Cool to be kind

image: Native Vermont Studios

Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

In honor of that sentiment, November 13 has been declared World Kindness Day – an occasion that hopefully inspires us to practice random acts of kindness when and where they’re least expected, and not just for a single day, but rather, as a typical mode of operation. Here, five ideas to spark your imagination. Careful, though: these gestures may be habit-forming.

Buy the world a coke (or a coffee)

Event planner Robyn Bomar had the right idea on her 38th birthday a few years ago: instead of making the day all about her, she thought, why not make it about other people? With help from her family, she consciously committed 38 random acts of kindness, from feeding rows of parking meters and donating clothes to a homeless shelter to delivering homemade Valentines to an assisted living facility and giving gift cards to families in line behind them at the grocery store.

Her blog post about the day created a stir, and then a movement; from it, The Birthday Project was born, encouraging others to use their birthdays for good as well. Those same ideas are applicable any day of the year, and everything from leaving a huge tip on a small meal to putting a few dollars’ worth of change into a vending machine and attaching a note can bring a smile to someone’s face.

Another act of kindness to consider: over-paying your barista on behalf of folks behind you, or using Starbucks’ new feature, @tweetacoffee, where you can sync a credit card and Starbucks account to twitter and buy a cup of joe for someone with a simple tweet.

Create a care package

A recent piece by The Atlantic posited that one in four Americans will have lived under the poverty line at some point before age 35. That sobering statistic serves to put a face on the problems of poverty, hunger and homelessness, and hopefully hits home for those of us in a position to help others. While some may not be comfortable simply giving money to those asking for it on the street, a simple, practical gesture can go a long way: consider creating small personal care packages by loading up freezer bags with a bottle of water, a pair of clean socks and piece or two of fresh fruit and delivering them to folks who could desperately use them. This should go without saying, but a kind word, a handshake and a little direct eye contact wouldn’t hurt, either. We’re all just humans doing the best we know how, after all.

A bonus idea for the fall: maybe go a step further and donate non-perishables to a food bank or soup kitchen, many of which could benefit from extra foodstuffs for the holiday season.

Spend some time

Even if you don’t have a dime to spare, chances are, you have at least an hour. Time is one of our most precious resources, and it can be easily wasted on social networks, in long commutes and on all sorts of mindless diversions. Consider getting outside of your comfort zone and volunteering your time, even if you start with one commitment that lasts, say, an hour or two on a Saturday.

Check out VolunteerMatch to find a local opportunity that suits your interests, whether it’s helping pets at a shelter, kids in a hospital or elders at the local library. (Intimidated? Don’t be. Pair up with a friend and do something worthwhile in lieu of brunch this Sunday.) Rather go big? Start making plans to book a volunteer trip through Cross Cultural Solutions or Me to We. Your memories will last a lifetime, and so will those of the people you help.

Update, April 2015: actually, maybe don’t do this before you’ve done a ton of research. While ‘voluntourism’ sounds lovely on the surface, it can sometimes hurt more than it helps. Here, a few resources to help parse what’s what: an NPR piece from July 2014, an article in The Independent from last fall, a 2013 post on CNN, and a trailer for the documentary film H.O.P.E. Was Here that compelled me to add this cautionary blurb in the first place.

Make your money talk

We live in crazy times. Think about it: any material object we could ever hope to own is likely a few clicks away. While buying stuff just for the sake of buying it won’t help anything (i.e., a spoiler alert: crass consumption isn’t going to save the world), when faced with a choice between buying two similarly priced, equally useful and essential objects, one of which is ethically made and benefits a great cause and one of which isn’t and doesn’t, the decision should be an easy one to make.

Sometimes, though, we don’t have all the information we need. Sites like SHFT, Ethical Ocean, Uncommon Goods, Sevenly and TOMS’ new multi-vendor marketplace make those decisions easier; they only carry products that are ethically produced and environmentally conscious and/or have a proven social mission — often, both. Whether it’s a gift for a friend or daily basics like toothbrushes and tee shirts, you can impact the world in a positive way simply by making a more informed choice and putting your money where your heart is.

