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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Paul Miller, AKA DJSpooky

To hell with AARP! Picked up tickets to Birth of the Nation as re-conceived by DJSpooky -- plus a good companion to enjoy the performance with and tonight's the night to get a look at the future through a new art form.

Will meet Doug at the Montgomery Street BART station for the short walk to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at around 7:15 or shortly thereafter. I'm so looking forward to this performance. Been thinking about it for weeks

Located a copy of one of New York poet, Sekou Sundiata's, cds at Amazon.com last night and ordered it. He is said to be the father of the Spoken Word movement. Had both his releases at one time but shared them with a friend and can't seem to remember just who that was ... that's the way it is with the best of art; hard to keep to oneself.

I can recall having the same feeling of excitement when I first heard Sundiata doing his spoken word thing to jazz -- also at Yerba Buena -- a couple of years ago as a part of the S.F. Spring Jazz Festival. I remember thinking at the time that this is what I'm wired for; this truly black art form. I have an intellectual appreciation for e.e.cummings, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliott, and some of the modernists like Ferlinghetti or Ric Masten -- but then there's that black something that's embedded in the music of Duke, and Shirley Horn, and Miles Davis, and yes, Bird, that touches something deep in the center of my being. It's there in Ray Charles' music. I hear it in the work of Jill Scott, as well. The only way to describe it is that it's in my "wiring." It's something beyond intellectual and I feel it when listening to Vanessa Bell Armstrong or Donnie McCurkin singing gospel or watching Rennie Harris or Robert Moses, Traci Bartlow or Robert Henry Johnson, dance ... or Brenda Boykin swingin' the blues.

Whatever-that-is may make itself evident again tonight as I experience this evocative performance. Wish I had the words to describe it -- I only know it emotionally, I think, like something genetic picked up in the womb from a responsive mother-to-be swaying in rhythm.. .

It might be the same for someone born in Guadalajara sitting in a US bar and hearing a mariachi band fire up. Or, someone from Argentina hearing the sharp sound of heels on a wooden floor and the flourish of flamenco from a guitar in the hands of a master. These things I can understand more easily. Those are familiar audio signals from a life remembered. Why then, is it so strong in me? Almost all of my life has been lived in an integrated world -- with few black reference points to claim me, except those already watered down in the mainstream. Yet the strongest influence is African -- "the drum" ties me firmly to black culture as if the other racial biological underpinnings were non-existent. I'm culturally interwoven with black lives everywhere -- and the bonds are so strong that Robert Frost hasn't a chance against Sundiata!

Now let's see what Spooky has.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Downside of Life with Dorian ...

Dorian and I attended the National Institute for Artists with Disabilities (NIAD) reception this evening and it was a mixed blessing. Two of her paintings are being displayed prominently in the front windows and she has two or three pieces in the gallery. But most important is that there were articles about her and her work in last Friday's edition of the S.F. Chronicle and another in Sunday's West County Times. I've seen neither, though I did give an interview for the Times. Learned this evening that her sculpture, "Tsumani," is being featured at an art gallery in Benicia where it is the centerpiece of the exhibit. She's loving every minute of her celebrity, but in the process is becoming more and more difficult to deal with.

Tonight we experienced a true blowout just before leaving for the reception. I learned by running across some receipts that she'd bought a pager ($91.00) last week. Since we live within two blocks of the city's major shopping mall, she happily spends much of her leisure time there. However, she's also watching a lot of television while crocheting her afghans and therein lies a major problem. Television commercials were designed to attract Dorrie. She's hopelessly seduced by T-Mobile, Cingular, AT&T, and any other cell phone kiosk within range. Though she has a phone that serves as an umbilical chord for us both and adds some security for me, each time she hears a new plan with "minutes" or "roaming privileges," or anything else -- she's off to the mall for a new purchase. She has no idea what minutes or roaming privileges mean but they sound cool in the commercials. I've returned 5 cell phones over the past 2 months; each time at a significant financial loss. They will usually accept the phones back, but the minutes are purchased in advance and are not returnable. Besides, when I call customer service to make a complaint -- the operator has a far eastern accent so I presume is sitting at a communication center in New Delhi or Bombay!

No amount of explaining stands up against the seduction of the splashy television commercials. No amount of outraged mother stands up against those cherub-faced young women with shoulder-length earrings and rounded little bellies hanging over perilously low-cut jeans, or neatly-dressed young men with shaved heads and long-sleeved shirts covering elaborate tattoos (surely) -- out there in the aisles hawking their cellphones to make their "units" for the day. These are the Rock Stars in Dorrie's life, and they're huge!

No amount of explaining that she is suit-proof, mentally retarded, illiterate so cannot be held to any contract changes the outcome. I'm reduced to taking her photograph, scanning and copying it, distributing it to every electronic communications kiosk or storefront in the mall in the hope of ending the problem. This is when I feel old and overwhelmed by a world that has become alien to the one I grew up in. Just one of the many hidden problems of living with the retarded. Her grasp of the world of her times is fragile at best, but the distances between our intellectual capacities as well as our natural generational differences works against us both. When we get caught up in these irresolvable cul de sacs there are no exits -- so the end results are these emotional explosions that flatten the landscape!

