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Sunday, June 28, 2015

For obvious reasons,  I'm sitting on a powder keg of unspent rage ... .

... and so far it seems harmless enough since it appears to be totally powered by tears, so I burst out in sobs at the slightest provocation, and embarrassment quickly follows.  There are places in my talk that are hard to get through since every time I dip back into the darkness of those years (1942-1945) I become vulnerable and control is difficult to maintain.  But that's part of the cost of indulging Truth, and I've always been willing to pay it.

I suspect that some of it can be attributed to the lingering effects of the concussion, and the dizziness of vertigo that has caused some of my confidence to bleed away from the fear that each step might end up in another fall ... .

The Michael Krasny Forum on NPR has stirred a public response that has increased visitation substantially.  Audiences have doubled and yesterday we had to add a second presentation at three o'clock in order to meet the need.

I've never felt more vulnerable or as filled with rage as I am in this aftermath of the Emmanuel
A.M..E. church killings, or, the re-visiting of the debate over the presence of the Confederate Flag on the grounds of the Capitol.

But my anger was further fueled by the timing of the SCOTUS announcement of the decision regarding same-sex marriage at a time when I was literally sitting at the foot of my bed waiting for the president's eulogy for Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the 8 others slain in that brutal killing in South Carolina.

Why on earth did they not wait until Monday morning -- traditionally when the last and most important decisions are handed down every year?  Why did they not allow us to complete the mourning process before stepping on it?  There was an incongruity in the entire country bursting into revelry just as we were waiting for the funeral services to begin in South Carolina.  I was hopelessly split since my mind and heart were with both events, and the clashing of emotions was exhausting and schizophrenic!

Then something about it began to dawn as vaguely familiar:

Just two years ago SCOTUS had positioned two critical decisions in competition when they decided against DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and the scuttling of the Voters Registration Act which pitted the LGBT and the African American communities in direct competition for national attention.  The danger of widening the gap between two equality-seeking segments of society was evident.

Intentional?  Coincidental?  Strategic?  Meant to sow the seeds of dissension between two "minority" segments of the society in the interest of the continuance of white privilege?  Keeping the fragmentation in place when we're fast-approaching a time in our social development as a nation, when there will no longer be a racial majority?

It's the same strategy that causes even the so-called wisest among us to continue to refer to our demographics using the term "78% minority" to describe the non-white cohort, or, "... 85% women and minority" when that is as meaningless when some of us are both -- female and non-white."  There is no such things as a 78% minority.  That, friends, is the majority.  The stupid distortions by the manipulation of language is meant to express pure nonsense loudly and constantly enough to dull the senses and hopelessly confuse.

This makes about as much sense as having gone to war in 1942 to "save Democracy with a racially-segregated Armed Forces," which is simply delusional.

Maybe the only appropriate response to such nonsense IS unspeakable debilitating rage!

... but that gets us nowhere, right?

... but it beats packing a gun for retribution.

Maybe those kindly Christian believing survivors in Charleston, South Carolina, were right after all in their almost unbelievable forgiveness of the killer ...

... but forgiveness is still beyond my reach.

Back to the tears.





Sunday, June 21, 2015

I really should cut all media until I'm feeling more whole ... .

It occurred to me after listening to the southern defenders of the Right to fly the flag of the Confederacy at the State Capitol that - were I that young man sitting in a cell awaiting the wrath of judgement to come down -- I might be wondering why I'm not being hailed as a hero for saving the nation from the army of the Black America!  He does have his defenders who will declare him mentally ill.   I'm beginning to wonder whether he doesn't represent a growing number of perfectly sane white southerners with lingering smoldering leftover remnants of the Reconstruction period running in their veins.

The rhetoric that includes code language such as, "... we must take back our country ..." coming out of those in Washington's seats of power sends messages that encouraged the tragic scene at Mother Emmanuel.  This has got to refer to the presidency, right?  The hatred of President Obama and the outrage of southern racism is so strong that the "Solid South" is willing to sacrifice everything to prevent what is seen as the rise of black America to full equality.