Put pen to paper

Pop quiz: When was the last time you sent an old-fashioned thank you note or a handwritten letter to someone you care about? In this era of tweets, texts and divided attention, it’s too easy to forget that a well-placed, self-penned word of encouragement or gratitude can brighten someone’s day or even boost them through a rough patch. It only costs the price of a postage stamp and a few minutes of your time, but it can make someone else feel like a million bucks, even if only for a day. That’s a return on investment that can’t be argued with.

However you choose to celebrate the day, any act of kindness is better than none at all. For more ideas on making a positive impact, check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. (Yes, there’s actually a non-profit org called the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. There just might be hope for us after all, people.)

Obviously, we’re not going to solve all the world’s problems simply by being kinder to each other for a day (or even all the time), but for those of us willing to take the first swipe at making things the tiniest bit better, we could stand to heed the words of legendary Grand Slammer Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


ps… In case this post seems a little formal compared to what’s usually found here, it was actually pitched to and written for the website of a print magazine, but they ended up not running it. So, blah, I thought I’d share it with you kind folks instead. 

pps… hey, ‘member this?


Meeting the maker

Image: Not on the High Street

Image: Not on the High Street

I almost died this week.  It’s not something I’d recommend.

The short version: I was scooting along the highway on Monday morning, heading to the kennel to pick up the pup after taking a redeye home from New York Sunday night. I was about to ease into the left-hand turn lane when a driver who was evidently a) speeding like mad and b) not paying attention to the road slammed into me with a force I can’t even quantify.  It shot my car into the wide grass median, completely out of control, moving at an angle that was quickly edging me headfirst toward oncoming traffic.

“I’m not going to make it out of this,” I thought, clear as a bell.

Realizing a second later that I had a chance to maybe, just maybe, stop the car by turning the wheel, I made a quick decision. “Don’t turn too far,” I told myself, having no idea if the steering or the brakes were even operational, since they seemed to be under the control of a force greater than they were. “Just a smidge. Maybe it’ll be enough.” Thankfully, it was.  My car came to an abrupt stop, slowed — I’m guessing — by the traction of the earth beneath it.  All I could do was sit there and shake, realizing over and over again with shock that I was still alive.

What happened next was a blur.  I remember a girl running toward my car, cell phone to her ear, and when I looked back, I saw a Range Rover parked at a crazy angle in the median some 50 yards back.  She’d seen me get hit, and I’d been heading straight toward her as my car was jettisoning across the grass.  If I hadn’t turned the wheel, we would have had a head-on collision, each of us going at least 50 mph.  Range Rover vs. Fiat.  I’ll leave the math up to you.

I think about death all the time.  All the time.  I had my first taste of it at 16 when my brother committed suicide, and then as each grandparent, one by one, died of old age.  My uncle, of an aneurysm.  My cousin, again of suicide.  My mother, of an embolism.  Others, in ways I refuse to talk about.  I grew up living under the daily fear of two cops showing up at my parents’ door, telling us another brother of mine was gone because of his addictions (which thank god he’s now actively winning the fight against).  I’m constantly walking around thinking I have some silent disease that’s killing me slowly, that I’m the next one to go.  It’s been that way since I was a kid.  I think it’s why I write.

I’ve been in at least ten car accidents, two of them severe but several involving being rear-ended while sitting still at a stoplight.  The last time that happened, right after I moved to Austin a few years ago, it left a dent in my car but I let the guy drive away without calling our insurance companies.

“Just promise me you’ll do something nice for somebody today,” I said.  He seemed stunned, but agreed.

Aside from my little car’s five-star safety rating and perhaps the grace of a guardian angel or two, I have no clue how I walked away on Monday.  I’ll find out today if Frank the Fiat is no more… it’s not looking good.  But that’s okay.  It’s been stopping me in my tracks all week to think about how a half-second’s worth of hesitation, or how misgauging the turn of the wheel by a millimeter or two, could have changed everything.

Add to that the shock of last week’s events, from which I was sitting just an hour away in a coffee shop in Greenwich, CT as it was happening, talking to a client about gearing a website more toward mothers who want to do good in the world, and let’s just say I’ve been really, really quiet this week.  No need for a lot of talking.  Just thinking.  Reflecting.  Kissing the boyfriend.  Hugging the dog.  Indulging in a weird sense of detached heartbreak for others, standing in stark contrast — or maybe harmony — with an overwhelming thankfulness for this second chance I’ve been given.  There’s probably some survivor’s guilt in there, too, having sidestepped so many awful things in life.  I suppose I’d better do something amazing before my number’s actually, legitimately up, which as we’ve all been reminded lately, could be any minute.

