To give or not to give, that is the question

Does it annoy you when the cashier at Whole Foods asks if you want to donate or receive bag credit? Are you equally uncomfortable giving to panhandlers or not giving? It seems like we’re barraged by requests for donations at all levels—radio stations, mail, email, walking down the street, in random stores.

I decided to do what the big guys do, come up with a coherent policy that made sense to me against which I could weigh all these requests.  Larry sez: People do what they are paid to do. So for what it’s worth, here’s my policy. It gives me a path through those myriad requests for money:
I don’t give to panhandlers. I give to anyone playing a musical instrument or other attempt at entertainment, and the people who sell the street newspaper.  The only exception I’ve made was a singer in the NY subway who I passed on a regular basis and wanted to encourage to QUIT! The other day, I passed a very pregnant woman with a sign “Traveling, broke, hungry.” I gave her an orange. I guess that counts as an exception, too. When I don’t give, I make eye contact, nod, and say, “Not today.”

I set aside what seems to me a reasonable amount of money each year, and make two or three major donations to the organizations I most want to support. I take a smaller amount and make small gifts to support a broader set of organizations. This includes public radio and TV stations, but I never support them during pledge drives. I think they should find a better way. (People do what they are paid to do.)

The biggest shift was a decision to use Goodsearch for my standard searches. To make it easier, I bookmarked the site in my Bookmarks Bar. I like the idea of a few tenths or even hundredths of cent going to my designated non-profit, and even have gotten a few non-profits to sign up with them. After I got used to it, it seemed every bit as good as Google, and a better model.

And finally, I got involved in some activities in my community. I’m on the board of my local Farmer’s Market, and have volunteered a few times at the elementary school. I’m thinking of putting together an introduction to poetry—a 45-minute class I could give as a starter unit with short, lively poems like these:

Spit straight up.
Learn something.

Robert Hass

“Why is it,” he said, “that no matter what you say,
a woman always takes it personally?”

“I never do,” she said

Lew Welch

In any case, it feels good to have come up with a plan, so that I can comfortably claim my bag credit at Whole Foods; I prefer to choose my own causes! Of course, my policy is always subject to revision. Any suggestions?

A long way out of my way

I remember my senior year in high school going into the guidance counselor and saying, “I want to go to a school that’s like a big library, and I can read something that leads me to something else, and talk about it, and study it, and just follow wherever that leads me.” He said, “You applied to the wrong schools.” He was right. Radcliffe in the late 60’s was nothing at all like that, and I wound up on a very long leave of absence in the middle of my junior year. I don’t regret it though, because I met Larry through a poem of mine, published in the Harvard Advocate in 1967, called “Chameleons in Captivity.” He was in graduate school in creative writing as San Francisco State, and someone in his class was a Harvard grad and subscribed to the Advocate and brought in the poem. Larry wrote me my first fan letter, that began “Dear Meryl, if this is your real name,” and ended “I enclose some poems to see if you think a relationship might be fruitful.” The poem and the letter are in some box somewhere. I want to put them here when I find them, but that could be years from now! In any case, 42 years, 4 children, and a lifetime later, I feel that I got everything I could ask for from my college experience except the intellectual experience I described to my guidance counselor.

But the Internet provides that experience. It allows me to wander from one thought to the next, to explore ideas and see where they take me. The only thing missing is the community of the campus. My hope is that this blog will help provide that connectedness. The life I have lead during my extended leave has been one of an outlier. Traveled to Europe, spent a number of years on the Mendocino Coast, and Oregon, moved to the Bay Area in the late 70’s. In the early 80’s I got my first real job, as a technical writer, and after a year went out on my own. With no business background, I managed to start a business, mostly because as a contract writer I was paranoid about having enough work, and said yes to everything, then hired other writers to help.

Last year, I completed a sale of the resulting company, TechProse, to the employees. It was very satisfying—they got the company, and I got enough from the company’s profits over the years to retire. So now I can fully pursue the education I missed, as well as poetry, garden and a small sustainable backyard eco-system with chickens and soon ducks and rabbits, cooking, labyrinths, and some work in my geographic community, which is Kensington, California (north of Berkeley). It’s been a convoluted journey, going as Albee said in Zoo Story “a long way out of my way to come back a short distance correctly.” At this moment, it feels delightful, and this potentially labyrinthine blog should help connect with those of you who share these interests.