Capturing world changing moments is an art safe in the hands of photographer and documentarian Robin Fryday, who has a sense of when it is time to set the record straight.
James Armstrong, the owner of a barbershop in Birmingham Alabama, fought for the right to vote while carrying the American flag in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery. He was the first to integrate his children in an all-white Elementary School. As the 2008 presidential election loomed into view, Robin knew that American could be on the verge of a huge change and that Mr. Armstrong may be seeing a dream come true. She knew it was time to record his story of courage and what personal persistence can achieve. Robin’s own personal persistence was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for this historical biography.
Her most recent documentary, Riding My Way Back, tells the story of Staff Sergeant Aaron Heliker, who returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury, third degree burns accompanied by nerve damage from a roadside bomb, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suffering the regimen of 42 medications. He was suicidal. It was the friendship of a horse named Fred that saved him.
Woody Weingarten author of Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer
Woody Weingarten is a survivor of his wife’s breast cancer. From the moment of her diagnosis, she had to struggle through the fear and confusion of what it meant, what to do first, what to do next and what were her options. So did he. Her goal became survival. So did his.
Not so recognized an issue is that for every married woman diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a husband who has to survive it as well. He has to conquer his inexperience and survive his own terror in order to be a strength to her. He needs patience and insight and practical information about cancer, resources, research and treatment options. He needs to be an emotional tower of strength who knows what his wife wants of him. This is a very tall and sad order. And, finding support for men who are not used to being reactive is hard. Hard to ask for help in a time of private anguish, hard even to put the questions into words, and, until now, hard to find the resource.
Now there is help. Woody’s book Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer is that help. The book began as Woody’s personal journal, but when he saw the information in it, he realized it belonged in the hands of other men who were on this same rollercoaster without assistance. Rollercoaster is a wonderful hybrid geared to guide men through what they may expect. It is a memoir, a love story, a research guide, a blueprint for some realities of chemotherapy and medications. It is emotional support, and on the whole, it is a story of survival and romance.
Debbie Cucalon is a singer, a musician, and a lyricist with any eye for perfection and the ability to get not just to the heart of a song but to the heart of her audience. She has a smooth feel to her, a calm and powerful lilt that sinks right into your core.
Singing it out was always her natural way of speaking and of having a darned good time at it. She grew up the daughter of Panamanian parents in a house always filled with the popular music of two cultures, laughter, joking around and impersonating for the pure fun of it. So it is no surprise that her talent took that form for 10 years. She has some very interesting things to say about that art and how she personally came to be Liza at parties and Academy Awards evenings all over town.
Debbie Cucalon of endless and surprising incarnations
Now a songwriter and lyricist, she has moved on to do her own music with the goal of increasing happiness. The very sound of her does that. She cannot help herself as she is emotionally connected to displays of love, understands the healing properties of music and has such a good time at it herself that the glee is contagious.
Debbie has been, for over 20 years, a volunteer for Bread and Roses, a nonprofit organization through which she sings to the lovely seniors who no longer have the luxury of getting out and now live at various convalescent homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. She says, “To see the spark in their eyes when they recognize songs from their era, bringing back fond memories, warms my heart every time. I feel humbled and blessed, being able to bring joy & laughter to others through music and song that touches their soul. This has been such a large part of my life and touched me beyond measure! ”
Cecile Puretz, a native born San Franciscan, is now working to make The Contemporary Jewish Museum accessible to all people with disabilities. Yes, this goes interestingly and far beyond ramps, public transportation and ADA requirements to the very art itself. As there are many ways to see, might a musical interpretation of art be a way to share the visual with the visually impaired? What about sense of touch?
Programs that include everyone go a long way to repair the damage of isolation that comes from disability, and to hear Cecile talk about her hopes for museums without exclusion is to see that many disabilities need not be disabling.
Geri Jewell, actress, comedienne, in a word, fabulous.
Geri Jewell, where to begin? A well-known accomplished actress who is a marvel of communication, success, honesty, wit, insight, courage and so much more. And how aptly named. She does, indeed, carry the glow of a brightly polished gem. How one step led to the next starting at the age of 12 with a Special Ed school visit from the clown Emmet Kelley Jr. is a lesson in paying attention to what you want out of life.
The start of Geri’s success may have been the love letter to Carol Burnett that Geri wrote at the age of 13, but real credit for success goes to Geri’s own courage in writing that letter, so much more than a fan letter. It was filled with Geri’s own hopes of being like Carol Burnett when she grew up. One more thing. Geri said she had cerebral palsy and wanted to know what Ms. Burnett thought. Listen to Geri talk about the letters so filled with admiration and trust and the letters she got back with advice that gave her the encouragement she needed to follow her own heart and sense of purpose, which led, one step to the next to meeting Norman Lear who knew she was funny but was ahead of her time, the role of Cousin Geri on the Facts of Life, and much more.
