Relieve the pressure to stop the stress

If there was ever any doubt, Charlie Sheen is not winning, wrote May 12. While it was beauty that killed the beast, it was most likely pressure (brewed in wealth, drugs and women) that pushed Sheen from atop his skyscraper of a life.

Gordon Flett, Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health, examines psychological distress, emotional maltreatment and coping responses at York University [Faculty of Health]. Flett says while Sheen’s exploits are obviously an extreme case of a stress-related health problem, dealing with pressure and its resulting stress is by no means an uncommon condition.

“I feel badly for the guy [Sheen] because obviously, he’s out there. Everybody is watching him and he’s saying that he’s winning. He’s got millions of dollars to be able to cope with pressure and he has the girls that he keeps around, but mental well-being is not something he’s put a price tag on," says Flett. "There are people that are dealing with all kinds of stress and suffering and they keep quiet about it so nobody even knows what they are going through. They keep it to themselves as opposed to going on national or international TV and letting the world in on it."

And while Fleet doesn’t recommend booking time on "George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight" or "eTalk" to share your story with 34.4 million Canadians, he says heading down to the local pub or the bowling alley with friends for a few hours Friday night after work may be just what you need when it’s time to depressurize.

“Social support is crucial when battling stress. So anybody who is experiencing significant stress, and is also leading a pretty lonely, isolated life, is much more at risk," explains Flett. “If you have supportive people around you, that can really serve as a buffer. I think that’s one reason why people turn to the Internet. They find people there that they can chat with online."

But talking about stress with your partner, friends or co-workers isn’t for everyone. Flett says a lot of people stay quiet about how they feel because there is a stigma attached to it, but if those same people are truly feeling overwhelmed, they should seek psychological assistance.

It’s Friday the 13th. Are you about to get lucky?

It was during this week, in the lead-up to today’s supernaturally inclined date of Friday the 13th, that I learned the similarity between believing in Bigfoot and believing in The One, wrote columnist Micah Toub in The Globe and Mail May 12.

This somewhat unsettling information was delivered to me not by the Weekly World News, but by Ian McGregor, a York University psychology researcher [Faculty of Health]. With assistance from his grad student Chelsea Ferriday, McGregor has been studying what those in his field call “compensatory conviction”. I had been curious to find out about the usefulness of pinning one’s romantic hopes and dreams on things like astrology, synchronicity and fate. As it turns out, there is some.

In his lab, McGregor has his guests perform activities and answer questions that are meant to put them in an anxious mood. He then asks them to rate their level of confidence that they’ve found, as he puts it, “their soul mate or the person they are meant to be with.”

When they were rattled, subjects consistently rated their current relationship higher on the magic scale, using their partner as a balm to ease anxiety about other matters.

“If you’re feeling uncertain about a particular domain in your life – economics or academics or family, for instance – you’ll find another domain to find certainty,” McGregor explained. “Relationships can become an attractive domain for irrational conviction.”

Similarly uncertain subjects, McGregor told me, also calm themselves by exaggerating beliefs in supernatural phenomena, like heaven and hell. And yeah, Bigfoot.

In hindsight, it seems somewhat silly, but according to McGregor, a certain amount of silliness can be a good thing. He actually called it an “optimal margin of illusion,” which will also be the title of my first album. “People have a lot of illusions to protect them from anxiety,” McGregor told me. “But sometimes, positive illusions can actually come true. Sometimes people eventually develop better relationships because of them.” In other words, if your belief in astrology makes you optimistic about your current love interest, that superstitious optimism might be the thing that turns the two of you into a scientific fact.

For those who place themselves firmly on the skeptical side when it comes to the universal energy flow’s influence on love, McGregor pointed out that this doesn’t mean you’re immune to illusion. “People can delude themselves about how great their partner is and how great they are,” he said, adding that these people who put too much faith in the awesomeness of their own will can become equally out of touch with reality.

He went even further: “The personal confidence illusions can spin into narcissism, where the person is living in their own mind, leaving a wake of rubble behind them as they flex their grandiose muscles.”

The Awakening: Cultural collaboration at the AGO

Near the high-vaulted glass ceiling of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Walker Court, a sturdy metal pulley dangles conspicuously from a metal strut. “Yeah, that’s ours,” shrugs Emelie Chhangur, eyes skyward, wrote the Toronto Star May 12.

Chhangur, a curator at the Art Gallery of York University, has dealt with projects and artists from all over the world, but never anything quite like this.

The pulley is a central feature of “The Awakening”, an over-the-top collaborative performance by Panamanian artist Humberto Vélez, set to descend on the AGO at 4pm today.

All in, close to 50 members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation near Brantford, lead by chief Bryan LaForge, will parade up McCaul Street and into the museum in full regalia.

Once inside Walker Court, elders will build a ceremonial altar amid loud dancing, drumming and singing as a 10-strong troupe of parkour runners climb, leap and otherwise dangle – hence the pulley – from the curling Frank Gehry-designed staircase that hangs above the court’s stone floor. At a key moment, parkouriste Dan Iaboni will leap into thin air from two stories up and alight in the altar amid a crescendo of ceremonial spectacle.

The pulley is just one detail Chhangur has had to wrangle to make it all happen. “We have all sorts of special insurance,” she sighs. “So if anything goes wrong, it’s on us.”

