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50

$50 for 50 by 50 Index

50

I’m going to be 50 years old in September of 2016.  The thought of that both hurts my head and makes me itch in unspecified ways.

But it also makes me feel incredibly lucky.  Considering all the crap that has gone wrong with me over the years, not the least of which was a fun little joy ride with cancer, the fact that I have made it to 49 is quite the accomplishment if I do say so myself.  Add in the facts that I have a job (that drives me crazy, but it’s a job), I am very well paid, I get to do stuff outside the job that makes me happy (I’m writing TV movies!), and I have friends that I adore, and it all adds up to a pretty good total for almost 50.

I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion and considered all sorts of 50-related things: a bucket list of 50 items, trying to take a bunch of weekend jaunts so I could say I had visited all 50 states (I have 13 left), and the like.  But the realities of my schedule and my attention span led me to keep nuking the various options as being too time consuming and/or too pain-in-the-ass-ing.

So instead, I have decided to do something proactive and yet not have to actually get out of my comfy chair to do so – I’m going to give $50 to 50 different charities before I turn 50 years old.   This page tracks who I have given to so far with links to my blog postings about them and the charity itself:

1. The Trevor Project
Providing suicide prevention hot lines and education programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
thetrevorproject.org

2. AIDS Project Los Angeles
Provides services to persons in the Los Angeles area living with HIV and AIDS.
apla.org

3. The Innocence Project
Legal services and resources designed to help people who have been incarcerated wrongly.
innocenceproject.org

4. The Neon Museum
Rescues and restores classic neon signs from businesses in Las Vegas.
neonmuseum.org

5. Brussels Terror Attack Victims’ Fund
Fund for the victims of the March 2016 bombing of the airport in Brussels.
gofundme.com/prayforbrussels

6. Los Angeles LGBT Center
Services and programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and adults in Los Angeles.
lalgbtcenter.org

7. Esophageal Cancer Action Network
Advocacy and education programs designed to inform about Esophageal Cancer and its causes.
ecan.org

8. Bill Foundation
Rescues shelter and street dogs in Los Angeles
billfoundation.org

9. Southern Poverty Law Center
Tracks, monitors, and reports on more than 1,600 hate groups.
splcenter.org

10. First Book
Provides books to children in need.
firstbook.org

11. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
HIV/AIDS service organization based in New York with programs nationwide.
broadwaycares.org

12. #YESWECODE
Provides technical education and mentoring to underserved youth.
yeswecode.org

13. Modest Needs
Crowd funding of specific short term emergency needs for families and individuals.
modestneeds.org

14. Puppies Behind Bars
Arranges dogs to go to prisons where they are trained to be service animals for wounded veterans or law enforcement canines.
puppiesbehindbars.org

15. Historic Savannah Foundation
Leads the preservation efforts of historic homes and buildings in Savannah, Georgia.
myhsf.org

16. Fisher House
Manages residential facilities near VA hospitals so the families of wounded service members can be nearby.
fisherhouse.org

17. Girls Inc.
Dedicated to empowering young girls to be smart, strong, and bold through education and mentoring programs in the US and Canada.
girlsinc.org

18. Equality Florida’s GoFundMe Campaign for the Victims of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting
For obvious reasons.
Pulse Nightclub Victim’s Fund

19. Orlando LGBT Organizations’ GoFundMe Campaign for the Victims of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting
This is a different one than #18 but doing the same good work. Both deserve a donation.
Pulse Nightclub Victim’s Fund

20. One Orlando Fund
Another organization that is supporting victims and their families of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
OneOrlando.org

21. National Compassion Fund
National crime victims’ organization raising money for the victims and families affected by the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
NationalCompassionFund.org

22. Free Speech TV
National, independent news network committed to advancing progressive social change.
FreeSpeech.org

23. Physicians for Reproductive Health
Works to improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, especially to meet the health care needs of economically disadvantaged patients.
PRH.org

