I take any opportunity available to have a mini-new year.
The start of the month.
The end of the month.
Anytime I can pause, summarize, and make a resolution, I am ON it.
So, now that the new month is starting, I am taking the opportunity to do just that.
Now – November was a doozy! Here are my tops from the month:
1. Obama was elected
2. I started this blog
3. Announced my resignation from the Bard College MAT Program
4. Ran my first 5k
5. Decided to join a temple for the first time
6. I’ve been to a number of great talks, conferences, meetings, & happy hours, which have been enlightening.
On Friday night, we ended the month of November with an incredible evening. First, we went up to a happy hour fundraiser hosted by an organization I’m a little bit obsessed with here – Young Involved Philadelphia – which, although it sounds like it would be a gaggle of Tracy Flicks vying for the title of President of the Chiefdom of Chairs of the Board of Leadership Involvement & Effort, it’s actually just a group of engaged and sane young people who are active in the arts, local politics, public service, and the non-profit scene.
The event was at a bar that reminded me of Williamsburg before the invasion of the American Apparelians and their leotards – it was dirty, 60’s themed, dark, big, and fun: The Trestle Inn. Apparently, it becomes a full-on Go-Go bar after 10om. It was also on an abandoned corner with torches outside, which set the mood.
We got there early and snagged a table in the back. A projection screen showcased one of the programs being highlighted by the fundraiser- Philly Love Notes, which is a project that asks residents to write love notes to their favorite locations in the city and sends them out to the proprietors. The slideshow displayed photos and notes from all types of Philadelphians, professing their love for anything from Rittenhouse Square, to a particular bookstore, to a bar in West Philly where you take your shot with pickle juice. Having that as the digital backdrop certainly set the tone for a warm and happy evening.
After husband and our friends ordered from the “retro” bar meno – meatloaf sandwich, nachos, deviled eggs, garlic popcorn, and fresh egg whiskey sours – the room started to fill. And fill. And fill. Soon, it was packed. Voices were crushed under the weight of music and other conversations, so we had to yell just to have a chat across the table. Coats dragged along the side of our nachos and the ends of strangers’ scarves dangled off shoulders and tickled our ears as we tried to eat dinner, hunched over but happy.
Normally I hate this kind of thing – but this time, I loved it. Despite the crush of people there was a mellow feeling to the room, buyoed by the slideshow of lovenotes and images of Philadelphians enjoying themselves in their favorite places. People weren’t shoving each other, or shrieking, or scanning the room for better conversations for which they would not-so-politely leave their present company. There was a noisy, bustling calm to the room, a warmth; and just as I was starting to settle into my caesar salad and whiskey and feel like I blended in to this pleasant group of strangers, I thought I heard my name. Looking up, I saw three strangers looking at me, perhaps pointing (always a great feeling), and then the woman among them approached our table.
“Are you Justine?” she yelled.
“Yes,” I replied, with a sheepish smile. I was trying to place her face, unsuccessfully.
Pause. Smile wider, trying desperately to recognize her.
“You wrote about me in your blog?”
Oh my god. I thought. Oh my god. Is she angry? Why am I not yet able to turn myself into a dustcloud?! Must work on disappearing abilities. Shit!
“Oh my gosh! Hello! Nice to meet you for real!” I smiled deeply and sincerely, and hoped she would do the same.
Her face softened.
“Hey! Oh my gosh, I loved your post! I even sent it to my mom!”
Thank you baby Jesus. Thank you.
“Oh, I’m so glad! And all jokes aside, congratulations on your appointment, that must be very exciting!”
“It is, thank you. And hey, this is Mason – the other member of Brian’s team.”
Of course, of course – so nice to meet you.”
“And just for the record, even though I didn’t write about you at length, you also make me want to kill myself a little. But in a good way.”
And so began a first for me – meeting people in real life because of an online conversation started here on this little blog I thought nobody but my dear friends in New York and North Carolina would read. Being approached about it by people I’m not related to or in a deep, committed relationship with. Having a conversation about something I wrote that I didn’t foist upon my unwitting partner in chat. To say that it was encouraging would be tantamount to saying that My So Called Life is kinda good.
Leaving the bar, I was actually skipping.
