News of the World / Paulette Jiles / 2016
This is a novel to curl up with on a lazy afternoon when snow squalls batter the windows and soup bubbles on the stove. It is about decency, about resourcefulness, and about human connection and disconnection. And it is a story beautifully told.
Sometimes books provide the breathing space we need when life’s challenges feel relentless and defeating. Books can provide the oases we need to come back to ourselves, to centre, to kindness, to love. I wrote a blog about this book when I’d finished it, because it dislodged so much joy tucked behind the sad politics and terrifying health and social crises of our day. It is a beautiful, restorative narrative that will inspire its readers to keep on keeping on. To read my blog about News of the World, follow this link: https://www.janebuchan.com/posts/good-news-of-the-world-in-spite-of-everything/#more-2290
Indian Horse / directed by Stephen Campanelli / 2020
As we continue to socially distance ourselves during our Coronavirus experience, it is easy to fall into the despair of distractions that help to eclipse our feelings, especially those caused by our understandable fears. Rather than attend to activities that do not nourish our minds, hearts and spirits, we can search for stories created by those who have been walking the healing road out of trauma and into peace for a long time. Indian Horse is one such story; its author, Richard Wagamese had been on the healing road for decades before his death in 2017. His novels, essays, and poetry are his legacy and he continues to enrich our collective understanding of healing through the generosity and wisdom of his spoken and written words. Here is a link to the briefest of introductions to this beautiful and storied soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g3oABVXh_A
When I first heard about government legislated and funded church-run residential schools in Canada, the horror of their intent to eradicate our First Nations cultures was too big for me to understand. I knew of Canadian racism, had heard the jokes, had seen the images of a desolate people separated from their land and their customs, their ceremonies, their beliefs. Whenever people asked about racism in Canada, our attitude toward our First Peoples was what I cited. I knew about the worst of what we had done, but I did not feel the worst.
Richard Wagamese changed all that for me.
Learning how to heal from trauma is a science and an art. The ACEs Connection website at https://www.acesconnection.com/ is loaded with the science explaining trauma’s many effects on body, mind, heart, and spirit. It is a good website for increasing our understanding of trauma. However, to truly reach the heart of traumatic experience, we need our storytellers.
Richard Wagamese is one of our very best.
Indian Horse is not Richard Wagamese’s personal story. It is the artful telling of every child’s story if that child loses everything meaningful and familiar and falls into the hands of those who do not love him as he needs to be loved, deserves to be loved. Because Wagamese veils the pain of abuse and violence in the artful rendering of a young boy’s love affair with hockey, we can witness his pain and identify with the discovery of healing that comes through surprising channels, often when we least expect it.
Richard Wagamese survived his personal story, for a little while at least, because he learned to listen to others’ stories and because he learned to tell his own. We are all so much richer for his transformation from broken victim into powerful, and loving, teacher. May his wisdom bless us all during these traumatic times.
The White Crow / Directed by Ralph Fiennes / 2019
Rudolf Nureyev’s name was on everyone’s lips during my young adulthood. He was the eptiome of grace, strength, and beauty in the many roles he performed with Dame Margot Fontaine and other ballet greats of the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties. What we didn’t understand as we watched this luminous flame of dance was how his off-stage persona and behaviours were the product of a childhood scarred by deep poverty and humiliation. Developmental trauma, different from the one-off events we associate with a PTSD diagnosis, pervades the body and mind, shrinking our ability to form pro-social relationships. The contrast between Nureyev the etherial dancer and Nureyev the wounded man offers a primer in the long-term effects of unhealed early trauma.
Many critics, past and present, express disgust over Nureyev’s arrogance. Until this film’s exploration of his childhood, we could not see the shield such arrogance provided against his vulnerability to shame and criticism. His art, lovingly nurtured by his mother despite her reduced circumstances, gave him everything: strength, beauty, glory, empowerment, fame, and opportunities to forget, for a time, the bullying and deprivation he endured as a socially stigmatized, poor child. A particularly poignant scene in Fienne’s film involves Nureyev and a waiter, a man the young dancer is convinced looks down on him because he is “a peasant.” Because the shame and humiliation of his childhood were never resolved, his arrogance and cruelty became the cudgels he used to feel safe when in the grips of paranoia.
