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Sound Bites - Issue #42 - February 2017

On the Cover
Charlotte Chen and the Art of Reinvention

Charlotte Chen Charlotte Chen

Charlotte Chen landscape - back yard of a Pasadena homeCharlotte Chen landscape - back yard of a Pasadena home

Another Charlotte Chen landscapeAnother Charlotte Chen landscape

Charlotte Chen has reinvented herself more times than Madonna.

Consider, for instance, the variety of classes she teaches at SMC Community Ed - Landscape Design & Construction, Drought Tolerant Landscaping, Quick Sketch, Shibori (a Japanese dyeing technique that produces patterns on fabric), Asian Printmaking,  and Drafting. And this is just a partial list of her many interests and talents.

Chen received her bachelor's degree in physical education from Cal State Los Angeles, studied fine arts in the 60s, landscaping at UCLA in the 80s, and architecture at USC in the 90s.

For 30 years, she ran a successful landscape and construction business, specializing in Asian-inspired designs. She worked on hundreds of projects, including designing and installing the landscape in the backyard of the Pasadena home of Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. She also did landscaping for the La Canada home of the late Pierre Koenig, renowned architect and professor at USC's School of Architecture. She's also been featured on HGTV's "Landscaper's Challenge."

Besides running her business, she's done woodblock printing on both paper and fabric. She has sold her wearable fashions throughout the Los Angeles area and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's boutique in New York City.

"Like my personality, my art work is bold and expressive graphically," she said.

Chen was born in Phoenix of a Chinese American mother and a Taiwanese father who had come to Arizona during World War II to train with the British Air Force when he was in the Armed Forces under Chiang Kai-shek. Her family moved to Taiwan briefly when she was six months old, but returned to Phoenix, where she grew up. She moved to Los Angeles after high school in 1965.

Chen has taught for many years at SMC Community Ed and Pasadena City College and is a popular instructor. At Community Ed's recent Open House, a former Shibori student of hers, Claudia Alderete, told her, "You're awesome."

Aside from a busy teaching schedule, she also takes classes. While studying Theatre Arts at SMC, she received an award for designing a 20-foot-by-40-foot backdrop for the play "Elephant's Graveyard."

She has also taken Storyboarding classes and, more recently, she has been working on puppetry projects, and her work was featured in a Los Angeles City-sponsored show called "The Kaidan Project."

"I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and I'm so glad I do because when one thing does not pan out, I can move on to the next," Chen quipped. "My quirky sense of humor comes out in my work. For example, I titled one of my woodblock prints 'Have Heart on Bad Hair Day,' and the name of my textile company is 'Dysfunctional Bamboo.'"

Charlotte Chen will teach Quick Sketch March 4-April 1 and Landscape Design & Construction May 6-13.

What's New
Open House 2017 - Kudos to our Staff & Students!

Alice Meyering

Film and screenwriting instructor Simone Bartesaghi showcases his classes - 2017 Open HouseFilm and screenwriting instructor Simone Bartesaghi showcases his classes

Tarot instructor Davida Rappaport discusses Tarot with an Open House attendeeTarot instructor Davida Rappaport discusses Tarot with an attendee

from the desk of Alice Meyering
Words cannot describe how grateful we are for the incredible turnout, record number of registrations and the warm sense of community that marked our 3rd Annual Open House on Jan. 21. 

This year's Open House was bigger and better than ever - our registration numbers jumped from 81 last year to 128 this year, more than a 50 percent increase.

View more images of our 2017 Open House

We are particularly thankful for the more than dozen instructors who were present at tables to meet and greet students and prospective students and to give information on their classes. The showing of our instructors demonstrated the eclectic variety of courses we offer - from writing to French, from fitness to screenwriting, and from landscape design to Sumi-e painting.

And our instructors hit it out of the park with their presentations that were informative and interesting. Fitness and salsa instructor Jackline Daneshrad had many of our visitors on their feet dancing. Poetry instructor Betzi Richardson brought in former students of hers who performed impromptu poetry readings that demonstrated the literary caliber and fortitude of our students. And instructor Lois Leonhardi gave a great introduction to Ayurveda, one of the world's oldest holistic healing systems. And that was just some of the presentations.

Heartwarming were the conversations we had with several attendees. "I've taken five or six classes already, including Pet CPR, and I'm looking forward to registering for five more classes in the spring," student Claudia Alderete said. Among the courses she planned to take were Notary Public, Real Estate, Vocal Yoga and more day tours, which, she said, are "fantastic."

Student Diana (who asked that her last name not be used) said she has taken all kinds of classes, some for professional reasons and others for personal enrichment. They include French, Sensational Sushi, Brain Health, Property Management, Passport to Retirement, and Embroidery. She was excitedly flipping through our Spring Class Schedule to see what caught her eye for her next classes.

We received so much positive feedback from the public about our classes we know we are on the right track to make this program the best in the area, and we know our community appreciates the care and knowledge our instructors demonstrate every time they walk into the classroom. In turn, we cherish our community for their passion for lifelong learning

As I work with our staff and instructors on special events such as the Open House - and in our day-to-day operations - I am confident we will grow and build this program to serve our community with our very best!

Behind the Scenes:
The Thin Line Between Genius and Madness

Not only a prolific poet and writer, Young also plays and collects guitarsNot only a prolific poet and writer, Young also plays and collects guitars

John YoungJohn Young

John Young with poetry instructor Betzi Richardson (in flowered vest) and classmatesJohn Young with poetry instructor Betzi Richardson (in flowered vest)

"I doubt sometimes whether... a quiet and unagitated life would have suited me, yet I sometimes long for it." - Poet Lord Byron, who was believed to have had bipolar disorder.

