Death and the readin’

From the archives from the Nov. 2005  issue of Women’s Post

By Adam Levin

Over the last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about that great abstraction, death.

Apparently, this is normal for this time of year. The ancient Irish and Scottish  festival of samhain (pronounced “sa-WEEN”) marked the new year, and the Welsh had a similar holiday. The Celts believed that at this time of year, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest, and hauntings, visitations and visions at their most numerous. Accordingly, the early Celts carved jack o’lanterns out of turnips to commemorate the legend of a ghost named Jack, who was fated to wander the world with only a lighted turnip to accompany him. The lantern was also meant both to ward off evil spirits and to commemorate the dead, as candles are in many cultures worldwide. When the Scots and Irish arrived in North America, they found the pumpkin larger and better suited to their carvings.

This pagan holiday may have given birth to Halloween and to All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, and even indirectly to England’s Bonfire Night of November 5. But to see the pagan roots of these holidays today, you have only to visit Mexico on November 1 or 2, the Day of the Dead. If you can’t afford the ticket, read Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 book Under the Volcano. Horror aficionados can instead try El Día de los Muertos by Brian A. Hopkins.

I’ve had other, less-pleasant reasons for morbid reflection. Autumn is the season in which my brother died. As well, my partner’s father recently passed away after suffering through a terrible autoimmune disorder for years. On returning from his funeral, I learned that the man who was my best friend through several of our school years was stabbed in what is believed to have been a contract killing.

For some reason, poetry is the natural medium for writing about death. The classic book on death is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a long poem occasioned by the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, who was to be Tennyson’s brother-in-law before Hallam died suddenly at 22 years. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” by W. H. Auden, is a must-read. More recently, Canadian poet Dennis Lee’s The Death of Harold Ladoo is a masterful, honest portrait of a man who, like my friend, was murdered while visiting the Caribbean. Look for other stirring death poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and Matthew Arnold, among others.

Turning from poetry to non-fiction, the past years have seen a bumper crop of books on palliative care, bereavement, and “rethinking death.”

Linda Bonnington Vocatura’s recent Dying to Be Alive: Death As Spiritual Healer falls into what Celtic poet Dylan Thomas would call the “Death Shall Have No Dominion” category. Some thought-provoking works by Canadians include Heather Robertson’s Meeting Death and Katherine Ashenburg’s The Mourner’s Dance.

As for fiction, you’d be hard-pressed to find a great novel without at least one death in it.

A.J. Levin is the author of Monks’ Fruit (Nightwood, 2004)

Plumped, pulled and stretched

First printed in Nov 2005 by Women’s Post

By Ann Kaplan

This is an era where there is no limit to how young you can look. The aging population can whittle off a few years and doors are forever opening for new procedures. There is hope after fifty, at least hope to maintain that youthful façade housing our fit (and wise) characters.

But what happens if procedures are taken it too far? Some of my stretched and pulled friends are mere shadows of themselves. I don’t think I would even recognize now if they were to return to their old (young) selves. Are people becoming too dependent on the wonder drugs – the injectable youth serum? The answer, after spending years (aging) in this industry, is “no.” Some people will always take anything too far, but the majorities are more conservative.

It has never ceased to amaze me that there are those will look at cosmetic enhancement and scoff at the thought of it; they believe that beauty comes from within and to tamper with nature is, well, wrong. I do agree on one thing, beauty is not skin deep, and the slightly augmented can attain to this. Beautiful is on the inside, it is seen in a balanced life where ones priorities are not superficial yet they care enough to take care of themselves and be the best they can be.

Protestors to any form of cosmetic enhancement appear to have a preconceived notion that those seeking some sort of enhancement, be it in goops and creams or a full facelift, are ladies of leisure – the ones who strut a stretched and pulled cheek, looking down on the rest, wanting to raise an eyebrow (but not able to). In fact, those that unjustly tear apart the cosmetic enhancement industry have one common denominator, naivety to what they perceive as an industry for only “beautiful people”.

The majority of surgical recipients are not those that are portrayed on reality TV shows, or the humorous caricatures we may envision, they are those who “just want to look normal.” They might have a problem that has stopped them from gaining confidence (sometimes it is self inflicted) and with cosmetic enhancement they can gain the confidence that enables a new, positive take on life. Conditions, such as people who have cleft lips or unsightly moles, skin discolorations like port-wine stains and scars from trauma, even chicken pox should not be considered a flaw, however, it is comforting to know that those that must live with scars can do something about it.

However, many people do not go beyond the viewpoint that beauty and enhancement is only for the physically obsessed, and miss seeing the happiness that even a “less privileged” person finds in a little enhancement.

