Volunteer Journal #103 - Sponsor A Girls Education

One of the coolest things I've done this year is sponsor a student through Razia's Ray of Hope.

RRH set up a girl's primary through high school in rural Afghanistan and now a college, which trains midwives. This is incredibly important since there were virtually no health professionals in the area before the school opened.

This week I got a little hand written note from the girl I'm sponsoring. Notice the penmanship and excellent drawings!

To sponsor a girl just go here:

https://raziasrayofhope.org/sponsor-a-girl.html

It will possibly be the most fun you will have this year. #educategirls #spreadtheword

My Interview with The Penmen Review on Playwriting

Thoughtful headshot The Penmen Profile: SNHU Chats with Award-winning Playwright Raegan Payne

(Originally published November 7th on The Penmen Review)

by Pamme Boutselis

An award-winning, published playwright, Raegan Payne’s work is regularly in production. She is also an actress and strident volunteer. Her efforts in volunteerism are chronicled in her nationally recognized blog, The Good Muse.

Have you always written? There’s a picture of me trying to type when I was one. I always kept a journal.  When I was in elementary school I would write plays for my brothers and cousins to perform, but I was a horrible producer so the productions weren’t very good.

What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters? I believe a well-rounded character is the cornerstone to good writing.  You can watch a wonderful character do any boring activity for hours and it’s fascinating.  I do detailed character sketches and try to get to know each character inside and out before I get started.  I definitely stress more about a character having an arc than fitting them awkwardly into a certain act structure.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them? I can’t spell, so thank god for spellcheck.

I’m also a slow typist.

I get self-conscious like anyone.  I force myself to write a page a day.  I also always work on several projects at once, so I don’t get locked with one and stop altogether.

What has the road to publication been like for you? I had one of those Hollywood stories, literally.  I couldn’t afford to produce a full production of my plays so I started entering them in contests. I started “winning” to quote Charlie Sheen.

The Hollywood Fringe festival was approaching, and some people knew I was winning awards, so we all scraped a few hundred dollars together to put the plays up.  The plays attracted some big actors, and they sold out.

One night after the show someone walked up to me and asked, “Are these published?”  I said, “No not yet.” And they responded, “I think my publisher would be interested.”

Cliché ending—And the rest is history.

How do you market your work? My blog, The Good Muse, has helped a lot even though it is a work unto itself and not related to the plays.  I think TGM was important because it’s an open portfolio of work.

As far as plays—I enter playwriting contests.  And I win some. That helps.

I also have tons of people read my work to give me notes—this not only makes the work better, but it spreads the word about my new projects.

What do you know now that you wish you knew back then? You’ll never, ever, ever be perfect.  Don’t even try.  Just put stuff into the world and see if it flops.  You’ll learn more from mistakes than successes.

Who are the writers that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you? I love Christopher Moore’s funny sci-fi-ish novels and Chris Durang’s plays because of their madcap and yet real characters.  Tina Fey for being a groundbreaking female comedian who proves that women are funny. Jane Austen for her wit and candid observation. Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde for setting the bar so high.

If you keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why? This is the hardest question. Right this minute I’d say:

  • “Pride and Prejudice” because I would need a good love story and it’s funny.
  • The complete works of Shakespeare because I could spend the rest of the days studying his sonnets and plays and learn something new everyday.
  • “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore, because it’s ridiculous, hilarious and everyone needs a good muse or a book about a muse.

- See more at: http://penmenreview.com/spotlight/the-penmen-profile-snhu-chats-with-award-winning-playwright-raegan-payne/#sthash.ymAH2jSq.dpuf

Volunteer Journal #97 - Angel's Flight

Princess is standing in for the kids.  Or more like sleeping in... On Wednesday night, after a long day at work, I found myself staring over a hand of Uno cards at a runaway teen.

I had come to Angel’s Flight near downtown LA to spend the night playing games. I ended up in one of the most intense, war-like games of Uno ever.  To be fair my opponents were tough and sophisticated. True survivors.

Angel’s Flight is a shelter for homeless and runaway kids between thee ages of 10-18.  Many of the children are fleeing abusive families. The kids are given food, clothes, and shelter, appointed case workers and therapists to help them cope with what they’ve been through.

The Uno game went on for 2 hours, a time during which I forgot about my work. Which is priceless.

