Sunday, August 28, 2005

All tracks utilized. No runways left!

I don't think that I've ever really had any way to measure my brain capacity until now, that is. Started my new position mid-month and am finding that -- once I found myself back in full time work mode -- there was simply nothing left to draw from. I'm literally consumed by the new work and too busy 'doin' it' to stop long enough to tell about it. Writing was the last thing on my mind as I pulled off my denims and pulled on my pajamas after a quick supper each evening. It feels good.

I also found myself wondering how the new park superintendent would feel about my candor in these writings, and if I'd continue to feel the same freedom that I've enjoyed over time. That's still an unknown. But then that's not been a significant factor before -- and perhaps it won't be now. Besides, I'm enjoying the work far too much to feel any caution about what negatives might be churned up over time.

Maybe the fact that this is a limited contract and not the career move with a future that it would have been at some earlier time makes a difference. We'll see.

Whatever the problem, I left Ms. Hermione Ginglehopper hanging out there along with whoever else is reading, and that's a pity. We'd just re-established a nice relationship again, and exchanged some really meaningful private emails - and that must not be interrupted by anything. After all, this is her record of Grandma's life that's goin' on here, and I suspect that she's been working her way through the archives by now and has caught up to date.

So where are we?

Am excited about my work that involves working closely with a young woman who's moved over from the Crissy Field program at the Presidio. Together we'll create the community outreach plans for the Rosie the Riveter Homefront Historical National Park (that name is a choker!), and -- as suspected -- my earlier work experience prepares the way for this new challenge beautifully.

When I sat down to put together a list of "Important People to Contact and Why," I found that I was able to sit down with the Excel program and pull together a list of 174 such without looking up a single number except from my Palm Pilot. I also found that I knew each one well and that the rationale for including each was clear in my mind. These covered the four small cities that had been my working universe for the past 7 years, and my sense of the territory had dimmed not one iota. I can do this. I see real respect in the young faces around me, and I feel warm and appropriate to the task.

If there is a difference today, it's that I find myself expressing a sense of urgency that has come with age -- as if I must work hard over the next few months to "download" the data collected in my brain over a lifetime -- into this new work before whatever wisdom is there -- dissipates or atrophies into nothingness and is lost for all time. That leaves little time for mistakes or half-truths. I'm less apt to deal in subleties and/or nuance, but to be ever more direct in my dealings with others. That's been a growing concern for me, but seems sharper now than ever before.

I don't believe that I'm particularly confrontational or that this gets expressed negatively. I believe that I'd know if that were true. What it does mean, though, is that I'm in no way reluctant to challenge half-truths or situational ethics. But then at my age there is little to lose and much to gain by being open and real. In this changed world, even those far younger than I tend to be more candid than I recall of my own generation.

Made a fascinating discovery only this past week. It has to do with the power of language. On the web site of the National Park Service a new concept has been introduced that I find extremely exciting. It's something called "Civic Engagement," and has to do with an entirely new attitude; one that undergirds their staff and intern trainings. For instance: Wherever park sites includes places where slaves were kept or worked (old plantations; Williamsburg, Monticello, Mt. Vernon, etc.) the word used for the those who worked the fields is no longer "slaves" but "enslaved people." Such a subtle difference, but words that connote a sea change in attitude. It gives me an entirely new way to think of my ancestors.

I don't think that I've yet begun to incorporate the huge difference that has already begun to make in my sense of self and of those who came before me. Is it because the word slave describes a person and enslaved people describes a condition in which they found themselves? I'm not sure yet, but I'm wanting to locate somewhere in some archives the debates that produced the change. These must have been truly mind-shaping discussions by truly thoughtful people, and I'd love to have been a part of it.

That I'm now working with the Park Service among people with a mind toward not only preservation of but learning from history is a gift of monumental proportions. I'm so looking forward to participating in the shaping of this new park in Richmond, California, where (I truly believe) much of the groundwork was laid for the Civil Rights Revolution of the Sixties and beyond. Being old enough to see the continuum of change is an advantage few enjoy.

Life does keep unfolding ... .

(Photo: A portion of a larger wood sculpture with tempera by Dorian Reid, NIAD artist)

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