Yet, there has obviously been a significant change in South Carolina despite all.  Those crowds gathered as mourners have been racially integrated and the obvious warmth of the citizenry holds promise even on that hallowed southern ground.

One would have to be really out of touch to not see the possibility of the obvious, and we've not yet arrived at real democracy -- not yet.

That we're still ready to fight and die for, but are not yet ready to live by its principles. 

I can't recall a time when I've felt greater despair; or as hopeless as I do this day ... . 





I'm not sure that I any longer believe ...

... and as I sit at my computer to try to find words that will help me to understand the merciless slaying  of nine praying people ...  paralysis overcomes my body and my fingers refuse to move ...

My brain goes into dull/normal mode, and -- at some level I know that this has to be -- at least until I can wrap my mind around the horror without bursting into unstoppable hysterical rage.  It will take a few days.  I've stopped watching the news coverage in order to protect myself.

I suppose singing hymns and linking hands serves the same purpose for black congregations in mourning all over the country today, but how long can that be enough? Perhaps my barely-controlled anger serves no good purpose, except maybe to provide a vent in order to preserve what sanity I have left.  Today I'll just try to sleep the pain away.   

It has been several days since the latest chapter in this horrific American nightmare occurred, and -- for the first time -- I'm finding my words scrambled at times when I'm doing my work -- and the tears are so close to the surface that the temptation to just walk away in the middle of a sentence is almost irresistible.  Yesterday's two o'clock presentation was almost impossible to get through ... .

... were it not for the feeling that everyone in that little theater shares the despair and are as close to tears as I am ... but is that enough?  Are there enough of us leaning in the direction of compassion, unity, fairness, equality, to even make a dent in the ignorance and evil that threatens to consume us? 

I'm not sure that the time hasn't come to just admit that we're beyond saving as a nation, and that maybe the madness is overwhelming now, and we're just not redeemable.

Maybe it IS time to hang it up and retire -- leave the mopping up to someone younger whose disillusionment is less profound, and whose hope is still alive.

I'm having a hard time finding mine.

My rage has reawakened, and I simply cannot understand the compassion of those surviving church members who so humbly offered forgiveness to the mindless young murderer ...

... all I can think of are the 4,725 black people who were lynched in this country from the time of the Civil War until 1968.

How on earth is this different ... or is it just another chapter in that ugly unending saga of domestic terrorism?   



Sunday, June 14, 2015

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt - 1941)

I'm not so sure of that.  Not any longer. 

Once the thought entered my mind that my great-grandmother was born in 1846  into a world population that was under two billion -- and that -- only 4 generations later --I'm living in a world of seven and-a-half-billion people, I've not slept well.

Several things came together in the stillness of those sleepless nights that have made me question the place that fear may have been meant to play in the human equation, particularly -- the differences between rational and irrational fear.

One was an incident from a time when I was working as an administrator in a treatment clinic for emotionally disturbed children.  Over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich one warm lunch hour -- seated under a great walnut tree in Prof. Michael Cjaza's back yard I scanned through a case history of a 6 year-old adopted child of caring parents.  He was surely acting-out, often with violence, from some deep-seated trauma.   The symptoms were almost impossible for the family to either understand or to survive.  It was the diagnosis that both surprised and puzzled me, while it presented an intriguing supposition that I'd find myself mulling over many times in later life.

The conclusion drawn by a brilliant young psychologist was that -- after an I.Q. test revealed that this youngster had an intelligence score of over 150, and was being parented by a couple with a combined I.Q. well within the low-normal range.