So today it wasn't a cell phone. She'd found a pager store and signed a contract that now demands $91.00 payment for services rendered. The thought of facing still one more young salesperson tomorrow to try one more time to return her purchase and erase the contract is almost more than I can bear.

After a useless shouting match that I resoundingly lost, we started out for the party where she would enjoy her celebrity and where I would continue to smolder! And she did - and I did. Watching her from a distance as she charmingly led guests to where her work was being exhibited -- I could see the hopelessness in my being angry. She simply doesn't have the capacity to understand the problem. I tried to remind myself of her considerable disabilities, but failed miserably as I continued to quietly simmer in anger at myself -- in my inability to get through to her. The frustration was even greater when someone came up to me to announce in a tactful whisper that Dorian was upset and that I ought to know since she was crying in the other room. She was telling anyone who was willing to listen how mean I'd been to her and how I'd yelled at her...! All true. And now embarrassment was added to my frustration and I wanted to shake her 'til her teeth rattled! And still my feeling of helplessness crowded out all else. I was furious!

Tomorrow she goes on a field trip with NIAD staff to Benicia to see the exhibit. It will be exciting for her and she will have forgotten all about our ugly argument. I will stay at home and go about the returning of the pager and hope that I'm successful one more time -- or at least until she sees another cell phone commercial and on impulse sets up one more of these stupid one-act plays designed to reduce her mother to a blithering idiot!

Maybe if I eliminated television ... .

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Feeling conflicted ...

My intention has always been to use my web log as a way to leave behind a record for my family -- a family that in many ways has grown to include an entire world of people. It was during those days when I was deeply involved in a family history project that I saw how sparse was any record of the women among my ancestors, except for my slave great grandmother, Leontine, who was such a colorful and much-loved figure within the family that stories about her as told through my mother and aunt filled in enough of her life that she was always very much alive for me.

There were others, Aunt Alice (one of Leontine's daughters) who founded the first school for colored children in St. James Parish, Louisiana where she served as principal until her accidental death in her sixties. There was Uncle Sam's son, George Allen who was president of a college in Texas (will have to look up the Ebony story with the photo of George in cap and gown standing beside his friend, Thurgood Marshall). Then there are those whose stories are better left un-remembered, but most often they were male family members.

Increasingly I felt compelled to leave a record, as truthful as possible, for those whom I will leave behind to continue whatever legacy we've collectively created over all of the years.

Ran into a problem many months ago. Something that I disclosed about one of my sons obviously invaded his privacy. I'm not even sure what it was, but he mentioned one day in passing that he'd stopped reading my writings as the result of it. It was an innocent oversight, but I became aware of the need to tell my story without crossing the limits of discretion. It started to distort meanings, and I've begun to feel as if the impression I'm leaving is one of a thoroughly self-centered woman without much connection with her family. Strange. It has become an "I" document, and a huge piece of my life -- that essential part of my being as mother -- is being censored in order to protect the privacy of my sons and their families.

I'm not sure what to do about it, but I noticed how freely I've been able to share the agony of Rick's life as well as his death -- and in noticing, I realized that I surely would not have felt so free in doing so were he alive today. Dorian is illiterate due to her retardation so she figures rather large in my writings. My grandchildren, Rhico and Kokee, and Jessica and Justin, Alayana and Tamaya, are young enough to feel some discomfort were I to disclose anything more than incidental tidbits about their lives -- so they're missing here, as well.

There obviously is no immediate answer to this, but I guess I'm needing to at least make the observation in order to explain the absence of my two sons and their immediate families in this personal record. I've not even told David and his children about my blog -- but will now. Perhaps they'll have an answer, or, I'll be able to get some guidance on just how much embarrassment they're willing to put up with! One could so easily abuse the closeness that we share.

There are probably enough "Betty Stories" to tell without crossing those lines, I think. Meanwhile, I'll continue to hold to myself as subject and see how far that will take me without bruising any feelings unnecessarily.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hypocrisy reigns!

It is hard to imagine a more insane picture to face this Palm Sunday morning -- than that of a self-proclaimed born-again Super-Christian president dashing home to sign a newly-created law to save the life of a terminally ill brain-dead woman in Florida -- in the face of 125,000 Iraqi lives lost and over 1500 young Americans lives sacrificed willfully by an administration out of control! It brings to mind also those quite possibly innocent Death Row prisoners in Texas who sat on Death Row for years while their last pleas for mercy were ignored by a callous governor who didn't even bother to read their cases before denying their appeals. How on earth can this be? And, even more troubling, why on earth are the people of this nation not screaming their outrage this morning at the tragic absurdity of it all!

It may be more important to ask what has happened to us that we're allowing ourselves to be diverted by a constant diet of salacious news reports on steroid abuse in baseball, Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, and Scott Peterson in place of the hard news from the rest of the world upon which our very lives may well depend?

If we have a problem of national security, it's increasingly clear that the source of that problem is internal. Hypocrisy has many faces, some of which look very much like our own.

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