I’m a preschool teacher. I’ve been hanging with little kids my whole life, and as of the Fall of 2018, I finally got a regular gig doing this hilarious and IMPORTANT (no matter what my dad thinks ha!) work.
A caregiver on her child’s last day: “She’s changed since she met you. Sometimes, she’ll be folding her clothes, and I’ll hear her singing.” SCORE! PASS THE HEMLOCK!
Shortly after landing this job, I was kindly offered a music gig, singing songs for kids on the venerable Willy Street here in Madison. In the winter, I perform every other week, and in the spring, once a month. That’s at the Cargo Bike Shop, the first Saturday of every month, at 9am (it’s fun to be awake!).
I love taking requests from kids and adults, and getting folks to sing or dance along. Here’s a taste of my repertoire:
I’m working with the fabulous People’s Yoga Collective to mash up music and yoga! Here’s a taste of the background I provided for one yoga class:
I’ve gobbled up many musicals in my time – by listening to them obsessively. Occasionally, I’ve performed in them. Auditioning is terrifying…and hard…so it’s only been a few. This winter, I performed in my first musical since college. I’m 29. Did you know that? Bet you didn’t know that.
I am slowly but surely accumulating brilliant ukelele students. Videos to come!
I can’t get over the character, color, philosophy, and exuberance of musical theater. It may be the only thing I *actually* *care* about. But I try to ride that love-wave and have a positive impact on the world through that love.
Rent was the first musical that I became head over heels obsessed with:
Here’s me performing a song from a newish musical that I love to love and I love to hate on:
I also love jazz standards. I’ve recently gotten all into Rodgers and Hart, some real sassy composers. I made the following video for my mom on Valentine’s Day, since my musical theater obsession is largely her loving fault:
“If you’re looking at me, you’re looking at country.” Loretta Lynn
I accidentally fell in love with country music, late last year.
How late is late? Too late to get the most out of a job I had – a job playing Country music!
Last summer, in 2018, I stepped out of my newly-jobless Madison life. I traveled a bit, and spent a determined two months sleeping determinedly on my sister’s couch – to the initial dismay of her chihuahua. Don’t worry, Simba grew to love me. And I grew to love Cardi B.
I wanted to be in NYC so that I could play music on the streets and subways, and make some cash! Here’s what I sounded like, per the recording of a lovely person who enjoyed my Joanna Newsom rendition:
Another lovely passer-by who also plays music – and tap dances! – told me about a job opportunity for buskers like us. She directed me to contact a restaurant that Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry just opened in Times Square. I love that wacky place.
My future boss responded and arranged an audition where we could meet and where I could show him my stuff. “Sing country songs,” he commanded.
So I played Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” Gene, or whatever his name was (he kinda threatened to fire me for asking questions about breaks) jumped into genre-policing. “Ok, but can you play country?” Oops. I thought I was.
He suggested Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton. So I gave him that. I got the job! And I beefed up my country repertoire – a bit.
About a month later, after a healthy handful of 6-hour shifts where I got breaks every half-hour (unheard of luxury!) and free burgers (have we met?) I was let go. The restaurant was doing very poorly. They thought they had a country music market all tied up. They didn’t. They closed.
A few months later, I’m back in Madison, watching “Coal Miner’s Daughter” for the first time. And second time. And third. And fourth. Now see what I’ve become?
I like planks. They make bravery a simple choice, if not an easy one. I think of my voice as a plank, where I am both the captive, and the pirate captain.
“Open your mouth, Amanda!” I command myself.
I can kick my own butt over the edge of the plank. Even if I’m saying something dumb, at least I’m doing something brave.
I don’t even have to commit to the action – I just start, and gravity takes care of the rest. I can do things I’m not ready for. Like share my feelings. Or sing into spaces. Or tell friends what I need from them. Or ask for help. Or for money. Or say thanks and share gratitude.
Actually, I’m changing my gratitude habit. I try to cut down on how often I say thanks.
Part of this flows with my current work as a preschool teacher. I’m being trained to encourage desirable behavior NOT by saying “Thanks for doing your job!” but more by saying “You did your job.” It’s clear, it’s affirmative, it’s attentive, and sets an expectation of kids’ doing – and enjoying! – their jobs because it contributes to personal and social well-being.
