Here’s a picture of some of the Nepali children I mentioned in my last post.  These are the actual kids that Dudes Making a Difference helps to educate.  Note their “DMD” t-shirts.  Don’t they look happy?

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In response to this post/contest at the 4 Hour Work Week:

Tim Feriss asks his readers “What would you do with an extra 36 hours per week?”

My first response was that I would do some pro bono writing and website/blog development (because many, many organizations don’t utilize the vast amount of free resources available to them on the web) for local nonprofits. 

In an ideal world, however, I wouldn’t keep it local.  There are so many groups around that world that would benefit from some added visibility, they just need someone to help them out – to teach them how to work the internet system.  Obviously, this would be more difficult in countries where the use of the web is censored, but it still could be possible.

One such nonprofit is an organization that a family member (my previously mentioned fabulous aunt) helped found – it’s called “Dudes Making a Difference”, and their goal is to fund the education of Nepali boys and girls.  All it takes is a couple hundred dollars a year to send one of these children to school, so a decent website (including a blog that the children could post on – many of them speak good English and they do have internet access) and some focused web marketing could significantly increase the Dudes’ impact on that Nepali community.

That’s just one example out of thousands.  Hell, just check out Kiva.org for lots of examples of how the web can change peoples’ lives.  With my extra 36 hours, I would use my skills – writing, marketing, and internet savvy – to help others to help themselves.  It all comes back to the adage – “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  I might not have tons of cash to donate, but I have my abilities and my time.

 *Yes, I know that you have to enter the contest through the comments.  I’m just organizing my thoughts.

**I also know that I’m hopelessly idealistic.

If Walls Could Talk

May 25, 2007

Some parts of Andalucia have been forgotten by time.  These nooks and crannies might be right around the corner from fast food joints and internet cafes, but time stands still in the crumbling casas with their carved wooden doors and wrought iron balconies shielding the secrets inside.  Every time I walked through the Parte Vieja I wished that I could explore these medieval buildings – what would it would it be like to live in a place that, if walls could talk, could tell centuries of stories?

I like the idea of a book where an important character/plot point is a building, one that’s full of history, perhaps with a hidden dark side.  Sadly, the only example I can think of off the top of my head is Phantom of the Opera (the Paris Opera house being the character).  Obvious choices in Seville would be the Alcazar or the Cathedral, but every corner of the old city has potential.

I know that I’ve posted about the things I want to do before, but today I was thinking about goals.  Long term goals.  Of course, everyone should have some kind of career plan – some sort of focus.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary, but a complete lack of defined plans generally leads to random drifting, and before you know it, you’ve spent years at an unfulfilling job with little to show for it.

Like everyone else, I want to make money.  However, the reason that I (and the significant majority of other people) want to make piles of money is for the freedom it provides.  Cash is a tool, not an end in itself. 

I recently finished reading Tim Feriss’s book, The 4 Hour Work Week.  This book is not about being lazy, on the contrary, it’s about arranging your job/business in the manner that will give you the most freedom.  The tagline is “Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.”  As a group, the New Rich don’t necessarily have the fattest bank accounts, but they are rich where it really counts – they have the time and the freedom to do the things they really want to do, whether its traveling around the world or simply spending more time with family.

At the risk of sounding like a total groupie, I’m buying what Tim’s selling.  I’ve already got the whole “live anywhere” thing down pat (I can work from any place that has internet and cell phone service).  However, I’ve got some work to do in order to get the rest of the lifestyle in order.

I’ve said this many times, but my ultimate goal is to travel the world and write about it.  Not as a mere tourist, but as a student of human nature and as a writer.  I like this quote from Paul Fussell’s book Abroad:

“Before the development of tourism, travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and the formation of the judgment.”

I want to volunteer with different NGOs and charities, and teach ESL (English as a second language).  I want to write about my experiences – use my talent and expertise to promote a good cause.  I want to tell the important stories.  To continue in the hippie vein, I want to work with Big Cat Rescue or a similar organization.  Talk about taking my cat lady tendencies to a whole new level.

I also want to will write books- and at first that requires some side income, as I’m not independently wealthy (hardly the case) and authors don’t exactly attract tons of investors.  This is a goal that I have made some progress towards – not only do I have the bones and ideas for several works of fiction on my hard drive, I’ve managed to get paying work as a writer.  Hey, you have to start somewhere!

