31 July 2013

Did I Remember To Turn Off The Curling Iron?

I’ve been catching up with “Girls” on HBO GO this week and it’s made me so glad I’m not in my 20s anymore. Like the characters, I moved to New York in my early 20s, but unlike them, I was already on my career path, and I’d really like to think I wasn’t as irritatingly self-absorbed and needy as they are. 
But I do remember what it felt like to be expected to act like an adult when I still felt so much like a kid (now I know that never changes), what it felt like to be crushed by a boy not feeling the same affection I did (or, at least not for me), and to be crippled with low self-esteem.
*SPOILER ALERT*  Toward the end of the second season, Hannah’s debilitating OCD returns for the first time since high school. It’s the first we learn of her battle with the disorder. It’s brought on by the stress of meeting a deadline for an eBook that may also finally mean she’s recognized as a real writer. As she has to count everything in multiples of eight, it’s a brutally harrowing, painful depiction of the wiring in her brain short circuiting to the point she can’t function. It turns out that “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, who plays Hannah, based the episodes on her own bouts of OCD and anxiety when she was growing up. Several of the scenes, including one with a Q-tip, are heartbreaking in her relentless anguish.
According to the experts, we all have OCD to some degree. I know I do. Mine, oddly, manifests itself primarily in that I always think I’ve left my curling iron on. I often leave my house, only to have to go back to make sure that I unplugged it. Even last week when I was visiting my sister, I texted to ask her to check the upstairs bathroom, in case I’d left the curling iron plugged it (I hadn’t). I’d say 10% of the time, I have forgotten to unplug it, which only makes my fear a little more intense. (Apparently, you can buy a curling iron that turns itself off. I have to check that out.) 
I know people whose OCD has lead to the end of their marriages, their spouses unable to deal with the endless obsessive thoughts with no basis in fact or the unrelenting need to have the fringe on the carpet all straightened perfectly (and unable to leave the house until that’s accomplished). It’s a cruel disease that takes someone hostage and tortures them and it’s agonizing to try to hold in a thought that is screaming in your brain, demanding to be heard.
Today’s $10 goes to the International OCD Foundation. According to its website, the non-profit was funded by a group of people with OCD in 1986.  Its goals are to educate the public about OCD, support research in its causes and treatments, and advocate for the OCD community. 
July 31: International OCD Foundation  http://www.ocfoundation.org/

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30 July 2013

Dancing On Their Graves

I flew back from North Carolina to Los Angeles on Sunday after spending a week with my family. It was a momentous time to be in Raleigh as the legislature concluded its session by passing the most restrictive Voter ID program in the nation and an abortion law snuck onto a bill about motorcycle safety.
Those were on top of a session that also gutted education by cutting more than 9,000 education jobs statewide and allowing for no raises for teachers for at least 2 years (a move that will lead to NC ranking dead last in teachers’ pay), drug testing for those who receive welfare, repealing the racial justice act, and ending federal unemployment benefits. About the only freedom the legislature decided to expand was, you guessed it, the places you can carry your concealed weapon. I know I feel better knowing that someone could be legally packing heat in a bar or funeral or PLAYGROUND.
I’m not the first to say it, as the story is now getting plenty of national attention, but it’s as if the legislature deliberately and with great spite and malice gleefully decided to hurt everyone they could who is in any way disenfranchised (i.e., not a white, middle-class male). And they did so with a meanness that included actually dancing to celebrate their “accomplishments," complete with a fiddle player brought in for the occasion. That adds new meaning to dancing on someone’s grave, doesn’t it?  Or a Wonkette put it, “North Carolina legislators celebrated their victories over voting, poverty and human decency...meanwhile, everyone who wasn’t in the North Carolina Capitol celebrated by dying of back alley abortions and starving because ‘poor’.” See the video here. 
The voting law is so draconian that the Justice Department will likely step in (for example, student IDs and government employee IDs are not valid forms of ID), but these laws will affect North Carolina and its progress for decades. The actions woke up a lot of folks, many of whom participated in weekly Moral Monday protests at the Capitol, but they will need to keep the fire alive through the 2014 elections  for Moral Monday to have meant anything. And, oh, the legislature gerrymandered many voting districts in the right wing’s favor, making it way, way harder for Democrats to win, so Democratic voters will have to come out in way larger numbers to win back some seats. Three Superior Court justices let the redistricting stand and the NC NAACP is now expected to appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court.
This is the first time Republicans have controlled both houses, as well as the governorship, since Reconstruction. But it sounds like all they’ve done is deconstruction to me. 
As I chatted with friends who had been active in Moral Monday, including my sister, there was a palpable sense of disbelief that this was actually happening; that these bills, which are so outwardly craven and blatant in their goal to hurt people, were sailing through and there seemed to be no way to stop it. My father, who has grown steadily more progressive over the years (in contrast to the usual pattern), expressed his frustration at not being able to do more than vote and financially support opposition candidates. 
On my flight back on Sunday, I sat beside an elderly black woman. We didn’t chat until we came very close to landing. Somehow the Voter ID law came up. We both shook our heads in sadness and shame that our beloved North Carolina had passed such an awful, awful thing. Part of me just wanted to grab her hand in a moment of silent solidarity, but I thought she might think me a little odd. 
Today’s $10 goes to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which fights for voting rights, human rights, criminal rights, immigrant rights and environmental justice. SCSJ estimates that the voter ID bill will affect around 319,000 North Carolina voters, including Alberta Currie, who has voted every year since 1956, but has no birth certificate since she was born at home. Without a birth certificate, she can’t get a photo ID, according to the new rule. See the video below from CBS News for more.