“That was fun!”
“I know!” He said, smiling boyishly and running his fingers along the chainlink fence of a vacant parking lot. ” It really was.”
“That was fun! Fun fun fun!”
He laughed and looked at me like I had grown a second head.
“Yes, it was. Wow, you had fun!”
I settled next to him and laced my gloved hands through his arm, holding on like a child to his bicep. I quieted down but was still excited.
“I liked doing that. We should do that more often. Go to stuff.”
“I agree. It’s true – it’s always better to go out and do something than be lazy. It’s always fun in the end.”
We got in the car and drove back to our neighborhood. Upon parking behind our house, we started the short walk to meet up again with our friends for a nightcap. It was only 9:00, but it felt like midnight. We were quiet, until I couldn’t help but start the navel-gazing dirge again.
“This is all so strange, this phase of life.”
“What do you mean?”
“Professionally, that is.”
I could tell he was thinking about his own work. I pressed on with my monologue, gunning for a revelation.
” I have never taken a risk – a real risk – professionally. And it’s the weirdest thing.”
“What, taking a risk?”
“No – this feeling. I just have this feeling. Is it a vision or a feeling? I’m not quite sure. It’s like, I have a sense of where this is going, like you can sense someone in the room, or a wave coming when you’re playing in the ocean.”
“And I just have this feeling that what I’m doing makes sense in some way, that it will come together. But right now it just seems random. I can’t explain it to people. I can’t explain it beyond a hunch and good intention.”
“So just go ahead.”
“I know, but -”
“I don’t know.”
“So go ahead. Follow your hunch. Why do you need to explain it?”
Sometimes the simplicity of men is maddening. And sometimes it is the most soothing balm that could ever be applied to a twinging nerve.
We walked the rest of the block with elbows locked, and quietly entered December.
My resolution for December? I’m thinking that it is to not get in my own way. Let myself do what I’m doing without analyzing or categorizing or editing it so much, and see where it takes me.
Last week, my writing largely focused on questions and worries and introspection around professional aims, advancement, decisions. I’d like to move out of that headspace, and just go.
That being said, I always find that spreading things out and looking at them as a whole package soothes and educates me in some way. I used to do this after shopping trips – I would lay all my purchases out on the bed, and try to figure out what they told me about myself (this was in the Land Before Internet. I totally felt like Pinterest hijacked my childhood when I first heard about it).
I find myself doing much the same thing with comments on this blog, like my post from last Thursday – laying things out, looking for patterns. I have always found that writing things down makes them clearer, and realer.
The trick, I guess, is to take a look, see what there is to learn, and move on -without obsessively trying to “solve” or “figure out,” or “fix” or “connect” everything.
So, what I’d like to do is take stock of the landscape, and share with you as well what I have going on now, and what I plan to be doing in the near future. My hope is that this will help me, as December starts, gear up for my resolution of letting myself do what I do, without getting in my own way. My other motivation is to share with those of you I’m just meeting, or friends from the past who are still trying to catch up with my move, a little bit of what keeps me busy during the week. I know many friends & family know I’ve quit my full-time job to pursue “my business,” but have no real idea what that means (and hey, neither do I). So hopefully this helps me clear out my head, and brings you into the loop, too. Then we can all move forward ensemble.
#1: Civic Association
I am currently a member of the events committee, and have been asked to Chair the Marketing Committee. I’ve decided to brave the landmine, and go for it! This means I will be doing the following:
- Managing/Editing the monthly Post newspaper for the civic – writing & assigning articles, etc.
- Managing/Editing the bi-weekly e-post
- Increasing awareness of the civic’s aims and contributions to the neighborhood
- Meeting with local business owners to determine their needs for membership
- Meeting with neighbors to determine their desires for membership
I am also working with the membership committee to start a Young Friends group within the civic. This will be for members under 35, and have two purposes: 1) to create a community of young residents, and 2) to engage young residents in community service projects in the neighborhood. The former will include social events, potlucks, info sharing. The latter will include projects such as adopting a room at the Mercy Hospice to paint & refurbish; working with organizations such as the Broad Street Ministry and William Way Center – who are in our neighborhood, but aren’t members of the Civic – to assist in their community outreach projects; organizing the Witches + Woofs Fundraiser for Morris Animal Refuge; organizing a Holiday Lighting Night in our neighborhood (something I really want to start!). This is maybe the project about which I feel the most energized and excited, to tell the truth.
