Sunday, August 28, 2016

So much has happened -- with so much waiting in the wings ... .

But at the top of the list is a very surprising email message received a few days ago from a publishing house in Chicago, the head of which -- in a few sentences -- informed me that he'd been looking for me for a very long long time, and he then shared a few words from a song I'd written and performed many years ago -- maybe 50?

At first I thought there must be some mistake, and responded with my doubts, yet, the song was clearly one I'd written long ago ... .

It was quite lovely.  Wind Song was written during one of our annual trips to Asilomar for Stebbins Institute of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  The kids and I looked forward to sharing that mid-August week with other UU families each year, building friendships that have lasted our entire lives.

Wind Song came out of that rich yet personally painful period, but had been buried deep in the suburbs as our lives moved us in and out of one marriage and into another; the kids grew into their own lives; and I gave up my secret life of singer/composer of art songs in favor of a multitude of new edges to live out of into the next decades.  I'd truly moved past young Betty and deeper into the political activist/merchant/ranger Betty of today over those many years.

Shipley is seeking to include it in a compilation album along with other as-yet undiscovered artists of the 50s, 60s. and 70s.  How he ever found this obscure recording so many miles from its place of origin is a mystery I'll never understand.  About 3 years ago, another collector contacted me to announce that he'd turned up another of my songs ... once "out there," art seems to never die, I guess.  I marveled at the miracle and allowed the interest to return to the past without revelation.

You can imagine how Ken Shipley's message would reawaken those long-forgotten embers by breathing oxygen over them at a time when -- only last week I'd given a disk on which 7 original songs were etched -- for consideration for including in a documentary about our family; a work now in production.  After more years than I can count, here was my music stubbornly coming to life again in unpredictable ways, and having to be dealt with. This time I would pay attention.  This time there was a context in which it might live again.

Shipley included in his email the link to the little song.  Someone had taken a recording of my quite lovely little voice singing to my own barely adequate guitar accompaniment -- added a bass and flute -- and, Voila!, young Betty sounds quite professional, and with all those intervening years now past, I can now listen to her without ego or passing judgment, as if in the third person, and find myself responding to her as "audience."  Amazing!

Can you imagine having your younger self emerging into a suddenly-exploding life of "the nation's oldest park ranger," at a time when your older self is being caught in a flurry of floodlights and peering into camera lenses and speaking into microphones, giving interviews to Der Spiegel, the BBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, etc., none of whom has ever heard of young Betty the singer/composer!  She snuck up on all of us, and I'm not certain what to do with her at this point.

I will be leaving in 3 weeks for Washington, D.C., to serve on a panel before the Congressional Black Caucus Conference,  then to New York mid-week for another commitment, and then back to Washington for the grand opening of the new African American Museum on the Capitol Mall.

Surviving a home intrusion burglary may have been easy compared to trying to juggle September on the East Coast where my 95th birthday will be spent along with everything else, and now young Betty turns up at this late date -- opening yet another door into a fast-fading and very fragile future ... .

Sunday, August 14, 2016

It has been a very long time since I've posted ... and so much has happened ... .

I DO blame Facebook mainly for sapping most of the energy that once went into blogging.  That program tends to drain off the immediacy that once went into the processing of "...life as it unfolded," (I remember writing those words once to explain some other temporary issue), by having created a world of "friends" who now inhabit my world -- but not really -- and who tap into my reality in sometimes disconcerting ways.  There's something faux about it in that the word friend has been redefined into something that defies reality -- but that has loomed in the background of my life in ways that seem actual but are not.  Except that in a real emergency situation those friends who were virtual became quite real at a time when my life appeared threatened.

It was the early morning of July 1st (my late mother's birthday) when I woke at one-thirty to an intruder standing within six feet of my bed.  I live in a second floor apartment.  He'd climbed up using the drain pipe -- climbed over the railing, broke the lock on my sliding balcony doors and entered surreptitiously in the night.

He was a slightly-built white man wearing a hoodie and (I suspect) lightweight pajamas.  I knew that he was a white man because he spoke while trying to get me to stop screaming.  I would have recognized a black male voice.  He was probably 5'7-5'9.

