Saturday, July 07, 2018

I was aware that the reunion planners had included a gathering for Sunday Mass at Corpus Christ ...

... how could we not?

I don't remember being particularly concerned, nor aware of any long-held trauma around the issue.  Those feelings had faded over time, and by 2018 it would be simply one item on the itinerary of a memorable weekend, and nothing more.

David and his two daughters, Alyana and Tamaya, and I, walked up the aisle to be seated by the usher in the third row from the altar.  I did notice that the pews were not as I'd remembered them (it's been a long time since I was last in this hallowed space as a teenager).  There had been no middle aisle, but a large middle section with aisles on either side, and side sections where people of colored were seated.  But, of course, over time those pews surely had been replaced, and the sanctuary reconfigured.

I sat, grateful to be in the home of my family, in the church of our ancestors, and surrounded by all that colorful Charbonnet history ... .

No matter how far life had taken us all, the Tremé was and would always be home.

While musing, I was startled by a tap on my right shoulder and looked around to see Wendy, a cousin I'd only become aware of over the past few days, but suddenly here she was, whispering in my ear, "You're to participate in the Offertory, Betty.

So much had changed since I was that teenager, and I'd left Catholicism so long ago that I  had no idea what the "Offertory," was.  Obviously, it had to be a part of the worship service, and was probably connected to the passing of the collection baskets in some ceremonial way.  So much had changed since I was that naive child -- applause at the end of the priest's sermon would have been unheard of.  The mass would certainly have been delivered in Latin, and with a far more mysterious affect.  Missing was the wafting from the gleaming brass canister with the attached chain -- the incense which gave the entire service an unworldly and exotic feeling.  There would have been much more kneeling as I remembered, and the priest would be offering the mass to the Lord Jesus, and -- with his back to the congregation -- simply letting us observe that process.  Always making our case before God, speaking in our names as an intercessor. This mass was unfamiliar and a great deal less formal.

(click to enlarge)
The image of my father suddenly rose to consciousness -- as one of the men who passed those long-handled baskets during the mass, and that it was he who -- as the president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (men's group) at St. Benedict's in Oakland -- who was in charge of counting and reporting the amount of the collection to the priest at the end of the worship service.

Of course, there was no time to explain that I was no longer a Catholic, and why, so there was nothing to do but wait until summoned at that point in the ceremony.  Awkward.  But those facts paled in the face of the fact of "family," and of that honored role to fulfill.  This was all that mattered, so all else dropped away as I waited to be "called to service."

It was only a few moments before I was led from the pew near the front of the church, through the side aisle sections, to meet the few stalwarts who would form the small but important procession.

Behind a white robed altar person carrying a tall metal pole upon which was impaled --  the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and side-by-side with another elder, cousin Phyllis, carrying a flacon that held the wine to be used in the communion service, and I carrying "The Host," an ornamental small round box filled with communion wafers; the "body and blood" of Christ.  And suddenly, the sanctuary was filled with the heavenly music of the choir and there we were, there I was, marching up the center aisle toward the priest who stood waiting at the Altar.  I am bearing the most precious element of all.

And all in, Corpus Christi, my grandfather's church!

Not even the outrageous awfulness emanating from Washington could cut through the magic of that moment.  The centuries-old injustices and inequalities, the harsh realities that had destroyed my belief system completely since that fifteen year-old girl child had last visited that hallowed space.  Nothing could have diminished this moment in this year 2018.

The film that is being made about my life; the two filmmakers who'd come along to capture these moments of my most improbable life -- had no idea of the depths of this experience.  How on earth would they know what it meant?  Who on earth would believe this if written in a script?  I silently vowed to gain the footage and include it here, in this record of my remarkable life that seems almost too theatrical to ever be believed.

Was it enough to bring down the Gods from Heaven to reclaim this errant child?  No.  No blinding insight.  No contemporary version of the burning bush, thank you.  But there was a kind of peace that descended.  I knew instinctively that this may have been the greatest "book end" moment I would ever live, and that it was almost poetic in its simplicity.

Would I not absolutely LOVE to have been able to share that moment with Dorson Louis Charbonnet, my father, and his, Louis Charbonnet?

But maybe among those inexplicable moments that are beyond explanation and defy logic, they knew and had guided me toward my completion -- in this my final decade.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book ends to a long and amazing life ... 

Long ago, when I was a curious and less than adventuresome adolescent, I was sent to Louisiana to  participate in the annual ritual of celebrating my maternal great-grandmother's birthday.  Since our fathers and uncles were largely employed as red caps and/or Pullman porters at that time, we enjoyed and took advantage of the Southern Pacific railroad company's family passes program -- few of us could have afforded those trips home otherwise.  It was my turn that year, to represent the West Coast branch of the family.

My parents prepared me for that visit to New Orleans with an itinerary that would include attending Sunday services at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, the Charbonnet family's great source of pride since my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet, had designed and built that great edifice as one of the last projects before he passed on in 1924.  He also built the high school that stood adjacent to the church.

Corpus Christi High School
I was reminded of his eminence in the Treme.  That his casket was held at the altar for two days before burial to allow the community to pay its respect for the prominence he'd brought through his many great works over many years as a leader of influence and service to all.

On the long train trip from the West Coast, I'd dreamed of seeing that structure, and made my way there on the first Sunday after arrival in that historic city.

Imagine the shock when -- after dipping my hand in the font of holy water and making the sign of the cross as folks were gathering for mass -- then entering through the heavy double doors to find the usher guiding  me to the side aisle where people of color were seated.  The middle section was reserved for whites, only!  This, in my grandfather's church!

What kind of God would allow this?  For a youngster who'd grown up as a second generation Californian, there was no way to process this outrage.  This was the birth of cynicism for me, and probably caused the disenchantment with religious orthodoxy in general, and with Catholicism, specifically, from that day forward.  With the innocence of youth, and the same kind of non-compromising attitude that probably characterizes my entire life, I could not accept what my parents had not seen as important enough to prepare me for -- prior to the experience.  There had been no warning.  Racial segregation was simply the reality, the "normal", that their generation had lived through and survived.  They did not question.  I could not accept.