24. Assist the Officer Dallas
Benefits the families of police officers affected by the shooting in Dallas.
atodallas.org

25. Water.org
Providing clean, safe drinking water to communities around the globe.
water.org

26. Habitat For Humanity Los Angeles
Building affordable housing for those in need in the Los Angeles area.
habitatla.org

27. Rosie’s Theater Kids
Providing access to arts and arts education to underserved youth.
rosiestheaterkids.org

28. $50 for 50 by 50 #28: Planting Peace’s Crowdrise Campaign for Baton Rouge Police Officers
Support for the families of the officers killed and injured in Baton Rouge.
Planting Peace

29. Americans for Responsible Solutions
Gabby Giffords PAC to advocate for common sense gun control legislation.
americansforresponsiblesolutions.org

30. Everytown for Gun Safety
A coalition of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and those affected by gun violence.
everytown.org

31. Violence Policy Center
Works to stop gun death and injury through research, education, advocacy, and collaboration.
vpc.org

32. Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
A coalition of 47 national organization working to reduce gun violence.
csgv.org

33. The Dizzy Feet Foundation
Supports dance education in the United States through grants which support programs serving low-income populations and educational institutions.
dizzyfeetfoundation.org

34. Children’s Defense Fund
The child advocacy organization that Hillary Clinton worked for.
childrensdefense.org.

35. Compassion & Choices
Working to expand and protect end of life options for the terminally ill.
compassionandchoices.org

36. Safety For All: Yes on Proposition 63
California state ballot measure that would ban the possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines and require a background check to buy ammunition.
safetyforall.com.

37. Horizons Foundation
Works to provide support charities, organizations, foundations, and groups working on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
horizonsfoundation.org

38. $50 for 50 by 50 #38: States United to Prevent Gun Violence
An alliance of state groups that works together to prevent gun violence.
ceasefireusa.org

39. Stop Handgun Violence
Stop Handgun Violence is committed to the prevention of gun violence through education, public awareness, effective law enforcement and common sense gun laws.
stophandgunviolence.org.

40. $50 for 50 by 50 #40: Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center
Provides innovative resources for students, parents, educators, and others, and recognizes bullying as a serious community issue.
pacer.org/bullying

41. Stupid Cancer
Addresses young adult cancer through advocacy, research, support, outreach, awareness, mobile health and social media.
stupidcancer.org

42. Cancer Sucks
The organization is run by volunteers that have all been touched by cancer and focused on raising as much money for cancer research as possible.
cancersucks.com

43. Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Relief for the victims of the historic flooding in Louisiana.
classy.org/events/louisiana-flood-relief-fund/e91206

44. Cancer Support Community
Ensuring that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.
cancersupportcommunity.org

45. Livestrong Foundation
Working to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.
livestrong.org.

46. Atlanta History Center
The Atlanta History Museum at the Atlanta History Center is one of the largest history museums in the nation, featuring award-winning signature exhibitions that tell the story of the region’s people, from its earliest settlers to the international city of today.
atlantahistorycenter.org

47. Lowndes County Interpretive Center
Museum and teaching facility dedicate to the Selma to Montgomery March.
nps.gov/semo/planyourvisit/index.htm

48. The Clinton Foundation
Builds partnerships between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere to work faster, leaner, and better; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be, tomorrow.
clintonfoundation.org

49. Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders
Providing housing assistance, counseling, and other services to seniors in the gay community.
sageusa.org

50. Charity Navigator
Tracks charities and rates them based on a variety of criteria so you can choose the best ones that will be using your donation wisely.
charitynavigator.org

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The Year of Living Differently

I’m bored.

I could wax eloquently about the search for meaning in my life after a brush with death in the form of a particularly nefarious form of cancer. I could frame it in bucket list and/or YOLO terms, just to be multi-generational. If I tried hard enough, I could probably even find a way to put it in the context of world events, vis a vis the geo-political landscape in eastern Europe and its impact on agriculture prices.

But in the end it’s really just because I’m kinda bored.

