Friday, December 31, 2004

Oh how I wish I had time to think through these feelings ...

but today I'm off to drive north and must be on the road soon.

Been wondering why the horror of the Far East has almost left me mute. Couldn't bring my thoughts together into any coherent form. Then -- as is generally the case -- woke in the night with the pieces beginning to form a reaction.

I've been unable to pull it together because it's too crazy! The world, I mean. Blanking it all out then letting it back in, one thought at a time, saves sanity.

Why do those casualty figures not bring up terror for me? It's because of the weirdness that -- as has been true ever since childhood -- I seem to be alone with "truths" that no one else is reflecting back to me. It's terrifing to feel so alone.

I cannot be the only soul on the earth who sees the insanity. "125,000 bodies now recovered with the count rising every hour." That's for Indonesia. "Over 100,000 civilian deaths with more unaccounted for. That's for Iraq. Why isn't the world responding to the Iraqi deaths similarly? Why is there such a profound difference between how we see the loss of old men, women, and children, lost to the avarice and greed for power by man in the Middle East as tragic as those lost to an act of nature? Why are we not as horrified, outraged, as giving of aid from the abundance of the "free" world? Where is the international outrage? Where is ours? Where is mine?

I simply don't understand ...

But over the 3 hours it will take to reach my destination, I'll live with the puzzlement and try to find my way back to some kind of rational explanation.

Ed Murrow left us way too soon ... He would surely be asking such questions, don't you suppose?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


It took more than eight decades to see the truth. What a hoot!

Received word today from my friend that -- though the sky is filled with sunlight for the moment -- there are ominous warnings of a huge storm on the way. His words sounded fearful. I'm certain that playing into the feelings is the horror being experienced in the Far East as the result of the earthquake and tsunami. He lives at the edge of the Pacific.

I have an irrational fear of storms brought on by having lived through a major hurricane at around the age of 6 in New Orleans. Never recovered. At the first low rumble of faraway thunder, I begin to have sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat pounding in my ears, and a heightened sense of immediate danger. Whatever the time of day I head for bed, climb in and pull the covers up over my head and cover my ears as tightly as possible. It's by now a conditioned reaction and as automatic as the sun rising in the east. On those rare times when I've been caught away from home or on the highway, panic reigns!

Then I remember my grandmother's voice saying to that frightened little girl, "...climb into bed, Betty. No one has ever been known to be struck by lightning while in their bed." Wise woman. Her voice comes back even now, and as if caught in a time warp -- I'm still obeying that voice. The storms never got me, so those words above all others have proven to be true.

Today, since I'm examining that reflexive response in the abstract, I heard something else. I heard a very wise grownup creatively getting frightened little folks safely out of the way so that the big folks could do the things that must be done to protect the family from rising waters. How rational. How wise and wonderful.

Wonder now why it took so long to surface? Was it because the only time the behavior appeared were those times when the rare conditions prevailed and the psyche was on automatic pilot? Interesting... .

I think now about how many times -- when the sky's are dark and the wind rising -- whatever the time of day -- I quietly and casually climb into bed with a good book and an ear acutely tuned for the advancing storm ... still acting out of conditioning. And, when the thunder closes in -- how naturally I pull the covers up over my head, cover my ears, and cower against a terrifying world!

Makes me wonder about other physical reactions to traumatic events in life ...

...could this be what psychotherapists are ever probing for?

... one of those elegant simplicities in life?

I'm reminded again of Rendl-Nast's axiom -- "There are two forms of simplicity, one that comes before and one that comes after -- complexity."

...suppose this is an after?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It's over ...

the much-dreaded Christmas day that has become a marker for those missing from the table. Still aware of Rick's absence, but a bit less so this year. "Family" looks so different from the top of the pyramid. Having outlived both my parents, two husbands, one sister, an eldest son, while all those "Bettys" are still so alive and functioning inside creates no little confusion these days.

Christmas was always the day we three daughters and families returned to the home of our childhood. Dad was the turkey carver while Mother (never "Mom") handed out the side dishes and supervised the children's table in the breakfast nook in the kitchen. This WAS Christmas. All else was trimmings.

This year there was no children's table. No breakfast nook in a modern condo. My three offspring and my four grandchildren plus one grandson's girl friend made up the family. Son, David, was the carver. Everyone gathered 'roun' the table, perched on a strange assortment of "chairs" from the vanity stool to the piano bench and great-grandmother's little needlepoint rocking chair. We all fit very close but nicely.

But I'm at the top of the family pyramid now. And, my mother looks back at me from my bathroom mirror each morning. And, the rebel teenager Betty rages at a profane administration and daily outrages from news sources that intrude hourly, if allowed. And the thirty-something wonders if I'll see him today, or if his own family obligations will prevent our getting together before he has to return north? The practical 50 year-old Betty hopes that the gifts were appropriate and of all the right sizes and whether or not I kept the store receipts - and just where are they anyway?

Should I tell the kids that I've found this lovely new friend, or, do I just enjoy without having to get into details better left to discretion? (Sounds a little like seventeen again, doesn't it?)

Will spend the New Year's Eve weekend miles away to the north. It's been years since I even entertained any thoughts of partying.

Brings to mind the most disappointing New Year's Eve I ever spent. It was the time that Mel (1st husband) splurged and made reservations at the Claremont Resort Hotel in the Berkeley Hills. We were dressed in formal wear for the occasion. I felt beautiful in a gorgeous red gown. There was not a single soul under those crystal chandeliers that we knew. We were the only African American couple in sight. There was a fine banquet with a gold-paper crowns and tiaras at each table -- with whistles and festive balloons everywhere. At midnight this roomful of strangers stomped and yelled and kissed -- and it was the loneliest New Year's Eve I could ever remember! The two of us were simply lost in the grandness of the occasion with no idea of why this was? We'd signed on for all of the symbols and none of the substance. The magic wasn't in the accoutrements but in the friendships. It took a few more years of living before we'd learned that. Since that night I've looked with some sense of sadness at the sight of those ballrooms shown on television -- and wondered ... .

This year there will be few symbols. There will be caring. There will be time sitting before a roaring fireplace within 80 feet of the ocean, but high on a bluff (so not to worry). There may be a howling storm beating against the expansive window walls (nature at her most dramatic!). There will be a recently-discovered rich friendship to enjoy and the feeling of being deliciously wicked to boot!

