Saturday, September 27, 2003

Song written for Dorian ...

a very long time ago. Maybe not so much for her, but about her.

I'm here at my easel as I've been for days
my hand is so eager -- my mind in a maze
I find no beginning -- my canvas is bare
I'd say to my colors (if I thought they might hear)


Lavender, rose, pink, you're twilight and dawning
blue, please help me bring the sea!
green slash with yellow my hillside's spring morning
brush please help my finger see!
black cry my sorrow, purple my longing
white breathe my ecstasy!
orange-magenta, you come without reason,
crimson, you're for love to see.

black cry my sorrow
purple my longing
white breathe my ecstasy!

all of my rainbow so vibrant before me
would that I, too, could be
orange-magenta and be without reason,
crimson just for love to see
crimson just for love and me ....

Might be better understood if I told you that Dorrie was born severely brain-damaged and functions in the retarded range. In many ways she's a success story, using everything she has to work with and in some amazing ways, and with a puzzling ability to display flashes of intelligence that has always fascinated me and kept alive the possibility that -- if I could just "crack the code" -- there just may be some way to reach inside and diddle with the wiring ...

But that is not to be, and I've always known that, of course. Instead of living always with the "what ifs," we've found a way to create a relationship that is a combination of mom and best friend that works for us both most of the time.

At the time that this song was written she must have been four or five. We lived out in the valley in a lovely home on a wooded acre with a creek running through. I was a very lonely young mother with four kids and a very busy husband who left us to our own devices most of the time while he ran the small but (at that time) successful business that supported us well.

He was a good man. He had a troubled wife and he surely didn't know it.

When I wrote this song, the problems (that later led to divorce) had deepened, and I was feeling envious of my blithely innocent little daughter. Feeling unfulfilled in my personal life, yet enjoying all of the trappings of a successful marriage was tearing me apart. Living with conflicting truths is the more troubling when one is surrounded by a world of those for whom that concept is inconceivable.

I believe that it was about that time that I began to have a sense of just how much there was yet to be known, and of how far away from even temporarily sustaining answers I was. Maybe that's where adulthood begins ...

Dorian was/is orange-magenta. She was a beautiful child who had no "reason," and needn't be concerned about it. I knew that I would spend my life preparing her for being left behind to live in an unsympathetic world. The thought of that was overwhelming. It still is.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Learned from a caring friend ...

that the little poem was not written by James Whitcomb Riley nor Eugene Field, but by England's Edward Lear! And it was available here online all the while -- waiting to be rediscovered. Just visited the website and felt a rush of pleasure as my mind leapt ahead of my eyes -- line by line -- through the poem -- all the way to

"...and they danced to the light of the moon, the moon,
they danced to the light of the moon!

(Thank you, Anne,)


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
      What a beautiful Pussy you are,
          You are,
          You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
          His nose,
          His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

It all came back in a rush. What a lovely piece it is, and so worth remembering. Will read it to Alayana and Tamaya the very next time they're with me.

I'm wondering now if Shel Silverstein wasn't my contemporary Edward Lear? I so love children's literature, even now. Spend many a Saturday morning listening to NPR -- hoping that Scott Simon and Daniel Pinkwater will do one of their marvelous readings from some wildly imaginative children's book.

Which brings up a truth I discovered some years ago -- someday I'll share those thoughts more fully, but for now ...

I've found that one of the magical features of aging is that all of the Bettys who ever were are alive in me still. Depending upon the circumstances or the need -- one of me emerges fully formed. Apparently, 9 year-old Betty popped up to place herself between me and the freshening pain of Rick's loss. Fascinating, isn't it? Am I alone in this? And I don't mean to infer that this is in any way pathological. I am not schizophrenic, only complex, I believe. But complex in a way that is probably universal.

It's late and I'm feeling well-used and deservedly tired.

It's friday and at the end of a week I'd not be particularly interested in re-living ... .