Chhangur’s case of nerves isn’t just about the practicalities. For the past three years, she’s been working with Humberto Vélez on “The Awakening”, a hybrid of performance and social experiment that defies easy description.

Humberto Vélez: Aesthetics of Collaboration, a retrospective of the artist’s work, continues at the Art Gallery of York University to June 26, wrote the Star.

Life of upheaval, movement translated to dance

As a young child, Sashar Zarif [MA ’07] watched his grandmother magically transport herself to another place and time, wrote May 12.

A refugee who fled Azerbaijan in 1918 when the Soviet Union stole her assets and her past, she’d been uprooted to Tehran and was deeply missing home.

Each day, Sashar’s parents left for work, leaving him in his grandmother’s care. With her aging body no longer able to dance, she sat on the Persian carpet and danced with her hands while Sashar became her audience – and her legs.

It was an important lesson for a child who would be displaced many times in his life before finally landing in his current home, a humble bungalow in Thornhill.

 “I thought never have I been so committed to anything in my life except this,” he says, recalling how he immersed himself in studying the dance of his ancestors.

In Canada, he left [his] engineering [studies] to earn his master’s degree in dance and dance ethnology at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts], where he now teaches.

Gerald Tooke was a master of stained glass

Gerald Tooke epitomized how little the art of stained glass has changed over the centuries, wrote The Globe and Mail May 12 in an obituary. Among Canada’s leading practitioners, Tooke created expressive, jewel-like work that is prominently displayed in houses of worship and public spaces across the country.

A wizard with light and colour – essentially, he painted with light – his precision was legendary.

Tooke, who died of leukemia in Port Hope, Ont., on April 29 at the age of 80, “was one of the champions of modern stained-glass design in Canada,” said Shirley Ann Brown, a York University professor [Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] and founding director of the Registry of Stained Glass Windows in Canada. “He combined a deep appreciation of the colour and texture of the materials with which he worked, with an understanding of stained glass as a contemporary art form,” said Brown. “He always considered the transforming effect of the coloured light cast by a stained glass window to be an integral part of the nature of the medium and the design process.”

Audit committee needs to decide if Ford breached rules, says MacDermid

City council’s compliance audit committee is meeting Friday to decide whether to retain an external auditor to review [Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s] campaign’s books, wrote The Globe and Mail May 12.

At issue is whether Ford breached election rules by turning to his family holding company, of which he is a shareholder, to advance cash to cover election expenses before his fundraising operation kicked into gear.

“That is a question that the compliance committee is going to have to answer,” York University political scientist Robert MacDermid [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] said.

Pickering councillor defends himself by quoting York prof

Official complaints against [Pickering] councillor [Doug Dickerson], who exceeded his spending limit during the 2010 municipal election campaign, have forced a public meeting on the issue, wrote May 13.

Pickering Clerk Debbie Shields has received two official requests from the public for an audit of Dickerson’s expenses for his 2010 campaign, so the city’s compliance audit committee will meet to discuss the matter.

Dickerson didn’t want to comment before the audit committee meets, but did say, "I continue to state in an e-mail that, in my opinion, I have complied with the (Municipal Elections) Act." He referred to a May 9 article in The Globe and Mail where Robert MacDermid, York University election expert [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], described the existing rules as "vague."

Fans’ effort to own the Leafs just got tougher

On Thursday, Forbes magazine quoted an anonymous sports banker from Toronto who said that the [Ontario Teachers Pension Plan’s] share of MLSE is likely to go for $2.25 billion to either Bell Canada Enterprises or Rogers Communications, wrote the Toronto Star May 12, in a story about a grassroots campaign to have fans buy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

But a York University business expert said the price is likely inflated. “(I think) $2.25 billion is still a bit of a stretch,” said Vijay Setlur, a sports marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business. “Bell or Rogers, whoever wants to make the purchase, they could be overpaying just to make a statement,” he said.

He added Teachers could also be artificially bumping up the price for its share, as a way to make more money for its members. “Obviously it’s in their best interests to sell MLSE at the highest price,” said Setlur. “To overpay by that much is still kind of astounding for me.”

Documentary at Fox Theatre May 15 probes the grief of infant deaths

A documentary film called Enduring Love: Transforming Loss will be screened Sunday, May 15, at the Fox Theatre, 2236 Queen St. E, wrote May 12.

The 50-minute movie, which looks at the grief a woman experiences as a result of the loss of her baby, as well as how young children respond to the death of their baby sibling, will be shown at 3, 4 and 5pm.

York University Professor (Faculty of Health, School of Nursing) and bereaved mother Christine Jonas-Simpson is the film’s director and producer.

No charges laid in pub incident

No charges will be laid in connection with a fight at York University that made headlines last month because there were claims the incident may have been motivated by homophobia, wrote May 12.

The incident occurred at the Absinthe Pub at the University’s Keele campus around 1:30am April 6. Police released security camera images of the suspects April 6. On Wednesday, police announced that the suspects have been identified and that no charges will be laid.

Det. Sgt. Al Coulter of 31 Division said the occurrence was "thoroughly investigated."

On air

  • Martin Shadwick, research associate in the York Centre for International & Security Studies, spoke about the Greenland Summit and warming of the Arctic, on CBC Radio May 12.