Start with the end in mind

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bcj0rnmIiz4& 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 onClaire 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.)

Ten designers created desktop wallpapers, 50-count-'em-50 lady writers contributed beautiful interviews, and a partridge in a motherfucking tree, stick a fork in me 'cause I'm DONE.

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.

xxx c

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.


a whole bunch of very special Field Notes books This post is #49 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.

At some point, you must release into the world the work you have labored over privately.

It will have smudges and smears and imperfections. It will not be all of what you had hoped for in some places. It will be more than you ever dreamed of in others.

But as you let it go—as you ship it, in the parlance of the day—you will feel one very specific, very glorious thing:


xxx c

Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #68: 50-for-50 edition

desktop wallpaper designed by spencer cross This post is #46 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.

The Reverend Molly, who found her way to 50-for-50 via Sugar, shared this absolutely beautiful (and also, very interesting and helpful) piece on what it's like to live outside the cultural norm—in her case, sans hair.

Not only was Sugar stunningly generous in devoting her entire weekly column to 50-for-50, she specifically articulated what was so meaningful about this whole project for all of us in a way none of us, myself included, have been able to.

A beautiful (what else?) story from interviewee Leah Reich about her experiences growing up in a small Colorado town, and what it means to have someone believe in you.

A gorgeous tribute by interviewee, client, and good friend Judy Herrman about why we undertake bits of certifiable insanity like 50-for-50. And living.

This piece mistakenly says I've already shaved, but let's not hold this against them. Because an awesome plug is an awesome plug, and hey, Donna Barger did do a bang-up job with the Photoshopping!

Finally, I love the support from the gentlemens, too.

Image inside the frame by Spencer Cross, awesome designer, dog-owner, human being, and founder of kernspiracy designers' group. You can get it in a luxurious, desktop-sized image of inspiration with a $15 contribution to the 50-for-50 project on IndieGoGo, through September 13, 2011.

The lost days of summer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo5mIyLVb20 This post is #44 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.

Between the hacking, the ungodly heat (with humidity, which is downright baffling out here in the desert), and overwhelm born of dreams you barely dared to dream actually coming true, I lost a day. Or two. Or something.

At least, I lost the outward-facing part of them. Because sometimes, the things you make to put out in the world aren't ready to live there just yet. (Especially when it's 450 degrees in your apartment and your brain has been simmering in its own juices for three days.)

It is my longstanding policy to write about things only when they are useful, and experiences only when I have enough of a handle on them to be at least somewhat illuminating. I have a year-or-so's worth of fumbling, stumbling garbage posts which, I think, prove the wisdom and prudence of adhering to such a policy.

So I "lost" a day. To you. But this day is not really lost. In addition to being, like any day, part of the rich fabric that makes blah blah blah, I also learned a Very Important Lesson about myself which should make things better/stronger/faster moving forward, and which (of course, duh!) I will share just as soon as it's been properly assimilated.

In the meantime, a word about someone else.

I met Michael Bungay Stanier at the World Domination Summit this year. I'd been a fan for a long time—he's a really smart, really funny fellow who shares terrific resources for busting through creative blocks—but I fell for him hard in Portland. Because in addition to being really smart and really funny, he's really, really true-blue. This is something you can maybe fake online, but that you cannot ever fake in person.

Michael is taking a brief break from doing all of his awesome business-type stuff to promote a very special cause: ending malaria. To be precise, he's edited a book full of terrific essays from a variety of other smart, big-hearted people (and written a bang-up one himself), the proceeds of which go to buying mosquito nets to help fight malaria. You've heard of this simple fix before, no doubt; what's kind of sad-making is that this simple fix has not been widely-enough deployed to actually fix malaria. But we soldier on, right?

$20 of each sale goes to the cause. That's the FULL PRICE of the Kindle version, and all but four or so bucks of the print edition. I've read a dozen of the essays so far, and can vouch for the quality. No fluff, no tossed-off nonsense.

