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Friday, February 25, 2005


Dogging perceptions ...

Spent a few days this week nursing a stubborn digestive tract irritation and -- simultaneously -- some anger I couldn't trace to its source. The two (as always) were related.

As mentioned, I'm scheduled to leave early on Tuesday morning for Ashland, Oregon. The first vacation I've had in more years than I can recall. I do believe the last was the trip with my late husband that took us to the island of Kauai for an extended stay in the mid-80s. Since he died in 1987, you can see that it's been ages. I did travel for a weekend or two -- a cruise to Ensenada and one to New Mexico. But those don't really count as vacations; hardly enough time to unpack my bags.

During those trips with Bill, Dorian was living in Santa Barbara at St. Vincents Academy in the safe care of the good nuns. She graduated at 18 at which time she entered Clausen House in Oakland where she'd moved up over the years to independent living status. That's all changed now.

Early in 2004 -- and for reasons brought on by state budget cuts -- we gave up her apartment, stored her possessions, and combined our lives here in my not-nearly-large-enough condo.

Due to my really complex work and civic life, though I've lived here for several years -- I don't know any of my neighbors except for passing them on occasion in the parking area. Not true for Dorian. She's here when I'm not, and is gregarious and open and speaks with everyone whether they're responsive or not. They are surely aware of her mental deficits. She's not been treated badly in any way that I can see, nor has she been isolated.

Dorian comes in each day from her art classes (5 hours a day, 5 days a week) and plops down her bags and immediately takes off to collect the mail (she holds power over our one key) then heads for the shopping mall just two blocks away. It's a ritual. She walks around a pattern she's set for herself, and visits with kiosk personnel and picks up sample cookies at the bakery and chocolates from See's Candy. Then makes a call home on her cell to reassure me that she'll make it back before dark (usually 3:30 or 4:00). This has become a ritual and serves us well. She's made friends with the security staff, and enjoys their protection, I'm sure. Where I don't know my next door neighbors, I have gone over to meet some of the folks on her route and assured myself that she wasn't abusing the system in any way.

Back to Ashland:

When I arrived back from Mendocino a couple of weekends ago after a heavenly stay at oceanside, and as I was getting my overnight bag out of the car -- my downstairs neighbor was just driving in. She's also a senior. She mentioned that Dorian had told her that I'd been away for the weekend and that she was alone with her cats. There was no indication that this was a criticism, but a just quiet remark in passing. But I felt gently chastised. Dorrie and I had been in contact by phone each night and David had responsibility for looking in on his sister.

For reasons I'm not quite sure -- I felt the sting of criticism. My neighbor was under the perception that I was an irresponsible mother who'd gone off for whatever reason, and left this helpless young woman alone in the apartment!

It had never occurred to me to take my neighbors into my confidence by telling them that this handicapped daughter had been living independently for many years in an apartment two towns away, or that she had been learning since her sixth birthday to live beyond the life of her mother by gaining independence over many years. That coming home after the experience of learning to depend primarily upon a team of case managers, social workers, therapists, and teachers, was a regression. That those professionals and I were still working to retain what we could of those lessons over those years -- by building in some times when she was left very deliberately alone to handle her life. I'd done none of that. They couldn't possibly know. How on earth could I tune them in now? It would seem so self-serving; much more related to my new male interest than to my daughter's welfare. I'd let it get away from me. And, I couldn't live with even the perception that I was being irresponsible. What to do? At that point my gastro-intestinal system took over and rebelled! Climbed into bed and pulled the blankets over my head and tried to sleep past the dilemma.

Since Dorian really enjoys having the place to herself, to hire a "sitter" would have offended her and appeared like a measure of mistrust on my part. She, after all, is a fully grown woman who uses every single modicum of brain power that she has, and does pretty well with that. That's more than can be said for most of us, right?

Finally, an inspired thought: She loves Kokee, David's 22 year-old daughter, and Dorrie's niece. Gave a call and learned that Kokee is free to spend the nights next week at our place. It only means late evenings to morning when she leaves for work and Dorian leaves for NIAD. No problem. David is around in the event that the terrorists strike Chevron-Texaco or Berlex Chemical just up the road apiece, or if the Hayward Fault decides to slip. Dorian will not feel babysat. And, I will feel free to fully give myself to George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare, August Wilson et al -- on the first carefree vacation in at least two decades. My neighbors will simply have to hold their fire until I get back. But there is surely a need to take the time to clue them in on life with Dorrie, at some point. On this score I've been neglectful.

So saying, I'm up and totally symptom-free, ready to attend an evening of award-presentions at the Richmond Main Street Initiative event this very evening. And a chamber music concert and dinner tomorrow afternoon and evening. Dorian has a Special Olympics basketball tournament all-day on Sunday, so it will be a full weekend. You may not hear from me for a bit.