Maybe just a wee bit of "license" comes with being at the top of the pyramid ... Needing no permission but my own.

Time is now so precious ... spending it with care is a must since the supply is finite. I'm discovering, though, that one must not dwell on the truth of that statement but must continue to live as though time is irrelevant -- a paradox. To do otherwise is to diminish the richness and reduce the life experience to increasing depression over approaching end times. It helps to have developed some juggling skills along the way ... .

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Trojan Horse?

Read today a piece in AlterNet (online) by John Gorenfeld, Gadflyer. It bore the provocative title, "Throw Down Your Cross!" It reawakened memories long dormant -- having to do with my first encounter with Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church:

When our Project Community in-house program ended, the fine old frat house at the end of Hearst Street adjacent to the university was placed on the market for sale. It was built before the turn of the century of beautiful woods, folding french doors, tall windows -- some of stained glass -- and a heartbreak to give up. Its three floors had served us well. The work still to be done didn't involve kids but now involved the analysing of five years worth of data, making the reports and dealing with the evaluation. For this we rented space on Dwight -- across the street from Peoples Park in the complex that housed the American Baptist Seminary.

I remember the concerns expressed when we learned that the first (and only) offer to purchase Project House had come from a group calling itself "Community Projects." Coincidental? Not on your life. They paid cash for that huge place and within a very short time there were reports of lots and lots of young people outside boarding buses for parts unknown. This was at the beginning of the great Moonies recruitment in the Bay Area (maybe in the US).

It was soon obvious that the house was being used as a staging area where many buses would arrive every day or so to pick up those recruited on the streets of Berkeley and San Francisco to be driven off to some Northern California campground where the indocrination would commence. The Moonies were everywhere on the street corners, selling flowers and preaching their gospel.

This was concurrent with the Flower Child Movement so there were many suburban teens on the streets looking for alternatives to life in the boonies and finding it in the Unification Church. Their search for meaning had, sorrowfully, ended here. It was common to find the days news covering stories of outraged and worried parents having their kids kidnapped for de-programming purposes -- and our fine old building was now being used in the service this awful sect.

Some months before that we'd hosted a party at our home for a number of scientist friends and newspeople of Bill's (in various disciplines) who were stopping through on their way to an all-expenses paid world conference in the Phillipines. The tab was being picked up by the good Rev. Moon for what was a huge number of the top newsmakers of the time.

I recall how we argued with these learned men about the possibility that they were being used but every one of them claimed that no pressure had been applied to recruit them, and that there was certainly nothing wrong with accepting this largesse since it would present the chance to do "good work" together that was needing just this kind of collaboration across disciplines. There was a hint of embarrassment in some, but for the most part the sponsorship was seen as a non-issue. This was only one of many such junkets that corporations regularly funded by industry and were used as vacations by lots of good folks.

That simple deception of replacing "Project Community" with "Community Projects" with an eye toward (possibly) capturing some of the participants who had made our building their home over the years suggested the cleverness of the those who guided the movement.

That was in the late Seventies. See how far they've come. Read the AlterNet article. You may find it explains some of what we're seeing these days, and the Bush connection that goes back to the former administration right down to Bush the Lesser (Arandahti Roy).

We humanists are carefully watching the Religious Right. What may be more important to understanding future events would be to watch the Religious Right that has formed on the religious right of those folks! It's all of a piece. The future of the country may be dependent upon how quickly we see that the really important questions are not yet being asked , and that the Trojan Horse may be the pseudo debate being engaged in by those who identify either as humanists or the born-agains, with few looking past to the now-40-year old movement headed by the man who is declaring himself King of Heaven and all that lies below!

I, for one, plan to pay closer attention to the Washington Times.

Monday, December 20, 2004


Read Bill Moyers' last speech this morning given before the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School upon receiving its fourth annual Global Environment Citizen Award. Thought seriously of turning out the lights and shutting down to wait for The Rapture, but figured that I ought to at least sound the alarm before doing so. His words are more sobering than anything I've read recently, and -- though delivered in his usual gentle but firm style -- equally astonishing in content. I'd advise that all pull it up on line and read every word. How on earth did our great nation come to this? How on earth will we ever reverse our course in time to save ourselves from the catastrophe of the self-fulfilling prophecy? How did we ever allow the lunatics to gain control of the asylum? And whatever happened to the afterglow of the trip to MOMA last weekend? Happiness is so fragile. Slips away so easily in the miasma of unbelievably ugly headlines justifying a kind of cruelty and duplicity unprecedented in my long lifetime.

To add to the horror, I started a new book last night that was so disturbing that I needed to put it down -- turn on the mind-numbing late night shows television to distract myself from the realization that we've been here before; the cruelty is neither new nor novel in our time -- but is a part of the national heritage. The book is "An Imperfect God; George Washington, his slaves, and the Creation of America" by Henry Wiencek.

Though Washington underwent a transformation during the war of his time, it was only after unspeakable crimes against those human slaves that he owned. "... As a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruples, even raffled off young children to collect debts." We do carry a legacy of shame that is with us still. If anything, it's even more pronounced in our time, amplified by the increased power that we hold over a world caught up in the web of deceit that now emanates from our halls of governance and bleeds hypocrisy ceaselessly. Under current leadership it has begun to erode many of the civil liberties and rights guaranteed by our founding documents. The Bill of Rights is presently being shamelessly shredded by corporate and political greed, and blind ambition. But mostly by fear and religious zealotry as described by Moyers in his speech. It is chilling. It is predictive of disaster that now threatens all of existence as we know it.

Why is there that quiet voice deep inside that says to me that turning our backs on the arts and the beauty of the world is related to our slide into dispair? Without the sharp edges of dissent reaching out to us at that emotional level that rationality cannot reach -- we've crippled our ability to see and hear the warnings. Instead, the media is simply regurgitating a reality owned and controlled by the zealots and is by now incapable of creating anything more than the self-fulfilling prophecy of hell, fire, and damnation. I believe that we've ceded (by neglect and apathy) our right to define our own reality, and instead have become simply reactive.

It was hard (after I'd turned off the bedside lamp) to escape the notion that -- with Rather, Brokaw, now Moyers, stepping off stage -- that a sense of hopelessness is pervading the nation. Though their time has surely come after many years in the trenches, it feels a little like abandonment at a time when "family" needs to stay together. And that said, much of the confidence in those voices had disappeared (for me) as they were shoved to the Right for survival in an unforgiving and compromised media environment. The only frontier left to us appears to be Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, and wouldn't it be wonderful if his kind of bare-fisted confrontation masked as satire could be out there on the Left tossing grenades of serious truth as fiercely as he does so bravely night after night?