The “it” in question is this, The Year of Living Differently, in which I plan on doing something new or different, that I have never done before, every single day for an entire year.

The idea got its genesis during my health hoohah, which I am now calling The Year of Living with Cancer. The night before I was going in for a massive surgery I wrote a piece called “21 Words,” in which I looked back on my life with what a not insignificant amount of regret. This is part of what I said:

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life. I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one. For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid. Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small. Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited. Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past. Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend. Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

I lived through it, and although it took me awhile to get here, I have finally decided to take my own advice, mainly because now that the medical drama is over I am, as stated above, a little bored. The medical drama wasn’t fun, but it certainly kept me busy.

So I am committing myself to doing at least one completely different, totally new, never-been-done-before something every day. The something can be something big or small, time consuming or quick, easy or hard, but the key here is that it’s something new.

I haven’t come up with specific new things yet; I’m going to sort of go with the flow, which is a new thing for me right there. Normally I’m the type of person who plans obsessively, makes lists, organizes things in binders (including cancer), and then tries to stick to the prescribed program no matter how badly things go off the rails. But for this I’m going to try to be as spontaneous as a curmudgeonly 47 year old can be. So while I have some vague categories – food, travel, culture (pop and otherwise), etc. – I have not planned out every single one of the 365 days in 2014 like some might think I would do. What the new something is going to be will be as much of a surprise to me as it will be to anyone reading this.

I can tell you for sure that one of the new things will not be bungee jumping. Or jumping out of an airplane. No jumping of any kind, most likely, unless it’s rope although I’ve done that before so that probably doesn’t count as new. Jumping up and down at an EDM concert is possible but I am not holding a glow stick. In other words I’m not expecting earth shaking, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and neither should you. Eating a new type of sandwich might be as exciting as it gets on most days.

The plan is to update this blog every day. We’ll see how that goes, but even if I don’t write about the new thing every day, I will still do the new thing every day. You can still view all the posts about the Year of Living with Cancer via the link in the top navigation.

The Year of Living Differently begins January 1, 2014. I’ll be in Las Vegas that day so at least all this will start with a bang.

mscl

21 Words

This will be my last post before the surgery.  I feel as though I should be witty, or wise, or at least pithy but at this point I think the best I can hope for is coherent.  I guess what I am really attempting to gain is a little bit of that much longed for perspective that everyone always wants, thinks they have, and then forgets about as soon as life gets hard, scary, dangerous, or annoying.

My day, tomorrow, is fairly well planned at least in my head.  I’m going to get up at around 5am.  Note that I didn’t say “wake up at 5am” but rather “get up,” because I don’t want to presume that I will actually be sleeping tonight.  Stranger things have happened – Sarah Palin for example – but I think it’s best to stick with “get up” and that will cover any eventuality.

After checking my e-mail and staring at the empty refrigerator for awhile, I’ll go take a shower and greedily use as much of the hot water as I can because it will be my last opportunity to bathe for the next several days.  I apologize in advance to anyone who comes to visit me before I am able to have some alone time with warm water and soap again.

Somewhere around 6am, I’ll call a cab and then wait outside until it arrives.  I always take a cab to the hospital for any kind of procedure, surgery, or test if it involves me not being able to drive myself back home.  It’s not that there aren’t lots of people who would be willing to take me to the hospital if I asked, it’s just that I prefer to go by cab.  Part of it is that it allows me some alone time to gather my thoughts and mentally prepare for whatever I’m about to face.  The other part of it is I figure that if I can survive being driven to the hospital by a Los Angeles cab driver, I can survive anything.

When I get there I will also continue with my other little hospital tradition, which is walking up to the receptionist in the admitting room and stating, with a cheerful voice, the reason I’m there.  In this case it will be thusly: “It’s a beautiful day for an esophagectomy!”

The surgery itself is scheduled to start at 8:30am and should take three to four hours.