And if you don’t think this can happen in your state, think again. I would have NEVER believed it could happen in North Carolina, and it has. 

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29 July 2013

A Solution In Sight

(I met Pam through my sister and was immediately struck by her kindness and desire to help others. One of the best parts about having guest blogs is discovering organizations that I wouldn't have learned about otherwise, including this great one.  Melinda)

I actually don’t remember how I came to know about Seva. I think I just stumbled across them on the internet.  What I do remember vividly is the faces of the people it serves. Before you read anything else, go to their website, www.seva.org, and just cruise around.  You will see such beautiful faces.  Children who are joyous, even without the latest toys and gadgets; old people whose wrinkled faces show kindness and hope; families who work side by side to plant crops, and feed and care for one another building self-sustainment for their communities.  Look further – the faces and backdrops will pull you in.  I guarantee it.

Seva delivers eye care services and works to develop community health programs in 14 countries around the world. Eye care programs encompass delivery of services as well as prevention of blindness and sight restoration.   This is a wonderful goal and mission, but the irony is not lost that the light and smiles emanating from the photographic portraiture is what stays with you.  

One of the things that Seva does well and understands is maintaining the dignity and pride of those it serves. These beautiful and proud people are not looking for a handout, but a way to get started and keep going.  What is the old saying?  "Give a man a fish….but teach a man to fish…."

From the website: “The name Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning "selfless service."  Seva was founded in 1978 by a group of medical professionals, counterculture activists, musicians, and compassionate individuals, all dedicated to the alleviation of suffering in the world. Most notably among them are public health expert Dr. Larry Brilliant, spiritual leader Ram Dass, and humanitarian activist Wavy Gravy.”

Okay.  Maybe those names will grab you. I’ll bet you’ll see quite a few names that you’ll recognize if you poke around the website. It’s a wonder this Foundation isn’t more visible.  But I also love that about Seva.  Quiet and caring compassion that I’m proud to be a part of, even if it’s only sending in a donation.  Since 1978, they’ve been building programs, developing communities and restoring sight.  They seem like superheroes to me.

"Helping out is not some special skill.  It is not the domain of rare individuals.  It is not confined to a single part of our lives.  We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us."   --Ram Dass
-Pam Dorland

July 29: Seva.org

28 July 2013

'Conscience Laundering'....

Peter Buffett wrote a powerful editorial for the New York Times earlier this week with the provocative title, “The Charitable-Industrial Complex.”

Buffett, in addition to being Warren Buffett’s son, is a musician and a very nice guy. I had some professional dealings with him a few years ago and found him to be intelligent, gracious, talented, and, like his dad seems to be, completely unpretentious.

His editorial encourages people who consider themselves philanthropists to think about the systemic issues that cause the need for the rise in non-profits to begin with, as opposed to simply giving and feeling that such an action helps “level the playing field.” Throwing money at a problem to assuage one's own guilt is never going to make the problem go away.

There two paragraphs are thought-provoking in their look at the much bigger picture:

"As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life."
He also goes on to lambast the “return on investment” that many of us who give are looking for and how that’s not the best model for measuring success. Interestingly, I just finished Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle’s book, “Tattoos On The Heart,” about his work. He devotes a full chapter on this notion that requiring a non-profit to measure up to some quantifiable yardstick, often arbitrarily picked, is a quick way to ensure its failure (this is very different from expecting non-profits to be run in a professional and efficient manner, which is mandatory).
I don’t agree with all of Buffett’s assertions. Thank God rich people feel the need to give back. I don't necessarily question their motives because the money spends just the same no matter what they are. Plus, I really believe that Liberty Hill Foundation, the non-profit for which I’m on the board of directors, has greatly improved the lives of some of the people we fight for through our support of community organizations fighting for social and environmental justice and, therefore, are helping them to "live a joyful and fulfilled life."  But maybe I’m just feeling defensive.  
Ultimately I agree wholeheartedly with this sentence: “I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.” There are many of us who believe you can have both. 
Buffett and his wife, Jennifer, oversee the NoVo Foundation, which was started with a $1 billion donation. The Foundation’s focus is on empowering girls and women through ending violence, advancing education (or “social and emotional learning,” as it is stated on the NoVo website, and investing in local sustainable economies. 
NoVo doesn’t accept donations, but I want to highlight some of its programs:  NoVo partners with Nike on The Girl Effect, a wonderful program, as well as funds a subsection of NoVo called Move To End Violence.
Today, I’m giving to  Global Fund For Women, which works with grassroots organizations, who “identify and fund solutions for issues surrounding violence against women” all over the world, according to its website. Its mission is to support the communities according to need, not as proscribed by some agenda, which Buffett also tackles. 

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27 July 2013

Keith Urban and "power of music on the soul"

Last night, my friend, Debbie, and I went to see Keith Urban in concert in Raleigh. 

Urban is an entertaining and engaging performer, but there were times when he would play an intricate guitar solo, his face turned downward, his eyes tuned to his guitar and it was as if the rest of us faded away and it was just him and his music. His focus and intensity captured on the big screens flanking the stage. His guitars seem like an extension of himself and his joy was palpable.

We’ve all see musicians like that. They seem more comfortable when they’re playing, as if it makes them complete. Sometimes, they seem every more at ease just holding their guitar, like a security blanket. 

I don’t know how old Urban was when he started playing, but I have to imagine it was pretty young to achieve the level of mastery he has attained. 

Urban plays Fender guitars. The Fender Music Foundation donates instruments to music education programs for kids and adults through schools and community organizations.  Started in 2005, the Fender Music Foundation has granted instruments to more than 187,000 people, everything from guitars to drums, string instruments, drums, keyboards, and brass instruments. 

Part of Fender Music Foundation’s “Vision statement” states: “We understand the power of music on the soul and the vehicle if provides for our sanity, health and creativity...[We understand] that people don’t have to be rock stars...to enjoy the rewards of music participation, and that age is not a factor in the enjoyment or ability to learn to play music.”

And who knows, maybe they’ve already put a guitar in the hands of the next Keith Urban.

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26 July 2013

A Bright, Shining, Beautiful Example

Did you see the incredibly touching story about “The Simpsons” co-creator Sam Simon? He is dying from terminal colon cancer and he is leaving his tens of millions of dollars in “Simpsons” royalties to charity. By the way, the “tens of millions” is what he earns annually from “The Simpsons.” 

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Simon talked about the main recipients for his giving, which include PETA, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Save The Children. He also supports a food bank in LA that feeds 200 families vegan meals every day, and founded a canine sanctuary that trains dogs, rescued from kill shelters, as companions for the deaf.

 Once he was diagnosed, he started buying zoos and circuses so he could free the animals and witness some of them walking on grass for the first time. 

His Sam Simon Foundation will continue giving long after he’s gone, including continuing to run its mobile clinic, which offers free dog and cat surgeries once a week.

The nine-time Emmy winner, who says that he has about two good days a month now because of the side effects to his chemo treatment, still works half a day a week on “Anger Management.” 

When asked why he’s giving so much away (he noted that his relatives are all taken care of), he answered, “One thing is I get pleasure from it. I love it. I don’t feel like it’s an obligation.”  I read that over and over. Here is someone who is dying and instead of feeling sorry for himself, he is spending much of whatever time he has left helping other people because it makes him feel good.  While his monetary gifts are great, the message that giving feels good may be his lasting legacy.

In honor of Simon, today’s donation goes to Save The Children, the international non-profit that provides medical care around the world, as well as fights poverty, illiteracy and a host of other ills. In 2012, according to its website, Save The Children helped more than 78 million children worldwide.

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25 July 2013

The last Slobbermouse

More than 20 years ago, when my sister was working as a banker in London, she came across a great discovery: cloth mice and fish stuffed with catnip at a shop in Covent Garden. Culpepper generally sold lotions, potpourri, and herbal concoctions and she just happened to stumble across the cat toys that were in a big barrel by the check-out counter.

After our beloved beagle Cindy died at 18, my family had switched to cats. We were too heartbroken and too in love with Cindy to ever think about getting another dog. Jeannie brought the catnip mice and fish home for our cats Peeve (our pet peeve...get it?) and Midnight  (an all white cat....their names really tell you all you need to know about my family). It would be impossible to overstate how crazy they went for them. They spent the whole Christmas gorked out of their minds on catnip, twisting around on their backs, rubbing all over the mice, and, in their drunken sailor stupor, totally soaking them with saliva. So we dubbed them Slobbermice (whether it was a mouse or fish didn’t matter). 