The weekend had its rewards, but for the moment I need to let the dispair dissipate lest the joy become hopelessly contaminated.

More later ... .

Friday, December 17, 2004


Toured the exciting exhibition at the S.F. Museum of Modern Art yesterday. Not terribly fond of his early works (much like that of Andy Warhol) but the pieces he completed in the Nineties are magnificent! The huge canvasses that were greatly influenced by traditional Chinese landscapes, but that continued his applications of those tiny dots -- but now leaving the harsh bright colors of the Sixties and moving into pastels. Beautiful show!

The work may have been enhanced by the company, though. My new friend is a member of the SFMOMA and is the best art companion that I've had in years; maybe ever. His eyes are wide open and his interests are broad and deep. His appreciation for the arts matches my own, though he may be far more learned on the subject of visual arts. We're in the same general age group so have shared similar periods of history, though from very different perspectives. We may be complementary in much the same way that Bill and I were. He is also a scientist, though in chemistry rather than in the social sciences. I like him immensely.

We visited the museum in the early evening and afterward walked down Market Street to California near Battery to Tadishes Seafood Restaurant for supper. Hopped over the cable car tracks but saw none at the time. My friend is much into vintage cars and architecture -- so I saw through his eyes much more of lower Market than ever before. It's amazing how different the world looks from the sidewalks at the slow pace of a pedestrian than from a car at even 25 miles an hour. The distractions and demands of driving censors out so much more than I'd imagined. I'd forgotten that. There was a thin crisp of a waning moon in a black starless sky but with those marvelous skyscrapers outlined in lights for the holidays -- all of the visual excitement was in the near view with the black sky needing to provide little more than background.

I thought of that marvelous passage from one of Willa Cather's novels, " other places the sky is the ceiling to the earth. On the plains, the earth is the floor to the sky." (My Antonia?) I'm paraphrasing from a book read many years ago, but the thought slipped in in that micro-second between traffic light changes from "stop" to "walk." And I was reminded of the unmatched beauty of world-class cities that provide their own magic of a kind that Cather may not have experienced at the time of her writing that line. But then I've also seen the earth from Pike's Peak -- overlooking the plains -- and was awed by the wonder of that as well. How diverse is the world that I've experienced! Comparisons are foolish and unnecessary, but there's no other way to describe the emotional tsunami I felt in that moment. It was so ordinary in so many ways. So unsurprising, yet so very warm and comforting to have that sense of "mattering" again, romantically. I recalled a truth I'd learned long ago; that pretty is a feeling... one I discovered in Boston.

We'd traveled on separate BART trains, from different cities, from very different lives, to meet at the museum. Ordinarily I feel vulnerable on the streets alone -- except on the mean streets where I live and work. San Francisco overwhelms me. I read fragments of "six non-lectures" by e.e. cummings on the ride over as a way to distract myself from fears (hyper-awareness?) of traveling on the train under the bay. The old phobias of suspension and of tunnels still lurk somewhere deep in my brain, but I've long since learned to acknowledge them and move on.

I recall one day when I was visiting Boston and wanted to leave the Ritz Carlton (on Beacon Street) to visit a friend who lived in a loft many blocks away. It was a lovely day and I was determined to walk and waved several cabs on. The fear began to rise as I became less sure of my position in space. Stopped and bought a big red balloon from a vendor on the street. Carried it for several blocks through some questionable areas. Finally got my bearings and stood high on an overpass and released it to rise quickly up into the sky as I saw my friend's address up ahead. Yesterday it was the little paperback by e.e.cummings. I've grown up now. After all, I was probably only 40 at the time. Balloons are for kids.

It was on that long walk that I received one of the most memorable compliments of my life. It brings up a smile even now. There were several youngish black men socializing on a street corner somewhere along Arlington. They fell silent as I approached. As I passed them (trying to make myself invisible for the next 15 feet) one of them "signified" to the others just barely loud enough for me to overhear, "...we sho don't have too many a doze!" It was surely the equivalent of a slow wolf whistle, but sounded truly friendly and in no way intrusive, as if they sensed my fear and wanted to reassure this obvious stranger to Roxbury. Without hesitation, I grinned back at them, loosened the grip on my red balloon a twist or two, and sailed on toward Arlington feeling pretty.

Upon reaching the west side of the bay, I took the escalator up to street level past a fine street musician playing a familiar jazz tune on his keyboards; folded myself into the friendly crowd for the walk up Market Street past Annie Place to Third and to the Museum. It was comfortable. I sensed the friendliness of the city. Picked up imaginative gifts for my grandkids in the museum shop, then -- as confident as could be -- found a table in the coffee shop, tucked cummings into my MOMA (status symbol) bag and started to sip a fine cup of green tea to wait for him ... .

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Feeling a bit more accepting today.

The anger at having Jessica caught up in the insanity of a faraway brutal war was really unsettling. The effort to keep those thoughts suppressed was taking its toll. It's at such times that I find myself re-living past indignities -- remembering the war of my own youth and of the unfairness suffered by my young husband at the hands of the navy. Times have changed since then, I keep actively reminding myself. The armed forces have been racially integrated -- and are far ahead of the private sector in many ways, at least on that score. After all -- we've got General Colin Powell and Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice (the Ice Queen) now in place -- and how sad it that? I find little solace in those appointments. I find only embarrassment in Justice Clarence Thomas. And have only contempt for that Blackwell guy who figured so strongly in the Ohio election day debacle. Something truly vital was lost on the way to full racial equality. One day I'll need to give that more thought. It's puzzling ... .

Today was the day that I met with Executive Director, Ramona Samuels, (Richmond Main Street Initiative). We spent two hours envisioning the Arts & Entertainment District that I've been writing and dreaming about for several years. She believes that we can actually bring it to life. It was an exciting conversation where two enthusiastic women spend the best part of a morning talking in incomplete sentences! I don't believe that either of us ever finished a thought without interruption! That's the best kind of meeting. No notes taken except for a few scribbles on a legal pad -- but we spent as much time permanently etching those thoughts on our minds as if they were more precious than gold. I have a feeling that -- if anyone were taping us -- they'd have found little coherence, but WE knew that we were in an inspired verbal exchange! Maybe that's a "woman" thing.

