Monday, August 25

Why I Declined the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

* Disclaimer: I did not write this to shame anyone who already has or still wishes to participate in the ALS Bucket Challenge, nor did I write it to offend and/or hurt anybody living with or otherwise affected by ALS. I wrote it to open up a dialogue about philanthropic attitudes (or lack there of) here in the United States, to offer my perspective on said attitudes, and because I’m curious as to the perspectives of others on this issue, so please feel free to fire away in the comments section and thank you in advance for reading with an open mind :)

1. Water

No, not because California’s experiencing an epic drought  which is so bad it’s literally making the Earth's surface rise, btw  but because the ALS Bucket Challenge has so far resulted in the combined waste of more than 6 MILLION GALLONS of presumably drinkable water to raise money/awareness for the approximately 30,000 people living with ALS in the United States at any given time . . .

Now, 30,000 is a big number. I’m not saying it’s not, nor am I saying that what those individuals and those close to them go through isn’t utterly gut-wrenching. What I am asking you, though, is to imagine trying to explain the concept of the challenge to any one of the 5,000 children who die A DAY due to lack of clean drinking water in sub-Saharan African countries ALONE.

(That’s roughly 2 million deaths per year, just to put that number into multiple perspectives.)

And here’s the real kicker:

We don’t need to do any research to save those lives. We just need to give a sh*t.

2. Faux Altruism

You know exactly which people on your newsfeed I’m talking about.

I have a few of them on mine too, and subsequently thought long and hard about whether or not to even include this as a reason because the last thing those people need is more attention.

3. “Awareness” & The Fund Vaccum

While the exact origins of the ice bucket challenge differ depending on where you’re getting your information, earlier versions of the rules seemed to mean for donations to be “paid forward” in that challenge-ees who failed were to donate to a charity of their challenger’s choice, whereas those who succeeded were free to donate to one of their own choosing before challenging others and so on, the idea being that awarenesses were “exchanged” and as many charities as possible got a piece of the pie.

It didn’t become the ALS Bucket Challenge until the ALS Association recycled and re-marketed this strategy, and whether or not the rules were intentionally muddled to specifically benefit ALS or if that part of the rules was simply lost in the process of the challenge going viral like in a game of telephone  it’s not only effectively preventing other charities from riding the fund wave, but possibly even diverting regular donations away from them, which begs the question:

With donations nearing $80 million dollars, at what point should ALS have to pass the torch?

When does it officially lose its underdog status?

For while it’s impossible to quantify the worth of certain such causes, it’s important to remember that there are still plenty of them out there that need our time, money, and awareness just as much as ALS once did  if not more so now because of the challenge.

This guy pretty much nails it.

4) The ALS Association Funds Animal Testing

Entirely putting aside that this could not be more out of line with my personal beliefs as an animal lover, statistically it’s a poor use of donations. Pamela Anderson was the first celebrity to bring this to the public’s attention in regards to the ALS Bucket Challenge via her Facebook page, and while she’s admittedly not the best source, after doing some research of my own it’s hard to disagree with her argument:

“According to the FDA, 92 out of every 100 drugs that pass animal trials fail during the human clinical trial phase. Sophisticated non-animal testing methods — including in vitro methods, advanced computer-modeling techniques, and studies with human volunteers, among others — have given us everything from the best life-saving HIV drugs to cloned human skin for burn victims. Trying to cure human diseases by relying on outdated and ineffective animal experiments isn’t only cruel — it’s a grave disservice to people who desperately need cures.”

5. I already donate/educate/volunteer, and no one had to challenge me to do it

Not only is it annoying to be publicly challenged to do something I’ve already been doing minus the YouTube video, frankly it’s somewhat “icky” to me that we need to be more or less peer-pressuring each other into helping out our fellow human beings (to say nothing of endangered species, our rain forests, the oceans, you know, the planet in general).

And believe me, I get that no one wants to be “that person” who brings the conversation down by bringing up all the terrible things happening all over the world every single day and why we need to care about them. I get that we all only have so much time, money, and/or energy, and that sometimes while caught up in the teeny-tiny whirlwind of our own lives it genuinely goes over our heads that we can make a difference . . .


The ALS Bucket Challenge has shown us that.

