Valium Vickie

Friday, April 15, 2016

We named our daughter after a bottle of wine: Here's why

After two bottles of Chianti, we conceived a child in right in the middle of that picturesque vineyard while our tour guide begged us to stop.

Liz and I enjoyed the wine in Italy so much we had several bottles shipped back to our home. The plan was to spend the summer sipping the fine wine we'd enjoyed in Italy and telling anybody who would listen every annoying detail of our trip -- e.g., in Monterosso (Cinque Terre), I almost made us miss our ferry back to Manarola (Cinque Terre) because, at the last minute, I insisted on climbing the hill of San Cristoforo to see what an Italian cemetery looked like. See, all the wine in the world wouldn't make that interesting to you, now would it?

Anyway, a few weeks after our return, Liz starts to worry she's either: A.) going through menopause extremely early, or B.) pregnant. She then sends me off to Walgreens to rule out the latter possibility. Even though it was a little less awkward then purchasing the Plan B pill, buying a pregnancy test has always made me uncomfortable. The moment I picked up that Clearblue package, I no longer felt like the confident, relaxed man I pretend to be in public. Instead, I was again that scared shitless high school kid who walked down the pregnancy test aisle of a Norristown K-Mart like a death row inmate making his final journey to the chair.

A change of plans

Obviously, Liz passed the test with flying colors, or rather, flying color -- blue. But the news caught me completely off-guard. We had rarely talked about having children and managed to slip comfortably into our 30s without any, so I thought we might become that married couple who doesn't have kids and instead uses the money they save not taking care of a non-contributing human being to jetset around to lots of really cool places. Because of these factors, I probably didn't handle the pregnancy news as well as I could have. Here's some advice: When you're a 33-year-old married man and your wife tells you she's having your child, don't say: "Honey, I will support you no matter what you decide to do."

When she found out she was pregnant, Liz made the surprising decision not to drink during the pregnancy, a decision unheard of in my family where one to four daily glasses of wine was thought to be "good for the baby." Nope, Liz did all of the things you were supposed to do while pregnant and swore off all the things you weren't. And she was generally pretty miserable doing it.

For nine long months, Liz endured migraines, insomnia, pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome and a husband who drank like prohibition was only a few months away (with a huge assist from a younger California-born cousin who recently moved East). Despite all this, she opted not to indulge in the daily glass of wine that helped so many women through their pregnancies. Instead, Liz wanted to wait until she went into labor to indulge. Her birth plan consisted of: A.) recognizing that she was in labor B.) taking a long shower C.) pouring a healthy glass of wine from our Italy collection, and D.) watching "Pitch Perfect 2." Only after each of these four steps in the thought-out birth plan were completed would Liz go to the hospital to have the baby.

By the eighth month of the pregnancy, we'd whittled down our list of potential names from anything except for Elizabeth to just three: Sydney, Julianna and Emma. The only thing we were sure about with the name was what would follow it: Marie. Regardless of whether our daughter was a Sydney, a Julianna or an Emma, Marie was the perfect phonetic stepping stone on the path to the harsh-sounding Bilski. Plus, I have an Aunt Marie whom I adore. I figured, if we weren't going to pay tribute to our parents with the baby's name, we could at least give a nod to an amazing aunt.

About two weeks before the due date, it seemed like the contractions had already started. For a few hours every night, Liz would use the little contraction timer app on her phone, and every night the contractions would eventually subside. When we went to the doctor's appointment on the actual due date, we were fully expecting to hear, "Looks like this baby is coming some time today. You guys should head home so you have enough time to make it through that shitty Rebel Wilson movie." Instead we found out Liz was barely dilated, were assured it was very common for the first baby to come late and were given a date on which Liz would be induced if things to progress.

That was on a Tuesday. When I walked through the door from work that Friday, Liz was having the same type of Wait-This-Could-Be-Something-Here feelings she'd had for the past few weeks. "Look, it's probably nothing, but just in case, can you open up one of those Italy wines?" We had three different bottles in a wall-mounted wine rack in our kitchen. The bottles had been sitting there for since for the better part of a year, but I'd hardly noticed them. I'd made a pact with Liz not to touch the Italy wine until she could enjoy it, too. I grabbed the bottle from the bottom of the rack; the easiest one to remove.

A lazy coincidence

The wine I chose was a Chianti Classico from a little family-run winery about a half hour outside of Florence that specialized in Chianti and combining warming, charming hospitality with sweeping views of the picturesque Tuscan countryside. It was called Casa Emma. Of the three potential names we had for the baby, Emma had seemed least likely to come out on top, with Sydney looking like the clear favorite by the end of the third trimester.

"It's a sign," Liz said when I showed her the Casa Emma bottle. "If the baby comes tonight, we're naming her Emma." By arbitrarily choosing a wine with one of our potential baby names in big, bold red letters right there on the bottle, I'd catapulted Emma to the top of the potential names list and virtually ensured our daughter would have at least one thing in common with with Bon Iver's obsession.