And yes, I paid for my copy. Or, as I like to think of it, I bought a mosquito net to protect the girl who might turn out to be the woman who writes an epic poem that makes some warrior decide to lay down his sword, or the woman who finds a cure for malaria, or maybe the woman who becomes the mother of the guy who finds a cure for malaria. (Hey—it could happen. There are some smart guys, too.)

I know that between giving for this and giving for that (not to mention the heat of what's supposed to be fall), we're all burnt crispy. But this is a book that you're buying to help you, too. It's a book full of actual, helpful, actionable tips and tools you can use to start changing your life in ways that will help you to make the world a more awesome place. So if you don't want to buy the kid a mosquito net, buy your selfish self a book. It's all good. They'll take care of the mosquito net anyway.

xxx c

Visit the End Malaria Day website


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijirOr2ad1s&w=475&h=297] This post is #43 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.

Apparently the Evil Salesmen of Illegally Obtainable Wood-Making Pharmaceuticals (and you know who you are) will stop at nothing to shill their effing crap.

Yes, even subverting the process of helping high school girls become strong, productive members of society. (As opposed to, oh, say, Sleazy and Morally Bankrupt Salesmen of Illegally Obtainable Wood-Making Pharmaceuticals. AHEM.)

We spent the better part of Monday—Labor Day, ironically!—trying to put Humpty together again. We've decided our efforts are better-placed posting interviews, prepping the big head-shaving extravaganza, and, most importantly, raising as much money as possible for WriteGirl by Tuesday, September 13.

So, heyóif you want to stick it to those Godless and Child-Hating Salesmen of Illegally Obtainable Wood-Making Pharmaceuticals, how about doing one of the following:

  • Donate! (always a good choice, especially if you haven't yet)
  • Tell someone! That person sitting next to you, maybe, or some friends on Facebook, or that cute guy in line at the coffee shop. (Hey—could be a win/win!)
  • Alert the media! Not about this stupid website hacking—about our 50-for-50 Project, where we are banding together in a massive uprising of communal effort to CHANGE THE WORLD for the better. Because hey, a bunch of regular people raising $50,000 in 40 days—yes, that's 10 days ahead of schedule—to make the world a better place is the kind of good news we could all stand to hear more of.
I hope to be back to our regularly scheduled hoopla soon.
xxx c


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DaAJcNnF9Q&w=475&h=297] This post is #42 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.

Every morning, I get up and make myself a cup of weak tea. On the days where will wins out, I make the bed and dress myself while the kettle boils; on days where it doesn't, I anxiously check my email for Letters In The Night, new missives there to cheer, rile, entertain or tweak me.

Afterwards, with breakfast, I have a cup of coffee. Strong, but espresso, so in my head, it's okay with my gut. (It's not, but that's a story for another day.)

Then I brush my teeth and take my meds while the kettle boils again. I drink the second weak cup (with honey, when the will loses out) while I sit at my analog desk, read my morning's motivational stuff, and write a few pages longhand, Julia-Cameron-style.

* * *

We passed $50,000 yesterday evening, September 3, 2011, at 8:10pm Pacific Daylight Time. It's a thing I knew would happen, though I had no idea of how. And of course, the answer is complex, like most things: a mix of work and many hands making that work lighter, and a sprinkling of fairy dust, I suspect. I will, at some point when this is all behind us, debrief myself, analyze it, and share what I've learned, as well as what "process" I had, so that we may all benefit.

For now though, this: we have reached $50,000. We may congratulate ourselves on that. But we are not done.

* * *

This morning, that glorious Southern dollop of inspiration Patti Digh came up with a brilliant idea: what if we could each forgo our Starbucks runs this week and toss that money into the kitty?

I'm all over that one, with one problem: I'm already so cheap, I make all my caffeinated beverages at home. So I've come up with an alternate sacrifice, a different change in routine, which I hope my fellow cheapskates can use to join in the fun:

For the balance of the campaign, I will forgo my morning email check to do some writing, to take some action, that will benefit WriteGirl.

