If you’ve ever visited my MySpace page, you’ve seen this quote: You have not lived a perfect day…unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you. – Ruth Smeltzer
Tell me something about your generosity – the animal you’ve taken in, the fires you fight, a marathon you’ve run for charity, a highway you’ve cleaned, a foster child in your care, the place where you donate your clothes, any of the volunteer work you do.
Wednesday, you’ll meet someone who is an inspiration to me, and she’ll tell about the program she created to save troubled kids with art. She’s someone who changes lives for the better, and she might just change yours.
Thank you to Tim Ljunggren, who interviewed me over at Insolent Rudder. He even asked me to name my favorite guest ever, and I didn’t cop out and answer, “Everybody.” Hope you get a chance to check it out!
Lori OlivaApril 2, 2007
Good morning! That was a great interview. I always love learning about a writer’s process. I am glad we are all connected and we have LitPark and its participants (and you, Susan) to thank for it.
My charity…well, I am very fond of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, not only because I spent the last four years of my career there as an editor, but for what they stand for. At the end of the day it’s about respect and compassion. Being a young person and navigating through adolescence is difficult enough, but when you come from disadvantaged circumstances (whether it is inner-city, broken homes, poverty or abuse) it is impossible to successfully make it through without help and guidance. That’s what I love about BGCA. I plan to do more work for them and look forward to the day I do.
LaurenBaratz-LogstedApril 2, 2007
My daughter’s acquired a friend in the last year who’s three years older than her. The girl was playing over here last summer when I was making my own kid do workbook. When I explained to the nine-year-old that if she becomes as smart as she can, she has a greater chance of taking over the world. But her parents are Haiti-born, with English very much being a second language, so there’s no one at home to help her. Since that talk, she knows she can bring the academic things she needs help with to me. And she does.
LaurenBaratz-LogstedApril 2, 2007
This sentence should have continued “When I explained to the nine-year-old that if she becomes as smart as she can, she has a greater chance of taking over the world” into “her eyes lit up and she totally got it.” These comment boxes will be the death of me.
Ronlyn DomingueApril 2, 2007
All the best to Create Now! What an impressive range of programs they provide for the kids…
I worked for and in support of nonprofits for most of my professional life. I’m glad I was able to help, in many cases to raise funds for their programs. However, in terms of volunteering, I admire my writing mentor James Wilcox. He served homeless persons when he lived in New York. Today, in the city where he lives now, he works with two senior citizens, teaching them to read at an adult literacy center.
KimberlyApril 2, 2007
I work with a cat rescue group – Gotham City Kitty (if you want to give a good kitty a good home, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and I tip every musician (read: not singer with a traveling kareoke machine) who makes my wait underground more enjoyable – I especially love those do-wop quartets!
Otherwise, I’ll confess, I’m pretty miserly when it comes to official charities. I give old clothes to friends first and then to Housing Works (where I also shop), if I see something in passing that I know someone else will enjoy, I spontaneously gift them, and I send my grandmother monthly checks so that she can get her nails done – a luxury she can no longer afford.
And because I was raised Catholic and will never be able to change that part of my upbringing, I feel horrifically guilty when I see how very little I do, that I don’t do more.
KimberlyApril 2, 2007
oh! and I shot a free documentary for my friend whose organization DOES really help kids:
Young At Arts
and another friend’s group that people should know about:
Sing For Hope
KimberlyApril 2, 2007
ok, last edit –
Now I can get through my day a little less guilt-ridden!
BetsyApril 2, 2007
Hi Sue, great interview! I related to so much of it…
I do a lot of the usual small things – donate to the Salvation Army, public radio, disaster relief. Our pup was a rescue. But the service work that means the most to me, I can’t really talk about! I will say this though, it probably helps me as much if not more than it helps them.
NicoleApril 2, 2007
My favorite charity story is this …
I have a teen-aged child. He’s a pretty gruff kid, but as a mother I know that inside he’s a big softie.
The year of the Tsunami, Amazon was facilitating donations for the Red Cross. While I slept, my son went to Amazon and donated every dime of his Christmas money.
He did it again with Katrina.
It’s so precious to me because he gives absolutely everything he has.
lance reynaldApril 2, 2007
wow. what a question…
that I don’t seem to have a answer to.
