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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 ... .


Monday, May 11, 2015

It's becoming routine, now, the public exposure -- the interviews ... and last week was no exception ... 

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/may/08/park-ranger-rosie-the-riveter-san-francisco-us

His name was Will and he was someone from the Guardian requesting a 30-minute conversation for a Travel piece to be published in England.

Two days later the article was sent as an attachment in an email complete with an accurate interview (no misquotes) and photographs taken from the Internet I suppose, since none were requested prior to publication.

I suppose this means that we've gone international, right?  My city of Richmond is experiencing international attention as the result of having been established as the site of the greatest shipbuilding effort in the history of the world, and our park is the focus for the interpretation of that history.  Henry J. Kaiser's four Richmond shipyards with their work force of 98,000 extraordinary ordinary American workers formed a critical part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Great Arsenal of Democracy. 

I suppose that -- as living primary sources -- those of us still living are becoming the link between then and now, and that we've begun to personify an important aspect of the stories at a time when racial politics continue to fuel dissension the world over.   Berlin, Paris, and London among other world centers, continue to experience racial unrest and answers remain tantalizingly and dangerously beyond reach.

Perhaps, because of this nation's youth and volatility, we're being seen as the place on the planet where breakthroughs in human relations are most likely to occur.  Maybe.  I happen to believe that just might be possible.  And I continue to believe that I'm living in the one place on the earth where that possibility might best be witnessed; the Greater San Francisco Bay Area in the State of California.

I continue to believe that it was the seeds of social change sown here during the Home Front period of WWII that gave form and substance to the Civil Rights revolution of the Sixties, and that those influences continue to radiate out from here into the rest of the country and the world to this day.  I suspect that it may well have been those of us whose lives spanned both those eras who shaped what was then the future.

... but then that's the part of the story that is told in my three-times-a-week commentaries in our little theater.

Y'all come.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Something about those stories about the Baltimore mother's being named "Mother of the Year" is worrisome ... .

Originally, my maternal empathy zeroed in on her obvious panic and fear for her teenaged son's safety, but eventually -- upon seeing her talk show interviews -- the original feelings of compassion began to fade and a nagging feeling began to surface that suggested that the real issues were being diverted at a time when the nation can least afford it.  Not now.   We can't afford to be sidetracked at this point.  Next steps will determine whether progress will continue to be made, or whether the regression being experienced in some parts of the country will be  deepened.

Had that young mother not been sitting in her living room watching the chaos on television instead of participating along with her community the outcome might have been quite different.  Had she chosen this as a teaching moment to share with her children by being out there among the protesters, her six kids would have had a model for how one deals peaceably with the infringement of their First Amendment rights, and her son might not have had to pick up that rock at all.  She would have added to the much-needed toolkit they will need in the ongoing struggle that lies ahead for us all.

We might be talking now about the obvious brutality of a predominantly black bullying over-armed police force (who were raised by mothers who loved them enough to beat the hell out of them when she felt it was needed in order to survive) rather than whether or not she had the right to publicly humiliate her teenager by physically attacking him before the world.  She may have done us all a disservice by the displaying of the much-heralded destructive behavior that passes under the guise of "my mother loved me enough to beat the hell out of me when she felt I needed it in order to survive!"   When and how do we ever begin to break the cycle of violence?

This was surely true in the day of Emmitt Till, or even earlier -- at the time that my parents had to relocate our family from New Orleans to Detroit because Dad chose to call a white man by his first name (yes!).  We must not allow the country to regress back to those eras, but we've got to continue building on past gains in the continuing struggle for equality.  Our children are growing up in a far more enlightened country than the one we so recently lived through.  Old ways need to give way to new ways of parenting.  Non-violence is the legacy left to us by Dr. King that must be acknowledged and honored in these times of continuing civil strife.

Maybe it's time we gave up that old school strategy that leads nowhere except to more violence, and begin to teach our kids about how one defends their First Amendment rights by giving them models by how we ourselves live out these years as evolving people in a still-evolving nation.  We need to be out there in the streets as families along with other families of every race and ethnicity in this current revival of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.  One might well wonder if -- confronted by parents and children on those lines -- might this not have a calming effect on law enforcement?