I will, in other words, suck it the fuck up and try to be the change I want to see in the world. Because as much as I want to see each and every person out there who lands in my inbox, my first job as a writer is to take care of the writer. And write.

And yeah, I'll be hustling for dollars, too. BIG dollars. Bigger than I dared dream aloud until now. But more on that in time.

For now, enjoy that last Starbucks, and the rest of the Labor Day weekend. And then let's DO THIS THING.

xxx c

aka "Baldy"

There is no "over", only "done"

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUviehKRNjY&w=475&h=297] This post is #41 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.

We were a hair's breadth from reaching the $50,000 mark when I said, okay, I typed into Facebook, that I hoped I'd be able to get the above video posted to the web before this whole thing was over.

Whereupon my wise, slightly-elder friend and font of inspiration Patti Digh said, okay, typed back into Facebook:

It's never over, sugar; it just ends.

(She's from the South, see; she can get away with that "sugar" stuff.)

And she's right, and about more than crazy birthday fundraising schemes: you don't stop writing because you're done with your book; you start writing a new book.

We're now past the $50,000 mark. So much happened in a few hours, I'm fairly overwhelmed. It's a good thing I didn't wait until now to make today's video, and not just because there's no light left.

Know this: I am grateful for every step of this journey so far. I am grateful to every single person who gave, passed along word, promoted, lent a sweaty hand, and cheered.

And this part has ended. But it ain't over. Not by a long shot.

xxx c

When numbers are enough

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJF2kaittOU&w=475&h=297] This post is #39 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.

$45,390 (so far).

796 funders (so far).

Can't count the tweets, Facebook posts, Google+s. Really can't count the private emails, phone calls, and one-on-one conversations.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, numbers speak as loud as words ever could. And when that time comes, like now, writers need to know when to shut up and be grateful. For numbers.

xxx c


Sisters are doin' it for themselves

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odyd-jrlCCA&w=475&h=297] This post is #36 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.

Not to dismiss the efforts of my writerly gentlemen friends, but yes, I think it's important to especially promote the writing of women and girls, as well as the tools and practices that get them writing. Anyone who has been a girl who is in class with boys (or, sadly, a woman who is in meetings with men) has at some point experienced the horrible feeling of turning invisible. The more girls (and, subsequently, women) learn to trust in the truth of their own voice and perspective, the more they feel the strength make themselves heard, not fucked with or over.

And so, WriteGirl. And so, Rock Camp for Girls, WriteGirls more musical sister.

And so, The World-Changing Writing Workshop, which is open to men, certainly, but was created by two very special freaky and awesome ladies for the benefit of people who might not feel the courage to be heard without the right encouragement. As I've mentioned earlier, all of my proceeds will go towards 50-for-50 for the rest of the campaign, and half of Pace & Kyeli's, through today. (You can also get a pretty sweet deal on it through today. Just sayin'.)

We grow up believing in what we see, and we see what the people who came just before us created. I'm sorry to have created so many distressing images for girls and women via my participation in the advertising-industrial complex, and am working hard now to empower this next generation to grow up smarter and stronger than I by creating a better environment for them to soak in. I agree that the Internet has opened up vast opportunities for women and girls; yes, there are still wretched, unhappy creeps who single out women for attack, but we will not be silenced. We will write and we will talk and we will fight. We will not stand down, we will create and share and spread the tales of adventures and derring-do to nourish the next generation.

And you can take that shit to the bank.

xxx c

Death and taxes and love love love [+ a 50-for-50 video]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xQYImxa59g&w=475&h=297] This post is #32 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.

I spent the morning today at the funeral service for a friend's father. I'll be spending the rest of the afternoon and evening preparing my stuff to take to my tax guy tomorrow morning.

Death and taxes. Yes, really.