I brought along the binder in which I've been keeping centennial notes, photographs, the four essays I put together while working with the National Park Service; the documentation upon which the essays are based, etc. She caught the excitement that I've been feeling and -- just one day before I'm to meet with my future boss. Wouldn't you know it? Just as this huge project begins to show signs of life I'm going to find myself involved in city government -- one city away! (Maybe two, actually.) Will have to find a way to continue to work with Richmond as a volunteer while warming up the new territory in Berkeley. I truly can't afford to not have regular employment without sacrificing the financial stability I've been trying to maintain for Dorian. During the past idle year I've had to draw upon investments more than I would have wished. I need to shore that up while I still can, and while "the world" still sees me as a viable contributor. That can't go on much longer. Old Al Zheimers is sure to catch up with me at some point. He's a viscious predator and no respecter of one's capacity to "promote the general welfare."

Tomorrow we'll have lunch and I'll get a feel for this new councilman and for his expectations of a new policy staffperson. Tomorrow evening I'll meet again with the group of teachers for a continuation of our search for answers having to do with threatened privatization after the recently-announced school closures. But on Thursday late afternoon I'll meet my new friend at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where we'll feed our souls. Later we'll feed our bodies with dinner at historic Tadish's Seafood restaurant in the financial district. Then there's a Christmas party at the home of the artistic director of the East Bay Center for the Arts on Friday evening. On Saturday late afternoon and evening I'll share the annual Christmas party with a dear Berkeley friend and her family.

Carefully woven through the fabric of the next few days will be thoughts of Jessica; the horror of the headlines coming from overseas; headlines that I will scrupulously not read; shouting pundits I'll not listen to; and (maybe) snatches of songs I've not yet written ...

And ... on Sunday morning, as is usually the case, I'll find that I've survived it all.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The war's come home ... .

Learned yesterday that Jessica, our 18 year-old lovely young step-granddaughter -- in an act of desparation to get out on her own has enlisted in the army and leaves in two weeks. Like so many of her friends, she was unable to get into college; had a future consisting of WalMart and/or MacDonalds as the only possible alternatives and -- in a moment of hopelessness answered the call of the recruiters. They'd been hovering around her campus for months -- like the scavengers they are -- and she was caught up in the net of "opportunity." Now she will have the chance to "be all that she can be" in this hateful war. She'll learn to hate and to kill and to maim and will lose what's left of her innocence on some road on the way to or from Bagdad, I suppose. She will learn that she is surrounded by "the enemy" and that she must kill them before they kill her and "they" will undoubtedly be some 18 year-old like herself with as little understanding of their role in this holocaust as she. This is a less than 5 foot tall girl-woman who just graduated from the 12th grade. She's barely out of her senior prom gown!

Tried again tonight to search my mind for the justification for this war -- those that we've been served up via the media -- and I find none; not even something superficial. Saddam is safely imprisoned. Osama bin Laden is in a quiet period somewhere in the caves of Pakistan or Afghanistan, hardly even mentioned anymore. Those WMDs have been declared non-existent, and -- if what we're doing is pacifying the Iraqis -- I'd say that's a failure of massive proportions. With 100,000 Iraqis now counted among the dead, thousands more wounded and dying slowly from lack of medical attention and/or drugs to allay pain; with continuing reports of the discovery of headless bodies, mass graves, and on-going reports of prisoner abuse, I'm finding it hard to know how our president and his cohorts sleep at night. What kind of callousness is required to get them through the days? They've hidden the returning flag-draped caskets from us, but they can't be de-sensitized to their existence, can they? What does it take to be that unfeeling? Besides that, they've embedded all of the objectivity out of the press corps so that we've lost all faith in what we're told. And, beside that, there are fewer reports coming out of Iraq since news gathering has become too dangerous to engage in where the fighting is the fiercest. What a disaster!

But it's now tiny Jessica's turn to save the world by shouldering an assault weapon. Her waist-length jet black hair will be clipped. She'll learn to crawl on her belly through razor wire. She'll climb rope ladders and ooze her way through mud and slime. She'll grow up fast now, and will return home to empty promises of college funded by the federal government. That's a hell of a way to make it onto campus! I won't let myself think about other possibilities. But now I have my own "troop" to support. I was expecting Rhico to be the first called. He's the other 18 year-old in our family, and eligible but unwilling to enlist, I believe. Never dreamed that I should have been concerned about Jessica. How the world has changed ... .

Jessica is the "All Volunteer Army" in microcosm!

We have two weeks to mourn her decision before she's on her way to the reception center. Because of her determination to make that decision alone, she is leaving without feeling the blessings of those who love her, and we do -- deeply -- and wish with all our hearts that she leaves knowing the truth and strength of that love. Her mother must be crushed -- but also extremely proud of her declaration of independence, even at this cost.

We're devastated!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Wonder if I ever posted these song lyrics?

It was an important symptom of my gradual rebellion at a point when Bill was taking the Werner Erhardt EST course in San Francisco, and I was refusing to become a part of what I saw as regimentation on the Left. I'd attended the orientation with him and the roaring chants and hands raised in unison in that huge auditorium felt Hitlerian to me. I wrote this song for an annual church revue, "The Hungry U" a takeoff on the San Francisco's Hungry I where Mort Sahl had his beginnings. The lyrics will mean little to those who missed the Human Potential Movement, but if you were there and remember -- the language will take you back. For others, I've italicized the cliches:

A Teacher's Lament

First verse:

Was a teacher of grammar, of this I was proud -- in the classroom effective they say.
to increase sensitivity I joined the activity to learn about
games people play
encounter, gestalt, reality, bio-energetics, all that ...
and it shakes my foundations when I hear myself utterin' --
this is the place where I'm at!


Dr. Freud, Yung, Bern, Rollo May, Fritz -- and that "Pearl," too
I wouldn't be here
in this hard place today had I ne ... ver encountered you

Verse 2

I was doing my
thing at Esalan, all decked out in my smile and my skin--
had my oily massage -- all the epiderm glistenin' ... the baths were about to begin ...
As I sat on my rock ... displaying my ... freedom ... when much to my utter dismay
from behind crept this kitty cat -- licked the end I was sittin' at
slip and slid clear to Monterey Bay!


