Straight high school student and his gay prom date

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How can anyone believe the world is getting inexorably worse all the time when something like this happens?

Jacob Lescenski, a student in a Las Vegas high school, stumbled over some youthful glitch for the upcoming prom. With no date, he was planning to go alone until he saw a Tweet.

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That Tweet was from his best friend, Anthony, who was sad not to have a date. That is when Lescenski hit on the idea that has made him an online hero.  He had his friend Mia create the poster you see here and made a splash of inviting Anthony to be his date.

That would never have happened when I was in high school way back in the 1960s. Even a few years ago the Internet trolls would have thoroughly trashed these two good friends. This year the response has been overwhelming positive. Check out Anthony‘s and Jacob‘s Twitter feeds to see some of the comments.

Whatever pushback might come from the homophobes, these two young men and all the friends and supporters who are cheering them on show that times are changing for the better. Oh, I know climate change, religious extremism and political corruption are slashing away at our safety and well being. I also know people and their societies can and do change.

 

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Share your love of books

"Before cell phones - a quieter life"; photo by Jackie, via Flickr Creative Commons

“Before cell phones – a quieter life”; photo by Jackie, via Flickr Creative Commons

 

If you missed World Book Night on April 23rd, you missed a treat. But you never have to miss it again.

The UK’s Reading Agency launched the initiative on March 5, 2011. The next year they changed the date to coincide with World Book Day. By 2015 Germany and the US had joined the UK and Ireland in passing out books to people “who, for whatever reason, may not read for pleasure or own books.”

That is a lot of people. According to Suzanne Russo, who wrote an article for GOOD about her experience passing out books in New York City, “35 percent of people in the United Kingdom don’t regularly read, and only half of Americans read more than five books a year.”

As a certified book addict, I find those statistics staggering. I always have at least three books on the go at all times, both print and digital. My love affair with reading began when I was four and finally cracked the code. From that point on I was an voracious reader, always surprised when Mother could see a glow from the flashlight under the blankets I piled up to hide it.

I want everyone to know the unutterable pleasure of stumbling across a book that sets our inner tuning forks humming. For some that may be science fiction or a mystery. Others might prefer to dig into a book about gardening, cooking, politics, self-help or carpentry. Whatever it is, the exquisite pleasure of reading should be granted to every human on the planet.

Oh, I know reading may not seduce every last person in the same way it does me, but I dream of a time when everyone has the chance to acquire good reading skills and the privilege of owning books.

You can find more information and resources on the World Book Night website, but you don’t have to wait until April 23rd to share books with people who might like to own them.

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Eccentricity is good for us

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Dee Dee Rainbow, at Bumbershoot 2008 in Seattle; photo by Joe Mabel, via Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite Seattle characters during my years there was a woman who called herself Dee Dee Rainbow. Everything about her was a rainbow, from her eyelashes to her colourful costumes. I am quite sure David Weeks would have labeled her eccentric.

Edinburgh psychiatrist David Weeks has studied eccentrics for decades. What he has learned should give you hope if you step to the beat of a different drummer.

While others carefully adhere to cultural norms, eccentrics play in the margins. Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote from Walden aptly describes those who choose to ignore the rules of appropriate behavior  imposed by society.

Eccentrics are actually happier and healthier than their “normal” counterparts. Weeks discovered although they differed wildly from each other, they shared many characteristics. He developed twenty-five descriptors, with the top three being non-conformity, creativity and curiosity.

In 1995 Weeks and co-author Jamie James published Eccentrics—A Study of Sanity and Strangeness. They introduced such eccentrics as Davy Crockett, Albert Einstein and a Chippewa Indian who always walked backwards. In 2014 Weeks and Academy Award winning director John Zaritsky brought some engagingly odd characters to the screen with their documentary, A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics. Vancouver’s Duck Lady and Western Connecticut University’s oddball professor Darla Shaw are featured. So are British inventor John Ward and cave dweller John Slater.

Weeks clearly admires the eccentrics he studies. So does Zaritsky. Weeks insist only about one in 10,000 people truly fits the eccentricity bill, but it is likely we all know someone sufficiently outside the norm to qualify. If you want to find where you fall on the spectrum, test yourself on his Fun Five Quiz.

Long live eccentrics. They are free in ways most people can never even dream of being.