While I'd been dreading them both, a weird kind of calm settled over me as I drove out to the West Valley. Maybe it was the spirit of my friend's father, showering love and happiness from the great beyond; by the sound of it, he was that kind of a guy, always full of love and a zest for life. Or maybe it was just so much sunlight everywhere, spilling onto everything. It's hard for me to keep feeling badly when the sun is shining, which is part of the reason I'm unlikely to move to the glorious PacNW anytime soon.

Anyway, the service ended up being terrifically uplifting: wonderful stories of a life beautifully lived, angelic singing from his eldest son. Which is good, because it also ended up being terrifically long, I'd forgotten that's how the Catholics do their celebrations. Lots of pomp, and lots of long.

But my favorite point of the show, and come on, it's a show, folks, was the sermon. Usually my least favorite part, owing to the bombastery of 90% of the priests you tend to run into, this one contained useful and uplifting words about many things, most strikingly, forgiveness. You hear a lot about forgiveness, blah blah blah, but you don't usually hear this: that Jesus talked about forgiving (an order of magnitude of forgiving), but he never said anything about forgetting. We are supposed to work on forgiving, and then leave the other party room for acknowledging and making amends. An incredibly loving and just and harmonious solution to the conundrum of life slamming you in the face repeatedly. My job is not to say "Oh, fine, it's all good" but to process and forgive. Process and forgive. (And, of course, if I'm on the other side of things, to acknowledge and make amends.)

It's a relevant subject right now because this 50-for-50 Project, for as wonderful as it is, is rousing all kinds of strange, old things inside me. Hurts from long ago blow up unexpectedly like ancient land mines, triggered by actions real and intents projected. Another reminder that there is no burying things, no hiding your garbage. You sit with it, you sit in it, you deal with it, and then maybe you get to move on.

For me, writing helps. It gets things out of my head and heart, even the long-buried, festering stuff. Not always pleasant, but life is not about pleasant, it's about living. Loving. Moving. Growing.

I'll let you know when I figure out what the taxes are for.

xxx c

Notes from The Dip [50-for-50 video]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEYoQhTfCZc&w=475&h=297] This post is #31 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.


I have been feeling a little bit down these past couple of days because we are in the Dip.

Which means I am in the Dip.

And DAMN, you can read or think or talk all you want to about the Dip, but being in the Dip is an entirely different matter.

So from the depths of the Dip, an email came from my friend, Jennifer Lehr. She's one of the amazing women writers who did an interview for this project, and she's been hugely helpful behind the scenes as well. Plus, she gave actual cash. Which is very much appreciated.

Anyway, Jennifer made a very good suggestion, which boiled down to DO SOMETHING. She said it much more nicely and she gave specific suggestions (both of which are hugely helpful) but basically, she's right: if you are stuck, DO SOMETHING. Something you haven't done before. Something to move yourself out of where you are. And hey, while you're at it, maybe show a little gratitude, because there is never a time when that is a bad thing.

So I made a video, and we'll see, but I'm going to keep making them. Maybe not every day, but as much as I can. Although maybe every day. Maybe I'll get better at them if I make them every day, and I'll grow to enjoy it, and people who like video better than they do reading (freaks! all of you!) will have something nice by way of a "thanks."

One of Jennifer's suggestions was to share some of the terrific emails and comments I've been getting since this thing began. So today, just randomly, I picked a nice one from Clara Boza:

As a writer, reader and all-around word nerd since B.B. (before birth), I can only dream of what an organization like WriteGirl might have meant to me as a shy teen girl with few role models for pursuing my dreams. WriteGirl rocks!

Because that's the essence of my reason for doing this: I wish I'd had a WriteGirl. And from the comments and feedback I'm getting, and the things I see on Twitter and Facebook, along with the things I hear from the WriteGirl women volunteers, I'm not alone. Girls need this. Probably more than boys. Everyone needs support, but it's just incredibly tough on girls growing up in this culture. So many weird, confusing messages get thrown at them from every angle, and too often the most important thing gets lost.