Dr. Freud, Yung, Bern, Rollo May, Fritz and that "Pearl," too
I wouldn't be here
in this hard place today had I ne ... ver encountered you!

Verse 3

It was
lifting time -- my group gathered 'round estimating (non-verbally) my weight
As I peeked through my eyelids I felt myself frown as I saw the men step back to wait
So I tried to be
cool while four girls lifted effortlessly, I felt myself soar with the action
and just as -- emphatically -- I
flew most ecstatically!
The left lifters slipped -- I'm in traction!

Dr. Freud, Yung, Bern, Rollo May, Fritz -- and that "Pearl," too
I wouldn't be here
in this hard place today
this impossible
room with no view ...

I'm giving myself full permission to say from this gut level place
Screw you!

Sacrilege? Yeah, right. That was about as irreverent as one could be at that time in our circles, but I did get to sing the song for the noted psychologist, Dr. Rollo May, at a party in Mill Valley one evening -- and loved every minute of it. It was delicious! He was a good sport but I wasn't too sure that Bill saw the humor -- though he covered nicely as I recall.

In looking back now it looks like that incredible hard swing of the pendulum to the permissive end topped in the Eighties and over the next few years the balancing drive toward the equivalent of the Victorian period at the end of the last century was unstoppable. It looks like that hard swing to the Right may be topping off about now with the era of the Super Christians in full flower. If social change takes many decades as Bill insisted, then I've surely seen at least one complete cycle that proves his point.

What was symbolized by the Haight-Ashbury Love- and Be-ins with the free love and turning away from hate and all aspects of war may be now finding its balance in the Bush years.

The Religious Right may believe that it has successfully put a cap on humanism and secularism and the movements toward gender equality and a woman's right to choose -- but a few more years will surely see the pendulum swinging back toward the center and then to the Left in a natural reaction to the extremes. We've always corrected our course over time. This period of regression will fade away, though I don't expect to witness the next cycle.

The complication of a possible ecological catastrope due to global warming and the return to the Doomsday Clock mentality can make all of this moot, but I'm too optimistic by nature to not believe that something will pull us back from the edge in time. But we won't be saved without an all out effort on the part of us all -- and that thought keeps me in the struggle for survival.

I guess I'm hopeful that there are enough of us left over from the last Love-in period who remember well enough to welcome the first signs of the resurrection. The seeds are out there waiting for the re-birth. Our natural heirs are the Women in Black, Veterans for Peace, those wonderful young people at MoveOn.Org, People for the American Way, AirAmerica, the Pacifica Radio Network, Code Pink, etc. My heart was warmed to know that Teri Sendgraf - the artist responsible for those wonderful performing artists on stilts seen in the WTO demonstrations -- once worked with Project Community. And WavyGravy is still running his clown camp!

There's hope. They're all out there and with the Internet as the connecting link, we have counterparts throughout the world and we can reach out to them in ways never before possible. We simply have to find the ways to keep the embers alive until that pendulum gets far enough to our side to continue the world's unyielding march toward a state of permanent peace.

I trust the truth of that. It keeps me alive and continuing to reach for the stars, even when I'm being irreverent.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Hopped on BART this morning with two friends

to attend a meeting of (more) educators. This time the participants were directors of afterschool programs in San Francisco. The title of the two-hour workshop was "Youth Voices" and consisted of an evaluation of the Beacon Programs (a project of Stanford's Department of Education), plus a panel of 5 remarkable teens who were either participants in or graduates of Beacon's programs.

These were pretty typical teens; a young woman from Pakistan, 2 African American high school boys from Oakland; a generously body-pierced gay young woman who serves on the S.F. Youth Commission; and a very articulate male student graduate of Beacon who is now a member of faculty. They were all well-spoken and fine examples of kids who probably would have survived under whatever system they'd found themselves in; but this may be an unfair assumption.

Very soon it all began to sound very familiar. One of the disadvantages of being older is that so little is new anymore. The program description sounded like one of the many versions of Project Community, the research experiment my late husband developed out of Tolman Hall at UC. Berkeley 30 years ago with Dr. Shelley Korchin. This was where Bill and I met. I was an administrator. He was the principle investigator.

He'd come to the coast from Washington shortly after the Kennedy assassination. He'd worked as a part of a think tank associated with NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) under the Johnson administration. In the Sixties he came west to do a study that would look at the Flower Child phenomenon in the Haight-Ashbury. He would develop a drug prevention program at Cal. He'd arrived at UCB with grant in hand and about as exciting and timely an assignment as one could have in those days, if you were a research psychologist.

Bill was a part of that wave of scholars,educators, adventurers, and experimenters who arrived here believing they were in the world's most permissive and liberal place -- and made it so by so believing. That group included Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, Dr. Stan Grof (of the LSD experiments in Bethesda), Charlotte Selvers, Fritja Capra, Isaac Asimov, the founders of Esalan, Fritz Perls, Rollo May, et al. It was a heady time. Berkeley was radiating radio waves that were being felt around the world! The Zen Center was coming in to being. There was Green Gulch and Tassajara. Ken Kesey and the Pranksters were exploring and inventing new edges from their bungalows at Stanford. People like Uri Geller, Peter Coyote, WavyGravy and the Pig Farm were feeding the multitudes. Rupert Sheldrake (the Hundreth Monkey),Toni and John Lilly (of the earliest dolphin experiments) were emerging and changing the spiritual and psychological defaults! A succession of refugee Tibetan Lamas began to set up centers for studies where -- with a growing community of New Wave western scholars -- would explore the places where western physics and Buddhism converged. Out of their studies would come the books and papers that would change the way we all viewed at the world. This was the birth of the human potential movement -- and I was living right in the middle of it!

It was only natural that Project Community would draw on all of those influences, and it did.

The program at first drew its students from Berkeley's only high school. It was an afterschool, evening, and weekend program that was arranged so that groups of randomly-chosen small groups of kids met twice weekly with a team of graduate students from the school of psychology in intimate group sessions. In addition, each youngster also participated in what in a regular high school might be considered an elective. Here in Project Community this was the heart of the matter -- that which provided the alternative to the drug experience. They were invited to be "high" on life.

