Hopeless in Seattle: A Gypsy Confession

hope

 

I woke up today, a beautiful sparkling day in Costa Rica, mad as a hatter. Then I just found myself crying into my pillow. My heart hurt and I had to wash my face, click on my computer and tell you why.  You read posts about the encounters I have on the road being my own sort of Gypsy.  But sometimes I hit a wall.  Sometimes something gets under my skin and I cannot shake it so I do what is my one great passion.  Write.  And as you know I am a writer, a coach, a ghostwriter and a teacher.  I can take my passion to the four corners of the world if I would like and do my work from anywhere that has a wi-fi cafe.  And I have.  But today the writer in me has a burr under her saddle.

When I started another site I have called Mythotherapy.org nearly a year ago I had three inspirations: To encourage people to tell their stories, to help writers get published and to share what I know about writing, navigating the publishing world and most of all, to honor story as power in the world.  The Gypsy Life blog is a place to tell stories, to share how stories, places and people have changed me entirely.

Most of my clients are first world citizens who enjoy many of the luxuries that most of the planet do not have the opportunity to experience: Clean and free water, electricity, watching a show before bed while eating Ben and Jerry’s, a bed, buying food on every corner, one or two Starbucks coffees in a day and money. I think it’s safe to say that my clients are mostly Caucasian, privileged in my sense of the word and writing is a luxury, sometimes a hobby and most of the time a story that is true in their lives and the telling of it will help others and heal the writer at the same time. All but one storyteller. This is who I want to speak about in this post.

Over the past two years I have been getting to know a young man in his twenties from Zimbabwe. He has a story to tell, passion for his people and his family, a large family that his mother is raising, and he has no vehicle to tell his story other than Facebook.   And in my mind the best writers are those who cannot help themselves and have to write, are roused in the night and must jot down ideas or begin a new chapter, dig into a new flash of insight or who have lived through the unthinkable and still possess a light in them and their story of triumph is the medicine the world needs. A writer who does not write as a hobby or a tangential part of life, but sees writing as their life, like breathing, is a very different animal. Emmanuel is one of those writers and storytellers. And he has gotten under my skin.

I grew up in a black and white world of the 50’s. Yes there were pink poodle skirts, bobby socks, diners, 38 records and then came the Beatles, the Vietnam War and chaos and cover-ups. But there was also growing up in the south where an African-American person was a “nigger”, when Brazil nuts were call “nigger toes” in my family, where I grew up with maids and drivers and black gardeners who pruned our hedges and clipped the grass around a four-foot metal lawn ornament of a black man holding a lantern and wearing a butlers outfit. This was my norm as a child. Then it all changed. I saw more sides of the black and white issue, as I became a teen.

My knees buckled as race riots were out of control in Watts. As front-page news was Selma and countless other towns and cities brutally murdering black citizens. I sat with my parents with our aluminum TV trays and Swanson TV dinners in front of a black and white television as JFK was gunned down and began hysterically crying as my parents sipped a vodka tonic and praised the conservatives and bashed the liberals. I became despondent when our government murdered Martin Luther King, and then the same people assassinated Bobby Kennedy. By 17 I was hopeless.

watts

The black and white issue began to eat away at my soul. Why? Because it was a human story for me. It was about people intentionally killing hope. From those days forward I was all about keeping hope alive. My hope, the hope of people in poverty, people who had so much less than me, people who had no future in our country back then because of the color of their skin. As for me I was lily-white, blonde, blue-eyed and wanting for not one thing in life.

Fast forward. I moved from hand writing letters to my congressman on stationary with my embossed initials at the top and mailing it to them by snail mail for eight cents to emailing those letters decades later. The KKK had gone underground and reappeared dressed differently. They were now corporate leaders, governing officials and not very interested in my emails. The Internet opened doors for all of us and there was a new power of the word birthing itself every day in cyberspace. Facebook shattered barriers and became a tool I would come to use religiously. Not because I wanted to simply dazzle the world with photos of my children or inspiring quotes, but because it connected me to stories around the world. I then started a Facebook page called Equilux, all about the dark and the light, all about the not so black and white issues we face. Then I met Emmanuel through Facebook and was instantly transported back to the days of my life at thirteen when life was becoming hopeless.