Which is that how you look on the outside is not nearly as important as how you develop what's inside.

I want these girls to hear that LOUD and CLEAR.

I want them to hear it over the advertising and the magazines and the reality TV crap and everything else that shouts at them 24/7.

Thank you for your support! Keep on trucking! Never, never, never give up! And all the rest of it.

I love you all!

xxx c

Refilling the well

bed, sweet bed This post is #27 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.

We passed the halfway point in the campaign yesterday, quietly, without fanfare.

The achievements thus far have been remarkable. Raising $50,000 in 50 days during summer break in a crap economy is no mean feat; getting $4,000 ahead by the halfway point, in the middle of what everyone has told me was the inevitable dip, is beyond amazing. I'm grateful to everyone who has been pitching in so hard, both behind the scenes and out on the front lines of social media, just as I'm grateful to my own body for allowing me to push it so hard for this past month and change.

I can see the signs of exhaustion now better than I could seven years ago, the last time I attempted anything close to this magnitude. Back then, it was a show, hour-long, with music, that was a monster to get up on its feet. At one point during the process, I had a hysterical freakout/breakdown, after which my wonderful co-writer/producer stepped in and relieved me of some of the too-many duties I'd taken on. So far this time, the only crying I've done has been tears of joy over the insane goodness of everyone, and I find those tears both refreshing and restorative.

Still, it's hard. And my tendency when things are hard is to push more, even though I have my choice of proofs, both personal and familial, that this is a losing game. I also know that without physically removing myself from my own premises, it's really hard for me to not do just one more thing. Post one more something, email one more request.

I had grand ambitions for the 50 posts here on communicatrix during this campaign. I was going to have all sorts of interesting pieces about my writing life growing up, and lengthy, thoughtful essays on vanity, on aging, and other things that are almost inconceivably difficult for me to even think about attempting. Still hoping to get a hair piece up there before the shaving, but who knows? It's already a bad sign that I'm punning without intent, and leaving the damn stuff up there.

So here is my gigantically huge thought for the day: you are not a machine. Neither am I. The good news is that this means that we can't be replaced. The bad news is this means we cannot run nonstop. (Although really, can a machine run nonstop?)

Read. Putter. Go out and hang with friends. Take a walk or a little drive. Nap.

I'm saying that to myself as much as to you, and as much for the sake of my writing as the sake of my health.

And yes, I'll see you again tomorrow. Duh. What else?

xxx c

Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #65: 50-for-50 edition

three people and a ridiculous button This post is #26 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.

My friend Heather Parlato graciously wrote up the backstory to the beautifully bucolic desktop wallpaper she designed.

On her own birthday, Patti Digh asked for her present to be people's gifts to my birthday project. She did it so eloquently, it's a gift in and of itself. Happy 52nd, Patti. And I'm right behind you.

John Gruber wrote what is pretty much the perfect "ask" on his insanely popular blog. And his readers replied with their dollars. In droves.

Claudia Snowden, Chief Elderblogger at Fried Okra Productions, wrote a positively wonderbubbly post on exactly what you should do to support 50-for-50. She also introduced me to the term "wonderbubbly." All-around awesome.

After already agreeing to do an interview and create a desktop wallpaper, my good buddy Alissa Walker wove it all together with a beautiful piece of her own. And then bought a ticket to the head-shaving. No wonder I love her so.

In a completely unrelated event, I was quoted in the LA Times! Unfortunately, the adorable photo of me posing atop my desk is only available in the section view. You'll have to trust me, it was adorable!

And finally, thanks to Donna Barger, crafter supreme, there are now BUTTONS (see above). Five bucks a pop, all to a good cause. You'll have to hit me up in person if you want just one. But I will mail them to you with a minimum order of four. (C'mon. Buy a button for the baby!)

We're at just under $29,000 as I write this. Pitch in if you can, this next $11 grand is gonna be the hardest, but then it's BALD, BABY, BALD!