Oddly enough, I can't recall ever mentioning how that encounter with the system of segregation had effected me.  Not then, not ever.  Perhaps that's a part of the problem, and the why it is that we've never quite conquered it.

When such practices become normalized, they become embedded in the culture, and are no longer questioned.  Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere for what's occurring in this nation of today, maybe.  A caution to be ignored at our peril?

That would have been around 1936.

That was then.

Now scroll forward to June 24, 2018, and though I'd not ever visited Corpus Christi again despite the fact that I've been home to New Orleans several times since then.  Over the years the memory had grown to symbolize something abhorrent, and completely unacceptable.   This time I was there as a minor character, though the matriarch of my huge family -- participating in our first ever Family Reunion (245 attended from across the country).

... and what an experience it was!

Read on ... .

Monday, June 18, 2018

You would not believe ... .

... the emotional garbage that has been dredged up by the tragic situation at our southern borders.

It's all meshed together with the words that come at nearly the end of my Visitor Center talks -- those that refer to the fact that "... I don't believe that we've ever -- as a nation -- yet processed the Civil War."  It's where the talk winds down, just before closing:

"Though surely not created for the purpose, the National Park Service has evolved into a resource that enables the citizens of this country to re-visit almost any era in our history; the heroic places, the contemplative places, the scenic wonders, the shameful places -- and the painful places.  Revisit them in order to own that history; to process it, in order to make it possible for us to begin to forgive ourselves so that we may move into a more compassionate future, together."

I then add that I don't believe that we have ever -- as a nation -- processed the Civil War.

Tonight as I watched the CNN panels go over repeatedly the horror stories of those children crying uncontrollably for their missing parents -- from giant wire cages.  The pundits indignantly bewailing at the outrageousness of this atrocity.  The woman who heads the National Pediatric Association counting off the physical and emotional damages being inflicted upon these thousands of innocent children ... .

Suddenly the familiar words, "... but this is not who we ARE!" rang hollow.  Of course it's who we are! We've been here before.  This evil forced separation of parents and children was a practice for almost 300 years as children of color were sold on the block; families cruelly torn apart, and in many cases those children were being sold by their (slave master) fathers!  That horrendous history dooms us to relive it decade after painful decade because it's buried deep in our DNA and will be until it is faced and reconciled.

What were those "lifelong permanent damages" the good pediatrician was listing?  Emotional instability; depression, irreparable personality disorders, paranoia,  learning disabilities, etc., to name a few.''

What about those who suffered such emotional and psychological scars for several generations -- and in a nation of profound denial?  Is that not what we're seeing even into the 21st Century -- in our inner cities and still-needful rural areas?

Why was it so disturbing to me -- when the panel was likening the shame of the treatment of these innocent children to that suffered by the incarcerated Japanese and Japanese-Americans during WWII, the awfulness of this nation's blunder -- the lapse into the depths of immorality -- and this was not preceded by references to the Era of Enslavement?

Not to mention the period in our history when Native America children were removed from their reservation family homes and placed in special schools so that they could be "de-Indianized" -- stripped of their native languages and culture.  This is not new, only lost to memory and to denial of convenience.

Are we doomed to re-live that history until we face it squarely and prove strong enough to process that awfulness?

When will we stop uttering those vacuous and self-deluding words, "... this is just not who we ARE", so that the upsurge of the toxic element that continues to poison our culture won't continue to find resonance in a population that allows white supremacy to remain a force in our country?  So that now it has reached into our institutions and agencies, and threatens to become systemically beyond control?

Until we process our true history, we will continue to repeat the awfulness.

... and the tragedy that -- through my great-grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, and those who shared her fate when our women were classified as field slaves, house slaves, and breeders,  I am a descendant of all of it!  My ancestors were among both the sinners and the sinned-against.  White and Black.  

Yet -- I, too, am America!

In these final years, I'm empowered by that history.

But I look at it all squarely in truth and remain hopeful despite all, but at a time like this, just barely.


Sunday, June 03, 2018

Memories ...

Deepened by those of my dear friend, "sister," with whom I shared life at one of the most painful yet regenerative periods in my life.

Jewell Ford was a much-loved member of my church, the Mt. Diablo Unitarian-Universalist Church of the Diablo Valley.  We were both early members, long before we became the established church of today; at a time when we were just a group of young families meeting on Sundays in borrowed spaces -- on a common search for meaning at a time when the nation was in a stage of upheaval (the mid-Fifties and late Sixties), desperately needing to find at least temporary answers to pass along to our children until they could fashion their own ... .

We were on opposite sides of the racial barrier yet -- even then -- finding one another in a friendship that has sustained us throughout the rest of our lives.

After a long and productive life with Don, her late husband, Jewell died just a few months ago, and we're still between her death and the Celebration of Life that memorials have evolved into, and properly so.  That is scheduled for August, and I'll move mountains to get there if need be.

Son, Bob, was in Santa Rosa appearing in a concert with his partner, Judi, over the weekend and came home moments ago -- pressing into my hand age-yellowed papers -- news clippings culled from Jewell's collection ("Mamma kept everything") and among them was this one.  Her daughter Marcia sent them along with other relevant clippings that immediately nudged me gently back into those tumultuous shared years ... .

I remember the dress, and the pearls, but the event where I was singing has faded from memory ... but the memory of the love and warmth of Jewell will remain with me until time runs out, and there's only the hereafter -- wherever and whatever that may be.

And no, we never did find those answers, but I'm certain that we "don't know" at a far higher level than before.

So young ... .

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

This NatureBridge annual fundraiser brought us together ... .

These two young people are this  year's honorees at this  year's Gala in San Francisco.  They are 16 year-old Marisa, and an amazing 17 year-old Aztec/American activist, Xiuhtezcatl.  These two helped to inspire the raising of $600,000 for the NatureBridge scholarship fund for this year.

