This post is #1 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.
Almost four years ago to the day, I went to a lunch that changed my life.
The organizer, Bob McBarton, had been after me (gently) to attend one of his literary "salons" for some time. Every time I read the email announcements, I was tempted: he brought in some really fantastic people to talk books, politics, and culture, around a pretty sweet table.1
But when I'd look at the accompanying attendee list, always lengthy Word attachments, to accommodate the weight of the bios, I'd chicken out. Never mind the guest speakers, even the attendees were luminaries in their various fields, each of them hugely accomplished, and in "real" endeavors, not this b.s. futzing around I'd done in advertising and acting and my silly little blog. They'd published books (multiple books, in some cases) tried significant cases, produced award-winning films, run cities. One of them had overcome physical obstacles that made my Crohn's onset look like a paper cut, and gone on to succeed in multiple high-profile positions in multiple incredibly tough-to-crack industries.
Finally, though, my curiosity got the better of me, and I went. I wound up seated between the mayor of a nearby town and a couple of nice, unassuming ladies in the general vicinity of my age. Of course, I was way too uninformed to talk about the homeless problem with hizzoner, so I turned my attention to the women, Keren Taylor and Allison Deegen, the executive and associate directors, respectively, of a local nonprofit called WriteGirl. They'd spent the better part of the past six years helping hundreds of teenage girls not only get through high school and into college, but become confident, well-read, joyous communicators.
I was talking about changing the world through writing; they were doing it.
One girl at a time.
* * * * *
There's a little test I use when I'm coming up with something, an essay, a song, a poem, a talk, and trying to get at a Truly True Truth: if it makes me either (1), laugh out loud; or (2), burst into tears, it's a keeper. Because as you well know if you've ever lived through a highly emotional time, an illness, a death, a natural disaster, a knock-down-drag-out with your honey, laughter and tears sit so close to each other, they might as well be making out in the balcony.
I have cried at every WriteGirl workshop I've been to. I've also rarely laughed so joyously as I have there, nor felt more hope for humanity. These are amazing girls, all of them. They vary in their levels of introversion and extraversion, boldness and shyness, just like the rest of us, but each of them has been 100% present and committed at every workshop I've been to. They throw themselves into the exercises, even when the exercises challenge them or feel a little weird at first. They show up, week after week, to work with their mentors in between the monthly group workshops. They engage, they ask questions, they play, and they write. Oh, boy do they write, and how. You want to laugh and cry, brother, you get yourself to a WriteGirl meeting.2
No less amazing are the women who volunteer their time to mentor the girls, to organize the workshops, to corral the bazillion details that go into running an organization like this. Need I tell you that money is always, always tight? It is. What Keren and her team manage to do on the money they receive is matched only by the astounding calm with which they manage the constant doubt of where the next buck is coming from.
For once, I want these wonderful women not to worry: I want them to know that $50,000 is coming, and in 50 days, and from you. From us.
* * * * *
Did you know that everyone and his brother's band is doing a Kickstarter-type campaign these days? It's true, look it up.
Well, I'm throwing my hat into the ring. And possibly what's directly beneath it.3
For my 50th birthday, I want to raise $50,000 for WriteGirl. In 50 days. So let's get cracking.
There's an IndieGoGo page you should go to right now. You'll see various giveaways for various contribution levels.
Some of it is new and fun and exceptionally affordable. I had a number of designer and artist friends whip up some custom desktop wallpapers. There are MP3s! Of some of your favorite songs, and some of mine, all from women artists!
Some of it is stuff you cannot get anywhere else. Most pointedly, I do not do any copywriting anymore, but for a price, you can hire me to write your bio. Or your own silly-but-effective anthem, or your own poem that will make you cry. (Or one of the girls will, your choice!)
Or, if you're really loaded and looking for a way to relieve yourself of $50,000 in a hurry, I will dedicate my first book to you. (Which would also mean I'd feel obligated to finally put one out there, so if you're one of the people who've been patiently waiting and you have a friend with 50,000 spare dollars, hit 'em up.)
You can also donate without taking a "gimme," if you're so inclined. Or buy something as a gift for someone else, their own personalized-by-me Field Notes book, for example. An anniversary or birthday song. A love poem. It would be very much in the whole giving-is-getting spirit of things.
Which brings me to my last point: this is not for me, but it is entirely for me.
* * * * *
This whole project has been a combination of long-term thinking and short-term scramble.
Amazingly, so far, things have been falling into place, but that's the angels' work, not mine. Because while I was not too scared to envision myself bald, or even to envision raising what is, and there's no other way to put this, a fuckton of money in an insanely short time, I was too scared until recently to ask for help.
When I finally did, the most amazing thing of all happened: people said "yes." My friend Mike Monteiro said, Yes, I'll make another run of the "Old" t-shirts for you, and we'll give all the money to the girls. (link coming soon!) My friend-turned-client Jean MacDonald said, Yes, you can give away copies of TextExpander, how many do you want? Jim Coudal said, Yes you can have a bunch of Field Notes, and by the way, you might want to customize them, and here's what we use.
My friends Lisa and Heather said, Yes, we'll make a video, and you can stay at our place while we shoot. My friend Jennifer offered up her house for the party, her HOUSE.
My friends Jason & Jodi and Peleg and Judy and Adam immediately pledged financial support, and in amounts that took my breath away. My friend Tim offered up his team to build the website and then, when I waited too long and missed my window, my other friend Gabriel stepped in to save me. Every friend I've approached, Danielle and Dyana, Alice and Eden, Pace & Kyeli, Michelle and Jill, Josh and Donna, plus dozens more I'm forgetting now and hundreds more who signed up for the early notification list said, Yes, we'll help you, and yes, we'll get that money for these girls.
As I've said about myself before, I'm a pretty loquacious motherfucker, but when it comes to describing how this outpouring of love and support have affected me, I am at a loss for actual words.4 They're inadequate, or at least, they are in this form and in this moment when I am, to put it mildly, somewhat knackered.
That I have such friends and in such quantities is remarkable. What is left now is for me to rise to the occasion, to try being just as remarkable.
For the next 50 days, I will be blogging and emailing and tweeting and calling. I will lay aside my fear of asking and ask. Oh, boy, will I ask!
And at the end of this road, whether I fail or succeed at raising every cent of this money, and don't kid yourself, failure is always an option, if I have given it my all, I will receive my gift: to have given my all in pursuit of something greater than me.
But DAMN, I want the money for those girls, too. So let's get crackin', shall we?
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1Hey, food counts. Just sayin'.
2Of course, if you're actually a brother, you'll have to take my word for it. It's a dude-free zone, except for a few actors who volunteer to play the male roles in the presentation at the end of the screenwriting workshop.
3That's right: if we raise the whole $50K, I'm shaving my head at the culminating shindig. BALD, BABY. To the skin.
4Laughing and incoherent blubbering, however, I have been doing quite a bit. I can barely open up my email these days without bursting into tears of joy. This is a mighty fine thing, although it draws stares in coffee shops.