Writers helping writers helping writers

world-changing writing workshop

This post is #22 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.

Nobody gets there alone.

Every single woman who has participated in an interview for the 50-for-50 Project has stressed the importance of the teachers and counselors and mentors who helped them along the way.

Every single woman who writes today stands on the backs of the women who fought for the rights of girls to learn to read and write alongside of boys.

And, hey, if you want to get technical, every single human alive is here because some woman said, "Okay, fine, I'll host you."

WriteGirl alumnae, 100% of them, have gone on to college because someone said "Hey, let me help you apply/find grants/study your ass off", and because a whole lot of someones said, "Hey, I believe in you, AND HERE'S MY CHECK."

That's what it takes to get people from one place to another: time AND commitment AND money. There's only upside to providing these things: they move forward and you cannot help but be moved by it, too. It is the world's greatest high, and I have extensive experience in the getting-high department.

But it's also nice to get something tangible for your giving. It's why I sweated those crazy perks so much; it's also why I'm so intensely grateful to all of the people who are contributing get-able items to this massive, fundraising machine.

The designers and their wallpapers. The musicians and their MP3s. Smile's generous donation of TextExpander licenses, Coudal Partners' equally generous donation of Field NotesAnd, as we like to say on late-night TV, more: Bee Franck's stellar subversive cross-stitchery; the Mule Design team and the special run of the "Old." shirts.

I'm especially thrilled about today's announcement because it comes from two of my favorite ladies who work their butts off to help people get better at the kind of writing that they hope will change the world, Pace & Kyeli of the World-Changing Writing Workshop. I taught a "pod" of the first year's class and this year, I created and contributed a bonus module, gratis, because that's what you do when you believe in something: you GIVE.

From today, Monday August 15 through Thursday, August 25, Pace & Kyeli will donate 50% of the profits from the home sale version of this year's World-Changing Writing Workshop to the 50-for-50 Project benefitting WriteGirl.

Additionally, because I am addicted to giving (see above) and also because I am one competitive motherf*cker, I will donate 100% of my affiliate fees for the duration of the 50-for-50 Project* as well. Which will probably be all of them, period, because I while I believe in the power of world-changing writing, I think I serve the world better by doing it, not promoting it, and any ding-dong noob knows you don't actually make passive monies by being passive.

Oh, and did I mention that Pace & Kyeli back it all up with a money-back guarantee? Because they do. If you're not satisfied, you get your dough back. Period.

If you've been on the fence about WCWW, I hope this entices you into taking the plunge. What we're doing with the 50-for-50 Project is amazing already, but with the extra juju of writing supporting writing supporting writing behind it, I think it will be even more so.


P.S. And yes, this is the same Pace & Kyeli that sing backup on "The Dirty Keywords Search Song," that infamous, egregiously NSFW tune that's included in the $5 song pack. It's like they sit around their house in Austin, thinking up ways to help me part you from your money on behalf of young girls who yearn to make something of themselves and the world through writing. So hey, even if the WCWW ain't your thing, pony up for a song pack. Just five bucks! For the children...

Details of the 50% for the WCWW2 Home Study/50-for-50 promotion:

  • What? 50% of ALL WCWW2 home study profits will be contributed to The 50-for-50 Project benefitting WriteGirl
  • Why? Because Pace & Kyeli believe that girls who can write will change the world!
  • When? 8/15 - 8/25 ONLY
  • How much? $297 (plus an additional $99 if you opt to get WCWW1, too)
  • Anything else? YES. When you buy via this promotion, you'll get a free preorder for Kyeli's upcoming ebook, a writing guide for brand-new writers, which will be $37 when it goes on sale.

*We'll pick a cutoff date of 9/9 for my part of the deal, just to make Pace's life easier. Math, you know.

Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #63: 50-for-50 edition

old. This post is #12 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.

All of this week's entries in the Frrrrriday Rrrrround-up were written in response to and support of the 50-for-50 project. I thank you, fellow writers!