The bottle from the title of this post.

It would've been nice if Liz's contractions steadily increased that night until she was absolutely certain it was time. Instead, they subsided enough for her to think it was yet another false alarm. Deflated, we watched the Amy Winehouse documentary to remind ourselves that things could be a lot worse. By the time Amy died, so did Liz's hopes of having a baby that night, so she simply went to bed.

I had a bit more difficulty falling asleep so I poured myself another glass of Emma wine and popped one of the Ambiens I'd been prescribed to help with my pregnancy-induced insomnia. A couple hours after Liz had fallen asleep and right when my Ambien was really hitting its stride, the contractions returned with a vengeance. This time Liz was sure it was the real thing so she calmly showered, called the hospital and, after several unsuccessful attempts, roused her drugged husband to let him know the baby was coming. While I stumbled around the house getting ready and wondering if I was in the midst of a very lucid Ambien dream, Liz made coffee. I'm guessing that trip to the hospital is surreal under the most stone-cold sober circumstances, but the addition of my little sleep aide/mild hallucinogen took the experience to a whole new level.

An easy decision

"I'm so glad they didn't name me Sydney."

Technically, Liz didn't have the baby the "that night," but she did go into labor -- a long, arduous labor -- and that was close enough. At 9:30 pm on January 11, 2016, twenty-seven and a half hours after she first asked me to crack open a bottle of the Italy wine, Liz gave birth to our daughter, Emma Marie Bilski. Not only had a bottle of wine had been the deciding factor in the our name-selection process, the picture on Casa Emma's label was also memorable enough for me to include it with the tattoo of my daughter's footprints I had done (below).

When I'm old, this tattoo will look like a Rorschach Test.

When all was said and done, we'd spent maybe two hours tops at Casa Emma, and when we loaded back on to the bus to continue our Tuscan wine tour, I took one long final look at the sea of green rolling hills surrounding the little stone island of Casa Emma, because I was sure I'd never be back there again. Now Liz and I argue over how soon is too soon to take Emma to see her winery. It's bound to be several years before we make that trip. In the meantime, we just received the first of what's sure to be many shipments of Chianti Classico (aka "Emma's wine"). These shipments will have to tide us over while we wait.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jesus vs. The Easter Bunny: A One-Act Play

Jesus of Nazareth, permanently 33, is holding up an unopened bottle of Aquafina and speaking to a group of mesmerized children.
How many of you little children of God would like to see me turn this overpriced, environmentally harmful water into the magic grape juice most of your mommies drink to deal with unfulfilling marriages to your daddies?

Group of children
(In unison)

Well, I'm going to need to a volunteer ...

In the middle of Jesus' presentation, one of the children spots a clearly intoxicated individual in an Easter Bunny costume stumbling toward Victoria's Secret.
(Pointing and screaming)

Suddenly, all of the children begin running toward the inebriated bunny who hears the commotion, turns to see his fans coming and quickly takes cover behind a rack of on-sale thongs. Jesus is left awkwardly holding the Aquafina bottle.
(Drops the bottle and stares at the scars on the center of his palms)
Why do I even try?


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

My Failed Kickstarter Project: "Pals"

A few years ago, I had a once-in-a-lifetime idea for a completely original sitcom that was guaranteed to be a smash hit on prime time television. When the idea first came to me, I vividly remember thinking, "Jared, this is going to change your entire life, but don't ever forget the people who loved you when you were a nobody." The universal appeal of my story was flat-out undeniable. But in order to get one of the major networks to take a chance on an unknown creator, I'd have to make a Pilot that was so strong ABC, NBC and CBS would be fighting each other for it. Problem was, I didn't have the funds needed. That's why I enlisted the help of Kickstarter. Here's the exact pitch I used to introduce my life-changing project to the crowdsourcing juggernaut:


Dear Kickstarter:

What do young people living in Manhattan do when the real world just seems too much to take any longer? They turn to their "Pals" for companionship, comfort and support, that's what.
"Pals" is the story of six young friends living in Manhattan and struggling to find happiness and success in the Big City. But things just never seem to work out as planned for these six.

There's Bross, a sweet, harmless anthropologist with a knack for science but a heart for love, despite plenty of failures in the latter category. At this point in his life, Bross is looking to settle down, and the lass he's got his sights set on is none other than Grachel, a girl for whom he's always had strong feelings. In a former life Grachel was first the popular schoolgirl, then the spoiled rich girl who leached off of her father's sizable bank account. Now, however, she's determined to make it on her own (even if she has to waitress to do it) -- a statement she made in dramatic fashion when she ran from her own wedding. Yowsers! Grachel is living with Honica, Bross's compulsive, controlling and formerly-fat older sister. Scarred from years of ridicule at the hands of her classmates because of her weight, Honica used food to her advantage by becoming a chef. Now she's getting the last laugh because not only is she a top chef in a city where people are willing to pay top dollar for a good meal, she's lost a ton of weight to boot. But despite all of her success, all that Honica really wants is to find the right guys and start a family. Who knows ... he may be closer than she thinks!