I do not believe that cosmetic enhancement is not acceptable, nor do I believe it is always the answer. When a person makes an informed, intelligent decision(s), I believe they should have the right, the freedom to choose how they want to look to the world around them. However, just like everything else, have your eyes open (wide). It may be a little here and a little there, but it all adds up.

Ann Kaplan is the CEO of ifinance Canada

Building confidence in your presentation


By Anne Freedman

Maybe it’s in the air or because of where the earth is in its orbit. I’m talking about that pre-holidays urge to get more done right now than your body and soul can really handle.

Whatever I check off on my list is immediately replaced by three things. Are you finding yourself in the same place of overwhelm as I am? Between finishing the editing of my book, taking care of my clients, launching new webinars, going to meetings, and tending to my family, I confess to feeling a bit worn out of late. Looking at myself in the mirror isn’t much fun either!

For those particularly low-energy times, such as mid-afternoon, I find that a dark chocolate bar and a cup of chai tea seem to help me push through. Sometimes I allow myself to close my eyes for 15 minutes and try to rest. What works for you?

You can experience that same kind of psychic and physical fatigue preparing for important speeches and presentations. It also happens when you go to networking events and want to deliver your Elevator Pitch with punch and energy – even though you don’t feel that way.

If you didn’t catch my last free webinar, “What’s in Your Elevator Pitch?”, I encourage you to view it on YouTube by clicking here. We had terrific feedback and I want to share it with you, also. When you’re done watching the webinar, I know you’ll come away with a new high and confidence about your own elevator pitch. That’s what others have told me. When you update your self-introduction, I invite you to email it to me: I’ll be posting the best ones on my Facebook page here:

Please join me for my free webinar: “What’s in Your Nonprofit Elevator Pitch?” on Dec. 4th at 12 noon and 7 pm Eastern details here.
And as a reminder, you can get the discounted rate for our upcoming Dec. 11th and 18th on-line Self-Development Course, “How to Become a Powerful Leader in Your Business & Life” by entering the promo code: Passiton. For details and to register,click here

Ann Freedman is an international presentation coach, communication expert, author and app developer. As the founder and president of Speakout, Inc., she has trained and worked with hundreds of executives and businesses, including multinational corporations, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and community-based organizations worldwide.


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This gay Mean Girls remake/parody is the best thing to ever happen on YouTube

Is it possible to make the most iconic and quotable high school /girl flick / gay favourite movie even gayer?

The answer is yes, and Mean Boyz is the perfect compliment to everything we already know and love about Mean Girls. Singer, performer, Americal Idol semifinalist, and filmmaker Todrick Hall has put together this short (featuring Chris Crocker of “leave Britney alone!” fame) that leaves us wondering why nobody has done a full gay re-make of Mean Girls already.

Take a look at let us know what you think, is this the greatest YouTube video ever, or what?

Make your cat an adorable special door for his bathroom

While I was tasked with taking care of my roommate’s cat over the holidays I may have gone a bit overboard. The cat, Walter, has always been pretty standoffish and outright mean to me. It didn’t help our relationship that I’m pretty allergic to him and spend a lot of time shooing him out of my bedroom and vacuuming up his hair.

But while the two of us were alone over the Christmas season we developed a new respect for one another, a kindred friendship that shows through in a lot of my Instagram portraits of him:

Walter 4

Okay, maybe our friendship mixed with my loneliness around the house began to border on obsession, but hey, so long as we are both happy with the arrangement it doesn’t matter.

In our cramped apartment one way we had devised to save space was to place the cat’s litter box under the sink. I had taken off one of the doors to give the cat access, but while it had saved some space we were left with an unsightly litter box out in the open view of anyone who used our washroom.

The solution I came up with was to carve a cat shaped hole in one of the doors.

A couple of hours of sawing, patching, and painting later I had the finished product: Walter’s own little bathroom!

Walter 1



Walter seems to like it!


Walter 2


More privacy for him to do his business and less kitty litter on display with a cute outlook to boot! Looks like a win-win-win.


Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.


5 good reasons Toronto should NOT rename Union Station after John A. Macdonald

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong made headlines today with his call for Toronto to rename our iconic Union Station after Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.

Minnan-Wong, apparently trying to make some headlines ahead of the next election, has been drowning in a sea of disapproval since his remarks on Tuesday. If you are uneasy about this and not sure why let me remind you of a few things you may or may not have learned in high school that make this an entirely bad idea.

1. We don’t revere John A. Macdonald the same way Americans revere George Washington for a reason: he was a bad person.

John A. Macdonald may be on our tenners but don’t be fooled, his place in the history books is checkered with scandal. For most of us it is simply easier to ignore the fact that he did bad things often in the name of a better Canada than it is to be faced with a Nixonian figure in statues and nameplates. He was known for his gambling, alcoholism, acceptance of bribes, and marrying his own first cousin.

