Saturday, January 9, 2010

How it all got started

OK, so here's the story:
One night a few years ago my husband, my sister and I were all watching a brilliant documentary called Why We Fight. The documentary was intelligent, illuminating, shocking, moving and basically made me want to curl up into a big ball and cry. In fact, about an hour into this documentary I felt so overwhelmed that I wanted to turn my attention to something of no substance. And that is how I found myself sequestered in my bedroom reading US magazine.

Somewhere into an article about Brangelina I realized that this is a problem. If you want help starting, stopping or ameliorating a global issue, I am basically your target audience. I genuinely want to help, to get involved, to be of use. But instead, I am hiding under my bed reading made up news about hyphenated celebrities.

I realized then that I had been taken over by an illness I like to refer to as Impending Sense of Doom. Perhaps you recognize this feeling? I also felt ISD while reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road and watching the polar bears in An Inconvenient Truth (On the iceberg?! The horror!). ISD comes on when you are presented with an insurmountable issue and you feel like there is nothing you, the average person, can do about it. And when that happens, I just don't want to know anymore. If I heard about a genocide and there was nothing I could do about it, I’d get ISD. If you told me that thousands of elephants were being slaughtered in front of their families and developed post-traumatic stress disorder, and there was nothing I could do about it, I’d get ISD.

What else could I do?

And then I had an idea. I have access to a production company! I have (albeit limited) producing skills! Maybe there was something else I could do.

I conceived What You Can Do as a web series that would take a pressing social issue (global warming, AIDS in Africa, hunger, etc.) and show what an individual could DO about them if they had a minute, an hour a week or a year. We planned to begin pre-production on our inaugural episode that June. We pitched it to the Discovery Channel.

We were summarily rejected.

And then as happens every once in a very blue moon. Fate steps in.

Alicia (the one with the actual producing skills) and I were up at the Berkshire International Film Festival screening a short film that On the Leesh had produced. The festival had invited Alicia to participate in a panel to speak about emerging distribution models and she accepted.

The panel was at 9 AM on a Sunday morning. I assumed that most people would be doing my favorite Sunday activity- sleeping - but actually, it was a wonderful turnout. In the course of the discussion, our plans for What You Can Do came up, and as luck would have it, a producer from a NYC PBS affiliate was in attendance. After the panel ended, he invited us to come in and formally pitch the idea to WLIW.

We did, and they loved it.

Following the meeting was a creation process involving much trial, error, tears and leaps of faith. The result is the one-minute version that is running now. And running still.

This project thus far has been both terrifying and inspiring. Inspiring that something I had envisioned as more of a wish than an actual possibility is now -due to the efforts and faith of some immensely talented and courageous people -a reality. And terrifying in the sense that - as there are really only a few people working on this in a very small office - I am still not actually sure that this is possible.

I am not naive enough to believe that a single project can cool down the planet or end global strife, and yet, I don’t believe it’s at all too wide-eyed to surmise that the first step is to offer people tangible solutions. And who knows? Maybe these videos will reach someone or inspire someone who really can make a difference. Someone with a larger skill set, and a more talented brain than I possess.

I thank you for reading this. And I thank you for being brave/ naïve/ crazy/ hopeful/inspired/wide-eyed enough to take this leap with me.

I thank you for joining us as we kick off What You Can Do 365.

Let’s take this year – and let’s show them what we can do.


  1. I too have suffered from ISD. Many say that "Knowledge is Power" and I do believe this as well. However, others say "Ignorance is Bliss" and I think anyone who has suffered ISD would agree. Knowledge can be crippling when it leads to such an overwhelming feeling as ISD. The trick is getting over the hurdle and finding more than just bliss but true happiness by taking action and getting involved. I'm sure you know this just from the work you've done thus far on this site.
    I find there is a cycle that takes places: 1. knowledge, 2. small/quick action (such as a small personal donation), 3. quest for more knowledge (usually about what you just donated too), 4. overwhelming feelings (such as "I can't do it all!" and "No one else cares or is listening to me!"), 5. Impending Sense of Doom, until finally 6. Defeat. This is where we find ourselves trying to relax and forget about everything we just went through so that we can just go on with our lives the way we knew how. This is where I found myself skimming through a Better Homes and Garden magazine and stumbling across your website. It was just a little blurb in a magazine about doing a good deed - something that I could normally read one second and then move right along.
    This time was different. I found that taking action everyday is the only way to ward off ISD for the rest of your life. And your website is a great tool for finding something to do everyday. The knowledge is always going to be there. It's never going away. The little steps are nice, but the good feelings we get from doing them only last so long when we move into the quest for more knowledge. The only way to easy up the overwhelming feelings is to stay actively involved and keep talking about them with people that do support you. Doing this allows you to see the changes the good deeds bring about and inevitable ward of ISD and defeat. Instead of defeat I now have what I like to call a Respite of Hope. A time of relaxation for me everyday knowing that I did make a difference and hope that other people will take notice and do the same. A time to gear up for the next good deed!
    I don't know if they stole your idea, but ABC just started a year long news initiative this past week (12/17/10) called Be The Change:Save A Life. They are asking for ideas and solutions for solving global health problems on their website and offering help getting them done. I think you should show them what you have done so far. I would hope that if the ABC network is willing to do a year long initiative on global health that they would be willing to show your videos on TV rather than the one they just showed last night that they called "hilarious" of a boy upset that he got books for Christmas. (That was on Inside Edition.) I'm glad there doing the initiative, but together we can do more. Thanks for the great work you've already done!

  2. Hi, Truly -
    We just saw this, thanks so much for the kind words. It's nice to know that we're not in this alone.
    Thanks for the tip, we'll check out ABC.
    Stay in touch!

  3. Hi Truly!
    Jessica here! I just wanted to reach out and thank you for your blog post. It meant so much to see that someone understood ( and could articulate so beautifully) ISD- but more importantly that you could move on from ISD to the "Respite of Hope". I am going to quote you in the blog I am working on-
    My deepest hope in creating "What You Can Do" is that we could begin to build a community of fellow ISDers who together with our small efforts could collectively create real and lasting change. Hearing from you, and knowing that we reached you and that you are on board means so much to all of us,
    Please feel free reach out with any ideas/ thoughts you may have.
    Again I give you my heartfelt thanks-