Every group has an eccentric and for these "Pals," that gal is Beebie. Ditzy, whimsical and impossible not to love, Beebie is a masseuse by day -- with aspirations to make it big as a songwriter who sings about everyday things, like a cat with a foul odor. "Beebs" as her "Pals" often call her often plays her original tunes at "Central Twerk," a coffee house the group regularly frequents. Then there's Shandler Zing, who does something with data. He's successful, although none of his "Pals" know just what it is that he does, which makes for some hilarious dialogue. Shandler's a wimpy guy who relies on his razor-sharp -- and prime-time television appropriate -- wit to mask his many insecurities and shortcomings, such as the fact that he hasn't been in a serious committed relationship since ... like ... ever. With an endless arsenal of witty one-liners that will no doubt be repeated ad nauseam by office workers everywhere (if you accept my project that is), it's literally impossible not to find yourself cracking up at what comes out of Mr. Shandler Zing's mouth.

Rounding out the group is Toey Jibiani. If you love big, dumb stereotypical Italian hunks (and who doesn't, right?), then you'll absolutely adore Toey. A small-time actor with big-time dreams, Toey is the determined to make it big in show biz. And if Toey had even the a quarter of the luck with acting as he does with the ladies, he'd be a household name. Sure, Toey's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but based on the revolving cast of buxom beauties that frequent his bedroom, it's clear there's something very special about Mr. Jibiani's tool -- if you know what I mean!

In addition to the main six, there's Pingo Gomez, a peripheral character with a critical role. Pingo Gomez is a Portuguese laborer who always seems to be lurking around in the background of each scene. Whenever one of the "Pals'" problems seem too heavy for a sitcom, Pingo steps out of the shadows and says something like, "You people's petty problems disgust me," which never fails to send the group off on fit of laughter. Who is this mysterious Pingo character and why is he always around? You'll have to pick-up my project to find out!

The Response

Not long after I made the pitch -- via email -- I received a response from George, who was obviously a high-level decision-maker at Kickstarter. George stated:

Kickstarter <>
to me

Hello Jared --

Thanks for writing in! Your project sounds interesting, but let me give you a quick word of advice. A series of creative and engaging backer rewards is essential. Your rewards should reflect the personality of both you and your project -- and they should offer something tangible to your supporters.

Having a few reasonably priced rewards will help incorporate everybody who is interested in what you are doing, even those only able to contribute $5-$20. Every buck counts! Check out our Kickstarter School entry on creating rewards:

Remember to check our guidelines ( ), and please note that discounts, gift certificates, returns on investments, raffles and coupons are prohibited as rewards.


George and I then exchanged a few more messages on the specifics of the project:

Jared Bilski <>
to No

By George, George, that's great news. So all I have to do is add a few rewards and "Pals" will be able to have a Kickstarter!? That's such great news!!! You made my year!

Jared "Pals" Bilski

Kickstarter <>
to me

Hi Jared --

Yes. Please take the time to make some additions to your rewards section. In my experience, projects with 3 or more rewards tend to have a higher success rate than those with fewer.

Further, is there any chance you'd consider adding a video? Videos often make projects more engaging and get people excited about the personality behind what you're doing. Just something to consider, totally up to you.

Once you've had a chance to update your page let me know and I'll take another look.


The letdown

Then, right before I was set to begin my campaign to raise the $250,000 I needed to make the pilot from friends, family and venture capitalist, something terrible happened. A friend of my mine let me know the similarities between my project, 'Pals' and the popular nineties situation comedy 'Friends' were too great to merely be a coincidence. The only differences between the two, my friend surmised cruelly, were the names of the main characters and that strange peripheral character Pingo. And even the weren't that different, my friend added for good measure. After all, he said thrusting the knife deeper into my heart, only one letter separates Ross and Bross.

And that's how the Kickerstarter campaign for my passion project "Pals" died before it ever had a chance at life (i.e., $250,000).

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

5 ways to pass the time when 'bonding' with your newborn baby

When my wife gave birth to our first child a few weeks ago, it was a surreal experience. We walked into the hospital with nothing but ourselves and a couple of overnight bags, and we walked out with a shrunken old man in silly girls' clothing. The first few days with my daughter I was on such a high that I wasn't even affected by the sleep deprivation (eight hours tops during the first four days) and the sympathy constipation (my body's way of showing solidarity toward my wife). My wife fed the baby, I changed her diapers and then we put her to sleep -- and each of those tasks seemed so special at first. Look at us, we're actually parenting here, I thought after every successful diaper change.

But it didn't take long for those tasks -- the changing and the burping and the rocking and shushing -- to lose that initial magic. In the end, taking care of a brand new baby is a job -- a repetitive, sometimes boring, sometimes exhilarating, often maddening job. Of course, my infant daughter is a beautiful, wonderful gift, and my wife and I are so lucky to have this healthy new baby. But let's be honest, she's not bringing much to the table at this stage in her life.

