Monday, August 18, 2014

A link to a recent interview with Farai Chideya of Public Radio International: Living History, Exploring Nature

... and by the magic of technology despite the distance between, (Farai in New York and I in Richmond),  it turned out to be a real conversation.  She is a great interviewer, and probably equally as good an editor.  I've listened to Farai on and off for years and have followed her career with great interest, never dreaming that one day I might become a subject of one of her programs.  We've never met, but she plans to visit the Bay Area in October and I'm looking forward to that happening quite soon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Not posting?  Didn't have the heart to in light of Ferguson ...

... another unarmed black youngster senselessly cut down, and just as he is about to begin life.

Today I met with a filmmaker at Lucretia Edwards little shoreline park to do a 45-minute interview that may (or may not) be edited into a full length documentary he is creating about Rosie the  Riveter -- for whom our park is named.

It seems that he had completed most of his work of a couple of years, but began to feel some discomfort -- having taken one of my bus tours in the recent past, and learned some alternative views on the conventional stories that ordinarily spill forth when Rosie is being researched.

I don't think that he was aware of what he was looking for today.  He'd driven up from Los Angeles -- calling ahead for an appointment -- but he came unscripted, I suppose hoping I would provide a lead so that some new angle might surface ... .

His first question had to do with the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, and just how did I feel about it?  It appeared to me to reveal a certain level of insensitivity, and I found myself going off on a tangent ... reluctant to share the pain of reopened wounds until I'd had a chance to worry myself through still another such tragedy.   This latest is only a few days old, and still raw; unprocessed. Having raised 3 sons in the previously all-white suburbs (prior to our arrival) with fear and trepidation over many years, the thing that comes up for me now are the lyrics of one of the earliest songs I ever wrote on the occasion of one of those sons, as a very small boy, being stoned as he rode home on his bike from Slo Sam's grocery store that lay at the crossroads of Saranap, the unincorporated rural area where we lived.  It happened not 500 feet from our home.  I kissed his forehead, wiped away his tears of small-boy outrage (tilting his face downward to avoid the unanswerable why in his eyes), and sent him off to some distraction before breaking into tears of utter helplessness that blurred with my cup of lukewarm tea:

Where is my brown-skinned heart to hurry?
Where will I find my song?
Why must my mind be just for worry:
To whom does my dream belong?

What are my hands to hold this morning?
Where is my place in the sun?
With what shall I fill these days of yearning?
Whose will shall be done?

The fruit of my labor will tumble in soon
in search of my love and my lead.
Gave all I had when they left this morning ...
Do they not know that little souls bleed?

Where is my brown-skinned heart to hurry?
To whom does my dream belong?
Why must my mind be just for worry?
Who will hear my song?
That song comes to the front of my mind each time another young black man is lost to the ignorance of the Times.  It's curious to note that -- what is expressed holds less bitterness than one might expect, but continuing sadness and that profound sense of helplessness.  I suspect that at some point and in some cases this is transformed into the rage that we're witnessing on the streets of Ferguson tonight.  Maybe, when enough of us reach that level of outrage across all of the lines of separation, change may begin to occur -- but at what cost?

...  and how long must we wait?

I came home to an email from PRI commentator, Farai Chideya, announcing that the interview that we did together some months ago was now up on the website.  I listened with an intensity borne of today's interview with filmmaker Ken Stewart -- and -- for just a moment there, wondered how I will feel tomorrow giving my hopeful message from the front of our little theater?

I loved her piece, and found myself lifted by being reminded of that evening in 1965 at Grace Cathedral listening to Duke Ellington's magnificent jazz mass and Come Sunday and closing my eyes and
imagining Bunny Briggs dancing across the nave like a  delicate black butterfly -- in that great marble edifice with its stately columns upthrusted to the heavens --  and was able to still the trauma for at least another day ...

... and remember, this was 1965 just months after Freedom Summer of '64, and in the throes of the Civil Rights revolution of the Sixties.  This memorable concert was central to the healing, and gave hope to the struggles that lay ahead -- and into the unknown Now.

"Lord, dear lord above, God Almighty, God of Love -- 
please look down and see my people through"
                                                (words from Come Sunday.")

The hopelessness lies dormant, again, at least 'til tomorrow ...

... wondering just how many more of our children must die violently at the hands of the ignorant before ....

Just don't know ... . 

Duke Ellington from A Concert of SACRED MUSIC at Graece Cathedral (1965) 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Learned through an email exchange that plans for my proposed trip to the Tuskegee Airmen's site in Alabama is proceeding on schedule ... .