Worked at least three 15-hour days; Planning Commission (where the issue we were supporting was postponed for lack of a quorum), City Council (where we suffered a monumental loss of a project I'd been working on for many months - the Ford Assembly Plant Project), County Board of Education where the Barbara Alexander Academy (look this story up in the archives on the S.F. Chronical online) was denied its desperate plea to become chartered, and last night where I sat through two hours of drivel waiting for an agenda item on WalMart's anticipated (and controversial) move into our local mall. Time (and Betty) ran out at about 8:50 p.m. when it was obvious that the nine o'clock curfew would come up before the item did!

Some weeks are like that.

The Barbara Alexander story was the most difficult. Literally cried over that one.

Picture this: This band of teachers, parents, a few students, two ministers, from the poorest and most crime-ridden community and the westermost end of the county and our Assembly District.  They filled every available chair in the meeting room of the 30-miles and light-years away from home, in the affluent suburbs of the Diablo Valley -- at the easternmost end of the county. Culturally, this was Venus vs. Mars. In the front of the room sitting in lush high-backed executive chairs before microphoned desks were neatly coiffed women and men casually BrooksBrothered and all well over fifty. In the audience chairs sat the colorfully church-clothed dreadlocked corn-rowed braided-extensioned community of the Alexander Academy from the infamous Iron Triangle District of Richmond, California. All of the power in that room was seated behind those intimidating desks. All of the need, in the chairs facing them. The power was all White. Need, all Black. These people were planets apart.

Seated with the community was one white woman, a supporter (a truly brave soul) and a female reporter from the S.F. Chronicle who was doing a follow up story to the first poignant one of some weeks ago.

The very eloquent principal, a member of the Sims family of loving educators made her presentation to a board that I imagined could hardly get beyond their "...what in the world have they done to their hair?..." stage, in order to hear to the words being spoken.

Board member: "Melitta, we're holding this special meeting in order to allow you the time to submit the additional materials. I see that you've not complied with the request for the audit and ..." . (Addressing this principal by her first name startled me. Sounded inappropriate in this setting.) Later noted that the board also address one another informally, as well, so I may be displaying some super-sensitivity here.

Melitta: "That was only last week. You must understand that because of our financial problems, we have to use a pro bono accountant and attorney -- and that means that they don't get to our work until after they've completed everything else."

School Board member: "... and, according to the regulations of the fire department, you have far too many students for the space you're using" They're in borrowed rooms of a local non-profit. They ended the year with 80 kids, I believe.

(Betty's brain): "Some of the kids in this community are sleeping in cars in the driveway because their homes can't accommodate them. They've never known the kind of individual space that schools require."

Board member: "I notice here that you're showing some 19 and 20-year olds enrolled. The state won't allow ADA funding for anyone who is not a continuing student. So you can't count them in your enrollment."

Melitta: "Some of these kids are being plucked from street corners or returning from prison. They've turned a corner in their lives and want redemption. This is the least we can do. That's our studentbody. We save them."

Board member: "There is no way that we can grant a charter for you since, according to state law, you must have the required enrollment in place on October 1 and you can't possibly make that deadline at this point."

Melitta: "But that time line is irrelevant for us. Except for our continuing kids, new enrollments don't show up until the end of the first report card period. That's when they say, "F--k this!" and split (if we're lucky they come to us). It's impossible to gauge our enrollment until after the regular school year is in progress."


"The Iron Triangle has the highest murder rate in the Bay Area; higher then San Francisco and Oakland when measured by percentage of the population. You can't expect that what is happening in our community can be localized forever. It will move out and effect everybody, eventually."

We're working with children nobody wants and that the school system can't handle. We love them. We're turning them around."

Board member: "But Melitta, for the sake of the taxpayers of this state, there are simply procedures that must be followed in order for accountability to occur. We've asked you to provide us tonight with a copy of your policies and procedures and -- I've looked carefully through all of these papers -- and they're simply not here. I move that the application for a charter be denied, regretfully."

Death by process!

Melitta and her family will have to go out now and take some meaningless low-paying jobs in order to pay off the over $150,000 indebtedness they've run up in trying to salvage their little school. Such a loss to us all!

...and all it might have taken was the willingness on the part of the school district to take this incredible group of stalwarts and wrap the necessary services around them. Most "Policies and Procedures" are simply boilerplate that could have been supplied them with their name inserted at the top in the appropriate places.