They did rock-climbing on Indian Rock high in the Berkeley hills with Lloyd. This providing rapelling as a way of learning trust. There was movement with Carolyn and meditation with Wendy. They traveled down to the Emeryville mud flats to create sculptures of debris that washed up on the shore from the bay. They took field trips to the wilderness where they did "Soloing" - where they were dropped off in a very large circle with the leader stationed at a campfire at the center - ever within reach in an emergency but unobtrusive, and never interrupting the "alone" experience. They returned jubilant or crushed, but with much material with which to work toward new goals discovered in the dark of night, alone.

In the years that followed, I've seen many fragments of Bill's work expressed in other programs. It was a groundbreaking format at the time. Youngsters stayed for a year or so in the program housed in our old frat house on the northern edge of campus, but the experiment had to move out of the Berkeley schools after a time because of the many kinds of exposures students were being impacted by at the time. Due to the tumult on the UC campus, it became impossible to determine how Project Community, alone, was impacting their lives. reliable measurements were impossible to achieve.


For the final 3 years of the 5 year experiment, we worked on 5 high school campuses in 2 counties; Napa and Contra Costa. We moved our work into two continuation schools and 3 regular high schools. The test results were far easier to track now, but it was those test results that eventually proved too difficult to interpret for funding justification.

The pre- and post-testing reversed the expected outcomes. The test results indicated that the comprehensive entrance survey suggested that kids were in a better shape when they entered than when the program ended. Strange, right? We could see quite clearly that they'd made great strides in both behavior and attitude. What had changed was that these free-spirited kids were entered as guarded and mistrusting . Over time they'd become close to their leaders and to one another and had developed a pattern of openness and integrity for the first time -- but at the end of the program! It therefore appeared that their behavior had deteriorated over time and that the program had actually done them harm!

That, and the fact that it is impossible to prove that something didn't happen because of what you did. I suspect that programs developed later found ways around this one, but I'm not sure how.

Small wonder that I'm so leery of standardized testing. Maybe we can't have standardized testing until we can produce standardized kids to whom we provide standardized resources!

(I think now of my recent visit from little Emily Fox with whom I lunched last summer - she's now living in N.Y., -- Emily -- and beautiful swarthy strongman-bottom-of-the-pyramid Jef Raz, who went on from Project Community to become a member of the Pickle Family Circus -- one of the earliest versions of Cirque de Soleil, or so I believe.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Having such a long view on history makes for some disturbing conclusions.

Been thinking a lot about the state of the system of public education over the past 24 hours, and what comes up for me is discouraging, indeed.

Wonder if anyone else sees the complete time line -- from Brown vs. the Board of Education to today? When integration was forced by the courts in the southern states by the Brown decision, public schools were quickly abandoned by white parents and a system of academies were created into which those children were enrolled. The public school system in the south was left largely to black children. The academies were funded largely with public funds and the re-segregation of the schools was well on its way within a few short years.

Meanwhile, the education of black children had been judged to be substandard with teaching often in the hands of caring but inadequately-trained African Americans teachers (in comparison to whites) and -- where they existed -- nuns from teaching orders in parochial schools. With school integration, a good many of those hardworking African American teachers were displaced as not qualified to teach in schools other than those created for black children, and with no way to follow their students into newly-desegregated schools. Chaos reigned in black educational institutions. Little was made of the value added by having people who looked like themselves guiding their lives in settings where families could be easily integrated into the learning process with them. Much of value was lost to black kids since the culture that had been transmitted -- generation to generation -- and learning became more generic and standardized with few recognizable clues as to how one lives a life or navigates the pathways to jobs and economic stability. Role models were gone now, and with them any glimpse of what a future might look like except for those images available from endless hours on television that held their attention and created their wish list.

After 60 years, those "academies" have spread nationwide -- and are now called charter schools. The move to vouchers was the first volley in the battle to replace public education as we know it. Many are publicly funded and corporately run. A lot of good people without links to the recent past have embraced this deceptively attractive alternative and in many instances have used the model well. But if it were possible to emulate in the public schools what is being afforded in the charters, similar successes would ensue. Smaller class sizes and specialized learning opportunities in magnet programs would enrich any child; a no brainer.

The innercities have been abandoned to the poor, largely minority, and re-segregated by virtue of persistent and more subtle forms of discrimination in housing patterns. Many public schools are a disaster with high drop out rates and metal detectors at every entrance. Instead of an on-site counseling staff, there are on-site policemen standing guard. I've visited schools where all of the windows have been painted over in order to shut out distractions so that children can be better "controlled." I cannot imagine what is would be like to be a child and not be able to see the sky ... .

However, a trip to the nearby suburbs -- to visit the public schools in Lafayette, Orinda, Walnut Creek, or Danville (all in the same county but in affluent school districts), and the differences would astound you. Those programs and services stripped from urban schools are largely financed in the suburban districts by parent groups who've set up foundations to supplement the state ADA allotments. A choice not available to low income communities. By the way, California's once excellent school system now ranks 48th in the nation, behind Guam and Mississippi, in resources expended per child.

In Richmond teachers are unable to assign homework without copying pages for kids to take home because there are few textbooks (at $75-$85 each, small wonder). And many of those textbooks are so old that the USSR is still united and the moon-landing still somewhere in the future. One might wonder why an ordinary bestseller can sell from $25-$35 in any bookstore, but the texts used by children cost 3-4 times that price. School textbook publishers have some of the most powerful lobbies in the state and the nation, and little is done to rein them in.

In two such elementary schools in the district where I live, there have been 4 principals in 5 years. In one, the first year that I was assigned to observe (ever watchful for possible new legislation) -- of a teaching staff of 13, 9 were new that semester. Many were conditionally credentialed, and most were marking time until they could move into better schools where the problems appeared more manageable and parent participation more available. All were white. Only one was male. There were no operable drinking fountains and the only grassy area lay behind a tall fence and locked gate. The children were forced to play on hot asphalt day after day, except for the brief periods when one imaginative and caring young teacher conducted a gardening program on a borrowed strip of land adjacent to the classrooms. Ninety-eight percent of the students qualified for the free lunch program. A great many of the kids were from undocumented immigrant families. Many were Southeast Asian refugees (from 5 different language groups). Perhaps 70% percent were African American children from very low income families. The profile of this school is more or less typical of what what one finds in West County -- and all of the West Counties across the nation.

