the good taste to choose such an important role, but even more (and on a very personal level) for her clear and present ownership of her new post-motherhood curves.
I loved her in “Alias,” when she perfected all those karate moves I can’t even pull off in my dreams (and rocked the abs to match)….but I loved her even more in this recent film, in her softer shape that spoke of body love and acceptance at every point along the ever-changing continuum of shapes and sizes.
A few weeks ago I watched the French film “The Intouchables.”
I had been wanting to see this movie for awhile – even though I was sort of expecting a weeper.
What I mean by that is – I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud – frequently – while watching a story about a quadriplegic and his caregiver. Yet I did.
It has taken me some time to figure out why. What about this film turned a potential tragedy into a celebration of life? It is based on a true story. It was a box office smash in its home country. Its main character is a dead-ringer for Dustin Hoffman.
None of that was it.
Nope – as it turns out, what moved me beyond tears to laughter was the sheer impact of one human being showing up as himself in each and every situation. From rags to riches, the streets to lavish boudoirs, subways to sports cars, sweats to black tie, the caretaker transformed everyone he met for the better, often without either awareness or effort.
Driss, the caretaker, didn’t do anything special – in fact, he actually went out of his way not to do anything special, starting with not wanting to accept the job taking care of Philippe.
Yet somehow, once the two were matched, genuine, deep and sustained belly laughter – along with profound and long-lasting transformation in both lives – was the unexpected outcome.
In my last post, I shared my discovery of a new movie mentor in Charlie, teenage hero of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Charlie inspired me on many levels – and he also made me think.
In fact, I am still thinking about a particular conversation between Charlie and Sam, the object of his romantic affections. In the film, Sam has historically had trouble selecting men who treat her with respect. During this conversation, she asks Charlie why. His answer (effectively “borrowed” from an earlier conversation on the same topic he has had with his English teacher), is simple:
People accept the love they think they deserve.
I heard this dialogue and found myself nodding my internal head, “Yup, yup. So true, so true.”
I neatly catalogued the statement in my mind as a “profound cliche” and moved on. Until the middle of that night, when I woke up asking myself the uncomfortable, inevitable question: “So, Shannon, what kind of love do you think you deserve?”
Crap crap crap crap crap.
Last night I watched “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
I have had the film in my Netflix queue for awhile…..in fact, I have had the film in my house for quite awhile, all neatly sealed up in its little red envelope. I would get to the end of my day, look at the “number of minutes” count, realize there was no way I could stay awake for 102 whole minutes, and put off watching it for another night.
So last night was the night. Now I understand why I didn’t just send it back (sometimes I do this when I get too irritated by the sight of that red unopened envelope).
As it turned out, I could relate to the story in sooooo many ways – except that in my high school, there was no pair of caring senior students who took me under their social wing. Come to think of it, “wallflower” would be a mild description for my particular brand of social skills in high school….and in college….and for the first several years of life thereafter.
As such, the raw kindness of step-siblings Patrick and Sam took my breath away – just the sheer impact of how one small act of empathy can totally transform a life.
I particularly liked that the film was so open about so many issues that so many people still insist on staying so closed up about – sexual orientation, eating disorders, depression, friendship, romance, suicide, drug use, and the actual (not relative) appeal of “coolness” up close. I know I wasn’t open about any of those topics in my younger years, although I wrestled with some and suspected I had classmates who wrestled with others.
At one point, Charlie, the main character, asks his doctor if other people feel so sad as he does upon observing all the pain in others. She doesn’t seem sure – but I am. I too struggle with this. I have always struggled with this. Back in my songwriting days, I wrote a song called “For Me to Hold.” The chorus was simple: “Oh there’s too much pain in the world for me to hold, for me to hold.”
I wrote that song in my 20′s – I am now 42-and-counting and I still feel that way many days.
I wish I knew the answer to that.
All I do know is that it seems to be helping.
At this point you might be justified to ask, “helping with what?”
This part I can actually answer.
Sometimes I find myself dealing with mean or unwelcome people – such as my scary neighbor. Sometimes no matter what I try, I still dislike them – immensely. Unfortunately, the fact that I dislike them or want them to go away doesn’t ever seem to actually get them to go away – especially when they live one floor below me.
So recently when my sinuses attacked me and I literally had nothing else to do, I watched the film “Happy” and it talked about how compassion meditation changes the structure of the brain to make practitioners, well, happier.
I thought to myself, “I should try this!”
Recently I came down with a very bad sinus infection. And some kind of icky bronchial thing. And total laryngitis.
Being housebound and medicated (over a long sunny holiday weekend no less) I resorted to multiple naps, cooking (never a good idea) and tackling the blockage in my vacuum cleaner’s “suck” mechanism for entertainment.
Finally I decided it was safer to let others entertain me. The first thing that popped up in my Netflix queue was a documentary called “Happy.” Since I was feeling anything but, I decided that was perfect.
The documentary focused on, well, happiness. Specifically, it focused on what makes people happy….and a little bit of what doesn’t.