The thing is, we are 100% capable of donating, educating, and/or volunteering 100% of the time, and what would be even cooler than dumping buckets of perfectly good ice water over our heads is if we lived our lives that way a little more often, and not only when it’s trending.

XO, Mal

* Author’s Note: In lieu of the ALS Association I’ll be splitting my donation between the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA (where I rescued my dog) and Charity: Water as well as looking into additional upcoming volunteer opportunities with Warrior Foundation ~ Freedom Station here in San Diego.

Also, for anyone who shares my same feelings about animal testing, here is the link to Humane Seal's website so you can better inform yourself about a non-profit’s research practices before donating.


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Wednesday, July 30

Now & Then

A year ago this past weekend, I accidentally met the man who wrote my favorite book. 

* This is an ENORMOUS deal for contemporary writers, as such people are usually long dead by the time we’re born.

It was a weird day . . . or rather another weird day in what had been a weird, gut wrenching six months, really.

There’d been a break-up complicated by a health scare, a break-up the other party and I further complicated by making every rookie mistake two freshly broken-up people can make when they’re so intensely and suddenly lonely.

Meanwhile, in the background, there had been a slew of what I could only assume were signs from the Universe telling me that I shouldn’t be writing, that I should cut my losses, lick my wounds and pick a new dream, a safer dream (although it strikes me as something of an oxymoron when put that way).

Come late July I still had some deep wallowing to do, but I’d been offered work as an event aid at Comic Con for the second year in a row, and as any self-respecting fan/nerd/otaku or local San Diegan will tell you:

When Comic Con calls, YOU GO.

And once I was there, oh, was I in my element.

I had a bigger, more experienced team than the year before and our hall quickly became the well-oiled machine you can only pray for with such a packed venue, leaving me plenty of time to walk the floor during panels and visit with various friends also working or in attendance.

Towards the end of that first day, though, I was really just wandering . . . wandering the way you do when you’re filling time, lest that time otherwise be used to mull things over, things you would have done differently, things you probably should have seen coming, etc.

Then, when I was finally running out of aisles to wander, I saw a unicorn.

A poster of a unicorn, actually, and a very particular unicorn at that.

The Unicorn
Some parts of her resembled a deer and others a swan much more than they were all together supposed to resemble a horse, her large indigo eyes drawn in an anime-style that was only just becoming popular in the United States at the time of her rendering.

I would have known that unicorn anywhere, and I felt myself veer towards the book-stacked table at her cloven feet.

* There are countless such book-stacked tables at Comic Con, and having had countless conversations with the people sitting behind them over the years I’ve been going I don’t remember how this one went nearly as well as I would like, but anyways . . .

I was talking to the man behind this particular table for quite some time, a man who turned out to be none other than Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, arguably the most beautiful and literarily perfect “fairytale" ever written.

Peter S. Beagle
I shook his hand, introduced myself . . . annnd promptly burst into tears, me being me, of course.

Meeting the man who shaped the characters who had made such a profound impression on me as young reader, then again as an English major, and finally as a writer myself was like bumping into an old friend, the kind you don’t bother to hide your hurts and troubles from because you know they know you too well to be fooled.

* I can’t not mention that the very charming, kind and talented Todd Stashwick interrupted my blubbering at some point to offer me a tissue, because it’s Comic Con and there’s awesome and/or famous people all over the place that way.

Todd Stashwick - a man of many hats!
And like an old friend Peter patted my hand and listening intently, and then told me something that stunned me even more than meeting him already had:

He told me not to worry because his greatest worry was that he had peaked too soon, writing the The Last Unicorn at only 26 (my age at the time) and that he would die not having “done enough” since then to be considered successful . . .

* This is a man whose novel has sold more than five million copies worldwide since its original publication, was adapted into a popular animated film, has been translated into at least twenty languages and is widely considered one of the best fantasy novels of all time – and that’s saying nothing of his other works, mind you.

We spoke several more times over the course of the convention, mostly about things you’d expect from writers, how there’s always ways to make money, how we felt obligated to the stories inside of us, our personal definitions of success and so on, but what has stuck with me the most was this:

Whether or not Peter S. Beagle believed he was “successful,” there was not a single instance during which I was speaking with him or his manager that someone didn’t approach the table and burst into tears as I had, or tell him how many times they’d watched the movie as children and how their children watched it now too, or how the bittersweet phenomenon of Lady Amalthea (i.e. the unicorn) and Prince Lír was their first and still yet one of their best understandings of love and love lost . . .