I tend to suffer through that thing that makes me feel that no matter what I do, I could and should always do more. From the simple act of holding the door open for someone to the bigger charity things.
I try to do the little things that remind friends that they are thought of. Sometimes just a card can turn a persons day around.
The arts rank high on my list for giving…as does literacy. 826valencia and 826NYC (http://826NYC.org) even when all I can do is send some paper…this ingrained belief that words can inspire, liberate, change your life and make you a better person…
but again; tough question…I really don’t know…but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.
Gail SiegelApril 2, 2007
While my whole working life has been to supposedly improve the world, from my lefty perspective, I always have a suspicion that I’m not only not helping — I’m making it much much worse. That my political enemies are actually far more likely to adopt disabled children, provide 20 turkey dinners, stop to help disabled motorists and ladle out food at the weekly soup kitchen.
I’m not a very generous person. I don’t count the money I give — money is easy.
I can’t think of many good deeds I’ve ever done except tracking down the owner of a bag of new clothes from the gap. She left it on the train and after a flurry of calls to the store and credit card companies, restored it to her. I didn’t even look inside to see what she’d bought, or in what size. If I’d liked her purchases, what would I have done???
Carolyn Burns BassApril 2, 2007
I am secretly at this moment organizing a fund that I can’t talk about here. I am blissed out to do this, because the person I’m thinking about is a very talented stay-at-home mom, a writer where I used to be, who needs a creative excursion to the big city.
When my kids were young, I organized their birthday parties to benefit children’s charity groups. We are so blessed materially, I felt bad accepting more gifts for my kids. When they were really young, all they really wanted was the party. So I allowed them to invite everyone in their class and on the invitation I asked that instead of a gift, that they bring a donation to World Vision. We collected nearly $400 each time. Plus, some parents insisted on bringing my kids gifts anyway.
I think the idea has sunk in, as last spring my daughter spent her college break working in Pass Christian, Mississippi and then during our summer vacation last year in New Orleans, both of my kids worked for Habitat for Humanity’s project at Musician’s Village.
Jody RealeApril 2, 2007
I know that I get too worked up over generosity. Is this enough? Will it really help? How do I know that there isn’t someone else who needs what I’ve got more than the person/organization I just gave these clothes/dollars/foods/diapers to? So last summer, I decided to knock off all the overthinking and give something away every day, paying special attention to keeping things simple and letting the rest work itself out; I have faith that it always does.
Jordan E. RosenfeldApril 2, 2007
Such an interesting topic that in some ways reminds me of the jealousy thread awhile back. I’ve volunteered my time often for artistic and environmental causes, but have I really done those things selflessly? I don’t know. The only thing that ever made me feel shiny and generous for a day was sending money directly to a family that had lost everything in Katrina.
I heard about them through Patry Francis’ blog and was enamored of the idea of sending money directly to a family rather than the red cross. Their letter of thanks was the most gratitude- rich language I’ve ever read, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel worthy of it.
J.D. SmithApril 2, 2007
We, myself included, can probably never do enough, but something is better than nothing.
You may have seen Nicholas Kristof’s Times piece that mentioned http://www.kiva.org and http://www.globalgiving.org, both fascinating and well-rated organizations.
Closer to home, my wife and I adopted a rescue dog a couple of years ago rather than going for a designer breed. This may not count as generosity, though, as the dog is simply a hoot and a great joy.
Robin SlickApril 2, 2007
“But the service work that means the most to me, I canâ€™t really talk about! I will say this though, it probably helps me as much if not more than it helps them.”
I suspect that a lot of the service work I do, albeit through my husband, is similar to what Betsy speaks of and one of the first things we learn is to be humble and never boast about how we help others.
But since you did ask and we are a very tight knit group here, most of you already know my past and how after my mom’s untimely young death I raised my brother from age 10 to age 18 beginning when I was only 18 myself. That started a long string of “Slick Open Houses”, meaning, anyone we knew or our kids knew who were having problems at home — whether it be a struggle with addictions or a crazy relative — were always welcome to stay as long as they liked at our house. And so for years, we never just cooked for four; when Gary grilled burgers every Saturday night it was more like burgers for fifty; during our kids’ early college years, we opened our home to kids unhappy with their dorms and I think from 2003-2005 our house was the Drexel University annex har har. But most importantly, and we continue to do this, we have always paid for music lessons for kids who would come over our house and longingly pick up a guitar or bass…kids who came from broken homes or blue collar families without much money but showed a fierce love of music. We continue to donate instruments and money to our kids’ former music school’s scholarship fund.
