Friday, January 25, 2013

On Writing, Bullying and Social Media

Today I spent a great afternoon at Immaculate Conception in Revere speaking with the students about my novel FILLED WITH NOTHING, creative writing, food, bullying and social media.  And, oh yes, One Direction!  The students were extremely polite, offered some surprising insight and asked a lot of great questions.  My special thanks to Mr. Frank Scrima, Principal Kelly, Mr. Staples, Mr. Allan, Miss Jones and Miss Eacmen.  I wish I could speak with students like you every day!

                                Grades five and six, Mr. Staples and Mr. Allan, teachers.

                               Grades seven and eight, Miss Jones and Miss Eacmen, teachers.

    Congratulations to everyone for having the initiative for a free and open discussion on bullying!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Kennedy Family On Addiction

I recently had the opportunity to stop in at The Brattle Theater in Cambridge for a discussion hosted by Harvard Book Store.  Featured speakers included Christopher Kennedy Lawford and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy.  The subject was addiction, something that has plagued the two cousins for years.  Lawford is the son of Peter Lawford, well-known actor, member of the Rat Pack and a notorious alcoholic.  I remember reading years ago that Peter Lawford was once told by his physician that if he did not stop drinking immediately he was in danger of dying.  He continued to drink heavily.

Patrick Kennedy introduced his cousin Christopher, author of the new book RECOVER TO LIVE.  He spoke eloquently about the 22 million people in this country with a chemical dependency, reducing the stigma and shame of addiction and moving toward a health care system that includes ongoing treatment for addiction and the often-underlying mental health issues (70% of the time).  He called for a mental health parity along the lines for treatment of such afflictions as diabetes and asthma, something that currently does not take place.  He raised questions like:  "Do we really need oxycodone?" Knowing full well how highly addictive it is, he called for alternative treatments.

Lawford has been in recovery for 26 years.  "So much of addiction is running away from something," he said.  We are all running away from something, we're just wearing different sneakers.  In my case, I was like Imelda Marcos," he joked as a way of saying that he tried many substances to escape.  "Drugs and alcohol become a way to cope  and we need healthy ways to cope and have a sense of identity, the arts, music, sports, rather than to go and light up every time we have a disappointment."

The book also deals with a variety of toxic compulsions, which he said he really had to fight for with the publishers.  Whether the addiction is to a substance or a process, it is the same.  Thus, addictions such as gambling and hoarding are covered, as well.  Over 100 experts were consulted in researching the book.

It was very refreshing to see two members of such a prominent American family speak so open and honestly about their personal struggles with addiction, freeing up the possibility of reducing the shame.    "I had to leave Congress to achieve my recovery," Kennedy joked.  There are many issues involved.  "So many people who are addicted do not want to come into treatment," Lawford said.  It's part of the stigma.  "The disease presents horribly," he admitted.  That's another part of the problem, where the addiction is thought by many to be just a character flaw.

One of the most interesting questions asked by the audience was about the very cause of addictions.  Why can't a gene be identified?  Couldn't there be an inoculation or medication for those with the identified gene?  But there is no gold standard for addiction.  It is the result of heredity, biological, psychological and social pressures.  "There is also a spiritual element," Lawford said.  It affects each person differently.  Great food for thought in the light of all the recent focus on violence and mental illness.  It is also important to know that most crimes are committed by those under the influence of some substance.  I applaud them for bringing this subject out in the open.  As Kennedy said:  "We are standing on the threshold of grappling with this issue and really making substantial improvements but it will only happen with political activism, people calling for a change."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Homeless in Harvard Square

There is a new installation in Harvard Square that is hard to miss and drawing attention to the plight of the young and homeless in Massachusetts.  Part of the Invisible Faces Project by photographer Anthony Pira, it shows the real faces of those without a place to call home and presents the public with the reasons why.

These are the reasons why many young people choose to flee home, a safety haven that most of us take for granted.  Young adults, age 18-24 are no longer part of the foster care system.  Often, they leave due to abusive situations or they have been kicked out due to their sexual orientation. Sometimes, they cannot find jobs and their families can no longer financially support them.

It affects thousands.  Many will take to the streets, without any income, doing whatever they can to survive and often turning to drugs and alcohol for temporary comfort.  If you travel through Harvard Square you are likely to see some of them as they gather near the T Station in an area that they call "the pit." 

The faces of homeless teens are often not what one would expect.  Some look just like the suburban teens on shopping excursions or meeting friends at restaurants.  This does not make their problems any less real.

The project is spreading out across the country and encompasses ten major cities from here to Chicago and Los Angeles, where these young people search for any place that can offer them safety, sleep, food and basic human needs.

One such place is Youth On Fire, in Harvard Square, which helps these young people find the help that they need when no one, not even their families, seem to care.

The installation is intended to both bring the situation to light and begin a dialogue.  It also hopes to garner donations and volunteers.  I can't help but look at the faces and see the potential or think how ill-equipped I would have been at their age to survive on my own.  I'd encourage you to stop and take it in if you are in the area.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

As one of the first food bloggers in Boston, part of a small group who were quietly invited to restaurants, meet new Chefs, consult and discuss the food, I feel it's now become overrun with blogs of lesser quality and attention to detail.  I want to lead lead the way, again, to new places and ideas. There are now hundreds of food bloggers, obsequious and all over the world, thousands, millions. They scramble around each other for new Chefs and worship at tables, cameras ready to photograph the plates so beautiful. I did it, too. All the gossip, all the news, all the nights out then running home to chronicle it all.  I tried to capture every story. As Jason Santos said: "It's just food."

Now, I'm ready to not only still showcase the food of Boston but also to feature the arts, ideas, culture, and lifestyles of people who are not trying to be celebrities or famous, those who have no personal agenda, those who are just real.  And to bring those stories out in more meaningful ways.