The opportunity to interact with such young people, and to (perhaps) influence their activism forward is something I've come to value as a privilege beyond all expectations in these final years.

The close relationship between the National Park Service and this extraordinary service organization has added to the growing diversity present in my work and life that now extends far beyond the borders of the NPS, and into a far greater depth of involvement in those Movements that may yet save us all.

Saving Planet Earth is basic to all else.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Commonwealth Club interview
Since September of 2003, there has never been such a long time between blog posts ...

but neither has there been a more event-filled period in my long life -- or a time when so much was happening that defied description ... .

Since I last posted, my book, Sign my name to freedom, was launched (February 6th) and the "phantasmagorical" began to happen!

Why on earth would anyone believe that -- since then, I've done many book signings (Pegasus, East Bay Book Festival, the Commonwealth Club in SF; Pixar (or have I told you about that one?), a trip to do the World Muse conference in Bend, Oregon, plus a return trip for a book signing);  a trip to Washington to receive the Robin Weeks Award from the National Parks Conservation Association; plus a side trip to NY to appear on The Moth (NPR) at the prestigious Lincoln Center as a storyteller; another to present before the Women of Nike in Portland; and this week's flight to appear as a cast member of 5 story tellers for The Moth in Seattle.  Add to that a book signing for the Berkeley Historical Society followed by another for the Martinez Historical Society next Sunday.

This is only a sampling of what life has been like over past weeks, only hitting the highlights, but it should give you an idea of the pace at which I'm now living.

I will try to look back over time and post photos, but I've simply lost track of most so will need to do some research before doing that.
Singing at Geoffrey's

One of the most exciting events is something that I've not mentioned before but that stands out as one of the most satisfying experiences the days have offered:

I've spent the past 3 weeks attending the practice sessions of a children's jazz band at the Community Music Center in San Francisco where Marcus Shelby, noted composer/arranger/conductor teaches.  Their ages are from 7 to about 16, the 7 year-old being a sweetest little violinist you'll ever meet!

There was an early evening concert ending their school year held last Tuesday -- hours before my flight to Seattle.  The audience was made up of parents and interested others, plus an augmented film crew to cover this segment for the movie.

Geoffreys Inner Circle book signing in Oakland
I'd so looked forward to this particular event since it allowed me to introduce a new generation to old issues, the generation in which those illusive answers might well be found.  That my music should be introduced in this way seemed fitting and right.  It is these children who may guide us forward into a more compassionate future.  If those kids in Parkland, Florida, are any indication, our democracy may finally be ready to face up to its potential as a world leader toward those long deferred promises.

They were being filmed as a part of the documentary now in production by filmmaker Bryan Gibel.  You cannot imagine how amazing it is to have those children playing 3 of my original songs from forty years ago.  They've been arranged by Shelby who has given them new life in an age where the issues they raise remain unresolved.  Jamie Zimmerman, 19 year-old jazz vocalist, breathed new life into the lyrics, and I was able to hear them differently, and -- because of the passage of time -- in the third
person without judging.  Those songs are brilliant!  It was as if I'm hearing them for the very first time.  It's the first time I've heard my music interpreted by other voices (the first was by Judi Jaeger, my Bob's partner, at the first book signing), and find myself wondering why I'd allowed them to become lost?

The songs will provide the sound track for Bryan's documentary, and will be released in album form when the film is released.

How much life can be crowded into this final decade?

We'll soon know, I suppose.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The San Francisco Main Library event was grand ...!

Shawna Sherman, Librarian responsible for the African American Division, was a fine interviewer who'd done her homework and asked questions that were probing and meaningful, and that gave me ways into the evening with confidence.

I'm gradually getting into  this book-signing thing, and feeling a bit more comfortable now that my "author" hat is becoming less an awkward fit, and more believable as the next step in this remarkable life of Betty.  Maybe there really is another place to stand as life continues into this final decade of unexpected successes and public attention.

Dorian -- months before we knew ...
Do you suppose ranger-ing is not the final chapter to be lived?  Do you suppose there may be time for Life with Dorian?  That's the book that might have been most helpful to me in facing her future and mine lo those many confusing years ago.  Maybe those things learned along the way, sometimes painfully, might help some young mother of a challenging child to get through the early (and later) years.  There's still a lot of murkiness that needs clarification in the world of the developmentally disabled -- and since Dorrie and I have now arrived at a place where we can now claim relative success, perhaps there is a legacy embedded here that can be left as a guidance for others coping their way through life.  Do you suppose there may still be time for yet another book?  Wouldn't that be something?  Too ambitious?  Maybe, but just as it was with this first book, it has not only all been lived, but also written.  Just needs editing, perhaps. We'll see.

But for now, I'm thinking of devoting some time to doing an audio book for Sign my name, and that must be sandwiched in between book signings and readings near and far, but if we don't plan for that soon, it will be lost.  With folks spending more and more time trapped in commuter traffic, or trying to remain relevant through books when (at least among those sharing these final years with me) are having vision deficits to deal with, so to have one to slip into a form for listening may be critical.  I'm dependent upon listening now, and enjoy those read by the author far more than others.

One might have thought that these years might offer fewer alternatives for how one spends time, but that doesn't seem to be true, at least not yet.  It is becoming clear that -- whenever the end comes -- it will be in the middle of my movie!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

It occurred to me that it might be wise to post my book-signing schedule here for those interested ... .

Wed Mar 7  San Francisco Main Library, Civic Center

Thu Mar 8  Commonwealth Club, San Francisco  (not certain when this will be aired)

Sat  Mar 10 East Bay Women's Political Caucus

Mon Mar 12  Signing at Passages (Marin)

Mar Wed 14  Video Interview re Redlining (Home)

               Mar Thu --       To Portland for presentation at Nike Corporate Offices

Mon Mar 25  Brickhouse Gallery - Sacramento

Mon Mar 26  Radio interview with Joni Eisenberg (Washington, D.C.)

Wed. Mar 26 Presentation at Pixar Campus in Emeryville.

