Posted in Life

Donation Shaming

Last week at work, my supervisor approached me with a pitch. The company donates to United Way, and I could make a regular donation through a simple payroll deduction. It bothered me. I kindly (I think) declined the offer, still having to sign a slip that explicitly stated I was donating $0.00 to United Way. This bothered me even more. Donation shaming.

It’s not that I don’t believe in giving to charity. Quite the contrary. I’m sure United Way does great things (I think). But, I believe that one’s paycheck, and one’s charity donations should be completely separate things. Again, I know many companies do this, but there is still something wrong with a company saying, “Yeah, so you earned this money fair and square, but here’s what we recommend you do with some of it.”

I worked at another company where they took up donations, and held raffles for charity. I had no problem with this. If I didn’t think my $5 would make a difference to March of Dimes, I just didn’t buy a ticket, and that was it. I didn’t have to stand in front of my supervisor and sign a slip to that effect, to be filed away in the HR Office.

I don’t have the time, or perhaps inclination, to research United Way, so I don’t know what their financial needs are. But, I know they are huge. And very very corporate. Here’s the thing. I spent five years of my life essentially volunteering full-time for a religious nonprofit. When I started, the organization was run from the director’s home office, and I watched it grow.

In that time, I saw firsthand how tight the finances can be in those small organizations. I’ve seen that sometimes a simple $100 donation, can be the difference between the driver driving 36 hours through the night, or getting hotels. I’ve been in those meetings where huge initiatives have been canceled for the lack of a couple thousand dollars, and in others where the tearful announcement was, “The money came in.” In some of these organizations, the staffers are conditioned to live so economically, that $100 can feed a single adult staffer for a month. Which, translates to that staffer staying on staff, and being able to produce for an entire month. Now, if I took that same $100, and donated to United Way, what would it buy? A printer, maybe?

As I listened to my supervisor pitch this donation, all of this went through my head. There are many, many, many worthy causes out there. So, am I somehow not capable of determining which one best touched my heart? Of course, they would say. But, I still felt like such a jackass when I signed that paper.



Posted in Writing

Poem: Beneath the Starry Night

Beneath the starry night we hold vigil, our breaths abated coming softly in silent gasps, waiting for the sun that set low on a summer’s night to rise upon the fall. And in that nebulous dark, we squirm and wiggle and shake and quiver, wrought icy cold under the weight. …of the in-between. 

Posted in Writing

Sober-Alli’s Song 


This is a song I found this summer that describes the character in my novel- Alli Montclair. The Bridge to Freedom centers around a young atheist couple that travels on a Christian pop tour. Alli is the female protagonist, with her boyfriend Ethan who reluctantly manages the tour to save his troubled estate.

Alli Montclair is a 26 year old graduate student at the University of Virginia. She grew up in Conncecticut with her younger sister, Gwen. Her father was well-off, although she never was sure what he did for a living. That wasn’t part of her life. In those early years, her mother didn’t work, she was a spoiled woman who played tennis and drank a lot.

Sometimes, when the girls were little, they would all get dressed up and go to the Presbyterian church. Everyone hated it. The clothes were confining, and the service was boring. In a  stuffy children’s church room that faintly smelled of sour water from a leaking roof, the girls were taught that they could talk to God, whom they could not see.

“Sort of like an imaginary friend?” Alli asked.

“Exactly,” the teacher beamed. “Only God is real.”

This didn’t make any sense to Alli. Even at eight years old, it was the most ridiculous idea she had ever heard. Gwen didn’t seem bothered by it, and was really more interested in the boy who could fart the alphabet under his armpit. When Alli was eleven, her parents divorced, and they never went back to that church ever again. Her father moved to North Carolina where he opened a boat dealership, and remarried not long after. Alli, Gwen and their mother Pamela, stayed in Connecituct where Pamela began a career in finance. She worked long hours, but provided well for her daughters–left mainly to raise themselves.

They saw their father during the summers, but his new wife, Ann, was a former beauty queen who made comments about the girls weight, hair, eating habits, and whatever else. Gwen took it all as gospel, and eventually went on to pursue fashion design. Alli, however, cut by Ann’s biting tongue, shrunk deeper into her books until she was fourteen and stopped going to her father’s at all.

Gwen and Alli, though worlds of different, were always close–barely three years apart. But Gwen was always the social butterfly, living in a constant flurry of people. Alli found solace in books and quiet. She had a summer romance in North Carolina when she was thirteen. He broke her heart. She dated a few guys after that, but didn’t have another boyfriend until her sophomore year of college. As she grew, Alli was an editor for this or that, and was attractive with a handful of close friends. But, she always kept the boys at length, sardonically voted by the yearbook committee, as “Miss Independent.”

After high school, Allli went to the University of Virginia where she studied English. That was where she met Brad. A business major, Brad had that winning smile, and he charisma of a young and up coming Jerry Maguire. He could, as they say, sell ice to the Eskimos. And he sold the pretty blond English major down the hall right into his arms. They stayed together shortly after graduation, when he got a job in Cincinnati. She was going to move with him, but then found out he had been cheating on her all senior year.
After her relationship fell apart, Alli enrolled in the graduate English program. She loved English and writing, but it was mainly because she had put her whole future into Brad and didn’t know what else to do. Her first year, she met Ethan. He was failed rock star living on a generous trust fund. He had enrolled in the English literature program after his drug problem almost  sent him to prison, and realized he needed a whole new life.

Ethan was good looking, smart, rich and kind. After six months, she moved out of her university housing, and into his condo. So it was, she researched and read dusty books, and coffeed with her friends, and came home to a beautiful fifth story condo with bay windows that overlooked lush gardens and mountains. And waiting there was a beautiful man with a disarming smile whose lips dripped her name like water over spring creek rocks, as he filled the air with exquisite music..It was perfect. More or less.  All she was waiting for was the ring. And his heart. His real heart, anyway.

And then he got that stupid job that changed everything. It was just supposed to be a job. That was it. He would teach music at the Christian high school, and everything would stay just as it was. She never liked the job, but she didn’t know how much it would change him. Suddenly, he was reading a Bible, and books on Christian doctrine insisting they were “required reading for all the faculty.” Suddenly, he was talking about religious ideas, and they weren’t a punch line anymore. Then there was the little white lie they had to tell–a form stating she moved out, and they now lived at separate addresses.

“No one believes it, and they don’t have to.” he insisted. “It’s just for appearances, you know, being an example or whatever. Something to tell the students or parents if it comes up.”

She never quite could attend the faculty social events in good conscience after that. Now, he was going on tour with a school family. The last thing she wanted him to do, was run around the country playing rock star without her. But the only alternative was to run around playing rock star with him. She didn’t know which was worse….

And so, the novel begins…