Growing up in Nashville, I grew accustomed to the local homeless population. On a weekend outing with friends, clicking down the sidewalk in shiny heels, I passed their sad eyes and dirt-stained fingernails. Beneath the grime, I could see loveliness. Crouched against rough,brick surfaces, they hopped up at the sight of passersby. Tattered guitar case flung open, they held wobbly knees atop buckets and began to serenade their guests with a personalized song. Their sleepy mutts donned hats and sometimes sunglasses, begging to be pet behind the ears. I always and with a happy heart, stopped to listen and pay for the treat. A few minutes passed, dollars and coins dropped gratefully into the beggar’s pocket, I went on my way, swallowing tears lest I be deemed the emotional drinker in the group of rowdy twentysomthings. But I was moved. For a person so down and out to offer what he has to the world is a beautiful thing. What these people had was limited to artistic ability and good souls, so that is what they gave. It is easy enough to ask for handouts, but could you constantly give?
I suppose it was this upbringing that sent me into the world with a sympathetic love for people going “without”. I traveled, meeting the invisible folks as they blended into park benches and faded into alleys. Everywhere I went, it seemed, these people tried their hardest to meet your gift with a gift. In Savannah, Georgia a young man named Mikey said you had the “kindest face [he] ever did see”. He would love to make a flower for you, and would appreciate whatever help you could offer him in return. You told him he had the sweetest soul as he twisted dried palm fronds into delicate blooms. Ten dollars, at the end of this heartwarming exchange, seemed like lucking out with a discount price.
In San Francisco you came across the Tree Man, an elderly, wild-eyed gentleman who worked the crowded blocks near Fisherman’s Wharf. You give him a dollar or two or five every day that you pass him. He wins extra points for originality as he hides beneath twigs and jumps out to the delighted shrieks of tourists. His act was perfectly timed, a one-man circus offering to scare your pants off (or at least your wallet). I appreciated his artistry in a way I’ve never felt gratitude for peeing my pants. I could pay a hefty ransom for sitting in a cushy theatre to see the latest horror film. But then again, the Tree Man’s routine caused equal thrill and edgy jumps. He tried his hardest to scare the ba-jesus out of me. And I thanked him for it.
My attitude towards helping has been shaped and molded by these experiences. So it was with a typically generous perspective that I stumbled upon a blog featured on Freshly Pressed several months ago. The post was witty and well-written. I smiled thinking that the author must be having a really great morning, what with all this newfound front page fame and all. I decided to stick around for a while and mosey through several older posts before settling on the About page.
And there it was.
Turning my help-happy smile to a cold, callous frown.
THE DONATION BUTTON.
The young woman was about my age, and from her description of the blog it seemed to be a site similar to mine. She explained that she loves writing and the community that comes along with blogging, and I nodded behind my screen that I felt the very same way. But two paragraphs later, the tone switched. I could visualize her words taking shape as facial expressions. Her lighthearted talk about the hobby she held dearest morphed into a beastly, serious discussion of why she was talented enough to deserve financial help from readers. After noticing that she did not write with much frequency (mostly sporadic postings every other week or so), I watched her page grow claws and fangs and foamy drool as she explained to the World of The Web that donating to her blog was, in essence, the same thing as paying for a book from your favorite author. The script done been flipped.
I clicked away from her page with the swiftness of a crowd learning one member was carrying Anthrax and Bird Flu in her purse. The rest of the day I felt disoriented by such a blatant sense of entitlement and disappointed that this hobby I love so much could be manipulated by selfish schemes. I turned to search engines to shed light on the daunting questions: Is everyone out for cash? Is this real life? I was bummed to find that Google answered with a simple “Yup. Mostly.”
I don’t want to work.
Rent costs money.
I’d have to work to pay rent.
Can you just pay it for me?