From that first Christmas, whenever one of us went to London, which was fairly frequently, we had the mandate to go to Culpepper and pick up a fresh stock of Slobbermice because Peevie and Midnight (and later Ming and Hobbes) needed a new fix before they got the feline equivalent of the DTs.  My sister and I also spread the joy to our cats and to our friends’ cats. The Slobbermice were completely flat and came in a variety of prints and paisleys, so they were the perfect gift to bring back. 

When my parents moved out of the house they’d lived in for 40 years, we found Slobbermice behind couches and elsewhere, along with some of those tiny, impossibly tight rubber bands from my braces when I was 11.

In February 2008, my sister and I went to London to scatter our mom’s ashes in the Thames. She loved London and we could think of no better place for her final resting place (or in this case, floating place).  But we were sad that we knew the minute we poured the ashes, we wouldn’t be able to see them anymore as the current would carry them away. Then we had a thought. What if we went to Culpepper, got a Slobbermouse, and threw it in the Thames with the ashes? We were staying near Covent Garden, so we went to Culpepper, picked one out in the pattern that we thought mom would like (we may have decided on a fish because, well, we were throwing it in water), went to the banks of the Thames, found a spot to pour the ashes (not as easy as you’d think), threw in the fish, and followed it down the river until it swept out beyond where we could see. It was strangely comforting to see the fish gently undulate out of sight. 

Somehow, fittingly and poetically, when I went to London last year, I stopped by Covent Garden and Culpepper was gone. It turns out it had closed shortly after our 2008 trip. 
Today, my sister and I stopped at Cat Care Veterinary Clinic in Morrisville to pick up food for her cats. Not only were three adorable kittens there for adoption and three resident cats for us to play with, there was a jar full of Slobbermice! They weren’t exactly the same as the ones at Culpepper, but they were close enough. They were made from different prints and stuffed with catnip just like the originals. but their ears and tails were different and they weren’t flat.  I bought $10 worth. 100% of the proceeds go to Safe Haven Cat Shelter & Clinic, a no-kill animal shelter in Raleigh with a small staff of only eight and more than 80 volunteers. Every Friday in August, they will spay and neuter feral cats for free. Aug. 2-4, adult cats will be free and kittens are only $15. On Sept. 15, Safe Haven will microchip your cat or dog for $10.

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24 July 2013

Put Those Points To Work....

(Way back in February, I wrote a post about feeling burnt out on filing a blog daily. My friend and Nashville publicist Paula Erickson called me with the suggestion that I turn over the blog to people occasionally and go on vacation.  I was really touched that she took my whining seriously enough to pick up the phone and offer a great solution. It only took me four more months to put it into practice! When I finally asked a few friends to write posts that I could slot in when I was traveling or just needed a break, she was the first one to file a post and she's kept them coming. The one below offers such a creative way to help out friends in need. I love it!-- Melinda)
Charity begins at home. Okay, sure, but in practice that can be a tough one. Ever have a friend or acquaintance who just flat-out needs money? You want to help, but it’s a weird situation, because it’s awkward and unsettling to the friendship dynamic to try to give somebody money. And loaning money to a friend is all kinds of disaster.
In 2010, much of Nashville was ravaged by flood waters. My neighborhood, thankfully, was spared. Many were not. We all helped where we could, many charitable organizations stepped up, and the community outreach was unparalleled.
I had a business friend whose condo was ruined. She didn’t have flood insurance, since she (like many affected) was nowhere near a flood plain. She has a good job, but she, like most people, was not prepared for an unplanned (and immediate) expense of this magnitude. She’s far from indigent, and not really a candidate for charitable funds. She got some FEMA money, but not enough to replace the entire lower level of her townhouse.
Several of us wanted to help, but no amount of casseroles or elbow grease can equate to new drywall, flooring, cabinets, bathroom fixtures, kitchen appliances, etc. Another friend suggested credit card reward points – bravo!!! You can, and we did, cash in points for gift certificates – in this case to Home Depot. Although my friend was hesitant to accept at first, she was persuaded by the very legitimate argument that it was free, and sitting there in our accounts, and we hadn’t paid a penny for it. Win, win.
I know this isn’t about a place to give, but a way to give. It was a great idea that I’d love to share. Help a friend who needs it! I pay $150 a year to have an American Express gold card. I more than get that back annually in reward points.  http://www.membershiprewards.com/HomePage.aspx
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee led the local charge to help less fortunate Nashville residents after the flood of 2010. In the past 22 years, The Community Foundation has distributed more than $638 million to community programs and institutions.