#2: Pedalogical Consulting
This is my business, which I formalized over the summer. Pedagogical has to do with teaching; Pedalogical is aimed at providing solutions for educators (a term I use broadly) that are logical (as so many things pertaining to schools & non-profits dealing with young people are precisely not).
Back in NYC, I had already been doing consulting for public schools, and working as an adjunct for Bard College for a year, and felt I wanted to make this work my full-time gig once I moved to Philly in July. Over the past few months, though, my mission and purpose have really changed. Right now I am trying to figure out how I can make Pedalogical the vehicle through which I do the work I love, and make connections (and an income) as well. That’s the million dollar question, I suppose! So far, here is what falls under the Pedalogical Consulting header:
- I am creating a professional development plan for NYC public school teachers at a high school in the South Bronx- and supporting their guidance counselor through the college application process – for the 2012-2013 school year
- I teach a monthly class to first and second year teachers, around curriculum planning & classroom management, through the Bard College MAT Program
- I consult with an urban redevelopment firm here in Philadelphia, helping them to start a non-profit organization that focuses on rejuvenating needy neighborhoods, with community involvement
- I am developing curriculum and partnership opportunities between this urban redevelopment firm and the YouthBuild Charter school, which will hopefully help the students of that amazing school learn about the social/community context of construction projects
#3: Junior League
I joined the Junior League back in September on the urging of a friend who is a Southern nurse and very, very peppy. I had no idea what it was, but after seeing faces of friends & family drop when I mentioned considering membership, I decided to look into it. After learning that it’s usually for ladies who lunch and have debutante balls, I was skeptical, but decided to go to an information session at a brewery (that seemed decidedly un-Muffy-in-pearls to me) and liked what I heard. They emphasized three things: 1) volunteering (yes), 2) developing leadership in young women (totally), and 3) fostering women friendships (lurv). I drank the koolaid, signed my name with the rhinestoned pen they gave us at our Welcome Breakfast at the racquet club, and have been discovering the Junior League of Philadelphia and all its strange wonders ever since.
So far I have taken advantage of as many of their training sessions as possible – on marketing for non-profits, and fundraising, specifically. These have led me to meet the Director of Development for the Philadelphia Orchestra for coffee, and connect with the Graduate School of Education at Drexel’s head professors – all because I, at the end of the sessions, went up to the speaker, thanked them and shook their hand, took their information, and followed up with an email to thank them again. It has been a real education in the power of being polite and sincere.
I have met a lot of girls/women (?) who I normally would have never met – that seems to be the refrain of Junior Leaguers. They’re mostly attorneys, or work in finance. They’re the kind of girls I would have either judged or been intimidated by back in New York. But here, they are new friends. We go to monthly dinners with too-big tables and lots of Cupcake wine at byob’s in Center City. We carpool to volunteer at foodie fundraisers in Fairmont Park, 2/3 of the girls in pig tails or braids, with white long-sleeved shirts under their Junior League t-shirts (I, of course, wore a fur vest and mustard-yellow cardigan over mine, which immediately made me freakshow of the day). We have holiday parties and have started to talk to each other about our significant others, as we slowly move from strangers to acquaintances to friends.
I look forward to deepening these unexpected relationships, and getting more involved in the community service the JLP does. It’s pretty impressive and effective, and I think there are both opportunities to learn a great deal, and to get involved in leadership in the organization.
#4: Rodeph Shalom
I have a complicated relationship to Judaism. Long story short, goes something like this: born, baptized, love me some Christmas & Easter Eggs. Adolescence descends; become curious about our Jewish background (hello mother, née Braverman?) but told we’re atheists; secretly love the Hebrew portions of bat mitzvah services but agree with friends that they are horrible, and lose myself in the pleasurable tween vortex of velvet dresses & choreographed dancers at outrageous post-schul parties at the Boathouse; find out my father is actually also Jewish when my grandma is outed by her sister’s eulogy at her own funeral; become more interested in Judaism after my own mother passes away; read and research on my own, and feel like I’m reading something I wrote – all my morals, my traditions, my sensibility seem to be written into Judaism, and I was living a life in parallel; I take a class through the 92Y to “own” my Jewish identity; learn that I can be Jewish and not believe in God over a very intense diner breakfast on the upper west side with my hippie rabbi teacher; come to Philadelphia and decide to go through with my own bat mitzvah (which will be bangin’, let me tell you); discover a temple that has as many interracial non-Jewish LGBTQ families as Jewish ones; request paperwork.