Thanks to current childhood trauma research, we understand how the early, chronic trauma of poverty, bullying, and absentee parents limit our ability to connect in loving ways with others, at least until we address our wounds with somatic interventions such as dance. One of the film’s final scenes illustrates how Nureyev’s mother’s sensitivity and love prompt her to take her son to what may be his first formal meeting with his fate. This small child, so scorned by those who despise him because of his adverse family circumstances, focuses all his attention on performing a folk dance that demonstrates his ability to transcend the limits of his early life.
In those brief moments of loving and precise physical,emotional, and spiritual expression, we see the spirit that allows the man to blossom as a world-renowned dancer. We also glimpse the hideous pain that of isolating poverty and internalized shame. In Russia, a white crow is the name given to the outsider. How apt for a boy who learns how to fly, and in flying, transform his pain into the glory we call Dance.
Our Souls at Night / Directed by Ritesh Batra / 2017
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford anchor viewers in the secret world of older adult neighbours who discover the possibility of love and deep connection despite family demands and cultural expectations. Tenderly rendered in the low-key, authentic styles of its principle actors, this film honors the aging process as something that includes joyful optimism and courage as well as the limiting beliefs and expectations of adult children. The expectations of Fonda’s character’s son highlight the strengths and weaknesses of inter-generational family relationships. She shines as a devoted grandmother and despite a geographical move, finds a way to continue a nurturing relationship with Redford’s character.
A Documentary by Michael Rossato-Bennett 2014
This film takes us deep into nursing homes where people diagnosed with Dementia and Alzheimers are routinely given a variety of drugs which have been linked to the worsening of these conditions. Viewers see this tragic story unfolding until Dan Cohen, social worker and founder of the non-profit Music & Memory organization makes his appearance with iPods programmed to play the specific music of each person’s life . . . the music they danced to as youngsters . . . the music they married to . . . the music they grieved with . . . the music they identified as their generation’s soundtrack. Cohen’s premise is that music connects us with our lives in a way that nothing else does, and this viewpoint is supported by research demonstrating how music lives on in the brain and the heart long after the ravages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia are manifesting. This film makes the heart leap with the same joy that prompts its subjects to sing and dance as they listen to their music and remember who they have been. See Alive Inside. When you do, you will learn more about this vitally important musical approach to healing. As well, you can visit the Alive Inside website at www.aliveinside.us.
A Place at the Table / Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2013
This DVD profiles food deserts and food insecurity, not in the developing world but right here in the United States. A provocative look at the political influences that keep so many children hungry despite being obese, this DVD belongs on every social justice curriculum in North America. As the producers claim, “A Place at the Table shows how this [hunger] issue could be solved forever, once the American public decides – as they have in the past – that ending hunger is in the best interests of us all.” For more information about A Place at the Table, please the film’s websites at www.magicpictures.com/aplaceatthetable and www.takepart.com/table.
Forks over Knives
Monica Beach Media, 2011
This documentary explores how shifting to a plant-based diet cured degenerative diseases – including diabetes and heart disease – in several individuals willing to follow the regime of physicians prescribing a whole-foods diet rather than medications to improve health. This work is informed by the research of Dr. Collin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former surgeon at “the world renowned Cleveland Clinic.” Interviews with research subjects and physicians make this 96 minute documentary a must-see for every citizen searching for healthy alternatives that empower individuals and are good for the planet. For more information about Forks over Knives, please visit www.forksoverknives.com.
Healthy at 100 / John Robbins / Ballantine Books, 2007
John Robbins, the same compassionate and inspirational writer who gave us Diet for A New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Heath, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth in 1987, has written the quintessential book on how to age with joy and skill. Healthy at 100 is subtitled How You Can – at any age – Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and your Health Span. This is quite a claim, one the author supports by examining four distinct cultures and their successful aging strategies. By successful aging, I mean healthy, vital, productive, joyful aging. This book contains invaluable research, including the well known China Study. For more information on how these cultures produce long-lived, engaged citizens, please visit www.johnrobbins.info.
Standing Silent Nation / Prairie Dust Films / 2007
Long the centre of controversy here in the United States, the growing of industrial-grade hemp remains a legal issue despite industrial hemp’s viability as a key contributor to local, sustainable, food systems. In this film we witness political and law-enforcement pressure exerted against a Lakota family’s “struggles to retain tribal identity and sovereignty” expressed in a narrative revealing how powerful the lobby against establishing a sustainable hemp economy is in the US. If you don’t know about the benefits of industrial hemp, a casual web search will provide research proving its versatility as a food crop, a building resource, a fabric source, and a biomass crop. For anyone looking for a cause to work for, this film will inspire you. Please visit www.standingsilentnation.com for more information.