Noe Valley Voice November 2003

This 'n' That

by Laura McHale Holland

Does Noe Valley have any boring residents? I think not. Month after month, people write, e-mail, and call in with news of inspiring endeavors. This month's column features the people behind two uniquely edifying books, a quirky documentary film, and a star turn in a play that fantasizes about what would have happened had JFK not been assassinated.

With the flat economy and the sober reality that not only blue-collar but also white-collar professional jobs are being outsourced overseas, the timing couldn't be better for Kathleen Mitchell's new book The Unplanned Career: How to Turn Curiosity into Opportunity. Billed as an "interactive, user-friendly journal offering tips on turning unexpected events into career opportunities," The Unplanned Career is coming out Nov. 17 from Chronicle Books.

Mitchell, a career counselor, seminar leader, and instructor at City College of San Francisco, has lived in the neighborhood for almost 20 years. One of her classes, Career Success (LERN 60 in the catalog), meets Tuesday nights at the college's James Lick campus on Noe Street.

"As a result of my experiences counseling people for many years, I realized that many of the career changes people make are a result of being prepared for unexpected opportunities. So I coined the term 'planned happenstance,'" says Mitchell. "Oftentimes, people get blocked because they want to know before they take any action how things are going to turn out. So they stop being curious and they start feeling really trapped. The book is meant to help people take action steps to look into things that they otherwise might just dismiss."

The book is in a workbook/journal format and puts more emphasis on action than on planning. Cover to Cover Booksellers, at 1307 Castro Street, is hosting Mitchell's book release and signing party on Thursday, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m. More information about Mitchell's philosophy and activities can be found at

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One native Noe Valleyan whose curiosity has informed her career is Amanda Lewis. While she was student-teaching and completing her M.A. in education at U.C. Berkeley, Lewis had a lot of questions about educational equity that her instructors and colleagues couldn't answer. So instead of going into elementary school teaching as she had planned, she moved on to the University of Michigan, where she got a Ph.D. in sociology. Her research has resulted in a book, Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities, published by Rutgers University Press in May of this year.

"Growing up in San Francisco and going to the city's public schools, I had the experience of them being both incredibly diverse and often internally segregated. I never understood why that was. Later, I observed this in my student teaching. There were so many informal social boundaries in these schools. [Yet they] were remarkably dynamic places in other ways," Lewis recalls.

"I found out that one reason race continues to have such a potent impact on school outcomes, school practices, and what kinds of experiences kids have is that people in schools really don't have good ways of talking about and thinking about race. So often, you hear a sort of colorblind message that 'race doesn't matter--we treat all the kids the same.' This really prevents people from being able to see and understand the patterns that are going on within their school buildings," she says.

In addition to this seeming paradox, the book also investigates how the disparity in resources available to different schools, as well as housing segregation, affects a child's learning environment.

Lewis is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but for the current academic year she is a visiting fellow at the Research Institute for Comparative Studies of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University. Her parents still live in the neighborhood.

The book is available online through Rutgers Press at It can also be ordered through our local independent bookstores.

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Just like Lewis, Dolores Street resident Rachel Raney and her partner in filmmaking, David Murray, who lives on Day Street, are accustomed to addressing serious social issues. But their documentary Livermore--about the town by that name which lies some 30 miles east of San Francisco--is a departure.

"I've been working on documentaries for public television for 10 years, and they were all serious public affairs programs. I was eager to do something more amusing, more comedic, less political, and more just really good storytelling--to get into characters as opposed to issues," notes Raney. She produced the film and shared directing duties with Murray, who also did photography and editing.

The idea for the film came to them when Murray saw an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1999, which described how Livermore's city officials had misplaced a time capsule they had buried in 1969 when the town celebrated its centennial.

"We like to say that our documentary is part-history, part-mystery, but mostly comedy. The time capsule kicks off the film, and through searching for it, you end up exploring some of the more oddball characters in the city of Livermore, and lots of tall tales we unearthed along the way," says Raney.

The film will air on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 10 p.m., on Independent Lens, a weekly television series on KQED (Channel 9). Pictures of some of Livermore's eccentrics and lots more information about the film can be found at

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Speaking of television, Liberty Street resident Ken Newman, who has been a contributing photographer to this paper for several years (and I guess I should add the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Sun Times, and a slew of other papers and magazines), is now appearing in a Nike commercial that began airing in October. He also shows up occasionally on reruns of the syndicated TV series Nash Bridges and Midnight Caller.

As if that, his family responsibilities (he and his wife, writer Janis Cooke Newman, have an 8-year-old son), and his trade show/video production business weren't enough for this multi-tasker, he also has landed a leading role in City College's production of The Memoirs of JFK, by Leonard Gross. Along with winning the Ashland New Play Festival Competition in 2000, the play has been workshopped at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, N.Y., and in London, England.

Newman plays Daniel Asher, a ghostwriter helping Kennedy write his memoirs.

"The play speculates about what might have happened had Kennedy not been killed--the Cold War, the war in Vietnam, our economy, and, of course, the personal issues he was facing," says Newman. "It mostly takes place about three years after Kennedy's second term in office. He's writing his memoirs. The publisher, and everyone who's read his draft, say he's not telling the whole story, so they bring in a ghostwriter. He pushes Kennedy to not hide anything. Kennedy's very resistant to that, so there's a lot of confrontation between the two characters.

"The ghostwriter also has to confront some hard truths about his own life and relationships," Newman adds. "It's a great piece of theater, the kind of part that doesn't come along all that often."

Richard Conti co-stars as Kennedy, and Susan Jackson, who also directs, plays the roles of three women: Asher's wife, Asher's graduate school lover, and a Washington columnist.

The show opens Nov. 7 and runs through Nov. 22, at the Diego Rivera Theatre on the City College campus. The final performance of the play coincides with the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and is a benefit for students selected to attend the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Producers plan to then move the show to a downtown San Francisco theater. For more information, call 586-3969.

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We can't wait to see what you send in for our next issue, dear readers. Just about any good news of personal milestones and achievements will do.

So parents, snap a few pictures of your beautiful tykes, and get in touch. Seniors, if you have a wedding anniversary or a big birthday coming up, let us know. Lovebirds, tell us about your wedding or union ceremony plans. And all of you marvelously creative and brainy people young and old, please continue to keep us apprised of your successes.

Contact us by e-mailing Or if it's more convenient, leave a message at 415-821-3324 or write Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.