Sunday, January 06, 2019

It has now been over two weeks of the governmental Shutdown ... .

... and I'm slowly leaving my park ranger identity and assuming the role of private citizen.  The fact that -- not only has the break in the daily routine of going to work been upsetting -- but that I have need now to remind myself by sneaking peeks at my cellphone to see just what day I'm in the middle of.  Reminding myself that I'm old and that not remembering what day this is may be the first symptom of the dreaded Alzheimers!

I'm also beginning to disconnect from the need to never speak harshly of anyone in federal government since I'm an employee of same.  That means that I listen to our fearless leader responding to questions from the inquiring press when asked if he ever thinks about the federal workers now idle and without paychecks ... "most of them are in support of my position!"  Not!

I miss not only my paycheck, but those friends with whom I spend my days, the audiences who come to hear my presentations, those moments before entering our little theater when I sit behind the exhibits at the windows facing the waters and watching the soaring gulls and brown pelicans, the sassy crows, the cormorants and  other unidentified birdlife, the graceful sailboats, the Bay Trail cyclists, and the wind in that giant eucalyptus that stands just off the entrance to our Visitor Center.  I miss the interrupted rhythm of my life and work, in this, the most important and final period of my life.

Then -- as I allow my mind to wander -- I think to myself that this nation is protected by not only the southern border, but by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the East and West, plus a one-third longer northern border that stands undisputed and open!  Were I a terrorist, where do you suppose I'd choose to enter?

And why, do you suppose, have I never seen a chart where "illegals" from above that northern border was quantified and challenged?  We've been told almost daily about the estimated 22 million "illegals" who are in this country from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc., but never have I seen a figure for those from Canada who've over-stayed their visas or who are in this country without the required permission or authority.

The "elephant in the room"?

You don't suppose ... .

Nah.  It's just that we don't want those from s--t hole countries!  Denying entry to our democracy by skin color would be unthinkable, right?

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Thoughts are still a-jumble despite the attempts to arrange the words in some kind of logical order so that they make sense ... 

They come from different time periods in my life, and are a testimony to the fact that life is not linear; that lessons come in bunches divided by time in irrational ways.

There's the piece that serves as an important backdrop to my childhood and youth -- that piece where, underlying everything else was the rage that would go unrecognized for decades.  Rage around the lack of fulfillment of America's promise of "Liberty and justice for all" as recited regularly in the Pledge of Allegiance, or, as those stated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The words were meaningless to me, expressing little more than the empty visions of slave-owning white men whose wisdom stopped at the door of their great plantations and blinded them to the humanity of so many who would survive the brutality of slavery and the dehumanizing lifetime of racism and bigotry, of lynchings and Jim Crow, all still lived out in more subtle forms in contemporary life in our country.

That rage had served me well, it straightened my spine and enabled me to face into the winds of the continually unfolding of ever-changing patterns of discrimination as I aged into adulthood and the need to recreate a world that my children could live in with others in way that would serve the common good.

What came to me on that 7-hour flight home from NY was that there had always been a missing piece -- one so obvious that at my advanced age I wondered why this epiphany had not appeared earlier in my long life?

     There is no Office of Fulfillment, Commission on Fairness, Department of Peace, Deity, Avatar, Bureau, Committee, Board or Secretary of Fulfillment.  That must come from us all.  And -- it was clear that -- just as I'd crossed some threshold in mid-life when I claimed my right to self-identify; to stop waiting to be shaped by the men I'd chosen,  I've always been free to be self-defined; to claim my right to express my woman-ness.  It was simply that the culture in which I was living had failed to inform me of this important right, so I'd lived a life of being simply negative space to the positive space provided by the men in my life.
With the Emmett Till Family in a visit to
the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington
At SUNY Broome I'd moved into the realization that -- somewhere over past decades I'd crossed another threshold, an important one.  I -- without knowing how or when -- had become a "Fulfiller!"  And it was critically important to know that each of us, with any luck at all, matures into the role -- and this may be the hidden secret of how the "Democracy" is maintained and nurtured over time.  We each carry a tiny piece of it, and that spirit is what sustains each of us, but lies silently in the wings awaiting the "claiming".

It was also revealed on that long flight over those "... amber waves of grain" that victimhood is incompatible with "Fulfiller-ship".  I'm not certain when that changed, but that my life today -- unlike that of earlier years -- is no longer being lived as a victim.  Oh, how one might wish to know the prescription for that outcome!

