Monday, October 16, 2017

Transitioning again ... ?

Having outlived most of my peers, and living into a period sans models to go by, it can be dizzying.   Feels as though I'm out here in uncharted waters, alone, and without  map or compass ... .

What changes will I be facing when "Sign my name to freedom" is published in February?  How on earth will I blend multiple roles -- that of author of a first book with a dance card fast-filling for book-signings; as the subject of two films, with my current role of "historian without port folio" or degrees, but with a growing following of those hungry for a true accounting of WWII Home Front history?

Photos by Carl Bidleman
Over time, I've grown into that role, and with it, have found fulfillment and honor.

With the film releases sometime next year, audiences will discover another Betty, the artist whose compositions will form the sound track for one of the films.  What effect will that have on these final years?

This week I will be meeting with a great musician/arranger who directs an important youth program locally, a music program that I'll have the chance to introduce my songs to -- and who may, under the directions of the filmmaker and music director --- do the actual arranging and create the accompaniment of said soundtrack.  How exciting is that?

This week I will listen to songs rediscovered and digitized by Bryan Gibel, filmmaker, for the first time in forty years with the music director, as the listening-to is being filmed.  Can hardly imagine how that will go, or what will happen when old Betty is re-introduced to young Betty via audio tapes from 40-50 years ago ... .

Meanwhile, tomorrow I will become the subject of a PodCast created by a Kaiser archivist, a brilliant professional with whom a close professional relationship has developed, an amazing and supportive National Park Service superintendent, and a host of others that have blended lives with one aging woman long after she passed her "sell by" date!

My wish for an ending of life that means simply disappearing into the art of others, may be more real than not.

What a way to go!

But not yet.

There's still work to do.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

It's one of those lazy Sundays, and going out into the smoky air is not recommended for elders ...

...so I'm trapped with memories of the recent past; memories to escape into ...

This beautiful little evening bag bearing a Paris label was an anniversary gift from Uncle Raleigh Koker to his wife, Aunt Emily.  Emily (affectionately known as "Nanny" within the family) was great-grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen's eldest daughter, and the childless daughter whose home had always been welcoming to each Allen son or daughter as they left St. James Parish for school in the City of New Orleans.

Aunt Emily gave the beautiful silk beaded bag to my mother's younger sister, Vivian, at graduation from Xavier. Vivian lived with the Kokers throughout her college years.  Much later, Aunt Vivian passed the little bag along to me as a gift.  I then gifted my eldest granddaughter with it on her eighteenth birthday.

At the national tree-lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C. two years ago, I was clutching it in my left hand while holding the script in my right as I introduced President Barack Obama to the country on national television.  In it was the precious coin bearing the presidential seal that President Obama had slipped into my hand when we were introduced moments before.

My granddaughters, Alyana and Tamaya, who accompanied me on that trip, had decided that it would be an important element to add to this event, and, just before we left our hotel room for the ceremony, Alyana silently slipped it into my hand.  Obviously, they'd gotten the message of the importance of legacy.

The pearls were a gift from my husband, Mel, given on the day of our wedding in 1942.  I'd given them to Alyana when she turned 18 with a letter explaining their history, that in a former life, they'd been loaned to (white) Susan Sanford, the daughter of a friend, and a college student member of SNCC, to wear under her T-shirts as she taught black children in a Freedom School in Canton, Mississippi, in Freedom Summer '94.  This was a simple way for me to have "presence" in that history.  Susan returned the necklace when she returned, and I could imagine that they'd kept her safe through that perilous Civil Rights struggle in which those 3 SNCC members were killed.

The girls brought the little necklace along tucked into their luggage to Washington, and the pearls were inside the little beaded bag in which the presidential coin would be placed.

All of this fell into place seamlessly without prior planning or a warning ...

All that history, all those generations, all that love ... .

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Rose at the ungodly hour of five-thirty this morning ... for the Atlantic interview ... .

Of course it was scheduled for eleven o'clock on the East Coast, but my appearance would be by WebEx online, and I would be sitting before my computer being piped into a meeting room somewhere in New York.  (Will wonders never cease?)

