Tuesday, October 23, 2007

SoCal's on fire

I guess that's stating the obvious to anyone watching the news right now, but literally, there are fires raging out of control all around us...a circle around our city to the north, to the east, and to the south. The only place not burning is due west of here which would be the Pacific Ocean.

This image was taken by a NASA satellite capturing the billowing smoke coming off of at least 14 massive fires burning around Southern California. More NASA. (
Image credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response)

About a half a million people have been evacuated from San Diego County alone. My husband was literally down there just a few days ago, playing a gig and driving back at 3 in the morning through some of those towns. Malibu is just 20 minutes north of here up the
PCH (Pacific Coast Hwy) where I used to commute to feed the rich and famous. Burning. We were in Lake Arrowhead not 8 weeks ago for a much needed family vacation in the mountains before school started. The surrounding towns are in flames. All of it vulnerable to the unpredictably destructive 50-60mph gusts of Santa Ana winds, and the overbearing heat it brings with it.

Here inside the ring, in the
nucleus of relative safety, the air is thick with dust and ash, coating cars and making overtaxed lungs burn. The heavy winds have blown out the usual smog layer revealing a brilliant blue sky with stridents of thick orangey-brown clouds, which on closer examination reveal they're not clouds at all but thick stripes of smoke and ash and god-knows-what remnants from other people's lives, reduced to dust and blown out to sea.

There is an unhealthy air quality advisory for all schools, halting outdoor sports and other outside physical activity throughout LA County. Driving by my daughter's school campus in the middle of the afternoon, usually full of laughter and children running and shouting and climbing, playing games and practicing sports, I find the long stretch of green
eerily vacant and quiet today. And the sky is deceptively bright, orange, dusty, and hot. Outrageously hot for almost Halloween.

My heart aches with compassion thinking of other peoples losses and their current vulnerability to an uncontainable force of nature. It is so random. Unthinkable. Yet in a moment, all could be lost. Up in flames.
Poof. Gone.

It begs the question, what is real? What is essential? What is most meaningful?

And if you had just 10 minutes to grab anything of value to you, what would that be? Where would you find it? Is it ready to go? Or would it be buried under obligation and clutter?

Would you forgive last night's fight with your husband, or that lingering tantrum with your willful child? Would you make amends with your in-laws or parents or girlfriend? Would you spend precious moments searching for the cat or compiling account numbers? Do you have an exit plan, a contingency plan or a store of necessities? Are you ready to say goodbye to all you've built and worked hard for, knowing you might lose it all? Could you start over if you survived the destruction, or would you do something completely different? What would you do? Where would you go?

These are critical times. My heart goes out all around me, embracing us, surrounding us in healing, in love. As the region burns, may we be purified and re-set with what is truly of value.

Many blessings to those who need it...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Random Bits

After many years of ups and downs, (more ups than downs it seemed), I just donated my sz. 14 and 12 jeans to Goodwill and replaced them with a sz 8 and a 10. The 10 is already loose on me.

I joined an 8-week weekly women's group workout in the park. Spartazon. No kidding. First session was Monday in the grey drizzle. To establish our base times, we jogged around the perimeter of a huge field, all 14 of us. A quarter of the way out, I found the urge to connect with my own pace not the group pace, and pushed way out ahead. At an easy, non-competitive, comfortable-for-me pace, I came in first without really struggling. Seems my running/writing practice, though spotty, has paid off in accumulated strength and endurance. Of course, I can't move today after all the squats, planks, push-ups, resistance training, etc. That class kicked my ass. Literally. But I feel good. My body is reemerging from a long, deep, painful hibernation. And I'm just getting started.

I have a new book idea that I have begun to work on and will continue to work on throughout the year. I will be chronicling our collectively bold attempt to take a declining local public elementary school, (declining perception based on low test scores, bused-in kids, white flight), add a layer of Reggio-inspired philosophy to the standards based curriculum with ongoing professional development and workshops for the teachers, as well as a combination of community outreach and publicity, fundraising, and working to unite the community, in order to turn this little neighborhood school into something ground-breaking and fantastic…all the while observing from a mother's perspective as my daughter and her friends navigate the changing climate at the school. For a more organic approach to the writing I have been journaling in longhand in my car right after drop-off. So far it has been a bumpy month and a half…so there is a lot to write about. My daughter is in her 3rd classroom/teacher in 4 weeks. Bless her for being a trouper. She is doing amazingly well with all the changes.