-Paula Erickson

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23 July 2013

Doing It All for Jerry's Kids

Growing up, the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Labor Day telethon was must-see TV in our house. We liked to tune in toward the end since Jerry Lewis, who hosted for more than 50 years, was sleep deprived by then and liable to say anything and usually did.  (I also thought that the MDA telethon included the cringe-worthy parade of the afflicted children walking/wheeling in a circle singing "Look at us we're walking/Look at us we're talking," but that was apparently used for the Cerebral Palsy telethon.)

Sounds like the MDA was part of my friend Ken Tucker’s DNA as well. Tomorrow, he’ll take part in Music City’s MDA Lock-Up. Nashville music and business leaders raise “bail” money, so they won’t be locked up, with all proceeds going to MDA, ALS and other related muscular disease charities. Instead of getting hauled off to jail, they go to Fleming’s Steak House, hardly the same thing, but you get the idea. 

I’m always interested why people support the causes they do, so I asked Ken about his background with MDA: 

“My interest in the work the Muscular Dystrophy Association goes back to when I was growing up in Cleveland. Back then you could order a kit from MDA to host your own carnival to raise money for "Jerry's Kids." It was a lot of fun and after you sent your money in you would watch for your name to be mentioned during the Labor Day Telethon that Jerry Lewis hosted. I don't think I ever raised more than $36 in a given year, but it always felt good to help out.

Fast forward many years and a friend invited me to visit the MDA summer camp for children from Kentucky and Tennessee. It was amazing to see how much fun the kids were having and how going to camp for one week both gave their parents a break and also offered children the chance to do things they couldn't do at home, such as go swimming. (The pool at the camp is specially constructed to allow wheel chair access.) 

By chance (or was it?), I was invited to take part in the MDA Lock-up a few weeks after I had toured the camp and I quickly agreed. 

I've gotten the chance to meet a number of children who have been diagnosed with various forms of muscular dystrophy and while they have great attitudes, I know they still need our help. This is my third year participating in the Lock-Up and I'm working with MDA to figure out a few more ways that I can help.”

For Chooseday Tuesday, $10 goes to Ken and his great support of the MDA

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22 July 2013

You may not have heard the news because it’s not really making the rounds, but apparently, there’s a new royal baby. 

I was 35,000 feet up in the air when word came from Buckingham Palace that there was a new future boy king in town. The flight attendant went row to row asking us if we wanted to know if it was a boy or girl and then she whispered the baby’s sex to whomever wanted the news. 

How great was the official wording? It must be what the Royal Family has used for centuries:  “Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4.24 p.m. today.”  “Was safely delivered?”  What kind of construction is that? 

There’s really no news yet other than Prince William is very happy, and mother and son are fine and Prince Harry is probably relieved that he’s even further from having to ever think he’ll be king so he can continue his antics. I expect the baby is already working on his royal wave and his “Heeeeelllllooooo!” I’m happy for them, but I’m a little bummed that it wasn’t a girl since the rules have changed and the new royal daughter would have been the free and clear heir to the throne no matter how many boys were born after her.

I caught an interview with the veddy veddy posh British Ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott, who suggested if we wanted to show “our pleasure” at the news that we either go to the royal website and leave good wishes or make a donation to the children’s charity of our choice. 

My sister found a great charity that helps children who come into this world in conditions that are the extreme opposite of new Middleton-Wales baby.  Project Night Night donates 25,000 packages to homeless infants each year. According to its website, “Each Night Night Package contains a new security blanket, an age-appropriate children’s book, and a stuffed animal, all nestled inside of a new canvas tote bag.” 

The packages give a child something to call his or her own and provides some comfort in a very unstable time.  They’re pretty cute, aren’t they? 

Welcome to the world new royal baby: Prince George Andrew James Wales, or whatever your name is. May you have a long, healthy life.

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21 July 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “joy” this week. It kept coming up in songs, movies, and books until I was forced to realize maybe the universe was trying to tell me something.

It all started on Wednesday.  Matchbox Twenty’s “Overjoyed” came on the radio. The song’s protagonist tells his lover that he will understand her when no one else does, but mainly Rob Thomas sings about how happy he would be if she let him come over and see her. It's not about a booty call, it's about getting to be with her in some much more significant way. “I cannot overstate it, I will be overjoyed,” he sings.

I started thinking about that sentence and how cynical we’ve become to true joy. To tell someone that you will be overjoyed to see them is to make yourself really vulnerable to their not feeling the same way. To say it is to express a notion of unbridled happiness that comes from being with someone else and we live in a world where we’re expected to hold back and be too cool to express outright, undiluted glee at something if we’re over four years old. Why is that? 