Step one: being thankful.  Step two: maybe caring less about being uncool or seeming clichéd.  Uncool and alive is a combination I can live with.

And I plan to.



Go take a leap


image: Junebug Photography

This Wednesday was my one-year anniversary of being a full-time freelance writer.

I’m still not entirely sure what that means. I’d love to craft a beautifully worded treatise on the joys and foibles of the past twelve months, but there’s no way to encapsulate it in a blog post. This little girl with misaligned socks is a pretty solid representation of what it feels like most of the time, which is why I chose her to accompany this week’s installment… but to write some sort of summary would be damn near impossible.  I really wish I’d written something that first day about taking the leap so I could look back on it now and laugh at what a dolt I was.  I think I was too busy to jot down any thoughts, though. Not too busy with clients (yet), mind you… just too busy freaking out, looking in nooks and crannies for rent money.  Too busy trying to find my footing.  Too busy wondering if I’d ever drink fancy coffee again.

Instead of blathering, I’d rather share a few of the notions, words and people that have inspired me from the start.  If I’ve done the math right (and I’m not proud of this, but that’s a big ‘if’), I’ve written more than 1,300 blog posts and articles totaling something like 396,000 words this past year, and that was just the dry run.  So today, I’m taking the day off to celebrate the fact that I’m able to pay the bills and feed the dog (at least this month, if not next) by doing what I love. I’ll let these pictures do the talking while I take a tiny break and figure out what’s next.  After I finish this here fancy coffee in my hand.

image sources: author's archive and Pinterest (click for origins)

image sources: author’s archive and Pinterest (click for origins)

For those of you who’ve made the leap yourselves, I salute you.  For those thinking about doing something scary that’s been tugging at you from the inside, I say, “Do it.”  If it’s how you truly want to spend your life, and if you’re willing to pay your dues, it will be worth the wait, the fear and the struggle.  The coolest part: when you get to your first benchmark, you’ll realize you never once looked back.  Because why would you?  That shit back there was awful.  This stuff right here is great, even when it isn’t.

Happy Friday, folks, and happy 2012. Thank you for coming here.  Thank you for believing in my work, whether you’ve checked out my portfolio or just enjoy reading these public diary entries.  I hope they make you smile, give you an idea every once in a while, or at least provide the distraction you’re looking for.

Most of all, thank you for your kindness, encouragement and time.  I appreciate it more than you know.



Feet to the fire, hands off the wheel

Light 'er up...

image: Hua Mao

wrote a piece earlier this week about something called The Birthday Project. It’s a little movement — or idea hub, really — started by an event planner in my home state of Florida.  On her 38th birthday, she practiced 38 acts of kindness and turned it into a whole day of mini-adventures for her family.  They taped spare change to soda machines for anyone who needed it.  Bought gift cards at the grocery store and randomly handed them out to people waiting in the checkout line.  Made handwritten Valentines for the residents of a local assisted living facility… and on and on and on… all these wonderful deeds to make people smile and maybe feel inspired to pay it forward too.

See?  Good things DO happen in Florida… occasionally.

Once the day was through, she wrote about it and posted pictures on her company’s blog. The response was so overwhelming, she created an online community around the concept to give people ideas for reverse birthday celebrations of their own — the notion being that birthdays can be a day in which you give instead of receive, and in doing so, bring loved ones together not only for fellowship and fun, but also to expand the do-goodery way farther than you could have accomplished on your own.

Wait… isn’t this all a little Brady Bunchy?  You bet your ass, and I love it. 

A few months ago, I was blabbing on and on about getting up off my tush and volunteering, what with this mega-flexible schedule I supposedly have these days.  Specifically, I challenged myself, IN FRONT OF THE INTERNET AND EVERYTHING, to kick it all off by giving blood for the first time in my life, even though I’m deathly afraid of all things medical and am officially, as my college roommate would say, “a fainter.”