My little Westside Guide to Public Schools Guidebook continues to sell, and is now selling faster than I can print it every time I am asked to do a speaking engagement. I am also selling it in bulk to several private school consultants to have as a public school resource. It has been placed in the parent resources section of the multi-million dollar recently renovated Santa Monica Public Library where my colleague and I have been invited to return for another speaking engagement. We will be lining up several more school survival seminars around town and soon it will be Magnet season, meaning time for another round of "Martinis and Magnets" events with Sandra Tsing Loh and Christie Mellor. Sandra has unofficially coined me "The Good Witch of The West" for continuing to openly highlight public school options to weary, wary and confused parents.

I have several new ideas brewing about expanding the Go Mama Guide brand and Guidebook series, including two new guidebook ideas….mulling.

There might be some interest at a quirky small publishing house for me to write a cookbook. Ok, that could be fun.

Speaking of my long-abandoned food career, after several months of turning it over and over, I rose to the "dare" and put a DVD together (as well as 8 pgs of an essay-style application), and submitted to be The Next Food Network Star. Crazy, right? Yeah, Um. Perhaps. But what was so great about the process of mulling it over, exploring my "culinary point of view," considering my influences, being able to think about pitching my own cooking show, or what that might be, I realized that this would actually be a great job for me. And although the reality TV part of it freaks the shit out of me, the part about what I do with food, how I live, how I can inspire others to be fearless in the kitchen, to rethink their approach to good food, real food, to use tasty, nourishing food as the vehicle with which to nurture and bring people together…I think is a great fit.

So, whether or not I crap out on this particular competition/reality TV show possibility with its accompanying must-sign sign-your-life-away contract…the point is, through this process of mulling it over, I have warmed to the idea of doing a cooking/lifestyle show and have committed to spending the next few months exploring what exactly I would want my show to be if I could put together a show. (I already have what I think is a fantastic idea but I can't tell you just yet).

Meanwhile, baby steps, a little piece I wrote about the inspired professional development session our teachers recently took, which was meant to be shared only with the handful of us on the school's Educational Vision Committee, was then posted to the schoolwide/community listserv. I was then contacted by the Assistant Principal where she asked permission to print it up for the entire staff. I am thrilled because writing about the Reggio philosophy is like dancing to architecture. It's impossible to portray the depth of it succinctly. It's incredibly difficult to articulate yet incredibly powerful to witness. Perhaps my little attempt did, at least initially, give everyone new to the concept a warm and tangible way to approach the philosophy. In addition, it opened up communication between parents and teachers and administration, which is a huge step in keeping everyone informed and interested, and being inclusive, not exclusive.

So that's some of what's been going on lately. Now you're pretty much up to speed. Somewhat. For now.

Meme: Write on Writing

True to form, I face any challenge with equal parts dread and exhilaration. This meme is no different. (Thanks Prema.) Also true to form, the question comes at the most perfect time; an opportunity for reflection in this time of insane action is most perfect and welcome.

First off, when faced with anything, my mind always goes to rules, parameters. Do I make a list? How many items? How much can I say? Is this too much?, and so forth. So in order to calm my brain, I'll just give you my list and get that out of the way:

1. apple
2. cat
3. blank page
4. facing your fear
5. getting it down


Ok, now for the real deal…because I want to rise to the challenge of the question.

First of all, I don't think of myself as a "Writer," capital W. I don't immerse myself in books, in literature, in ways to turn a phrase. I'm not studied, or even well-read. I write in half-phrases, I make up words, I start sentences with And and Because, and most importantly, I listen. I listen to the inner chain of words as they tumble out of my head and onto the page, because I write like I am speaking to you. That's why I work best in silence. No interruptions, no banging of dishes or boundary-less telephone conversations. Drive-by stereos and other audible invasions kill my flow. That's why I write when I should be sleeping, or when everyone is out of the house.

