Sunday, February 25, 2007

My but it's been a long time ...

If you've been following this blog for a while, you must have thought that I'd either died or ole Al Zeimers had caught up with me and I'd lost control over either my mind or my fingers! Neither is true. However, what I have lost is control over my emotions. For reasons I'm only now beginning to understand and accept, for months now I've been experiencing a deep seething festering anger. It's a kind of rage that's entirely strange in some respects, but has a familiar ring to it -- as if stored somewhere deep in my psyche since childhood. My last post shows evidence of the first signs of an inner struggle that is now fully exploding into a dull non-focussed but debilitating ache that wakes me from sleep, and that bars rational and consistent thoughts from forming. Writing became impossible.

It was undoubtedly born in Papa George's truck garden when -- as an impressionable little girl I first heard the stories of life in St. James Parish, and about Mamma and slavery as experienced long ago -- about those black men whose bodies were found rotting in the Mississippi -- about so much awfulness that my child's mind was unable to process at the time ... .

My work here at the park has enlivened that deeply-troubled collective past shared with others like me -- reading recent studies about the World War II era from black scholars who are only now beginning to work on the period and make the connections; and who are now reaching out in some cases -- through cyberspace to add to my work through theirs.

Since I wrote last I've spoken for the AFL-CIO Laborfest; the School Board, the Richmond City Council; and most importantly, at the Richmond's Veterans Memorial hall before the (all-Black) 761st Tank Battalion Auxiliary that served so heroically with Patton in WWII, and that led the Battle of the Bulge and freed a prison camp and those awaiting death in the ovens of the Nazis. (Are you aware of the irony of an all-black unit fighting for democracy?) As we watched together the History Channel-produced documentary on the experience of those daring black soldiers who were hailed as heroes in Europe only to return home by way of the "back of the bus" and to full racial segregation -- my cynicism and anger re-surfaced. Our local connection to this film was that the national Commander, Floyd Dade, had recently passed away. His widow, Edris, was in the audience as we watched; a lovely woman. Her husband was one of the veterans of the 761st profiled in the documentary. I recalled as I watched that this giant of a man's obituary described him as the father of six and , "...a janitor in one of San Francisco's public schools" at the time of his death.

In preparation for the Auxiliary's Black History event I'd gone on line and read the Dade's oral history. It was truly a story of heroism under fire under a system that demanded that all black men be supervised by white officers because (as stated in the film) everyone knew that "... black soldiers could never be trusted to not run at the first sound of gunfire when in battle."

I'm thinking that this event (only two weeks ago) was the place where the smoldering rage began to persistently define itself -- to hold tight -- and to not let go without redress. Maybe over the next few weeks I can use my fingers and this keyboard to begin that process.

It may be that mine is a particularly insightful mind, or, that a natural talent for analytical thinking has taken over and combined with this summation of life that arrived over the past few years as the direct result of the aging process. Not sure of the 'why' of it, but I am certain that the flashes of revelations that wash over me from time to time now are real and true and important.

And, of this I am certain: Before I leave this earth -- someone owes me an apology! And that isn't "me" singular, but all of those who have gone through this schizophrenic life of paralyzing confusion rooted in the problem of never being able to actually know just who the "enemy" was/is and just how to confront a system that had never come to terms with its own past -- its own reality.

The final insult may lie in the fact that -- as a part of my work -- I've been involved in making presentations for the purposes of celebrating Black History Month while realizing all the while that I hate it! In a strange way -- though I know that we fought to have it established as a way of honoring our past -- we have allowed ourselves to be entrapped in a situation where we've carved out a limited period to remember while the rest of the year is reserved for others. In the words of the author Tim Wise (White Like Me), "We've got all the rest of them. They're called January, March, April, May, etc., all months reserved for the privileged!" At what point will we know that black history is really our national US history, and that until we learn to incorporate all of it into some cohesive whole, we will have simply re-segregated even our past? New thoughts -- and disturbing.

Over the past (silent) months, I've been busier than ever, and am in the midst of re-writing the script of "... Of lost conversations and untold stories." The little DVD has caught fire and I've been asked to expand it from its present 4 minutes 21 seconds to a full half-hour documentary.
I've been struggling with that -- mostly because I find that I've said what I wanted to say with the original rough draft that is now on -- and my unwritten rule with myself is that -- when I run out of truth -- I stop writing. It's quite possible that some of the power in the piece is in its brevity. It is dense with information, and actually seems longer than it actually is.

I met with a consultant on Friday. He is Steve Gilford, Kaiser Permanente historian, whose work is deeply-rooted in the World War II era. It was from Steve's studies that I learned some of the facts that were included in the first piece. I told him of my writer's block and of my idle games of online Solitaire as I try endlessly to recapture and broaden the themes of the original. His advice, "...toss it. Just send me a list of a few of the things that you want to say to us. If some of the original creeps back in, good. Maybe it will go someplace entirely new...".

That I will do; but not until I either get a handle on this disembodied rage that's been building for months and years, or until I can begin to transform that into what I'm needing now to make my case.

Maybe I can use this forum ... maybe... .

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