Got home late on Wednesday night, having missed both the gubernatorial debate and West Wing, and was so depressed by the stupidity of it all that I climbed into bed without even stopping to watch the news.

And would you believe that I'm strongly opposed to charter schools per se? Have always seen them as just another way of by-passing our system of public education. Barbara Alexander Academy is the textbook example of the most ideal of justifications for their existence as an authentic alternative when all else fails.

Need to do some attitude adjusting, but first I'll ask our office to meet with the Sims family office to see what the state can do to save their enterprise.

On the other hand, maybe I'll just call Oprah!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

I'm awed by the lengths to which the mind will go in its need to protect the psyche ...

Playing against the rhythm and patterns of today's events was this incessant gentle drumbeat of what appears on the surface to be a deceptively simple little nonsense rhyme. In the effort to reconstruct its place in my life -- since I can't seem to recapture all of the lines -- this would have to do. And "do" it "did."

Awoke in the night to the memory of little girl Betty -- standing timidly but proudly at the front of Mrs. Reiniger's 4th grade class reciting this little poem. On the bulletin board behind me is a chart with the names of the children -- little gold stars in rows extending from the names. This represents lines learned, and mine has the most gold stars. In the remembering last night (though only in fragments) Eugene Field's "...the gingham dog and the calico cat side by side on the table sat," and Alfred Noyes, "...into the valley of death rode the six hundred!"

Sat up in bed in the dark ... again -- that haunting fragment,

"...sailed off to sea in a beautiful pea green boat...".

It was another birthday -- this time in September of 1999.

The dreaded call that every mother fears. It seems that I'd been waiting for it over a lifetime.

"Ma'am, we haven't seen your son for about three weeks, and we were wondering ..." It was the voice of Rick's landlord.

Then a little later later, " sorry, ma'am, he was a nice person. A hurried call to my youngest son, David, sent him and the police in to learn the awful truth.



...and his body had lain undiscovered -- crumpled on his bathroom floor for nearly a month.
For reasons that defy understanding, I know that he died on August 17th of that year. I know that without question, though his death certificate places the time of death as "unknown.

I see Rick and his long time partner, Gordon, standing against the sky on the deck of the Red Oak Victory as she's being towed from the mothballed fleet at Mare Island in Vallejo. It was to take its place on the Richmond shoreline as a part of the new national park. She was a gift from the Navy to the Richmond Museum Society. She would be restored as a labor of love by volunteers -- some who had helped to build her, and veterans who'd sailed her throughout the South Pacific theater, supplying munitions and cargo during the Great War. Gordon received those much-coveted invitations that placed us among the several hundred celebrants by virtue of being a museum volunteer.

We were accompanied by three fireboats -- spraying their welcome high into the warm air while a squadron of restored World War II fighter planes soared and danced against the sky! It was glorious!

It's my last memory of them. Gordon died shortly thereafter of lung cancer, with Rick following him into oblivion relatively months later, from sheer loneliness. Both eventually succumbed to complications from a lifetime of rejection, loneliness, and alcoholism. For all its power, love wasn't enough to save him. And I did so love him... .

It was within a few days of that year's birthday (yes!) on another exquisite day -- when we scattered Rick's ashes from the deck of the Red Oak Victory. I'd brought a bouquet of perfect scarlet roses -- and in a ritual born of the occasion ... gathered up a rose, a handful of my son's remains -- and let them drift from my fingers, together, into the dark waters far below -- repeating the process until he was gone. No wake upon the waters, only stillness and the rustling of the wings of an inquisitive gull witnessing this rite of passage.
"...the owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat."

p.s:  And, yes, the poet was neither James Whitcomb Riley nor Eugene Field, but England's Edward Lear.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

It's late. Just got in from a meeting of friends I've not seen for a very long time, friends of the sort that you never want to lose ... .

with whom deep ties are rarely ever broken -- and with whom conversations begin in the middle of the fourth paragraph even when you've not seen them for years.

The day was full and I'm a bit more tired than usual tonight, but still feeling the warmth of old friendships renewed.