Emmanuel in his twenties, lives in a country in Africa that is a regime dedicated to keeping people from telling their stories, keeping people in poverty and powerless. Zimbabwe is not necessarily a black and white story though; it is a black and black story that is perpetuated by white values. Emmanuel is one of several children, the oldest, raised with the rest of them by his mother, living a life in a house with dirt floors and tiny brothers and sisters who dream of school and an easier life. Emmanuel is the only one to graduate school and who wants to go to college and follow a dream. His dream is not to get a job in IT and adopt empty western values, his dream is to go to film school so he can tell his story, his mother’s story and the story of his people. Emmanuel knows that is the only power of change for him and for his country; Words, stories and telling his truth.

If you go to Facebook and look Emmanuel Mazivire up, you will see him post photos of his family, his people and say things like “One kind word can change someone’s day” or “Do not judge by appearances, a rich heart may be under a poor coat”. He has not lost hope. So Emmanuel and I started to talk two years ago. He shared some of his writing of a story he wants to submit for a documentary on his mother and all the single mothers raising children in Zimbabwe. I posted about him and tried helping him get a basic video camera, which took six months to reach him because of how they monitor the mail in Africa. He still wishes to find a way to go to film school in the United States, still needs a video camera worthy of a documentary and is working on his writing.

So before the sun came up today I was roused by the part of me who after five decades of watching the black and white story, which is really the privileged and underprivileged story, the money and no money story, the entitled and not very entitled story and the turn a blind eye story because it is too inconvenient to know too many inconvenient truths, my heart hurt. Because Emmanuel is one in a sea of young people with stories to tell, dreams to live, love to share and who has very little means of doing so without help, without compassion, without others sharing the load. And like many I am not one to swoop into Zimbabwe on a plane with great video equipment and shoot a doc on Emmanuel and his life. Why? Because, no one can tell the story better than the person who is living it.

And I am one single mother in the world myself, privileged to live my dream, and not wealthy by a long shot. What I can do for and with Emmanuel is help him tell his story, be a voice along side of his, read his writing, coach him for free, share with people who are touched to help with a camera and support him on Facebook. But he needs more. He needs to have the flames of his hope fanned. What power each of us has to do that. He is pushing against all odds even in circumstances you or I would cry uncle to have to face. He needs a mentor, a documentary camera, a plane ticket, help for his mother, his siblings, his story. He needs to go to school, have a patron, get his video into film festivals. He needs me, he needs, you. I do what I can but as Emmanuel knows first hand…it takes a village. He is one person in a sea of stories. But as he posted last week:

few sincere words

So these are my few sincere words. There is an ocean filled with Emmanuel’s in this world, on every street corner, in Mumbai, Russia and New York City. Story is power. The power I chose to use in my world. We hold it in our hands every day and have a choice what to do with that story, sometimes failing to see that words are one of the most powerful tools we all have and only second to the power of the heart. Put the two together and we would all be unstoppable.

Note: If you are interested in knowing more about Emmanuel, helping in any way, running a Kickstarter Campaign to raise money for him, buy him a plane ticket, give him your video camera that is documentary worthy, or help me to help him please contact me personally at mayachristobel@gmail.com or write to Emmanuel directly at emmanuelmazivire@gmail.com and visit him on Facebook at Emmanuel Mazivire and send him your support. Become part of the global village.

emmanuel in school

 

Emmanuel doing some teaching.

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The Story of My Life

cat and frog

 

This was a frequent phrase around my home growing up. “Holy Moly, story of my life”. If I got a collections letter in the mail, or I hear that a great guy has a secret wife, that my brand new shiny car needs a transmission or that in fact I really didn’t win the lottery…” story of my life”.   A handy phrase. But what’s in a phrase?

We each have one story that repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetime. I promise you, one central ever present and every changing “story of our lives”. The casts of characters change but they fundamentally play the same roll in our lives year after year. Every new love, new boss or new dog is just like a mother, brother, father, betrayer, helper, teacher and the best of ourselves the worst of ourselves. The place, the reasons, the motives, the fears, and the outcomes seem to remain similar as well.