Mar Wed 28  Presentation at SalesForce (Mosconi Center, San Francisco)

Mar Fri 30   Interview with Sheryl Sandberg at FaceBook, Silicon Valley (postponed)

Mar Sat  31  Cafe Society Book Signing, Kaleidoscope, Point Richmond

Apr Fri 6  Woodside First Friday

               Apr Tue 9th  To Washington, D.C. to receive the Robin Weeks Award

Apr. 14 Book signing at the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC.

               Washington through April 14th -- then to NY

April 16, "The Moth" at the Lincoln Center in NY, for NPR (yes, I'm one of the storytellers for broadcast on National Public Radio stations, nationally.

April 21, afternoon Book signing for the Japanese American Citizen's League at two o'clock, El Cerrito

April 27, Acheson Village book signing, seven o'clock

April 28, Pegasus Books, downtown Berkeley, book signing (part of the SF Book Festival).

May 17, Women's Leadership Summit, Richmond Auditorium and Convention Center

May 20, Book signing, Berkeley Historical Society, 1931 Center Street, Berkeley

Life has become so complicated that blogging is beginning to fade into the background ... .

... but these postings remain important in my feeble attempts at processing the happenings as they occur -- a necessary element in maintaining even the slightest sense of control over the hours, the days, and whatever there is left of weeks and months to spend.  How ironic that my public life has moved to center stage when it is so late, but then ... .

Spent last weekend in Bend, Oregon, a lovely little city high up in desert country.  This was not the Oregon that I'd imagined; the lush green forested Oregon of the Coast.  Bend is at 4000 ft. where there was once a thriving lumber industry, but now appears to be largely dependent upon the tourist trade.  Became my 6 year-old self while walking from the lovely Oxford Hotel to the conference site 3 blocks away through a snowfall.  What magic!  

The World Muse conference of activist young women -- a racially diverse collection of about 300 gathered there for workshops and lectures that were so reminiscent of Esalan with Fritz Perls and Charlotte Selvers et al, Werner Earhardt's EST, Sam Keene's Psychology Today, etc., that I had to keep reminding myself that the year is 2018 and not the Eighties!  

Mindfulness has taken the place of the Tibetan concept of Compassion practiced by my husband, Bill, and his cohorts at the University, and it was impossible to escape the feeling that Deja Vu had taken over my life.  

Had to keep reminding myself to not express that -- that each generation has the right and the privilege to re-discover its place on those ever uprising rungs on the spiral of change, and that the essence of those uprisings spells the never-ending progress of generations.

It was so obvious that the Women's Movement (Black Lives Matter, TimesUp, MeToo, etc.) has many parts, and that it is an idea whose time has come; that it is being invented -- simultaneously -- in many  places throughout the world by a caring and courageous new generation of young women.

I was asked as a replacement for a brilliant and courageous, Janna, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl who
was invited as presenter.  She was denied entry into our country though her escort, a woman from South Africa, sat across from me at our shared table for dinner the first evening.  Can you imagine how exciting it was to find myself among what clearly are the leaders of the future?

There was a video from Tarana Burke, the African American woman presenter -- the creator the MeTooMovement who'd found herself trapped by the Nor'easter on the East Coast so had her flight cancelled.  Yet, here was I, the on-site Elder for those creating our future for 3 days, and so aware of how precious this was!  After returning home -- watching the Oscars -- there she was on stage with the other movement leaders.

I (magically) received two standing ovations!  One that followed a short 4-minute video made by The Makers filmmaker, Sara Wolitzky, for their recent conference in Southern California, and another that followed a short interview.

There were a number of Muse members who had shared the Makers experience with me only a few weeks ago, and it was so wonderful to find myself caught up in the sheer exuberance of young women in the process of discovery of their emerging empowerment.  For the first time I find myself seriously considering that Faustian bargain, if offered... (just a few more years, please!) 

I remember someone in the Green Room asking if I were nervous just before going onstage.  I thought for a moment and answered, "no, just excited."  It was true.  It also was a reminder that this has been true now for months (years?).  When had the change come?  I wasn't certain, but in thinking about it on the flight home I realized that it is hard to take any of this seriously at my age.  Having lost my sense of "future," it has no place to go.  I'm no longer building a resume.  Everything now is viewed in retrospect; through a rearview mirror.  I'm no longer "becoming," but simply "being."  My view of the world has shifted, so that NOW really is all there is, and that's no longer nervous-making.

Bend was another amazing, awe-inspiring, event that will fill my days with quiet joy into my unknown but ever-exciting whatever days-to-come!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Oh my", and if those word don't date me, nothing will ...!

But nothing short of "cool" can describe the turn life has taken over past week, but "Cool" is a near miss, even when I capitalize the first letter.

On Monday it was an evening of book-signings (my first) at St. Marys College in Moraga hosted by Sharon Sobotta, executive director of the Women's Center there.  On Tuesday Bob and I drove to KPFA-Pacifica FM station in Berkeley for a taping with Cat Brooks (wonderful interviewer!) of an hour-long talk for UpFront programming.  On Wednesday it was Paul Chambers of local Channel 2 (our FoxNews) who came to my apartment with his cameraman/editor to film a piece for their Black History Month programming. Thursday's assignment was a telephone interview with a delightful young woman for the Audubon Society.  Then came Friday that was jam-packed with interviews -- first NPR's Forum with Mina Kim followed by televising a piece for KQED's Newsroom with Thuy Vu (even more beautiful in person) after a meeting in the mirrored makeup room where I fully expected the first step would be sand-blasting, but that proved useless so we settled for the usual applications of potions and dips into exotic tiny pots of various creams of tints and colors applied with brushes of all sizes and shapes by the ultimate professional (who turned out to be from Richmond) -- a fascinating process.

There's something about that ritual that is a reminder of the child, Betty, playing dress-up in my mother's closet and dressing-table; interesting throw-back to a time of innocence ... .

Following the Newsroom taping was a Facebook session with Thuy that was unexpected but manageable since I'm so far beyond being taken aback by almost anything that I've begun to appear non-plussed (always loved that word but never needed it before).

