Saturday, November 15, 2014

Give What You Have

I had the honor of going to the National Philanthropy Day luncheon yesterday with most of the staff from Rose Community Foundation. The people honored are true philanthropists, giving of themselves through sharing their money, their resources or their time (or all three) with those who are less fortunate. My boss, Sheila Bugdanowitz, won the award for Outstanding Professional in Grantmaking, and though she would avoid the spotlight if she could, she deserved every minute of it. It’s amazing to watch her work. Relationships are the backbone of everything she does. She treats everyone she meets with the same curiosity about who they are and desire to help them get what they need, from Board Members to committee members to staff to anyone who visits or even calls in to the Foundation. Not only does she exemplify this focus in everything she does, but she’ll be quick to tell you how important it is. I feel so privileged to watch this style of leadership, to see how others respond to it, how loyal they are and how highly they think of her. I’m taking constant notes.

But I have to say the highlight of the luncheon was the children. They honored a group of kids who thought up ways to give back to those less fortunate. Some of these children couldn’t have been older than 5-years-old, and the oldest was 14, a girl named Allison who got cancer at age 7, fought through it and came out the other side a philanthropist. When she was going through chemo (which she hated so much she called it the “Stink Bug”), she wanted to get a dog. Her parents said “no,” thinking that having a new animal on top of everything else would be too stressful for her. Eventually, they relented, and the puppy Allison adopted had the opposite effect. Allison now had a best friend to “help (her) feel better and get (her) through the yucky stuff.” So Allison took up the charge to make sure that other lonely children in the hospital could experience this same upliftment. She called this The StinkBug Project, and through the baking and selling dog cookies at farmers’ markets, she has raised over $80,000 to help connect sick children with dogs.

When she finished telling her story, I was on my feet, hands clapping and eyes tearing. I felt a rush of inspiration at seeing Allison and the other children being better people, seeing them raise the bar for a room full of philanthropists. It made me want to rush home to Elo and Dash and tell them: Be the best you can be. Raise the bar for yourself. Connect with those around you and give what you have to offer, give it to everyone you can.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Just the facts, Ma'am

Wow. Okay, so it has been a whirlwind month-and-a-half since leaving the American Diabetes Association and embarking on this new journey of commitment to writing. Five weeks have been a blur of learning the ropes at Rose Community Foundation (can I mention how privileged I feel to be a part of that team? They are awesome!) while focusing all other time on writing.

Okay, so my new goal here is to post more frequently with shorter posts. Here goes. Just the facts, ma’am:

Writing updates:
The Wishing World: I’m still waiting to hear from Tor Books about The Wishing World, so that is a constant source of “possible excitement” in the background of weeks spent working diligently on Fairmist. Keeping fingers crossed.

Fairmist: So close now! I spent the last week combing through for typos and for what my -amazing, stupendous, insanely talented creative editor- friend Liana calls “adding the flourishes”. Also, a big round of kudos goes out to Aaron Brown and Chris Mandeville for NOT doing what I asked them to do (i.e. just go through the book for typos). Their subsequent raving about the essence of the story and bulldog tenacity about the areas that could be improved turned into a round of edits that brought Fairmist to final completion. Thank you! This round really made me realize that I need to work with an editor constantly (hint, Liana. Hint hint). I’m getting better, but editing is not my strong suit.

So today I’m working on final typos, and then delving into website creation. So many moving parts! When I have a finalized date for release into the world, I will post it here. It’s soon! So soon!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blogging the Jump

So I had a spirited conversation with a friend and work colleague of mine, Dean, on Friday. I told him I was leaving the ADA with the intention of turning the best of my creativity toward writing and following my lifelong passion.

I’ve been 13 years in the diabetes nonprofit world. I originally took a temp job at JDRF to pay the bills while I wrote, because I didn’t just want “a day job” while I worked on my novels. I wanted my 40-hours-per-week to mean something. I wanted to help. My decade-and-a-half in the nonprofit world has been everything I hoped and more. It has expanded my horizons and fed me to make life better for those who live with the constant siege of diabetes.

I had an unexpected talent for the work, so I got promoted. And as my responsibilities grew, as I went from Administrative Assistant to Event Coordinator to Manager to Associate Director to Director, I saw the window to follow my other passion shrinking. My concentration on writing started to come in fits and gasps. I began to wake up in the middle of the night wondering who I was: A nonprofit leader? Or a writer?

