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Tonya Miller

50-for-50 interview: Keren Taylor, visionary

How does someone look into the very same future the rest of us do and see something entirely different? How does someone coping with the same struggles of the present—personal, financial, political—somehow manage to forge ahead and realize her spectacular vision despite the odds against her? I suppose Keren Taylor is as good a person as anyone to ask. In the days and weeks following 9/11, while many people rose up in anger, she had a different response: what if we saw this as a call to create more meaning, to pour ourselves into creating a future full of love and meaning rather than fear and hatred? Over these past challenging ten years, she has slowly and quietly brought her dream to fruition, teaching hundreds of girls the gift of knowing one’s own voice and believing in one’s ability to speak it, helping them to build a foundation of self-confidence, giving them a chance at higher education, and above all, instilling in them the knowledge that they are loved and valuable human beings with the talent and heart to change the world. Yes, we could ask her to explain how she has done what she has done. But I would suggest that instead, we leave her to do the work she was so clearly born to do, and perhaps take up the challenge to find the work that will allow us to be similarly focused and useful. Because Keren Taylor is busy. And because there is so much more to… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Keren Taylor, visionary

50-for-50 interview: Mary Sheely, half-mad former spinster

When she began blogging way back in the Wild West days of the 2001 Web, Mary Sheely could not have known that a year or so later, a kindred spirit from halfway across the country would find her writing, become by turns intrigued, enchanted, and absorbed by it, and ultimately, be moved to pick up her own pen after a years-long hiatus. She could not have known when she showcased the work of fellow Ohioan Chris Glass that it introduced this random reader to a new and higher standard of quality to adhere to, or that by sharing her stories of finding community in her city that it would stir in this total stranger the desire to reach out and connect with the citizens of her own adoptive city. And neither one of them could have known that a blog born of frustration with an unsatisfactory love life would, in a roundabout but indisputable way, lead Mary to find her soulmate and the stranger to find herself seated at a random luncheon next to another stranger—one who’d created an extraordinary organization called WriteGirl. And so from now on, when anyone questions the value of what she has to say, or the point in saying it aloud, I will simply point to Mary Sheely and say this: because this woman chose to write aloud, we have helped change the future for hundreds of girls, and maybe the world. Now get writing. When did you decide to become a writer? I think it kind of… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Mary Sheely, half-mad former spinster

50-for-50 interview: Erin Kissane, standard-bearer

I have a weakness for precision and an obsession with integrity, which means I pretty much live in awe of Erin Kissane. Perhaps she has closetfuls of dreadful, sprawling first drafts somewhere, but all she shows the world are the finely honed essays, tweets, and articles that describe to us, impeccably, how to handle our outward-facing work. Her delightful volume on content strategy, produced for the similarly elegant entity, A Book Apart, relates everything you need to know about creating digital content in 81 deliciously readable pages; it is the first book which, once I’d devoured it in digital form, I felt compelled to order in print as well. But for all of her thoroughness and exactitude, and despite the rather daunting standards she sets to live up to, in the end, you fall for Erin. How can you not? Her mission—to help us care more about the work and the words we choose, because these are the things that connect us to one another—comes from the heart. And pink hair? Sold. When did you decide to become a writer? I didn’t ever make a decision about it. Writing is how I think through complicated things, and how I connect ideas. It’s the other half of reading, for me. I read to learn; I write to think. That’s the easy way for me to answer this question, and it covers the professional work that people associate with my name. But there’s also something else, which is at least as important: writing is a way… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Erin Kissane, standard-bearer

