When I shift, the light catches on the flakes–the crystals–and they sparkle in clear light and rainbow patterns
I hate poetry. When I was younger I loved it and my parents tried to foster a love of it in me, buying me books of poetry. I loved how the words fit together: how they tasted. I memorized poem after poem, sometimes with intention and sometimes accidentally, having read them again and again. The problem was, my parents gave me adult poems–that is to say poems by adults. Once I learned a Shel Silverstein poem and my mom positively hated it and encouraged me not to repeat it around her.
When I started writing poetry, I was impossibly bad at it. I probably wasn’t bad in context. If I had been reading poems for children, simple rhyming phrases, I might not have thought I was so horrible. I was reading Shelley and Shakespeare. Whitman. I compared myself to these people, people with smooth flowing words and strong images.
Over time I grew to hate poetry. Sure, I have specific poets and poems I like, but by and large I hate it as a genre. I never seek it out. Sometimes it’s foisted on me and I smile and nod and carry on some socially approved action to express that I approve of it or find value in it. And I do find value, especially as a means of self-expression for people. I just rarely think it’s any good.
I’m still bad at writing poetry, but I enjoy writing constrained poems. I like working within constraints, trying to make things fit into a patter, trying to tweak stresses in words, combinations of long and short syllables to create something that is not of artist value but rather simply accomplishing a task of fulfilling a lot of ridiculous requirements. I write double dactyls especially. I’ve done a few sestinas, but no matter how much I wish I could treat sounds and syllables as modular raw materials, without prescribed or described meaning, I am incapable of doing so.
In school we were required to start writing haiku sometime between grades 5 and 7. Some part of some unit on poetry and other cultures. To practice Japanese characters and sentetnce structures, I started writing haiku in Japanese shortly after I started studying Japanese. The practical use of kanji was what actually cemented the strokes, pronunciation, and meanings into my memory.
In my recent Chinese studies, I decided that I ought to return to this method of character use. I don’t use them enough in classwork to learn them in the ways I need to. I first tried to write a haiku and then it was pointed out to me that maybe the Chinese don’t write haiku.
So it turns out they don’t really.
There are freeform Chinese poems, but more traditionally–as I understand it–Chinese poems are structured around equal numbers of characters in a set number of lines (frequently three or multiples of four) with rhyming patterns based on the final phoneme. Rhyming couplets are standard, though you’ll encounter three line poems in which every line rhymes.
I write little poems on postcards–I have a lot of them from varios trips to various places. I keep them on my desk at work. Each week I pick one and it sits at the front, right near my monitor, just below eye level. I stare and frown until I have an idea. Until I see little people moving across it and there’s a story in my mind. I struggle to find the words to express the image I have, and then struggle even harder to translate it into English.
I tithe. This is at odds with my student loan debt. While trying to figure out how to forward pay tuition for the Chinese class I take, I frowned at my bank accounts, looked longingly at the tithe account, and then promptly sent off what was left of it so not to be tempted.
I put 10% of my pre-tax income into a savings account. This is used to buy other people nice things. This past year, a lot of it was given directly and locally. Generally I give when the opportunity arises. I don’t go looking for things until the end of the year when whatever is left is donated.
I didn’t do a lot of looking for charities. Most small giving was ad-hoc (though it adds up), and large(er) donations went to formal charity organizations. Ad-hoc giving results in instant satisfaction and fits into the (in my opinion) imperative idea behind “do unto others”: help people out even when you don’t think you can.
The larger groups were mostly opportunity based giving. People I know talked about charity drives or groups and I figured I had money for these sorts of things. I think of these as “supporting people I like” rather than supporting causes. (More on this later). Give Well to help guide parts of this process.
1) Train tickets and bus tickets.
If I saw someone in front of a train station or bus terminal with a sob story about needing to get somewhere, I bought them their ticket. Many people turned down the offer of an actual ticket as opposed to cash, but several people agreed. I’ve sent people to Waltham, New York, Rochester, Framingham, and Philadelphia.
I ran into a guy at a gas station begging for spare change for gas. His car had broken down a bit away from there, and he’d been hanging out, begging for help. He had a few bucks cash, and no credit card or debit card. We filled one of those little canisters and I drove him back to his car. Then, wee both went back to the gas station and filled up the tank.
3) Cavity fillings
One of the things that makes the Bay State one of the greatest commonwealths in the Union is health coverage. When I was unemployed and poor, it helped me a lot. However, not everyone has the capabilities to apply for it. Some people get lost in strange income brackets. Some people just don’t know how to work within the system.
