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Friday, December 17, 2004

Lichtenstein!

Toured the exciting exhibition at the S.F. Museum of Modern Art yesterday. Not terribly fond of his early works (much like that of Andy Warhol) but the pieces he completed in the Nineties are magnificent! The huge canvasses that were greatly influenced by traditional Chinese landscapes, but that continued his applications of those tiny dots -- but now leaving the harsh bright colors of the Sixties and moving into pastels. Beautiful show!

The work may have been enhanced by the company, though. My new friend is a member of the SFMOMA and is the best art companion that I've had in years; maybe ever. His eyes are wide open and his interests are broad and deep. His appreciation for the arts matches my own, though he may be far more learned on the subject of visual arts. We're in the same general age group so have shared similar periods of history, though from very different perspectives. We may be complementary in much the same way that Bill and I were. He is also a scientist, though in chemistry rather than in the social sciences. I like him immensely.

We visited the museum in the early evening and afterward walked down Market Street to California near Battery to Tadishes Seafood Restaurant for supper. Hopped over the cable car tracks but saw none at the time. My friend is much into vintage cars and architecture -- so I saw through his eyes much more of lower Market than ever before. It's amazing how different the world looks from the sidewalks at the slow pace of a pedestrian than from a car at even 25 miles an hour. The distractions and demands of driving censors out so much more than I'd imagined. I'd forgotten that. There was a thin crisp of a waning moon in a black starless sky but with those marvelous skyscrapers outlined in lights for the holidays -- all of the visual excitement was in the near view with the black sky needing to provide little more than background.

I thought of that marvelous passage from one of Willa Cather's novels, "...in other places the sky is the ceiling to the earth. On the plains, the earth is the floor to the sky." (My Antonia?) I'm paraphrasing from a book read many years ago, but the thought slipped in in that micro-second between traffic light changes from "stop" to "walk." And I was reminded of the unmatched beauty of world-class cities that provide their own magic of a kind that Cather may not have experienced at the time of her writing that line. But then I've also seen the earth from Pike's Peak -- overlooking the plains -- and was awed by the wonder of that as well. How diverse is the world that I've experienced! Comparisons are foolish and unnecessary, but there's no other way to describe the emotional tsunami I felt in that moment. It was so ordinary in so many ways. So unsurprising, yet so very warm and comforting to have that sense of "mattering" again, romantically. I recalled a truth I'd learned long ago; that pretty is a feeling... one I discovered in Boston.

We'd traveled on separate BART trains, from different cities, from very different lives, to meet at the museum. Ordinarily I feel vulnerable on the streets alone -- except on the mean streets where I live and work. San Francisco overwhelms me. I read fragments of "six non-lectures" by e.e. cummings on the ride over as a way to distract myself from fears (hyper-awareness?) of traveling on the train under the bay. The old phobias of suspension and of tunnels still lurk somewhere deep in my brain, but I've long since learned to acknowledge them and move on.

I recall one day when I was visiting Boston and wanted to leave the Ritz Carlton (on Beacon Street) to visit a friend who lived in a loft many blocks away. It was a lovely day and I was determined to walk and waved several cabs on. The fear began to rise as I became less sure of my position in space. Stopped and bought a big red balloon from a vendor on the street. Carried it for several blocks through some questionable areas. Finally got my bearings and stood high on an overpass and released it to rise quickly up into the sky as I saw my friend's address up ahead. Yesterday it was the little paperback by e.e.cummings. I've grown up now. After all, I was probably only 40 at the time. Balloons are for kids.

It was on that long walk that I received one of the most memorable compliments of my life. It brings up a smile even now. There were several youngish black men socializing on a street corner somewhere along Arlington. They fell silent as I approached. As I passed them (trying to make myself invisible for the next 15 feet) one of them "signified" to the others just barely loud enough for me to overhear, "...we sho don't have too many a doze!" It was surely the equivalent of a slow wolf whistle, but sounded truly friendly and in no way intrusive, as if they sensed my fear and wanted to reassure this obvious stranger to Roxbury. Without hesitation, I grinned back at them, loosened the grip on my red balloon a twist or two, and sailed on toward Arlington feeling pretty.


Upon reaching the west side of the bay, I took the escalator up to street level past a fine street musician playing a familiar jazz tune on his keyboards; folded myself into the friendly crowd for the walk up Market Street past Annie Place to Third and to the Museum. It was comfortable. I sensed the friendliness of the city. Picked up imaginative gifts for my grandkids in the museum shop, then -- as confident as could be -- found a table in the coffee shop, tucked cummings into my MOMA (status symbol) bag and started to sip a fine cup of green tea to wait for him ... .

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Feeling a bit more accepting today.

The anger at having Jessica caught up in the insanity of a faraway brutal war was really unsettling. The effort to keep those thoughts suppressed was taking its toll. It's at such times that I find myself re-living past indignities -- remembering the war of my own youth and of the unfairness suffered by my young husband at the hands of the navy. Times have changed since then, I keep actively reminding myself. The armed forces have been racially integrated -- and are far ahead of the private sector in many ways, at least on that score. After all -- we've got General Colin Powell and Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice (the Ice Queen) now in place -- and how sad it that? I find little solace in those appointments. I find only embarrassment in Justice Clarence Thomas. And have only contempt for that Blackwell guy who figured so strongly in the Ohio election day debacle. Something truly vital was lost on the way to full racial equality. One day I'll need to give that more thought. It's puzzling ... .

