Spare Some Change

I’ve never dreamed of winning the lottery.

I’ve purchased a 649 ticket only once in my life. I’d seen my father do it, and I wanted to try. I was nineteen. I made sure I knew what to say; I didn’t want to look like an amateur. The woman behind the booth had a faced so scrunched that I couldn’t tell whether she was scrutinizing my first-time purchase or if she really looked that way. I remember thinking that playing the lottery was obviously not good for the complexion.

I handed scrunch-face my three dollars, and in return she handed me a glossy piece of yellow and blue paper. My first lottery ticket. I was supposed to feel excited.  I was supposed to feel the opportunity  pressed between my palm. All I felt was jipped: I wanted my three dollars back.

On my way home that day, I passed a homeless person. “Spare some change? “he asked. I didn’t even have a nickel, but  as I reached into my pocket, my hand brushed the filmy lottery paper. I pulled it out and handed it to him, and for an instant, his calloused hand met mine. The fleeting touch was more fulfilling than my earlier lottery purchase.

Winning the lottery has never excited me because I’m truly not in it for the money. My career choice testifies to this: no person in their right mind studies English Literature to become a millionaire.

Fame, however—that’s another story. If there was a fame lottery, I’d buy. Not because I’m vein—I’m not out to be stopped in washrooms and asked for my autograph Marshal Mathers style, or to get V.I.P. service in fancy restaurants—I want to be famous because the more people I know,  the more people I can touch.

My previous post told of my 3-day artistic experiment: to get rid of language. In short, I tried not writing for three days in order to explore other ways of outleting my creative energy.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot about Lady Medusa—about who she is and what I want her to accomplish—I decided to visualize her, to picture her in my mind. On the first day of my no-writing escapade, This is what I drew:

not snakes, but hands

Lady M Speaks

Both doodles are about touch— about touching people. My drawings made apparent to me that Lady Medusa is invested in social change: I want my writing to touch people, to interrupt their everyday routine and make them think. As my brother once wrote, “I want to scar people”  (From Adam Cosco’s The Most Basic Form of Mind Control is repetition)

On the second day of my experiment, I was reading Daniel Bornstein’s preface in his book How to Change the World (look for my upcoming review). As I was reading, the following passage jumped off the page:

“[These] are stories about people who remove shackles, who bring others along. In a world of rapid and unpredictable change, the leading social entrepreneurs and the millions of changemakers with their tentacles and sensors touching every corner of the globe represent a far better mechanism to respond to needs than we have ever had before”

– From  Daniel Bornstein’s How To Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

Borstein, whose book focuses on contemporary social entrepreneurs, here employs the imagery of a spreading octopus as a vehicle for thinking about social change: It starts with a single glob of monstrosity and spreads outwards. The imagery matches my visual of Medusa: with her uncontrollable hair ever expanding and reaching outwards.

Lady Medusa doesn’t buy lottery tickets because that’s not her pot. If she had millions, her work would not be done, only well-funded. If we can stop worrying about money, about personal finances, we could invest more concern in the condition of the world—the status of women, the rights of gays, the treatment of animals and the planet, the consequences of rampant consumerism and the depreciation of our most valuable resource: love.

Almost everyday, a homeless person asks me for change. I wish I could say it’s the same homeless person, but it’s not: Each day, a new pair of eyes peers out at me from beneath a tattered hood and outstretches a hand with a crumpled paper cup. Spare some change?

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote that “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The next time a homeless person asks you for change and you have none to offer, instead of saying “no,” try saying, “I’m trying to make change.” And try to mean it.

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