The thin line that often separates genius from madness, or bursts of brilliant creativity from severe depression, is an intriguing topic that has generated countless articles, essays and discussions over the years.

And it is a topic that has taken on new meaning to SMC Community Ed student John Young, a prolific writer whose world was turned upside down a year ago when he had a breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Young, who took Betzi Richardson's poetry class last fall, recited two of his poems at last month's Community Ed Open House to high praise from audience members.

"This is the first time we had live poetry reading at our Open House, and John's performance was powerful and yet surprisingly intimate," said Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education. "I think everyone in the audience was touched by the sincerity and the artistic depth of his work."

"Precision" (Dedicated to two of Young's friends who died of heroin overdoses)

Took two Valium
Came to a decision
Very precise
Optimum precision

Took four Valium
Came to a decision 
Very decisive
Maximum precision

Took a shot
Came to a conclusion
We're all lost
Life is a delusion 

Smoked some weed
Had a brief moment 
When everything was cool
I was really stoned, man

I had a sober thought
But it fled quickly
My tongue was tired
My words came thickly

I looked over at you
You were even worse 
The choice was call Uber
Or maybe get a hearse

Yes we made it through that night
And through many after

But the one thing I'll always miss
Is your high pitched 
Nervous laughter 

Young is unusual in that his diagnosis came late in life. He is 57, and most people are diagnosed at a younger age. In fact, his siblings and friends were shocked at the diagnosis and he himself had no idea he was bipolar.

He said over the years he has had manic episodes where he had huge bursts of energy and would get "massive amounts of work done" at his computer-related job.

"But I didn't understand it and I just thought it was my personality," he said. "I was never out of control."

A year ago, however, things did get out of control. Within a month, his 17-year relationship ended, he was feeling intense pressure at work, and two of his close friends died. He started buying things he didn't need, including five iPhones, two massage chairs, a $7,000 bed, computers and a robot. He rescued a dog while living in an apartment that forbade pets. And he stayed up for days with no sleep.

His sister and brother, who live on the east coast, became alarmed at his dramatic behavior shift and came out to L.A. to be with him.

"They saved my life because I would have had a heart attack staying up so many days," Young said.

The day after Super Bowl 2016 he had a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric ward, where he stayed for 16 days. That's when he received the bipolar diagnosis and was put on medications.

Since then, he was forced to go on disability, he's struggling with memory issues, and his medications are constantly being modified.

But he has been a productive writer, has taken stand-up comedy classes, and has even published a volume of poetry, "Hardcore Dance Poems," which is available on Amazon in digital and paperback.

In fact, Young has been a prolific writer since his teens. Born and raised in New York City, he said he wrote hundreds of poems in high school that have since been lost. Interested in film, he completed a director's program at New York University, and 24 years ago moved to L.A. with the intent to be a screenwriter.

Over the years, as he worked in the computer field, he continued to write poems, short stories and screenplays but, he said, "I never broke through."

He decided to take the poetry class at SMC Community Ed because "I didn't know where my poetry stood - no-one had ever seen it."

And he has nothing but praise for the class and instructor Betzi Richardson. "I came away from the class enriched and I learned so much. "No three hours ever went so fast. And the feedback was tremendous."

The admiration is mutual. Said Richardson: "I think John has a tremendous amount of talent, plus a depth of life experience that may prove to make him noteworthy. John has a couple of great strengths as a poet: emotional honesty and vulnerability. As he continues to grow technically, and as he connects more deeply with the larger tradition and community of poetry, he may be able to craft some truly remarkable poems."

Young is eager to talk about his bipolar disorder, particularly because, he said, many people are misdiagnosed while others think the condition is a death sentence.

"If I can help anybody who's suffering from bipolar disorder," he said, "it would be great to know I helped."

Visit our blog, and read more of John's poetry.

Celebrating SMC Extension

Michelle King Michelle King, Director Career & Contract Ed.

Extension catalog cover  Spring 2017

One year ago we launched SMC Extension, which assists individuals with obtaining the skills that are in demand by local industry and employers, and helps those who are seeking entrepreneurial and small business training. An important part of that launch was the creation of an SMC Extension catalog, which helped us more effectively spread the word that we offer professional development and training programs to boost the economy and employment in our community and region.

I'm happy to report that the catalog has indeed proven to be a useful tool in communicating directly with those in the community who are seeking professional development learning opportunities. The Extension catalog is streamlined as it does not include the personal interest classes that are included in the SMC Community Education catalog - instead it is smaller and more concise as it is intended to speak to a specific audience.

Hot off the presses is our Spring 2017 Extension catalog (we do fall and spring issues), 60,000 of which are mailed to Santa Monica addresses and surrounding areas. Copies are also distributed through the SMC Alumni Association and SMC Career Center.

With each issue to date we've been able to expand our offering and have launched at least one new program in each of the Extension catalogs. 

One of the highlights of the Extension catalog is the "Preferred Partner Program," which offers discounts to local organizations that are interested in obtaining a discount for its employees or members by agreeing to partner with the college to promote the Extension courses to its employees/members.

The program offered through SMC Extension allows the SMC Office of Workforce & Economic Development the opportunity to make available short-term, not-for-credit programming to assist individuals with obtaining the skills that are in demand by local industry and employers. The program's goal is to be responsive to the broader community by offering relevant programing. 

Additionally, the Extension programming has created opportunities for SMC to collaborate with local American Job Centers, WorkSource Centers and other community organizations that share in the mission of training individuals for employment and career advancement.  These collaborations serve well to promote operational efficiencies through the leveraging of valuable resources.

You can view and download the Spring 2017 Extension Catalog. Or, if you want a copy mailed to you, please call us at (310) 434-3400 or email us at

Warm regards,

Michelle King
Director of Career & Contract Education