... and that I'll be flying out on Sunday, August 24th to arrive a full day ahead of my presentation for Women's Equality Day.  The trip will also include visits to Selma and the King Center in Atlanta before returning to the Bay Area.   Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate such an adventure!

Ironically, a week or so ago an invitation arrived from noted author and environmentalist, Audrey Peterman, announcing that along with a stellar list of outdoorsmen and women of color, I was being invited to attend an event on August 25th at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to which the "Prince of Rangers," Yosemite's Shelton Johnson, and I would be honored guests.  To have my name linked with Shelton's -- in the same sentence -- is beyond imagination. Would you believe that the two events were only 15 hours apart and that there was no way for me to do both?  Frustration of frustrations!

For months now I've been silently carrying around just a smidgen of resentment since the 5 "Rosies" from our park visited my president in the White House and I was not included in their grand week-long adventure of being celebrated throughout the Capitol.  Okay, so I wouldn't have gone anyway (I really don't identify as a "Rosie), but to not have been asked is still irksome -- though no longer actively so.  I only seem to parade it out when I need a reason to deal with inexplicable ill feelings that need something to piggyback on.

... but before this administration's term of office ends, it would be such a thrill ... .

Maybe there will be another opportunity at some point -- before I hang up my flat hat for the last time  ...

Let us pray ... . 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

After several weeks of continuing public exposure ...

... after all, I'm been under scrutiny since late October at the time of the government Shut Down -- and after 10 months -- it continues still.  I finally was able to find a few days off to escape to scenic and serenely quiet Mendocino.  I'd forgotten how much that two-and-a-half hour's drive to the northern seashore is rejuvenating.  So beautiful!   Why on earth I don't do this more frequently is a mystery.

Over past days Lu, my colleague, and I paired in a StoryCorp 40-minute interview for the National Archives; I'd done a 30-minute phone interview for Geico Corporation out of Toronto (and, no, I'm not replacing the gecco); and a few days ago completed another for VIA, the magazine produced by California AAA to be published as a Q&A in the November/December issue.

I'm guessing that -- with so many Boomers approaching their golden years -- there is a growing demand for stories on those of us who've survived into our eighties and nineties.  Maybe we're becoming the lodestars -- guides into the future for those who will soon replace us on the planet.

I arrived in Mendocino on the first day of the annual writers conference which brings together writers, agents, poets, etc., from throughout the country for a 3-day gathering.  The last thing I expected to do was to attend a public event of any sort, but since this one means a great deal to my friend, Tom, it was easy to simply say "yes," get into the one change of dress I'd brought along, and into his tiny but strangely elegant red Duchevot (sp?) for the short trip to a lovely private home where the opening reception was being held.  There we met friends, writer Norma Watkins and her husband the noted artist woodworker, Les.   We missed a new exhibit of his work only by days.  I'm in the middle of reading Norma's memoir, The Last Resort, and only regret that the audio book has not yet been published.  I have to imagine the sound of the words in sweet Mississippi-talk -- and that's a pity.   

The re-discovery that changing worlds can be surprisingly restful was a revelation.  Here I had no responsibilities, and could just coast and soar for a few hours out of context and into one where no one expected or wanted anything of me.  Being a mere observer was an almost forgotten pleasure.

"The Timbers"
On the short drive home to the Timbers, I was aware that here in this place the fog presents the world in single dramatic snapshots instead of panoramic view -- and was far more manageable than the world I'd left only hours before in my escape from the busy urban center where my life is being lived so publicly these days ... .

The lull lasted only two nights and I was back driving through magnificent redwood forests from Fort Bragg through to Willits and Highway 101 heading south for home early on Friday morning, and reporting to the Visitor Education Center on Saturday morning for a theater presentation before 35 eager freshmen from Mills College in Oakland at eleven o'clock.

... and it may not surprise you one whit to learn that this was precisely the place I needed and intended to be on a windy noisy urban shoreline in the thick of life once more!

Friday, July 04, 2014

Photo by Shirley Butt
Independence Day celebration at the Craneway Pavilion ... 

I love this priceless image of my Dorian's face as she listens to the themes from House of Cards by Oakland composer, James Beale, as played by Conductor Michael Morgan and the Oakland Symphony.   We were there with over 4000 members of the community last night for the 7th annual celebration of July 4th.

