Sunday, August 21, 2011

Giving: Risks and Rewards

I love it when people do nice things. It's inspiring in ways they may not even have considered. Here are two examples.

Last year, a poet friend and her sister collaborated with one of their friends who makes books. "Makes" as in hand-makes, stitches, selects paper, does the fancy folds -- really makes them, hands-on. This bookmaking friend had been part of a course in which participants discussed that question that plagues all artists: now that I've made it, what do I do with it?

Obviously, many artists want to sell things. But let's face it, not everything artists produce is something others want to own, much less pay for. Then what? Writers fill up filing cabinets (now virtual), but when you're a potter or a painter or book-maker, what do you do? How many storage units can an artist afford?

This book-maker decided she would use her skills to give to others. She came up with a theme: seasons. She recruited co-conspirators. The painting sister painted seasonal scenes, the poet wrote season-related poems, and the book-maker produced limited-edition books with this content. All of them got to practice their art. And then they held an event at a local coffee place, sold the books, and gave the proceeds to a local nonprofit organization.

And yes, it was a risk. What if she couldn't get friends to produce content? What if the content turned out to be not so great? What if nobody bought the books? What if no one showed up -- or even cared?

What I love about this example of giving, besides having a lovely book on my shelf and making it possible for my own sister to have one on hers, is that it was a risk, and it created such a win-win-win situation. Everybody did want to do it. There was a celebration, and the experience rippled out to give positive results to people who weren't even there.

[ETA this link to a review of the book, with more specifics. Well done, poet Marianne Jones, artist Karen Reinikka, and magicians at BookWrights Bindery!]

Here's the second example. Colleen Wainwright, AKA The Communicatrix, is turning 50 soon. To celebrate, she's created for herself the "50 for 50" challenge, during which she has taken on the goal of raising $50,000 for WriteGirl, an LA-based nonprofit that encourages girls to write.

As artists know, art gives you the confidence of your voice, tells you that you and your experiences matter, helps you take yourself more seriously (in the best way), encourages you to participate actively in your world -- in short, art creates spinoff benefits that can have a powerful positive influence on all of us. Giving confidence to girls who otherwise don't have much of anything -- well, that's a gift indeed. And selfishly, I want to live in a world where girls know the power of their voice: what's that worth to me? To you?

Make no mistake, the Communicatrix has a capital-F Following. If everyone who learned something from one of her posts about art, acting, or writing gave $1, she would have many times her $50,000 goal. This project is ambitious: along with raising the money, Colleen is interviewing 50 people she knows about how they became writers, the influence of their teachers, and their favorite things to read.

In other words, this project also benefits lots of people; it's also a win-win-win. However, this project is still a risk. It's ambitious. And that's what makes it extra-cool, extra-inspiring. It's what makes it a gift.

So much of creative writing (for me) is about somehow dealing with internal stuff: blocks, demons, things I absolutely cannot write about that of course end up being what I need to write about, remembering that it's the piece that gets rejected not me, blah blah the usual internal stuff.

It's so refreshing -- and inspiring, and instructive -- to see how art and writing can also be about the world "out there." What a great payoff for taking a risk: making the world better, one book and one girl at a time.