Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Post Martinis, Magnets & More Wrap Up

Ok, I have to admit it's been ages since I posted. My days have been FULL.

We had an incredibly successful "Martinis, Magnets & More" night, with a fantastic turnout of more than 100 people packed into the Electric Lodge in Venice, accompanied by flowing martinis and gourmet chocolate desserts, thanks to local sponsors and the LA Times.

We, meaning Sandra Tsing Loh, Christie Mellor and I, in addition to dispensing magnet and charter school info, were encouraged to observe many parents meet other parents from the same "questionable" neighborhood schools, perhaps rethink their perceptions, and begin to connect with each other about how to get involved to make Westside neighborhood schools even better than they already are. This to me is progress. I am also very encouraged to hear glowing reports about core parent groups dedicated to revitalizing several local public schools and the positive changes they've already accomplished. It is this active spirit that continues to grow and build our neighborhood.

I have since been approached by several people, from the local neighborhood council to a loose citywide coalition of active parents
spearheaded by Sandra Tsing Loh, representing areas east, west, north, and south, who all in their own way are interested in collaborating to continue to raise the profile of our public schools.

Also, I recognized that there were still questions, many of which flooded my inbox particularly about how the Magnet point system works and the different timelines to apply to Magnets and Charters, so, having put on and sat through my share of school events, elementary school tours, and talks with school principals about the process, I have taken it upon myself to write a short booklet, breaking it down, outlining the nuts and bolts of navigating the labyrinth that is Los Angeles Unified School District. This booklet will initially be made available to current and future families at our Westside preschool as a public school addendum to their existing Kindergarten Handbook, but ultimately
could become more widely available to parents about to enter the school system.

There is also interest in forming some sort of citywide uber-booster affiliation, where core parent groups can gather and share the most successful revitalization, fundraising, grant-writing, enrichment and neighborhood recruitment strategies, and support one another so each school doesn't feel like it has to re-invent the wheel so to speak. (Yet another resource booklet to write?) There is ongoing dialogue about what the next public event should be, and how to bring folks together.

On top of that, I wrote 2 pieces for our school's
winter newsletter which will go out to about 100 families. The first piece, "A View From Within," is about how the Reggio philosophy at my daughter's preschool has influenced changes in my own life - instilling collaboration, documentation, active listening, meaningful dialogue, small groups, creating projects that follow emergent ideas and concerns, investigating and exploring possibilities, and being community-minded and inclusive, not exclusive. The other piece, "Connecting the Dots," traces those values in my work with public school awareness, which began quite by accident last year as a service to parents, and has since emerged as a major focus and citywide collaboration I'm proud to be a part of.

More on the horizon...

"Selling Your First Book"

It's one thing to write and write and write. It's another thing to learn how to focus your writing and sell your book.

Somehow in the midst of everything, I managed to crash a 6-hour MediaBistro seminar, "The Secrets Behind Writing and Selling Your First Book" with Susan Shapiro and guest speakers that included a literary agent and an editor from Seal Press. Wow. Jam-packed with info, tips, names and strategies. Part workshopping of your actual pitch letters, part honing in on your unique book angle, part Q&A with guest agent and editor, led by Susan Shapiro who has sold 5 books in 4 years. This was SO helpful and informative for the business side of things. Highly recommended.

Calling all New York/east coast writers:
Susan Shapiro will be teaching her seminar this Sunday, January 28th, 2-8pm in
New York City. Don't miss this if you are serious about selling your book and want to learn how.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Project Martinis, Magnets & More

Dormant? No. Hiding? No. Inactive? Not at all.

Quiet? Yes. Surprisingly so.

Returning from "winter break," 19 days of no school, 2 in-laws, a coupla holidays thrown in there, delightful family outings, now it's back to school, back to our routines, back to work.

Like a squirrel gathering nuts for a long winter break, I have been quietly, actively collecting projects.

Most immediately, becoming active helping parents navigate the challenging, not so top-of-its-class public monolith that is LAUSD. That stands for the Los Angeles Public School District.