I rose from my bed with my cellphone in hand (I'd placed it next to my bed) but had no time to summon the police before it was wrested from  my hand in a struggle that took us from the bedroom into the hallway with his arms pinning mine down and his hand over my mouth to silence my screams.

Had either of us been armed, my gun would have been taken from me in those same few seconds that my cellphone was knocked out of my hand and slung across the room.  I might well have not survived.

Gift on my return to work
He straddled my body as we struggled on the floor of the hallway and he beat me about the head and face with his fists leaving bruises and a split lip that would last for days.  As we struggled on the floor with me screaming as loudly as I could to no response (I didn't know that the two apartments downstairs were empty and there was no one to hear), but a sudden memory of defense strategies gave me the chance to reach into his loose-fitting (pajama pants?) garb and squeeze his genitals as hard as I could which caused him to back off allowing me to escape to the nearby bathroom where I immediately sat upon the floor with my feet propped against the door and my back against the cabinet housing the sink.  I remembered that my electric iron was stored under the sink -- let my feet loose for the few seconds it took to plug it into a wall outlet beside the sink and turned the dial to linen -- the hottest temperature -- and sat while it quickly gained heat enough to brand the culprit for the police to find him once caugh!

I have no idea where that power springs from under  such circumstances, but I do know that as I sat down on that floor I was suddenly as calm as a cucumber, and knew that I was going to survive this, that I was surely not a victim.  Though I'd never had to know this before now, I had the distinct realization that I could take care of myself, and that this intruder was not going to be allowed to change my life, nor to make me fear.  I suspected that his beating me was for the purpose of silencing me.  That he had no intention of killing me, or seriously harming me, that I was interfering with his intent to steal items that he could sell and that -- had I stopped screaming, or, if I'd pretended sleep and allowed him to do his work I might well have escaped personal harm.

I was told that this is a "victim's" way of blaming oneself, and not a healthy attitude, but I suspect that I'm right.

As I sat in that bathroom listening for signs of activity (at least 30 minutes), he was busy going through my apartment picking up items (my computer, my IPhone, a lovely hand painted bamboo fan and teak box beautifully adorned with abalone shells sent by as gifts by the South Korean National Park Service for an aricle I'd written for their journal; and the presidential coin presented to me by President Barack Obama at the national tree-lighting ceremony last December.  That, along with other challenge coins collected over time and together in a small wine-colored velvet drawstring bag that lay on the table in my living room along with other personal treasures.

Of the items, it was that presidential coin that I treasured most and felt most the loss of.

The physical bruises were not serious enough to require a physician's attention, though the fire and police departments were well represented in my living room within a few minutes after my neighbors placed the call.

They were outraged!  My community was outraged!  I think that I just felt lucky to have survived the encounter.

I was distraught, but held together until late the next morning when -- after a sleepless night -- I fell totally apart ... .

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finding the need to pull back a few paces -- to try to absorb all that has happened ... .

Am back at work, having checked in on Tuesday where a box from South Korea was waiting.  Staff had been impatiently waiting for me to return so that the contents  could be revealed.

Ranger Elizabeth Tucker insisted upon doing the honors and  quickly gathered up her scissors to snip through the wrappings.  Apparently protocol has been instituted by Homeland Security so that there is a designated "unwrapper" to do this, and Elizabeth was mine.

Mothering with Dorian and Bob at the beach at Asilomar
As she made her way through the artfully wrapped gifts; a lovely fan, a toy bear wearing a park ranger hat with Korean characters across the crown; a beautiful black teak box inlaid with abalone shells in the cover; plus 2 copies of the South Korean National Park Service journal in which two pages that hold a paragraph authored by me that was (apparently) created from one of those many phone interviews I've granted lately.  There is a small photo of a uniformed Betty in the lower left hand corner, and the words are printed in both Korean and English -- on facing pages.  What an honor!  The thought that this is being read in a faraway land by total strangers is inconceivable -- but obviously true.  I'm now international!

Wednesday I worked from home, catching up with mail and trying to establish whatever new normal we're entering into ...

Went back into my family photo album for some grounding, and found this ... taken on the beach at Asilomar, California, on the Monterey Peninsula, where the kids and I spent the third week in August of every year for many years ... as we participated in Stebbins Institute with other Unitarian Universalist families who became lifelong friends.

