Philanthropy and Writer's Block or Escaping the Mental Funk Zone

An article in a magazine catering to upscale readers advised its audience “to be philanthropic in these times.”  It suggested recruiting friends to join in giving, and meeting with financial advisers to see how and where to best make a gift (e.g.., $30,000,000 to build build a new residential college at Yale or $1.2 billion to the first scientist who can find a cure for stupidity). I’d like to add that there’s another vital reason to be philanthropic and this mode of philanthropy won’t cost a penny.

Last week, our postal service sent postcards requesting the donation of cans which workers would pick up and distribute to the needy. My neighbor stated that, regrettably, she could only afford to donate six cans this year because of the times we live in. I explained to her that philanthropy means, literally, “the love of humankind.” Throwing money around is certainly a delightful, helpful way to show some love, but there are other, pro bono ways to demonstrate charity that provides the additional boost of making one feel instantly uplifted.

There are organizations (animal shelters, hospitals, schools, to name a few) that could use volunteer help. And, if you don’t have the time to volunteer, there are even simpler ways.

I waited in a long line at a grocery store when I noticed the sullen cashier. He barely looked up at customers, nor did they acknowledge him when he muttered some sort of unintelligible greeting (at least I think it was a greeting).

I was self-absorbed in a killer mood, as I’d spent the day on writing my second book and managed to pound out a whole paragraph. And it wasn’t even a good paragraph. However, watching the cashier snapped me out of my funk.

I greeted the cashier like a long lost friend, and the next thing I knew he told me about two barbecues he was invited to that weekend and invited me to join his family at either one or both. He also made sure I had assistance with carrying my goods to the car. I noticed that he greeted the next customer in a more friendly, happy fashion.

My point is that kindness is a powerful form of philanthropy, one that can be easily and readily practiced with little effort, and could be mind and mood altering, which is a particularly good thing when one is experiencing a writing funk. It’s a wonderful experience to help others and to help oneself at the same time.

Persistence Cuts A Path

Prior to graduating law school, I was very fortunate in obtaining an almost perfect job. I loved my extraordinary boss. She hired me despite my being an average student from an average school. My talent, if it existed, was completely hidden to the naked eye.

I worked for a company that represented movie studios in labor negotiations. There was just one problem. I disliked labor law like I disliked finding a stray hair on my tongue after an innocent bite of salad. After graduation, my boss generously allowed me to continue to work for her while I hunted down the right job.

I desired a spot as business affairs counsel for a studio. My securing this position seemed as likely as my growing a beanstalk, climbing up, and sharing a mug of hot chocolate with Jack’s giant. To succeed in my endeavor, I needed either: an ivy league degree, gilt-edged law firm experience, inside knowledge of the secret fetish of an important movie executive, adoption by a Brangelina type couple or willingness to engage in unmentionable activities (as this is a PG-13 rated blog).

Not one to stand still, I opted to take virtually every business affairs attorney in town to lunch in an attempt to display my sparkling personality and to convince them that I was the chosen one. I ended up with empty pockets.

Soon after, almost everyone I knew advised me to seek work in another field of law. Business affairs jobs were hard to come by. And one needed plenty of solid experience.  Unfortunately, like money, experience didn’t grow on trees.

My boss suggested I go where all other newly minted attorneys go when first seeking employment: the government. Specifically, the District Attorney’s office. Even my dear mother seconded that motion reminding me of the splendid benefits, as did my friends, former professors, and the beautician, even though she said the head DA was a terrible tipper. The postal carrier, tired of seeing me perched atop the mailbox, day after day, awaiting a positive response to the countless resumes I’d sent out said,

“Why do you do this to yourself? You like being rejected?”

Damn right I didn’t. But my sights were fixed. I didn’t want to work anywhere else. Picture an incredible craving for an ice cream sundae and settling instead for cold mashed potatoes. I didn’t want to stop trying. Yet every seemingly authentic human I knew advised otherwise.

I caved in and nabbed an interview at the DA’s office. It did not go well. Let’s just say, a dust-laden legal treatise accidentally landed on the assistant DA’s foot with a fairly strong downward force, mid interview. I left knowing I’d not be back.

Despite the rumblings from all that chances of getting the job I wanted were slim, I snagged my perfect position a few months later. Success had been lingering just around the corner,  appearances be damned.

The majority of writers know the sting of rejection well, myself included. But we manage to lick our wounds and carry on. How many of our dreams, large or small, are dashed or sidetracked, due to well meaning advice or criticism? Ultimately, the voice we must listen to is our own. Life is filled with good intentions. And you know where that road can lead. Think for yourself or someone else will do your thinking for you.

Clearing Out the Clutter

Most writers are goal setters. We have to be to get to The End. One vital goal should be added to every list: Clear away the clutter. I don’t mean the  type of clutter sitting haphazardly in the top of your closet created where you toss your sweaters, T-shirts, and random belts. Or the books, paperwork, and notes you pile under your bed…oops, that’s me I’m talking about. The clutter I refer to is housed in the same small space for all of us: the six or so incredible inches between our ears.

When our garbage cans are full, we empty them. When our puppies need to learn proper manners, we train them. So why not do the same with our minds? It’s a bit more difficult because we can’t physically view the content of our minds as we do the overflowing rubbish and the doggy poop deposited beneath the kitchen table.

When I pay attention to my thoughts, I’m sometimes appalled by the trivial content. Why was I thinking about how I longed to yell at the bagger at the neighborhood grocery store after she placed my crisp tortilla chips at the bottom of the shopping bag followed by the egg carton and a large glass bottle of juice, thereby crushing the chips to smithereens? Such negative thinking makes me irritated, which wastes valuable time. I should have focused on how grateful I am to have such a valuable little market close to my home and vowed to patiently assist the misbegotten bagger, or taken over the bagging responsibilities myself. That would have replaced the unattractive scowl dimming my face with the beauty that only contentment can bring.

Excess clutter leaves little space for the “how wonderfuls!” to exist. When trivial thoughts clutter the mind, it’s important to take note and switch gears to replace mind-clutter with thoughts that bring happiness. I imagine myself, my loved ones, my home, my sociopathic Australian Shepherd, all as I’d like them to be, sketching in the little details and providing plenty of adjectives to describe my feelings.

Clutter prevents progress. Imagine trying to walk across a room stacked with piles of chairs, cardboard boxes, and spare tires. You’ll be in a sweat and sporting a few bruises before you make it through. So it is with the messy mind. But it doesn’t have to be when we take control.

We can’t keep two opposing thoughts in the mind at once. One set drives the other out. For instance, if your mind is completely occupied with an unselfish desire to help another, you can’t harbor worry at the same time. It takes a bit of practice to unclutter the mind, but think of all the space you’ll have to arrange and fill with excellent thoughts.