We also donate to a local animal shelter and I’m really excited about this — starting in the fall we’re going to be foster parents to dogs to save them from being euthanized. Only I’m terrified about what I know is going to happen – I’m going to fall in love with every dog we foster and by this time next year, I will probably own 20 dogs without even attempting to find them good homes.
Oh well. At least they’ll be safe here. Not only did I never feed any of my dogs Menu foods or any pet foods (mine have always eaten brown rice, steamed vegetables, and bits of whatever meat/chicken we were having), I’m now determined to bake even all doggie treats since hearing they are the latest to be recalled. So right now in my oven I’m baking this concoction of oatmeal and I-ground-it-myself-at-Whole-Foods peanut butter which smell so good I’ll probably eat one myself.
Err…what was that I said about being humble? Ha! Oh well. I’m passionate and I can’t help it.
Robin SlickApril 2, 2007
P.S. Susan, that interview you did with Tim rocks! And I had missed the original Tommy Kane interview when it ran because I was on my annual 2 weeks away from the internet vacation last September so what a treat it was to read it this morning. And yikes, yet another one of us with panic attack syndrome. Incredible. It makes me want to write a book about it, with each of us contributing a chapter.
Well, okay, if I had the time, that is. Sigh…
P.P.S. Gail’s comment made me laugh out loud.
AurelioApril 2, 2007
Chuck and I give to the organization: Children of the Night.
They rescue street kids and give them a safe place. We get a lot of run-aways in LA – kids who come out here from everywhere, most from abusive homes, and figure on being “discovered” in Hollywood. They end up instead homeless and exploitable by the underground sex and drug industries. COTN gets them back in school, decent jobs, 3 squares, and a chance at normalcy.
If you’re looking for a good way to make a real difference, check it out.
Julie Ann ShapiroApril 2, 2007
I’ve returned cellphones, dogs, keys, wallets and tons of things. I’m one of those people that does randoms acts of kindness all the time.
Gail SiegelApril 2, 2007
Robin!!!! Thank you!!!!
I did a good deed and made you laugh, without slipping on a banana peel. Excellent.
Susan HendersonApril 2, 2007
If this note doesn’t make sense to you, great, then just ignore it. LitPark has always been a supportive community, and I value everyone here and the diversity of artists and opinions and personalities. Please don’t hurt anyone in my playground. And I’m serious. Everyone is welcome here.
Julie Ann ShapiroApril 2, 2007
In the spirit of kindness -how about we each do something kind for a friend,or a stranger the next time they need it.
Julie Ann ShapiroApril 2, 2007
Susan and Everyone,
Thank you for your kindness and big heart.
Kelly SpitzerApril 2, 2007
Wonderful interview, Susan!
I like to open doors for people and let them cut in front of me in line at the grocery store if they have fewer items. I like to let people pull out if they’re at an intersection with no signals and there is a lot of traffic. I buy my mother flowers every year on April 15th, the end of tax season, because she’s an account.
A lot of little things like that. Nothing dramatic, but I think people appreciate it.
Kelly SpitzerApril 2, 2007
That should read: she’s an accountant. Goodness!
mikel kApril 2, 2007
I think that one’s generosity should speak for itself, and one should not speak of one’s generosity.(In my case, anyway.) This might mean that I am an old Scrooge type; I hope not.
Letting people in in front of you in traffic is a nice idea. What goes around, comes around. I don’t think that handing panhandlers a dollar is a good idea, but it’s your dollar. On the drive up here, I was full of many great generosity ideas that humanity could practice, and that I could write down here, but I took a nap, and I’m never generous with thoughts after a nap; I am usually embedded in this weird grogginess where I can’t much think at all. You would think that I would wake rested from a nap, but I mostly don’t.