I remember back in the early Seventies the day that I returned home from a day spent at the Oakland Induction Center demonstrations  against the Vietnam War to find that my son, Bob, had cut school to join the protest.  When I asked if this were true (having been notified by the vice principal's office of his high school that he'd been absent) his response was, "I'm 17 years-old facing the probability of being drafted, and there are decisions to be made for which the answers were not in the classroom but on the streets."  Right on!

A lot of our youngsters are facing the same questions now in relation to a broken justice system, and how we, ourselves, respond will guide their actions.  We must not allow their only response to be a rock in a bare fist!

The ball's in our court. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

As it is with news magazine shows, late Friday evening we received word of the postponement of our segment on the Weekend Today Show ... 

... and I experienced feelings of both excitement and relief.  Major news events had crowded out the prepared piece, and it will be shown "sometime in May", according to the producer.  "It's completed, and is great," says she.

After  eight hours of shooting, and the subsequent requests for additional photos and relevant information -- I'd completely lost any sense of what would be shown.

I was beginning to wonder if I'd remembered to comb what hair I have left; whether I'd checked my makeup after a full day (hadn't looked into a mirror since leaving home that morning); and all those things that fill the time after you've spent endless hours being on camera.  There were long stretches when I'd forget the crew was even on site, or that I was wired the whole day as I conducted my bus tour (had I said anything that might later prove embarrassing?).

It would have been great to have risen this blue-skied Sunday morning; viewed the footage along with the nation as it watched; and had it all behind me.  Now the period of nervous anticipation has been lengthened, and the doubts will continue; maybe not.  There's a level of disbelief to it that persists, and I really do forget the continuing public exposure in the course of my work days as things settle into my new normal.

And that includes word from our superintendent announcing that he'd received a request from the Guardian (and I mistakenly associated that with the Bay Guardian - a SF newspaper) from the UK.  They were seeking a 30 minute phone interview to be used in connection with a travel show aired in England.  "We'll send questions by email, and set a time certain if she will accept."  I said yes.

The same day I'd just responded to a request from a State University of New York (a "... small college with a student body of around 2000") for me to deliver the Commencement address at their graduation ceremonies of May 2016.  What an honor!

My response was to live rather immodestly with the sense of importance it afforded me for a few days -- let the warmth of it wash over and stoke my ever-aging ego before sending regrets.  "... While I enjoy excellent health at 93, to accept such a commitment for a full year in the future would be tempting Fate," says she.   (You'll notice how readily I slip into referring to myself in the third person these days).  I no longer plan ahead more than six months, and this proposal more than exceeded those self-imposed limits. 

Meanwhile, someone on the faculty of the University of Oregon has discovered my blog and -- on the strength of that interest -- has invited me to travel to their campus some time this fall or winter semester to present to their classes.  The NPS will grant permission, and plans are being made for me to accept their invitation.  This is a pleasant reminder of my visit to Humboldt State University in Northern California a few years ago, and of how exciting that was, and how it felt to be interacting with students and faculty women who were doing such amazing work in Feminist Studies.  I've accepted and am waiting for next steps.

Who says the Golden Years can't be quite the best ever?

I just have to be careful not to ever buy green bananas ... .

video
My first great grandchild, Patrick Kayden Hebert is now capable of these morning conversations with his Mommy as you can see ... .

... and I'm serving notice on the nation that I'll give y'all about a dozen years to get your act together enough so that these chats don't have to consist of warnings of how to act should he encounter problems with authority, "keep your hands always in sight!" etc.

At this point he's being loved unconditionally, and is interacting with his environment with complete trust.

I'm praying that I and others of like mind have done enough world-changing in our time to give him and others of his generations at least an even shot at success in life.  And, that the necessary social changes keep pace with global warming and rising sea levels that are no longer debatable.  That's a lot to ask, but ask it I shall.  His precious little life may well depend on it.  Today's headlines (Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, etc.) would suggest that we have a long way to go before progress is measurable, but I'm optimistic when looking back at past successes that I've seen over a long lifetime.

Of all of the little boys like Kayden, one or another may have brought into the world some of the answers to the unprecedented problems we'll be facing in the next decade or two.  We know not just who they are, but we cannot afford to not give each the greatest education and opportunity to contribute if we're to save ourselves and our place in the universe.

Wish I could hang around long enough to continue to influence what comes next ...  .

Meanwhile, the work goes on, and the thing that I'm fighting so hard to forget is the fact that at a recent off-site presentation -- during the Q&A following my talk, a suburban woman in her middle years raised her hand to declare proudly before an all-white audience, "... I watched The Help twice, and I even read the book!"