When a friend nurtures me in needful times, I want to share gratitude. I’ve realized, though, that I say “thanks” or “I appreciate how you…” in such moments because I am scared of losing this support. I feel needful and nervous.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking to perpetuate the help I’m receiving. I’d rather just be real with people. Instead of saying “Thank you” BECAUSE I need their help, I’d rather just skip to the vulnerability: “You’re giving me something I need. You are helping me. You are giving me life. I need this.”
This post and song are dedicated to the individuals who contributed to my #GivingTuesday (scrambles for space with Black Friday around Thanksgiving) campaign. I seek to raise money for Jewish Voice for Peace. I join this work because the state of Israel denies safety and sovereignty to Palestinians. Israel justifies their debasing and fatal occupation by claiming that MY security, as a Jewish person, is at stake.
I used to detest the idea of fundraising. But I’m full-up saturated with the Kool-aid – that is, I espouse the idea that PEOPLE are GRATEFUL for an OPPORTUNITY to be a PART OF A STRUGGLE THEY FIND MEANINGFUL! Hell, that’s why I’m fundraising – because I want to help.
I offered a song to my potential donors, to tempt them into giving. My anxieties around being a singer ripple into my fundraising work. I should not fear taking up space with my voice. But I should do so intentionally. How can I use my voice to make room for people more socio-economically vulnerable than I am? I should show up for struggles in solidarity with Palestinians, who survive violence perpetuated in my name. But does supporting Jewish Voice for Peace put Palestinian struggle and leadership as front-and-center as possible?
I cannot do big change on my own. I have to share my passion and purpose with my families, and go from there. My sharing must anchor and birth a collective being.
I sing “When I’m Gone” by Phil Ochs in this recording. Each verse details life-giving and self-cultivating work to which Phil feels accountable.
With each vocation he names, the singer laments that they can’t do thusly when they’re “gone” (“I can’t add my name into the fight…My pen won’t pour out a lyric line…I won’t breathe the brandy air…I can’t be singing louder than the guns…). The singer concludes each time, “So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.”
I love the sentiment of this song. Life offers beautiful moments, and unavoidably hard times and choices. Avoid not the difficulties – in a finite lifespan, life, love, trouble, instability and loneliness all ring rare and precious.
A joke on the line: “I won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone…”
I like to add the word “impression” after the lyric “do my share,” transforming the lyric to “I won’t be asked to do my Cher impression when I’m gone.” The verse must then end “So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here!” in my best throaty Cher voice!
And for your inspirational pleasure, please read below for a personal reflection.
Anticipate the next five minutes of your life.
What might those five minutes hold? Does their world excite you?
Are you scared of them?
I wish I did not fear the future.
I want to want nothing from the next five minutes save that they have room for me.
Yet I can’t help hoping that they hold inspiration and fire and friendship and a way out from my worst parts. “Me” is much. Wanting room is wanting the world. Room for my sky-high ambitions, my laziness, my fatal flaws.
Sometimes I wrestle with myself, and make demands.
I beg of myself, “Be present! Live in the moment.” Instead, I shroud myself with shadows from What May Lie Ahead.
I keep leaking out of now, and peeking ahead.
Like when I read. My eyes flick ahead to the next word. That upcoming word bumps hips with the word that came before it.
The future ripples backwards and forms my experience of the present.
I am trying something new.
I figure: my world has plenty of room for the next five minutes. Who am I to deny them?
I hold myself as beautiful and vile. But when the future beckons me out of myself, I will expect beauty.
Instead of shutting out these unknown moments, I will invite myself into them.
Out of the fuzzy future, I will mold myself a Welcome sign.
“Put It Into Play!”
My body is borne of buoyant water. I need support. I love to fall into the fold of my friends.
And I crave the chance to be there for them.
Sometimes my friends are mired in anxiety. Scared to move forward. Taught to do only when doing is right. To know, then act.
Welcome to self-paralysis.
I gave my friends a thought-arrow, to pierce a path through the muck.