Trucker hat kid = me

I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures of minors, especially teens forced to escape unimaginable circumstances.  A can briefly tell you about them because they were exceptional and interesting:

A 16-year-old former vegan, wanna be guitarist, who was thrilled that I taught him how to “count cards” in Uno. He was very proud to be starting college level classes soon.

The 11-year-old who had arrived at the shelter the day before.   He was tiny for his age and scrappy. His clothes were 3 sizes too big.

Playing games.

A girl in her final year of high school who couldn’t bother to play games because she had to finish her homework on the center’s tattered couch.

The 13-year-old who hid the fact that he started crying when, in the heat of Uno battle, another kid called him stupid (a crime that was reprimanded).

The only picture I took at this event are the Uno cards. I think you can understand.

Volunteer Journal #94 – WriteGirl

WriteGirl There was a time when female writers were discriminated against and forced to change their names to George Eliot.

Unfortunately, that time is now.  Women are still the underdog in the writing world. For example, between 2010 and 2012 in Hollywood female writers made up only 9% of the scripts (written on spec) sold.

My parents chose the name Raegan so no one would know if I was a boy or a girl on a job application.  Out-of-date anxiety?  Nope, that choice has proven monumentally important time and again in my career. My personal experience is backed up by this Princeton study that found that female playwrights are more frequently rejected especially by... wait for it... female artistic directors!

So I’m going to support any group that encourages more young women to write.

More than just a 1960s Secretary

That's why I was thrilled to stumble across WriteGirl. WriteGirl empowers young women by matching them with female writers who mentor them in creative writing.

A large cafeteria had been commandeered for the WriteGirl workshop at which I volunteered. Among the areas each girl had to visit was a college counseling section, different brainstorming/writing prompt tables, and the greatest catering table I have ever seen at any volunteering event. I signed in, got a brief tour where I met many of the fellow mentors (all impressive credential female writers) and then was sent to one of the writing prompt tables to help.

At my table the girls, all in high school, were required to look at a map of the world with highlighted pictures and pick a location.  Even if they had never visited that country they were then to write everything about that area they could imagine. i.e. What's the temperature? What does it smell like? Who's there? What do you see? What do you hear?  How do you feel being there?

The Girls Plan Their Villas in Tuscany

The girls worked with very little prompting.  When they seemed stuck I just did what my teachers had done for me - I showered them with questions and encouragement reminding them, "There is no right answer.  You are the master of this little universe you are creating, so don't be self conscious.  Just write something down."

Again. Don't be self conscious.  There is no right answer.  You are the master of your universe. Just write something down.

100% of WriteGirl graduates go to college, but more than that it's important for girls to have female mentors who have played the game, written the words, and succeeded. WriteGirl infuses young women with confidence and teaches them that their opinion matters. So, for God's sake, Lean In Ladies!

And remember, as the women of WriteGirl say at the end of every meeting:

"Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen."

 

Volunteer Journal #74 - Vittana.org

Dear Readers,

I am super excited to introduce you to the awesomeness that is Vittana.org. - A micro-lending site for student loans.

My love of Kiva is well publicized, as it is one of the easiest and safest ways to make a difference.  Plus, they don’t send you junk mail, which I hate.

Now Vittana picks up where Kiva left off.  Supplying loans to students in developing nations so they can complete their education and become problem solvers within their community.

i.e. “Our mission is to empower young people around the world with the the education and training they need to build a life of prosperity and opportunity.”

The students pay you back and you can either pocket the money or re-loan to another student.  Also, unlike Kiva you can donate any amount you want – from $1 to $100,000.  Those of us who have been students know that even $1 helps buy a cup of Ramen.

I found out about Vittana because I was contacted by one of their interns Isabel about a campaign launched by New York Times Best Selling author Tim Ferris who has pledged to match every donation to $50,000 for his 35th birthday.  He’ll also buy the person who does the most good a round trip ticket to anywhere in the world as long as you become part of the campaign by his birthday on July 27th.

I loaned to a woman named Huda in Jordan who is going to school for computer science.  Her loan is 90% funded – help me out and send Huda to school!

UPDATE! Volunteer Journal #72 – The NOH8 Pic is Here

Thanks to the wonderful Adam Bouska I finally got my NoH8 Campaign picture.  Super Cool!  Especially considering that the man probably takes hundreds of people's pictures a day.

