“No one has ever become poor from

– – – Anne Frank

I was in my car, on the way to the home of a prospective client to ghostwrite her memoir. I felt apprehensive. During the first meeting, things hadn’t gone smoothly. She had been withdrawn and guarded and she looked a little suspicious, as if I were the enemy. I had signed a lengthy NDA before I even saw her. I would honor it “in perpetuity” as the wording went, I respected her and would never share her information, but it wasn’t enough for her. She was still untrusting.

I understood why. The press had not been kind to her. They had lied and called her a controlling bitch and as a result, she was leery of doing interviews with anyone. Since writing a memoir requires endless interviews, I had assured her that she had the final say on anything that went into the book. I don’t think she believed me. I just couldn’t make a connection. When I get that feeling at the first interview, I usually walk away. My experience tells me that if it’s
going badly before we start writing, it will only get worse. But in this case, she hadn’t been unkind and when her agent told me she wanted a second interview, I decided to give it another try.

As I got closer to her home in the Pacific Palisades, I became anxious. I had a list of what I wanted from her. I wanted her to open up. To tell me the truth. To trust me with her stories, the things that would make her book come alive. I wanted her to like me and to hire me. But as I passed through the security gate and drove up the private road to her home, I realized that I’d been so busy thinking about what I wanted, I hadn’t been thinking about she might want and what I could give her.

I made a new list. I could make her laugh. I could cross the divide between celebrity and civilian by showing her ways in which she and I shared the same human traits and obstacles. I could show her that I had no expectations. No demands. No desire to take anything from her. And finally, I could give her love. Arriving anywhere with an open heart increases the odds of the other person doing the same and having a pleasant time together.

When I stepped into her grand home, I smiled as the assistant showed me to the living room. When the client entered the room and looked at me, I smiled again. So did she. I didn’t ask her any questions. Celebrities like to run the show so I listened to her concerns and needs. I answered her questions, I kept my eyes on hers, and if there was something I didn’t understand, I asked her about it. The upshot was that she hired me to go on the long journey with her to excavate her life. I consciously arrived with an open attitude each time I showed up for an interview (her assistant called me her Valium), and I ended up writing her a bestseller.

It isn’t unusual for a client to feel ambivalent and a little scared when they face writing a memoir. None of us like uncertainty, the feeling that we don’t what’s about to happen, especially when someone else (that would be me) is witnessing it. We try to control our environment, but it doesn’t work. No matter what we do or say, no matter how much we prepare, life is famous for throwing curve balls. The only thing we can control is how we show up. If we’re aggressive in our dealings and our communications, if we’re fixed on “what’s in it for me?” instead of “how can I help?” the negativity will come careening back and we’ll never find peace. I call it the boomerang effect.

Giving liberates the soul. It feels good. It’s that simple. There is pleasure in giving pleasure. I know a woman who has a hard time making friends and a harder time keeping them. She was invited for coffee at a neighbor’s house with some other women and when I asked her if she’d had a good time, she said, “I didn’t get anything from any of them.” I wanted to ask her what she gave them, but I knew it would trigger her and she’d end up feeling badly and lonely. She was already feeling badly and lonely enough.

During the eighties, I traveled across the Philippine Islands to research the infamous faith healers. At the end of one day, they invited me and my companion for dinner. They lived in a particularly impoverished area. We sat at the table as they put out plates of food and then they stood back and watched. I felt torn. The food they were serving us was all they had. If I ate lightly, they’d have something to eat that night but they would feel slighted. Food was what they had to give and they wanted us to receive it. If I ate heartily, I knew it would make them happy. I would be receiving their gift. So I did. Unfortunately, the food was some kind of mystery meat, maybe water buffalo, and later, it ended up in the toilet, but that isn’t the point.  

The point is that cooks need eaters. Authors need readers. And givers need receivers. Spiritual leader, Stephen Levine, said, “What the world needs is some good receivers.” It’s important to note here that receiving and taking are not the same. Taking is a greedy act, powered by entitlement and selfishness. It’s about limitation. Takers believe that there isn’t enough to go around so you better get it while you can. Receiving, on the other hand, is a humble act powered by gratefulness and appreciation. A receiver believes there’s enough to go around. It’s about abundance.

The following two Aesop’s fables demonstrate the end results of taking and giving.


A jar of honey broke and the sticky sweetness flowed out onto a table. A number of flies began buzzing around. They didn’t wait for an invitation. They landed on the table on their feet and began to gorge themselves. Pretty soon, they were smeared from head to toe with honey. Their wings got stuck together, they couldn’t pull their feet out of the sticky mass and they died, giving up their lives for
a taste of sweetness.

The moral of the story: Be not greedy for a little passing pleasure.


A serpent wrapped himself around an eagle’s neck and got ready to bite him with his poison fangs. When a man happened to come by and loosened the serpent, it was enraged and blindly bit into the man’s flask of water, injecting its venom. An hour later, when the man lifted the flask to his mouth, the eagle swooped down, seized the flask and destroyed it.

The moral of the story: An act of kindness is well repaid.