The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t. — Henry Ward Beecher
I held the camera as steady as I could without a tripod, zoomed in on my sister’s face, then backed off the zoom until the shot included the baby in her arms. Babies elicit compassion. “Okay, ready,” I said. Jane raised her brows beseechingly. “No, don’t look at me, look at the camera,” I instructed. Adjusting her gaze to meet the lens, Jane gave a weak plea for help. “No, no, you can’t just ask for it,” I said, fully stepping into my role as director. “You need to make them want to give it to you. What’s your sob story? Why should they choose you over everybody else?”
“I need help,” said Jane.
“Who doesn’t?” I prodded.
“I’m busy, I have two kids and I work in the hospitals, helping them with anticoagulants.” Jane broke her stare with the camera to look at me. “Too much?” In response to my silent, but unambiguously communicated, Duh, she guffawed nervously. “Okay,” Jane said, regaining her composure. “I can do it again without the anticoagulant part.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said.
“Bella! Come back here,” Jane barked, momentarily distracted from the task at hand. Hindered by the baby in her arms, Jane looked to me for help and I ran after the blond hellion, scooped her up from a neighbor’s yard with one arm, and deposited her next to Jane in front of the open garage. “Sorry,” said Jane. “Where were we?”
“You were about to tell me why you think you deserve help with this mess behind you,” I said.
“Right.” Jane smiled pitifully into the camera and launched into a revised entreaty about how the birth of her second daughter necessitated an expansion of her house and, consequently, the loss of half her garage.
Everyone has a dream. Jane’s dream, fathered by Oprah, was born four years ago. I wasn’t there to witness the magical moment, but I was the first person Jane called with the birth announcement. Over the phone, my sister sought my help in assembling a packet including a letter and photos of her then full-sized garage to be sent to the media maven. It was Jane’s belief that Oprah, upon learning of the distress of her biggest fan, would dispatch a team of her designer minions to Jane’s house to clean up the clutter and maybe even install build-outs. This was clearly a win-win situation, Jane reasoned. She would get someone to redesign her garage for free, a designer would get recognition and future work, and Oprah would gain viewers looking for organizing tips. “You know how to write,” Jane told me four years ago. “Help me write this letter and I’ll buy you lunch.”
We never did write that letter. In the years since, a cavalcade of new home-improvement shows has allowed Jane to expand her list of prospective dream fulfillers. Every time she watches professionals take an average person and transform their disaster room into a vision of practical design perfection, she imagines herself standing in her gloriously renovated garage expressing her appreciation to the show’s stars for their design genius. Four years later and half a garage shorter, Jane’s dream is still waiting for its moment in the sun. A story she came across in a recent issue of Real Simple magazine about a woman who had too many coats in her closet inspired Jane to once again take action.
“Simon would be so pissed at me if he knew I was doing this,” Jane said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because he likes to do everything himself. But he has no time.”
“There’s an angle,” I said.
“No, that won’t work, then they’ll be, like, ‘He can do it himself.’” Jane’s face lit up and she said, “I can say my husband’s a hard worker without going into all the stuff he can do — yeah, let’s do that.” Jane adjusted the baby on her hip and repositioned her brows until she felt they appeared sufficiently supplicating. To the camera, she said, “My husband is such a hard worker; he’s such a great father and great husband.”
“You two get in here,” Bella shrieked from the doorway, “I think it’s starting to rain!”
Without missing a beat, Jane proceeded to implore the camera, “He would kill me if he knew I was doing this video, but I have to ask. Please help me. Thanks.”
Bella ran up to my side, flexed a bicep the size of a golf ball on her petite arm, and said, “See that? I’ve been working on these babies for years.” I looked to Jane for an explanation.
“Where does she get this stuff?” I said.
“Everywhere. Sponges, Barb, they’re sponges. That, and she’s had two days in a row with daddy.” Jane shrugged as if to say, “What’re ya gonna do?”
After complimenting Bella on her buffness, I set about wrapping things up. “Let’s try one more plea we can tack on to the end,” I said.
Jane nodded. This time, she invoked a serious anchorwoman’s expression and said, “I need a professional. I have no idea what to do, where to start. I’m overwhelmed.”
“Why don’t you just hire someone?” I suggested for the benefit of the film.
“There’s not a dollar left over for organizing because we put every penny into that new bathroom.”
“I’m still not buying it,” I said. “Why you?”
“Because I’m typical of all their readers — I’m a working mom, no time to do it, and no ideas. I am their woman. What they’re trying to do is show a common problem that’s fixable and relatable for many people. Come on, if that woman with too many coats could get picked, why not me?” We were quiet for a moment as our heads filled with possible answers to that question.
Jane sighed. “I need a better plea,” she said.
“Yeah. I still think you need a way to stand out from all the others,” I said. Suddenly, as though the random voices in our heads synchronized, Jane and I looked at her eldest daughter with newfound interest. “Bella,” we called simultaneously. Jane let me take the lead: “Bella, look into the camera, honey. Say, ‘help my mommy get organized,’ okay?”
“Help my mommy!” Bella cried.
“Get organized,” Jane said.
“Get organized,” the child repeated.
“Now all together,” I said. Jane joined me in chanting the demand a few times.
“Help my mommy! Get organized,” echoed Bella. From the mouths of babes, I thought. This might actually work.
Once we had extracted the desired performance from the budding child star, Jane stepped before the camera and said, “If you have any ideas, anything you can email, anything at all, please help.” As if on cue, Bella, without any prompting, offered a Tiny Tim-like flourish for the camera: “So our family can be completely safe!”