Being a D-List celebrity is beginning to hold fewer surprises now than before, and that's good.  Having a chronic dry mouth takes some getting used to but having rushes of saliva that threatens to ooze from the sides of your mouth when you're being filmed in Hi-Def TV tends to make one plussed!

When the filming was over and we found our way to the elevator for the descent into our normal reality for the drive home in the usual rush-hour traffic it all began to feel surreal.  The drive was relatively uneventful except for the stop at home to pick up my forgotten wallet, then to the supermarket to re-stock foodstuff.  I was surely overdressed for the checkout line but being in civvies, I actually attracted less attention than when in uniform.

After a day like that one would think that I'd surely be waiting to see the public appearances, wouldn't one?  Not so.  Came home and changed into my pajamas (in the middle of the day!), propped myself upon pillows -- turned on the idiot box to watch the Olympics, the goings-on in Washington, and today's antics with our Leader of the Free World, eventually dozed off for hours and missed Newsroom.  Dorian telephoned to say that she'd seen me on the TeeVee -- that's when I remembered ... .

I then dug my I-Pad out from under the blankets where it had been stashed, located NPR's Forum in the archives, listened closely, and was pleased.  Later I may watch Newsroom, but I really much prefer to just do the pieces then move on.  Watching myself is something I prefer not to do, and I haven't the vaguest notion just why that is.  Listening to myself hasn't the same effect.  Crazy, right?

But in the listening, I believe that I done good!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Is Makers a game changer ... ?

Bob, my son and manager, has been warning me to be prepared for my life to become more complex than ever with the publication of Sign my name, but despite his attempts at preparing me for this, the effects are almost overwhelming ... .

The moment my on-stage interview ended and I was backstage being detached from my microphone, Dyllan McGhee, founder of Makers rushed back into the hubbub of behind-the-scenes calling out excitedly as she entered, " she's trending equal to Hillary!"  I had no idea what this meant, except that it was surely something special in this world since I was aware that Hillary Clinton had been last year's honoree and at a time when she was a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America.  But what on earth did "trending" mean?  This was a familiar term from the world of social media, but it was not something that I'd ever had to concern myself with before now,  so now that it mattered, I realized that I had no idea what it meant -- yet here it was being applied to me.

It was clear that this was BIG!  Hollywood BIG!  Maybe even national BIG.

After being de-miked I left backstage and took my seat back in the audience to a very different atmosphere.  Something new was in the air.  I must have hit it over-the-fence, whatever "it" was, and suddenly everything was lighter as if the room had been filled with helium.

I suddenly became aware from looking at a monitor just below and beside the stage upon which the text of everything in that space was being streamed throughout the nation, that it wasn't just the 400 attendees that I'd just appeared before, but also an unseen audience of countless others who'd been witness to what was occurring in this room.  The full implications of this reality hit me with the force of such ferocity that I took my seat in silence while all of this settled in to fulfill Bob's warning.

Things would now be different than before.

This was the future that I'd grown into, that had grown out of the work that I've been doing over the past decade.  This was where it was all leading to.  But why at such a late hour, and at what cost?

Is this what it's like to be discovered by the World?

... but it would certainly be great to have my old hair back ... maybe I need to buy me some.  Nah.  There are just so many follicles to a lifetime, and I've apparently used mine up.  Wish I'd paid them the proper respect while cleaning my brush.  To think that I just scraped them out with my comb and flushed those precious strands without a second thought.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yup!  Here I am at the Universal Studios in Hollywood ... .

Upon arrival after the long drive from LAX we arrived at the studio -- drove past vaguely familiar buildings of various historic periods -- easily recognizable as stage sets from movies seen long ago, to a series of trailer villages where the Hallmark shows are shot.  It all has a temporary feel to it, as much of Los Angeles has had for me over visits over time.

There I was ushered into my green room, comfortably furnished with two sofas, a TV monitor, hanging space for change of clothing.  After a time guided to the make-up trailer where several specialists were waiting to transform and "youth-ify" those of us in need of such, and -- in time -- onto the set for the taping of my segment of the Hallmark Home & Family Show.

All the while, my chauffeur had been waiting, and promptly at three he magically materialized for the trip to Hollywood and the Makers Conference.

But first there was check-in at the London Hotel(!), and I have never nor will I ever again know such luxury!  My suite (most of my Richmond condo might well have fit into it) consisted of the most luxurious bathroom on the planet, the king-sized bed area, then a sitting room looking out over whatever part of Hollywood we were in -- had reached the London Hotel somewhere along the legendary Sunset Boulevard.

My limo lined up behind the others waiting to gather in their temporary clients (me being one such), and the thought ran across my mind that I'd never seen this many luxurious chariots in one place before, and that this hotel must be filled with many more of the 1% than the likes of me.

Took the elevator to my suite on the 5th floor and gasped as I entered into my designated space for the next 72 hours!  WOW written in italics and followed by 50 exclamations point is the understatement of the year!  And here I was without my cellphone to record it for later savoring back in my ordinariness. It was here that we met Luciano, our limousine chauffeur for the entire time of the Conference.  He would pick us up (granddaughter Alyana and me) each morning promptly at 7:30, deliver us to the proper venue where we would spend whatever time in "Neverland", would wait for us, wait at each site until time to deliver us back to the London after events had ended in the evening.  Can you imagine?

I'd invited Alyana, who is attending UC Irvine on a 4-year scholarship and in her senior year, to share the Makers experience.  We had a great time in our borrowed celebrity status that would be fleeting for me, but that might be a great beginning for a neophyte communications major where she would be exposed to the highest level of "makers," women who were the leaders in their fields.  Her heroes were here to inspire, and who knows where this glitzy adventure might lead?

For a young student of color who is studying in the field of media -- to be in the presence of the celebrated screen director, Ava DuVernay, was a gift to be envied, and something this grandmother hadn't dreamed was even a possibility, yet here was that gift in this world where dreams are finally attainable.  What a magical thing ... .