Let myself return to that idyllic place for just a few moments before getting into the rest of my week at the Visitor Center and the growing audiences ... and back to this unlikely late-in-life career with its growing public attention ... wish it had come earlier in the life cycle, at a time when I was still building a resum√© and could benefit by it.  In my mid-nineties, it all seems inappropriate in a way, and rather out of place -- as an afterthought in a pretty ordinary existence 'til now.

This week there's another film crew (Scripps) coming to document my talk, and another (Nowness from New York) the week after.

I may find myself paging my way through my family album more frequently now, in order to try to find ways to avoid getting lost in a world of other's making ...

Maybe I'm needing to get back to making music ... .

Monday, June 13, 2016

June 9th -- a day to be remembered ... .

Bob and I arrived in early evening at our hotel, the Loew's, on Poydras near Canal Street and about ten blocks from the National WWII Museum where we were to have a family gathering the next day.

Found we were to be guests on the 21st (top) floor of our hotel, where our hotel bathroom may well have been equal in size to my condo's second bedroom (where I've located my desk, computer, and all of the overflow of life with a month's worth of accumulated junk mail that I never have the time to go through -- and which is beginning to threaten my ability to reach the closet where an accumulation of all that stuff I need to go through one more time before calling Good Will ... you know how that goes, right?

At any rate, promptly at 5 our limo arrived to deliver us to a family gathering arranged for by cousin Paul Charbonnet and Ellen Buckley of the WWII Museum staff.  They'd put out finger foods and wine and soft drinks in a room reserved just for our family.

Among the guests were cousins we'd never met from both sides of the Charbonnet clan, both white and black, plus (surprise!) Times Picayune journalist John Pope who'd written the feature article announcing our visit to New Orleans, and about the award I was being presented with at the Gala.  He blended in with the rest of family, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the party, staying through to the end.

The Museum photographer was there to cover the event, but I've not yet received his photos but will post them when possible.  Our film team also was at work, too, and there should be some good footage to be shared.

There was Pierre Charbonnet (from our side), a former police officer now retired, and two of his sisters, one being Municipal Judge Desireé M. Charbonnet, a lovely woman with whom I immediately felt kinship.

But it was (white) cousin and dear friend Paul Charbonnet who was the hit of the evening, and who established an instant connection with younger Pierre (from our side), and they will probably continue in relationship into the future.  Pierre learned (from Paul) the secret that his father and grandfather would never reveal to the family -- the identity and origin of the family -- a white man.  It was at this informal gathering that Pierre would learn from Paul that our ancestor in common, Amable Charbonnet, was their ancestor in common, and that we would visit that grave, together, the very next day.  You can imagine the emotions alive in that room ... .  You could almost hear and feel the chains dropping away and new connections based upon family ties being forged.

The reuniting after generations of separation was not by any means universal.  There are holdouts on both sides, I'm sure.  Some expression of the reluctance was expressed, but without overt animus, at least not where I could hear or feel it.  I'm sure that Paul experienced some resentment on the part of members of his family, but his sister, Helen, appeared at the next morning's visit to the cemetery.  She was gracious, and welcoming and seemed thoroughly at ease.

The walls of centuries of separation finally begin to fall as the descendants of those two Charbonnet brothers from Thiers, France, Jean Baptiste  (Paul's line) and Antoine Charbonnet, (our's) come together in harmony.  It is from Amable, a grandson of Antoine's that our line was formed.  The two brothers arrived in the Americas before the Revolutionary War of 1776, and the Louisiana Purchase of 1806.  Our ancestors helped to found this city that was already established in the time of the Haitian Rebellion and the War of 1812, and before the United States was a country.  Our ancestor, Antoine, went on to settle in Haiti while Jean remained in Natchitoces, Louisiana.

The story is totally fascinating, and should become a book at some point, maybe authored by Isabel Allende.  Wish there were enough days left on my Calendar of Life to do it myself, but, alas, time is running out ... .

My brain can hardly take in the implications of what we were experiencing in those moments ...  but this day would pale when compared to June 10th -- the unforgettable day to come!

More tomorrow.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Unforgettable ...

