Today is the birthday of the late, great, Carrie Fisher.
I could extoll the virtues of this all around badass, writer, icon, and mental health warrior. But I will let her speak for herself.
Happy Birthday, wherever you are.
Rita Moreno is more than an icon. She is a trailblazer who opened the door for non-POC performers to not only have a career, but to play roles than were more than the servant or the background character. She also dealt with mental illness and lived to tell the tale.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premiered a couple of weeks ago on the PBS series American Masters. The documentary follows her life and career from her early days playing “ethnic” characters to her current status as one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Best known for her role as Anita in 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, it was one of the first (if not the first) fully fleshed out Latino characters on the big screen. Up until that point, Latinx performers either had to hide who they were (a la Rita Hayworth) or play a stereotypical characters ( e.g. Carmen Miranda).
While I was not surprised that she was sexually assaulted. Then, as now, women are still seen as sex objects to be used and thrown away when our usefulness outside of the bedroom has vanished. What I was surprised is that she has lived with mental health problems for decades and survived a suicide attempt. I found her honesty to be refreshing and comforting. It was as if she was saying “I did it, you can too”.
If I could, I would send an invite to watch this film to anyone whose life is complicated by mental illness. If it provides one person at least a brief respite from the mess in our heads and the push to ask for help, I would be satisfied.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available for streaming on the PBS website.
Healing is never easy. It requires strength, fortitude, and the courage to face your demons. Though this is often applied to difficult life challenges and mental health, it can also be applied to a shared historical or cultural past.
Mary Trump‘s new book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, was published in August. Combining a new examination of American history and her professional background as a psychiatrist, Trump forces the reader to ask the difficult questions that few have had the courage to even consider. She goes deep into the institutions that have built up this nation and how they have been changed, for better or for worse. The throughline is if we can trust both the individuals and establishments that are supposed to keep this nation going. If we can’t, what needs to be done to rebuild that trust?
I enjoyed this book. Trump’s approach is both firm and supportive. She is challenging all of us to take a hard look at what needs to be done and be unafraid to do it. Which may come, at the end of the day, making hard decisions.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
The new movie, Mass, takes this all too familiar event and makes it personal. Written and directed by Fran Kranz, it tells the story of two couples who lives have been upended by one student killing his classmate. Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) are the parents of the victim. Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) are the parents of the shooter. They meet in a church basement to iron out what led to the shooting and how they can live with their new normal.
This film is important and timely. Kranz’s script is deep, emotional, and speaks to the harsh truth of the reality that comes with an experience such as this. It explores question that lead to school shootings. It is due to mental health, the lack of gun control laws, a combination of both, or perhaps something else that has not even been considered?
Though the screenplay is not as strong as it could be, the interrogation of what leads to one young person killing another on school grounds and its aftermath is potent and unfortunately still too relevant.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
Nature has a lot to teach us. But we must be willing to listen.
My Octopus Teacher premiered last year on Netflix. This nature documentary follows Craig Foster, a documentary filmmaker from South Africa as he spends a year bonding with an octopus. Recovering from a depressed state, he takes to the water, looking for a reason to feel good about himself. This comes in the form of his eight legged friend. In the year that they spend together, she teaches him about life, the importance of saving the natural world, and appreciating what he has.
This movie would not be my first choice to watch. It is certainly interesting and is educational without the viewer realizing it. I can see its value and why it won the Oscar for Best Documentary. But ultimately, it is meant for a niche audience who can truly appreciate what this film has to offer.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
My Octopus Teacher is available for streaming on Netflix.
When one reaches the peak of success in Hollywood, the assumption maybe that the problems this person had when they were not famous disappear. Their life is nothing short of perfection. The truth is that their pre-fame issues remain the same (or may even be magnified) with the harsh spotlight that comes with being in the public eye.
Saturday Night Live‘s Cecily Strong released her new memoir in August. Entitled This Will All Be Over Soon: A Memoir, the book tells her story of losing her beloved cousin, Owen, to cancer and the emotional destruction that Covid-19 has left in its wake. When he passed away in early 2020, Strong was devastated. Her grief was compounded when New York City became the epicenter of the virus a few months later. Needing a break from everything, she left the city, took refuge in a house upstate and began to write.
I like that it is set in a diary format. Strong reveals a personal side of herself that television viewers have not seen of her. She lays her mental health cards on the table, talking about emotions that are private, deep, and a little bit uncomfortable. My problem is that I expected to feel everything that she puts on the page. Unfortunately, I was not, which a dam shame.
Do I recommend it? Not really.