Because I’d put it out there, though, I followed right on through.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I missed my self-declared deadline by about a week, but hey, we’re talking decades, so I’d say it’s negligible.)  Now, while I didn’t technically faint, I did come thisclose a solid three times, and it’s possible but not proven that there might have been some crying in the parking lot beforehand.  Since we’re being honest: I stayed in that chair so long after it was over, I’m pretty sure the med tech thought I was cheesing it up on purpose for all the Gatorade I could handle, like I was pulling some sort of free snack scam.  Sadly, though, I really was close to melting into a puddle from anxiety the whole time, even though it didn’t hurt a bit.  All in all, I gave a pint and, per the big red sticker I wore for the rest of the day like a five-year-old, maybe saved two lives.  Wonders never cease, my friends.  And next, I’ll learn to tie my shoes.

So, back to the first part — about volunteering.  I’ve skipped a few Fridays on this page, and it’s partly because of the too-few hours in a day (which according to the Times is all in our heads, and they’re probably right), but also because I sit here at the end of each week, staring wide-eyed into a WordPress screen, feeling like I’ve run out of words after churning out thousands of others and being deathly afraid that the few I have left will sound dumb.  There’s a doctrine that if you just produce, produce, produce in the beginning, even if you think what you’re doing is crap, the process will strengthen your voice.  I want to believe that.  But I’m also terrified I’m the exception.  So I keep plugging away at the stuff that pays — I write write write, taking on projects that edge me ever closer to my goals, but as a result of my fears I keep neglecting what you’re reading right now… just like I keep neglecting that vow I made to donate my time and give back.

We’re such babies about getting started with stuff like this, aren’t we?  What if it makes us face things?  Ew!  Or shows us our vulnerabilities?  Gross!  Makes us take A WHOLE AFTERNOON to do something nice instead of other, more important things like putzing around online?  Oh, now you had to go and make a point.

That, of course, brings us to a new promise — one I’m spelling out in the sand for everyone to read.  In the next 30 days, I will volunteer with an organization that needs help.  I haven’t decided which one to start with, but VolunteerMatch, as always, has some stellar options.  Maybe I’ll stick with my “do what scares you” mantra and host a brain aerobics hour at a senior center, talking in front of a group without having a panic attack.  Maybe I’ll work at a hospice, face to face with death — something I’m far too familiar with but refuse to go anywhere near for fear of what it might stir up.  Really, it’s not about me.  These things never are.  It’s about shutting up and doing something because it needs to be done.  The logic is simple enough.

So, off we go.  By August 20, I’ll have signed myself up for something concrete, and I won’t back out when I start feeling squeamish or too pressed for time.  My first experience won’t be my last, either — it will be Step One of a big, fat habit change.  You guys are my witnesses.  Feel free to check back and hold my feet to the fire.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t ever want to preach, but if I do anything resembling it, I’d better practice whatever I’m crowing about.  I can write all I want about other people’s good deeds, but I’d better do some of my own while I’m at it.  Maybe I should write about them here and quit skipping so damn many Fridays.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?



Lucky sevens

You lucky thing.


I love the number seven.  

I love it unconditionally, for absolutely no good reason, and consider it to be my lucky number even though I’m not entirely sure I believe in luck itself.  I can tick off a bunch of random reasons why I adore it: there was an abundance of it in my address and phone number growing up.  The first time a boy ever said he loved me, back in college, was on our seven-month anniversary.  I almost got married on 07/07/07, and when that ultimately didn’t take place, it wound up being one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me.  Also, there are seven days in a week.  

Yes, I realize that last one has nothing to do with me whatsoever, nor is it lucky in any distinguishable way.  Look… I just like sevens.

That’s why this particular writing prompt jumped out at me when I was looking for a starting point for this week’s post.  It occurred to me almost immediately that at least half of the seven things it asks of me have taken place within the past couple of years, even though I’ve been kicking around for exactly 36 of them as of this past Monday.  So, I couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect on all the cool stuff that’s happened to me lately, and of course, be thankful for it.

Prompt: List seven remarkable experiences in your life.  Write something about each.