The result was that this child was living in a world in which -- even at six -- he could out-think those upon whom his life would depend, and that because of this he could not expect the protections that he would need in order to survive.  The professional opinion was that his acting out grew from a general lack of security, and the inability to address it at his early age.  He could not be expected to develop the tools with which to cope until much later in life.  Fascinating?  I've never forgotten his tragic story, and often wondered what happened to him.  Would this lead him toward the life of a sociopath?  This example of rational fear has returned often to cause wonder ... .

His story rose to the surface during the NPR interview last week.   I'm not even certain of the connections, but here it was again. It was when I was asked about my optimism, and my answer reflected recent thoughts about the population explosion and the awesome scientifically-based environmental changes anticipated over the next several decades.  Those world population figures are scary, and embedded in them is my sense that fear should be playing a larger role in our considerations these perilous days, and that if we're not afraid we're not paying attention.

The fact is  that in my thirties I suffered a mental break that may have saved my life.  It was at a time when I was living in a breaking marriage with four children whom I loved dearly topped by one approaching adolescence as a confused gay black male, and a toddler who was clearly mentally-retarded as the result of brain damage suffered at birth.  I was living with all of this without the support of a husband with whom none of this could be discussed -- who was in denial about the gender issues with our eldest, and who also refused to recognize the mental deficits of our youngest child and only girl.   He was struggling to support a family, with the demands of running a small business, and simply not capable of dealing with the problems posed by dealing with such volatile human issues.  He was coping the best he could, I'm sure.  The marriage ended after years of agonizing emotional pain.

All of this was occurring at a time when we were living day-to-day in a hostile suburban environment where racism was a constant element to be dealt with.  My break was an appropriate response to what was going on around me.  Mine were rational fears, and escape into a mental break was probably predictable and the only defense available to me at the time.

Enter, Betty the Artist ... .

But the over-riding factor -- and the one that lay beneath all of the daily problems -- was the fact that I had been slowly coming to the realization that I was living in and attempting to adjust to an irrational world.  Fear became my protector in those awful times, contrarily, in a world where it could not be acknowledged as a legitimate response to the very real dangers that threatened my existence.

Once full recognition of the bizarre reality in which I was living, my therapy was over, and my real life began.  I was not mad, the world was!  The serious business of learning to live with and not deny my "madness" made survival possible, and does to this day.

The ultimate proof of that wild theory is that I was a citizen of a nation which -- under the leadership of that same trusted president -- had the audacity to have waged a war  to save democracy with a segregated Army Forces  which could only be diagnosed as delusional!


Anyone not living in fear at this moment in time may be a threat to humankind's ability to sustain itself -- not only as a nation, but as a species, and to begin to take the necessary steps to halt the planetary deterioration now clearly evident.

Maybe "... the only thing to fear is fear itself" is a truism that no longer serves us well.

For those of us who are fearful for the planet, be assured that such fears are rational.  They need to activate us enough to break out of denial, and begin to put forth the effort needed to save the planet.

Mars is not the answer.  It merely provides a great adventure on the way to Doom.

How I'd love a conversation with astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson before I take leave of this dimension... .

I so love his ability to make space make sense ... .

I wonder about his fears ...?

Dr. Tyson is one of the few intellectual leaders among us for whom I'm certain that Truth is more than merely curiosity satisfied.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Here is the link to the National Public Radio (NPR) Michael Krasny's Forum PodCast ...

http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510075/kqed-s-forum

(I think you need to go to Audio Archives Search to find it.)

I'm not sure how to make it "live" so that you can just click on it, but if you copy and paste it I'm sure it will come up.  Just scroll down to June 10th.

It was an interesting experience which made me more aware that there is a huge difference between doing an interview by telephone, and sitting with a warm and engaged interviewer in a live encounter.  This was a wonderful opportunity to be involved in a conversation about something that means a great deal to me, and speaking face-to-face makes all the difference.