I suppose I never would have even considered public school education reform a serious issue to focus my energies on prior to becoming a parent. As a matter of fact, collaborating, building community, gathering info and sharing answers with others was only done if it involved musicians, a gig, and some cashola…for me.

Nine years ago, when we bought into this sleepy little Westside neighborhood, a mostly retired blue collar, post-war community, the last thing on our minds was school districts. In fact, I distinctly recall our housewarming announcement. It stated matter-of-factly: "No rings, no kids, no nonsense. (To answer your next question.) But please bring a bottle of your favorite wine."

Er herm. Yes, well.

Now that I'm married, with child, specifically child about to enter Kindergarten, it seems that there's a whole mess of nonsense around here to wade through.

Cue favorite wine, please.

The only reason we landed over here to begin with is because the lots were bigger (I love to garden), slightly more affordable, and we needed a detached garage to house the new recording studio we were going to build. We didn't want a postage-sized lot with neighbors breathing down our backs as musicians came and went day and night pushing their Anvil cases up and down the driveway. Little did we imagine that with the advent of computer technology, sampling, flying tracks and vocals over the net, the need to actually see musicians anymore is a rarity indeed, but that's beside the point.

By a stroke of good fortune and incredible timing on my husband's part, we ended up in our little fixer-upper neighborhood almost a decade ago. Who knew it would eventually become a desirable family destination?

However, it is quite simply unacceptable to me that the average price these days for a 1-story, 1200 sq ft tear-down over here has risen to just shy of a million dollars, and yet our local schools are in such a sorry state parents seem to be abandoning them left and right for anywhere better. Now if you can afford the additional $18-25K (choke, wheez) per child per year for private elementary school on up, bravo to you. But some of us just can't. We need other options; we need public options. You know, for the people, the just folks, not the let's-hemorrhage-money-just-because-we-can bazillionaires.

And furthermore, if the real estate values are where they are, I damn well think my kid ought to be able to go to her neighborhood school and get a decent education.

There are many problems, but a big one is size. LAUSD services over 740,000 children and is the 2nd largest school district in the country. That means that the tax dollars we throw into the kitty over in our hot little neighborhood get dispersed and wind up all across this urban sprawl, not just in our own back yard.

Another issue we're facing is this very real post 9/11 baby boom. I see it on the ballooning mom boards and on the ever-growing preschool wait lists. There is a swell of kids about to begin entering the school system. I have heard parents tell of even being willing to pay the 20-some-thousand-dollars per year for private school, applied to 5 or 6 of them, and didn't get in. Any. Too many children, not enough slots. As this boom grows up, the available slots per applicant will get slimmer and slimmer. Those children will have to go somewhere...perhaps back to their neighborhood schools.

I've heard it said that if the state of California were a nation--what with the output of silicon valley, napa valley and the entertainment industry--it would be ranked the 7th or 8th wealthiest country in the world! Yet we are ranked near the bottom of the country for public education. Our schools just don't line up with what Californians are capable of. With all our resources, intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, wealth…couldn't we do better educating our next generation?

So, what's a concerned parent to do?

Luckily, there ARE public school options. If you know about them. If you apply correctly and on time. There are magnets, independent charters and complex charters, inter and intra-district permits, each with their own application procedure, timeline and lotteries.

In an attempt to sort through and understand all this, I began coordinating parent nights at our preschool last year to discuss the process, bringing in alumnae parents who'd already been through it for one event, and both a magnet and charter elementary school principal for another event. I sat in on local PTA and parent booster club meetings at neighborhood schools, keeping tabs on their initiatives and progress.

Now branching out to an even wider community, this Sunday I have agreed to jump onboard with NPR humorist Sandra Tsing Loh and "Three Martini Playdate" author Christie Mellor, along with the LA Times and a vodka sponsor, and am co-hosting a westside public event, "Martinis, Magnets & More," a public school survival seminar. We have your vodka. We have your Choices Applications. We can help.

