Monday, December 13, 2010

Because I cried at a John Tesh Concert.

I've blogged before. I mommied blogged back when it was still sort of original, though not very. I free-range blogged. I public-school blogged. I'm starting this brand-new blog because I figure there's no better time to blog than when you've just found yourself in tears at a John Tesh concert. Didn't see it coming, little embarrassed about the whole thing. Outing myself here, because, dammit, I was moved. Why was I at a John Tesh concert in the first place? 3,000 miles from my home? In a quaint little town in Maryland of all places? Well, that, my friends, is the story.

I've been researching, writing, (and occasionally getting funded) grants for public schools for a while now. This year I've focused my energy on an amazing little start-up public independent charter school on the west side of L.A., which our family was lucky enough to get into in a competitive lottery. By the time our "little school that could" opened its gates on September 5 of this year, I was president of the parents/community organization, writing grants like crazy, scrubbing toilets with the amazing committed parents, planting gardens, painting murals, interviewing teachers, and writing more grants. I stumbled upon this "Amway Positivity Contest" and had my daughter's first grade teacher film me on her Flip after school one day talking about "the power of positive" and how awesome awesome awesome it felt to be building a school with a community that was invested in it, rather than spending that same energy raging against the giant broken public school disctrict behemoth. You can still see the video on and you can tell how much I love the school by how little I cared that I was being filmed with dirty hair in a ponytail, no makeup, and terrible lighting, as I edge up on 40 - 40!!!. I look like an advertisement for Botox. But I am comforted that my passion for this school and for quality, innovative, exciting public education shines through the crow's feet.

Cut to: a month or so later and I'm in the top 25, chosen from over 200 entrants by a panel of life coaches, Amway execs, and, if I am to believe the hype, John Tesh himself. Now, at this point, I have to back up and let those of you who don't know me from any of my previous blogs or real life in on a little secret. I pride myself on my cynicism. I'm from Jersey, Goddammit. I don't fall for these "life coach," "self help," " affirmation-y kinda things. When my shrink talks about energy work, I hold my face tight to suppress the grimace. I've lived in Los Angeles for 12+ years and I still shudder at anything vaguely New Agey. But here's the thing. I freaking love being of service, volunteering, fighting for social justice, and especially giving voice to the underrepresented. It's hard to be this passionate and be a true cynic. It is time to let that cynic go. She's old and wrinkly and cranky and she weighs me down. I want to believe in change and embrace it. So there.

Next starts the online voting - and we go as viral as a tiny charter school in its first year can go. Lotta Facebook posts, a few tweets from the youngsters, friends and relations of friends and relations voting for the project daily, and so much enthusiasm and support. It becomes a really unifying, exciting experience for all the families at our charter school and beyond.

Cut to: an email from Amway - I'm in the top 10. I've definitely brought in $2,500 for WISH - hooray! - and they're flying me to Hagerstown, Maryland for John Tesh's Christmas concert where we'll go up onstage after the intermission and Tesh himself will announce the grand prize winner. At this point, I'm just stoked about a paid flight, a solo room in a Courtyard Marriot for two nights, and some quiet time to wander with a large coffee in the snow. I'm also increasingly excited to meet the other people in the contest, like the 20-year-old girl who has been recycling cell phones since she was 13 (13 years old!!!) and using the money to buy calling cards that she send to servicemen on active duty, and the pair of ladies who launch laugh-ins and dance-ins throughout the country just to up the irreverence and joy in society. I want to be cool and cynical and joke about the fact that I --former lead singer of the all-chick band, Big Panty, tough rock-n-roller from New Jersey -- is heading to a John Tesh concert, but the thing is...I can't.

I can't get it up for the cynicism like I used to be able to. That doesn't mean I'm not irreverent or edgy or at times even snarky. I did not drink any Kool-Aid and I can still be prickly as needed. But I just want to live positively, man. I want to fight for causes I believe in and to do that, I need to believe that change can happen. I believe that incremental change is generative and that the little independent charter school we're building for our children can effect public education nationally. I believe that the hour we all spent with Connie Sellica's uncle or cousin (I never got clear on that) Vinnie, hanging up decorations at the Hagerstown Hope Mission for the Christmas party for low-income and homeless youth is worth something, and that each of these sweet little positivity projects puts some chips in the good side of the scale, tips us toward change, tips us toward truly caring about and taking care of each other.

And here's the best part. John Tesh is hilarious, irreverent, even a little edgy at times. He went on this long diatribe mid-concert about the studies that show that doing volunteer work and being of service to others raises dopamine equal to taking Valium. Then he weighed it out: 5 hours a week is like taking 2.5 Valium, which means that 10 or more hours of volunteering probably feels like Heroin. He said it in an even more funny way, and coming out of his mouth, it was really unexpected and awesomely shocking. When I met him after the concert, I wanted to say, "What happens if you do a lot of volunteer work and also take a lot of Valium? That's gotta really be something." But I didn't. Instead we talked about charter schools - his daughter went to one in Van Nuys and he really support what we're doing -- and I felt happy and honored to meet him. He is a kind and kinda great guy. So you know what? Positivity Dammit. I'm in. Even with my prickles and edges and Jersey shudders at too much gush. I'm in because positive action is the only way to keep moving forward and believing, and that's my choice.

Challenge: Find one thing this week you really feel passionately about and take one small, simple action that affirms it. Yes, I just used the word, "affirm." Ack. Please write about what you do, be it a bag of groceries on the step of a struggling neighbor or an act of kindness on the road when rage would've been your go-to move. That's right, mofos, I'm asking y'all to pay it forward and share how that worked out. I'm Out.

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