2. Toronto doesn’t need to enshrine itself as the place where addicts and losers are revered as gods.

We’ve got enough of a handful with Rob Ford as it is, do we really need to re-name Union Station after a man who was known as “the whiskey soaked statesman” and had a penchant for arriving at parliamentary debates pissed? Even Ford in all his antics has still refrained from vomiting in chambers, the same cannot be said for Macdonald.

3. His place in the history of the railroad is not exactly a happy story.

Macdonald was implicated in the Pacific Scandal that had him leave the office of Prime Minister in shame and shrouded in controversy as evidence of his government accepting bribes from a private company for lucrative contracts came to light. Although he was later re-elected after Mackenzie King’s time in office the Pacific Scandal is a stain on Canada’s infancy.

4. Union Station is already named for the history of our city.

Denzil Minnan-Wong thinks that because many other cities contain a Union Station we should change the name of ours to be more historical. It already is historical. It (along with the other stations it shares a name with) are named after the cooperation of once competing rail companies coming together to provide seamless and quality service to Torontonians in a beautiful station. While much of Canada’s rail history has disappeared in 2014 the name “Union” still signifies the unity of those now extinct rail giants.

5. If it was going to be renamed pick someone worthwhile.

This particular dead old white straight guy is already on our money. If we, for whatever reason, need to rename Union Station we can pick from any number of fantastic Canadians who haven’t already been immortalized on fliff and represent the mosaic of Canada a bit better. How about Torontonian Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Canada’s first black physician? Maybe 20th century gay Canadian poet Patrick Anderson? What about Toronto’s first female mayor June Rowlands? The list of diverse and representative candidates who are also good people is quite long.



Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.

These plans for redesigning abandoned subway stations in Paris are breathtaking

While we here in Toronto have a couple abandoned subway stations (the always mysterious Lower Bay and Lower Queen stations) they have, for the most part, sat empty save for the occasional use as backdrops in movies and the odd glitzy party.

Paris, on the other hand, has eight phantom stations. Some of the stations were closed for lack of use, and some others were never opened or given a staircase to the above-ground. It is hard to believe that it has taken this long for a city known for its art, culture, fashion, and style to come up with a sexy and chic re-imagining for the underground spaces. That is exactly that mayoral candidate Nathalie Koziuscot-Morizet has revealed as part of her platform and the mock-ups are simply breathtaking.

First let’s take at one of the stations as it currently is:


Leave it to Paris to have even an abandoned subway station that is glamorous in its own way. But now let’s look at that space as it could be.

The Pool:


The Theatre:


The Ballroom:


The Nightclub:


The Restaurant:




Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.

Todd Shapiro’s new evolution finds positivity in comedy

The former co-host of the Dean Blundell Show has struck out on a different path finding that positivity and heart can actually have a place in the world of radio and comedy.

Inside the SiriusXM studio there is an sense of happiness. Todd Shapiro and his crew are in the fledgling weeks of their new live drive afternoon block and the music, camaraderie, and jokes are hardly contained behind the glass walls that they are broadcasting from. the attitude strikes an entirely different tone than the furor surrounding the cancellation of the Dean Blundell Show earlier this year, a sinking ship that Shapiro inadvertently jumped from last year before resurfacing on SirisXM’s Canada Laughs Channel 168.

A man just shy of his 41st birthday Shapiro is a study in the evolution of talk radio. After spending years as part of a team derided by feminist, gay, minority, and many more groups for what they viewed as cruel treatment he has found that the best way to get laughs is when everyone gets along. “The underlying message of this new show is that it is always positive, it is always inspirational, and it is always promotional.”

His team, featuring a roster of comedians like Jay Brody and musicians like Anna Cyzon, is working to put on the best and most upbeat show they can everyday, says Shapiro. And the proof is in the pudding — with guests discussing human rights and gay issues to politics Shapiro has succeeded in breathing new energy into a format that was once cemented around the rude and obnoxious. Trailer Park Boys, Sarah Thomson, John Tory, and Tony Clement are among the big names that Shapiro and his team have drawn to his new program already with the intention of more high profile and influential guests to come.

When it comes to casting off his old ways it was an easy decision on this side of 40. “I did an immature, dumbed-down exaggeration of myself. I was definitely more juvenile because of the role I was encouraged to do.” But now, he says, he’s ready to give back. “Every day on this new show we try and do something that will help someone else’s career, whether it is promoting a charity or something as simple as promoting guests that haven’t quite made it yet.”

“What we are trying to do is create a campfire environment in the studio so when people step into that room they feel like they are surrounded by friends and these are trustworthy people who aren’t going to back stab you or railroad you with a question that they didn’t expect. I want people leaving wanting to come back and so far that has been the case.”