But by far the most meaningful time for us both proved to be in the later hours -- after the noise had died down -- after a day of ogling and nudging one another constantly as we encountered more celebrities than we'd ever seen gathered in one place -- and we were in our fancy hotel suite in the very first deep grandmother/granddaughter conversations we've ever had.  In Nana's words,  "we got past the "how's school/how's work" stuck place and into the deep grownup stuff like "what if I told you that I might not ever want to marry," and "have you ever had a lover, Grandma?" (of course!).  It was a bridge crossed from which we'll never retreat ... and how memorable it was for us both.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What a time ... .!

After an uncomfortable and tentative live interview on FoxNews, and a less than satisfying experience on the Hallmark Home & Family show (through no fault of my gracious hosts) I arrived at the Noya Center in Hollywood for the Makers Conference, "Raise your Voice!" and it all came together magnificently.

Prior to the announcement that I'd been chosen as this year's honoree by this hugely successful women's organization, Makers was unknown to me.  I'd suppose I might blame that on my having gradually but definitely begun to drop away from all those causes and issues that are outside the parameters of the National Park System.  My work with the NPS has truly become all-consuming, and as that aspect of my life rose to dominance, all else except my immediate family has begun to fade into the background.

You'll want to know that past recipients of this great honor has been such illustrious women as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and last year's presidential candidate and former First Lady Hillary Clinton.   One might well ask (as I did) "why me?" which remains a mystery to this day, but these days I question not.  I just show up to watch what happens!

 On Monday morning, February 5, I arrived at LAX and promptly lost my cellphone.  I made my way to Baggage where I was to be met by "ground transportation" (that I assumed would be Uber or Lyft) identifiable by someone standing there holding a Soskin sign.  Got to the lower level thoroughly confused and feeling old and irrelevant (despite all) and looked for my phone and discovered it missing.  Went to Lost and Found to report it having been left on the plane so that it could be retrieved before the next departure ... nothing.  No driver holding a "Soskin" sign.  No idea what to do or whom to call since all of that information was stored (of course) in my phone.  The driver could not reach me because he only had that number.  Decided to stand out at the curb in that impossibly busy terminal and just wait for someone to claim me.  What else does one do under such circumstances?

In my active imagination, I must have wandered between known worlds for perhaps 15 perilous minutes -- which seemed like hours -- until unknown forces took over and the Universe righted itself.  It was great to learn that this even happens in Hollywood.

After gradually subsiding waves of panic, a stately uniformed limousine chauffeur rose magically at my elbow, rather tentatively,  holding out a cardboard sign with Soskin printed prominently on it before a thoroughly addled old woman sitting on her luggage with a vacant stare.  I was completely outclassed by this setting, and felt it,  and by his courtly manner, it was clear that he knew but was willing to play the game.

Temporarily (as one does in such cases) I cast eyes heavenward and praised the God that I tend to believe in only under such circumstances, otherwise I'm agnostic, of course.

We crossed into the garage -- where such elegant machines are parked for brief periods -- and my driver  whom by now I realized spoke with an exotic foreign accent ushered me into the luxurious back seat with the darkened windows to protect anonymity for those needing it, and we were soon on the infamous L.A. freeways en route to the Universal Studios in Burbank to tape the Hallmark show from twelve 'til three.

I sat in that posh limo feeling completely out of place, out of character, and wondering (embarrassingly) just how I would get through the rest of this day, this conference, this City without any idea what, who, why, etc., with no itinerary, agenda, no cell phone to guide me?

How on earth could this organization of brilliant young women have wasted their "honorations"  (and, yes, I know that isn't really a word) on someone so stupid and careless as this year's honoree?  Besides that, these brown age spots were really going to show through the makeup, and would they notice that my eyebrows (having disappeared along with the rest of the time-limited hair follicles) were non-existent, and I wasn't always certain that I'd applied the pencil where it should have been drawn ...).

But those insecurities only lasted a few hours before the world got back on its axis and JOY! (yes, joy in italics) began to reign!

More later ...

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Finally better understand the debacle of the Fox News experience ... .

 It would be impossible for anyone to know that -- due to restraints related to my status as a federal employee -- I've been granted a 4-week leave from my ranger position in order to enable my ability to work with the publisher in the launch of my memoir, Sign my name to freedom.  The book is being shipped this week to bookstores nationally.  During this time I am totally out of uniform and into civvies as my private person, Betty Reid Soskin, self.   It's a question of a serious conflict of interest as a federal employee subject to restraints that are important within the system, with necessary negotiations connected with each and every personal appearance and/or interview I'm involved in.  I cannot be seen as profiting in my private life from my federal position, the last thing I'd ever intended.

But then my entire later life has happened in a series of disconnected circumstances and experiences; that "constant state of surprise" that I seem to have been born into.

Most of the media has been cooperating, and the local press has been willing to go along with the federal protocols by carefully wording their stories to avoid the conflict.  It's a tight line to navigate since I'm now so firmly identified as a national park ranger, though over the 85 years prior to this I've known a complicated set of identities, been many women, sequentially.

There are now many conversations with publicity people, agents, producers, who have little reason to even be interested in private Betty Reid Soskin since she certainly didn't rise to this level of public attention until becoming a ranger.  Why should they?  Besides, there's all that buzz out there in the media -- now worldwide -- related to that public persona to take advantage of.

It's a tight line to try to hold.  After today it feels almost impossible ... .

Since I couldn't see Arthel Neville (she was represented by the tiny red light against a black screen), and we'd not spoken prior to this interview, I had no idea whether she or her producer had been briefed on the prohibitions prescribed by my position as a federal employee.  Also, this was LIVE television, so there was no possibility of managing the situation without scrubbing the whole thing and embarrassing everyone in the process!

My breath became immediately restricted, my mouth ran dry, the interview was out of control within seconds of the opening.  There was -- within minutes -- the book cover on the screen, further complicating the situation.