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shienelle Jones of NBC Today Show
Weekend Today Show hits Richmond ...

On Wednesday last, promptly at nine o'clock a 4-person team consisting of producer Caroline Gottlieb and NBC news anchor Shienelle Jones who flew out from NY,  plus a cameraman and audio tech from the local NBC Affiliate in San Francisco arrived at the Visitor Center to spend the day filming my bus tour for airing next Sunday, April 26, sometime between eight and nine o'clock.

It turned out to be a full 8-hour day for what will probably be two minutes of air time, but that's the way of these things.  Before day's end we would film at Lucretia Edwards park as the group boarded the bus for our 2 and-a-half-hour tour; then for a meet-up at the SS Red Oak Victory where we went aboard and -- with a glorious spring day with a cloudless blue sky we walked on the top deck and spoke of the ships history; then I continued the bus tour while the crew headed for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial to cover that moving site; then back to the Visitor Center for viewing of the film and my talk in our little theater.  It would be another adventure to remember. 


Surprise for me was that I had no idea that a Weekend Today Show even existed, or that its news anchor was a lovely young African American journalist, and that it would be she with whom I would interact on camera.

This would be Shienelle's first visit to the West Coast, and from her arrival at the Visitor Center with its sweeping views of the entire San Francisco Bay shoreline; with the grandeur of the Ford Assembly Plant, she was blown away!  From the first moments of the shoot it was clear that this team was totally into their assignment -- and that we would be shown in our best light.

However, had they been present in the hour leading up to this day, it would have been quite a different story:

At about 8:30 -- just a half-hour before I was due to present myself at that Visitor Center to meet with the 22 folks who'd signed up for my bus tour -- I was putting the final touches on my appearance, and, remembering that I needed to apply Polygrip before the lip gloss, and nowhere in sight was my
lower denture!

The next 20 minutes were spent frantically searching my bedroom;  on my hands and knees searching under the beds, stripping the blankets and sheets, the pillow cases, dumping wastebaskets as I tried to recall whether I'd thrown anything out; frantically going through pockets of yesterday's uniform and today's bathrobe, all to no avail!  Suddenly that defensive something that kicks in at such times, that provides the resilience -- and that allows you to view yourself in the third person -- and suddenly I was lying on my back on the bedroom rug giggling hysterically as I thought that I might have to call in to explain that the whole thing had to be shelved because Betty couldn't find her teeth!

In the middle of that spasm of laughter my eye caught something lying just under the edge of the bed near the nightstand where there lay a box that was tilted awkwardly.  It was the Walgreens vanilla caramel package with my lower stuck to the bottom! It had fallen from the nightstand where I'd absently set it while watching the Daily Show the night before.  Phew!  That was close.

With what dignity there was left, I finished dressing and headed for my big shoot.  They'd never know, right?  But it was a reminder that Life has a way of humbling the best of us and that the next time I might not be so lucky.

Yesterday there was a call in my voice mail waiting for a callback from KQED-FM in San Francisco.  I'm being invited to do an interview sometime this upcoming week for their Forum show with Michael Krasney.           


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Because the subject came up during an interview after my talk last week, I find myself thinking about feminism -- and why my coming to terms with it was so late ...

... but with some background, maybe my case can be made.

When the women's movement began to hit like a juggernaut in the suburbs where I was living in the late 60's through the 80's, it tended to skip our address.

My world was peopled by middle class and upper-middle class wives and mothers of absentee upward-mobile husbands, and the air was filled with bitterness and resentment as the controversial book, "Feminine Mistique" hit the market.  At the time my attitude was much as it is when Rosie the Riveter is mentioned in my world of today.  In my life it was simply a non-issue; a white woman's story having little to do with my life.

Truth was that the oppression I experienced was not coming from the men in my life (father, uncles, husband) who were living under the same oppression as were we.  And ours was from the white world; and mostly from white women.   I'd had little occasion to interact with white men.  Neither did my mother nor my aunts since their roles in life, historically, involved working in private homes and being supervised by white women.   Our uncles and fathers were of the service worker generation with few if any positions open to them above that level, so racism was a strong factor in their lives.  Ever since slavery this had been true.  As women we were aware of the degrading hoops our men were forced to jump through in order to support their families.

