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The Power Of Us

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is no power like the power of community. I believe in online communities with all of my heart and soul, and yesterday affirmed that belief over, and over and over again.

This happened: I have been promoting Jane Devin’s Kickstarter project occasionally here on the blog and on Twitter for the duration, as regular readers know. Yesterday I looked and she was short about $1,100 with 3 days left. Kickstarter is great, but the devil’s in the one single requirement that the funding goal must be met in full by the end date or the project is not funded at all.

I sent a twitter direct message to Jane asking her what I could possibly do to help jump-start that last hurdle. Her message back to me was heart-wrenching:

…I think all the resources are just exhausted or not interested. I’ll have to find another way. Thank you for trying!

You know, I just can’t accept defeat that gracefully. I have over 11,000 followers on Twitter and follow over 3,000. Quick math said that if even a fraction of those gave $5 to the project, she’d go over the top. Her goal was modest: $3,500, to pay for book critiques and promotion.

So I did something I don’t do. I got noisy on Twitter about it. Said that it was worth the sacrifice. It is, and I’ll tell you why in the next part of this post. Asked people to dig in deep and give what they could. I asked the community of people who think I have something worth saying to help.

I started that noise mid-morning. By early, early afternoon (around 1pm), she’d met her goal. As of this writing, she has exceeded her goal by nearly $400.00. The extra will go toward additional promotion efforts, even possibly trying to get a book tour going.

Deb Rox wrote a wonderful post where she gave me credit for the success. I appreciate her saying so, but I didn’t do that. You did. Each and every one of you, from my friend @dvnix who gave up his Chai to donate, to those who pledged a match for the next $10 pledged, to those who really dug deep and gave generously, YOU did it. I asked; you delivered. And whoooo boy, did you deliver!

It’s moments like these where I get all weak in the knees and teary-eyed, because I know what it means in this economy to give any money to someone you may not know, to trust the word of another that it’s a worthy venture worth trying. I know every one of us gets appeals for donations and expenditures every single day in our email and in our lives. I understand that sacrifice. It means more than you will ever possibly know to understand that you made it for someone because I made some noise and asked you to trust me.

This is the power of “we”. The power of people, joined together to support a worthy effort of another. The power to dig deep and recognize the heavy lift artists — writers, musicians, visual, graphic, all — have to be seen and heard and have a platform to make more art.

I cannot thank you all enough. Truly. I cannot. I will keep posting pretty pictures and political rants and nuggets and even poetry here as a way to thank you. Because I don’t know how to do it any other way. Community. Yes, we can.

Give yourselves all a pat on the back and hold onto the smug knowledge that your contributions have launched a best-selling author. I believe Jane will be. And the next part of my post will tell you why it matters to me so much. You’re free to stop here, or read on. Either way is fine with me.

Why it matters so much to me

When I was seven, I read Little Women for the first time. By the time I was ten, I had read all of Louisa May Alcott’s books and imagined myself as Jo, the brash, intemperate, passionate writer. I longed for a garret so I could sit up there and eat apples and write all day.

Writing has always been where I am at home. Despite dabbles into drawing, painting and music, writing is where I express myself best. My heart longed to be Jo, to find success with story-telling, with inspiring little nuggets of life to share. In the 90s, I attended writers’ workshops, immersed myself in all of the ways an author could get her story told, listened closely when they instructed me on the way to write that best-seller. Here’s the mantra:

Write what you know. Tell your story. Be authentic. Be passionate. Write what you know.

I tried. I wrote short stories, poetry, and more short stories. Poetry seemed to be where I was most comfortable, and also the only writing I ever had accepted by a publisher. But there was that elusive story, you know…The one I was supposed to tell. Mine. That one.

Write what you know.

Truth: I am not self-actualized enough to believe that what I know is something people want to read. That was the hard truth staring me in the mirror over and over again. It’s work to pull that stuff up and out. I was capable of doing it in poetry, but prose escaped me. I couldn’t get past that editor whispering in my ear, telling me no one really cared about those things. I couldn’t reconcile the fabulous creativity of the Margaret Atwoods and Alice Munros with what I was slamming down on the page.

So I decided to write about what I do know and what people seem to care about reading. Things like ADHD, and politics, and how pension plans work, and how benefit programs fit together to make things better for people when they actually have a job and work. How health insurance has deteriorated from the early days, and how things feel very, very wrong to me in so many ways right now in our world. About how I hate war and how much I long for my children to have opportunities to share their artistry with others and actually do what they love when they’re adults. About how passionately I wish for them to stay engaged in their world and bring light, and beauty and passion and compassion to it. About how important it is to live, create, and bring something to the world they inhabit.

Maybe there will be a time where my story is one worth telling. Perhaps it’s still unlived. Perhaps my children will tell it. I don’t know. What I do know is that my story wasn’t going to make the best-seller list anytime soon.

Then I read Jane’s book, and learned what it means to have a gift. A gift that inspired this, from my daughter:

The passage in Jane’s book that inspired that painting is from the introduction:

Sometimes, though, a true escape must be possible. In my eyes, I see fields of green and a bright yellow sun. There are no chains to bind my feet and no ropes to tie me down. All the scars that I have close themselves, fading into memories that will grow more distant with every night that I sleep, free, under a gently lit moon.

What follows is a story about what it means to be human. To have hope. To fight back what feels like insurmountable odds and injustices. A human story told in an extraordinary way, with Jane’s delicate wordbrush painting the landscape and filling in the colors.

Elephant Girl represents the book I would write if I had the experiences and gifts she has. The one I wanted to write back when. The one that let my imagination run free with words and letters and expressions but still had a gritty reality to it. That book.

These are not easy times for authors who aren’t established, celebrities, or politicians looking to run for President. Despite the quality of Jane’s book, she didn’t have publishers breaking down the door. And the one opportunity she did have was lowballed because she dared to write about her own poverty on her blog.

This is a book that deserves to be a best-seller. As is her next book, still unwritten. And the next one. And the one after that. Jane deserves to live this fantasy, shared in Elephant Girl:

One day, when I have my house by the ocean, I’m going to fill the cupboards and refrigerator with food. I’m going to keep a basketful of fruit — pomegranates, oranges, and green apples — on my kitchen table. I’ll keep a whole carton of cigarettes in the bottom left drawer of my mahogany desk, and if I run out of anything I’ll go to the store in an old convertible. My dogs will sit in the back seat, smiling, with their tongues hanging out, and I’ll play music and tap my fingers on the steering wheel as I fly down the coastal highway.

I have a fantasy, too. My fantasy goes like this:

I will receive a letter or a tweet or an email from Jane telling me she has a publisher for the book she is writing and the next two after that. She will tell me that the advance has enabled her to find that perfect desk, old convertible, and cottage by the ocean. She will invite me to share chocolate fondue and tangerines one afternoon while the dogs play on the sand in front of the house. We will toast her success with excellent California wine as the sun sinks below the horizon with lazy abandon. I will hang the painting in her office next to the framed cover of Elephant Girl and we’ll once again look at each other with wonder that it happened at all, because the odds and the economy were so against it.

We will drink another glass of wine and celebrate Those Who Believe. In hope. In change. In community. We will celebrate each and every person who stepped up and dug deep to make Elephant Girl more visible, more accessible to a larger network, more successful. And we will thank God that artistry is still valued in this world, that stories are still read, that humanity is still part of our fabric.

There will be a fire in her fireplace, and a fire in us to keep creating, to keep making art, whether it be storytelling or explaining or painting or drumming, keeping the fires of our humanness alive.

That’s my dream. You all have brought my dream much closer to being real. All my love and gratitude goes out to you for that. All.

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