Yesterday, I watched a screener of “Springsteen & I,” a documentary made by fans about their relationship with The Boss. In one segment, they were asked to describe Springsteen, or how he makes them feel, in three words. The word “joy” came up frequently. Jon Stewart, who, like me, is a massive Springsteen fan, once described being at a Bruce concert as “unbridled joy.” I agree. In the pit at a Springsteen show surrounded by others of my kind as his music, and if I’m close enough, sweat, washes over me, is pure joy for me. Some of my happiest moments in my life have been at a Springsteen show. Nothing exists for me but the music and the feeling it gives me.

This morning, I began reading “Tattoos On The Heart” by Father Greg Boyle. As I wrote earlier this week, I interviewed him on Wednesday for an article I’m working on.  I bought his book while I was at Homeboy Industries, the gang-intervention program he started 25 years ago. In the book, he talks about God’s love for the gang members just as they are and that the distance many of us feel from God comes from our trying to limit him. “It has been God’s joy to love you all along,” he writes. Regardless of your beliefs, what a wonderful way to frame love. Instead of saying “I love you,” think how powerful it is to say “It’s my joy to love you.” Sometimes, love feels like an obligation, but to word it this way makes it an ultimate pleasure. Imagine if every parent told his or her child, "It is my joy to love you" what a better world it would be through that one simple act.

Joy can come in the form of a whisper or a scream. It can come from seeing the first rose bloom in the garden each Spring as a sign of life’s constant renewal or it can come from seeing an old friend or from hearing a song that reminds of a better time or from walking about a city filled with a sense of discovery and possibility.  

Joy is that feeling that your chest might explode, as if your heart has suddenly swelled with too much love. It’s wondrous and unexpected every time we experience it. It comes with a freedom that no other emotion brings in quite the same way, with a weightlessness and light that lets you know that in this very moment, and it may be a fleeting moment, all is right in the world. 

This is joy.

This is really joy.

The Child Welfare League of America builds coalitions between public and private agencies that help children. Since 1920, their goal has been improve the lives of abused and neglected children throughout the U.S. According to Charity Navigator, it is a good charity that has run into financial trouble and needs our help. Help them bring some joy.

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20 July 2013

"I Call Her Baby"....

I first met Willie in January. He was sitting in his motorized wheelchair outside of the Ralph’s grocery store in mid-town. I was very pleased when I saw him today in his same old spot almost exactly six months later. 

Willie lives on Skid Row and he gets on the city  bus— it can lower its steps to the ground to accommodate his chair —and he comes to Ralph’s and quietly asks for change. He must go other places too since I hadn’t seen him outside of Ralph’s since our first meeting. 

I walked up to him, said, “Hey Willie! You probably don’t remember me.” And he didn’t. He thought my name was Barbara and that I’d given him a book.  I told him my name again and, as if he were committing it to memory, he used it at the end of almost every sentence of our conversation. 

I asked him how he was doing since I’d last seen him. He said alright, but he was having trouble with his knee. He’d gotten a cortisone shot in it recently, one of three he gets a year.  He’d had arthroscopic surgery on it in 1985 and it had never really healed.

Willie had on a cap with the 101st Airborne embroidered on it. I asked if that had been his division. He said yes it had. He’d been based at Ft. Campbell, Ky. starting in 1972, just barely missing having to go to Vietnam. He remembered the year clearly because it was the year his daughter was born. She’d had to have a pacemaker put in as an infant. She was 41 now and she’d been in the hospital again recently, but she was doing OK, he said. She had scars all over her chest from that pacemaker and its replacement, but otherwise she was fine.

I asked him where he got his medical care and he said the Veteran’s Administration hospital on the West Side. He takes the bus there. I gave money to another vet in May, who lived in VA housing. I asked Willie if that was a possibility, but he shook his head no. He couldn’t leave his wife. 

He’d told me about his wife when I’d talked to him in January. She was a younger woman and after they’d become homeless four years ago, she’d turned to drugs and then prostitution to support her drug habit. “She’s skin and bones now, but I love her,” he said. “She comes up and she hugs me and she smells good.” 

I asked him her name and he said, “I call her baby.”  I pressed him a little and he said, “Chris,” which didn’t sound at all familiar to me. I think he felt like I was judging him for giving up the possibility of VA housing so he could still be with her, even though she was turning tricks and an addict. He said he thought he might be going to hell. He said so twice. I’m not sure why he thought that. I told him that I didn’t think God worked that way. But then what do I know? I don’t know why God would let all kinds of suffering happen here on Earth so I certainly can’t claim any knowledge on the afterlife... although it would seem to me that Willie’s going through hell now.