Basically, all I can do is stare at this thing -- and looking at your new baby is like seeing the Grand Canyon. It's amazing, but after a while you're like "How long am I supposed to just stare at this?" At least you can get a breathtaking sunset from the Grand Canyon on occasion. The most you'll get from a new baby is a vague semblance of a smile that's generally followed by a loud, wet fart, which often means the diaper was unable to contain the flood of excrement said fart ushered into the world.

 I understand just how critical the first few weeks with my this child are, and I know I need to "enjoy every moment because it all just goes by so fast*" -- but it's just as important to find things to keep you from losing your mind. Here's my list of those things:

1. Rediscover great music. For me, this was an easy one. The day after Emma (she's the baby I keep talking about here) was born, David Bowie died. I've been a fan of Bowie's since I was kid. Crisp Fall Saturday mornings, the feel of the cold hardwood floor on my bare feet as I scurried into the kitchen for coffee and the sounds of "Ziggy Stardust" or "Hunky Dorey" playing through my dad's three-foot speakers while he issued constant reminders to get ready for my soccer game. That's what I think of when I think of David Bowie. My dad, the Norris Hills soccer league and David Bowie are all gone now, but there are moments when I hear "Starman" or "Life on Mars," and the memories of those Saturday Fall mornings are so vivid it feels like I traveled back in time. The good news is Bowie has an insane catalogue of music. In her first few weeks outside of the uterus, Emma couldn't go through a diaper change without the sounds of The Thin White Duke in the background. We've been working our way up to "Blackstar," but we're not nearly as far along as we should be thanks to repeated visits with "Aladdin Sane." My hope is that 15 or 20 years from now some of the Bowie tunes I've been listening to with Emma will allow me to travel back to how it felt to be a brand new dad.

2. Perform. I've been playing the guitar since I was in the seventh grade, and it's rare a day goes by without me picking up my acoustic multiple times. Unfortunately, my performances are usually cut short by my wife. "Can you stop? I'm trying to watch the Wheel [Wheel of Fortune]," she'll say before I even finish the intro to Interstate Love Song, or "Put that down, we're leaving in three hours," when she sees me reaching to pick up my trusted axe and kill some time. To be fair, I'm not that good. My guitar playing peaked in the 10th grade, and I've pretty much been playing the same six-song set list ever since. But Emma doesn't know that. In the same way our military tied down gitmo detainees and forced them to listen Metallica and Eminem, I swaddle my infant daughter, throw her in the Rock 'n' Play and make her to listen to me.

Even if you're not an average/sightly below average guitar player, you can still use hold performances with your new baby using the instrument each of can play to some extent: Your voice. I can't sing in tune, but that doesn't stop me from singing along to the seven full songs I know the guitar. I even downloaded the Sing Sharp app -- an app the Gamified company allowed me to download for free in exchange for coverage on this blog -- in an attempt to make these sing-a-longs enjoyable for Emma before she figures out what out-of-tune singing is. Added bonus: According to the popular parenting blog,, singing helps children retain information more quickly.

3. Eat like you just got sent home from "The Biggest Loser." Right after our friends Dan and Talia had their first kid, I remember asking them: "How's everything going?" Talia didn't hesitate to tell me all about the perks of being a new parent: "It's great, people keep coming over and dropping off delicious casseroles for you." The thought of a steady stream of visitors bringing me warm, delicious food was one of the major reasons I wanted to have a kid. That's not exaggeration. And I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Ever hear of the "Baby Blues" and wonder what causes that postpartum depression? Studies have proven the pure joy of food deliveries from friends and family is so powerful that, when it is suddenly stops, the brain experiences a hormonal swing and drop in serotonin levels resulting in moderate to severe depression, depending on the quality of the food.

I definitely overdid it with the comfort food. One day, I followed a heaping bowl of baked Ziti and bacon with a General Tso combination platter and chased it with an chocolate fudge Sunday and Root Beer float, and my entire left arm went numb. I remember lying there in my dog's bed, contorted in a modified fetal position and thinking, "You're so stupid. You took it too far, and now you're not even going live long enough to see Emma's one-month photo shoot." But like all things, it eventually passed.

4. Catch up on all the TV you missed when you were out living a life. Can you believe I never saw "Silicon Valley" until a few weeks ago? There are plenty of life-changing shows just like Mike Judge's masterpiece I simply haven't gotten around to watching. Now I can. The single best part of having a new baby is these tiny creatures require a ridiculous amount of sleep. That leaves plenty of free time for TV-watching. I recommend watching half-hour shows. It's the perfect length for the new baby situation. After all, if your little bundle starts wailing halfway through a 30-minute show, it's easy enough to tough out those final 15 minutes. When the same thing happens during an hour-long drama, it's much more difficult to tune out the awful sound of your baby's selfish tantrum.