Missed the big debate between those candidates who are running to replace the governor. Not sure it matters greatly, I'm underwhelmed by the whole lot, except maybe for those flashes of foreign-accented brilliance that come occasionally from Ariana Huffington and the quiet good sense of Peter Camejo. It's bewildering to know that name value is with a hulk of a weightlifter with little or no political experience, and that this might actually become the determining factor in who will lead California which is the fifth largest economy in the world! A frightening thought... .

In my official capacity, attended a rally against Proposition 54, the infamous Ward Connerly initiative that would legalize denial. I do wish that man would find himself a good therapist and work out his difficulties around his own racial identity. Can't see how we're going to have that colorblind society he's striving for unless we invest in blindfolds! One would expect that the dear man would eventually come to realize that a celebration of those differences is where the action is. Works for me!

I will vote no on the recall. Beyond that ...

Glad the day is over.

I'm ready for another tomorrow ... .

Monday, September 22, 2003

The author is not James Whitcomb Riley, after all ... .

I'm more than certain that this is the work of Eugene Field. And -- as I suspected -- those fragments have run through everything today, crept into my reporting time for last week's Planning Commission and City Council sessions. Fortunately, I was able to recover the gist of the happenings from what I'd recorded here, so it all worked out. All I could recover of the poem was this:

"Said the cat to the owl, you elegant fowl la la la, lala la, la la"


"and they danced in the light of the moon, the moon
they danced in the light of the moon..."

There must be some kind soul who can supply the rest of this lovely little piece ... I would be ever so grateful.

...and tomorrow I can get back to doing the "work of the people." ;-)
Happy birthday to me ... 

Over the many years I've experienced the full gamut of such celebrations; all different, mostly wonderful.

I've had lobster and candlelight and champagne birthdays, fallen cake and melted ice cream birthdays (some of the best), new station wagon birthdays, crayon and colored-paper handmade little boy card birthdays, and even a Barnaby the Old English Sheepdog puppy birthday. All wonderful. Today's was a "Celia's all-you-can-eat Mexican Cantina" birthday with my son, David, daughter, Dorian, and two beautiful granddaughters -- ages 5 and 7. It was special because I'm aware that this is Tamaya and Alayana's absolutely favorite way-cool restaurant -- a place of great joy to be shared only with those you love with a passion -- I am honored to be one such.

Missed son, Bob, who lives miles away on a horse ranch in the Salinas Valley, but maybe he'll call tomorrow ... We moved the celebration up one day so that grandma wouldn't be caught up in world saving somewhere, or, be consumed while trying to find a substitute to hold up this end of the continent while we celebrate. Sundays are simply more celebratory than Mondays, but it means that we didn't have Bob with us, and he was missed.

David assured me that he's managed to secure at least four tickets to see the Lion King that comes to San Francisco in January. I'm trying for four more. It seems more important than ever to revisit that magical world of fine arts and the fantasy of this childscape at a time when the world is being so foolishly "adult" and mean and angry and vengeful... .It's so critical that we remember the really important things, isn't it?

Funny, while driving Dorian back to her apartment tonight I found myself playing over and over in my head:

"The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat they took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note ..,"

James Whitcomb Riley? Not sure. But now the little poem will wrap itself around my brain, and turn up in fragments in the middle of tomorrow's hearings and obscure some critical point meant to clarify something or other of great import. But I'll continue to look properly wise and knowing and no one will guess ... .

As I recall ... tomorrow I need to call the State Library in Sacramento to try to get the audit figures for Prop. 40 bond moneys designated for historic preservation and cultural restoration projects ... and -- as I recall -- the board has not yet been fully appointed ... and I suppose you can see how that goes. At least two museums and one national park will be waiting for word of the progress of that emerging state Board. (Let's see, the governor names two, the speaker -- two, the state senate ... -- who's missing?) How fragile is this network called government, and I'm one of the better reps, guys! Truly.

"...and they ate from a runcible spoon!"

Happy birthday to me!

Photo:  His name was Barnaby.  He shared our life in the suburbs for many years and gave us laughs when life did not; at least not as much as childhood might have otherwise provided.