I care a lot about dental health. Tufts is where they send you if you’re on Commonwealth Care (the state program). The first person helped with a filling was a Chinese immigrant who couldn’t speak any English. During my extensive visits, I saw a lot of people make uncomfortable faces and heard a lot of dentists explain in removed voices ideal care options and cheap care options, throwing numbers down to sharp intakes of breath and lip biting. While I’d asked if Tufts had a fund for helping people with dental care, I’d gotten no real response on the matter, being told that “there may be something.” I never heard it mentioned during my hours in the clinic. Instead, when I heard those responses, I’d lean over walls or stand by chairs and offer to help out.
I helped someone pay their rent. Good times.
Charities (Opportunity Based)
Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, is an “international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, healthcare exclusion and natural or man-made disasters.” This totally aligns with my goals (more on this later). However, I am never donating to them again. I’m pretty sure board members are compensated, which isn’t something I’m super keen on, but I’ll forgive them for that.
I donated as part of a Something Awful drive. Having a laugh, I listed my business as “Something Awful” on the donation form. A few months later I started getting solicitations from charities (mostly Christian ones–don’t know if that means anything) asking me for money. By “me,” I mean Something Awful. MSF, why you share my information? Jerks. Maybe that makes me petty and shallow, but I value my privacy.
The Ada Initiative “[supports] women in open technology and culture.” Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson were doing a $10,000 matching campaign for donations. Since I like to think Sumana is my friend and likes me, I was happy to help her out.
Wikipedia is fucking awesome. I use it every day unless I do not use a computer on that day. I have many friends involved in Wikipedia projects (and Ada Initiative). When they talked about giving to Wikipedia, I gave for them.
Charities (Membership Based)
The Free Software Foundation is on a “worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users.” When I was an intern there, they gave me one of the USB keys they give as a membership present. I figured I ought to pay for it. While I was at it, I gave them some more money.
Remember what I said about privacy? That’s why I donated to the EFF. The EFF is a self-described “[defender] of your rights in the digital world.” At Maker Faire NYC, I came upon the EFF booth and gave them all the cash I had, earning me a membership number, a t-shirt, some stickers, and a thank you for donating more than I “had” to.
10) Bikes Not Bombs
Have I mentioned how much I love Bikes Not Bombs recently? Cause I do. I’d love to have more money to give them, but I think it’s important to spread out what I can. Bikes Not Bombs is active locally and globally.
SCI fights “tropical diseases,” i.e. parasites. I think parasites are one of the most disgusting things in the world. If I ever get one, I will have a full blown panic attack and possible breakdown resulting in me attempting to remove whatever body part contains said parasite . No one should have to live with them. This donation was managed by GiveWell.
Reflections on 2012
Most of the tithe went to organizations I would not have donated to if it weren’t for my friends. The technohippie issues of free culture, digital rights, and women in these communities are things I encounter every day at work, home, and play. Among the overwhelming number of charities monitored by groups like GiveWell and Charity Navigator, it is hard to pick who is the most “deserving” at any given point. Most of my giving was dictated by those around me.
Left to my own devices, it is unlikely I would have donated to Ada, the EFF, the FSF, MSF, and Wikipedia. I feel as though I cannot stress enough how important these groups are. However, these are all causes I can (and do) work on directly with my non-financial resources. In purposeful giving, I would prefer to put my financial resources towards things I lack the faculties to engage in directly.
Goals for 2013
Next year, I’d like to keep careful track of percentages like Chris and Mad do for their N Years Together, N% to Charity promise. I think this transparency will be beneficial to those interested in what I’m doing, and sooth my own pedantic, obsessive tracking desires and poorly managed statistical analysis of my life. I don’t really know anything about statistics. I would like to share more concrete data with you, without talking on the internet about my actual salary.
I hope to continue the trend of ad-hoc giving. I would like to find a better way to support dental care for people who do not have it and spread the joy of good dental hygiene. I would like to be more purposeful in my giving–looking more for groups working on issues that have to do with survival. I think the global economic inequality is horrible. Absolutely horrible. I would like to see more developments in agriculture, education, and the building of infrastructure in developing and less developed communities.
A Brief Guide to MollyGive
In my mind, I head a charity called MollyGive. You can make a non-tax-deductible donation to MollyGive. MollyGive supports individuals in moments of need and other charities.
If you are interested in receiving funds from MollyGive, or would like to help direct where funds go, I have a few recommendations:
- Don’t ask. I hate this. Hate hate hate it. I am going to sound irrational here, so feel free to skip the rest of this section. In fact, I am going to make it a footnote.* Instead of asking me to donate, or using guilt based methods, talk to me about your cause. Don’t post a link on facebook or in an e-mail and expect me to click through. Instead, share. Talk about what it does or why you think it’s important.
