Monday, 2 March 2015

The Inimitable Leonard Nimoy

Like many others, I was saddened to hear of the death of Leonard Nimoy. I was a fan of the Star Trek series and of the character Mr. Spock.

 Leonard Nimoy was teaching method acting in his own studio when he was cast as Mr. Spock. Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, would later refer to Nimoy as the "conscience" of the show.

Although he will always be associated with Spock, Leonard Nimoy had many other accomplishments. Here are some highlights of his life from the New York Times:

He served in the US Army for two years;

He appeared in television series such as Wagon Train, Rawhide, and Perry Mason before being cast as Mr. Spock. Later he would have a starring role in the television series Mission Impossible;

He returned to college in his 40s and obtained a Master's degree in Spanish from Antioch University. Later he would be awarded an honorary doctorate by that university;

He directed two of the Star Trek movies, as well as the film Three Men and a Baby;

He was nominated for an Emmy for his role as the husband of Golda Meir in a made-for-television movie depicting her life. Ingrid Bergman played Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel;

He published two autobiographies, as well as books of poetry and photography;

He frequently appeared on stage, including performances in Fiddler on the Roof;

He recorded music, and his first album was called Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space;

He did voices for Disney animation, as well as the voice-over for the computer game "Civilization IV"; and

He had a recurring role in the science fiction series Fringe.

 For the full text of the New York Times article, including two videos, please click here. For additional information and links showing Leonard Nimoy's versatility, please click here.  

RIP Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Living with Alzheimer's Disease


Alzheimer's is a disease that you may be aware of only peripherally unless it has touched your family or friends. The following are the statistics from the Alzheimer's Society of Canada website:

  • In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia (approximately 15% of Canadians 65 and older).
  • By 2031, if nothing changes in Canada, this figure will increase to 1.4 million.

 Researchers are still uncertain as to the exact effect of Alzheimer's disease on the brain, although they do know that cells are damaged and eventually die in different areas of the brain. The death of brain cells leads to dementia, characterized by memory loss, impaired judgment, and behavioral changes.
Although no one knows the exact cause of the disease, there are a number of risk factors that have been identified such as head injury, vascular disease, and gender. For example, women are twice as likely as men to develop the disease.

There are ten major warning signs of the disease:
  1.  memory loss that affects day-to-day function
  2. difficulty performing familiar tasks
  3.  problems with language
  4.  disorientation of time and place
  5.  poor or decreased judgment
  6.  problems with abstract thinking
  7.  misplacing things
  8.  changes in mood and behavior
  9.  changes in personality
  10.  loss of initiative  

It's important to note that there are major differences between symptoms of Alzheimer's and signs of normal aging:


Normal Aging 
Dementia 
Not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago  Not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations 
Not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance  Not recognizing or knowing the names of family members
Forgetting things and events occasionally  Forgetting things or events more frequently 
Occasionally have difficulty finding words  Frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words 
You are worried about your memory but your relatives are not Your relatives are worried about your memory, but you are not aware of any problems

 At this time, there is no treatment to delay, cure, or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Approved drugs temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms for about six to twelve months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.

It is vital for family members who are caregivers of persons living with Alzheimer's to seek help-- without guilt--to cope with the disease and to safeguard their own physical and mental health.


There are multiple resources and support groups.  For a list of Canadian web resources, see http://www.forgetfulnotforgotten.com/caring/resources/canadian-sites.The Alzheimer's Society of Canada also has a list of provincial societies: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/provincial-office-directory.

In the United States, please see the Alzheimer's Foundation of America's site at http://alzfdn.org/.

In the United Kingdom, please see the Alzheimer's Research UK site at http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/. 

Please remember that exercise, healthy eating, and brain boosters such as crossword puzzles and computer games can help in keeping your brain healthy. For more information, visit http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Living-with-dementia/BrainBooster.
 
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Monday, 16 February 2015

Irish Crime Fiction: Moving into the Mainstream

It's refreshing to note that crime fiction is gradually being accepted into the mainstream of literature, and is hopefully shedding its image as "genre" fiction and therefore a poor cousin to "literary" works.

Trinity College in Dublin is now offering a course on Irish crime fiction writers, and if you enjoy Irish crime fiction you'll recognize many of the authors: Tana French, Arlene Hunt, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Declan Hughes, Benjamin Black, and John Connelly, among others.

The course syllabus indicates that Irish crime fiction is "perhaps the fastest growing area of contemporary Irish literature".

For more information, including the course syllabus, please see Declan Burke's post on Crime Always Pays.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Let's Talk--About Better Assistance on University Campuses

Each year I do a post on Bell's Let Talk Day with the goal of helping to publicize the need for talking openly and ending the stigma of mental illness.

However, a recent incident involving a student in resident at a Canadian university might have the unfortunate effect of discouraging young people from coming forward in search of assistance when they urgently need it.

This student's appeal for help to cope with his depression and suicidal thoughts ended in a demand that he leave the university's residence before he even had a chance to meet with a mental health counsellor.

The day before he was to attend a counselling session on campus, he was advised by university officials that he had to immediately vacate his room because he posed a risk to other students. If he did commit suicide, this would adversely affect the mental health of the other students in residence. His mother was called to come pick him up. He could attend classes, they said, but he couldn't stay in residence.

According to a university spokesperson:

There has never been a case [here] where a student has been removed from residence for the sole reason that they have threatened self-harm. We simply would not do that. . . . There have been times, though, where the special needs of an individual have exceeded the university's capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support for their own safety and well-being, as well as supporting and protecting others who are in close proximity or have direct contact with the individual.