Remember: The more shows you're familiar with, the easier it'll be to get through the countless unwanted social interactions you'll find yourself in over the next five, 10, 15 years. The next time you're at some peripheral friend's kid's first birthday, trapped in a corner having some god awful conversation about work commutes, just start throwing out TV shows: "Do you watch 'Making a Murderer?'" Eventually you'll hit on something, and you can get through the conversation without having to get so drunk your wife makes you sleep in the dog's bed.

5. Unburden yourself. At first I was reluctant to talk to the baby. Instead, I'd babble a bunch of nonsense in this horrible voice I thought you were supposed to use around babies. But at this point, she doesn't even really register my tone, and she sure as hell doesn't have any clue what I'm talking about. That's why I use those precious moments when I'm rocking my sweet little munchkin back to sleep to unburden myself of all the stress I've been carrying and get things off my chest. Unlike adults who respond to me baring my soul with comments like, "When I was in a situation that was similar enough to your current situation for me to shift the focus and make this conversation all about me, I [insert triumphant story]." Emma just listens patiently and farts in agreement.

These confessions started small -- me calmly explaining to Emma how her mom and I were going to have to have a talk with a certain visitor about the importance of boundaries, because said visitor was starting to feel a little too much like a roommate, the type of roommate very, very unlucky people sometimes get stuck with during their freshman year of college. Before long, however, I was telling my two-week old daughter things I wouldn't even dream of telling a priest during confession. Now Emma is the only other person who knows about that time I stole my mom's car, took it out for a ride and accidentally hit and killed a hobo and how I buried the hobo's mangled corpse in the pet cemetery in our background. It was a female hobo, too -- a very rare breed of hobo according to Hobo Weekly. Am I worried about making this public confession? Not at all. Out of the 10 people who actually read this blog, eight of them stopped dropped off long before this point. The remaining two? I can guarantee those folks are my faithful Russian readers, and I don't think they'd give a second thought to a confession about a dead hobo.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Top 5 Valiums of 2015

Scott Weiland died on a tour bus in a sad parking lot in an even sadder state (Minnesota), a strange Polish blogger discovered that despite years of copious drug usage and multiple fence-jumping accidents he somehow wasn't sterile, and I had the opportunity to tour strange and foreign lands like Italy and Clarks Summit. Yes, 2015 was quite an action-packed year. Despite all that was going on, I somehow managed to churn out more than 10 posts over the course of the year (a total of 11). That's an average of nearly a post per month! At this breakneck pace, I'll have all the material I need to put out a book of personal essays or prank emails by as early as 2052.

As is customary each year, I list the five most popular posts, which is about as ridiculous as a radio station doing a Best of the Best Today segment. Normally, this post would've come at the tail end of last year or the early part of this one, but my wife had to go and have our first child and that threw off the normally unbending editorial deadlines that have become a hallmark of this institution. As always, thanks for reading -- especially if you're reading this from Russia (Russia's readership really stepped it up this year). Now on to the list ...

5. The History of Kim Davis' Meteoric Rise to Fame. Before 2015, nobody knew who Kim Davis' was -- except for the fine folks of Rowan County, Kentucky. Now she's so recognizable that when a camera pans to her briefly during the State of the Union she's trending on Twitter instantly. What most people don't know is how Davis got to where she is now. Thanks to hours (1) of research (Google searches and outright lies) I was able to piece together Davis' back story.

4. (Tie) Italy through the eyes of an Ignorant Comedian: Introduction and Melatonin: It's Natural, So It Can't be Bad for me ... Right? For the first time in Valium Vickie's storied history, there was a tie in the top five. The post about Italy got the exact same number of clicks (1,327,485) as the post about my sleep disorder. If you read both back to back, you'll actually find they're very similar.

3. 4 Places my Boston Terrier Has Been that My Grandmother Hasn't.  When all is said and done, my grandmother will probably have lived six or seven times longer than my beautiful Boston Terrier, Judith Weiland. Despite her unfairly short lifespan, Judith is determined to see as much of the world as possible (last year she swam in both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans) while my grandmother continues to waste away in the bowels of Pennsylvania's once booming coal region. Which book would you rather read: "I've been going to the same hairdresser at the same time for 49 years" by Jared B's grandmother or "I f#cked a billionaire's Rottweiler, Curtis, on a yacht in Cabo" by Judith Weiland Bilski?

2. 11 Things that Got Me Through the Most Difficult Valentine's Day of my Life. Ostensibly, this post is a transcript of prank text messages I sent on Valentine's Day, but it's really a post about the OCD tendencies that manifested themselves after my wife left me for a brief period early on in 2015. As fate would have it, we bumped into each other on our separately planned Italy trips, conceived a child in the Roman Colosseum and decided to give our marriage another shot for the sake of our child.

And the winner is ...