For me, there is an urgency to my writing. I write when I have something to say, something to process and extract, to get it out, to put it "out there" as opposed to closed up "in here." I write to create order out of my mental chaos. I suppose my writing is urgent and passionate and messy, and I suppose my brashness has also gotten me into trouble. But I mainly write to please myself first now.

Writing for me is an expression no different than picking up a tomato, looking at it, and deciding to chop it up and throw it in a hot pan with some olive oil and garlic I've crushed with the side of my knife. As I slip in some capers and perhaps a dash of white wine, toss it with linguine and grate some pecorino over the top, I think, huh, it's just a tomato, it's just pasta, what's the big deal?

I find that a solid commitment for a specific goal is easier than the never-ending "I'm going to write about my life…" It's really about deciding to do something, and just doing it. Then you just focus and write….chop wood, carry water. (Of course, editing is another matter, especially when other people's words find their way into your piece and completely change your intended meaning. Surrender.)

I write best when I combine it with something physical like jogging, doing stairs, or gardening. The physicality gets me out of my head and into a flow of consciousness, or a "channeled" workspace. This is where ideas just come and I've learned to trust that this works for me. It always does. All I have to do is show up, listen, and I am provided with what I need.

But I can't tell a story to save my life. I know nothing about structure and character development, plot and arc. I don't sit around thinking up interesting characters, putting them in far-fetched situations, moving them around like so many players in a game of chess. That's way too difficult for me. I'm much more intuitive about my approach. I write what I see, what I think, what I question, what I know. I write to clarify my experience, to find meaning within the context and the relationships in my life, and to distill it down to its essence onto the page. At least, that's what I attempt to do.

See, at the heart of it all, it's all about me…but "me" as I see myself all fucked up and messy and insecure, with my own take on things. And the older I get and the more confident I am with that, with who I am, the more I see that writing about "me" is really about "we" because we are all interconnected and we share so many like experiences. The universality of human nature, of human experience, extracted from one person's journey is fascinating. It inspires us. It informs us. It unites us and gives us hope.

I so value our online circle of support. You are all deeply cherished. Thanks for letting me spew. And now, in the interest of keeping the fun rolling, I tag Nancy. Although we have not yet met, you sound like one fab lady. You're it.

...update coming soon...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ed-Op: Back To School

Thanks to the many of you who have left comments, and thanks also to Link for the little nudge. It's been ages since I posted, I know. Sometimes life shows you it's time to act, and other times there is time to reflect. I have been in action mode lately, although in my life there is usually little-to-not-enough time, period.

In the meanwhile, I would love to address some of the wonderful comments you all have left and clarify my pov. While I agree that teachers usually feel unsupported by their district not to mention their school, are paid ridiculously low wages, and many times end up going out of pocket for classroom supplies, I still maintain it should not be up to a merchandiser to tell unsuspecting parents, especially new and about-to-enter-the-system parents what they will need for the classroom. I would much rather receive a letter from either the principal or my child's teacher outlining EXACTLY what my child will need to bring to class in order to avoid buying unnecessary items which only serve to line the pockets of said merchandiser, not the school or the teachers who need it most. I would prefer to show my support to the class and the teacher directly.

If, looking back at our case, we actually followed the merchandiser's suggested list, we would have spent money on items she didn't need, couldn't bring to class, or were redundant to what was already being handed out in class. Frankly, I would have happily donated my $25-50 "supplies" money (or whatever that amount grows to in the upper grades) to a group fund that could buy in bulk for a discount all the items the class actually needed, including offering a little extra for those who might need an assist and having some funds set aside for unexpected teacher/class needs.

Additionally, if throughout the school year the teachers would organize their "wish lists" and circulate them through the school body, you'd be amazed at how resourceful people can be to obtain these items--through the community, businesses, corporate sponsors-- because I believe we all want what's best for our children and will help our child's teacher if notified and pressed to do so. But if you don't ask you don't get. And we can't give if we don't know.

I'm sorry so many teachers end up going out of pocket. That is unfair and a sign that things definitely need to change especially in the public school arena. But I also think there is a general disconnect and lack of specific communication between the school and parents, which might be a first step to getting assistance where assistance is needed. Of course the district is a whole other matter!

All I'm sayin' is let's spend our money on what we really need, not on what the stores tell us we need.