50-for-50 interview: Pam Slim, fearless leader

Many people know and love Pam Slim as the woman who led them from the grim cattle pens of cubicle nation and a few more know and love her for the rousing, informative talks she gives. But if you are fortunate enough to meet Pam Slim one-on-one, you will know and love her for her greatest gift of all: making you feel really and truly seen. Without fanfare, without hoopla, and most definitely without agenda (except perhaps to change the world), Pam Slim takes you in fully, somehow making you feel just by being in her centered, grounded, loving presence, that things will be okay, that this, too, shall pass, that you can go forth and slay your dragons. Of course, she is also full of sane, practical, road-tested advice, which she serves up with such joy and ease, you can’t wait to learn more. But it is the feeling of hope she instills in the people who meet her that makes her truly irreplaceable. And if you are fortunate enough to make it into Pam’s inner circle? Well, let’s just say that the possibility of collecting a Pam Slim Hug been the impetus for my attendance at more than one far-flung conference. When did you decide to become a writer? I decided I was a writer after I wrote my book. Before that, I blogged, but I didn’t consider that “real” writing. When I got the first hard copy of my book, and saw my name on the cover, I gulped,… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Pam Slim, fearless leader

50-for-50 interview: Sugar, balm that heals

Some writers spin tales from thin air that seem realer-than-real, others ferret out true stories that seem impossible. For all her thousands of weekly readers know, Sugar, the famously-anonymous advice columnist at The Rumpus, is a writer who does both— perhaps even in the very books we reluctantly put down to read her columns. (And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if in her spare time, she writes poems that make the angels weep.) While the details of her CV remain hidden along with her true identity, it is beyond obvious that Sugar is a “real” writer in her real life, and a longtime, lauded one, besides. She has the deft moves of the great fiction writers who know how to hide their seams, and the infallible bullshit meter of the finest nonfiction writers. Each week, I pull up the latest snarl that’s been lobbed Sugar’s way, wondering how the hell she’ll find the thread to worry outwards; each week, she astounds me by slicing through the entire mess in a few swift strokes while I was looking in the wrong place altogether. There’s no showiness to her work, though—just gentleness and compassion for the sufferer, and illumination for all. Her gifts are many, but her heart is Sugar’s secret weapon. Well, that and her use of the judiciously placed swear. Write like a motherf*cker, indeed. When did you decide to become a writer? Becoming a writer was not so much a decision as it was a process of becoming myself.… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Sugar, balm that heals

Old broads don’t need stuff.

For my 50th birthday, what I want is to raise $50,000 for my favorite nonprofit, WriteGirl.

In 50 days.

In order for that to happen, I will need your help. A lot of your help.

I will need your financial help at any level, if you can offer it, but even more important, I will need your friends’ financial help…and their friends’ help…and so on, like that ancient commercial which no one remembers but me because I have ads on the brain and because it predates social media by a billion years. We’re going to do this together, because I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that the Internet should be used for more than passing around cat videos and warnings about Facebook changing its privacy settings. Again.

So please, give what you can. If it’s money, great. If it’s a lot of money, FANTASTIC. A lot of money is awesome, no doubt.

If all you can do right now is to pass along the word to your friends and your family and your colleagues, that’s awesome, too. Times are tough all over, right? I still love you! And so do these girls!

Just be sure that while you’re doing the passing, you slip an email to rich Uncle Frank. Tell him if he gives enough, he can even have first shave…


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50-for-50 interview: Marilyn Maciel, curator

Spend any amount of time on the Internet and if you don’t hear someone talk about the growing need for curation, you’ll experience the phenomenon on your own. Which is why I consider Marilyn Maciel my semi-secret weapon. While she has blogged on and off since we both started—way, way back in the Gold Rush days of aught-four—what she has never flagged in is her formidable consumption and filtration of things cultural and current. I gave up reading the news long ago, trusting her to point me toward the stories that mattered, and the best coverage of those stories, to boot. She has also provided me with an exceptional ongoing reading list of books and, now that the world has moved to streaming Netflix, an equally rich “to watch” pile. There’s simply no way I’d be able to cover the amount of digital ground I do without Marilyn, not to mention have such a good time doing it: she is the consummate cultural critic with heart. Start with her Twitter feed, then work your way back into her vast archive of content, including an outstanding series of interviews she did with writers and artists on her own most recent blog project. And then, if you’re very, very lucky, maybe she’ll friend you on Facebook. When did you decide to become a writer? I had the desire to write when I was in my teens, but a bad experience with a high school English teacher soured me on the whole endeavor.… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Marilyn Maciel, curator