This is not supposed to be a rant on naps, but a dialogue on generosity. I think that Lit Park is generous. I think that many Lit Park contributers are generous with their thoughts and their positive affirmations of other people’s writing and thoughts.
Hey, that’s what generosity is: positively affirming your fellow man and woman in any way you possibly can. I hope that I can live up to such a standard. Those that can’t do, talk about it, so I’m going to shut up. And maybe go back to bed.
Have a nice day. And be generous.
JimApril 2, 2007
I’m involved with the fight against destruction of the Appalachian landscape, ecology, and homes by shortsighted Montaintop Removal Mining methods by the coal industry.
Sarah RoundellApril 2, 2007
I never feel as though I am doing enough for other people. I donate clothes and household goods and food to the local soup kitchen(I used to serve lunches there but the other servers were never very nice to the people who came in and I got sick of being told not to give out seconds to someone who was starving and brave enough to ask for help), I throw spare change in children’s charity boxes, I buy handfuls of RED pins in the GAP and attach them to gifts, and I lend a hand whenever I am able to. But there is so much more I would like to do – like open a homeless shelter, donate more money to AIDS charities and children and the environment, and deliver meals to shut-ins. I think 2007 should be the year we all add one new thing to our generosity repertoire. I know it’s something that would make me feel better.
MarieApril 2, 2007
I came here from the publishing spot blog, and I got to that from galleycat. Thank you, Susan, your blog is very sweet and made me feel like the internets might house some decency, sometimes! I’m coming back for more.
I take in stray cats too often, and volunteer for some pet advocacy groups through the NYC Mayor’s Alliance. I give money to Best Friends, and I’ve stopped giving my rich friends holiday gifts–I give to their favorite charities instead. At least I’m nice enough not to give to my own favorite charities.
And I buy books from subway poets. They’re not always great, but I appreciate what they do.
I wish I could take in a foster child or two, but that’d be difficult in a studio. Although it would make a great sitcom.
Sarah, the poster above, has a great idea about us all trying to add one new generous act to our repertoire. I’m going to think about that.
Trisha MortimoreApril 2, 2007
Hi Susan, great interview. On the topic of generosity everyday I make a point of trying to help someone. No matter how big or small. There is nothing like bringing a smile to someone’s face.
David ThorpeApril 2, 2007
I’d like to say I think the interview is inspirign and brave, and gives hope and courage to everyoen who’s had dark days and used writing to pull them to the light, building ladders out of words.
Thanks also for an opportunity to plug a group I’m chair of, Friends of Fadeco, which supports a grassroots development organisation in remote NW Tanzania which I first visited 12 yers ago. It’s run by a most unusual and inspiring guy, Joseph Sekiku. Cheekily,he says he named one of his kids after me; I suspect him of both great affection and canny diplomacy. His self-appointed mission is to bootstrap his region out of poverty.
Since then, many members of Friends of Fadeco have had their lives changed by visiting that part of the world, and vice versa. I hink everyoen should visit a poor country once in their lives: the cultureshock is greater when you return to your own culture and see it with new eyes, even more so than it is when you arrive there. People in these countries have so much to teach us.
Every penny we raise goes out there, in particular supporting a training centre. You can join by clicking on the ‘friends’ link on the web site. Thank you!
Karen DionneApril 2, 2007
The things I do that others consider generous always engender a feeling of internal happiness and satisfaction to the point where they don’t at all seem like generous acts to me.
Does that make sense?
Mark BastableApril 2, 2007
What’s going on, Susan? Last week we were stroking each other, on the basis of very little information indeed – and now we’re congratulating ourselves with no justification but our own estimation of our personal generosity. Man, it’s just not British.
However, I do like to enter into the spirit of the thing with you colonials, so I’ll give it a shot.
Er….generosity I have engendered that can never be repaid. Let’s see…
Ah! Yes! My butler, Hammond – been with us for generations, started out as a bootboy in my grandfather’s time – he’s getting on a bit now, obviously, and the poor man has a palsy of the left arm. Some days the entire limb is useless to him, I’m afraid to say.