I went into the store, bought Willie some food and water and gave it to him plus my daily $10 in hopes he could find a bed to sleep in for the night. I vowed not to give to causes more than once, but to see Willie and to not give him money in order to obey some arbitrary rule I made felt cruel, almost like a sin.

I came home and looked back at the story I first wrote about Willie in January. At that time, his wife’s name was Annabelle, so who know what’s going there. He talked about her with the same wistfulness and bittersweet tone, so it was clearly the same woman, but maybe he was making up a name in a misguided attempt to protect her or maybe she doesn’t exist except in Willie’s mind. Either way, he calls her baby.

July 20: Willie

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19 July 2013

My Life 201 Days Ago

200! Today is my 200th post. If this blog were years, it would be my bicentennial. 

It’s hitting me kind of hard that I’m at 200. It feels like the next 165 days are going to fly by. I still remember writing the first blog post on Jan. 1. Now I know what my friends who have kids are talking about when they say “they grow up so fast!”

It’s been such a wild ride. Here’s what I know for sure from the first 200 days....

*I am a happier person than I was 201 days ago. Everything we read about giving making the donor happier and more appreciative has happened to me. I’m so aware of my blessings. The other day, I was in a really crappy mood. I was bummed about some stuff going on personally and I felt sad and alone. Then I realized how few days I’ve had this year feeling that way. It’s not because any of the issues I was dealing with before the blog started have gone away, I just don't dwell on them anymore. 

*I’m a better person that I was 201 days ago. I know that’s a hard one to gauge and a pretty arrogant one to self determine, but I’m less self-absorbed and much more aware of how a little effort on my part can make a lot of difference.

*I worry less than I did 201 days ago. Part of that is because I’m not thinking about myself so much and what could go wrong in my life. Part of every day is spent thinking about whose life I can make better by donating money and spreading the word about a very worthwhile cause.

*I’m better informed than I was 201 days ago. Unintentionally, the blog has, in many ways, been a chronicle of major current events, whether it was the Boston Marathon bombing, the Texas fertilizer explosion, the Moore tornado... or smaller, yet no less catastrophic for those affected, events, like a shooting in Chicago. It’s also been a log of celebrations, such as the Supreme Court’s overturn of DOMA. Often, I comb the headlines when I’m trying to decide who to give to and, therefore, I'm more aware of what’s going on. 

*I feel more connected to the world than I did 201 days ago. Homeboy Industries’ founder Father Greg Boyle quotes Mother Teresa in his speeches, saying “The problem in the world is we’ve just forgotten that we belong to each other.”  I love that. We are all connected, but it’s so much deeper than that. Living on this earth means being deeply interconnected with those around you. Even those you will never meet. All our fortunes are tied to each other. Politics will have you not believe it, but it’s true. 

I got interviewed a while back for an article about my blog. The story has yet to run, but one of the interviewer’s questions has stuck in my mind. She asked me how do I think I will feel on day 366. I think I’m going to feel a little relieved, but a lot sad. In fact, I may keep the blog going and keep giving daily, but regardless, I know that I will continue to give at a more substantial level than I had 201 days ago.

Today, I’m giving to the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Reading is one of the great joy’s in my life and I hate that budget cuts have caused library closures and it’s gotten harder for people to read for free.

Wonderful author Walter Mosley says this about libraries in Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ website: "The library is our shelter and refuge; it is the place where you can always sit at a desk, pull down just any old book, sit back and wonder how life was for a citizen under the rule of ancient Rome. You can express yourself there and the librarian will not turn you in."

According to its website, the Library Foundation partners with the LA Public Library “to support, supplement, and strengthen programs and technology not funded by the City.” Among the areas the Foundation funds is “investing in new readers” and building a virtual library, as well as various cultural programs. 

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18 July 2013

Girl, You Better Werk (Out)

I have a confession to make. I actually feel much better when I exercise. Shocking, right? Someone please alert the media.

The problem is I have to have exercised for me to realize this nugget. It’s safe to say that I don’t think I’ve ever regretted working out... all two times. Seriously, I so envy my friends who manage to go to the gym or run or hike several times a week as if it were some goal that they can achieve yet is unattainable to me.

Last spring, after sitting on a flight with a fitter-than-fit Army Colonel who had just run a marathon with his wife and a 5K with his six-year old daughter (he starts his kids young), I challenged myself to work out 45 of the next 90 days for at least 30 minutes a day. I managed to do 40 workouts and it was amazing how much better I felt. All the crap about having more energy, focus, etc. is true. Damn it. I also begrudgingly like pushing myself. Six years ago I trained for and ran/walked a half-marathon for the Leukemia Society. That seems like some long ago fantasy.