An hour after returning home an email arrived from Fox with the entire short interview as an attachment. I had no idea that the segment had opened with stills of me in various aspects of my work -- all in uniform and on duty.  The first question the host asked placed the interview smack into the middle of forbidden territory! The visuals on screen were Betty the Ranger in full uniform, as prohibited by the agency, followed by mention of my soon-to-be-launched book!  Embarrassing in the worst way.

There had been hours of preparation prior to my going on leave, small meetings held to be sure that I,  Betty Reid Soskin, private citizen, fully understood where those lines were.  All this for the purpose of making this 4-week period free of NPS connections -- free to allow for book-signings, media events, etc.  Small wonder that the words dried up in my throat in those 5 awful minutes!  In watching the piece a few moments ago, I found myself wondering what in the world had we expected?  Maybe we were attempting the impossible.  We were naive and untested in the world of entertainment.

Would it not be crazy were I to have to retire from the important work that I'm doing before I'm ready to do so simply because we couldn't control this aspect of the book release?

My ranger replacement has not turned up yet, and -- if that replacement is intended to be the documentaries now in production, they won't be released for months, maybe not 'til 2019 in the case of the 90 minute film.  The shorter film will probably be in distribution in summer of this year.

I'm off to Los Angeles for the Makers Conference on Monday morning.  Will the problem deepen if an answer is not found?

Has the time arrived for me to have to choose between careers; ranger or author and not both?

... but is it not a miracle that I'd even need to make such a choice in my tenth decade?

It was a Fox News experience ...

Found myself in an alternate universe today, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Picked up at  at my condo at 12:30 by a uniformed chauffeur in a limo and driven to a studio in San Francisco for an interview segment on the Fox News channel hosted by Arthel Neville.  Strange.  Down the rabbit hole it was, and a few hours later  I'm home again (it's now four o'clock).  It all feels like a dream; as if it didn't happen at all.   A pure fantasy ... .

Driver stopped, went around the car to open the door for me (I'd forgotten about that ritual) and escorted me to the entrance to a studio on Battery Street near the tourist-crowded SF waterfront.  The building appeared to be closed, though a woman could be seen sitting in the small lobby.  She rose to tell me that the technician "working the show" was on his way, that he had the key to the elevator, and that we had to simply await his arrival before we could get to the third floor studio.  She turned out to be the make-up artist, and I was her client.

We waited for about ten minutes before he arrived with the key, and the 3 of us proceeded to where whatever this was would occur.

I'd not been prepared in any way for what was to happen, and had no idea what to expect.

I sat in a tall chair as the make-up person prepared her materials from a large bag she'd brought with her; she arranged an array of various-sized brushes, tubes, lipsticks, little containers of cosmetics of one kind or another, and she quietly went to work rising bravely to the challenge of  trying to renew a 96 year-old face in the day of the Millenials.  No conversation.  No instructions.  No nothing.  She completed her work and then ushered me into the Green Room where I would wait for instructions that I'd learned by now were arriving via radio/cellphone directly into the ear of the techie, apparently, and all emanating from the studio in New York.

This was a mere satellite, nothing more.  The real Fox world was on the other Coast.

After a short period Techie came for me, seated me on a chair under bright lights, clipped a microphone to my collar, told me to look at the red light on the equipment in front of me -- then placed a receiver in my right ear through which the New York news team was telecasting Fox news!

I'd entered an alternate Universe.  Truly.  The panel was discussing the recently-released House Intelligence Committee's  Devin Nuns memo.  The conversation in no way resembled that of CNN's panels last night, nor the more balanced coverage of C-SPAN that I'd listened to for hours before sleep.  I rarely watch Fox News, so wasn't prepared for the wide variance of opinion, though I'd heard of it for years.

After about 15 minutes the NY producer came into my receiver to say that I would be on right after the next commercial.  I was in no way prepared.  Hadn't learned until moments before that the little red light wouldn't turn into an image of a real person with whom I could chat about whatever she was primed for.  I'd had experience with Skype sessions over great distances, and expected to be able to see the interviewer on the screen as we chatted.  With without the image, there was no relationship established, even virtual.  No one to speak with directly.  I was totally lost!  No eyes to look into, a prerequisite for any presentation I ever make in my work.  Couldn't make the experience come alive in any way.  Couldn't get past a feeling of vague discomfort ... . Suddenly -- as suddenly as it had begun -- it was "thank you" time, and I was still alone in that room with no one to tell me that it was over, and that I could disconnect from the mic ... mouth dry ... panic ... but it was over, at least.

The interview had lasted all of 5 minutes.

For this I'd been picked up by a limo for the 45-minute drive in weekend traffic and past the countless homeless who inhabit the underpasses that border the freeways between Richmond and SF -- where that (patient and expensive) driver had waited for me through it all.  Then the long drive home feeling stupid and that it had been a total waste of everyone's time, and that the platitudes exchanged (called an "interview") were simply a part of some ruse so that everybody could feel as if they'd contributed something of value to life on the planet.

Despite all, I came away satisfied that I'd received the most perfect set of eyebrows in the world!  Maybe that's about the best one can expect in these chaotic times.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

It has been a week of interviews by phone, and public events on a scale never imagined ... .

Just finished a conversation with a producer from the Hallmark Family Show.  I'm involved in a one-hour on-camera interview on Monday, February 5th, at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.   It will be telecast the following day. This was the pre-airing interview that sets the guidelines for the experience.   The interview was initiated by my publisher, Hay House NY, as a part of the launching of Sign my name for freedom.  That's a good thing, right?

She was easy to talk with, and asked good questions.  But I felt gently guided away from anything "too controversial."  "Ours is a program designed for women who are family-oriented," and we try to do only those things that fall into that category (gardening, career matters, parenting, etc.,).

I found myself becoming quietly resistant. That's the Disney view of the world, right?  Forming that more perfect Union requires a far more robust attitude, and I found myself finally blurting out, "...but don't you think that runs against what we ought to be doing as feminists?"  There was a silence, then this warm and friendly young stranger answered after a long and awkward pause with a simple, "yes."

