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Support an artist, including Jeni Bonaldo

Film director and prolific podcaster Kevin Smith says a lot of smart things.

Here’s one that I like a lot:

“Remember: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.”

Kevin Smith is right.

Supporting an artist when you have the platform to do so is not only the decent and right thing to do, but failure to do so is inexcusable. This is why I write forewords to books whenever asked, blurb books whenever possible, make our Speak Up stage accessible to anyone willing to work hard to make their story great, promote new artists via my channels whenever I discover them, and encourage the hell out of folks just getting started in their endeavors.

Organizations and artists who can’t find the time nor the inclination to boost an artist of lesser stature, or one simply in need of a boost or some old fashioned promotion, should be ashamed of themselves. I’ve watched authors and organizations turn their backs on artists who they know and respect simply because they don’t want to clog their feed, confuse their brand, or risk promoting something that might not be universally admired.

This has happened to me personally more than once. In a moment when someone could’ve offered me a leg up and a real boost to my career, they refused, choosing instead to remain silent and still. It’s always disappointing, disheartening, and truly rotten to the core.

Real insight into what they really feel about the art and artists they make and claim to support.

Sometimes, the effort required to make a real difference in an artist’s life is almost infinitesimal.

Last week, my friend, Jeni, and I went to The Moth’s StorySLAM at Housing Works in Manhattan, my favorite place in the world to tell a story. It was my first return to Housing Works since the pandemic, and I was thrilled to be back. Jeni and I both told stories, and I had the good fortune to win.

Jeni placed third but could just as easily have won, too.

At the end of the show, the producers asked the storytellers who had performed that night to gather for a photo. As we were arranging ourselves. one of the storytellers congratulated me on my victory. I told her how much I loved her story and looked forward to hearing from her again.

I meant it.

It was a simple, heartfelt comment to a fellow artist about her work.

The next day I received an email from the woman. She had known who I was that night, had read some of my books (including Storyworthy), had heard me tell stories many times before, and had gone to The Moth for the first time that night with the hopes of telling a story. Her scores had placed her in the middle of the pack, but she felt like she has performed poorly. She had already vowed to never tell another story onstage when I told her how much I liked her story.

Those simple words, she wrote, already have her working on her next story.

Kevin Smith is right. It doesn’t take much to help an artist pursue a dream, especially if you have power, audience, acclaim, or expertise. Sometimes it’s a simple word of encouragement. Sometimes it’s a well timed plug for an artist’s latest endeavor. Sometimes it’s a little bit of heavy lifting, but if you or your organization has ascended to some significant height, your job is to reach down and pull others up.

Even if it costs you a little.

When you fail to support an artist, particularly in your field of expertise, you suck. If you can’t offer a kind word or won’t tell others about an artist’s work or refuse to promote a project despite your ability to do so without any real cost to yourself, you suck.

You’re letting down the universe in exchange for reputation, brand, or ego. When you do so, you don’t deserve the platform you enjoy.

Remember what Kevin Smith said:

It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering.

If you know an artist in need of support this holiday season, make that your gift to them. Offer words of encouragement, in person, via email, or best of all, an old fashioned letter. Post something about their work on social media. Shout about their talent from the rooftops of the world (or your podcast). If their work is commercially available, buy something if it’s within your means. Keep it for yourself or gift it to a loved one.

It doesn’t take much to change the life of artist, even a little bit. When you fail to do your part, you disrespect and dishonor your place in this world. You fail to payback the favors you most certainly received in order to climb to the heights you enjoy. You suck. It’s really that simple.

In this spirit, I shall shout from the rooftops of the world about Jeni Bonaldo, a high school teacher who I met several years ago when I visited her school to speak about one of my novels. This turned into a yearly visit to her school to teach and discuss storytelling, which quickly led to Jeni becoming a storyteller herself. Today she is a prolific storyteller who has performed many times for Speak Up and competed in many Moth StorySLAMs. Her stories are always supremely well crafted, incredibly vulnerable, and funny.

When I need a storyteller for a show, or Elysha and I need to replace a storyteller last minute, our first call is always to Jeni. She is the storyteller I trust most to nail it every time.

Jeni has also worked as my assistant during weekend and week-long storytelling bootcamps, where she fills in all of my glaring, unfortunate instructional gaps and brings great insight and expertise to the craft. She has read the first drafts of much of my work, offering valuable feedback and advice.

All of that is prelude to the fact that Jeni has also finished her first novel this year, and I had the good fortune to read it. If you’re an agent or editor dealing in YA fiction, you should reach out to me for Jeni’s contact information. She’s in the midst of revising the book right now, but it’s already in good shape for a sale.

Nearly as impressive to me is Jeni’s willingness to finish a long day of teaching insufferable teenagers, drive into Manhattan with me to perform at The Moth, then drive back home with me, often arriving well after midnight for a few hours of sleep before getting her own kids ready for school and returning to teach another day.

Art requires sacrifice. Jeni understands and embraces that. She’s tough, talented, and relentless.

She’s also annoying, argumentative, and mean to me, but no one is perfect.

Even so, I can’t wait for you to buy and read her first novel, someday soon, I hope. You’re going to love it.