I ain't gonna bury the lede: we made it onto Oprah(.com)!

Some fellow would-be-do-gooders found our 50-for-50 campaign while trolling the web on behalf of their own fundraising project. So what did they do? They promoted ours, on their blog! Talk about good fellowship!

A lovely supporter and contributor, Jamie Wallace, aka @suddenlyjamie to you 140-and-under folk, wrote a beautiful piece about the campaign, including a brief lament that there was no WriteGirl back when we were coming up. What might have been, indeed. #Amen, @suddenlyjamie!

Oh, I can't remember when the tshirts went live, but the tshirts went live. All you people who are all the time bugging me about where I got the "Old." shirt, buy now, or forever hold your peace. Seriously, do you want to be the only person at the 1-year reunion not wearing a shirt?

Last but most definitely not least, I had a rollicking good time talking to Tea Silvestre, the Word Chef, on her bloggy-radio show. She asked all the good questions to draw useful stuff out of me, then wrote it up neatly, in bullet points. Oh, I do love the bullet points (judiciously used, of course). You can read the summary of the convo and/or listen to it yourself, all right here.

Photo by Brenton Fletcher used under a Creative Commons license.

It's a long, long way to 50

no shortcuts, baby This post is #8 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.

The first thing I thought when I shut down this shindig for that first night, almost a week ago, was, "WOW. If we can raise almost five thousand dollars in one day, what can't we do?"

The second thing I thought was, "SHIT. We've still got over 45 thousand left to raise. What the hell was I thinking?!"

So you see, I have some work to do in more than one area.

* * * * *

Boy, do I wish there were shortcuts. My dirty little secret is that I wanted to wake up last Monday, the very first day of the campaign, and see that we'd done it. That somehow, in the middle of the night before we'd even officially started, some mysterious Generous Benefactor had stumbled on this little project and found it in her rich little heart to kick in the full $50K.1

In other words, some 25-odd years later, I'm still a sucker for fairy tales, for lottery tickets, for the urban working-girl myth of the Unidentified Limo Encounter. (Well, okay, maybe not the lottery tickets.)

But it is not true. There is no limo. There is no mysterious, wealthy deus ex machina who will come to rescue us. This is both the good news and the bad, naturally: we may find ourselves mired in whatever, but we have the wherewithal to dig ourselves out. Even if someone else did the miring, we can dig ourselves out. If you don't believe me, I'll see your skepticism and raise you one WWII vet who did a looong stretch in a Japanese POW camp. After he floated across the Pacific in a raft, fighting off sharks.

Besides, if there is one thing I have learned in my almost-50 years, especially those 11 days of it back in 2002, in the IBD ward of the Cedars Sinai Hilton, it is to never, ever wish away time. If you dread that exam on Thursday, remember: dreading is your privilege. There are a few people somewhere who are grabbing at their last breaths, just wishing they had some horrible Organic Chem exam to dread. They'd give that Jell-O on the tray, there, and the butterscotch pudding next to it, for the privilege of worrying about your Organic Chem exam for just a few hours.

* * * * *

In selecting the "perks" for the 50-for-50 campaign, I had to make some hard choices. The fundraising platform for this project only allows for 12 levels of giveaways. Which is widly frustrating. I can come up with 12 giveaways between the moka pot and the toilet.2

I finally decided that while it would be incredible to have a few Deus Ex Moneybags come out of the highly-polished, burled woodwork to give me and my churning bowels a rest with some gigantic pledges, it would be even more incredible if we raised this money by ones and twos. For the coffers to fill up with requests for $5 MP3 packs and $10 cross-stitchery and $15 wallpapers made by all of my wonderful friends, like the Tsilli Pines creation illustrating my favorite quote (by Beverly Sills!) you see just above these messy, heartfelt words.