So, if you were to just pluck out of the sky a scenario that you recognize as so familiar that it is a “repeat story” in your life, what would it be? Would the themes be endless hope, deep despair, betrayal, running away, lost love and fighting for what is right, or would it be, men leave, women love you but die, or would it be, am I good enough, can I prove myself, or that there is never enough money or time or money or love or money or food, nourishment or support. Could you be in Groundhog Day like Bill Murray where over or over again you love the wrong person, you loose everything you have and need to start again, you never feel smart enough or have enough of, or ultimately are loved enough. Does the white knight turn into the villain or are you the one who rescues and heals the world? We all have one story.

If we take the time to identify this story, which repeats itself over and over again for our learning and growth, then we have abundant power to change the story, but not before we look it square in the eye and say “Yes” this is MY story. For most authors who are seized with a story line and write until the days are a blur and who forget to eat or take a shower, most likely the book or story being written is a mirror of the writer’s psyche.

Most writers have to cop to the fact that writing is therapy. Writing is sanity. Expiation. Transformation and atonement. Most writers on a good and honest day will say that the story they think is pure fantasy is really from their own life, own fear, own desire to be a hero or heroine and to rewrite what went so wrong, so long ago. It is a powerful moment when you can write a fictitious character that is not you in reality so that they can do all the things that you only wish to have done or said or experienced in your life. Why else do we write?

And when we can fess up that our own story is driving the bus, we can not only heal our lives but we can write a story that touches the collective nerve. That is what makes a bestseller. In the end….the story will write you.

write image

From Hollywood to The Garbage Dumps

AOMusic aligns with causes around the world who are devoted to helping children.  We work with SoleHope and HavServe to help crisis ridden areas.  But here is one man I want to meet and work with. Scott Nesson.   He is someone who can shine a light for all of us on what it means to follow your heart.  This is an article from the Christian Science Monitor.

Christian Science Monitor

Scott Neeson left Hollywood to save children rooting in Cambodia’s garbage dumps  He sold his mansion, Porsche, and yacht and set off for Cambodia to provide food, shelter, and education to destitute children.

 Neeson’s final epiphany came one day in June 2004. The high-powered Hollywood executive stood, ankle deep in trash, at the sprawling landfill of Stung Meanchey, a poor shantytown in Cambodia‘s capital

Scott, a former head of 20th Century Fox International, cares for more than 1,000 Cambodian children and their families.

In a haze of toxic fumes and burning waste, swarms ofPhnom Penh‘s most destitute were rooting through refuse, jostling for scraps of recyclables in newly dumped loads of rubbish. They earned 4,000 riel ($1) a day – if they were lucky.

Many of the garbage sorters were young children. Covered in filthy rags, they were scruffy, sickly, and sad.

Clasped to Mr. Neeson’s ear was his cellphone. Calling the movie mogul from a US airport, a Hollywood superstar’s agent was complaining bitterly about inadequate in-flight entertainment on a private jet thatSony Pictures Entertainment, where Neeson was head of overseas theatrical releases, had provided for his client.

Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. ” ‘My life wasn’t meant to be this difficult.’ Those were his exact words,” Neeson says. “I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn’t find a specific item onboard,” he recalls. “If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it.”

Doing the right thing meant turning his back on a successful career in the movie business, with his $1 million salary. Instead, he would dedicate himself full time to a new mission: to save hundreds of the poorest children in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Much to everyone’s surprise, within months the Australian native, who as president of 20th Century Fox International had overseen the global success of block-busters like “Titanic,” “Braveheart,” and “Die Another Day,” quit Hollywood. He sold his mansion inLos Angeles and held a garage sale for “all the useless stuff I owned.” He sold off his Porsche and yacht, too.

His sole focus would now be his charity, the Cambodian Children’s Fund, which he had set up the previous year after coming face to face, while on vacation in Cambodia, with children living at the garbage dump.

“The perks in Hollywood were good – limos, private jets, gorgeous girlfriends, going to the Academy Awards,” says Neeson, an affable man with careworn features and a toothy smile. “But it’s not about what lifestyle I’d enjoy more when I can make life better for hundreds of children.”

He sits at his desk barefoot, Cambodian-style, in white canvas pants and a T-shirt. At times he even sounds like a Buddhist monk. “You’ve got to take the ego out of it,” he says. “One person’s self-indulgence versus the needs of hundreds of children, that’s the moral equation.”