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The first investigative journalist

By H. J. Myers, photographer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By H. J. Myers, photographer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before the gutsy journalist Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran) came onto the scene, no one had done the kind of investigative journalism we have become accustomed to today. She might never have become a journalist had Erasmus Wilson not rankled her so badly she had to respond.

She began life in 1864, as daughter of Judge Michael Cochran of Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. Their comfortable life dissolved when the judge died without leaving a will. By the time he died he had 10 children by his first wife, 5 by his second.

To support the family, Mary Jane Cochran was forced to sell the family mansion. When the money ran out, she married a man who proved to be abusive. Young Elizabeth, who had always been an independent, rebellious sort, testified at the divorce proceedings and helped her mother free the family of his violent behaviour.

She dreamed of being a writer but started teacher training in order to help support the family. When tuition money ran out, she dropped out and helped her mother run a boarding school.

She was only 18 when Erasmus Wilson, writer of “Quiet Observer”, a popular column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, got under her skin. He wrote a column condemning working women and saying they belonged in the home.

Elizabeth knew firsthand, and from the experience of others around her, that such a choice was a luxury for many women. She penned a scathing response and signed it, “Little Orphan Girl”. The newspaper’s editor was so impressed he ran an ad, wanting to know the identity of the letter’s author.

That snagged Elizabeth her first paid article, a rebuttal to Wilson’s piece. She did so well on that she was offered a full-time writing job and chose the pen name, Nellie Bly, after a popular Stephen Foster song.

From the beginning, Nellie Bly refused to be sidelined as a writer of fluff pieces. Instead, she insisted on writing about the issues of society’s marginalized people. She tackled divorce, poverty and the complicity of the business community. Readers loved her. Businesses did not and threatened to pull their advertising.

Rather than back down or resign, she persuaded the newspaper to send her to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. Her stories about everyday life were popular, but when she criticized the Mexican government, she found herself unwelcome and had to leave the country.

Back in Pittsburgh, she could see her only future at the Dispatch was writing about fashion or gardening or “acceptable” women’s issues. Rather than do that she moved to New York and talked The New York World into hiring her. That is when she began some of the work for which she is most well known. Faking mental illness, she was locked up in one of the most notorious institutions, Blackwell’s Island. In just 10 days undercover, she emerged with hair-raising stories of abuse, filth and degradation.

She went on to write about wretched factory conditions, corrupt lobbyists, and the plight of the poor. In 1889 she set out from New York to travel around the world faster than Jules Verne’s character in Around the World in Eighty Days. With only one dress, a coat, and a couple of small cases, she set off by ship, train and donkey. In 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, she was met by cheering crowds in New York.

She married industrialist Robert Seaman. When he died ten years later, the clever and creative woman became the world’s leading female industrialist. Workers in her factories had more benefits and better pay than was common at the time.

Eventually the businesses went bankrupt, and she returned to reporting, becoming the world’s first female war correspondent. At the age of 57 she died of pneumonia.

Before Elizabeth Cochran, aka Nellie Bly, died she had influenced a generation of journalists and instigated social reforms because of her writing. She was a whirlwind of social change in an era when women were expected to be quiet and submissive. She was one of those indomitable spirits intent on making the world a better place and is still a remarkable role model.

When I wrote this I didn’t know Google would be celebrating her birthday, which falls on May 5th. They commissioned Karen O of the indie trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs to write a special, and absolutely delightful, song, which you can hear in the video below.

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Love bombing the world

One of Shannon Weber's many love notes, this one in Santa Monica; from LoveYou2 Facebook page

One of Shannon Weber’s many love notes, this one in Santa Monica; from LoveYou2 Facebook page

As Director of the National Perinatal HIV Hotline, based in San Francisco, Shannon Weber devotes her professional life to women’s health issues and community health disparities. But it was not for this good work she came to my attention. It was for her determination to spread love around the world, one note at a time.

She was in a major transition period when she began writing love notes to her kids when she had to be away for work. When the children told her sometimes they needed love notes even when she was around, she posted a love note to the refrigerator. It said simply, “I love you.” Below that note were pull tabs that said, “I love you too.” The children could pull one any time they needed it.