As luck would have it -- due to a glitch -- it all came to naught.  The gremlins (should I update that to trolls?) rose to the occasion, and for reasons unknown, we just didn't ever arrive in that room in any form whatever after a brief non-appearance.  My participation never rose above the level of eavesdropping.

It all began weeks ago when the call came from the magazine inviting me to come to New York to participate in the second annual "New Old Age" conference."  Since this was not NPS-related, I would fly as my private citizen self for a few minutes appearance, then return to work jet-lagged for days.

Jessie Li, the Atlantic's representative and I chose to have me interviewed, instead electronically, which was easier on their budget as well as the old bod.

Yesterday we did a rehearsal, kinda, as their techie, Jessie, and son, Bob, and I did a practice session where Bob experimented with lighting and downloading the program that would enable my participation.  Maybe mastering this program would mean fewer trips in the future, and that could be an advantage

This morning I logged into the meeting successfully (Bob flew off go Seattle for a concert last night).  Magically I found myself in an empty room somewhere in New York, with an occasional passerby crossing in front of the cameras, but little activity otherwise.

I was welcomed and instructed to listen to the audio of the panel that would precede my being patched in, and my interviewer would introduce me promptly at 8:00 a.m. (PDT).  So far so good.

As I listened a strange thing began to happen.  I started to feel more and more irrelevant.  The women in the discussion must have been the ages of my children ( 50s & 60s), and the issues being discussed were things I'd not thought about for decades (to color or not, to be rid of white hair, for one).  As I listened, I became keenly aware of the fact I'm living a life that is so far out of context that the issues being discussed seemed alien.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, as it turned out -- when my introduction was announced, through some failure on either their end or mine -- I was disconnected.  A few minutes later -- after a long silence announced the disconnection -- Jessie Li phoned with an embarrassed apology.

I felt oddly relieved, but also strangely rejected through no fault of my own.

In a way, my "New Old Age," was not represented in this forum.  It really sounded like the same old questions being asked by a new generation, but maybe that impression would have changed had I listened through to Norman Lear, who was the panelist who would bring the conference to a close in the afternoon session. I absolutely adore Norman Lear.

Heard just a bit of chat about the ever-fascinating Helen Mirren from the panelist from Allure magazine, but the audio faded out before completion, and there were only bits and pieces to hear.

Oh well ... .

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Teach-in held some surprises ... 

... not the least of which was that over 60% of the University of San Francisco's student body is made up of women.  The audience for this seventh annual Teach-in on Diversity was largely female, and I sensed an atmospheric difference.  May have been my imagination, but it was clearly evident, at least to me.  Wonder if college campuses across the country now reflect this change?

I'd been invited to participate as a member of this year's panel of amazing young leaders, with me living out of context, again, as "the oldest park ranger in the National Park Service"  I now freely admit that I'm growing tired of that label, largely because it reminds me of those occasions in the Fifties and Sixties when I was introduced in suburbans settings as an African American woman to audiences who might not recognize me as such -- when, then, as now, that may have been the least important fact about me.  But I do admit that it IS a fact.

Isabella Borgeson: National slam poet and spoken word artist, community organizer, teaching artist
Carlos Menchaca: NYC Council District 38 representative and USF alumnus. New York State's first Mexican-American elected official and Brooklyn's first openly gay office holder.
Leroy Moore: Poet, founder of Krip-Hop Nation, co-founder of Sins Invalid, and member of the National Black Disability Coalition
Betty Reid Soskin: The nation's oldest National Park Ranger and long-time activist
What an exciting event this was!  

Isabella is a feisty lovely young Filipina poet with a passionate delivery of the spoken word and an irresistible story to tell.  Would have loved to see her sharing her poetry among other poets in an evening when the context was other than prescribed through sociology, but where art defined the show. She had stashed her papers at the end of the long table we shared, which placed them within reach as she stood at the microphone ... and the urge to rifle through them for more was so tempting, but this was not the time ... .

Carlos is a handsome young Latino elected official, and it was impossible to not view the future with hope after listening to his brief talk.  Will watch his rise, as surely this is a young man with a bright future ahead.