1. The Manayunk Bike Race and the Girl in the Pink Pants. This is the 100% true story of how I met my wife, Liz. Granted, it's nowhere near as romantic as my parents' story: They met a key party in the Poconos in 1979. Serendipity helped my mom pull the keys to my dad's Dodge Dart out of the bucket, but a poorly manufactured product prevented the engine to my dad's prized automobile from turning over. Luckily, my mom's first husband and the owner of an impressive mustache was a sport and agreed to drive my parents to a rent-by-hour hotel if my dad could get him some coke. Since my dad rarely left the house without a little of "Uncle Eddie's Gum-nummer" in those days, this wasn't an issue -- and the rest is history.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear GoFundMe(like) Crowdfunding Site: I'm an Artist!

When they're used correctly, popular crowdfunding sites like and can be invaluable resources for noble, worthwhile causes. But some of the online fundraising campaigns I've seen recently are really something. One of the most ridiculous fundraising requests I've ever seen comes from longtime Valium Vickie contributor Kenneth Larson. Here is a transcript of Larson's attempt to set the campaign up:

* Note: The names have been changed.

The Cause

MAY 19, 2015  |  09:20PM CDT
Original message
Kenneth wrote:

To whom it may concern,

I've seen A LOT of people trying to raise money for their own personal issues on sites like this, GoFundMe & something that I believe was called Pay It Straightforward. These fundraising campaigns really bother me. I mean, I saw this one case the other day where this lady Tricia (not her real name) was going on and on about how her husband got hit by a car crossing the street, and how she was so wrapped up in caring for her husband Dax (not his real name) that she missed a few rent payments and now she was in danger of being evicted. So now this lady has the nerve to ask people like us to cover for her mistakes. I mean, that story is sad and all, but come on? Maybe Dax should learn how to cross the street. I'm sorry, but no. Just no.

This got me to thinking. If anybody deserves a fundraising campaign it's me. Here's my story: My grandfather has been sick for a while, and it's looks like he's finally going to pass soon. The good news is I'm the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. The bad news is he wants me to use a good chunk of that money for his rather excessive burial and funeral service expenses. I had already planned on using that money to sustain myself so I could quit my job and focus on my art full time.

Yes, that's right, I'm an artist. I know plenty of people claim to be "artists," but I'm the genuine article. The project I'm working on now could literally change the way we (HUMAN BEINGS) look at LOVE -- and IMPACT the way we live our lives. But that project won't ever come to fruition if I have to work a 9-to-5 like some civilian. I NEED to be 100% focused on my art -- and with my pop's life insurance money, I can be. At least until I finish this project I can.

So I guess I have a few questions. One: Can I set up a fundraising campaign through your site? I honestly don't see why I shouldn't be able to. After all, most people's campaigns are somewhat selfish and don't offer anything in return to people for their generous donations. I'm offering people my ART.

I guess, the final question is: How should I market my campaign? You guys are the experts. Do you think I'll get more donations if I'm COMPLETELY honest (like my art) and say, "I need donations for my grandfather's funeral expenses ... so I can live off of his life insurance money to pursue my ART full-time while the inspiration is at its current fever pitch, etc., etc." Or should I keep it vague (but not dishonest) and simply say: "I need help raising money for my grandfather's funeral expenses." You guys are the experts, so please let me know.

Also, when responding, please keep in mind that it wasn't easy for me to be so HONEST with you about my situation.


MAY 19, 2015  |  11:44AM CDT
Meg F. replied:

Hi Kenneth,
Thank you so much for reaching out. Although GiveForward specializes in fundraising for medical and other emergency expenses, you can use GiveForward to raise money for other endeavors. The only specific restrictions we have are that you cannot raise money for legal fees or send money to an international bank account.

The most important thing while using our site is to be completely honest with your supporters. As you mentioned, being honest isn’t always easy, and we don’t want you to share anything you are uncomfortable with. However, for the sake of transparency, it is important that your supporters understand where their funds will go. In this case, it would be best to explain that the funds will be going to funeral expenses, but will also be allowing you to quit your job and focus on art full time.

Most donations on our site will come from friends, family, and other people that you know. If you have a great network to reach out to for donations, then I would definitely suggest creating a page on our site! Just go to and click on the “Create” link to get started. You just have to tell your story, add some pictures, and then share the personalized link with your network.
Once you set up your page, you will be assigned a personal fundraising coach who can answer any questions you might have in the future.

My Best,

MAY 21, 2015  |  11:05PM CDT
Kenneth replied:

Meg (do you mind if I call you Meg?) or Ms. F.,
Please, call me Kenn. First off, thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. I gave you all of the stars on the "Rate Our Interaction," because of the thoughtful feedback you offered regarding my unique situation.
Because you didn't respond to my initial statement about the general nature of fundraising campaigns, I assume you also believe many causes are selfish and non-emergent but are unable to vocally express those thoughts because of your current position. I completely understand, and I respect your professionalism. 

Now let's get down to business. After meditating on your response, I think you're right. "For the sake of transparency," I need to let my supporters know that not only will their donations go to my grandfather's funeral expenses, they will also go toward helping me to leave the chains of corporate America behind and pursue my ART full-time. Like my ART, my fundraising campaign will be 1000% honest.