I came home in dread of the following week when I would be filmed as a "singer".  Being presented in the annual holiday concert at the Paramount Theater in a sold-out theater.  I would be standing on a stage backed up by 3 choruses and a full symphony orchestra for my 2-minute 26-second song!  I was terrified!  But I'd learned in the wake of SUNY Broome that I'd become a "Fulfiller" and that it was in that role that the positivity of what happened in that small auditorium, the warmth in those hugs, the selfies, had all come from the fact that I'd brought that role into the room with me, and that I'd made some small difference in the lives of those students. I did not come as a justifiably enraged Betty, but as something else not yet identified. That all I had to do was to own that truth, and to allow that realization to grant me the power to self-define; and to claim my right to do so.  To define my terms for performing as the storyteller that I've grown into, and not the "singer" envisioned by the filmmakers or others -- something I'd never aspired to be.

And on all scores, I'd found and granted -- fulfillment ... .

An unanticipated gift from the students and faculty of SUNY Broome.

Maybe the simple fact that  -- as a long-lived adult in the room, one who had survived the tests of a people struggling to perfect that "...more perfect Union," and who still believes in the dream of democracy ... gave some hope to those young people.  Those who will help to find the answers to the unfulfilled promises of the future ... for those who will follow.   As had we who'd stepped into the footsteps of those generations who preceded ours.  For those who have yet to learn that Democracy is a process that will never stay fixed.  That it was never intended to be. That each generation has to re-create it in its time, or it will surely die.  And that each of us born into it has a responsibility to enliven the dream as we move through our time on the planet.

It was a memorable evening that is still with me when I close my eyes and revisit ... but no more so than  on that 7-hour flight over those spacious skies ... .

Friday, December 28, 2018

And I've still not written about my life-changing trip to SUNY Broome ... .

Some months ago I'd received an invitation to speak at SUNY Broome Community College in Upstate New York.  Not feeling comfortable accepting commitments that lie far in the future (I believe this would have been for Commencement) but really excited and flattered at the invitation, I passed the request along to my agent in NY for consideration.  She explained my reluctance despite interest, and explained that I would be on the East Coast for another engagement quite soon (this was the Glamour event) which opened the possibility of  adding a visit to Bloome to my itinerary
Plans were immediately made for a day or two extension to accommodate the trip to Bloome.

It was a 3-hour drive for a 1-hour commitment, and -- as it turned out -- worth every moment.

After a lunch at a local cafe we drove to the nearby campus to be greeted by a member  of the administrative staff who turned out to be a FaceBook friend who had been reading my posts and blog for a long time, which ended in her bringing about this invitation that placed us on this campus on this freezing day in Upstate New York.  You never know, right?

She met us in the parking lot and -- and in that strange way that social media has of brushing away the irrelevancies so that one is allowed to start in the middle of the 10th paragraph with total strangers, we came together.  We met as old friends and proceeded to a small auditorium filled with students and faculty -- waiting.  And, as usual, I had no idea of what I would say, nor was I regretting that I'd not prepared notes for this important occasion.  I'd just be Betty again, in public, and important things would happen.  I've learned to trust that.  It's what I do.  Especially in recent years as I consciously age into the unknown with this clarified sense of the preciousness of time and of these human interactions toward the common good.

There is something vitally important as one ages -- the sense of no long becoming -- but be-ing.  One needn't prepare, make notes, anticipate, for that.  In the moments left to me, I tend to skip the preliminaries and just BE!

Intuitive soul that I am, there were no more than a few minutes -- after the introductions -- to feel the deep despair in that room.  It was palpable, tangible, heavy ... .

I spoke for about an hour - including the Q&A -- and that feeling left the room with me, hung over me through the drive back to Manhattan, and remained overnight and throughout the flight back to the Bay Area.

It was strange in that I felt both saddened and elated, simultaneously, as I re-visited Broome in my imagination over the days ahead.  Wondered if what I'd felt in that room was the general angst of the young who are living in these days of  chaos, uncertainty, and gloom; of the dire predictions of global warming and climate change; of a sense of no one of consequence or maturity at the helm of an out of control government ... .

Elated because -- as I left that room -- I'd felt the warmth, the humanity in those hugs, in a firm sense that somehow, despite all, we'd touched souls that day, and that I'd made a difference.

And that's a story that needs a space of its own ... because the difference it made was not in that audience, but in me.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

So much life has been lived over past months ... . 

... life that was so all-consuming that the time to write about it simply never turned up, and the events were so unimaginable -- so "over-the-top" that I've just told myself that no one would ever believe it anyway, so -- like the tree-lighting ceremony with the Obamas that happened in Washington two years ago -- I'd just pretend that I'd dreamed it all ... .

And, yes, months ago I learned that I was being named one of Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year," and that I was being flown to New York for what was described as "the major event of the year!"

It was fortunate that it was all under wraps, not to be revealed until announced by the magazine when it hit the stands.  Who would have believed it anyway?