The Telluride MountainFilms Symposium on Friday morning opened with the National Anthem being sung by lovely 12 year-old Tonisha Draper in her Navajo language.  In a crystal clear young voice the strange-sounding lyrics with off-beat sliding phrases to the old familiar almost-impossible-to-sing notes was born into something refreshingly new and exciting.

Later we were able to view a National Park Experience  film called Canyon Song PBS in which the Draper family shares their story in a deeply moving 12 minute piece.  Look it up on Vimeo or under PBS.  It's well worth watching.

Given the brutal and duplicitous history of the struggles between the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, related governmental agencies, and the Native American peoples -- plus the continuing questions yet to be resolved, it was moving to listen to what was a combination of innocence and Knowing-ness of the Ages in the voice of this lovely child of Antiquity.

Tonisha's generation of Native American youth appears to be finding their place among the youth of the country.  Social media is proving to be fundamental in breaking down the old and crumbling walls of separation that have held us captive for so long.

For whatever reason, the Draper family's presence at the Festival was clearly effortless and comfortable, and caused me to reflect and appreciate that I, too, felt in no way "exotic" as of old, but a legitimate contributor to the goals of the Festival.  The universality created by technology combined with a growing sensitivity and  a respect for cultural differences now evident among members of the emerging society of today turned up in many forms throughout the Festival.

It is my firm belief that-- if humanity is to be saved -- it will be through the Arts; with Science and Technology a close second.  Theology or Philosophy may be a distant third, but the order shifts depending upon a variety of revelations that pop up with disconcerting regularity these days.  Telluride was crazy-making on that score.  Holding onto my Humanism was a struggle in the face of the stunning beauty of the physical world of snow-capped peaks and miles and miles of the chartreuse of just-budding aspen.  Who knows what would have happened had night clouds not hidden the brilliantly star-filled skies at 9000 ft. above the earth!

I will be in a state of awe for weeks by having shared this experience with those who believed that my place might well be among them.  That my truth, also, represents that of others long unappreciated and now slowly but surely beginning to be recognized as a valued and contributing part of the aggregation that calls itself America.

There is still a long way to go, and much resistance in some areas of the country -- to the much-needed change necessary in order for justice to prevail, but measured by how far we've come -- I am hopeful.  That hope has been increased tenfold by having experienced Telluride MountainFilms 2016.

The child in me felt a strong connection with Tonisha, and still does. That much came down the mountain with me and still whispers in the quiet moments ... .

                     "We've come a long way, Baby!"

Thursday, June 02, 2016

So much has happened ... so little time ... 

Rangers Vanessa Torres, Michael Gautier, and Moi with Cheryl Strayed as moderator
Since I last was able to settle down long enough to write there were the 5 unbelievably spectacular days at the Mountain Films Festival in Telluride, Colorado, and the flight over the Rockies that would serve as the magnificent backdrop to a slice of Life that was magical!

To find myself at 9000 ft. into the clouds with what appeared to be the next generation of world changers was heady and unanticipated in my wildest dreams.  They are physically fit at the highest level -- mountain climbers, mountain bikers, filmmakers, writers, poets, photographers, visual artists, such beautiful human beings of every age (the eldest being Katie Lee at 96!).  I came away with the distinct impression that obesity doesn't exist above 8 thousand feet.

However, among the hundreds (thousands?) in attendance, only two African Americans were visible, though I might surely have missed some.  I remember mentioning to my great travel companion and co-worker, Gretchen, that the last brown face I'd seen was back in the Denver airport!  However, after giving it some thought during a quiet moment between events -- I decided that this was less a case of discrimination based on race, but based clearly on economic factors.  At this altitude and level of existence there were very few white folks and almost no blacks.  Moving around in this world required much more money, varied life experience, and power than  most ordinary folks possess, whatever their race or ethnicity.

Ironically, maybe, the power to meet the huge challenges the world is facing in these troubling times may be largely in the hands of those who gather at such places as Telluride and Aspen because it is they who have the resources, the education, travels to far away places,  and the world experience to be able to lead us toward the answers that must be found if we are to survive an unknown future of unprecedented planetary change.  That may be a scary thought, but maybe this is where we find ourselves at this time on this fragile planet.  Maybe this is the segment of the world population who have evolved to a place where basic needs are being easily met, and they can now afford to take on universal human concerns that those of us who are still at the level of mere survival cannot begin to address.

