Brand building through storytelling

Looking for hope

I had a memorial service to attend (on Friday the 13th, as it happened) and the news online was as black as my mood—deceit and inhumanity at every click of the mouse.

In Russia the prime suspect in the notorious poisoning death of an ex-spy turned Kremlin critic seems poised to get away with murder: his government dismisses the charges as a frame-up. In South Africa lesbians are being beaten, stabbed and gang-raped by thugs out to teach their kind a lesson—an ignored, unpunished crime wave known there as “corrective rape.”

Here at home in a Toronto courtroom, a teenage girl accused of inciting her boyfriend to murder a schoolmate (shades of Lady Macbeth). The evidence against this girl, who will not testify in her own defense and had never met the blameless victim, includes repeated text messages to ensure that the deed had been done.

Such things make me wonder what kind of world we live in. I know the answer, but at times I forget. Simple truths don’t shout for attention, so they tend to get lost in the never-ending storm of debacles and disasters. And I can’t think of any truth simpler than this: every day presents every person with a multitude of chances to enrich or diminish one small corner of the planet.

I look for those the determined souls who choose enrichment—who care enough to lavish their energy and talent on things that deserve to be cherished. When so many opt to strew indifference and hatred, the very act of caring shows a courage that borders on defiance. I’m not speaking only of those who comfort the homeless, fight for endangered species or tend the victims of war. Without creative types who make music and gardens, life-changing books and soul-warming meals, this world would be a spiritless place.

On my way to the memorial service, I passed a newsstand. A headline caught my eye: “The case for optimism.” Why should I be hopeful? Well, according to Maclean’s, the economy just might be picking up. Hmmm. Only yesterdayMaclean’s was crying doom. I’ve learned not to stake my mood on the swings of the market or pronouncements in the press. What gives me hope is people who are not afraid to say, in any circumstances at all, “This matters.”

I wish I could remember where I read about a group of starving women who shared the same barracks in a concentration camp. To pass the time, they recited recipes for the extravagant confections they’d once served at family feasts. These women didn’t know if they’d ever see butter, cream or almonds again. Many had witnessed the slaughter of loved ones. Yet by reciting recipes, they affirmed the hope that they or their survivors would gather once again around the family table.

I can’t introduce you all to the friends and colleagues whose caring gives me hope (one of whom I have just lost). But I keep finding people online who never fail to brighten my day. Why not share a little of the wealth? Here are three of my recent discoveries:

EggsCathy Erway, a Brooklyn-based gourmand on a real-world budget, is a blogger with a mission: consuming less, eating more. At Not Eating Out in New York, she celebrates the joys of home cooking with wallet-friendly recipes that look so lovely on the plate, the photos make me want to tuck in. Capers and basil spike Cathy’s egg salad, and I love her notion of a brown butter sage apple pie. She writes with heart and common sense, rating every recipe for cost, healthfulness and environmental impact.

I don’t know where Nan Ervin lives or what she does with her time besides edit Persimmon Tree, a bracing online magazine by women writers over 60, famous and not. But I’m grateful to Nan for creating a virtual living room where women of any age can listen to articulate female voices telling truths that tend to go unheard. Here’s novelist and memoirist Mary Gordon, in conversation with literary sister E.M. Broner: “All these old male authors write about being 75, wearing diapers, but still wanting sex all the time. …One of the most threatening things that older women have asked is: Suppose that sex is not the driving force anymore? Then what do we have? And, boy, do people not want to hear that. But we’re all living it and not talking about it.”

Franke BookFranke James, a Toronto artist and writer, bounded into my life on Twitter and fired my imagination with her sprightly yet pointed visual essays (her first book, on what it really takes to go green, will be published next month). I particularly liked “Dinner with a stranger,” in which Franke takes a fan up on his offer to give $200 to the charity of her choice—provided she invites him and his partner for a vegetarian dinner. The result: A delicious evening in every way and a cheque for The Yonge Street Mission. Franke credits her mom with encouraging her to be an artist—you can read their story here in the Mother/Daughter Gallery.

Oh, one more thing about Franke: she suggested I get rid of the 700-word limit on stories for the gallery. I did, and now sharing your will be easier than ever. Plus, you’ll have room to tell us a little about yourself. How about it, my friends?


Posted by Rona

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