When all of this is considered, it isn't hard to see that many of our public schools have become predicters of the numbers we see in the statistics of prison populations. At their worst they've become the breeding ground for hopelessness, crime, and desolation. It isn't too much of a leap to the assumption that -- after a long and steady campaign, the gains made by the Brown decision have been negated, overturned, and defeated by the likes of those throngs of angry stone throwers who guarded the gates of Central High in the turbulent Sixties.

It's ironic to sit with groups of those blessed with short memories who haven't had the longevity or the experience to connect the dots -- and who innocently join the forces now moving to dismantle our system of public education and unwittingly opt to accept the privatization under corporations with an allegience to no one but their stockholders.

Around the turn of the century (1900) the goal of public education was to educate the upperclasses to colleges and universities and the lower and middle classes into the crafts and vocations. It worked well as the separator of the social system. The goal of present day education is still to act as a separator -- but now that consists of universities for the upper classes (leadership) and the armed forces and the service sector for everyone else. Dropping out of inadequate and dangerous schools and into the underground economy fueled by the drug trade has offered yet another alternative; one that tragically makes sense to those with little chance of making it anywhere else. There is then the direct line into the prison system. One might think it was planned that way, right?

The corporate model for public education will secure those goals and guarantee the survival of white supremacy.

The schools haven't failed; WE have.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Phone rang early this morning ...

The call was from the city councilman with whom I was to have lunch and chat about joining his staff soon. "Last night was our swearing-in ceremony and many of my relatives came from elsewhere to join me in celebration. They're still here and I'd like to re-schedule our lunch 'til next week, if possible, Betty." "Of course, but I'll want to know if there is some question about whether you're interested in my being considered for the position." "Oh no! That's a given." So that's where we are at the moment, and we'll meet next Wednesday to work out the details.

I like him. He's been a public servant for some years, serving on the Peralta Community College Board and serving well. It may mean another couple of years of civic involvement before the lab gets the remains! He will have some interest in education.

Last night I attended a meeting of an ad hoc group of educators who've been studying the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) legislation. It was spirited and revealing. It's been some time since I've met with educators -- not since leaving my position of field rep for Assemblywoman Hancock. It takes a different set of ears when you're participating as a member of the public. A lot more freedom is involved. No need to censor myself.

Learned that this legislation is not new at all but is simply the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in the Sixties which gave us Title 1. When that bill came up for reauthorization in 2001 (I believe), it was renamed NCLB and (supposedly) was enhanced with some "strengthening" measures. The irony was that it had worked to empower many minority students before -- when fully funded -- but under the reauthorization became little more than an unfunded mandate.

The passion expressed last night by concerned teachers and administrators (largely Latino, female, and/or African American) was unbridled. Their frustration at the conditions under which they're working was clearly moving many out of teaching in the public school system, and into either charter schools or out of teaching altogether. What a sad state of affairs. What a tragedy that we've allowed one of the best systems of public education in the world to fall into such chaos! What is obvious is that the schools are being privatized at such a fast rate that it's all happening under the radar of most parents and -- except for alert educators and a few concerned legislators -- it may already be too late to save them.

Found myself thinking last night that the only possible answer is the massive withholding of the source of revenue, ADA (Average Daily Attendance) by pulling children from the schools in a general strike of unity. That may be the only way to slow down the juggernaut and give us the time to correct our course.

One of the many speakers was Dr. Kathy Emery, the co-author of "Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?" It says on her book jacket, "...Kathy Emery has taught high school history for 16 years, has a Ph.D. in education from the University of California at Davis, and is currently working with Teachers for Social Justice and the San Francisco Organizing Project. Her dissertation, on which her book is based, can be found at

Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools writes of her book:

"Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian have written a magnificent, carefully documented, and high-voltage manifesto to confront the degradation of our nation's schools by powerful corporations whose self-serving motives and assaultive tactics have developed into a relentless and dehumanizing juggernaut. Steam will be coming out of your ears by the time you finish this extraordinary book. It should be a wake up call to all who care about the future of our schools and all who truly value children."


Bought a copy after hearing what she and the others had to say last night. It all fit closely with the facts as I'd been able to glean them from five years as a field rep in the county and the district. I knew that 49% of Latino and African American children drop out of school by the tenth grade -- according to state figures, and that I was unable to direct any attention to those shocking figures while working in the field. And, knowing that these were state figures, we can be fairly certain that the local figures were far higher.

The predictability, the drawing together of these facts with those of last Friday's meeting in Oakland last week (900,000 young men of color incarcerated) made my teeth grind!

And, how on earth will my next round of career moves impact this problem?

Will attend the school board meeting tonight when some of the teachers will be testifying. Maybe I can glower from the audience! Can't think of a single thing that will help when what I really want to do is work to convince every parent to remove their kids from the schools in a show of determination to save the system from a predictable fate. The schools will be taken over by private educational enterprises, sold, made into charters, or simply closed. That's a certainty, unless ...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Where does the time go?

Already it's Tuesday. Time has taken on a new quality that was imposed when I stopped working (formally). The days tend to run together without the glue of regular commitments. Today I found myself having to hunt up a calendar to make sure that it was Tuesday. I don't think I could live comfortably if I had to string together the weeks and months by irregular markers on my calendar having to do with doctors appointments and the occasional family birthday celebration. Til now the days have been separated by staff meetings and a to-do list that might bring a thirty-year-old to her knees! I miss the predictability that comes with following out a career and get disoriented when the days begin to look and feel alike. Maybe that will be the most difficult aspect of retirement.

Tomorrow I'll meet for lunch with the civic leader who may be my next career move and I'm excited at the prospect of what the meeting might bring. If that doesn't pan out, I'll continue to patch together my datebook entries from a variety of volunteer programs that need those of us with enough juice left to give to whatever cause they're pursuing. I've met so many wonderful people in such groups and they're always so grateful for extra hands to lighten the load. That may be a more realistic view of what the future holds, and that's certainly nothing to scoff at.

Realized that I may have been quietly waiting for a very long time to feel that light tap on the shoulder from my replacement. Haven't felt it yet, and am not sure that I'd recognize her if she showed up tomorrow. Maybe I need to begin to scout around. I may simply not have noticed in the busyness that makes up my life. Maybe she's been here and gone -- feeling rejected by my lack of attention.

Then maybe I've not yet adequately passed on enough of what I've learned. Maybe that's what it takes to let go -- the feeling that one has released into life all that has been earned, learned, and whatever has been one's unique gifts to give. Not sure... .