Now… and this is important… the one thing I don’t plan to do tomorrow is die.  It’s not on the agenda as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s the deal: I hate things left unfinished.  I don’t always need to have a nice tidy bow wrapping it all up because I understand that life rarely affords us the opportunity to do so, but I do need to have some measure of closure.  I loathe ambiguity; nothing frustrates me more.  It’s like a TV show that gets cancelled after the season ended with a cliffhanger.  Did Angela really end up with Jordan Catalono?  Did Harrison choose Brooke or Sam?  Did Jessica get killed by the firing squad?

So with that in mind, I offer some thoughts and ruminations that will act, I suppose, as my version of closure should my plans go awry tomorrow.

I’ve had a good life.  I don’t know if it was a great life but it was good and that’s better than a lot of people get.

I had friends.  Several were amazing and life-altering.  Most people don’t even have one of those in their life so in that regard I was truly blessed.

I knew love.  Not in the traditional, romantic sense, but it was still a true, undeniable, soul-mate type of love.

I had fun.  Maybe not as often as I should have and perhaps with less gusto as I could have but it was fun nevertheless.

I did some cool things.  I had not one, but two plays produced in real, honest-to-God theaters and they won a bunch of awards.  I rode a camel in Egypt.  I drank ouzo in Greece.  I wrote books that were published and people bought them and read them.  I won $30,000 on a slot machine.  I drove a race car.  I visited the Britney Spears Museum and saw the biggest ball of twine.  I shook hands with the man that would be the President of the United States.

I tried to be a good person.  I didn’t always accomplish that.  I had my moments – some extended – of selfishness and vanity and pride and hedonism and sloth and greed and all of the other things that make us human but I’d like to think that, for the most part, I merely waded in the pools of my various sins rather than wallowing and reveling in them.

I certainly was not always nice to everyone all of the time but I don’t think I was ever cruel.  Well, not intentionally cruel.

Regrets?  I’ve had a few.

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life.  I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one.  For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

I think that chance-aversion also applies to my emotional life.  I’ve always been reserved, private, and cautious when it came to other people and I think I missed out on a lot of stuff because of it.  I pushed people away or didn’t pull people close enough and so my life has been more solitary than it needed to be.  It certainly is the reason I’ve never had a real romantic relationship.  Well, that and the fact that I never met Anderson Cooper.  He would’ve loved me if only our paths had crossed.

I regret that I didn’t do something about my chronic heartburn earlier.  That’s a big one right now.

But I think my biggest regret is that I never really figured out a way to feel comfortable in my own skin.  It’s like I never fit into the life I tried on for size.  It was probably the fat kid thing that I never got over, but whatever its root was, it limited me.  No one can be completely unlimited without winding up jailed, committed, or dead but if you live a limited life you might as well be all of the above.

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid.  Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small.  Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited.  Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past.  Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend.  Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

And also this: be passionate.  If I were the divine overseer of this universe, I would make it a requirement, sort of like picking a major in college.  Everyone would have to have one major and one minor passion, whether it be an artistic endeavor, a sport, or model railroading to name a few.  As long as it’s something that gets you excited, makes time fly, and gives you something to dream about, it counts.

And finally, I guess, just this… thank you.  As a writer, I like to think that every person is a story.  Stories are meant to be shared, so thank you for sharing yours with me and letting me share mine with you.

Do I have any last words?  Well, I suppose I’ll go with the ones that I took the time (and the pain) to have tattooed on my body – 21 of them incorporated into a tribal design on my arm, chest, shoulder, and back.  They are my words to live by.  I did, to some of them.  Others, I fell short on.  I hope you find your words, embrace them, recite them to yourself every morning when you wake up, and not just live by them, but live up to them.

Courage.  Integrity.  Joy. Life.  Devotion.  Indulgence.  Desire.  Commitment.  Chance.  Creativity.  Family.  Passion.  Peace.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Beauty.  Art.  Perseverance.  Inspiration.  Aspiration.

Wait… there’s one more. What is it?  Oh right… Perspective.