Leroy Moore is an unapologetic disabled writer/poet/activist living on SSI whose stories of worldwide travel seeking greater support and opportunities for others are both touching and profound.  He is speaking for those whose lives have been made the more difficult by physical limitations.  Leroy has suffered from cerebral palsy, but has surely lived a lifetime of purpose and achievement despite all.  It was impossible to not think of my Dorian as he spoke, and of my hope that his voice is helping to give shape to her future.

Moore was seated next to me and whispered that he'd been in my audiences on at least 3 occasions in the past, and I was reminded of how much I've allowed "audiences" to become less than personalized -- and vowed to change that if at all possible.  Maybe that's the price we pay for celebrity. It has been so hard to think of myself as such, but maybe it's inevitable, and there is need in the future to adjust to this new reality.  Maybe in the past he was buried in the audience where I would have not have met him.  Surely he is now among the unforgettable.

What an honor it was to again find myself among young leaders -- and to be accepted without hesitation -- as if age were merely a number ... .    

Monday, September 25, 2017

Being in the connecting-of-the-dots period in life ... .

...brought together people and thoughts that became bookends this weekend:

One late summer evening a disheveled unshaven man appeared at the doorway of our Grizzly Peak home.  Bill was down the hill attending a seminar at Padma Ling where he was doggedly pursuing his studies of Tibetan Bhuddism after seeing patients all day.  The man asked for Bill, and not for Dr. Soskin, so -- despite his appearance -- I assumed he was a friend from the university and feared him not.  Explaining that Bill was "down the hill" and was expected to return within the hour, led him down to the library to wait among the books and returned to whatever I'd been doing before the interruption.

I was later to learn that I'd welcomed Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg, the eminent Harvard social scientist and that he was seeking Bill's counsel at a troubled period in his life.  This would be the first of several extended visits from his campus home in Boston to our guest room in the Berkeley hills, and the beginning of a period of inquiry that has fascinated me throughout life.  It is the Kohlberg theory of the Six Stages of Social Development.  There were memorable conversations over the breakfast table where 3 long time friends, Len Duhl,  Bill's best friend (and the best man at our marriage), psychiatrist and at that time serving as head of UC Berkeley's Department of Public Health, Bill, and the man I would come to know as Larry Kohlberg would stretch my always open and inquiring mind to its limits and beyond.

Why does this come to mind now?

I was reminded by what was happening throughout the country as the result of our president's controversial response to the social protests of athletes, coaches, and owners of football franchises nationwide.

Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
1. Obedience and punishment orientation
(How can I avoid punishment?)
2. Self-interest orientation
(What's in it for me?)
(Paying for a benefit)
Level 2 (Conventional)
3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
(Social norms)
(The good boy/girl attitude)
4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
(Law and order morality)
Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
5. Social contract orientation
6. Universal ethical principles

Number 6 refers to the act of Civil Disobedience, the concept that describes one's willingness to act on principle without reference to existing laws or regulations, but willingly accepting whatever penalties one incurs in the process.

Under Kohlberg's theory, Number 6 is the highest order of social development.

Maybe reading more about Kohlberg's theories -- which were built upon Piaget's earlier work -- might help us to understand what happened over the weekend, and the extent to which the capacity for each side of the debate to hear beyond that of the other may be nearly  impossible.

Funny how such things remain with us over a lifetime, isn't it?  Spent hours last night on the Internet pouring over Larry Kohlberg's teachings and found them still instructive and clarifying.  

Kohlberg's life ended tragically a few years later, but I've never forgotten that initial encounter at a time of self-discovery and change.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

It's official ... Amazon has the book listed ... .

... and I can hardly believe it.  I'm the author of a first book! Still, here's the cover, and the copyeditors at Hay House New York are completing their work, the photos are being selected, the book jacket in the design stage, and a release date of February 6, 2018 is the date.  It is being held for Black History Month.

This will mean, of course, a major course correction in my life -- with some changes under consideration -- after all, gotta stretch these final years in all ways possible.  Feel, sometimes, like it has needed the elasticity of a rubber band to accommodate all that I've been adding-on in this final decade.