These days, I have a sterling career in nonprofit. This is a job people go to college specifically for, and I have been afforded amazing opportunities to learn and grow. It is one of the worthiest callings in the job market. Fighting to make sure those who need assistance get assistance. How could I let it go?

It’s been an emotional wrestling match. My uncertainty has been epic. I’ve been struggling for a year and a half. And in the last six months, with this tying up my mind, I wrote nothing of note. In the last two months, I started losing sleep, waking up in the middle of the night with a clench in my belly, with an honest-to-heart-attack constriction in my chest.

Not so good.

I looked desperately for the solution. I am the main financial support for my family. I can’t just up and quit with no income. If only a $1M advance would come through for Wishing World, then all my problems would be solved, right?

But as I talked with Dean, I realized that the point isn’t the money. $1M won’t give me more commitment to my calling.

The point is living my life. MY life. Not the life I think I should have. Not the life I’m talented enough to achieve. My life. Putting my all into that unique bit of myself that I have to give to the people around me.

There are going to be rocky roads no matter which way I turn. But if I’m standing in the center of myself, pointing my light toward what excites me, problems are just challenges I can’t wait to face. Walls are engaging projects on the horizon. Setbacks only point out how hard I’m fighting for what I love.

My friend Bridget, who made a similar jump some years back with nothing but a few dollars and a dream told me this: She said that the sacrifices she and her husband made to make their business thrive were –and still are– badges of honor. “We can’t afford two nice cars. Yet.” she said. “So I drive our kids in our one nice car and my husband drives the beater. It’s what we can afford on our budget. It’s old, with cigarette burns in the seat from the previous owner, and every time I look at them, instead of getting depressed about how I’d love a better car, it reminds me of our dream, our passion to succeed. It drives me forward.”

Me, I think of my kids. What if I deprive them of the life they deserve by stepping back from the higher yearly wage? What if they don’t get to go to the college they deserve because I couldn’t make any money off my writing?

But as Dean and I talked, I realized that money is not the best of what I can give my children. More than money, I can fill them with the certainty that they should follow their dreams.  I want them to at least try.  So I’m going to show them how.

I can’t see the end of all paths. Hell, most of the time I can’t see further than two feet in front of me. But I feel the opportunities to let my writing move to the next step all around me. What will I show my children if I walk away from those opportunities because I am afraid?

I’m ready. This is the adventure, and if you are interested in following it with me, I will chronicle it here. I will take my shot and write down what happens, success or failure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Appreciating Alive

So I'm taking a job with less pay so I can free up my time and energy to focus more on writing. I’ve been in job transition lately, stuffed into the narrow cone of my frightened thoughts about the future. Will I have enough money? Can I pay for food, the house, the car? Will my children grow up living in cardboard boxes?

Two nights ago, I watched Gravity. After an hour and half of heart-pounding adrenaline and one impossible situation after another, with the main character finally reaching Earth and reveling in the simple fact that she is alive. Breathing air. Feeling water on her skin, sunlight on her face. She was overcome by the gloriousness of simply being alive.

The movie made my fears fall away. I sat back and realized that I already have the best of what there is to have on Earth, once I strip away the veils of torture I had laid over myself. I can give this gift to myself every waking moment, if I’m vigilant, by appreciating little things. These days I’m so barraged by the overwhelming stimulus of our society (facebook, Twitter, radio commercials, online articles about which celebrity had a fashion disaster or released naked photos online, the desperation of this political party or that, a billboard telling me I need the new, cool shoes), that it’s sometimes hard to know what to appreciate. What should I like? What is the right thing? But turning my face into the sun and feeling the joy of living right here, right now; it’s a gift. I get to appreciate it, or I can allow fear to make paradise a horror.

I know there are bad things happening in the world, but there are great things, too. I would love to say “just because I focus on the bad things doesn’t make them any larger or more important than the great things”, except the truth is: it does. I have firsthand experience that it does. My attention creates my world. So I’m determined to create a better world. For myself. As an example for my children to follow. Choosing happiness just because I want to be happy, because I can, if I'm vigilant, because there are so many things to be happy about. I am filled with appreciation and gratitude for the advanced gift I already get.

I’m alive, and while that admission may seem like the base level of what we get, the least that we can expect, the floor-level platform upon which to pile the really good stuff (fine meals at a restaurant, vacations to exotic locations, a sexy romantic night, a trip to Disneyland) I am happy to say in this moment of realization: It’s the very most of what we get. It’s the joy at the center of it all.