On the walls of his office, next to movie posters signed by Hollywood stars, are before-and-after pictures of Cambodian children. Each pair tells a Cinderella story: A little ragamuffin, standing or squatting in rubbish, transforms in a later shot into a beaming, healthy child in a crisp school uniform.

Neeson has more than 1,300 sets of such pictures; that’s how many children his charity looks after. Every one of the children, the Australian humanitarian stresses, he knows by sight, and most of them by name. “You go through a certain journey with them,” he says. Houy and Heang were among the first who started that journey with him in 2004. Abandoned by their parents, the two sisters, now 17 and 18, lived at the dump in a makeshift tent. “We felt sick and had no shoes. Our feet hurt,” Houy recalls in the fluent English she’s learned. “We’d never seen a foreigner,” Heang adds. “He asked us, ‘Do you want to study?’ ”

Today the sisters are about to graduate from high school. They want to go on to college.

Neeson maintains four residential homes around town for more than 500 other deprived children and is building another. He operates after-school programs and vocational training centers. He’s built day cares and nurseries. His charity provides some 500 children with three meals a day and runs a bakery where disadvantaged youths learn marketable skills while making nutrient-rich pastry for the poorest kids. It pays for well over 1,000 children’s schooling and organizes sightseeing trips and sports days for them. “I drive the staff crazy,” says Neeson, who employs more than 300 locals, many of them former scavengers. “If I come up with a plan, I want to see it implemented within 48 hours. If I see a need, I want to do something about it. You don’t want to see suffering prolonged.”

He sees plenty of both need and suffering.

After decades of genocide and civil war, millions of Cambodians live in abject poverty. Many children are chronically malnourished, and many never even finish primary school. On a late afternoon, as garbage pickers begin to return to their squalid dwellings of plastic sheets, tarpaulins, and plywood, Neeson sets out on his daily “Pied Piper routine.” Navigating a muddy path, pocked with fetid puddles and strewn with trash, which winds among clusters of derelict shacks and mounds of garbage, he picks his way around a squatters’ community. Everywhere he goes, children dash up to him with cries of “Papa! Papa!” They leap into his arms, pull at his shirt, cling to his arms, wrap themselves around his legs. “Hey, champ!” he greets a boy who clambers up on him. “He needs a dentist so badly,” he notes, referring to the boy’s rotten teeth. His charity offers free health care and dental services to the children and their parents.

In 2007 Neeson won the Harvard School of Public Health‘s Q Prize, an award created by music legend Quincy Jones. In June he was named “a hero of philanthropy” by Forbes magazine. (“Well, I finally made it into Forbes,” he quips. “But no ‘World’s Richest’ list for me.”) When Neeson spots certain kids, he hands them their portraits from a sheaf of newly printed photographs he carries around. “I want them to have mementoes of themselves when they grow up and leave all this behind,” he explains. They give him their latest drawings in return.

He stops at a windowless cinder-block shanty inhabited by a mother and her three teenage daughters. The bare walls are adorned with Neeson’s portraits of the girls in school beside their framed Best Student awards.

“I’m so proud of my children,” says Um Somalin, a garment factory worker who earns $2 a day. “Mr. Scott has done wonders for them.” Neeson rescued one girl from being trafficked, another from domestic servitude, and the mother from a rubber plantation, after he had come across the youngest girl living alone at the dump. “We always bring the family back together,” he says. “We help everyone so no one slips through the cracks.” The need is great: Life here can be unforgiving. “This girl has an abusive father. This one here fell into a fire when she was 6. That guy got shot. That one there lost an arm in an accident,” Neeson says, reeling off details.

Then, flashlight in hand, he doubles back down another path – and steps into what seems like a different world. Behind a high-security fence, children sit in neat rows in brightly painted classrooms, learning English and math in evening classes. Others play on computers in an air-conditioned room.

Until recently, the site where Neeson’s new school now stands was a garbage dump. “When I started working for him, I was surprised how much he does for the children,” says Chek Sarath, one of his helpers. “He places their well-being above his own.” Neeson stops by young children who have their eyes glued to a Disney cartoon playing from a DVD. “I miss a lot about Hollywood,” Neeson muses. “I miss Sundays playing paddle tennis on the beach with friends and taking the boat out to the islands.

“Sundays here, I’m down at the garbage dump. But I’m really happy.”

 • Learn more about Scott Neeson’s work atwww.cambodianchildrensfund.org.

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