The idea of Blog Donations irks my soul because it seems to take the concept of monetizing blogs to an extreme. In a world where popular, well-written blogs can benefit from sponsors, the idea of just asking for cash just appears lazy. Sponsored blogs offer a dedicated group of readers, a platform from which to attract the audience to what your selling. In return for the premium advertising space, a company pays a small fee (sometimes free product or actual moolah). I’m at peace with this form of fiscal exchange because, just as the country crooner, the flower-bender, and the Tree Man, it seems like a fair exchange. On the flip side, simply asking for money to write once in a while on a page meant to be an online journal of sorts, seemed like a beggar chasing you down the street for not buying a ticket to his sidewalk show. I can see now, there are more forms of Dennis in this world than I’d like to acknowledge.
There was Memphis. This notoriously impoverished city was where I’d settle in for college. I met Dennis on the tiny concrete triangle to drop off his rations. Pulling my ill-functioning car to the wrong side of the street beside the I-40 off ramp was a difficult, but the real challenge proved to be the graceful maneuvering required to vacate the car without losing a door or a leg. Breathless and weary of the speeding traffic, I edged sideways towards this homeless man I called a friend. Just a block from my apartment, Dennis lived under bridges and spent his days on the median begging for scraps. I was overcome with love for him and made a point to bring him plastic bags filled with nourishment several times a week. Low on money and common sense, this nourishment typically consisted of cans of Diet Coke, peanut butter sandwiches, and stale baggies of Christmas cookies in June. But it was what I could give so I gave it. At first, Dennis seemed overcome with love and gratitude for me, too. He beamed as my little blue car jutted to a stop. He met my offerings with a gummy smile and a powerful high-five.
One afternoon, as I drove away from Dennis after a regular meeting, I happened to look in my rearview mirror. I remember feeling happy to be his friend. I remember thinking that I got a lot from this relationship, too. While I gave him what food I could scrounge up, he gave me a smile and an affirmation that I, for all my imperfections, was still worthy of a high-five now and then. I remember nearly swerving my car into a light pole when I watched Dennis hand his lunch, a bag packed with care and well wishes, to another homeless sir. As bartering goes, the mystery man shoved a brown-bagged bottle into Dennis’ hand. This was a different, more sinister kind of exchange, and I cursed myself for being tricked into it.
I made you think I’m starving.
I sold your good intentions for a beer.
The similarities between Dennis and the newly discovered Beggy Bloggers were enough to make my stomach turn. It was the same feeling of being preyed upon for your kindness and belief that people are mostly good. I kept digging through the Web in a desperate attempt to get back to my positive outlook on humanity. It was there I found these two sites who chipped away at the jaded crust forming around my person:
Leah at A Girl And A Boy writes a stellar, sponsor-worthy blog. While taking in my daily dose of ha-ha from her site I noticed a button on the page’s sidebar. I worried, fretfully and woefully worried, that I would have to stop reading her wordy genius if she was the beggy blogger type. Instead, I was pleased to learn she was a fan of Nice Things Now, a website based on paying it forward to friends and total strangers alike. Her “Donation Button” it seems encourages her readers to do nice things not for her personal benefit but for mankind.
Dan at Single Dad Laughing takes a more comedic approach to donations. His popular blog is successfully backed by sponsors, and for good reason, the dude can and does write well and write often. I couldn’t help but laugh when coming across his M&M Blogroll. Not one to ask for financial contributions from his dedicated readers, this single dad sells primo space on his blogroll for the low, low price of candy. A few bags of M&Ms grants a fellow blogger access to the VIP Things To Read section. Is it asking for donations? Well, sure. Is it innocent and playful enough that the reader doesn’t feel taken advantage of? Absolutely!
I suppose there is hope in this Blogosphere. Where daily contributions are made by bloggers who write and share for the love of writing and sharing, I smile to think that this all this good is free (from donation buttons).
What are your thoughts on Donation Buttons?
Do you think simply blogging should beget big bucks?
Has anyone seen Dennis? He owes me thirty-two cans of soda and a ton of tree-shaped cookies.