Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sites That are Good for the Soul

I have recently started to collect good karma websites . . . the ones that promote sharing and creativity and all that wonderful junk. So if you're looking for a pick-me-up, I recommend investigating one of these jobbers:
This little gem is rising in popularity, but I continue to be floored by the number of people I meet who do not know this site. The beauty of Pandora is that you get to design your own radio station, based on artists or even specific songs that you love. Pandora will play music with a similar style, including music from artists you may never have heard of. So not only do you have control over your own radio station (you can tell Pandora when you don't like the song that's playing), you also get to discover music that doesn't make it on to conventional radio.

Good for the little-known artists, and thrilling for listeners, too.
Genius. BookCrossing is an exercise of free-love, hippie-meets-message-in-a-bottle book sharing. You register a book onto the web site, journal about it (your review, etc.), write a message on the inside cover explaining and giving that book's own specific ID number, and then you leave it in a public place. Just leave it. Just set it down any old place and walk away. Ideally, someone will pick it up, open the cover, and see the instructions guiding them to log onto BookCrossing using the ID number. They they read it, journal about it on the website, and release the book back into the wild to do it all over again.

All the while, you can track the book's journey . . . how far it goes, what lives it touches . . . I get a high from every book I abandon in the corner of a coffee shop.
This is another get-a-book-for-free site, only without the serendipity. On BookMooch you can actually search for a specific book, and if someone else has it available to you, they mail it wherever you ask them to, at the sender's expense.

The catch is that you can only request a book if you have book points, and the only way to get book points is to first send off a book. It's a community of book-lovers supporting one another's specific literature needs, all the while adhering to that old adage: In the end, the books you take are equal to the books you make. Or something.
Etsy is a marketplace for crafters/artists and the folks who love handmade goods. On Etsy anyone can sell his or her handmade goods, on the condition that the product is completely handmade or vintage. All Etsy asks in return is $0.20 for every item a seller posts and .35% of every sale. Not bad, huh?

There' s also a bidding option . . . if you want to give Great Aunt Nona a set of homemade napkin rings for her 80th birthday, you can log onto Etsy, put a request out for the item, and sellers will bid for the opportunity to make you some good old-fashioned napkin rings using nothing but their bare hands and a big bucket of love.
This is a site run by HarperCollins in an effort to find a few diamonds in the rough. Budding authors can upload the first chapter or so of their latest novel and open it up for comments and critique from fellow writers and readers. All the while, HarperCollins keeps an eye on the action, and periodically they select the pieces with the highest reader approval for review for possible publication. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the writer has nothing to lose, and a lot to gain from peer review. Even for the non-writer it's a treat . . . how often do readers get a say in what books deserve publication?

That's my list. Get online and get happy.

Monday, May 4, 2009


"Okay, we're going to the park!" my boss Nicole announced in her sing-songy way, ushering her two-year-old son Elie out of the bedroom.

"First attempt!" she called as she slipped out of my view, a reference to her habit of returning five or six times after she leaves to get yet another forgotten necessity for the day's outing.

I wished her luck and spread her big white bath towel out wide, folding it in two halves, then into thirds, just as she requires.

Working for Nicole is simple and warming most of the time, the work she gives me often enables my mind to wander, composing stories in my mind to be written down when I arrive home at the end of the day. And even when the work involves some mental energy . . . even when I'm arguing with tech support over a faulty computer or trying to explain to her son why you can't kick sand on little girls at the park, it's still work that's good for my mind. Working inside someone's personal life is in many ways an honor, and working within a family provides constant reminders of the tiny moments that define relationships and personal growth.

Only seconds after Nicole announced their departure, I heard Elie's rapid stomping footsteps returning to the bedroom. Naturally I assumed that Nicole had indeed forgotten something she needed and Elie came back to play, having grown bored with the extra two seconds it took his mother stop by another room of the house to retrieve a forgotten object.

He approached me and with a smile I greeted him as I often do,

"Well, Hello, Friend!"

He looked up at me, his tiny mouth set in a focused frown.

"Abi," he said. He waited for a response, which took me off guard. Usually he plunged into whatever he needed to say, letting his words run together to keep up with the speed of his shifting wants. "Abicomeplay." "Abihelpplease." "Abicomeeat." But this time, there was a pause. There was a need to know I heard him, a need to know he had my full attention.

"Yes, Elie?"

He took a deep breath, then spoke.

"Can you give me grape checker?"

I was baffled.

"I'm sorry, Elie, can you say that again?"

He took another deep breath.

"I need grape checkout, pweez."

I turned and gestured toward the toys nearby, assuming he was looking for something on a shelf out of his reach.

"Can you point?" I asked. "Can you show me?"

His eyes panned the shelves, his brow furrowing. He was reaching a level of serious I had never before encountered on him.

He tried again.

"Grape jacker, Abi. Abi I need grape jacker, pweez." This time his words were accompanied by his usual gesture of explanation, a quick twisting of the wrists which is really only effective if he's asking me to turn the dial on the radio or shake a bottle of Pepto Bismol.

"I'm sorry, Elie." I really was. "I don't know what you mean."

He sighed and looked at my feet. He looked defeated. I felt defeated. He was a man on a mission . . . a man governed by something greater than the impulse of the moment. A man asking for something he needed not only for the present, but for the future as well. Elie had a purpose. And I was entirely incapable of helping him fulfill it.

I was just about to suggest he ask his mommy for whatever he needed when he raised his round eyes back up to me, and said, "Abi, I would please like a gray jacket or a red jacket, if you would be so kind."

Okay, this may not have been his exact wording, but this was how it sounded to me when my brain finally wrapped itself around the sounds emerging from his mouth, and I know this was how it sounded to him when he realized I understood what he needed.

I hurried over to the bed, where a pile of his freshly-laundered hoodies lay and picked up a gray jacket and handed it to him.

"On, or just to carry?" I asked him, one adult to another.

"Carry," he told me with great confidence, tucking the prize under his arm. "And a red one."

"Oh, I see," I said, digging through the pile for a red jacket. "You want options."

He nodded and I fulfilled his request. He thanked me, smiling widely and rushed back to the entryway. I heard his tiny voice as he approached Nicole, calling out, "Mommy I got it! A grey one and a red one!"

It was wonderful how such a small victory seemed so big . . . to both of us. Elie was sent on an assignment, given a responsibility, and succeeded. And somehow I thought I was a super genius for helping him succeed. It was even a victory for Nicole who responded to Elie's cries of success with a message to me.

"See, Abi!" her voice rang out from the entry way. "I didn't come back!"

Then the front door closed and Nicole and Elie left . . . on the first attempt.

Bravo. Bravo for us all.