Which is why there is a small and finite number of high-end perks and a pretty much infinite number of low-end ones. The gift we give to WriteGirl will be huge; $50,000 is a not-insignificant chunk of their annual operating budget. But the gift we can give to the world is infinite by comparison. That $50,000 will be gone well before the end of the year, but showing those girls that they mean something will not. Leaving one more example of "nobodys" making a difference will not. Demonstrating how community bands together to pull the next ones up will not.

This will not work without widespread sharing. Even if it works, i.e., we manage to raise the whole $50K (which I happen to believe we will), the project doesn't really do its job unless the most people possible feel like they can make the most awesome things happen, too.

There's a lot of room in the world for this kind of hope right now. Let's get to work, shall we?

xxx c

1Other things I wished for over that first weekend, in no particular order: for the humidity to dry up; for the liquid that bubbled up into my aunt's ground-floor rec room to be just water; for AT&T's sucktastic network to let up long enough to allow me to send and receive a text within 50 yards of the place I was staying; for my ride to the wedding to show up NOW, please; for French fries, oddly enough; and for the bride and groom to truly live happily ever after.

2BTW, if you're interested in helping out with the 50-for-50 Project by offering your own giveaway, we have a workaround: you can "sell" whatever it is on your own, via your website, email, etc., and then contribute the proceeds to the IndieGoGo campaign site on or before September 13. We'll help you promote everywhere else we can. To inquire about doing this, please contact me: colleen AT communicatrix (and so on).

Image © 2011 Tsilli Pines. Available in motivational desktop wallpaper size along with a gift-pack of other designer desktops for a mere $15 donation to the 50-for-50 project.

Soaking in writing

the author, many years ago This post is #7 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.

A common thread runs through the backstories of superstars, no matter what their fields of accomplishment: growing up, they spent a lot of time soaking in x.

Musicians grow up hearing a lot of music. Artists are raised amidst art. Men and women of science began as boys and girls of science, talking about something besides the weather or America's Most Wanted around the dinner table.

I grew up around writers.

My father and grandfather were writers, and they hung out around other men, and yes, they were all men back then, who were writers. On Saturdays, they gathered at a little coffee shop on the corner of Rush and Bellevue in Chicago's Near North Side to kibbitz and, in my writerly imagination, enjoy hamburger sandwiches and coffee, old-school style. And yes, to smoke, of course. Everyone smoked back then.

My memories of Dad and Gramps don't all have to do with writing, but a surprising number of the most pungent ones do. Most mental images of my dad have him looking down, either at a yellow, letter-sized "legal" pad (his paper since I first understood these things) or at some piece of reading material, the former on the floor, leaned back against the couch in the den that served as his bedroom during Divorced Dad Weekends, the latter in the tub. (As a side note, this may account for my fascination with the film noir Laura, whose writer-character we first meet in the tub, typing on a machine perched atop a board serving as a makeshift desk.)

I rarely saw my grandfather writing; I was an only grandchild until age 5, and he spent whatever time he and Gram were allotted with me fully engaged in some kind of merrymaking, talking, or (bless his heart) shopping. Often for books. But Gramps always had the study of my dreams: Mid-Century Awesome, with a massive and elegant custom wall unit of interlocking shelves, nooks, and whatnot for his books, magazines, files, and, of course, his typewriter return, which sat just to the left of his writer-writing desk at a perpendicular angle.

The ubiquitous accommodation of and proximity to writing made writing seem like the most natural activity in the world. It was not a matter of being easy or hard; it just was. One did it, and a lot of it, just as one did a lot of eating and sleeping and walking.

This might be the greatest gift WriteGirl gives: to let a young writer soak in it. The girls are given their own journals to write in. Then they meet with their mentors once weekly, at a coffee shop, quite often, to write, to do the exercises, but also to talk about writing, and all the work that goes into and around writing to support the writing.

The coffee shops are not O'Connell's but the ritual is the same: we are writers; let us spend time together, telling each other our stories.

xxx c

The love you take

the author and members of writegirl.org 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?

xxx c

Things you can do right now to support the "50 for 50" Project:

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.