Holy Lift-Off: What Do You Do?
I had a young un ask me, in that snarky collegaite fashion they have, if I had ever given anything back since I'd gotten "rich and famous" talking about the poor. 2,000 people looked on, waiting for my confession. I smiled. You don't have me on that one, son. I was able to say, "Yes."

I may not have the reach of real stars like Oprah, or Bono. I can't change the world, as Bono himself once sang, but I can change the world in me. Nah. I can change the world. I do change the world. And so do you. You see, the secret that OPrah and Bono both know about fame is profound. And absolutely true. Fame is a pastoral position.

That's right. What little bit of renown we manage to scrape together for ourselves is sacred in a strange way. We are to use it to minister to the world. Give back, y'all. Lend comfort. Find the forgotten and remember; find the voiceless and sing their songs; find the hopeless and provide hope; find the loveless and, if not love, then give 'em a damned cheese sandwish and some laughs.

The writers I teach and workshop know this about me. Luis, Closet Mystic. But I know what I'm saying is true.

How do I give back? That is what the kid was asking. Thinking he was tripping me up. He was smirking, the li'l shit. I loved him because I was once that kid, wanting to deflate the fat arrogant liars and hypocrites I saw all around me.

Well, you start by writing to the furthest edge of your ability. You start by never publishing a book you are not proud of. If you have written crap, then put it aside and write better. And you do it by using your real name, your uncommercial weird Mexican border-rat name that editors told you to change so they could sell you better. Yes, back in 1993 I was advised to become more Anglo. Funny, if you know me--I am pretty stinkin' Anglo. I just have the Big Beaner name. Stand! Sly Stone tol' you that a long time ago. STAND.

And you go out there and remember that you started your career as a mission-to-the-poor person. I begane on my knees in the Tijuana garbage dump washing the feet of the poor. Yes. Graduated to killing lice, then putting medicine on tight foreskins so they didn't fester. Real glamor.

Remember that and remember them and treat everyone in the crowd as if they had come to you with cracked, bleeding feet, no hope, no money, no comfort. And they had put their trust in you. Kathi Kamen Goldmark, of the Rock Bottom Remainders, told me at the start: "Always be a gentleman, even if there is only one person in the audience." Give love because you have books, plane tickets, TV interviews, maybe even money--you have what feels like love in this pop culture. Give it.

You give it away. You do high schools and jails and prisons and hospitals for free. You do all local things for free. Or you find out if they have grant money then charge them the maximum and use their money to buy books for their kids. Bam. World-change 101. This year, I wrangled 50 hardcovers out of my publisher for incarecated girls in a California institution.

You use your art. I was able to raise severeal hundred dollars this year by selling off my artworkk. Lots of you know I cartoon a lot. I sold books of art at auction, framed art at other auctions. I am killing myself trying to get the books done in time for Christmas, but I am gonna do it!

You support other writers--you give them blurbs, or you try to help them connect with agents and editors, or you create secret websites for them to workshop in cyber-safety. (Yeah, I did. And no, you can't.) AND YOU TEACH, and you teach like a mo-fo: you teach your heart out.

Then, you give. Give money. That's so easy. We pay for people to have Christmas supper here in Illinois. Last year we paiud for 22 families. This year we plan to provide for 220 families. We pay for school supplies for a few hundred kids: we're going larger this year. We do hands-on work for an org that makes scientifically measured food packets for third world kids, esp in Africa. Our team made 1300 meals last year. Our bigger team is going to destroy that number on the day after Thanksgiving. And you remember your roots: Pastor Von, of Across the Wire, is getting a whopper (for me, like I said, I ain't Oprah or Bono...YET) check this year so the forgotten kids of my Tijuana home town will have Christmas.

That's a start. I could go on. But this isn't a ploy to be recognized as St. Luis. What I want to say is that the Holy Lift-Off is easy. Even a small thing is something. Love isn't a feeling, it's an action. Love is a VERB, peeps. We go out an do it.

We can go to Kiva on the internet, or Heifer International, and we can invest in a small business, or we can send chickens of milk goats to a Congolese village. We can click on any number of websites and support a hungry child for less than it's cost to get TV Guide every week.

But for me, it starts with...the word.

I'm thinking of you. L

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