I’ve learned this much about myself: if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, I’m pretty much not going to do it. I have spent many a day in my workout clothes convinced that at any minute I’m going to hop on the treadmill or put in one of  my Wii workout DVDs, and then, before you know it, I’m changing into street clothes to go out or my PJs to go to sleep.

I’m so disciplined in other areas in my life and yet this one area eludes me, despite reading every story that talks about how being sedentary is now as harmful as smoking and I’m cutting years off my life because I’m not walking on the treadmill for two hours while I work (note to self: trying using the little attachable treadmill desk you got again) or at least walking about while I’m on the phone. 

I keep hoping that I can land one of those articles where the magazine pays for a trainer and every month you do a little column about your improvement, but then I remember you have to print your starting weight and measurements and post in work out clothes three sizes too small and I lie down and take a nap.

I wrote earlier this year about trying to get back into shape and I generally do something at least twice a week, but it’s not nearly enough to stave off all the sitting and getting older and chip-eating, so once again, I’m going to put in writing that for the rest of the year, I want the discipline that having to file this blog every single day has brought me to spill over into the exercise area.  I’m  traveling off and on the next several weeks and my treadmill is on the fritz (yes, I already have the repairman coming), but when I get back, I’m going to buckle down and maybe even commit to another 45 workouts-in-90 days. Hell, maybe I’ll be really ambitious and try for 60-in-90. 

I was on the swim team and on a soft ball team when I was younger, but I stopped both of those around 12, as many girls going into puberty do, and exercise and staying fit was never a priority in my house. So many of my friends go on bike rides, runs or hikes with their kids; we weren’t that family. I wonder if it would be easier for me now if I’d remained active through high school and college? 

Today I’m giving to Project Fit America, a program that helps underfunded elementary and high schools throughout the U.S. by providing playground and sports equipment and training programs to encourage kids to reach fitness levels.  Maybe I should find out if there’s a Project Fit America for lazy adult writers. 

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17 July 2013

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Not Fluffy

I interviewed Father Greg Boyle today for a magazine article. For those of you who aren’t aware of him, Father Boyle started Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries 25 years ago, the country’s largest gang-intervention organization. 

One of the primary services Homeboy has offered since the start is free tattoo removal (that started when an ex-gang member complained for Father G, as he’s called,that he couldn’t get a job and Father G replied that it could be because of the large tattoo across his forehead that read “Fuck the World.”

Since then, Homeboy has greatly expanded into classes, legal services, training and running six different social enterprises, including the Homeboy Bakery, the Homegirl Cafe, and an silkscreen/embroidery shop that has more than 2,500 clients. Homeboy employs more than 200 former gang members, many of whom leave Homeboy and find jobs in the private sector.

Boyle is a hero in Los Angeles and he’s a hero in the social justice movement, speaking all over the world about second chances and kinship. Just being in his calm presence feels redemptive.

Despite all his fame, and the tremendous good that Homeboy Industries does by every metric, he talked about how much of a struggle it is to raise money. He talked about how people who work with animal shelters have told him about getting handed $1 million checks, repeatedly, and how that doesn’t happen at Homeboy Industries because gang members aren’t “cuddly.” It’s a much tougher sell to convince someone to give to someone with a possible criminal record, covered in tattoos, than a cute, furry creature that wags its tail. 

I thought a lot about that all day and how it affects my giving. For a long time I didn’t give money to animal causes (though I gave my time by volunteering the Humane Society in New York and then the Lange Foundation in Los Angeles) because I put a higher premium on two-legged creature than four-legged ones in terms of my dollars. Plus, it always felt like animal causes were a much easier sell.

However, I realize that animal causes are one of the three biggest areas I’ve given to since I started giving daily in January (I’ve also given a lot to LGBT issues and to charities that assist the military). I’ve become a total sucker for a cute photo of a kitten who looks like it wants its belly rubbed or a puppy cocking its head a certain way to ensure maximum cuteness. We all like giving to animals because they need our help and we see them as defenseless against the cruelties waged against them. But so are ex-gang members. Maybe not in the same way, but they are in a culture that gives them no hope of a better life and they have no one to take care of them either. Many of them have been abused and battered, just like helpless animals.

I’m not going to stop giving to animal causes for the rest of the year, but I think I’m going to try to spread it out a little bit more and not have my head turned so easily by a little ball of fluff. 

I’m not giving to Homeboy Industries today. I’ll save that for after I’ve turned in my article and my professional dealings with them are done.

Today’s $10 goes to Brothers and Sisters of Love, a Catholic ministry based in Chicago that works with gangs and the poor. 

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