That was the beginning of LoveYou2.org, where the ephemeral artist posts photographs and stories of the love she is spreading. The updates from her “get love. give love.” revolution will warm your heart. Public Displays of Affection document the love signs she hangs around San Francisco. Guest Posts highlight love from around the world, from people who submit photos and stories of the love they are spreading, and the Love Note Map geotags them. Her SuperHero Hall of Gratitude honours “the ordinary and the unsung who offer to the world the very best parts of themselves without expectation.”

Drop by LoveYou2.org and be inspired to do your own love bombing. The world can never have too much love, and you will get back as much as you give…and more.

Find more love on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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This 98-year-old keeps on giving

Evelyn, from BaasCreative's wonderful video below

Evelyn, from BaasCreative’s wonderful video below

My mother would have loved this woman. The place she lives looks very much like the cluster of apartments where my mother spent her last years. Each small unit was occupied by an older woman on her own. They knew each other’s habits. If Joyce (my mother) did not open her blinds by nine o’clock, her neighbours were checking on her. If Gertrude did not water her flowers by noon, she was cause for alarm.

In this sweet video from I Like Giving, a site I’ve just learned about (thank you, Kirsten McAlpine), 97-year-old Evelyn talks about her retirement community. They had a bus that gave people transportation and kept them connected. Then the bus service ended.

Evelyn’s neighbour Joyce (not my mother) was devastated. She was happy living in the community, but with no bus available, she was prepared to move and lose the social circle she had developed. Evelyn would have none of that so offered to drive her to shops.

Then Evelyn lost her license through some bureaucratic nonsense. She had no blemishes on her driving record, but someone decided she was just too old to be on the road.

Since driving Joyce and other residents around was one way she could still contribute, Evelyn decided to fight the decision. She took the required tests, got her license back, and resumed her service to the retirement community.

Evelyn understood one of the secrets of healthy aging: to look outward rather than focus only on herself. Giving service to her neighbours gave her life meaning. Driving Joyce and others was her path to joy.

One day Joyce will have to give up her keys. I hope when that happens one of her neighbours will take on the task. As for Joyce, I have a hunch she will always find ways to stay connected and be of service. When we reach the age of 100, may we all have a younger neighbour like Evelyn.

I Like Being 98. from ILikeGiving.com on Vimeo.

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Bad kids gone good

Teresa Goines with one of the youth staff of Old Skool Cafe; photo from Old Skool Cafe Facebook page

Teresa Goines with one of the youth staff of Old Skool Cafe; photo from Old Skool Cafe Facebook page

 

They are kids without a future. They are from San Francisco’s hardest neighbourhoods. Some know the foster system all too well. Others have spent time in juvenile detention. “Domestic violence” is more than a phrase to many of them.

When Teresa Goines was a juvenile corrections officer, she saw them cycle through a revolving door of crime, detention, and back again. Watching kids with real promise on the treadmill to nowhere broke her heart.

In 2005 she started Old Skool Cafe to give at-risk youth a place to learn work skills and earn some money. She started in her own kitchen and garden. Though she was not a trained chef, she taught kids to harvest, cook and cater.

Now Old Skool is a 1940s-themed supper club where young people learn professional and life skills. Churches, non-profit organizations, businesses, philanthropists, and volunteers weave supports around them.

Pulled off the nowhere treadmill, Old Skool youth don red shirts, black bowties, and fancy dresses. They cook. They serve. They busk. They perform. They become the successful young adults Goines knew they could be.

Old Skool Cafe’s full name starts with “Cora Jean”, named for the woman who inspired Goines: her mother. When Goines was ready to crumble under the weight of death and loss she experienced as a youth, Cora Jean shored her up with the promise Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem, “In Memoriam”: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

That is a sentiment Goines shares with the young people who come through the doors of Old Skool. Whatever they have lost in their short lives, whatever heartaches they have endured, whatever guilt they may carry, they carry within them the seeds of love and the promise of success. In the accepting atmosphere of Old Skool, they learn to tend those seeds until they thrive.

