A year ago today we boarded a plane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and returned home with our son, Milo. Our 19-month adoption journey had finally come to an end.
He’s looking pretty wide-eyed and freaked out in the picture, probably because he threw up an entire bottle all over Abby shortly after we took this picture. Yeah, nothing like gearing up for an 18-hour flight with that soaking into everything. All the burp rags we brought for the entire flight were instantly soaked.
Of course if that’s the only complaint you have on a crowded transatlantic flight, consider yourself lucky. We did. Aside from the gag reflex, we were sitting in the bulkhead seats with plenty of leg room and a bassinet for Milo. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A lot changes in a year.
Today Milo is an amazing little goofball. He loves to laugh, be tickled and throw things down the stairs. Seriously, he emptied the entire contents of our old Tupperware drawer down the basement stairs today. We’ve now designated it the Milo drawer and stopped storing the Tupperware we actually use in there.
He wanders the house with a random spoon or fork in his hand. The cloth diapers we use as burp rags are his teddy bear—he won’t sleep without one. The other night he was crying and I came down to comfort him. I picked up the burp rag he’d thrown out of his crib and gave it back to him, but before I could reach over to pick him up he’d rolled over with the rag and fallen back asleep. I stood there in shock, expecting him to start crying again, but he was out.
My church has been focusing on the story of the Prodigal Son during Lent. They’ve even been doing a film series on Wednesday nights watching movies that explore themes of fathers and sons (Finding Nemo, Les Miserables, Legends of the Fall, etc.), though sadly I work in the evenings and have no social life so I haven’t been able to attend. So I’ve mostly experienced the story of the Prodigal Son through sermons by our rector John Newton. This Sunday we got the twist ending of the story.
If you’re not familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), it’s a parable Jesus tells about a son who decides to take an early inheritance and leave his father’s household. He goes off and squanders all he has and eventually runs out of money and finds himself destitute. When he hits rock bottom he decides to return home and ask to be a mere servant in his father’s house. But when he returns home his father welcomes him with open arms and throws a party celebrating his return. Meanwhile the older brother throws a fit, complaining that he’s been faithful and never rewarded. Oddly enough, the story ends there. Which is what the sermon focused on.
I’m so happy for Mark. I’m shocked at what the guy has been able to accomplish with such minimal support. Most of us need a paycheck to do good work, either being employed by a nonprofit or having a real job so we can do volunteer work on the side. But Mark doesn’t have either (OK, he has the case manager job, but it barely covers his rent). He’s got nothing in his fridge and yet he still champions the cause of the homeless. He’s an incredible inspiration.
That’s why I didn’t mind spamming my friends. Heck, I can hardly call it spamming them when I’m telling them why Mark is so deserving of this grant. I don’t like these spammy tell all your friends contests. I don’t like that they pit good ideas against each other. I don’t like that somebody wins and somebody loses. I hope folks learn from that and do something different next time. But it was Mark Horvath and he needed the help. He didn’t ask for it, but this was offered to him I’ll be damned if I was going to standby and watch him miss an easy opportunity for funding.
$50,000 is huge, but it’s also not. It’s not an unreasonable salary for a person of Mark’s position in a nonprofit (that position being everything from CEO to camera guy to janitor). He could give himself an actual salary and restock the fridge and he’d be just fine in my book. But knowing Mark, he’s not going to be sitting back with this money. That’s part of why my little InvisiblePeople.tv book project is so important to me. As huge as this grant is, Mark needs the on-going support.
Anyway, we won. Geeks doing good. Awesome. Thank you Pepsi. Thank you Gary Vaynerchuk. Thank you everybody who tweeted. And thank you, Mark. This was the least we could do.
I’ve been tweeting and blogging about the SXSW Pepsi Challenge all weekend (and will be until midnight tonight) trying to win a $50,000-grant for homeless advocate Mark Horvath and his InvisiblePeople.tv project. A few tweets could earn Mark the support he desperately needs. The guy has been on the verge of homelessness since 2008 when he started this project to help the homeless. That’s dedication.
I’ve been tweeting like mad because I believe in what Mark is doing. Unfortunately he’s losing to an idea supported by the tech site Mashable, a site with more than a million views a day. (An idea, by the way, that no one has yet invested in or proven—Mark has been doing his thing since 2008; OK, sorry. Shouldn’t rag on the competition, I’m just a little bitter about that.) I’m so passionate about this because a few tweets could give Mark some major support. It kills me that he doesn’t have the support he needs.
So I tweet like mad. But if all our frantic tweeting doesn’t get Mark the $50,000 he deserves, it’s not a total loss. At least we’ll have helped spread the word about what he’s doing.
But the reality is that I’ve been doing a lot more than tweeting.
I’ve got a secret: I’ve been working on a book about homelessness to support Mark’s work. In my wildest dreams I thought I could have had the book ready by this past weekend—conveniently in time for Mark’s appearance at SXSW.
The SXSW Interactive Festival is going on this weekend in Austin, Texas. It’s a bigtime collection of web geeks (and yes, I so wish I could be there). The cool thing about web geeks is that they care about causes. There are a lot of online competitions happening this weekend to raise money for various causes, all in geeky fun.