I learned that two of the other honorees were Senator Kamala Harris and Oscar winning actor, Viola Davis.  Of course there was the Red Carpet experience (you simply would not believe!) with a gauntlet of every known print and online publication known to man, all against a backdrop of sponsors (Conde Naste, Mercedes Benz, Loreal Paris , etc., etc., etc., and all clad in finery pre-selected by "my stylist!" and driven from all of the assignments in a Mercedes limo with banners attached announcing "Woman of the Year."  How on earth could I possibly feel worthy of so much attention, even considering that I've lived long enough to have entered the status where I'm awarded trophies and proclamations just because I can still tie my own shoes! (Hold the Velcro!)

This was the most exciting week I've lived since the last time it happened.  And it seems to be my new normal -- but why so late?  Having lost all sense of "future", and now firmly mired in NOW, it's heady and waaaaay beyond any known limits!

The only discordant note was that on Sunday morning, just before appearing as a speaker for the Glamour's Summit, I was scheduled for a televised segment being interviewed by two young girls (9 and 12, I believe) for the company that  manufactures Barbie.   Mattel?

Betty in borrowed finery
Arrived on time and was led to a portable studio to my two interviewers only to discover that the research staff had misled them.  No one among the many professionals gathered to capture this as media content had realized that the first question out of the box was irrelevant.

With a collection of variously-costumed Barbies displayed on a small table between us, I was asked to talk about some of my childhood experiences  with Barbie.  With the cameras rolling I could only announce that I had no Barbie experiences since I was older than Barbie, and that she didn't exist when I was a child!  Oops!  I was unwilling to fake it, but did find some related chatty things to talk with the children about, but down deep I was all "a-giggle", imagining how this would read when I blogged about it later.  It was a little like the time that I was in the room with countless celebrities and the only one I recognized was Miss Piggy!

Finding myself far out of context much of the time these days, but if you, at 97, have a chance to be dressed by a New York stylist for an evening that starts with a walk up the Red Carpet?  Take it! It beats hell out of Friday night Bingo at the local Senior Center!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Backstage with Maestro Morgan, Dr. Morrow, and a member of the chorus.
Photos by Fabian Aguirre
Lessons learned ... .

Leading up to the big debut of my song last weekend I'd experienced a great deal of anxiety, both about the concert, but mostly about singing again after so many years.  Could hardly recall when I'd experienced such feelings of resistance.

The producer/director had been coaxing with increasing pressure for months.  My son, Bob, whose opinion I value, had concurred in the belief that this was something that I could do, and that my fears were without cause.  "You can DO this, those throat muscles only need to be exercised and the vocal tones will return."  Nothing they could say was convincing enough for me to whomp up enough desire for trying to slip back into that younger Betty's persona, especially since I'd been re-introduced to her through those rediscovered 50-year-old tapes -- and was intimidated by her talent.  She could have done this with ease, but not the aged present-day Betty.  That was impossible.

I'd taken my guitar out of the case on more than one occasion over recent weeks and tried to find that voice ... .  It was simply no longer there.  I was convinced that those around me were fooling themselves, and that I was being led into the "cringe zone"!

Nonetheless, the film was becoming more and more dependent upon this scene that would be staged at the magnificent Paramount theater, and I could certainly understand how dramatic that might be to have me leading that huge audience in the singing of my little hymn -- what a statement this might make.  But could we not simply get one of the soloists from the chorus to step into that role?  Would not that be fairer to my deserving little song?

I had enough ego to fantasize myself wistfully into that scene, but each time the occasions arose that moved it closer and closer, the greater the panic grew until I could feel myself having difficulty breathing deeply enough to maintain any sense of calm whenever I tried to imagine myself into that role.

On Saturday evening, on the eve of the concert, there was a breakthrough.  It was an "Aha!" moment, and I told the filmmaker that I needed to speak with the director at the rehearsal scheduled for the next day.

I had figured out the problem, and how I might meet the expectations of all concerned.

Working thru the barriers with Dr. Lynne Morrow, Symphony Chorus director
It was that I'd learned while meeting with the chorus a few days earlier that my introduction would be through the Maestro followed by Dr. Morrow taking over to tell the audience how the song came about. I was shaken by that since I'd assumed  up until that moment that I would present my song and its genesis.  I now knew what needed to happen.

Suddenly I felt at peace:

I am not a singer.  I once was, but that identity had been long lived away, and there would be no stepping back in time.  I am a storyteller.  Even in my songs, this is who I've always been.  Over time this is who I've become in my work with the Park Service, and if Lynne Morrow told the story of my song, I would enter from stage right as a "has-been" singer.  My voice may now be unpredictable and unreliable, but that doesn't matter one whit to Betty the Storyteller.