The experience bears some resemblance to the fact that I insist upon the lights in our little theater being at full tilt when I'm speaking.  I hate to be presenting under a spotlight that prevents my ability to see into the faces and the eyes of those with whom I'm speaking.  In one case some time ago, I was serving on a panel at the Berkeley Black Repertory theater where it was impossible to see the audience due to the lighting.  We were sitting under a spot with the audience breathing somewhere in front of us, with the spot preventing them from materializing into human form.

When it was my time to speak, I remember asking that the house lights be turned up and found that it was impossible for some reason.  I found myself doing my few minutes on stage trying to somehow walk out of the spotlight all during my talk, totally frustrated!  I was shading my eyes with my hand, and trying to peer into the void hoping to connect with a face or two ... it was pret-ty awkward, I'll tell you.  The audience must have viewed it as pretty strange.

This interview was so comfortable, despite the obvious signs of technology with its multiple mikes and cords and wires, but the setting was about as non-obtrusive as it was possible to make it.  Mr. Krasny was so warm and welcoming.  The time went by so quickly that -- in the blink of an eye it was all over.

It was even possible to later listen to my raspy voice at home later in the evening, and to lose myself in my own words; a strange experience ... but it happened.

The stories of that era are so engrossing that I, too, am captured by them.

The power in that narrative is so compelling ... .

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Last week's post-concussion interview for ParkLeaders online program ... .

http://parkleaders.com/betty-soskin/

This is the link to a PodCast published yesterday on this National Park Service website.  I'd only been home for two days after a hospital stay for treatment and observation.

For just a few minutes I considered the possibility that this was the beginning of the end of all existence, and that the fear that every elder feels from time to time  -- of losing control of one's mind. But yesterday I listened for gaps, hesitations, slurs, etc., and -- unless I'm missing something -- none surfaced.  That rush you hear is the sound of relief as I exhale with the release of a short-lived panic!

After the opening questions from Jody Maberry, the interviewer, confidence returned and the accident became a non-event in an otherwise italicized life.

I figure we've still got some miles to go before we close shop and move to the next dimension.

It's a good interview, I think.

Wish I'd had that confidence when the young Betty needed it to navigate through the hazards of everyday life on the planet.  But maybe I'm better able to benefit from having it now -- when I have the maturity to value it and the audacity to wield it for those things held dear.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I've wondered just when the public attention would begin to creep into front row center ... 

... and now it has.  Pretending it away has ceased to work, I think, and here it is and I suppose the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge its existence.  And, yes, I know you're there, but how I feel about it is still unclear ... .

I attended an annual event last night that was sponsored by the National Park Conservation Association that was held in their offices in San Francisco.

From the moment I walked in from the elevator, it was clear that something had changed -- and that I'd been preceded by word of mouth.  This was easy to assume since the group had attended one of my talks in our theater about two weeks ago, and I'd received a spontaneous standing ovation the likes of which are rare indeed.  It was heady!  It was also dumbfounding ... and I have no idea what that means even as I type the words.  But the feelings I remember were so mixed; humbling and exhilarating at the same time - inexplicable.  I was so grateful and relieved to see Tom Leatherman suddenly appear at my stage right to stand with me before the group that afternoon.

I knew the magic had happened ... again ... and the feeling of panic plus pleasure that always comes with it were in the moment as well.  Whatever had happened was undeniable, and wondrous!

Maybe the reason I'm so conflicted is due to the fact that I'm being hailed as an exemplary "interpreter" when I've never seen an interpreter at work except the one time when -- prior to my becoming a ranger -- I took the tour of Tao House at the Eugene O'Neill site and experienced a superb presentation by Ranger Joann Jarvis.  That was my only experience.   I've also seen others of our staff do their stories, but only in bits and pieces.

I've seen the noted Yosemite Park ranger, Shelton Johnson, reenacting the Buffalo soldier role, but only on film and never in the flesh.  It's easy to see the power in Shelton's interpretation, but is what's being reacted to the truth-telling that occurs?  If so, then that may be the common denominator between us.  That may be what I need to explore.