You can follow Old Skool Cafe on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hurricane Hazel, a Canadian marvel

1024px-Mayor_Hazel_McCallion

Mayor Hazel McCallion; photo by Joey Coleman from Hamilton, Ontario, via Wikimedia Commons

When she was elected as mayor of  Canada’s sixth largest city, Hazel McCallion could not have known she would serve twelve terms. The Mississauga mayor was in that office from 1978 until 2014, and although officially retired she is actually serving as special advisor for strategic development at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Born in 1921, McCallion worked for Kellogg until 1967, when she left the corporate world for politics. That was the year she won her first election, as deputy reeve of Streetsville. (A reeve is the term used in some parts of Canada for the head of a town council.) The next year she was appointed reeve and never looked back.

By the time she was elected mayor of Mississauga in 1978, McCallion was well on her way to earning her nickname, “Hurricane Hazel”. She worked tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. Even at 93, her last year in office, she was rising every day at 5 a.m., doing her exercises, reading reports over breakfast, and starting her work day before most people even began their commute.

McCallion earned her stripes early in her mayoral career. She was barely into her first term in Mississauga when, in November 1979, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed. In spite of an initial explosion visible 100 km away, quick acting on the part of the train’s brakeman avoided an even greater disaster. With fire still burning and the potential for the release of deadly chlorine gas from a ruptured tank, the city had to make a quick decision. Over 200,000 people were evacuated safely.

Mississaugans never forgot. Their leader had proven her mettle in a time of crisis. She kept reinforcing it throughout her long career. She also exhibited sound business sense, leaving behind a city completely debt free, with over $700 million in reserves.

People like Hazel McCallion are rare. They inspire us to live larger than we think we can.

Comedian Rick Mercer interviewed McCallion in 2009. Watch the video for a taste of her indomitable spirit. It will leave you smiling.

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New York’s original good-news man

Steve Kraus, publisher of The New York Good News; photo clip from video below

Steve Kraus, publisher of The New York Good News; photo clip from video below

Steve Kraus began delivering the good news to New York’s East Village in 1962. The Polish Jew had escaped Europe during World War II. He had written for the U.S. Information Agency and knew his way around both writing and bad news.

When DNAinfo interviewed then 82-year-old Kraus in 2011, he told them:

“Quite a few years ago I came to the conclusion that the mass media – newspapers, television – concentrated on dire, bad, sad news. The good news happens all the time, but it’s usually buried in the back pages.”

Kraus decided to dig it out, do a paste-up of the clippings, and circulate it as The New York Good News. When DNAinfo interviewed him, he had acquired enough clippings to put together his 13th issue.

His intent with The New York Good News was always to give people a little hope, perhaps help them trust each other better. He figured they might even be inspired to do a little good themselves.

While he is compiling it, he is also volunteering around East Village, keeping tabs on the neighbourhood, and being the sort of community fixture people appreciate.

A dozen issues in more than 50 years is a small stone dropped in the waters of bad news, but anything dropped in water ripples outward. When Huffington Post added its “Good News” vertical (section) in 2012, they honoured Kraus for being “one of Gotham’s original purveyors of the life-affirming and upbeat”. And East Villagers who have come across this small publication or the man who publishes it have had their lives made just a bit brighter by his determination to find light in darkness.

 

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Stray dogs come to funeral home to pay respects

Dogs saying farewell to an animal lover; photo from Patricia Urritia's Facebook page (click on the image to see others)

Dogs saying farewell to an animal lover; photo from Patricia Urritia’s Facebook page (click on the image to see others)

Every day for 20 years Margarita Suarez fed the stray dogs and cats in her neighbourhood in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico. When she died, they paid their respects.

The story went viral thanks to her daughter, Patricia Urritia, who shared the astonishing story on her Facebook page. She said when her mother’s casket arrived at the funeral chapel for the wake, a contingent of dogs followed it inside and kept vigil throughout the night. They left in the morning but returned shortly before Margarita Suarez was cremated.

One of the curious aspects of the story is that the animals Suarez fed were in Merida Yucatan, where she lived. She had only come to Cuernavaca when she became too ill to remain in her own home. Well over a thousand kilometers separate the two communities so the canine honour guard was made up of dogs who were strangers to Suarez.

Seeing the dogs follow her mother into the chapel, Urritia asked staff if that was normal. It was not. Urritia has no doubt they were there to honour her mother, somehow drawn to this woman who cared so deeply for animals. Perhaps they sensed the loving energy of Urritia, whose Facebook page shows her own compassion for animals. Whatever the case, the story is touching.

 

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