Well, only this morning, he tottered gamely up the four flights to collect my breakfast tray – and admittedly I’d gone to town a bit. The old eggs’n’b, mushrooms, tomato – a full plate. Plus porridge, kedgeree, toast, muffins, a monstrous pot of tea, orange juice, half a grapefruit and some Swiss cereal concoction. So it was a sizeable tray, you understand.
And – dear old Hammond – he couldn’t lift it. His right arm was putting in a sterling effort but the left arm – just not up to the job. Quivering, liver-spotted – quite pitiful really.
“My dear old fellow,” I said, as I emerged from the bathroom and saw him struggling to negotiate the tray off the bed, “do allow me to help.”
I took the teapot, the breakfast plate and the cereal bowl from the silver tray and lined them up along the dressing table.
“You’re not as young as you were, Hammond,” I said kindly. “You must take care not to harm yourself.”
I rearranged the kedgeree salver, the toast rack and the porridge cauldron so that their weight was evenly distributed across the tray.
“For pity’s sake, man,” I admonished him, “swallow your pride and permit yourself to make two trips. Really – there’s no hurry.”
And I have to say, as I Windsor-knotted my tie in the mirror, watching Hammond exiting stage-left with a grateful tear in his rheumy old eye, I did feel that I had added a tittle to the general sum of human happiness.
It doesn’t take much, you see. Just make the effort – that’s all I’m suggesting.
LaurenBaratz-LogstedApril 2, 2007
Mark, was there money in that teapot?
Ric MarionApril 2, 2007
Volunteering to serve on the Family Life (read that sex ed) committee for our local school district. Been on it nineteen years now, designed the program and – ta, da – teenage birthrate has plummeted.
Best fun – make you feel great about yourself – are the random acts of kindness. The older couple whose front yard full of flowers I enjoy every day on the way home – pulled in the yard one day and thanked them for bringing color into my daily drive. They were flabbergasted and visibly delighted.
NoriaApril 2, 2007
I love the electrician analogy in that interview. Perfect.
I used to menu plan, shop, cook, and serve for a weekly soup kitchen.
More recently I volunteered my editing services for a book for McSweeney’s Voice of Witness Project, a book called Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated.
Julie Ann ShapiroApril 2, 2007
I agree with some of the others that generosity is a private matter. We live in difficult times. There is so much hatred and violence out there. I’m touched and humbled when people extend kindness and love. I’m thankful to the good people out there. I do worry that without warmth and compassion the world would be a much darker and colder place.
Susan HendersonApril 3, 2007
Lori – I had no idea you used to be an editor at Boys& Girls Clubs of America. I love learning these kinds of things.
Lauren – That’s the best when you’re a kid and there’s a house to go to where you’re welcomed and cared for by the whole family.
Ronlyn – Is he this James Wilcox? http://www.louisiana.edu/Academic/LiberalArts/ENGL/Creative/Wilcox.htm If not, give me the correct link so we can check him out.
Kimberly – Thanks for those links, Kimberly. And Gotham City Kitty is about the best name ever!
Betsy – Ooh, thanks for pointing out public radio. That’s no small thing to support.
Nicole – Wow. You know you did your job as a mom when you see something like that!
lance – Your heart is generous in everything you do. It figures, though, that you think you should be doing more.
Gail – Ha! Just like Lance.
Carolyn – What a great idea to make birthday parties a chance to give rather than to receive.
Jody – I like that. And it’s no small thing to give away extra time, like when you can let someone step ahead of you in line because they’re in a hurry and you’re not.
Jordan – Thanks for sharing Patry’s idea of sending money directly to a family in need instead of the red cross. I like that. I once bought a blanket, hat and mittens for a guy who slept every night in the parking garage under our library, and I remember being really shocked and pissed that he was not only not grateful but yelled at me. It’s taken a lot of real life learning for me to get it that you don’t give in order to get thanks and accolades in return.
J.D. – Nice links. And good reminder: something is better than nothing.
Robin – That’s an awesome thing to do, Robin. I’ll bet a lot of those kids turn around and do the same for others. (And thanks for reading the Tommy Kane interview – that one changed me forever.)
Aurelio – That link gives me goosebumps. What a great thing something like that exists.
Julie – I think those little things are just as important as the big things. You realize you can be generous at any moment.