I'm feeling cherished, valued, beautiful, and "young." I've about decided that "youth" is in many cases simply a case of arrested development. All are feelings that go on being felt even as the years pile on, and are surely not restricted to only those young in years.

It's quite possible that a lifetime with Dorian who's stuck in childhood in many ways, has spilled over onto her mother. My concept of youth may have been distorted by that experience. I live every day with proof that years may hold little meaning with respect to the maturation process, and, with little relevance to chronological age -- the feelings and the capacity for continual growth is widely varied and Quixotic at best.

Most of life is illusory, and what we make of it depends largely upon which end of the lens we're looking through at what moment in time ... .

Photo: Three little "beauty queens" in a contest on Treasure Island during the World's Fair. I'm the 17 year-old on the left, my cousins, Ruth (Warnie-Romine-Strange) and Elaine (Allen-Wilson) were two other runners-up in this news clipping. It may be interesting to note that the young lady who actually won the contest (the ticket-selling kind) would have appeared in the bottom center of the picture -- but she was neatly clipped out by I know not whom. (T'weren't I!)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Living History ...

Happened to catch a PBS presentation of a truly fine documentary entitled "The Tallest Tree in the Forest," a leisurely look at the life of the undisputed genius, Paul Robeson. What a treasure! This discredited American will someday grace the history books as one of the greatest Americans of his or any other time. I'm sure of it.

The jerky and sometimes almost inaudible pieces of film collected over many years by those with the foresight to see through the veil of slander that damned him gave an astounding picture of the man. Participating as narrators along with his son, Paul Robeson, Jr., were Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis, and a host of others who must have come together to share their history in common. These are also giants among black men of action and patriotism.

Robeson held a law degree from Rutgers University, was an All-American on the Rutgers football team, spoke seven languages fluently, was a concert baritone known and revered internationally, and led the black community in the earliest struggles against the bigotry that crippled the nation throughout the earliest phases. He opened up baseball by questioning its racial hiring practices -- allowing Jackie Robinson to be brought on as the first black player ever to be fielded. He challenged racial prejudice through the United Nations because it threatened our status across the world through hyprocrisy it exposed. Few would argue whether he was right in his criticism.

How does one ever know when the epochal events are interwoven with one's own life? I watched that documentary -- remembering marching in a picket line with Mr. Robeson in my youth. We were under the marquee of the Oakland Paramount theater where the disputed Walt Disney film, "Song of the South" was being shown. Later that afternoon we returned to Matt Crawford's home in Berkeley to have punch and cookies and to a playful game of "Spin the Bottle." Got kissed on the cheek by this wondrous man ... how could I have known?

Some time later my husband and I were in the audience at the Curran Theater in San Francisco to see Robeson, Jose Ferrer, and Uta Hagen, starring in Shakespeare's "Othello." It was my first experience with the work of Shakespeare. I knew little of "The Bard." I was only there to see Paul Robeson in performance. A kind of "supporting a brotha" kind of action. Funny. Again, how on earth could I have known?

It was like that evening when Mel and I and others -- at the invitation of one of our record distributors traveled to Grace Cathedral to sit in the sanctuary of that great edifice to experience Duke Ellington's first Jazz Mass (featuring Bunny Briggs in tap shoes floating before the altar as if levitating). It was when I first heard and responded to the magnificent "Come Sunday" featuring Johnny Hodges on alto sax. Small matter that much of the sound wafted up into the vaulted ceilings instead of out into the pews. I knew that the sounds I was hearing were making musical history -- but there was little understanding of just how important this worship service would be in looking back.

A few days ago I was invited to attend a film to be shown this very night at the Grand Lake theater on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland -- sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee and honoring the memory of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. When the invitation came I recalled that it was at the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami that we met. She was at that time the first woman to run for president of the nation, and the first African American woman to challenge the system by so doing. She was a small woman, not particularly impressive to one as new to politics as I was at that time, and even less knowing about the eastern movements. I know now that I slept through an important part of feminist history -- as well as African American.

Some years later, in the 80s, it was my privilege to house the Northern California headquarters for candidate Jesse Jackson in my building in South Berkeley -- and to recall now that we'd pretty much forgotten that it was (female) Ms. Chisholm who opened that door and not (male) Mr. Jackson. I was as guilty as anyone for the omission. We gloriously celebrated him for opening up the process to the under-represented, but failed to credit his predecessor in that role. Shirley Chisholm also preceded Geraldine Ferraro (vice-presidential candidate) in breaking through. We tend to forget that, too.

Makes me wonder now how future historians will look at these disturbing times we live in, and just how many times any of us have been unwitting participants in history while it was being created? Makes me want to -- even more than usual -- account for my actions by taking public positions.

How on earth can we ever know? But does it matter?

I believe that it does; critically.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Undelivered ...