1. I’ve started life over from scratch.  After 30 years of living in essentially one place, I moved to a city 1000 miles from home where I knew absolutely no one.  I’m an introvert and a creature of habit, but I needed a fresh start, so I went against type and gave myself one.  It was scary as shit.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

2. I’ve traveled to Asia… by myself.  Full disclosure: I was visiting my amazing niece, Megan.  She had to work all but one day I was there, so I spent the better part of a week wandering around Seoul, South Korea on my own.  I can honestly say I’d never been happier, ever in my life, before the moment it sank in that I was in South Motherf***ing Korea — lost, actually, with little grasp of the language — and that the sky was the limit from then on.  It’s empowering to feel that tiny.

3. I’ve fallen in love with the right person.  This one took a really long time and several false starts, but one day I decided to get out of my own way.  Why didn’t anyone tell me sooner?  Because I wouldn’t appreciate it the way I do now.  That’s why.

4. I’ve realized how amazing people can be. says it best: “people are awesome.” I love their ongoing feature about the cool, selfless stuff people are doing all over the globe to make the world better — to help one another out — and none of them gives a damn what they get in return.  I’m honored to know a lot of people I could easily write similar stories about, and maybe… just maybe… I will.

5. I’ve stopped freaking out so much about getting older.  You know that song “We Are Young” by Fun.? I love it, and it reminds me of one of my favorite people in the world, and yet I know it only halfway applies to my life. There’s a parody video called “We’re Not Young” about the dystopia of being in one’s 30s.  It’s cute, sure, but I don’t share its sentiment at all.  Life is scary and hard and awful sometimes, but when it’s not, it’s a big-ass playground, and we are young, even when we’re 100, if we want to be.

6. Can we talk for a minute more about how remarkably nice it is not to give a damn about the fact that we’re no longer 22?  Because look.  22 sucked, as best I can recall.  Maybe I’ve had too much wine since then to remember it clearly enough, but still — nope.  Nope.  I’m pretty sure it sucked.

7. I’ve become a professional writer.  OH MY GOD I’M A WRITER YOU GUYS.  Wait’ll you see the little office I’m putting together — it’s got Judy Blume all over the walls.  For serious.  Judy Blume.  Superfudge.  Just wait.



There will be blood

...where do you think you're going???

image: Cannon Home, vintage

I’ve noticed something in the time that’s elapsed since I started this blog in January.  I’m a million times more likely to do something if I announce to someone — anyone, even if it’s just into the ether — that I’m going to do it.  It’s one thing to make a promise to myself, but quite another to leave a proclamation somewhere… a tangible marker someone could conceivably come back to in the future, point to and say, “Uh, Aim? Remember this?  How’s it coming?”

Time management has become a wild and wooly issue for me lately.  If you saw the post I spilled out a few weeks back about being a night owl and the admissions I made even earlier about wanting very badly to pull off the whole freelance writing thing for good, you’ve probably figured out I have a tendency to shoot myself in the foot.  I promise too much, underestimate cost, overestimate how much time is left in any given day or week, overcaffeinate, undersleep, rely too much on carbs and don’t work out like I should.  I’m also pretty sure I now officially have high blood pressure.  At some point, I’ll have to get myself in gear and strike a balance.  But again, no complaints from this girl.  I wouldn’t trade this life for anything — I love the work I’m doing and the ideas I’ve got up my sleeve.  Still, one thing I will absolutely do more of in the very near future — no excuses — is volunteer.  I used to work in the nonprofit realm, and it was my job to encourage other people to give their time and energy to worthy causes, yet here I sit on my tush, not doing that at all myself even though I’m my own boss.  So, enough.  A few years ago, I adopted a “go big or go home” philosophy, and there’s still plenty of frontier I haven’t ventured into.  I think I’ll start by doing something that scares me half to death.

For the first time in my life, I’m giving blood.  Now, while that may be no big whoop to the average person, let me be clear: I’m not the average person.  I’m a baby.  A big, fat, spoiled, pampered, whiny little baby.  I am deathly afraid of needles, doctors’ offices, doctors’ lobbies, doctors’ parking lots, driving to the doctor, getting ready to drive to the doctor, thinking about going to the doctor… you get it.  That stuff freaks me out to the point where I’m basically a dude.  Antibiotics be damned — I’d rather sit out a cold for weeks than cave in and let someone look in my ears and take my temperature.  Know why I never got braces?  Because in middle school, as I was leaving the orthodontist’s office after getting spacers to prep me for the procedure, I straight-up passed out cold on the lobby floor.  I cried so hysterically all the way home that my parents finally threw their hands up and relented.  So listen – this may not be a big deal to most people, but it’s a crazy big deal for me.  And since I’m writing it here, I can’t back out.