Kelly – What a sweet thing to send flowers after tax season – I love that.
mikel k – You have another poem on your hands, I think. That panhandler comment’s great.
Jim – Now, see, this is why I’m glad I asked the question because not only do I get good ideas and learn of programs I didn’t know existed, but I get to know something unique about you.
Sarah – Those small things are big things, Sarah, I really do believe that. And if anyone needs an idea for doing something more, wait till you meet my guest tomorrow!
Marie – Welcome! I’m a huge fan of The Publishing Spot, and Galley Cat is a class-act. What a great thing to buy bad subway poetry – I love it!
Trisha – Nice idea about getting folks to smile.
David – Nice to have you here. Here’s a cool link: http://sympathyftm.blogspot.com/2006/12/tools-for-tanzania.html
Karen – Makes perfect sense.
Mark – Ha! Love it.
Ric – I used to teach sex ed, too. I always thought the best way to keep teens from getting pregnant would be to let them offer day care to babies with colic. I think the teen birth rate would go way down.
Noria – Thanks for reading the interview, Noria. Is that McSweeney’s book out yet? If not, let us know when it is.
NoriaApril 3, 2007
The book’s been out since last year, and Voice of Witness recently put out their second book, Voices from the Storm: The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath.
Juliet deWalApril 3, 2007
I’d much rather tell you about all those who have, over the years, shed their life’s blood to see me live. Those who encouraged, who held me up when I wanted to give in to despair. Who called me forth and called me out and called me to account.
Anything I do is only a pale shade of grey compared to the vivid colours with which they write humanity back into being.
JulietApril 3, 2007
(and you guys sure are out there giving you all)
JulietApril 3, 2007
Great interview, Susan! Your doctor comments had me laughing out loud.
Mary AkersApril 4, 2007
The idea of talking about my generosity gives me hives. Gives me a panic attack. I can’t do it. But I can tell you what I love. I love our world, especially its oceans, and I love doing anything to help them and educate others on helping and cherishing them. I love my kids and all their big-smelly-sneakered teenaged friends who come over every day and raid my refrigerator or line up for haircuts. I love animals of all color and stripe, and I love it when we can be more humane and respectful in how we interact with them. I love people of all color and stripe and I’m especially fond of those who have been “rode hard and put up wet” like my father who struggled for years with alcoholism before it took him away. And I love it when someone who writes something wonderful or almost wonderful finally realizes it because of something I’ve said or written. And I love it when people help each other, because we are all the same and that’s really what it’s all about.
Bruce HoppeApril 5, 2007
Although a displaced urbanite (Chicago), I’ve been absorb by the cowboy culture for many a decade now and, although it’s never verbalized (they verbalize little) my impression is that here it is bad form to speak of one’s merits. So, perhaps then my difficulty with coming up with some response this week, having completed the immersion. Maybe then if I approach this with some personal historic references you’ll get the gist of it. Peace Corps (Nigeria and Kenya) VISTA: Migrant Worker, Indian Reservation, SCLC in the Summer of 1966 in Chicago etc., In these acts and in the writing there is this consistency of theme– the pursuit of communities “generous” in their social relations. And that’s a lot of what it’s all about from my corner or the planet.
And, certainly LitPark fits the in that picture. So, no doubt, that’s why I keep coming back.
DarylApril 6, 2007
I am generous by nature, always offering to help anyone out in anyway that I can. (I give money to street-people, I don’t have garage sales – I just take everything to the thrift store, I pick up hitch-hikers (or people at bus stops with too many bags of groceries to carry), I always hold the door open – even beyond what is sensible… I think there is a “please like me” – mechanism built into it somewhere.
It took me a long time to become able to volunteer though. Volunteering always seemed to have a sense about it that I was really doing something for nothing, and as a result I could not fully commit my energies to it. That was until I had a very powerful religious experience while scrubbing the kitchen floor in an ashram. After that I became a fanatical volunteer – willing to donate the service of my life and all my actions to please God.
But health matters have ever since precluded my willingness to serve over actually being strong enough to. My last volunteer gig was at my city library over the summer, 8 hours a week shelving books.
Let me fall in love with you though? I will go to all ends of the earth (and my pocketbook) to give you things to express my love. That’s generosity too, right?