In the Loop

May 19, 2007

 

Another post from this prompt:

The rumble of the El overhead drowns out the car horns, sirens, and the thumping bass emanating from the car stereo of the driver who assumes we all want to hear his music.  If the Chicago Loop is anything, it is loud.  Loud and busy with the hum of people going about their workday.  Its likely that lots of people will bump into you rudely, bums will ask you for change on every street corner,  and the beady-eyed pigeons will squawk and flock towards you (they have virtually no fear of humans).  Despite all the noise and general harassment, the energy of the Loop is palpable and revitalizing.  Besides, if all the commotion gets to be too much, Grant Park is only a short walk away.

 

I’m still in a list-making mood from the Top Five round-up, so without further adieu, here’s five ways to be a tourist in your own city.

1.  Try a new restaurant in a new locale.  Most cities of any size have an ethnic neighborhood or two, so seek them out and try one of the hole in the wall spots.  Think taquerias owned by Mexican immigrants instead of Chipotle.  Both may be good eats, but only one is an “experience”.

2.  Go to the museum.  Not the major ones (if you live in a large city), but the obscure ones.  Everywhere has some strange, seldom-visited museum or attraction.  Try the local library or newspaper archives if you’re having trouble finding one.

3.  Check out festivals.  I’m fortunate enough to live somewhere that has a different “fest” happening every weekend from April to October, but I’d be willing to bet your town has something.  Even if it seems kind of weird, it might be interesting.  At least your visit could result in a good story to tell.

4.  Join Couchsurfing.  You don’t have to host couchsurfers, you can just show them around your city and maybe share a meal.  Show off what you love about your city and make some new friends in the process.

5.  Read a book that takes place in a foreign land or ancient era.  Not necessarily a guide book or even travel literature, just something set “long, long ago” or “far, far away”, preferably both.  It’s a great way to get a few hours of escapism without leaving your couch.

This post is being submitted to the Travel Rants Blog-a-thon.

Favorite Top Fives

May 13, 2007

Here are some of my favorite “Top Fives” from the Problogger writing project (in no particularly order):

1. Top Five Spanish Tapas

2. Determine if you are a misfit with five proven factors

3. Five ways to achieve your dreams

4. Top five travel blogs you gotta read

5. Top five moments in classic rock

6. Five hard truths of freelance writing

7. Top five ways to define your personal style

8. I’m a stranger here myself

9. Top five essentials of a good brew pub

10. Top five strategies for travelling light

11. Top five blogging myths

12. Top five ways to break out of a boring life

13. Top five ways to spark your creativity

14. My top five ways to inadvertantly make comfy beds for my indoor cats

15. Top five ingredients of compelling writing

“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Fight Club premiered the same year I turned sixteen.  Chuck Palahniuk’s message sliced through the bubblegum of teenage consumerism like a knife through butter.  I remember the first time I saw it, sneaking into the theater to see the forbidden R-rated movie, and later renting it and watching it repeatedly with a few friends who loved it as much as I did. 

What’s funny/sad is that now most of my paid writing gigs center around fashion, beauty, entertainment, and enabling people to buy more “shit they don’t need.”  So occasionally I go on an anti-clutter warpath and donate or throw away everything in my apartment that I don’t need. 

“You need a bigger apartment.” said one of my neighbors.  “Then you won’t feel crowded.”

“I don’t think that’s the problem.” I replied.  “My place is small, but I don’t think need a bigger one.  Then I would just fill it with more crap.”

So I made an on the spot resolution – no more buying superfluous crap.  No disposable fashion from H&M and Forever 21.  There is no reward for collecting every shade of MAC eyeshadow.  Besides, having fewer but higher quality items is more wallet- and eco-friendly.  After all, “the things you own end up owning you.” And there is a distinction to be made between having style and being a mindless consumer.

But getting back to Fight Club.  What I liked so much about the movie was not the violence or destruction, but the emphasis on living, on using your time and not being another mindless drone.  It was the alarmingly simple and obvious concept that only you could define your own success and personal fulfillment.  And of course, I love how the movie and book ruthlessly mock the hollowness of contemporary American culture.  But it’s one of those movies that everyone experiences differently.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it with an open mind and zero expectations.  I doubt you’ll regret it.