That brings me to my follow-up questions. In your letter, you said, Most donations on our site will come from friends, family, and other people that you know. If you have a great network to reach out to for donations, then I would definitely suggest creating a page on our site! If you have a great network to reach out to for donations, then I would definitely suggest creating a page on our site! 

That may present a bit of a problem. My biological father split when I was only five. He told my mom he couldn't be tied down with a family and needed to devote himself to his music full-time which, to this day, I think is an inexcusably selfish move. Who would actually say something like that out loud? Not that it matters, but he failed. Instead of writing original music, he now spends his time playing in a Steely Dan covered band that calls itself 'Reeling in the Gears,' a subtle nod to my deadbeat dad's daytime gig as an auto mechanic (I Googled him). My mother's a drunk, and my stepfather constantly tells me that ART is for queer little ladybugs. There's my feeble grandfather, whom I love. But this whole campaign centers around his life insurance money so I'm not sure if that's a conflict of interest or something. 

That leaves my friends. They mean well, but most of them are artists. They're not ARTISTS like me, people who need ART the way fish need WATER, the way nymphos need COITUS. But they think artsy things are cool, you know? Anyway, a bunch of these "friends" kind of owe me some money. So can I list the people who owe me by name on the fundraising page or do you have rules against this type of thing? I think guilting some of these people into doing the right thing could be a good way to get the ball rolling and that could create some type of domino effect and then, who knows? Maybe I'll be able to use ALL of Pop's life insurance money to fund my life as a FULL-TIME ARTIST.

Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated, but please understand the urgency of the situation when it comes to getting back to me. My grandfather is stable right now, but he is very, very old, and I need to get this campaign up and running BEFORE he takes a turn.

Thanks again for everything Meg or Ms. F.!

MAY 21, 2015  |  09:01AM CDT
Meg F. replied:

Hi Kenn,

I’m sorry to hear about some of the conflict within your family throughout your life. I’m glad to hear you have a strong community of fellow artists, though, and, of course, you have your art as an outlet as well!
As I said, most of the donations we see on our site are from people who know you personally. There are a few reasons for this. First off, like yourself, many people are skeptical of fundraisers for individuals and causes that they do not know personally. While the majority of the causes on our site are genuine and honest, there are always a small minority of people who will try to start fundraisers selfishly. If you have not met the recipient or organizer personally, it is hard to tell whether a fundraiser is a worthy cause or not. Most importantly, the people who know you personally are the people who are most familiar with your situation and your passion for making art, and are therefore most likely to feel compelled to give. 

Although it may be tempting to list the people who owe you money, I would advise against it. In general, it is best not to put anyone’s name or information on the internet without their permission, and, though listing off names would almost certainly provoke a reaction from your friends, it may be a negative reaction. I would recommend posting your story to your page, and reaching out to those closest to you in a private, direct way explaining why their contribution would mean so much to you.

If you need any help with the create process, please let me know! My thoughts are with your grandfather and all of his loved ones.

My Best,


MAY 28, 2015  |  11:18PM CDT

Kenneth replied:

I took your last response seriously, and I've been thinking about how best to respond. First off, the easy part. Thanks much for your thoughtful response. You're advice in our email exchange has really helped shape the direction of my fundraising campaign. For example, I've decided, in a large part because of your advice, that listing the friends who owe me money on the event page. But I will reach out and let them know that they'd better damn well donate if they expect to stay friends.

Now for the tricky part. I'm really going out on a limb here, and there's a small chance I'm completely off base (but I don't really think I am) so please be respectful of that in your response. Throughout our conversation, I've noticed a certain tone or vibe that I thought I may have been imagining. However, two statements in your most recent email have confirmed my suspicions. The two statements I'm referring to are: if you have not met the recipient or organizer personally, it is hard to tell whether a fundraiser is a worthy cause or not and If you need any help with the create process, please let me know!

While I may have missed some hints in the previous emails you sent, it's impossible not to see what you are getting at there. I too have felt a connection, and while I'm flattered by your not-so-subtle offer to meet the "organizer personally," I feel there are some things you should know. First, I'm currently in a committed relationship. That being said, the relationship isn't monogamous. As an ARTIST, monogamy is as dangerous as sobriety. If you would like to meet personally, initially as just a business meeting to discuss my project, I'd be open to that. However, my partner would have to accompany us. My partner would be there simply to vet you -- and also to ensure you're not trying to take advantage of my gentle ARTIST spirit. 

Again, keep in mind how vulnerable I feel in broaching this difficult subject and let me know how you'd like to proceed.


MAY 28, 2015  |  10:33AM CDT
Ron R. replied:

Hi Kenn,
Thank you so much for your kind words, and I am so glad that Meg helped you build a clear idea of what you’d like your campaign to look like! All of us at GiveForward are here to help you create and manage a successful fundraiser, but can be done via email or over the phone. Once you publish your fundraiser on our site, you will be assigned a personal fundraising coach who can help you with any tips or suggestions you might need for making your fundraiser a success.