Cheers to a really inventive charity and a fabulous campaign to bring equality to all!

To do your own NOH8 photo visit the website and check out a photo shoot in your area.  It's well worth the time and effort.

America's Fat Threatens The World

Yet another report confirms what most of the world suspected – Americans’ fat bottoms will be the eventual downfall of humanity. More precisely, if the rest of the world follows the American trend towards fatter bottoms then environmental degradation due to food production threatens the sustainability of our planet. The study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that ... Read Full Story

Biomass Energy: What is It ?

What is biomass energy? It’s not fossil fuel energy, so if you’re a good student of alternative fuel sources you should know about this low-tech energy option.

I say low-tech because as long as people have been lighting fires they’ve been using biomass energy. But please don’t confuse biomass energy with the term biomass, which means the total weight of all organisms in a given area.

Biomass or biomass energy, for our purposes, means organic matter used as fuel. Organic matter equals plants, animals, waste products, or anything that is carbon based and can burn. In the UK they acquire biomass from... Read Full Article at Celsias

Hugh’s Fish Fight

Between 40 to 60 percent of the fish that are caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead. In 2011 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall went on a mission to find out why and ended up starting a grass routes movement that is rewriting government policy called Hugh’s Fish Fight .

The fish are discarded because fishermen generally target one species, but they catch fish in mixed fisheries (i.e. different species of fish swim around in the ocean together, they don’t discriminate, they love each other.) Fisherman don’t want to bring in fish they can’t sell because they’ve fallen out of fashion with modern palates, and fish like cod, and haddock have to be thrown back because they are over-quota. Quotas were established to protect certain species of fish from over fishing. Quotas back fire because... Read full article at Celsias

Toxic in America

American children are “guinea pigs in an uncontrolled experiment,” according to Senator Frank Lautenberg D-New Jersey who spoke to the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health on October 26th. Among the many shocking facts shared at the hearing was that only 1 percent of the 84,000 chemicals commonly used in the US today have been studied for safety.  Lautenberg sited lax EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] standards, and the ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which has only banned five chemicals in its 34-year history.

The Senate hearing was called to address an increasing number of studies, which have found hundreds of toxic chemicals in the bodies of...Read Full Article

Nat Turner, Blair Grocery & the Lower 9 Garden

"No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities - always see them for they're always there." -- Norman Vincent Peale Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans five years ago flooding 80% of the city, destroying homes, stores, schools, churches, and lives. When the levees broke the Lower Nine, one of the poorest areas of the city, found itself under 15 feet of water. The predominately African American community was almost wiped off the map. Even today only one fifth of the original residents have returned and the infrastructure is almost non-existent.

Maybe New Yorker Nat Turner saw an empty canvas instead of abandoned lots when he arrived in the Ninth Ward with $12 in his pocket. A schoolteacher by trade, he first...Read Full Article on Celsias

Volunteer Journal #57 – Star Eco Station

On the phone Tuesday night: “I got to go to bed.  I’m cleaning snake cages early tomorrow morning.”

“Why!?”

“Because they sh*! in them Mom.”

“This is another one of those volunteer things isn’t it?”

“No, this is for fun.”

“Really!?”

“Mom...”

“Okay.  Just be careful.  Don’t get bitten.”

“I’ll try.”

8:30 am Wednesday. Being a sloppy reptiles interior designer = the punishment you have to endure when you’re sarcastic with your mother. When all is said and done though, I will talk about my morning with Star Eco Station forever…

Star Eco Station in Culver City, CA exists because people try to smuggle exotic animals into the US (via LAX) because they’re desperate for money (the people not the animals) or out of their freaking minds. If the animals survive the journey - stuffed into cardboard tubes, taped against sweaty humans, crammed into suitcases, or mislabeled in an innocuous looking Fed Ex box - they can look forward to being skinned for accessories, fought for money, kept in some moron’s trophy room, or paraded down a red carpet on Paris Hilton’s arm.

Customs or other very shocked airport employees find the lucky ones. Often the animal is so traumatized and injured officials have no choice but to put the animal down.  Star Eco Station is a haven of last resort for some of these tortured animals. Currently, Star Eco Station houses over 200 kidnapped animals from around the world.