Today was the day that I met with Executive Director, Ramona Samuels, (Richmond Main Street Initiative). We spent two hours envisioning the Arts & Entertainment District that I've been writing and dreaming about for several years. She believes that we can actually bring it to life. It was an exciting conversation where two enthusiastic women spend the best part of a morning talking in incomplete sentences! I don't believe that either of us ever finished a thought without interruption! That's the best kind of meeting. No notes taken except for a few scribbles on a legal pad -- but we spent as much time permanently etching those thoughts on our minds as if they were more precious than gold. I have a feeling that -- if anyone were taping us -- they'd have found little coherence, but WE knew that we were in an inspired verbal exchange! Maybe that's a "woman" thing.

I brought along the binder in which I've been keeping centennial notes, photographs, the four essays I put together while working with the National Park Service; the documentation upon which the essays are based, etc. She caught the excitement that I've been feeling and -- just one day before I'm to meet with my future boss. Wouldn't you know it? Just as this huge project begins to show signs of life I'm going to find myself involved in city government -- one city away! (Maybe two, actually.) Will have to find a way to continue to work with Richmond as a volunteer while warming up the new territory in Berkeley. I truly can't afford to not have regular employment without sacrificing the financial stability I've been trying to maintain for Dorian. During the past idle year I've had to draw upon investments more than I would have wished. I need to shore that up while I still can, and while "the world" still sees me as a viable contributor. That can't go on much longer. Old Al Zheimers is sure to catch up with me at some point. He's a viscious predator and no respecter of one's capacity to "promote the general welfare."

Tomorrow we'll have lunch and I'll get a feel for this new councilman and for his expectations of a new policy staffperson. Tomorrow evening I'll meet again with the group of teachers for a continuation of our search for answers having to do with threatened privatization after the recently-announced school closures. But on Thursday late afternoon I'll meet my new friend at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where we'll feed our souls. Later we'll feed our bodies with dinner at historic Tadish's Seafood restaurant in the financial district. Then there's a Christmas party at the home of the artistic director of the East Bay Center for the Arts on Friday evening. On Saturday late afternoon and evening I'll share the annual Christmas party with a dear Berkeley friend and her family.

Carefully woven through the fabric of the next few days will be thoughts of Jessica; the horror of the headlines coming from overseas; headlines that I will scrupulously not read; shouting pundits I'll not listen to; and (maybe) snatches of songs I've not yet written ...

And ... on Sunday morning, as is usually the case, I'll find that I've survived it all.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The war's come home ... .

Learned yesterday that Jessica, our 18 year-old lovely young step-granddaughter -- in an act of desparation to get out on her own has enlisted in the army and leaves in two weeks. Like so many of her friends, she was unable to get into college; had a future consisting of WalMart and/or MacDonalds as the only possible alternatives and -- in a moment of hopelessness answered the call of the recruiters. They'd been hovering around her campus for months -- like the scavengers they are -- and she was caught up in the net of "opportunity." Now she will have the chance to "be all that she can be" in this hateful war. She'll learn to hate and to kill and to maim and will lose what's left of her innocence on some road on the way to or from Bagdad, I suppose. She will learn that she is surrounded by "the enemy" and that she must kill them before they kill her and "they" will undoubtedly be some 18 year-old like herself with as little understanding of their role in this holocaust as she. This is a less than 5 foot tall girl-woman who just graduated from the 12th grade. She's barely out of her senior prom gown!

Tried again tonight to search my mind for the justification for this war -- those that we've been served up via the media -- and I find none; not even something superficial. Saddam is safely imprisoned. Osama bin Laden is in a quiet period somewhere in the caves of Pakistan or Afghanistan, hardly even mentioned anymore. Those WMDs have been declared non-existent, and -- if what we're doing is pacifying the Iraqis -- I'd say that's a failure of massive proportions. With 100,000 Iraqis now counted among the dead, thousands more wounded and dying slowly from lack of medical attention and/or drugs to allay pain; with continuing reports of the discovery of headless bodies, mass graves, and on-going reports of prisoner abuse, I'm finding it hard to know how our president and his cohorts sleep at night. What kind of callousness is required to get them through the days? They've hidden the returning flag-draped caskets from us, but they can't be de-sensitized to their existence, can they? What does it take to be that unfeeling? Besides that, they've embedded all of the objectivity out of the press corps so that we've lost all faith in what we're told. And, beside that, there are fewer reports coming out of Iraq since news gathering has become too dangerous to engage in where the fighting is the fiercest. What a disaster!

But it's now tiny Jessica's turn to save the world by shouldering an assault weapon. Her waist-length jet black hair will be clipped. She'll learn to crawl on her belly through razor wire. She'll climb rope ladders and ooze her way through mud and slime. She'll grow up fast now, and will return home to empty promises of college funded by the federal government. That's a hell of a way to make it onto campus! I won't let myself think about other possibilities. But now I have my own "troop" to support. I was expecting Rhico to be the first called. He's the other 18 year-old in our family, and eligible but unwilling to enlist, I believe. Never dreamed that I should have been concerned about Jessica. How the world has changed ... .

Jessica is the "All Volunteer Army" in microcosm!

We have two weeks to mourn her decision before she's on her way to the reception center. Because of her determination to make that decision alone, she is leaving without feeling the blessings of those who love her, and we do -- deeply -- and wish with all our hearts that she leaves knowing the truth and strength of that love. Her mother must be crushed -- but also extremely proud of her declaration of independence, even at this cost.

We're devastated!

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