Deadline: my next birthday.  April 16.  And you can best believe I won’t be showing my face here again if I don’t live up to it.

So, yes — this week’s post is less a writing exercise and more an opportunity for you to help hold my feet to the fire.  I’m a lucky girl with an amazing little life.  There’s no reason I can’t give something I’ve got in abundance to someone who really, really needs it.

Someone please remind me of that when I’m white-knuckling the armrest inside the bloodmobile, trying my best not to hit the deck, ‘k?  Because god help us, I’m already getting dizzy.



Everything, all the time

Writing prompt: If an ATM could be custom created for you, what would it spew out instead of money?

I’ve just sat in a bit of a stupor for a solid ten minutes, doing absolutely nothing but stare at the wall in front of me, struggling to come up with a salient answer to this question.  There has to be one.  It should be simple.  Everyone should have a knee-jerk response to this, yes?

Life is just...

image: la ciliegina sulla torta


Part of me thinks this prompt was originally generated before the Internet was invented, or at least became widely used, or at the very least, turned into this crazy-ass 2.0 hyper-social version of its former self.  We have access to anything, everything, everywhere, all the time.  Our phones put the world at our fingertips for $80 a month.  We hop in the car before we have any idea how to get where we’re going, and boop!  A swipe and two clicks and we’ve got point-by-point directions, a GPS guardian angel correcting us when we overshoot a turn, and Big Brother telling us what restaurants and gas stations and petting zoos are on our route in case we get hungry, run low on fuel or just really, really need to hug a sloth on the way to wherever we’re going.

I suppose a favorite food would make for a perfect pat response, but Sprinkles Cupcakes just launched a 24-hour fresh cupcake machine in L.A., for example, and it just seems sort of excessive.  Cute, sure, but excessive all the same.  I’ve been talking a lot lately about how all my issues are first-world problems.  Missing old friends.  Anxiety over freelancing.  Out-of-whack circadian rhythms.  The fact that I secretly (not anymore, I guess) wonder if the constant proximity of my laptop is causing some secret illness that will lie dormant for a dozen years and then up and strike me dead in the street (and if it does, please rock the f*ck OUT at my service and have yourselves a good time.  Dance.  Sing — or rap — bad karaoke.  Drink mexican martinis.  Do it right.)  The fifteen godforsaken pounds I’ve gained over the past two years and the not-so-mysteriously related fact that I magically can’t find time (coughbullshitcough) to work out even though I’m completely in charge of my own schedule.  Waaaaaa.  First-world problems, when you and I both know there are real ones out there that need solving, and badly.  For me to wish for something like, say, a bacon ATM would give you free license to punch me in the face.

Time would be great.  More time.  That’s one thing we truly have zero control over, and in the balance, I suppose, is our ability to use what time we have as wisely as we can.  As far as I’m concerned, life is horribly short, even at its most glorious lengths.  People in my family have said their farewells as late in the game as age 90 and so painfully early that I don’t dare repeat the details, yet in every single case, we feel like we’ve been robbed.  We let things get in the way — work, errands, laziness, randomness —  and before we know it, it’s too late.  I, for one, could do a much better job of staying in touch with the people I care about and doing the things I swear are important to me.  I’ve been talking a good game for a good long while about wanting to volunteer my time to a cause that’s close to me, and I’ve dipped a toe in here and there, but I haven’t committed yet.  Maybe by writing it here in black and white, I’ll hold myself accountable.  But yes… an ATM that spewed out an extra hour or so every time I typed in my PIN would be magnificent.  And maybe, if I didn’t use it wisely, it could somehow debit me two as punishment.

Ooh, now there’s a concept.  Use it or lose it, double or nothing.  Maybe we should all live that way to begin with.  Maybe I should start right now.