I could teach you but I'd have to charge

image: Smashingbird Vintage

Where was I last week, you ask? Busy making milkshakes. If you’ll be sweet enough to forgive my absence, I’ll share the recipe with you.

I picked up a killer new writing gig this week. Its subject matter is exactly the direction I’ve been wanting to go in for some time… I just haven’t been sure where to start.

To be clear, I’m crazy fortunate to have the clients I do, and I already write about topics I love. Austin. Travel. Green living. Interior design and architecture, with a cultural essay or two thrown in for fun. I work for cool people who do interesting things, who take risks, and who have unique perspectives on the world. Most days, I pinch myself that this is the space in which I get to play. But there’s still the next step… the one where I get personal and write things just for me — oh, and for the people who’ll hopefully pick it all up at bookstores and order it online someday (assuming I play my cards right and wind up in such places… fingers crossed).  There will come a time when I start spilling my guts 200 pages or more at a time, or craft tall tales, or some balance of both. You’ll see down my ears and up my nose and into the depths of the places I’ve been. That’s some scary business, folks, and I’ve been staring at the ceiling a lot lately, trying to figure out how to put it together.  For years, I’ve been rattling ideas around, but hot holy hell, have I needed a nudge.

This week, I got one, and it made me fall forward.  My new client is a company called Milkshake. It sends out an email a day with a short feature on a business, organization, person or product that’s doing good in the world — or as they like to put it, “good finds that give back.”  You’ve probably heard of TOMS, for instance — the canvas shoe company that operates on a “buy one, give one” model, or Warby Parker, which does something similar with cool and affordable eyewear. Milkshake covers businesses like that, and also things like Bright Endeavors, a Chicago-based non-profit that helps young, at-risk mothers by employing them to produce eco-friendly soy candles in upcycled containers, the proceeds of which go back into their own mentoring and professional development. It covers programs, brands and ideas that give people hope and — go ahead an insert an eyeroll here if you’d like — make the world a better place.  And now, I get to serve as editor of its kids’ edition.

“Sweet god, sign me up,” I thought when I saw the opportunity to write nice things about nice things.  Because truth?  I don’t have much energy for sarcasm; I look at someone like Mindy Kaling or Tina Fey and get tired just watching them spit out one-liners like PEZ dispensers.  I love listening to it, no doubt — but coming up with my own?  I’d spend equal amounts of time apologizing for everything that flew out of my mouth.  Zinger… apology.  Zinger… apology.  And no one wants to read that.  I’ve been told time and time again to check out what Lena Dunham’s up to, and I know when I do I will envy her wit. I have some, sure, but it’s always meted out with equal doses of cheese. Ooey gooey, goshdarn delightful, good old-fashioned cheese. And I’m okay with that. Sweet Andy Griffith passed away last week, and it’ll take quite a few of us to keep all that Mayberry-style do-goodery alive.

There’s an old saying in the media: “If it bleeds, it leads.”  And sadly, it’s true.  We’re conditioned to be compelled by the gore of a drama, the thrill of the bite.  And sure, a charity cookie sale is far less sexy than any given scandal, but it doesn’t make it any less important. Here’s my deal: I can’t bring myself to slam anyone without losing sleep over it. It sometimes drive me nuts. I’m a writer, damn it. We’re supposed to be acerbic, right? Keen and merciless and incisive and hard. Cynics who chew the ends off of pencils — seekers of secrets, tellers of truth. But when truth is so often subjective — when we cut someone off at the knees and later go, “oops!” — well, there’s not much coming back from that. So I think I’d prefer to tell stories that want to be told — stories of things that inspire and build. Stories of people who’ve overcome.  And if anyone listens, kickass. Please enjoy.

We all have the capacity to do good things, even if it’s quiet and done without fuss. Actually, those are my favorite kinds of heroes: the ones we don’t ever hear squawk.  I don’t mind tooting their horns for them; they, more than anyone, ought to be heard.  I’m cool with being the nerd who writes about the bright side.  It is, after all, what makes life sweet.