We then continued our extended conversation about my former slave great-grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen's life as it related to mine -- and how in the world does one do that while at the same time trying to detoxify the words so that no one is offended?  Slavery is brutal, and since we've still not processed that history as a nation, from a time when the women of my world (women of color) fell into 3 categories (house slaves, fields slaves, and "breeders").   And for a period of 300 years!  From a time when white men were using rape as a tool with which to increase their "stock" after the English had outlawed slavery and no longer were the ships bringing human beings for purchase into our ports.  From a time in our history when white men were quite literally selling their own children on the block.  Tell me how one does that in today's world without explosive rage begging to be released?  And while moving toward the change needed in order for the idealism in our system to outweigh the brutality and cruel injustices that still prevents our rise from relative powerlessness to full equality?

How could this kind young woman know what her questions were releasing into our innocent chat?  Those wounds resurface each time I walk past the portrait of my great grandmother that hangs in my hallway, even today, at a time when her photo is tucked into my wallet along with the credit cards, appointment slips, spare change.  She's with me almost every moment of my day ... .

Yet I understand the constraints the woman on the other end of the line is under.  That each of us are under even in today's world when the power to reach into the void and wrest that history from its moorings -- in order to find the reconciliation and atonement that we must someday confront if America is to ever move beyond its cruel past.
My great aunts, Leontine's daughters - the 1st generation out of slavery

How do we grow past the inclination to try to recapture and reclaim the real history through Disney-tization -- myths that belie the truths that we must face bravely into in order to rise above?

The interviews scheduled for tomorrow in San Francisco with Creole host Arthel Neville of Fox News, and Monday's appearance on the Hallmark Channel can't possibly put a dent in the vast ocean of misconceptions we've held for centuries now.  Far more is needed in order for the social change I've given most of my life in search of -- and that I'll continue to strive toward til' life comes to an end.  I'll simply have to hope that a few segments of my inexplicably long life has contributed to one more piece of the sometimes seemingly futile attempts at forming our "more perfect Union."

Perhaps my book will add a few steps in that direction, but it's a modest memoir not intended to do much more than to tell what it has meant to have lived a life as me.

I will temporarily bury the anguish, and continue to address "the World" in ways not too disturbing, in order to continue to fulfill the vision and dreams of our young nation and, over time, I just may find myself among an enlightened citizenry finally ready to engage in meaningful exchanges that are worthy of the many who've spent their relatively ordinary lives, as I did, trying desperately hard to get it right.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The first books arrived almost at the same hour that my friend, Farai Chideya popped in ... .

Farai is a noted media person, a dear person who lives in New York, and whose visits to the West Coast are far too rare.  She has a sister, Sekai, a physician on the staff of LifeLong Health Care in Berkeley, so that means a guaranteed meeting of we three on occasion.  The Chideya's are originally from Zimbabwe.  Farai's career had taken her around the world many times.  She just returned from a trip to South Africa.

Having arrived early, we stopped off at the magnificent sculpture, Remember Them, a monumental work of Mario Chiodo where Farai took the first photos of the author, Betty Reid Soskin, at the site of that great work.  The leaders memorialized there were those who had served as inspirations for me over my long and eventful life.  This is where I would launch my book, here where all of that greatness has been preserved forever in bronze by my friend, Mario.

Farai had planned that we would have dinner somewhere near the Paramount theater, and then would make our way to see W. Kamau Bell's sold-out appearance with Conductor Michael Morgan's Oakland Symphony -- and it was glorious! An evening of the symphony playing Nina Simone, Prince, Coltrane, etc., with occasional participation by a great group of jazz singers as well as the symphony chorus!  What a time it was!

Some months ago I'd received an invitation from Kamau to be on his show.  Shyness took over and I simply ignored his request -- didn't even respond.  Arsenio Hall had been experience enough for this lil ole lady, and I wasn't looking forward to a repeat. After all, surely he wouldn't know what to do with me when I turned up at his studio.  I gave myself all sorts of excuses, but in the end, simply pretended that he simply had made a mistake and had never intended ... silly, right?

Not only were there 3 tickets provided, but an opportunity to meet him in his dressing room at the  end of the performance.  He was gracious, almost little-boy-like, and I was so sorry to have not been as welcoming at his invitation months ago.  Met his proud mother, his wife, his two lovely little girls, and came home smiling into the night at a most memorable evening of great music, and an amazing experience of fellowship and joy.
Judi Yaeger and me with thousands of our new best friends
What a day it was ....!

Went to the City Hall Plaza in downtown Oakland on Saturday for the march and rally for Women's Day -- exciting just to be with so many of like mind.

On Wednesday of last week books arrived from Hay House NY intended for promotional purposes.  Seeing a real hard copy of a book with my name on the cover and the spine gave me a feeling that was new and novel, and previously unimaginable!  Yet, here it was.  And -- a statement by the renown historian/filmmaker Ken Burns on the book jacket ... unbelievable.

My last day at work was on Friday, with my 4-week leave from duty beginning immediately.  I've now been off for several days, and am already getting antsy to get back to work.  Not certain what to do with myself, though I've had 3 interviews for publications over the past three days, and more such sessions anticipated.

I will be leaving for the Makers Conference in a bit over a week, which includes a visit to Universal Studios for a 3-hour on-camera interview for Hallmark prior to registering for the conference.  Can't imagine what that will be like, but if I'm lucky -- they won't discover their mistake until after I'm back in Richmond!  I'm still not certain that all this attention is deserved, and that someone won't suddenly notice that some monumental error had been made by some unsuspecting new hire -- and the red carpet will be rolled up and stored somewhere obscure -- as the world gets back on its axis and all returns to what new normal we can achieve together in our unwieldy Democracy.

Am anxious to learn what readers think of "Sign my name for freedom", and what the reviews will say about it ... so far I've had two interviewers sitting in my living room who had read the book and whose very comprehensive notes from which they formed their questions were proof that they'd done so -- and who seemed to be positive about my story -- which means my life, after all.

This should be a fascinating few weeks as we lurch awkwardly but clearly forward into time and into a new career as the author of a first book at 96!

Can't wait to see what happens next ... .