You may fear doing wrong. But try anyway. Don’t plan for forever – live out loud. Bump into the world and see what happens.
Every morning, when you wake up, let the first thing you say be: “Put it into Play.”
The year: 2012. The place: Berkeley, California. The wherefore: I had just started an apprenticeship with Urban Adamah, an educational farm rooted in Jewish wisdom, ritual, and agricultural tradition.
The story: On a sun-soaked September day, I arrived at the garden, nervous, and excited. I love working with kids, and my school garden internship had started.
Rachel welcomed me with a tour of the outdoor classroom. She was my supervisor, and had seemed quiet when I first met her.
But I was ready to follow her lead. Especially because I brought nothing to teach!
I had never taught at a school. Before this adventure in environmental education and growing food, I had been trained in sociology – and before that, musical theater.
That morning, she mentioned a song she’d sing with our first, second, and third-graders. “The FBI,” she quickly noted, flinging her arms about in the shapes we’d form with our bodies during this call-and-response song. I’d pick it up when we sang, she assured me.
And sure enough, when Rachel strummed the shining ukulele, the kids jumped up wide-eyed. They sang “The FBI” by the Banana Slug String Band.
They bubbled forth the refrain, calling out the garden’s “FBI” – “The FBI, whenever something dies, the FBI, is there on the scene!” “That’s fungus (fungus), bacteria (bacteria) invertebrates (invertebrates) the FBI.” With each member of the F, B, and I, the kids made a mushroom cap with their arms, shimmied their fingers, and wiggled like a worm. I followed their lead.
I learned as I watched:
The open air was a perfect chance for kids to stretch their bodies and voices, on of the instant benefits of an outdoor classroom.
With “The FBI,” we learned how life works in the garden and soil. But songs for gardens can teach about people too: the range of foods people plant, hopes and memories about food and gardens…
Gardening is hard work. Songs put silliness and beauty into this work. Kids can sing and work at the same time – the time will fly by.
Five years later, and many enviro-ed gigs deep, I’m studying Agroecology, an interdisciplinary effort to build healthful food systems – systems building ecological resilience by growing and sharing food equitably.
I discovered the field of environmental education – jackpot!
“That’s not a career.”
But before my parents could realize what was happening, I had taught kids in gardens in Berkeley, California, Moab, Utah, New York City, Connecticut, and finally, Madison, Wisconsin.
You know, year-round, full-time garden educators jobs are hard to come by. That’s one reason why I moved around so much.
I thought maybe some more education in food-production would help, so I started this Masters in Agroecology. I wanted to study environmental justice and the mechanics of food production.
I decided to use my final Agroecology project as a platform for exploring environmental education. My goal was to support good work in this field, and prime myself for work in environmental education. I had plenty of experience in teaching kids and adults in gardens.
I wanted to gain experience in education administration – starting, maintaining, and supporting educational programs.
Community GroundWorks grows food with people. They coordinate community gardens, and run garden education projects in Madison, Wisconsin, and around the state. Community GroundWorks focuses on children, families, neighborhoods, and municipalities. They play, teach, and they build networks of support that allow people from a rich array of socio-economic backgrounds to cultivate land and food together.
Community GroundWorks was born out of Troy Gardens.
This north Madison site was developed in 1995, when the city was selling fifteen acres of property slated for municipal and residential development. Instead, surrounding residents voiced a desire to keep the space open and available for recreation. They organized into a group called “Friends of Troy Gardens.”
A year later, the group’s call inspired the Madison Area Community Land Trust, the Urban Open Space Foundation, and the Community Action Coalition to purchase the land, as well as an additional sixteen acres. In 1998, a lease agreement was finally reached. In 2001, the 31 acres were purchased solely by Madison Area Community Land Trust, and placed under the management of Friends of Troy Gardens. At this point, the “Friends” incorporated into the non-profit Community GroundWorks.
Community GroundWorks now maintains this site for a variety of uses: a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, a children’s educational garden, a co-housing development, a community garden, a restored forest, and an edible food forest.
I am so grateful to Community GroundWorks for offering opportunities to support their work through a diverse set of projects, that stretch my unique set of skills.