The Old & New
Everyone reading this will take something different away from my experience, and I suppose that's the closest thing to a point I was hoping to make: that success is as much a moving target as anything else, and that it is impossible to look forward at our lives and say now what will be “enough” for us then.

For me this was an invaluably helpful perspective; it made me realize I had been writing for self-imposed deadlines – publish this before you’re 30, publish that before you have children – as opposed to writing for the pure and simple reason of having things left in me to write.

For you I hope it’s whatever you need it to be, an answer to something you’ve been struggling with lately or a nudge in the direction you’ve been meaning to go, or merely even a reminder to breathe and stop believing the worst things you think about yourself and where you’re at in your journey.

You may be feeling down, but chances are you’re doing just fine ;)

XO, Mal


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Monday, July 7

Unclutter Your Life

What is clutter, exactly?

The Cambridge American-English dictionary defines it as a “condition of disorder, or a lot of objects that are in a state of disorder” . . .

Well, by that definition, humankind is clutter, so lets focus on the clutter we surround ourselves with day by day (and I’m not talking about knickknacks).

For example, do you insist on maintaining a hobby that – while still a great conversation starter – doesn’t bring you the same joy that it used to? Do certain friendships no longer serve you in the sense that you and those “friends” haven’t had anything in common in a long, long time? Do you DVR more shows than there are nights of the week and yet you’re the one always whining about how there aren’t enough hours in a day?

If you said yes to any of those things, stop it.


Because here’s what all that clutter really is:

Busyness we cultivate so we feel we have an excuse to whine – nay, so we feel we are entitled to whine – about how there aren’t enough hours in a day.

Excuses we manifest for ourselves as to we haven’t gotten real sh*t done, that book we’re going to write or that startup business we’re going launch, that other degree we’ve been meaning to get or that relationship we’re finally going to start taking seriously.

If I had the energy . . .

If I could afford it . . .

If I had the time for overtime . . .

These are the things we tell ourselves as we’re sitting on the couch watching Games of Thrones, as if there’s someone pointing a gun at our heads making us do it.

Well, guess what?

No one makes you do anything.

Everything you do is a choice, and when you stop convincing yourself all these superfluous behaviors are obligatory and not in fact choices, three things are going to happen:

1. You can be honest with yourself (and others) about your priorities

There are simply going to be some things that are more important to you than others – as your current lifestyle probably already reflects, to some degree – and you shouldn’t have to apologize to yourself or anyone else for how that hierarchy shakes out.

It’s okay to not be a Size 2. It’s okay not to be the corporate superstar or a social butterfly. It’s okay to not be in one of those relationship things everyone keeps blathering on about because you’re just not “there” yet – if those things aren’t that important to you.

2. You become accountable

If those things are important to you and they still aren’t materializing in your life, where is all your time and energy really going?

Self-audit. Zero in on your bad habits and then get militant. It’s sure to upset some apple carts, but hey, everyone and everything can’t always be a priority, as that would literally defeat the purpose of the word.

3. You can see the forest for the trees

No one makes me hold down a day job, live a healthy-ish lifestyle, or be a girlfriend. I make a set of daily choices geared towards not being on welfare, looking and feeling a certain way, and being one half of a positive, loving relationship.

I also choose to write, but even writing has to wait in line behind said day job, the gym, my partner and, if I’m being 100% honest, the Chargers regular season.

(It’s my one long religious holiday in lieu of actually being religious, okay?)

Why? Because those are my needs and writing is a want. A deep-seated, quietly smoldering want . . . but still only a want.  

Other significant wants include reading more, sleeping more, traveling more, being a more present friend, but if the rent’s paid, I wake up feeling good and my relationship is in a happy place, all those wants become remarkably easy to live without – let alone the “little” wants, i.e. salsa lessons, raising Siamese fighting fish, being able to see the floor of my room occasionally, etc.

The thing is, nobody can “have it all.”

“Having it all” is a big fat American lie that breeds avarice and ingratitude.

We ALL make certain concessions with certain choices and have to counterbalance accordingly, but you cannot feel bitter or cheated by a life you are actively choosing.

Choose the important things, and you’ll always have/find enough time for them.

XO, Mal


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