This blog was published on the HuffPost Blog on May 22, 2017
I met Amit because of Walmart. A year and a half after its publication, Walmart picked up my book. My publisher e-mailed me the news at work on a Friday, and by the end of the day, I could find the book on Walmart’s website. Overjoyed, I wrote a two-line message on the writers’ group Facebook page I belong to. Over five hundred people had “liked” my message by Sunday, and ninety of them sent me personal congratulations.
Within a week, strangers—I presumed from the group—began sending me friend requests. I only post messages on Facebook about my writing and related subjects, so I saw no harm in accepting the requests. A week into the friending frenzy, I received Amit’s request. Once friended, he started messaging me. I asked if he was a writer, and he explained he designed websites and had a news website in India in search of contributors. He invited me to write for his site. I told him I didn’t have time to write anything new for him, but that I’d be happy to repost some of my previously published short essays on his website
Amit and I messaged back and forth one day when I was at home sick, and he asked if he could Facetime with me. I’m somewhat phobic about learning new technology, but sitting on my couch with nothing better to do, there he suddenly appeared on my phone, all the way from India. He created a WordPress portal for his website, and just like that, my work was published in India. I needed to change some of the titles of the posts, because idiomatic English didn’t necessarily translate to a readership from another culture. So Handicapped What? turned into The Challenges of Handicapped Parking in America. On his website, I can see how many people have opened the posts. After three posts and over a thousand views, I stopped counting.
Amit and I spoke frequently. He taught me how to use WhatsApp, and we communicated through that as well as Messenger and Facetime. With the help of an ambitious twenty-seven year old in India, I leapt head first into twenty-first century communication.
Amit had looked at the two videos on my website and wanted to create a YouTube channel for me that would help draw people to his website. I call one of my videos Death by Video because I’m so obviously uncomfortable on camera. The other video is of a Time Warner Cable Access show taped in New York City when I was promoting my book. I’ve never watched it. I was there and know what happened. I don’t need to see it.
Despite my lack of charisma on video, I agreed to Amit’s request. He confessed he wanted my help in making his dream come true. How could I refuse? To my amazement, he called the YouTube channel Happy Life with Joanna Charnas. Deeply touched by his positive perception of me, I decided to help him in any way I could. But I wondered why he chose me, a fifty-seven-year-old woman on the other side of the world, for this venture. Wouldn’t a younger and prettier person attract a bigger audience? I sometimes think of Happy Life as Nana-cam, since I’m the age of most grandmothers.
But in the spirit of adventure and solidarity, I chose to go all in. I consider myself selfie-impaired, and I’ve never once taken a decent selfie. I learned how to use the video on my cell phone with Amit’s encouragement, and by following his general suggestions and guidelines, I began filming. I send the films to Amit and then wait. Since I subscribed to my own YouTube channel, the videos pop up on my phone whenever Amit has completed editing and posting them.
The finished videos have a sweet charm that is entirely the result of Amit’s editing. They touch me and make me smile. I’ve thanked Amit for encouraging me to be mindful of what makes me happy. Because of a lifetime of poor health, I’m always mindful about my wellness, but did not have the same approach to happiness. Amit has brought this new arena of mindfulness into my life. He also brings his own brand of optimism to our YouTube endeavor, encouraging me when I’m frustrated by my limitations and lack of experience.
I’m meticulous when writing. I work closely with an editor, and every word and comma is reviewed and evaluated. I want my writing to be the best it can be, and I’ll labor as much as necessary toward that goal. But with Happy Life, I simply do my best and then let go. I’m merely the talent, and Amit is the producer. I remind myself that while YouTube is global, most likely the viewers of Happy Life with Joanna Charnas are in some way connected to Amit’s website in India. I’m ignorant about cultural issues in India, and I trust that Amit knows his viewers. I don’t worry about production values, because I’m not the producer.
The contrast between my writing life and my YouTube life is striking. It’s a huge relief to let go of control and to trust another person with the final product. Amit has challenged me to learn new technology, to be mindful about my life, and to relinquish control. He’s also become my friend. I’m grateful for it all.
(Feel free to check out my videos on YouTube at Happy Life with Joanna Charnas)