There is no doubt that the issue of gun control has created a crisis in this nation. Too many Americans, young and old, have been directly or indirectly affected by the unnecessary loss of life. More often than not, those who have survived have walked away with emotional and physical injuries that will last for the rest of their lives.
John Woodrow Cox‘s new book, Children Under Fire: An American Crisis, was published back in March. Following two young children, Cox talks openly and honestly about the long-lasting damage created by gun violence. The subjects of the book are two young children: Ava and Tyshaun. Ava watched her best friend die when a former student entered her school and started shooting. Tyshaun’s father, who he adored, was killed steps from where his son was receiving his education. He looks into the many attempts of reforming the gun control laws, interviews family members, academics, and politicians, and follows both children as they live with the after-effects of those tragic days.
If I could have hugged both Tyshaun and Ava and found a way to wipe their memories clean of the day their innocence died, I would have. When it comes to events of this kind, the subject of mental health and the perpetrator is inevitably brought up. But we don’t think about the survivors and the lasting consequences that they will be with them for the rest of their days. This book is long and hard to read. But it is one that I believe must be read by every adult and more importantly, even parent. We are failing our children if we do not stop this epidemic. It is possible to respect the 2nd amendment while keeping our kids safe. For foolish reasons, it is just not being done. Which pisses me off to no end.
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 streamingon 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.
School shootings have sadly become just another headline in the evening news. The latest one in Arlington, Texas this week was far from the most important news of the day.
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.
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.
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.
Our lives are busy. Between work, school, family, etc., the days easily get away from us. We can easily forget who and what is important as we go about our lives, focusing on schedules and to-do lists.
This is the second year in which Covid-19 has changed the way we do everything. I know it’s extremely cliché, but the last 18 months have been difficult. Sometimes, we have to be reminded to stop and think about what and who is truly important as a pose to what we think is necessary. This virus has held up a collective mirror, forcing us to reckon with reality in ways that many of us have avoided.
Though I have had many troubles over the past year (my mental health issues among them), there are still things to be grateful for. I am grateful for my health, the people I love, my job, my writing, and most of all, the fact that I can still wake up in the morning.
To everyone celebrating, shana tova and may you have a sweet new year.
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.
We all have stuff in our homes. They speak to who we are, what we believe, and what our interests are. But there is a difference between just having stuff and letting it take over.
The A&E series Hoarders (2009-Present), follows the lives of real people who struggle with compulsive hoarding. Hoarding is defined as being unable to remove large amounts of unneeded goods from their property. In each episode, the subject works with professional cleaners and a psychiatrist or psychologist to get to the clean their home and get to the root of their distress.
Unlike other reality shows, this program does not mock the people it profiles or uses them to boot ratings. They are dealt with in a compassionate and realistic manner, offering support and help without demeaning them for their mental health issues. As a viewer, I want to reach through the television and hug them, letting that person know that everything will be alright.