A couple of years ago I was freshly out of grad school and back in Boston. I had already managed to cobble together a couple of part-time jobs, and was volunteering at two others. Life was busy, bank accounts were low, and I was driving between jobs a lot.
One thing I can’t do without when I’m driving? Music; I think it’s a travesty when a car is driven in silence. One day I was driving and listening to the radio, and I hit my saturation point. I just couldn’t bear to hear one more song dedicated to a Katy Perry break-up and I couldn’t escape because I was experiencing one of those special moments when every radio station is playing the same three awful songs on repeat. CDs weren’t an option—the car would spitefully spit them out faster than I could load them. My only other option was NPR, and though they air great programming, I have a thing against listening to people talk when I’m driving. I am that girl perpetually and unabashedly jamming out to a song at a red light.
I toggled between presets, desperately searching for something I could listen to, finally succumbing to a radio scan. That’s when I found it: the indie, non-profit radio station that saved my life.
I know I’ve been flippant until this point, but I’m not kidding: It saved my life, and in more ways than my immediate need for entertainment. It was the type of deeper rooted, innovative artistry I was looking for in my music. The things that often popped up on my Pandora station, but I could never find on a broadcast. And things like it that I had never heard before. It was an entire new expanse of music that I didn’t know existed. It felt like I had found home on my radio dial.
A good friend of mine, poet, Mike Delp, often says that the writing of his friend, Jack Driscoll, saved his life. Sometimes art comes at just the right time and is exactly what you were missing in your life. It helps us piece together ideas and feelings where we couldn’t quite make them fit before.
The playwrights of Boston Public Works are similar influences for me. The plays I hear in this group are immediate, challenging, and simultaneously heartfelt and heart wrenching. They’ve helped me make better sense of the world, and they are exactly the types of work I want to see when I go to the theater. When I said yes to this crazy three years of productions, it wasn’t solely for the chance to see my own play on stage, it was because I desperately need to see the other eight written by my fellow playwrights.
Like I said, the radio station I found is non-profit, meaning that they have an annual donation drive to pay for their operating costs. Normally, I watch every dollar I have because I simply don’t make enough not to be vigilant. I also don’t like when I feel guilted into throwing money into a pot that doesn’t have dividends. I never gamble because I would shed a tear over every loss and it would bring out a competitive side of me that just isn’t pretty.
But in the case of this radio station, I couldn’t wait until the next annual drive came around so I could donate, and in some way give back for the joy the station had given me the day I discovered it, and had continued to deliver throughout the year. I should mention that I could have gone to their website and donated at any time, but there was something about giving during the drive, with everybody else, that was appealing to me. I wanted to be part of the community that came together one week out of the year to back this station. I’m not kidding when I say to you that I saved for the moment I could write the check. And just because I’m putting so much weight on the moment of giving isn’t because I donated thousands of dollars and afforded the station a new sound system. Honestly, I didn’t give much. But it was a lot to me because it symbolized things I sacrificed, frivolous as they may have been, to make the donation. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the act of giving.
As a society we spend a lot of time focusing on the negative when it comes to spending our money. When I go to the food court for lunch, I’m paralyzed by all of the choices and the political implications they each have. One place is anti-gay, anther one uses hormones, and a third option pays unfair wages. I’ve given up on the whole thing and now I just brown bag it.
But what my radio donation taught me is that there’s another way to give money—to support the things that matter and that are setting out to make a positive impact on the world. For me, that giving is usually based in the arts. I like going to see a performance and know that I was part of it and that I’ll be part of its continuation. I support because I care, because I know people work hard, but mostly I give so I, as a very small benefactor, can help cultivate the things I love in the world so there can more of it. In this way, it makes me feel like I have the tiniest bit of control. Like I have a voice and I have the power to help raise-up the voices that are important. Maybe you donate to the arts, maybe to a political campaign, or for a cause, but no matter where you write the check out to, the act of giving is important. Who knows, it might help finance something that saves your life.