Even Ron MacLean is a fan. “I got a text from him after he was a guest saying that he had a great time and that we had an inspirational team here.”

In the world of nice guys, Ron MacLean is the guy to learn a thing or two from. “I’ve always been a Ron MacLean fan because I like the good guy approach. I didn’t take the good guy approach in my previous fourteen years on air.”

From Shapiro the message is one of transformation. “Everyone has the ability to change. There’s too much negativity in this world and if we don’t take it upon ourselves to have that pay-it-forward approach or to be positive to other people then, pardon my language, we are fucked.”

Todd began his broadcast career indirectly. After being picked for spot as a contestant on proto-reality TV show Blind Date’s first Canadian show from ten thousand possible contestants he was interviewed with the rest of the daters on the Humble & Fred show. After striking up a friendship with the hosts he wound up returning to the program as an intern while completing his broadcaster’s diploma at Seneca College.

From behind the scenes he made a name for himself writing jokes and doing just about anything he could to get on air. When an internal switch up at the company put a new host in the morning slot it wasn’t long before Shapiro worked his way from intern to what he laughingly calls a “punching bag” to becoming a full fledged co-host of infamous and ill fated Dean Blundell Show.

Among his career highlights Shapiro puts his relationships with sponsors at the top. “I was always very privileged that they wanted to work with me — that’s probably part of the reason I didn’t get married until I was almost 40, I’ve always been so busy.” With a career spanning 15 years he has had no shortage of unique encounters with other notable people, “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet everyone from top porn stars to Wayne Gretzky,”

The most transformative element in Shapiro’s new life hasn’t been just the switch from terrestrial radio to satellite broadcast. “I lived a life of a rock star. I met a lot of people, I went to a lot of events , and I met a lot of girls. It was tough to settle down for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I didn’t find the right girl. Maybe I wasn’t ready. But when I met my current wife and truly the love of my life I knew from the second I saw her. Once I got to know her and heart, her sincerity, and her kindness it’s something I experienced at t time of my life when I really needed it. I don’t trust very easily, I don;t open my door. I have this big persona, at the end of the day it’s hard for me to accept people into my own life. But she is so inspirational.

On February 8th of this year he wed Irina Funtikova, a world class gymnast and model who immigrated to Canada from Moldova as a child. Outside of her beauty, talent, and personality Todd sums up their relationship by saying simply that “at the end of the day she is my best friend.”

He gives a great example of their dynamic by sharing her reaction to his departure from the Dean Blundell Show and subsequent unemployment. “Some of the first words she said to me were: ‘Listen, if we have to sell this penthouse and move into a 400 square foot condo it only means we get to be closer together.’ There is nothing superficial or pretentious about her. She made it so easy to give her everything I can. I count my blessings every day.”

With a new show and new hope on the horizon it’s important to remember that Shapiro is still a prankster first and foremost with a focus on getting his audience with a nicer approach this time around. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re still going to try and get laughs, and people might have some problems with the humour, but no one is ever going to have a problem with the message.”


The Todd Shapiro Show airs weekdays from 4 to 6pm on SiriusXM Chaannel 168 Canada Laughs.

VINTAGE: This clip from the 1939 Miss Toronto pageant is Bomb Girls style classic

While most of us wouldn’t give up present day luxuries like basic modern medicine and women’s rights — and of course sweet, sweet Netflix — there is something alluring about the past. Take, for example, this newsreel footage of the 1939. The bathing suits look perhaps a little uncomfortable and the commentary is more than a little insensitive, but the glamour and elegance of the era is something that doesn’t seem to have made it to today.

The commentary is as follows:

“Youth and beauty at the Canadian Police Games. Who wouldn’t be a policeman in Toronto? After a few minutes of this sort of thing our tame camerman can hardly bear it. What did you say is the fare to Toronto? Anyway, they’re out to pick Miss Toronto of 1939, and the mayor hands it to 19 year old Nancy Morris. Would you? Look out girlie, you’ll tumble!”

The Toronto mayor handing the sash to the winner is Ralph C. Day, whose Wikipedia picture also appears to have been taken at the Miss Toronto pageant, albeit the year before in 1938. His biggest scandal (no, not crack) came in 1940 when Canada went to war with Italy. Italian men were interned, much like Japanese people in Canada were at the same time, and Mayor Day was adamant that the families of the Italian men unable to provide while interned would not receive welfare, stating “this country is at war with Italy and Italians cannot very well expect us to spend money for war purposes for the purpose of maintaining alien enemies.”

Yikes, maybe the romantic vision of the past isn’t so great after all.


Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.