This post is #50 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.
Roughly 18 months ago, I began thinking of how I wanted to mark my 50th birthday.
The easiest part was eliminating what I did not want: a fancy trip, a lavish party, and above all, presents and cards and stuff stuff stuff. Aside from a few mission-critical hardware upgrades, and possibly a new traveling suit, I’m loathe to acquire much in the way of stuff.
So I started thinking of what I wanted to feel like on my birthday. This was far less complicated, although it was still easier to talk about how I did not want to feel: empty. Wistful. Lonely. Small. Powerless. Afraid. Sad.
And then, a few months later and entirely by accident, a thought was planted in my head: SELFISH. I realized that more than anything else, I did not want to feel selfish—not on that day, not on my birthday, not ever again. On the other hand, my previous forays into volunteering had been “enh” at best, disastrous at worst. Let’s just say that my blessings, while considerable, did not include a dominant follow-through gene.
So I decided that I would use what I did have to do what I could do, and then some. I could write. I could employ all of my old marketing and design and advertising tricks in the service of good. I could test the sturdiness of this (ugh) “platform” I’ve built over seven years of life on the Internet by seeing if it could hold up under the weight of a ginormous (double-ugh) “ask.” Yeah, theoretically I’d been building it to promote something of my own I could sell in the vague-but-foreseeable future—a book, a service, a something—but what the hell? Based on my previous track record and actuarial projections for a chronically ill middle-aged woman living in toxic Los Angeles, I could easily die before that happened.
Besides, as The Youngster used to tell me, “Don’t save ‘happy’.”
The pieces fell into place almost magically after that. When I decided that the tangible thing I’d do was to raise money for some cause already out there doing good in the world, the number $50,000 floated into my head. It felt insane—until I spoke it aloud to my friends Jason and Jodi Womack who said, “It’s not insane, and we’ll help you make it happen.” And said it with such conviction and such love that for the first time, I believed it might actually be possible. When I anguished over which of several worthy nonprofits to do this in support of, my friend Bonnie, whom I had introduced to WriteGirl, and who had subsequently become a mentor to an actual WriteGirl (she has a much better follow-through gene), reminded me of the “no-duh” choice.
Ideas for perks floated into my head, and friends ass-kicked me (nicely!) into making the terrifying-to-me requests for help. Jill Murphy materialized out of nowhere, while I was, as she put it, freezing my butt off under a strategically-placed vent in the PDX airport; equally out of the blue, my friends Jennifer and John Lehr graciously offered their home—their home, where they live—for the party.
I cannot begin to list all of the people who helped right now without running the risk of omitting some, but when has that ever stopped me? My friends Lisa and Heather shot and edited a fan-fucking-tastic video. Gabriel built a website. Overnight. My friend Jean and her partners Greg and Philip at Smile donated 50 copies of TextExpander. Jim Coudal sent me so many Field Notes, I had to stop seven times on the walk home from my mailbox, the carton was so heavy.
Friends stepped up, more and more of them, with alacrity and remarkable cheer, to offer help as I explained this Big, Scary Thing that I needed to do. Dyana and Donna. My friend Julie and her sister Gillian. A dozen people offered to do supporting projects: Mike Monteiro and Erika Hall and the whole Mule Design team, who indulged me with a special run of my favorite t-shirts, and then threw in half the proceeds from an entirely different set of t-shirts, to boot. Danielle LaPorte, who did a special “telejam” for her people, working together to raise a staggering $3295. Bee and Geoff hung themselves out there and created work to be auctioned off. Tim made art you can still bid on. Claire and Mary & Dave sold their art. Pace and Kyeli raised over a thousand bucks and sang a filthy song with me. (Which O-Lan mixed, even though she was not supposed to be working. Because she is awesome.)
As promised, there will be a series of more thoughtful, detailed, and specific follow-ups on what I learned doing this Big Scary Thing, so that hopefully, you can use some of it to go do your own Big Scary (and, I hope, totally different) Thing. But for now, let me leave you with this: that thing you think you can’t do, because it’s impossible?
Maybe it isn’t.
P.S. Forgive me for making you do this, but there is some really big, fat, juicy effin’ news toward the middle of the above video. I know, I know—you hate watching videos (unlike that other guy, over there). But trust me, it’s more fun to hear or see it than read it. I know, because I about fainted when I was told, before I started screaming like a teen girl at JFK in 1964. So for you, a cheat: hit play, then advance it to 1:20. You won’t be sorry. And THANK YOU.