The bond with our siblings is an interesting one. They are hopefully our best friends. But they can also be someone who we wish we would get along with, but just can’t.
Jennifer McMahon‘s new book, The Drowning Kind, was published in April. Jax is a social worker living on the West coast of the United States. Her relationship with her older sister, Lexie, has been fraught due to Lexie’s mental health issues. When her sister drowns in a pool on the family estate, Jax has no choice but to return home. Going through Lexie’s things, she begins to uncover the history of the property and the mysterious spring that is rumored to be haunted.
The narrative then flashes back to the late 1920’s. Ethel Monroe is a newlywed with only one wish: to become a mother. Seeing that his wife is is need of a break from their daily lives, they take a trip to a new hotel in Vermont. This hotel is not only famous for being the latest and greatest, but it has a natural well that can grant wishes. But for every wish that is granted, the well needs something in return.
This book is a slow grind, but in a good way. The mystery is revealed in a manner that sends a chill up the reader’s spine. I generally don’t watch or read ghost stories because I am a writer and I have a vivid imagination, which loves to comes out and play when it is time to go to bed. What kept me hooked was the relationship between Jax and Lexie, but the supernatural element added another level to the narrative making it that much more interesting and readable.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
It would be easy to wish, that as adults, the experience of our childhood have no effect on us. But the truth is that as much as we have grown up, who were and what we went through when we were young is always with us.
Growing up, writer Helen Fremont knew two certainties. The first was that she knew that her parents lived through and survived World War II, but refused to share the details with their children. The second was that what happened in their house stayed in their house.
Her new memoir, The Escape Artist, was published last year. Her story is that of long held secrets (her parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland), mental illness, and the heart breaking discovery that her father wrote her out of his will. Add in the questioning of sexual identity and you have a messy youth that has the power, if allowed, to destroy the chance of having a productive and happy adulthood.
I loved this book. Her story has all of the complications that life throws at us. It was at times, painful to read. I kept wishing that I could have given her the innocence and happiness that I knew when I was a girl. I’ve read more than a few memoirs over the past few years. This book is one of the best.
Do I recommend it? Yes
When we experience trauma, the emotional scars have a tendency to last long after the event that created the trauma is over. When it resurfaces and starts to take control, there are two options. The first is to look it in the eye and stop running from it. The other is to let it take the wheel.
The new Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect, premiered last weekend. It tells the story of the late and iconic performer in two sections: her early years and the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, when her career was just taking off. Born and raised in Detroit, Aretha’s parents, C.L. and Barbara Franklin (Forest Whittaker and Audra McDonald) divorced when she was young. C.L. knew that his daughter was a musical child prodigy (played as a child by Skye Dakota Turner) and was more than willing to promote her gift to anyone who would listen. He was also controlling and unwilling to let her make her own decisions when it came to music.
In 1959, the adult Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) is eager to see her dream of becoming a professional musician turn into reality. But after multiple albums, she is at a crossroads. Aretha can either let her father dictate her career or take a chance on going her own way, musically speaking and letting her husband, Ted White (Marlon Wayans) manage her. But the marriage is not all sunshine and roses. While she is on the path to becoming a global superstar, the fight for Civil Rights continues on with Aretha on the forefront.
This movie is amazing. Hudson was born to play this role. She does not merely play the part, she embodies Franklin. There points in which I had to wonder if I was watching a documentary or a fictionalized adaptation of her biography. If this film and Hudson specifically does not walk away with an Oscar, something is wrong with the voting. Though some scenes could have been cut down a little, it is a wonderful film that reminds us of the power of overcoming what holds us back.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Respect is currently in theaters.
Within the worlds of mental health and mental illness, the concept of self care is important. It is one of the tools in our toolbox that allows us to relax and take a break from the havoc that brains are wreaking on us.
In the world of sports, gymnastic superstar and Gold medalist Simone Biles is stepping back from competition for a few days from the 2020 Olympics. Stating mental concerns, she is withdrawing from tomorrow’s women’s all around finals. Whether or not she competes next week in the four individual finals is up in the air.
The most important thing about living with mental health is knowing when you have to step back. I admire her for not just doing what needs to be done, but being open it. It also helps that USA Gymnastics is completely supportive of her decision, which is a nice change from the way Naomi Osaka was treated recently. The response to Biles’s decision is how we should all be treated in cases like this. Unfortunately, that does not always happen.
Regardless of whether or not she leaves Tokyo with additional hardware, she is still a hero in my eyes. Her legacy as a gymnast will live on for decades to come, as will her honesty of how important it is to take care of ourselves physically and mentally.
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