Geri with lifelong friend Carol Burnett
This is a complicated journey with so many wonderful twists and turns starting with parents who did not coddle her, her surviving Special Ed classes with their pros and cons, the courage it took to take to the stage for the first time when she was terrified but an accidental mistake came to her rescue.
Mark Povinelli is a forceful, smart, emotionally comfortable, and charming man with a wonderful sense of humor and of who he is. He is a loving husband and father. And, he is an actor you most likely know from his extensive film, television and theater work spanning 20 years.
Even thought there is no standard path to acting, as a man of 3’10” his own journey stands out even a bit more from the usual. He realized this difference meant he was, so to speak, on stage all the time. People always looked at him. His first stage appearance at the age of 7 was a 2nd grade talent show for which his mother dressed him with a blond wig and a lollipop. Yes, of course, Shirley Temple. Could he dance? Could he sing? Maybe, but the draw, he thinks, was something totally different. Performing was an eye opener for Mark who saw that on stage he was in charge of who was looking at him and why. He could make people cry. He could make people laugh. Very powerful realization.
Mark at radio station – photo by Michael Steiner
Mark talks about his life, his work, what profession he would have chosen had acting not taken hold of him, as well as the drawbacks and advantages of his size as an actor in the film industry. He talks about how he met his wife, his love for his family and why being a father is his real job. What was it like to have been the only little person in his social circle until he went to his first Little People Convention and found that his size did not make him special at all? Listening to him talk is an adventure where great theater and personal generosity intersect.
His love letter? Maybe one to Reese Witherspoon for her role in making him so at ease in doing Water For Elephants. Maybe his brothers? Mark lives in a loving safe world of people who have been important in his life, so it could be to anyone and more than one.
Angela is by nature an emotionally generous woman, a cheering section for the well-being and success of her friends and a healer who understands the power love. Her love letter? Perhaps another one to her ex-husband who is and always will be one of her best friends because she knows that love once felt need never be abandoned.
Yes, life was interrupted, not diminished. Déjà vu, she is now modeling, acting, producing and planning her wedding. Strength precedes her and joy follows in her wake.
You can lead a daughter to water but you can’t make her drink. She has to do that for herself. Here is a story, a real life chick-flick moment, about a very clever loving beautiful and convivial mother of an unmarried adult daughter. Mother has asked to remain anonymous out of respect for her daughter’s privacy, and, curious as we may be, her name does not matter here because it is her spirit that counts. It is her willingness to follow a hunch that may be a guide for mothers who are wishing for a son-in-law.
Actor, comedian and advocate for the disabled, Andy Arias is a busy man with a powerful message. Born with Cerebral Palsy into a turbulent family, bullied as a child for being different, abused by his parents, knowing by the age of 6 that he had to leave home or die, Andy traveled a difficult, painful and dangerous road, but he a powerful protection. He had inner unquenchable strength and the ability to love, which saw him travel from terror to finding his faith, success and leadership. Andy made the best of what he got, and in doing so got the best of himself, the beauty achieved by being his truest self.
Actress Lexi Marman effervesces whether she is speaking or listening, both of which she does with a joyous intensity. Her indescribable light seems to enter the room even before she does. When she offers the words she lives by, “Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can’t do,” you wonder what her “can’t-do” might be. Answer is simple. She does not have a “can’t do.” What she has is a unique difference in the world of acting. Lexi has been deaf since the doctor gave her, at birth, a very wrong dose of a medicine meant to reduce the fever she was born with. She beams that enthusiastic Lexi Marman smile as she wonders aloud what she would say to that doctor today since she knows she is on exactly the path she was meant to take. She is aware that being deaf, that is, being different, may, for her, have had its advantages.
Lexi Marman former Miss Deaf California
To hear her talk about her life, growing up deaf (she did not learn to sign until high school) her remarkable parents, her career (how she got her first job as a child is so her!), her stint as a tour guide for Universal Studios, how she met her husband (yes, love at first sight), her work with the Disability Awareness Foundation (and to see how she personally has been disabled by nothing at all), the baby she is expecting soon is all to bathe in the joy of Lexi Marman.
Her love letters? You won’t be surprised at who will get them, but you will most likely be surprised at the particular sensitivity Lexi has to what is written in handwriting especially her mother’s, and to learn about the stack of them she has from some grateful children. Click and listen. You’ll be glad you did. I know I was.
Prepare to be moved, surprised, and inspired as host Janet Gallin helps guests from all walks of life express themselves in letters that support, thank, or set things straight. Always enlightening, often cathartic, these are conversations you won’t want to miss. More...