Sousa's grand marches were played as the ".. bombs burst-ed in air."  But the traditional 4000-voice family rendition of the music from the Sound of Music was the high point, and Dorian knew every word of the score despite a struggle with some of the notes -- but her enthusiasm made up for the dissonance.  She was loudly out of tune at times, but who cared?  No one, apparently.

... and what an exciting fireworks display there was at the end of the evening to the delight of the many children in the audience!

This is the face of my child-woman enraptured with music which needs no intellectual support but goes straight through the emotions -- to the heart.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Depression was, fortunately, merely a temporary state of affairs ... .

... and after two days of recovery, I'm back in the saddle and 'rarin' to go.

Small wonder that neither of my husbands were ever able to figure out the rhythm of my life -- and I'm sure that my co-workers are as much at sea as they were.

Oh, the anger is still bubblin' under the surface, but it can no longer sneak up on me with such explosive force, and I'm again "in charge."

That I may need to take some time off is obvious, and I plan to factor that in within the next few weeks.  I'd set a pace that was unsustainable, and every cell was/is vibrating!  Memories of Freedom Summer '64 could not have brought me to such a dramatic halt -- as if hitting the proverbial wall -- had I not been running on empty for weeks.  Lesson learned.

I did make a call to my old boss, Attorney Don Jelinek (now retired), then emailed an order in to Amazon for a copy of his book, Attica Justice, for reading on my vacation (one that I'll arrange just as soon as my calendar clears enough to chose some dates).

Need to look up our mutual friend, Dr. Hardy Frye.  I now recall that the last time we met was at the graduation ceremony for black students at the University a few years ago.  As I remember, he was having some health issues ... . why do we allow such friends to drift out of our lives?  It was at that time that I was honored by the graduating class with the Fanny Lou Hamer Award, and Hardy had served on the selection committee, and was in the procession walking beside me soberly 
black-robed and somber as his role demanded.  To be honored by a graduation class of students who were total strangers was one thing -- impressive enough -- but to know that Hardy, a SNCC veteran of Freedom Summer '64, had participated in the class's choice ... was almost overwhelming.

All of that figured in to my temporary meltdown, of course, with that award and the experience of the graduation remembered against the images of Ms. Hamer's heroic plea for the seating of her delegation -- all played into the drama being relived over the past weekend.

Small wonder things would all come crashing down!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Maybe it's time to remind myself of one of the songs I wrote during that period ...

Fanny Lou Hamer at the Democratic Convention
It was in the creation and performing of those original songs that became my way of processing and making sense of the terrifying history that we were living through at that time.  And, no, I didn't publish anything that I wrote; but all of those songs are still alive and ready to be called up at a moment's notice.   The voice?  Not so much. The intensity of that process remains as if lived only yesterday.

The song was based on letters 18 year-old college student Susan Sanford wrote home to her family, and that were shared with me occasionally.

She'd traveled to the deep South from her comfortable suburban home in California to participate in Freedom Summer by attempting to register voters and to teach in a Freedom School in Canton, Mississippi.  She was living with one of the host black families who'd risked life and limb to enable change to occur.   Being reminded of Susan and the fact that she was wearing my pearls under her tee shirts allowed me to feel a part of that change; at times it simply increased my sense of helplessness:

Song (written in the voice of the woman who shared her home with SNCC students):

Monday mornin'  ... streets are bare ...
seems as how dey don' want me nowhere
since ah went to the Courthouse and sign mah name to freedom.
                    daughta say, "mustn't run ...
                     sound the trumpets .. the Kingdom's come!
                     Mamma go to the Courthouse
                     'n sign yo name for Freedom".
Fields afire -- cotton flamin' 'neath the summa skies
Shrouds 'o White ...  no name namin'.
Dey don' know 'dis dream cain't die

Churches burned -- deacon dead
still ah know it's like daughta said
ain't no turnin' back now --
Got to sign mah name to freedom.

second bridge:

Young folks heah a'roun' mah table talkin' through the night
faces heah ah cain't label -- brown ones blendin' wid da white ...

Sunday mornin' ... church ain't there
bombed it Wednesday but ah cain't care
God was down at the Courthouse day ah sign mah name to freedom
Ma Lawd was down at the Courthouse -- day ah sign mah name.

Note:  During that period 37 black churches in Mississippi were destroyed by fire.  

Yesterday -- for the first time I fell into tears before an audience ...  

... it was devastating!