This being so, the memory of the Sixties civil rights revolution was marked by black women being sensitive to the plight of black men and at that time there was a resistance to stepping up in front of our men or to compete for power in society where we might be called upon for leadership.

I remember that in the late Sixties while attending a national black power conference in Chicago the opportunity to become a part of a national board upon which I would be the only female -- and that I refused to accept the role while feeling that I was more than qualified to do so.  It was the Black Caucus of the Unitarian Universalist Church, an organization that had gathered together about 500 black intellectuals -- mostly humanists -- from throughout the country to struggle for equality within the predominantly white denomination.  I'd gone there with the full support of my local church which funded my participation though I was one of only 3 black members at the time, I believe.  At the time the conflicting goals of racial integration and black power were under intense scrutiny, and I was right in the middle of the debate.

The second year we came together in Cleveland where the Black Caucus was registered at the same Hilton Hotel as the general annual conference of UU's, but we were not meeting with the full body while making our claims for political and denominational power.  We met separately for several days, with our black men negotiating behind closed doors with the general body and bringing back reports of their progress to our caucus.

At the final plenary session our issues had been successfully negotiated, and our caucus was to open to celebration.  Mind you, black caucus women had participated in few if any of the negotiations up to the time, and were busy doing the behind the scenes "grunt" work and planning the caucus celebration in our self-segregated separate-but-equal hotel suites.

The hour came for our victory party.  We found ourselves sitting in small groups chatting nervously whatever nonsense came to mind as the clock ticked mercilessly on as we anxiously waited for male friends, co-conspirators, and husbands to join us.  I remember the heavy unspoken feelings of embarrassment as the ice melted in the punch, the brie began to melt into formless blobs, and the icing on the brownies grew sticky and stale ... .  Unfortunately, our men had opted for the "white" parties in other places in the hotel where the young white women they'd charmed during the week were waiting.

The evening just before leaving the conference I participated in an encounter group session called by the emotionally-bruised women.  There was a highly volatile confrontation with the men.  It was one of the most intensely-charged meetings I've ever experienced.  I cowered in a dark corner next to my friend, the late Henry Hampton (of Blacksides Productions that produced the highly-acclaimed Eyes on the Prize for PBS) who, along with several other men, shared the outrage of the tearful sistahs.  The men were petulant, defensive in the face of the brutal honesty of the women, and on an ego-centric high from their conquests.  Little of value was achieved that fateful night, and it was a prelude to the many break-ups of relationships and marriages over the following decade.

Long into the years after the women's movement was formed, memories of that evening continued to fester.  I was aware that -- as we'd stood aside to make room for our men to gain their rightful leadership roles in the workplace and in society as-a-whole -- it was often white women who unknowingly stepped into the leadership vacumn we'd deliberately left unfilled.

Early in the Movement, as white women began to crash through the glass ceiling, black women were hired to take care of the newly-abandoned households and children in order to enable former housewives to take their places around corporate boardroom tables, so there was a lag between white and black women's ability to access economic and political power.  It was eventually noticed  that black women were slow to enter the Movement and that far fewer were hired into domestic roles, as those roles were gradually and systematically taken over by undocumented immigrant women who were willing to work for less in exchange for the promise of eventual sponsorship by their employers. Despite the fact that this was a different cohort of black women, this meant that the low-skilled jobs previously filled by poorly-educated black women were no longer available with huge economic impacts to their families and communities; effecting all black lives.  Black women, in general, were again pushed to the bottom rung of the economic ladder for reasons beyond their control.

Today, with such a high percentage of black males being caught up in the underground economy fueled by the drug trade and imprisonment (and those not being claimed by Kardashian women), they are far less likely to be candidates for marriage.  Black women have had to achieve financial independence through continuing education and greater job opportunities.  Many have successfully done that, are becoming accomplished in every field, and are single mothers by choice in order to live a more complete life. 

The case for a delayed entry into Feminism may be the main reason that I'm so turned off by the identification of my role in the home front story as a "Rosie the Riveter."  I believe that there is still some residual pain that has persisted into these years, and that continues to prevent a full-fledged alignment with the cause of women's equality though, intellectually, I see the need for achieving those rights in order to have a more fully balanced society.

As long as white women are seen as the generic woman and all the rest of us continue to be seen as "somethin' else", my personal view of that reality will probably remain unresolved.



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