This story clearly underlines the necessity to talk openly about our universities' "capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support" to young people in urgent need of help at a very vulnerable time in their lives. While money is hard to come by all around, and budgets are constantly under scrutiny in every organization, universities included, I would suggest that the mental health and well-being of the young people in their charge--many living away from home for the first time--should be considered a very high priority rather than something for which "adequate" is a target not always attained.

Our youth need to feel it's permissible to ask for help when they're struggling with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress. The last thing they need is the unspoken message that they're only going to "cause trouble" for their school and themselves if they do find the courage to come forward.

Our institutions need to change their priorities and do a much, much better job of listening and helping whenever someone within their walls reaches out to them in times of need.

For the CBC story, please click here.


Monday, 2 February 2015

The Day After

As you are reading this, the 49th Super Bowl is history, and your team has either won or lost. About all that's left to determine is who had the best Super Bowl ad.

Of course, that won't stop you from debating who showed up for their A-game and who stank; which calls from the officials were dead wrong; and what coaching moves should have been second-guessed. Ah, nothing like the Monday morning quarterback.


If you're a die-hard fan, you're already looking forward to the 2015 NFL scouting combine, which will be held February 17-23, and the draft itself which has a new venue and airs from Chicago on April 30 - May 2.

And for those of you whose team didn't make it to the Super Bowl, remember--there's always next year.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness


One in five Canadians will suffer some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Nevertheless, fighting the stigma of mental illness is an ongoing battle in which victory is long overdue.  Research shows that:

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds. Sadly, Canada has the third highest suicide rate for youths in the industrial world.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.
 (Statistics are from the Canadian Mental Health Association's "Fast Facts about Mental Illness" at http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.Ut61P_tOldg.)


We can start to help those affected by mental illness by debunking the myths associated with it. For example, many adolescents (and adults) think that depression is just part of “growing up” and will disappear on its own, but we need to appreciate instead that depression may be a life-long challenge. The Kids Help Phone helps youths who are suffering from depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and other mental health concerns or who just need someone to listen to them. The telephone number for the helpline in Canada is 1-800-668-6868. 

One of the underlying causes of depression and suicide in adolescents is bullying (especially cyber-bullying).  This topic is finally receiving national attention, and there are numerous resources available.  The Kids Help Phone website at http://kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Bullying.aspx?gclid=CI7K2ciVpbUCFfBDMgodKV8AyA has extensive information on this subject and also has a bullying forum where teens can post questions. In addition, many websites now provide resources to combat bullying, including incident reporting for schools.  See, for example, http://www.stopabully.ca/bullying-resources.

In Canada, there are also numerous other Internet and local resources for those of all ages seeking help. For a list of crisis intervention resources in the province of Ontario, please visit http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/services-and-support/crisis-support/. For further information and to locate the chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association nearest to you, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at http://www.cmha.ca/.

This Wednesday, January 28, 2015, Bell Canada is sponsoring its fifth annual “Let's Talk” Day. The four pillars of the Let's Talk initiative are anti-stigma; care and access; workplace health; and research. To download a complete copy of the "Let's Talk" toolkit, please visit http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/toolkit

Mental health is a global concern.  Please check your internet and local resources if you live outside Canada.

Let's help put a human face on this suffering and end the silence.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Winter in the Limerick Forest

Winter is a time for writing. It keeps me busy and warm on these short, cold January days. I've been working on something new, The March and Walker Crime Novel series. Set in eastern Ontario, it features homicide investigators of the Ontario Provincial Police. The first novel, Sorrow Lake, has been completed in manuscript and is being read and evaluated. The second, Burn Country, is on my mind every morning when I wake up, and I expect it'll keep me busy until the snow is gone.

While the snow's here, however, I bundle up each day and take the dogs for a walk in the back forest. Our property is a long, narrow strip extending into former pasture that's now busily reforesting, if that's a word. The other day we were watched by a large barred owl as we meandered along my home-made foot path. We often startle ruffed grouse and cross the tracks of deer as they travel back and forth along their own trails. It's a great place to get out and clear my head, breathe the cold fresh air, and, yes, daydream.

Foremost in my daydreams these days is a plan to create an oval back there where I made a small clearing in the fall. It's a place where I've put a chair and bench for sitting when the weather's warmer. You can see the spot here, on the right. In the foreground on the right is the trunk of a white pine that fell a few seasons ago; it'll become another bench for sitting. There's a dead tamarack just out of the frame to the left that will provide logs for raised beds filled with wild flowers. When I cut it down, of course.

Meanwhile, we wander and daydream. My retriever, Charley, noses around beneath one of our tall white pines. If you look up, you may spot a porcupine who's spending the winter in this particular tree. He's something of a problem, because he's stripping the tree for lunch, and I don't want him to kill it. So far, stern warnings and cuss words have had little effect. Next I suppose I'll try a few snowballs. It's worked before on his cousins. Porcupines are shy and don't like people, particularly noisy ones like me, but this fellow's being stubborn. They really don't like snowballs, though, so I think I may change his mind about hanging around.

Back inside, at the keyboard, I'm in complete control of the world in which my stories are set. As much in control, I suppose, as any of us when it comes to the universe of the imagination. But out here, in the forest, control isn't an issue. I'm a participant. A partner. I've noticed in the snow that the rabbits and deer like to use my paths when I'm not back there.  I hope they find my oval beneficial, when it's done. On the other hand, I still have a bone to pick with that porcupine.......!