I apologize if this was not clear, but Meg’s words were advice that we give to many of our users about the general nature of fundraising campaigns. It is rare to see a lot of donations or support from people you do not know, and, for the most part, we suggest promoting within your current circle of friends, families, and acquaintances.
Please let us know if you have any further questions! Any of our User Happiness Representatives would be more than happy to help!

My best,

MAY 29, 2015  |  01:23PM CDT
Oh dear. Based on the fact that I'm receiving this message from you, Ron R., I assume my assumptions about Meg F's messages were incorrect, weren't they? 

So when you say: I apologize if this was not clear, but Meg’s words were advice that we give to many of our users about the general nature of fundraising campaigns, you mean I was mistaken, and Meg F. was never actually asking me out on a date, don't you? 

I'm SO embarrassed at the pickle I've gotten myself into. I simply don't know what to say, Ron R. I feel like a heel -- a heel that has suffered an Achilles tear to boot. You mentioned also said: Once you publish your fundraiser on our site, you will be assigned a personal fundraising coach who can help you with any tips or suggestions you might need for making your fundraiser a success. I'm assuming that because of our "misunderstanding," Meg F. would never agree to be my personal fundraising coach once my fundraiser is published. Is that correct, Ron R.?

Before I continue, would you mind passing along an apology to Ron F for me?

Kenn L.

MAY 29, 2015  |  02:52PM CDT
Kara S. replied:

Hi Kenn,
Like Ron mentioned, as soon as you create a fundraiser you will be assigned a Fundraising Coach from our team. Meg F is actually a User Happiness Representative, like myself and Ron, so you would be assigned to someone else as a coach. All of our coaches are wonderful, so you’ll be in good hands. If you need any help with the create process, let us know!

Kara S.
User Happiness Rep

JUN 02, 2015  |  07:48PM CDT
Kenneth replied:
Kara S.,

I'm SOO confused right now, and I'm also feeling pretty vulnerable. (I don't know if you know this, but I'm an ARTIST, so I feel more deeply than regular people.) I was talking to Ron R. about passing along a message to Meg F., and the next thing I know I'm getting an email from you, Kara S., about the the difference between a Fundraising Co-chair and a User Happiness Associate that doesn't really address my apology to Kara F., which is something I really need to clear up before I put my fundraiser up live. Honestly, I have this sneaking suspicion that you guys are playing some elaborate prank on me, and it's very disconcerting.

If this isn't the case, then I apologize, but I really think your average person would see this situation the same way that I do. I'm not sure how much you know about my situation, but apparently I misinterpreted some things that Meg F. said to encourage me in fundraising efforts. Next thing I know, I'm being contacted by Ron R. from whom I failed to receive any reply at all. 

If this isn't you guys just having a little fun with an eccentric (i.e., ARTIST), then the only other explanation that seems plausible is this: Ron R. has feelings for Meg F. and, because of this, he knowingly sabotaged my apology. As a romantic, I understand this logic, but can you, Kara S., PLEASE clarify what's going on here and let me know if it's possible to somehow get my apology to Meg F.?

Kenn L.
JUN 02, 2015  |  10:07AM CDT
Ron R. replied:

Hi Kenn,
I’m so sorry for any miscommunication! There are eight User Happiness Reps at GiveForward, the team which Meg, Kara, and I are a part of. We answer emails as they come in; so you may hear back from different people at different times. I assure you we are here simply to help! Please know that your message was passed along to Meg and no further apologies are necessary. If you have any further questions about creating a fundraiser on our site, any of us would be happy to help out.

My best,

JUN 02, 2015  |  07:48PM CDT
Kenneth replied:

Ron R.

Thanks for clarifying. I gave you all of the stars in my rating to show my gratitude for your help. Also, I apologize for insinuating that you may have feelings for Meg F. If you do, that's none of my business. Also, I apologize for the delay, but I relapsed again ... hard. I know that's not relevant to our situation, but I want you to know that I'm REAL. I'm not sure if I mentioned it to you (or just Meg F. & Kara S.), but I'm an ARTIST, and I choose to suffer for my ART. Did you know that if an ARTIST doesn't use mind-altering substances, his or her ART will ALWAYS be contrived. It's a fact.

Anyway, I don't mean to sound ungrateful here. I very much appreciate the advice Giveforward offered about how I should stress the truth about my situation and how awful my immediate family has been to me in the hopes of garnering more donations for people. But here's the thing: I can't push forward with this project until I'm ABSOLUTELY SURE the misunderstanding with Meg F. is behind me and that I'm forgiven.

To do that, I need you Ron R. to pass along this forgiveness poem I've written for Meg F. and let me know exactly what she said. Can you do that for me, Ron R?

Here is my forgiveness poem, titled "Darkest Hollows:"

In darkest hollows, viscous phlegm crawls slowly toward the light
while diseased pustules weep tears of atonement.
Am I forgiven?