- Ask! If you’re a friend it’s okay to ask me directly to donate to an organization on your behalf. I’ll probably say yes. If you’re interested in ad-hoc giving (for example, you need help with medical care) you can ask me about that too and I’ll probably say yes. I also am happy to give informal, low-or-no interest loans if you’re interested in paying me back. Any money paid back will be cycled back into the finances of MollyGive and not m. herself. Myself.
- Be a cause I care about or am interested in learning more about: agriculture, dental care, education, infrastructure building, medical care, prisoners’ rights and education, and sustainability projects are some examples.
- I have soft spots for bikes, books, feeding people, and helping people develop the skills they need for independence and autonomy.
- Do not be exclusive or hate based. No war, hate, homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia. Don’t be a group based around evangelical religion and proselytizing. I think religion is cool, but I don’t think the forced adoption of a religion, or that being an agenda, is a good thing when it comes to helping people.
- Be someone others will want to emulate. Be inspiring. Be good.
*Canvassers in the street always approach me. I don’t know why. I’ll cross the street to dodge them and they yell after me. They follow me, even if I look down or away. They talk to me if I’m trying to read a book. They speak loudly in my direction if I have headphones on or I’m talking to someone else. Sometimes I tell them to leave me alone, if they continue trying to talk to me, I scream. Seriously. Sometimes I skip the asking and go straight to the unintelligible screaming. They make me feel as though I am a horrible, unworthy human being who is somehow living my life wrong because I am not giving them money. I also respond poorly to e-mailed and, even worse, physically mailed solicitations. Do not send me letters unless they are personalized. If I get a generic letter from you, especially one designed to make me feel as though I am a bad person for not donating to your cause, I will never donate to your cause. I have a blacklist. Side note, if you’re a group I have already donated to, a gentle “Hey, do you want to donate again?” and NOTHING ELSE will almost certainly solicit a repeated donation.
My aunt and my mom stand around the kitchen table. There are bills and statements all around them. They are both on phones, on hold, and talking to each other. My mom is typing something into her laptop.
This is what death looks like.
A candle burns. It’s white and in glass. The wax is liquid and around the wick, sucking up whatever it sucks up and mixes with oxygen to burn and burn and burn. A discarded, torn black ribbon is on the table next to it. There’s a wicker tray with apples and mandarins.
This is what death looks like.
My cousin stands and speaks candidly, tears in her eyes, about a miscarriage. The rabbi faces her, but he looks elsewhere. He’s not making eye contact. The wind blows the clouds away from the sun and spanish moss sways like haze in the trees. The casket is on straps hooked up to a hand cracked rig. I wonder how they’ll remove the supports after they lower it into the grave. There’s a concrete box at the bottom for the casket to sit in. A cover nearby, a neon orange identifier spray painted on top. Men with dark skin and dazzling smiles speak a French creole and drive construction equipment and golf carts. My mom shifts in the way she does when she has to pee. I cross and uncross my legs, wondering what’s most polite. There’s a pile of dirt and two shovels. I want to grab a shovel and push it hard into the pile, lift it up, and dump it in. I want to do it again and again until the entire grave is filled. I’ll only be allowed to nudge a little of the dirt onto the body that belonged to my savta. A machine will bury her.
This is what death looks like.
The masticated mint and lime mix with crushed ice at the bottom of my glass.
This is what death looks like.
Pictures of a woman I never knew, with a long dace and a long nose. A wide jaw. Cheekbones under her eyes. Soft eyes. Curls in hair I’ve seen in my mom during humid days. A curve in her neck I’ve seen in my own. Or maybe I’m just reaching. A picture of a woman I knew from a time I don’t remember, with the same jaw and a slight smile. Her head is on the shoulder of a laughing man and her glasses are the biggest I’ve ever seen. Her cheekbones are hidden under softer skin and wrinkled lines.
This is what death looks like.
Phone calls and e-mails, facebook messages. “P’s in Berkley. Yeah, he lives with a wonderful woman. She’s older. They seem so happy together…C has a job at in the same department as her dad…A has a great boyfriend…S has made a family with a lovely woman and her two kids…m’s at MIT. She loves Boston…” Updates again and again. Ritualized conversations. “Hospice of Palm Beach County. It’s what she would have wanted. They took care of her. They took care of Dad in the end. Thank you, thank you.” Half-heard whispers of “prayers” and “sorry.” “She was…” Sympathy and love.
This is what death looks like.
At work I get an e-mail from someone trying to load a lecture video. Youtube has been blacklisted in Pakistan, it tells me. Is there another watch to watch [these videos]?
Five seconds with my browser confirms this. I close my eyes and when I open them utter a silent fuck.