There are probably others I’ve missed, but I’m most excited about Mark Horvath and the Pepsi Challenge. Here’s how it works: He’s competing against two others to see who can get the most votes by midnight on Monday. Winner gets a $50,000 grant from Pepsi. You vote by tweeting “#RefreshGary” and you can vote every two hours. All the details are on Pepsi’s Facebook page (vote on Twitter, details on Facebook?).
I’ve talked about Mark before. He’s a tireless advocate for the homeless. When he lost his job in the fall of 2008 he was only seven weeks away from being homeless. Again. He spent a year in the 1990s living on the streets of Hollywood. But instead of worrying about being homeless himself, he went out and started InvisiblePeople.tv to tell the story of other homeless people. He’s been doing that since, and the entire time he’s been on the verge of homelessness.
He lives in a cockroach apartment in Los Angeles. I interviewed him for an article a few months back and the contents of his fridge was a bottle of water, milk and a discount veggie tray. He was eating dinner at the homeless shelter, not because he wanted to, but because he had to.
If anybody could use $50,000 from Pepsi, it’s Mark.
Mark started InvisiblePeople.tv with next to nothing. Yet he’s shared the uncensored stories of over 100 homeless people, from Los Angeles to New York, Florida to Seattle, New Orleans to St. Paul. He’s done incredible things with no resources. Imagine what he could do with $50,000.
I get kind of tired of these social network voting things where we spam our friends and the most popular person wins. But I can hardly consider telling my friends about Mark Horvath to be spam. If you get tired of it, you can ignore me. If it makes you mad, stop following me. If I lose a bunch of followers because I tried to help my friend, so be it. If you don’t like it then you can give Mark $50,000 and I’ll be quiet. I just want to help my friend.
So I’m asking you to help Mark out. We only have until midnight tomorrow. So hop on your Twitter account and slap a “#RefreshGary” tag on your tweets every two hours. If you don’t have a Twitter account, set one up just for today. Why not?
Geeks doing good. What’s not to love?
Update: Here’s a story Mark shared from my own backyard. Pearl calls a shelter in St. Paul her home. She wants to know if you’re kind or cold-hearted? This why Mark deserves this grant from Pepsi, so he can continue to share these stories and make us realize the reality of homelessness in our own cities.
I’ve been thinking about novel writing lately. You can blame Jonathan Blundell and the little video chat we did a few days ago about my post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, Least of These. You see, I’ve written three novels. Two have been self-published as rough drafts and one has seen a few re-writes and I’m wondering what to do with it.
Last night I pulled out my non-sci-fi novels and started reading through the first chapters. I liked what I read. I saw a few things here and there to improve (I’ll probably always feel that way), but I didn’t have that impending sense of way too much work to do to find anything salvageable. I enjoyed what I read, perhaps out of nostalgia for my own creation, but I also thought it was pretty good.
But the question I kept coming back to is what do I do with these novels?
Yesterday I sat down and did a little video chat about the book with one of my readers, Jonathan Blundell (my one reader?). Jonathan has been very supportive of my work (and I’m supportive of his work) and it was fun to talk over some of the ideas in the book and how the book came together.
So if you’re looking for the inside scoop on Least of These—how inspiration came from U2 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, how my wife refuses to read it, my take on standard post-apocalyptic plot lines, why it has such an awesome cover—check out the video chat. I even do a little impromptu reading.
For a special bonus, count how many times I say ‘um.’
Last week I heard a pair of reports about Detroit on NPR and as usual it hit my soft spot for the Motor City. I spent Saturday morning checking in on Detroit sites (like the incredible parenting/photography/urban living blog Sweet Juniper) and reflecting on the crumbling nature of one of America’s great cities.
You always hear about the ridiculous real estate prices in Detroit (one NPR story mentioned a $500 house) so I decided to see how crazy it the market really is.
While I searched I found listing after listing for beautiful homes for well under $100,000. OK, the mansions were under $100,000, the homes for the rest of us were under $50,000. The home pictured above is a four-bedroom, 2-bath, 2,000-square-foot house built in 1931 on the east side (technically the Morningside neighborhood, but that means nothing to me). The price? $19,900.
I used the mortgage calculator just for kicks (would they even give you a 30-year mortgage for a $20,000 house?). Your mortgage would be $117 per month.
I’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with video games before. I tend to get addicted and slip into a self-destructive cycle where I put off important responsibilities and make excuses just to play some more. I did that quite a bit during my freshman year of college with Duke Nuke ‘Em 3D. I played so much that while walking down the hallway at school I’d look for sniper positions and think about kicking in a vent and crawling through the passage. Similar things would happen when we played GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64.
I’ve mostly left video games behind to avoid this addictive behavior, but every now and then I give in and have a little fun. Like last month when I went back to my childhood game of Pirates!
It all started, oddly enough, with the Earthquake in Haiti. As I was looking at a map of Haiti, I suddenly remembered the exact coastline of the country thanks to hours spent playing the Commodore 64 strategy classic, Pirates! You played the role of a pirate in the game (duh) commanding your ship as you sailed across the Caribbean. Much of the Caribbean became familiar to me, including the coastline of Haiti and that rare enclave of French colonies (including Leogane, which is a little odd because that’s where my church’s sister parish is based).