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michelle_clay_logoThere are a few principles of fundraising that I have been reminded of this week. The first of which is that people don’t give to causes so much as they give to people. Giving is rooted in people’s need to feel connected to another person. I get that now. (Thank you Amanda Palmer) Connection is about trust.  Connection is about really being seen – for who we all are. Wanting to be seen, I get. But to be seen, I have to share. So allow me to introduce myself.

I’m Michelle: a girl who lives mostly in her head.

A Thelma looking for her Marty.

I’m just a brown girl.

The youngest of four kids who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, I’m the baby girl that went the way of the arts in our family. I am a cancer survivor, which left me with a distinct handicap that I have never consciously tried to exploit or deny.  As a child, I’m told, whenever Mom didn’t manage to get me to day nursery, she would take me to class with her, where I would actually participate in college level discussions (I’m told I was a real hit).  As a child, I remember, being sick all the time with every type of respiratory infection imaginable – asthma, tracheal bronchitis, you name it. As a child, I’m told, though I only vaguely remember, I had to wear braces nightly to straighten my bow legs and my big sister would routinely undo them during the night. As a kid, my first musical influences were Minnie Riperton, Switch, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.

As a pre-teen I failed the sixth grade because… well there are a few theories. My Mom’s Theory: they moved me to advanced placement midway through the school year. My Theory: those kids were intolerable so I decided to wait for a new batch. Sixth grade second time around I faired much better. I discovered creative writing. As a pre-teen, at creative writing camp, I experienced my very first standing ovations; the first one after singing a song I had written during camp. The second was a year later when the counselors need entertainment until the rain stopped. Someone said, “Is Michelle Clay here?” Without the slightest good sense to be nervous, I stood up on stage, in front of four hundred or so kids and took the mike. I decided to sing this song I had just learned, Saving All My Love For You by some lady I’d never heard of, Whitney Houston. There‘s nothing like a standing ovation. Nothing in the world. That was also the year I wrote my first novel.

At fourteen I landed my first real job at a county library. At fifteen I tested into the best college prep high school in Baltimore City and hated every minute of it – more intolerable competitiveness. At sixteen, instead of going for my GED, a friend convinced me to audition for the Baltimore School for the Arts. To my shock and awe, I got in for acting, not singing. I can count the number of gifted performances I gave on one hand, but scene study and learning about character development gave structure to the creative progress I was already engaged in through writing.

College was a forgone conclusion, not sure why. My siblings hadn’t gone straight out of high school, but I decided I needed to get it over with or I would never go back. College was expensive and exhausting. I commuted by bus and walked the rest of way. I didn’t have much of a social life since I was a commuter and I worked. In college the convergence of three factors brought me to what I believe is my calling. I landed a second job, workstudy in the Video Production studio on campus, and a third job part-time at a Blockbuster Video. Simultaneously, I developed a ridiculously intense crush on Christian Slater. Footage from TV Interviews, movie clips and analog editing equipment and behold: an editor was born.  I changed my major from just creative writing to double in Theatre and Communications.

After college, I gave myself a year to check all the boxes. I learned how to drive, I gave away my “flower” to a cute boy I met at work, and my tallest friend took me to my very first PRIDE. Despite the slew of condoms and rainbow flags, it would be a while before I really understood what that was all about. It took just one year after graduating to be overtaken by the fever to make movies, and less than that to understand that Baltimore is just not the place to make them. On my sister’s birthday, a college friend and I – also named Michele – packed up her car and headed west. Chasing the dream.

So what happened next…? That’s part two.

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