It’s sitting on my desk. For some reason, I’m nervous – even though the only thing that’ll change is that I can say that I’m really a member of the synagogue, instead of just a fan. But for me, this is a really big step. And so the packet is still sitting on my desk, waiting to be filled out. I think it’s a big step because some part of me knows that once I become a member, it’s the start of a big new chapter in my life. I have always feared religion, looked down on it, felt it belonged to other people. My desire to live life in step with the rhythms of Judaism has shocked me – there is no other word for it. And I feel like some of the good that I can do in the world will come from my connection to Judaism – I’m not sure how, yet, but I have this feeling. And so, the packet sits on my desk. I’m going to send it in tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.
#5: Meetings, Conferences, & Talks
I have found a new pleasure in life: going to conferences & talks, and setting up informational interviews. This is something I never ever ever did in New York – largely because I didn’t have the time. But it was also because I didn’t see a purpose, couldn’t rationalize it to myself. And now I go because I feel like there is learning to be gotten from doing these things, and curiosity – as opposed to anxiety – seems to be the driving force of most of my actions at the moment. Some great ones I’ve gone to over the past few months include:
- Coffee with the Director of Development for the Philadelphia Orchestra
- Visiting Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development Office & meeting Kate + Eden who help to run the show
- State of Young Philly – YIP
- Out of School Resource Center Conference
- Coffee with Rudy Flesher of Philly4Philly
- Paul Tough, Angela Duckworth, KIPP Leaders at the Union League
Coming up, I’m excited for:
- Visiting with Michelle Freeman at the Frankford Site of Flying Kite’s On the Ground
- Small but Mighty Grants Happy Hour
- Meeting Anna at her office, not the bar 🙂
#6: Philadelphia Montessori
I found out at Philadelphia Montessori from an incredible website I’ve discovered that’s part of Mayor’s Office here – it’s called Serve Philadelphia, and it matches volunteers with organizations looking for help. As I was shopping for do-goodery here, I found an interesting request for board members for the Philadelphia Montessori school. I was surprised that this would be listed on a city volunteer board, so I went to the website and was pleasantly surprised. Philadelphia Montessori is a public school for students of various, or lower socioeconomic status, from what I can tell. The aim is to offer these students not the hyper-rigid environment most charter schools offer as alternatives to flacid and failing public schools, but instead a montessori experience – something which I had the luck to enjoy for the first four years of my own life, and which I credit to my love for and facility with reading at a young age, as well as my penchant for color-coding. I submitted a request for further information, and again to my surprise, heard almost immediately from the head of the school. I’m calling her at 11:00 today – so more on that soon.
#7: Mercy Hospice
This is a women’s shelter I discovered while researching an article for the aforementioned Post – which I currently have no control over – and which was subsequently rejected: highlighting local charities and non-profits that need donations during the holidays. While the article might have been tabled (and you can bet that if/when I get control over that paper it’ll be running!), I was fascinated to learn that Mercy Hospice was only a few blocks from my home. I’ve never seen it -still can’t seem to locate it when I remember to keep an eye out while walking the pups – but I wrote to the head of volunteering to ask whether their Adopt-A-Room program might be a good fit for the civic association’s burgeoning Young Friends group (see what I did there? That little move – creating projects for a group that doesn’t even exist yet? Yeah. Yeah, that’s my jam.) I also told her about my own skill set, and asked whether there is anything they need a lot of help with, which I might be able to contribute to; she wrote back and we’re setting up a date for me to go visit the Hospice. Like Rodeph Shalom, I just have a feeling that this one, too, might end up being a biggie for me. We shall see . . .
I’d love to hear your lists, too – if you were to spread all your activities out and snap a picture, what would we be seeing?