The evening before I'd crawled into bed early to watch the PBS Special that had aired earlier in the week, "Freedom Summer 1964."  I'd waited until then since I knew it would be archived on the website and available through streaming.  I'd felt no urgent need to view it before then since I knew that history so well that it would be simply a review of the past and little else; or so I thought.

At the end of the hour I was bunched up in a foetal position under the blankets sobbing until there was nothing left to feel.  Over the years I'd screened out so much -- I suppose for the protection of my own psyche.   The rage that I'd been touting in my talks -- that which I'd "outlived without losing my passion" had only been suppressed, and burst through the walls of protection so carefully built over those decades, until I'd convinced myself that the storm was over.  Not so.  The explosion of re-awakened feelings of utter fury and fear left me limp and unable to sleep until nearly dawn.

Those powerful feelings had enabled me to come through the Sixties civil rights revolution relatively unscathed -- though I did suffer a mental break at one point .  It now exploded back to life again.  I'd clearly forgotten the duplicitous role played by Lyndon Johnson in the attempted seating of the Mississippi Freedom Party; the sheer eloquence of Fanny Lou Hamer -- and all I'd remembered until watching the footage was that Johnson had ushered in the Voters Registration legislation and the War on Poverty, and all else was forgiven.

Yesterday I was scheduled to give my two o'clock ranger presentation twice, once at eleven o'clock for Rosie Daughters, an organization from the Women's Center in San Francisco, and then again for my usual two o'clock ranger talk.  I got through the first without incident, before an appreciative audience of mostly women who brought with them an openness that was almost palpable.  When those audiences turn up -- the talk-- though repetitive -- becomes a "first time" experience for me  as well as for those before me.  It's a strange thing.

When my two o'clock program rolled around I walked down the stairs to the little theater fully prepared to give my all and with positive feelings that gave no warning of what was to come.

It may have been because it was later in the day and -- under the surface fatigue was setting in -- but for whatever reason, when I began to utter those familiar words, "over the past decade, I've found that I've outlived my rage without losing my passion", I fell apart.  I've said those words many times before, since they're an essential part of my truth.  But at that point the anger and pain of the night before rose to the surface and I began to feel my throat tighten as if to shut off air to my lungs -- and the tears brimmed!  That had never happened to me.  I wanted to run out of the theater!  I'd been hurtled back through time and it was 1964 again, and the pain and feelings of helplessness were overwhelming.  All I could do was abruptly walk to the side wall of the theater with an apology to my audience, quickly try to control my emotions by clinging to the handrail, then return to conclude my talk.  This time it was with the admission that those words were no longer true for me, and that my anger had merely been smothered into submission in order for life to go on at a time when insanity reigned.

Within about 30 minutes of returning upstairs to the galleries -- the tension that had been building under the surface all morning had subsided and I was back in my body.

If you haven't yet viewed this PBS American Experience  on this, the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer 1964, you really must.

Meanwhile, I'll either plan to take a break from work soon -- maybe a week or two -- just to reduce the possibility of a complete cave-in.  Though I suspect that something fundamental has occurred, and that some lesson that is still unexpressed will surface within a day or so; maybe sooner.  But I'm aware of the depth of rage that still lingers, and of the cost of continuing to suppress it.  Somehow I'm aware that it has enabled me to continue the work; to deliver the message to others who might carry it on; but I don't think that I've appreciated what it was costing to my own well-being.

Note:  the caption on the photo above should read, "... we were all in this auditorium when we were told that 3 students were missing.  We all boarded the bus and headed for Mississippi anyway."  These are the words of Alabama-born Hardy Frye, who would come to U.C. Berkeley to complete his doctorate and become a professor of Black Studies.  This, while serving as Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport's Chief of Staff through two terms of office.
I was the Aide to City Councilman Don Jelinek at that time.  Don had been a successful Wall Street corporate attorney -- clearly on the track for a partnership in his Law firm -- who went to do volunteer work in Mississippi for the ACLU for 3 weeks in 1965, and stayed for 3 years defending SNCC workers and blacks needing help.  He was a part of Dr. King's legal team until the assassination at which time he came to Berkeley to practice family law and was elected to serve on Berkeley's City Council.  Hardy, Don,  Nancy Skinner,  and I, (among others) were together on the fifth floor of City Hall for several years.  Don would later return to New York with noted attorney, William Kuntsler to successfully defend the Attica prison rioters (his book, Attica Justice, is available on Amazon).  In 1969, for a period of 6 months he lived with the Native Americans who occupied Alcatraz in an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim the island from the federal government.

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