50-for-50 interview: Alissa Walker, gelato enthusiast

People bandy about the words “tireless” and “inspirational” all too easily, which means when you finally run across someone who truly is these things—Alissa Walker, for instance—they lack the necessary punch. But consider this: here is a woman who not only dreamed up a whole new career for herself doing exactly what she loved (and in a “dying” industry in a down market), but did it while walking through Italy, eating ice cream. And then brought said fantasy career to fruition in less than three years. In Los Angeles. Without a car. While hosting frequent gatherings featuring foods grown from her own garden, and in between volunteering for local causes, running marathons, making crafts, and walking an entire extra city besides her own. We may need to invent entirely new words to describe her. That, my friends, is the power of focus and a cheery outlook combined with a fine, Midwestern work ethic. If you need a quick infusion of “anything is possible,” look no further than Alissa Walker, everyone’s favorite writer-superhero. When did you decide to become a writer? Now that I think about it, I have always considered myself a writer, although in my very early days, it was as a writer-slash-actress-slash-extremely bossy director of “films“ that I made with my siblings and neighbors and a Sony HandyCam. I loved making commercials, so these years of experience culminated in a short-lived and mostly-miserable career in advertising. So then I took a non-writing day job and tried writing stories about people… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Alissa Walker, gelato enthusiast

50-for-50 interview: Patti Digh, human rights advocate

Patti Digh came late to writing and I came late to Patti Digh. We have both agreed to make up for lost time, with Patti writing more and better than I have seen anyone write out of the gate and me devouring every last morsel. Patti’s writing voice is clear and and sly and joyful and pierces like arrows of love and truth through your heart. That her following is massive and loyal is understandable—she doesn’t “invite” people to “join the conversation”; she plops herself down on whatever figurative sitting thing is handy and talks to people—on Facebook, on Twitter, or, if you’re lucky enough to be in the same town at the same time, in person. What she doesn’t talk about is that she has been a lifelong activist for universal human rights, out there working the front lines from day one. Because when you truly are a thing, you have neither the time nor need to: you’re too busy doing it. Or, in Patti’s case, doing the hell out of it.   When did you decide to become a writer? I became a writer in 2005. I was 46 years old. I’m not sure I decided to become a writer as much as I decided to (finally) start writing. It is the writing that matters–the verb–and not the noun. Writers write. Do I wish I had started sooner? Yes. That’s why organizations like WriteGirl are so damn important. Vital. Necessary. I had written before then, for sure. I wrote a story once that my… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Patti Digh, human rights advocate

50-for-50 interview: Amy Jane Gruber, 140-character truthteller

Forgive me, Lord, for I did not know of the greatness that is Amy Jane Gruber until serendipity found me seated next to her at a panel three or four SXSWs ago. As I recall it, she was twice as funny as any of the men on stage that day, with half the hoopla and none of the b.s. Since then, I have made it a point to nab one-on-one time with Amy at every event I’m lucky enough to find her at, then delightedly settle in for a few sweet, sweet hours of conversation that’s so rollicking, wide-ranging, and smart, you’d call “bullshit” if you saw it in a movie. In between these all-too-rare meetups, I make do with her Twitter stream, which is (of course) populated with the most consistently high-quality material I have found there from anyone—man, woman, amateur, pro, or totally fake account. Ain’t no faking about Amy Jane Gruber: she’s 100% real. When did you decide to become a writer? I never really decided to become a writer but there was a time in college when I realized that I was better at writing than other people. I happened to go to high school with a lot of good writers, my husband included, and I didn’t know that it was something that not everyone could do well. I tested into an advanced writing course in college, and most of the students there were still struggling with grammar. Law school involved a lot of writing and… Read More »50-for-50 interview: Amy Jane Gruber, 140-character truthteller

Raising $50,000 in 50 days for an amazing group of girls