I would meet with Dr. Morrow at this final rehearsal and explain the breakthrough.  I could not perform comfortably unless the story of how "Your hand in mine" came into being was allowed to be a part of my performance.  It would take no more than two minutes to tell, but would allow me to present myself more honestly, as the storyteller that I've become.

And by claiming the right to define myself, the anxiety disappeared and the performance lived up to my own expectations.

It only took a few minutes to find that this would be possible, and that she would notify Conductor Michael Morgan of the change.  Both graciously accepted my last minute program change.

Problem solved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Oh MY!

Click on photo to enlarge for full effect

Here 'tis ... and can you imagine that my little hand-holding song written in protest in 1964 would be sung to life after being hidden away for all these years -- no, decades? Not only this, but there were 3 separate choirs who were also singing along, breathing life into the moment with me.

It was surreal ... .

It was a moment in time when the world stood still sharing with me in this incredible remembrance of the fearless, embattled, unbelievably courageous Fanny Lou Hamer facing down the entire Democratic Convention of that year against an intractably crude and vulgar President Lyndon Baines Johnson who would crush this upstart black woman who might threaten his hopes for retaining his southern block constituency.  I'd learned by this time from words revealed by his African American long-time driver  (his name was Robert Parker, I believe) that -- as it was moving through the legislature toward passage in 1965, he would always refer to his long-awaited Voters Rights Act as "mah Nigga Bill"!

Only a short time later that same conflicted Lyndon Johnson -- after passage of the most enabling civil rights legislation -- after being psychologically bruised and battered by Vietnam resisters on the nation's streets and on our campuses -- after the life-changing assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King and Malcolm X -- in his plea for unity in the country, he appeared on television dramatically ending his impassioned speech with the words "... and WE shall overcome!"

I'd watched him through tears of rage -- standing before the nation expropriating this sacred rallying song that had seen us through some of the most horrendous years we'd ever lived.

All of the women that I'd ever been stood there with me on on that stage on Sunday -- reveling in the splendor of that magnificent space -- and feeling every moment of it in every fiber of our being!

Caught from the audience by
Uche Uwahemu
The next day this young mother's response was to create a new alternative hand-holding song, "Your hand in mine".  I would no longer sing We Shall Overcome.  Not ever again.  My little song was never published, but took  its place among the others in the "shoe box" in the back of my closets, but now it would live.

And it did!


Sunday, December 09, 2018

Your hand in mine ... .

On Sunday, December 16th, the Oakland Symphony under the direction of Maestro Michael Morgan, the Symphony chorus led by Director Lynne Morrow, and I, will premiere one of my songs from long ago at the annual Holiday Concert at the Paramount theater.  Can you imagine?

Met with the arrangers (orchestra and chorus) on Tuesday for the first run through, and it was overwhelming.  On Wednesday evening I met the full Chorus.

My voice is no longer predictable, and the connections between brain and whatever made possible the lovely music that I can still hear from that young Betty on secreted tapes and recordings now available on my cell phone(!) is nowhere to be found. I open my mouth, position my lips for delivery, and what comes out is unrecognizable by this elder woman with whom I now share this body.

Were it not for the filmmaker's urging, I could never have agreed to do this, truly.  They're envisioning a climactic closing scene in the 90 minute documentary in progress, but it seems foolhardy at best.

I might have found a solution, though:  By posting the lyrics here it's just possible that I can guide my Facebook friends to download them and join me in the singing.  Since I will be singing with the full orchestra and chorus who will be with me on stage, and I will be miked, of course, they may not be able to drown out the scratchiness -- but I will feel supported by the most forgiving audience on the planet, and I'll know it!

Make no mistakes, the song is quite beautiful, I believe, and deserving to be out in the world after being hidden along with others (to be introduced in the film) when released.  I'm able to hear the beauty and relevance in my music -- in the third person.  The years of silence, of the shutting down of my artist self, has ended now.  I'm excited and loving every minute of the new revelations.  But that doesn't mean that I'm not nervous and apprehensive about how the echoes of young Betty will be received; that's probably unavoidable as more of my vulnerabilities are exposed ... .

If you'll imagine this as being played in 3/4 time (as a waltz), and that the music is simple and readily learned in the singing of it on Sunday.  There will be a brief explanation of what inspired the writing of it before we join hands for the singing

We gather here ... I feel you near ... on this beautiful night
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
we span the miles ... we wear the smiles born of sharing this day
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love

Your fears ... like mine, can be left behind ... close the spaces between,
let our love flow free... in this moment be as one
though our prophets say ... each a different way, of this truth they'd agree
your hand in mine is a valid sign of love.

We've traveled far from beyond a star along paths of our lives
still we found our way to this lovely day now here
in our hearts we know peace on Earth can grow from these fingers love warmed
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
your hand in mine ... this holy sign of love.