I attended a very brief volunteer orientation Saturday morning so I could come back on Wednesday and do whatever menial task the Star Eco Station staff may ask for. All with the understanding that I will probably never get to touch an animal for my safety and theirs.  I’m introduced to Devon, animal husbandry expert (Look it up teenagers it’s not what it sounds like), and he puts me to work chopping old fruits and vegetables donated by Trader Joes for the herbivores.

Devon and I talked about the animals while we chopped. He tells me about the parrots which outlived a succession of masters (parrots aren’t good pets they can live over 100 years!), the alligators found in a Fed Ex box, the mockingbirds found in a tube. We talk about how volunteers and employees of Star Eco Station go on to work at zoos and animal sanctuaries.  Then he’s asked by an anxious employee to step out of the room.  He leaves for a few minutes and when he walks back in he shouts over his shoulder, “Could someone clean up the blood? Thanks.”

“What blood?” I ask before I can stop myself.

“Do you really want to know?”

“No, but now that you’ve said that I kinda have to know.”

“We breed our own rats.”

“You can stop there.”

I get the picture.  There are carnivores here: alligators, caimans, bobcats, lynx, - they have to be fed too. Well that and as Devon explains they just had an angry snake on their hands.

We divide the food (chopped zucchini, sugar snap peas, apples, bananas, etc.) into bowls for the birds and Devon asks me to go ahead into the parrot room and open the automatic skylights.

Standing in the humid room, among bird smell, aiming a remote control at the ceiling I hear a slimy, “Hey Baby.”

“Okay, who said that? Not cool.” I turn around.  No one.

“Hey Baby.”

Oh good. I’m just getting cat called by a bird.  What a relief. “Hey yourself.  Which one of you said that?”

“Hey Baby.”

“Oh it’s you. Oh my God.” I say to a beautiful white parrot.

“Oh my God!” Shouts someone and I spin.

“Oh my God, which one of you said that?”

“Oh my God!” says a mischievous green parrot.

“There you are. Hahahahahaha.”

“Hahahahahaha.” – An exact replica of my laugh.

“Okay stop laughing that’s creepy.”

“Oh my God!”

“You can say that again.”

Devon comes in and suggests that there is nothing else I can do in the birdcages.  I beg to differ I’m of a simple mind and can keep this game up forever. He points me to the reptile room where I am put to work by Manny redecorating some gecko cages with fake shrubbery. He then asks me the thing I’ve been dreading all morning “Can you clean that reptile cage?”

“Sure.” I say through my teeth.  I arrange my supplies for cleaning, open the cage, and then shut the door lightning fast. “Ummm Manny… There is still a creature in this cage.”

“Oh yeah! Sorry about that.” He removes said creature and I get back to work.

Because I’m press…kinda, and was very sweet and worked without complaint I got to hold one lizard which no beginner volunteer is ever allowed to do.  I held Crayola the chameleon [pictured above].  Crayola, like women from New Mexico, likes the color turquoise.  Crayola has amazing feet that wrapped around my fingers so that if my hand had turned over he would not have moved.  I wanted to keep him, and the geckos, and the angelfish, and one of the black mockingbird and... this is the problem.  No one should have these animals.  They’re wild and like most wild animals make lousy pets because they are a pain in the ass to take care of – trust me. But they are pretty to look at so if you want to interact with them just come volunteer at or visit Star Eco Station.

Star Eco Station rehabilitate’s animals, but their central mission is prevention through education.  If they can teach children not to treat animals like possessions and to respect wild animals in their habitats then the cycle of animal cruelty will end.

Anyone can volunteer at Star Eco Station.  You simply need to attend a volunteer orientation, and then you’re free to come in, and help prep the animals food, clean cages, walk the tortoises, and various other chores that the staff needs.

Star Eco Station is fun, educational, and honestly an adventure.  I guarantee one visit will give you stories to tell for the next month - at least.

Producer/Director Gene Rosow Talks "Dirt"

dirt_posterOne of the perks to living in Los Angeles is the regular invites to screenings ‘n such. Recently, I was invited to TreePeople‘s  headquarters to see a screening of the award-winning documentary “Dirt! The Movie” . “Dirt” profiles our most underappreciated and squandered natural resource – you guessed it dirt - or soil if you want a higher-class name.  I approached Producer/Director Gene Rosow after the film and when the man handed me a plant-able business card that would grow wildflowers I knew I had to interview him.

What were your biggest challenges when... Read the rest on Celsias