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!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Life continues to unfold, and we've not run out of red carpeting quite yet ... .

Photo by Susan Wehrle at the Rosie Memorial in Richmond, California
Tomorrow I'll be landing in the early afternoon in Southern California to meet with Tavis Smiley, a noted black voice among rising black voices that are less familiar than those of old.  But then this has always been true, hasn't it?  It's what's called progress, and must be bowed down to as the generations face the changing of the guards.

My voice will be stilled in the not too distant future, I know, and just who will be my replacement hasn't yet been determined.  Or, maybe I'm just not aware of how that process will play out over time, and that's how it should be.  After all, we're each one-of-a-kind human beings, not to be cloned except maybe in the case of identical twins, but even that may be improbable.

Perhaps those things we see in ourselves as flaws are really what makes us unique and un-clonable, maybe?

It becomes more puzzling with each day -- just why this relatively frail and inconsequential woman in her final decade has come to the attention of "The World", a world she has stood in awe of throughout a long and rather ordinary existence.

Only, in looking back, that life may have been far less ordinary -- in the living of it -- than I ever realized.  The ups may have been higher and the lows far deeper -- all leading to an extraordinarily rich life experience, for all the pain or pleasure it brought.  It's only in retrospect that I can see that, and realize that all of it was providing the enhanced energy and a keen perceptiveness that I'm able to access today as all of that aliveness appears to be on tap when  I'm before audiences in my little theater presentations.  I seem to be able to draw upon what turns out to be common and universal themes that connect with others.

This may be the only way for me to make sense of the magic ... .

Tomorrow I'll be facing the man I've watched so often as the Charlie Rose PBS show morphs into the Tavis Smiley show just before I fall off to sleep most nights.  I'm so often struck by the sharp differences the two hosts represent -- Rose urbane and so clearly "New York", and Smiley "urban" and "earthy" (for whatever that means),  but the nature of those differences has never been clear; except for that of race -- but that's no longer enough nor are those differences clear or of any particular importance.

There will be those first few moments of awkwardness as the fleeting and jarring thoughts of "who on earth do they think I am, and what are these folks expecting of me?" cross my mind.  As always, once the conversation begins  and I become an active listener (the secret) I will forget completely that this is out-of-the-ordinary, and my host's natural warmth will take over and he will become that young male interviewer of his older and more experienced guest (moi), and the time will flash by and it will have been just one more memorable experience to savor against an unknown future that has -- until this day -- always held promise ... .

... and then Monday will have passed, and another Tuesday will come, as always.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Wonders never cease ...

Flying off on Monday morning for a taping of the Tavis Smiley television show to be aired some time next week.

The invitation came a few days ago from producer Devin Robins, who worked on the Farai Chideya show -- an interview show of which I'm unambiguously proud.  It was one of those many telephone interviews where the host was in a New York studio and I'm sitting on the floor of my bedroom on the Left Coast in my pajamas as I recall, and barefoot, un-lipsticked uncombed hair, sipping a cup of herbal tea.  The interview was relaxed and went well.

We've never met and never really exchanged words except through Farai.  Nonetheless, that was about a year ago and she is now in Los Angeles and working with Tavis Smiley -- and here was her voice on my office phone voicemail inviting me to come to tape a show for airing next week on the PBS channels, nationally.

(I know.  It's crazy and wild, but true.)  Next thing you know I'll be turning at a Kardashian party hanging with Kim and Kendall, and bouncing North on my aging knee!

In only two days arrangements were completed through our park staff, with my son, David, to act as escort -- and another adventure has been scheduled to occur at the beginning of next week.

Time to bring out "Helen," the persona my psyche has created to handle those things I can't possibly do, and let us pray that she's ready.  I've been thinking of giving her a separate name tag and her own stylist.  She's being called upon more frequently of late, and will need to be in good shape for the Telluride Mountain Film Festival where we're participating in a symposium, and will both need everything we can dredge up for 4 days at 9000 ft. next to Heaven.   I'm told that the upper performance area is reachable by gondola, and I'm hoping that Helen isn't terrified of heights.  I am! But what have we got to lose at this stage in life?  What a way to go! 

Then it's on to New Orleans and festivities at the National WWII Museum in early June.

Can anyone believe this?

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