Those who are homeless rarely experience the wonder of sleeping under brilliant starlit skies of a winter's night, or, are thrilled by a wolf's call in the wild when the choice to be elsewhere does not exist. 

I could feel my mind stretching into unfamiliar places with regard to how I see others, and expanding into new complexities and nuances.  It proved impossible to hold to the comfort of political provincialism in that wondrous place among these self-appointed social avatars who are leading the way toward a better world.  This, I shall take down the mountains and into whatever lies ahead.

I learned about Chris and the late Doug Tompkins, who, through a vast accumulation of wealth (Esprit and Patagonia), have purchased huge bodies of potential national park lands in Chile and Argentina; scenic lands which they have gifted back to those governments to be kept wild, protected, and preserved into infinity.  And the Tompkins are only two of a number of dedicated  environmentalists whose generosity and hard work to protect and  preserve the planet has enriched us all. 

We were present in one of the several venues as a film of the Tompkin's work and a moving tribute to Doug by those who knew and loved them both, was presented one evening ...  His widow, Chris, was a participant in this moving remembrance.

Doug had a history in the Bay Area, and by references during the evening I found myself connecting him with others like Stewart Brand, Hunter Thompson, Wavy Gravy, Peter Coyote, the Grateful Dead, etc., and wondered whether we'd crossed lives at some point -- maybe through Ken Kesey or Paul Sawyer?  The touching would have been mostly at the edges, but quite possible ... .

There is so much more to tell ... but now that I'm home there are important things to do in preparation for packing up to fly off to New Orleans in a few days ... and this will have to be picked up after I've emptied the clothes drier and sorted the next load.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Another adventure to savor ... .

In the green room ... waiting to go on ... .
David and I boarded the eleven o'clock Southwest flight to Glendale and the studios where the Tavis Smiley Show is taped.  He spends all day on Mondays completing 6 interviews for the week.  Mine was only one.

Had no idea what to expect, but felt fairly comfortable this time, maybe it was because my son, David, with his easy-going-ness tagging along as escort.  It is almost impossible to be rattled in his presence; my anchor at such times as this.

We were met at the airport upon arrival by Paul, our driver, and his sleek black Highlander SUV who delivered us in the 16 minutes required to Tavis's studio where we were led by an intern to our green room to await next steps.  Those turned out to be Devin Robins, producer with whom we'd been in mail contact in preparation for this momentous day.  We watched Kristin Chenoweth, Broadway star, being interviewed and found myself concerned that this lovely diva was in danger of breaking her legs by falling off her disastrously high heels!  David assured me that her sneakers were probably sitting at the door of her green room for a quick change.  That's David.

After one more interview -- this time an African American professor noted for his conservative views -- I didn't catch his interview because I was due to be in make-up prior to mine at the time.  There simply was no time to be nervous.  "Helen" was dormant throughout this period.  In fact, as things turned out, she wasn't needed at all.

I think this is where I said, "get lost, "Helen",  I'll take it from here!"
Suddenly (before the hair on the back of my neck could rise) I was led to the set and to a warm and welcoming Tavis Smiley -- who was so familiar from all those nights I'd viewed him on screen between my feet and beyond my quilt just before sleep -- that it was "cousin" Tavis now before me.  Strange!

The upshot of all this is that the interview was suddenly on, and we became so engrossed in the exchange that it ended before he wanted it to so that -- on the spot -- a "Part two" was ordered up and the cameras keep rolling!

Part One will air on the PBS channels on Friday, May 20th, with Part Two on Monday evening!

Only problem is that he attempted to cover 94 years of life in two 20-minute segments (impossible!) and I can't recall ever mentioning Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park once, and that was the intent of this adventure, after all.

I'm such an natural active listener, and so is Tavis, that we got lost in the talk and I have no idea what was said, except that it felt natural and good, and exciting, and he was genuinely sincere when he told me that he will visit Richmond and our park soon.

Chalk up another wonderful adventure, unexpected, and amazing!

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