This morning I discovered in AlterNet a column written by Christopher Rabb of Afro-Netizen. It was sharp and cogent and struck a nerve that sent me to his website to respond. The email was returned by Daemon as undeliverable. I felt frustrated. I wondered how many other African Americans who inhabit cyberspace simply knew nothing about this valuable resource, and that he had been "our" man in New York during the November convention as a credentialed blogger? How I wish I'd known. It may take years before we'll learn to organize using the power of this magical instrument and make of it the kind of political asset that it has begun to create in other communities. There has to be a beginning place. Maybe this is one of them. There may be other African Americans reading here for whatever reason, and just maybe they'll find a way to help to connect the dots between the various forms of "The Drum" so that our power can be expanded and enhanced. If anyone knows Mr. Rabb, do let me know so that I can add at least one more small fragment to the quilt he's been trying to create over what appears to be several years.

This was my message:

Dear Mr. Rabb:

"I'm a West Coast African American elder (83) who has been online since the Internet was called "The Well," and blogging since fall of 2003 (http://cbreaux.blogspot.com/)

I, too, am anxiously waiting for greater black representation among the
bloggers, so that through this magical medium, we can skip through the
generations of change by passing along the history that precedes current
struggles.

Those of us whose lives have spanned slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Right battles of the Sixties, the periods of regressions that followed, have a duty to inform. I was 27 when my slave ancestor joined hers. She was born in 1846 and died at 102 in 1948. I was born in 1921. Just think of the history embedded in brains like mine; and the opportunity now to "download" that into the Blogosphere for our progeny to build upon. It's mind-boggling! But we're not only hauling around this genetic windfall but many of us are continuing to contribute to and mold history through activism and continuing influence.

Not sure how many of my contemporaries are "out there" and still coherent, but given the longevity that my own family enjoys, it would not surprise me a bit to find many. It's quite possible that those of us who are descendants of those hardy survivors of the Middle Passage carry strengths as yet unrecognized.

Delighted to have found you.

Betty Reid Soskin,
Richmond, California


If Afro-Netizen has gone dormant it would be a pity. Mr. Rabb has made an important contribution to black online political life and nothing would please me more than to become a part of that in some small way. I found his listed links to be an extension of my own. Perhaps you'll find the same. Perhaps one day I'll list the places online that I visit regularly; should that be of interest. That might mean that -- should we ever meet -- we can start our conversations in the middle of the sixth paragraph.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Watched an interesting discussion on CSPAN yesterday --

of an event that happened mid-week, I gathered, though I tuned in after it started and missed the introductions. The words weren't particularly new. I've been getting them in bits and pieces but the hysteria was simply too strong to allow them into my cortex. This time I heard both the words and the meanings. By the time I'd watched for a fair amount of time I could feel myself relaxing ... feeling as if someone had placed a hand on my chest and held me back from I know not what.

They were discussing the nation's gradual slide into Fascism (though no one used the word). They were doing a retrospective on the past years. What was different was that these were not the conspiracy theorists; the usual suspects. This was the honored mainstream "establishment." Their names were recognizable as members of wellknown think tanks, foundations, study groups -- and from both sides of the Atlantic. A number of speakers agreed that our present world-dominating stance had not happened yesterday or the day before, or even ten years ago, but had been a slow but steady meticulously planned takeover that started at least forty years ago. That was the point where I felt myself exhale. Of course. This critical debate has finally risen to prominence in the national consciousness. Surely this is the beginning.

The point was made that it took many years for Spain to come back from Franco and that the Soviet Union was still recovering from a succession of takeovers. Italy and Germany had been different in that their military losses had forced change almost overnight.

Seeing ourselves in this context was both frightening and sobering in that it removed the expection of having to restore our systems between now and the next election cycle. There is some small relief in that. I surely will not live to see how it all turns out. We'll need to re-educate our population before that restoration can even begin. The task is enormous and turning the juggernaut of Democracy is far more difficult than any other form of government, I'm sure. There's not yet enough recognition among our citizens that a change of course is needed at this point, and probably won't be until after we've suffered through the coming economic and ecological collapse that heads wiser than mine have forecast.

Though disturbing, the good thing about that discussion was that I finally could accept the fact that sharp minds with power were grappling with these issues, and that the corrective course is surely being designed even as we speak. These analyses helped me to see that the chaos is not total, and that we are not yet powerless. Progressive think tanks are pouring over the developments of the last administration and are preparing for the next. The wheels are turning and the pendulum has already begun to trace the arc toward the Left.

It will be hair-raising, I'm sure, but when the program ended I felt better -- at least in the moment. I can only pray now, that those flawed but wise old dead white men of vision who designed our Constitution and Bill of Rights will have placed enough "give" in them to rein us in one more time, and that by the end of the next decade, at least, recovery will be well on its way to restoring our freedoms -- and will have removed the threat of a nuclear holocaust from the rest of the world.

But, it's not a good sign that Camilla and Charles have now relegated stories on the Middle East to page seven!

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