It's difficult to feel receptive to such acclaim in a role that I've no way to compare with what might be considered the norm.  Shelton Johnson is surely not the norm, but the exception, and if he draws as much magic from his audiences as I experience from mine ... .

One day I hope to sit down with him ... one day ... .

"You're a natural interpreter," Betty, "there's no reason to question the why of it.  You're the best!"  Those are the encouraging words of our Chief of Interpretation, Kelli English.

... and when I say, "but I'm not certain whether I'm being hailed for what I do or what I am," few seem to understand the statement."  It can't be for what I know because I haven't a clue of what an interpretive ranger is or does; I haven't paid the dues nor completed the education and training essential to produce same, so if I'm confused -- is it not understandable?

What they can't be aware of is that this is precisely what I experienced long ago when I was singing.  I walked away from the acclaim -- not because I feared failure -- but because I feared that it would consume me with a passion that I didn't understand then -- nor do I now.

When I listen to myself on audiotapes done at the time I hear nothing that would be worthy of the breathless silent attention one can almost hear in the background.  The thin reedy young voice is not so arresting, though the original poetry (lyrics) holds up well.

What is different about this?

What is different about now?

... maybe it's that this time I won't run away ... .

that is, if destiny will allow just a little longer ... .


Saturday, May 16, 2015

This should take you to the Weekend Today Show segment that aired this morning on NBC:


http://www.today.com/video/meet-the-nations-oldest-park-ranger-446563907764

Since I'd discontinued cable (again) I couldn't watch it until after the fact, and it was curious to know that it was being telecast everywhere but in my living-room.

It also gave a few moments of watching my mother on the screen  when I knew that was not possible since she passed on in 1995 -- yet here she was.

I don't think that my inner-image of myself has been updated for some years because the woman in that piece looks far more like my mother than the one who inhabits this body these days.

Although that might have been caused by the fact that this week I found myself occupying a hospital bed for a couple of days and nights due to an inexplicable incident involving finishing my work day standing at the teller's window of my bank -- feeling perfectly well -- waiting for the completion of a transaction and waking up some time later in an ambulance en route to John Muir hospital in Walnut Creek!

That was on Tuesday and today is Saturday and in between are some days of uncertainty and lots of unexpected bed rest and a bump with a gash on the right side of the back of my head that sports a few stitches and tenderness to the touch.  Apparently the fall to the stone slab floor caused a concussion that I'm still recovering from, but I'm definitely on the mend at this point, except for the reawakening of vertigo that has lain dormant over many months, but has now returned with a vengeance.  Had forgotten how miserable a state that is with its nausea and dizziness making moving about impossible.  It responds to Meclizine, fortunately, and seems under control at this point, though I won't stray far from home for a few days. 

The diagnosis is that the meds that had been prescribed for me for a "marginally high blood pressure" were ill-advised.  With 36 hour monitoring (every 45 minutes) it was discovered that I apparently had a precipitous drop in blood pressure that had caused the fall.  Medication has been ordered stopped until my primary physician can reassess.  I was also in need of hydration and once a couple of pints were administered intravenously the problem was solved.  I recall grinning to myself as I watched the drip-drip-drip from that plastic bag if things might improve if that were chicken soup or even bourbon, but maybe that was just an indication of my state of mind at the time.

Within a few hours was moved back (by ambulance) to Kaiser Medical Center in Oakland from   John Muir hospital emergency, where a catscan, ekg, blood work, etc., were administered, and my all around good health was confirmed yet again, and the scare was over.

Meanwhile, I'm at home for the next week for a much-needed hiatus except for Tuesday when I'm planning to attend an event that I've been looking forward to that's being sponsored by the National Parks Conservation Association about Pullman porters/Buffalo soldiers/Harriet Tubman.  Can't imagine missing it.

Now I'm about to try my wings for the first time in days -- going on a short trip to the supermarket to pick up the things that I was planning to purchase last Tuesday after the trip to the bank for cash ... .


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