Need to be realistic, though, life is now viewed mostly in my rear view mirror, and any sense of future has vanished.  Living with all of the turmoil of a normal life now added to by a strong and urgent  determination to continue my work with the National Park Service while needing to make room for an expanded schedule to accommodate what is now new and untested.

That work will continue to be the anchor around which all else will have to fit.

That little Berkeley store Mel and I started back in June of 1945 -- and that is still standing after all these years under the guidance of our son, David -- will host the launching of my book.  Reid's Records has been limping along for all these years -- mostly on fumes from the pride of ownership and legacy -- in a time when "records" are now back there stored with gas lanterns and the old drip coffee makers, and the awesome power of a behemoth of a mega-company, Amazon, with which to compete.  Impossible?  Nah.  Try tellin' that to David.  Some dreams take more than one generation to crush, even modest ones. For the sake of family, we're thinking of a book signing somewhere in Berkeley or Oakland.  We'll just ignore the existence of Jeff Bezos and his Amazon!  Family comes first.  (Reids Records, 3101 Sacramento Street, Berkeley, CA 94702 - 510.843.7282, email - reidsrecords@yahoo.com.)

We'll  invite Tavis,  of course, because it was he who made this book possible.  It grew out of the PBS interview a year or so ago.

After that we'll fulfill the book-signing schedule that I've agreed to in my contract with the publisher, and let whatever future is left fend for itself!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Open letter to Antifa (antifascist) because I don’t know how else to speak to you ... .

Your hearts are in the right place, folks, but your use of violence is a misguided strategy that begs correction before you do any more harm to the cause of freedom.

Know, first of all, that there is nothing new in these times; those vile chants, hurtful words, shameful taunts being heard from the Far Right are painfully familiar and almost archaic to most of us.  The only thing new is that the whole world is hearing that hurtful and vitriolic rhetoric for the first time — those voices have been amplified by social media and have become embarrassing to most ordinary folks of whatever race or ethnicity, many of whom were born after the dreadful struggles of the last quarter of the 20th century.

We should be grateful that the masks and dreaded hoods are down and the white sheets have been set aside in a new Era, and that those misguided souls are now neatly packaged and properly labeled under Alt-Right, KKK, Neo-Nazis, Militiamen, White Supremicists, etc., and are no longer hidden in plain sight — hidden in the pin-striped 3-piece suit of the local banker, the starched white apron of the admitting nurse, the insurance salesman, my children’s teachers, the local librarian, the Beat Cop, the gas station attendant, that bartender, and the social worker, all silently barring the way into the normal pathways that defined our lives in hostile white communities throughout the country.  They've become brash, audible, and unapologetic.  They are by now often armed and dangerous.  But they've become visible!

Those dissonant voices must not be driven back underground.  We’re all safer for their being out where they can be heard and countered with voices of Truth.

Grant them their Freedom of Speech.  Attend their meetings in peace.  Listen to what may, hopefully, be the last gasps of the Confederacy.  This is our history, and it needs to be processed if we’re to grow past the centuries of shame of it.

Attend, listen until you can no longer do so with dignity — then, and only then, stand, turn your back, and leave quietly.

If you do this successfully, and if my suspicions are right, by the time their program ends the hall will be empty.

It would be so sad if we’ve only replaced those dreadful white hoods and sheets with black masks and hoodies.  What a step backward that would represent!

I’m so aware that I’m now living in the future that I, and countless and nameless others, paid for through unbelievable pain and suffering in the tumultuous Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.  I’m living in that future right this moment, with the full realization that I helped to create it!  My basic human rights have been affirmed and I can now join others in the fight to protect and defend our Freedom of Speech.  That’s progress in the never-ending struggle to form that more perfect Union.

Democracy will always be a work in progress.

We so outnumber the Fascists at this point in history, that their effect upon public opinion has been hopelessly blunted.  We must seize every opportunity to continue the work toward full equality and justice for all.  We can do this, but not with you skulking in the shadows.

We have nothing to hide.

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