At the heart of it is to be able to offer nuts and bolts info on school options and navigating the often confusing application lottery process, and also to connect parents to each other and encourage them to get involved locally instead of flee. It's time to revitalize our neighborhood schools. It is already happening in little pockets of dedicated, core parent groups at many neighborhood schools. We're building awareness and momentum. With a little twist.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

For Holly

Today I offer this tribute to my cross-country friend with whom I honor as being the impetus for my early mama musings.

Holly, I credit you with being the one who inspired me to start writing about this whole motherhood transition to begin with. It was that string of long emails I wrote you in the middle of the night, wrought with insomnia-induced confusion, trying to explain this existential hell I was feeling that is new motherhood, doing my best to answer your questions and concerns, one new mother to another expecting one. It was my lame attempt at passing along a light, a roadmap, some tips, from one sister to another, and your returned enthusiasm that made me think I could actually write something of value to others.

So for that, I say thank you.
Bless you.

That I'm still struggling with what to do with it all, how to put it all together in a coherent way tells you just how lost I have become in the fog of doubt.

Either that, or as we grow further into motherhood, and the immediacy of terror and survival subsides as the child thrives, the ongoing and far-reaching implications become mighty and thick; they are motherly arms that twist and strangle. Too vast to encapsulate. Too subtle to articulate. Too daunting a list to actually achieve and matriculate.

Reinvent myself? Juggle career and family life? Advocate for my child? Heal my family's critical mistakes? Heal my body? Save my relationship? Save my friendships? Save the education system? Navigate the changing economic culture? Reclaim relevancy as a woman/mother/wife and thinker? Become socio-politically active? Shatter archaic images of womanhood and her capabilities? In my daily life, and again with my words?

Or lie on the couch and watch reruns of Top Chef and Grey's Anatomy wondering why my life isn't at all where I planned it would be and why I feel so alternately optimistic, and powerless and stuck. And hungry.

Here I am. Everywhere and nowhere I expected to be.

Perhaps I just need a drink.
Or a good night's sleep.
Or a natural hormone cream.
Or a windfall of cash.

Or a job to take me out of here.
That is, a job other than the 10,000 little ones I already do.

And even if, I said IF, I could do it all, who said I would want to anyway?

So here I sit, looking ahead and looking back, weaving, spinning my tales, telling my truths. Words everywhere, spilling, casually, miserly, abundantly. Simultaneously light and dark. Fruitful and slim.

Grateful to know you. Sending love your way.

the reluctant nester AND the reluctant drummer girl...
Marching in circles.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


As the storms of December subside and I step back to review before turning to a new page, the lesson I am struck most with is "Letting Go."

Not just as in last year is done it's time to move on, but to let go of a deeper almost urgent need to touch, reach, connect, embrace, reciprocate.

As I examine this need for connection lately through swirls of misunderstanding, miscommunication, mixed messages, non-action, and drifting relationships, I recognize a base fear of mine.


Or more succinctly, abandonment.

This goes way back to a primal toddler need to connect, to love--in this case to the parents--for comfort, safety, security, and ah, yes, identity.

With one arm ripped away at 3, the other contorted and sometimes disconnected, it is rejection I felt rather than an embrace, and separation even though some were in close proximity. Self-assuredness becomes muddled. Control no matter how small and ineffective, attempts to offer security but usually backfires.

That thing, that thing I fear the most, is to face the fear of being, once again, alone. Unmet. Unrecognized.
That very same feeling of disconnection.

So, it occurs to me, so be it. Face the thing that appears the hardest to face. Make it go poof.

My new approach this year, one of the scariest and most risk-taking steps for one like me, is to let go. Let go of all needs and expectations. My need for personal or professional outcomes. My need for achievements. My need for connection. My need for understanding. My need to be admired or liked. My need for depth. My need for reciprocation, substantiation, or financial compensation. My need to fit.

Just. Let. Go.

So as I turn the page to a new calendar month and year, I challenge myself to dive off that cliff…



…into my destiny…

…wherever that takes me, with no expectations except to stay light, follow my intuition like a compass, and keep my heart open. Every moment a delight.

Nothing happening? Delightful.

Too much happening? Delightful.

Friends close by? Delightful.

Space and silence? Surely a delight as well.

Drop all expectations at the door, and step into delight in the moment.