Maybe I'm simply being philosophical in preparation for the fact that tomorrow I may learn that the time has come to step away from the crowd, out of the arena, off stage, and trust that the world can take care of itself. I know that I've had the feeling since resigning last February -- that I'd entered a new phase of life and that fulltime employment was over for all time. And I felt okay about that. There has certainly been enough places to spend my energy, and it's been a good year, as these pages attest. The new position came out of the blue long after I'd accepted a new format to live by.

Maybe I'll discover tomorrow that I don't want to jump back into the fray after all, and that I can simply be more watchful about identifying my replacement and passing the torch. We'll see. I suspect that, either way, Thursday will be interesting to anticipate, and the weekend will bring the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts (EBCPA)"Sharing the Spirit" annual holiday festival -- and my darling granddaughters, Alyana and Tamaya will be dancing!

Maybe grandmothering will now be my fulltime position; and that wouldn't be a bad fate, would it?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Just returned from a meeting of the UULM

(Unitarian-Universalist Legislative Ministry). As a UU of longstanding, I'm nonetheless in a constant state of displacement due to a restlessness that's followed me from church to church since moving away from Mt. Diablo UU church in Walnut Creek many years ago. The denomination has always been tantalizing in the possibilities it presents and in the openness I've always found there.

My social activism was born there, and I've been out "in the world" spinning around in the wake of the years of experiencing whatever it was that got unleashed in that original congregational affiliation. There are still remnants of the passion shared with my UU friends of long ago, and I guess that I'll always measure the boundaries of new alliances against those with whom the joy and pain of growth was shared. Despite all, I tend to operate as a circle of one much of the time.

Was invited by one of those dear friends to attend tonight's meeting in the hope, of course, that I might find it a base from which to do my work. There was much to build upon, but I was (again) one of only two African Americans in the room -- and the other, a gentleman, was silent all evening.

This group is doing great work on the Gay marriage issue where UUs are playing a leadership role, nationally. I'm so proud of that work. There was talk of taking on children's health as a secondary campaign, not by providing leadership as much as by working collaboratively with existing efforts. There will be some groundwork done on the next great world issue -- that of water -- which looms large on the horizon but has not yet bubbled up to the surface of our consciousness. A worthy agenda.
But I was torn.

After spending yesterday in the conference on The African American Male,etc., hosted by Barbara Lee et al, it was difficult to make the leap to these more universal themes. Am still caught up in the urgency of the plight of young black males and the great chasm that lies between the black and white communities as represented by my experiences over these two days. One might well have been on separate planets...the concerns were so different, and finding the places where they intersect is difficult to discern.

I never know quite why, but I find myself close to tears when the dilemma is this striking. I so wanted to be able to tap into the energy of tonight's meeting -- and did voice my concerns -- but as it has been on other occasions, at other times -- those concerns tend to bear little relevance to the subject at hand. There's that huge gulf that I'm aware is there -- and that in the past has been dependent upon how successful one is at playing the "guilt" card. It's not about that. It shouldn't be.

But I find myself wanting to add another category for activism -- a kind of cleaning up of the anomalies in governance, some corner of the room where implementation and accountability is monitored. Example:

There was a time when I first went to work for the state when a huge amount of matching federal dollars had to be returned to the feds because they had not been expended in the time allotted. There was a program involving free health services for all school children who qualified for the free lunch programs. Not nearly enough children were enrolled to justify continuation of the program so it was failing to fulfill its mission. Then it was discovered that the application form was made up of 25 pages of questions to be filled out by the parents. This, in a community with an extremely high rate of illiteracy; a community with a large immigrant spanish-speaking population; and a Laotion refugee community consisting of five language groups most of whom were not literate in their own language. Someone worked hard to design something so draconian.

It takes little imagination see that this was a cynical way of offering much-needed health services without actually granting them to anyone. The chance that the parents from these communities could complete such a form was next to nil, and some healthy cynicism on the part of a few alert bureaucrats eventually caught the problem and change occurred that got things back on track and the services rendered. There are times when even that which is legislated meets with defeat at staff level. Tragic.

Then there's the duplicity of legislation like the current un- and under-funded "No Child Left Behind" bill. One of California Rep. George Miller's greatest disappointments in the last congressional session was seeing the erosion in Head Start and watching the "No Child" bill that he co-authored go unfunded for the most part. As is so often the case, testing without the resources to attain the goals is a cruel hoax played on educators and children who must live by them. Here in West County, the attainment of those test scores frustrates good teachers and dooms a great many children to continuing poverty as a result of low expectations and lack of financial resources. It's heartbreaking to witness, and appears to have placed the final nail in the coffin of our once-great system of public education.

Having well-informed legislative watchpersons catching these anomalies can bring miracles. They can re-shape legislation to actually serve the powerless for whom they were originally intended.

Our system of term limits has created the Third House in the legislature. There's the Senate, The Assembly, and The Lobbyists. And at any one time at least one-third of the legislature is in the hands of newly-elected well-intentioned leaders who must spend their first year in the capitol locating the restrooms and raising funds for their next campaign! A great deal of legislation is being drafted by that Third House and simply delivered for passage. Having the denomination represented in the Third House will help until we can get the electorate to revisit the entire concept of term limits. But that's a debate for another time ... maybe a good reason to join the UULM, right?

Tennyrate, I'm exploring the web site ( with an eye toward at least participating online while I figure out how I might become involved without losing my own focus in the micro.

Been a busy weekend.

Dorian and I attended NIAD's annual art show and reception this afternoon where we bought some beautiful gifts for the holidays. Picked up some cards that she designed from block print patterns. Tomorrow we'll do the same at the Richmond Art Center.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Photo: Dorian's lovely beaded mosaic abstract. It's about 3'x4' and is quite beautiful. Unfortunately I can't afford to buy them all. This one will probably be bought soon by someone familiar with "Outsider Art." There is a growing clientele for this work. The gallery pays 50% of the sale to the artist -- and Dorrie is becoming a saleable artist.
What a pleasant surprise ...

to check into my pages this morning and find that the Google Adsense team has pulled the inappropriate ad and replaced it with clickable ones that are far more fitting.

Been thinking about the potential we have here of broadening the concept of what it means to age without withdrawing from the world. I'm sure that I'm far from alone in remaining contemporary and involved and continuing to have an impact on the status quo. I suspect that the major difference may be that many women who've defied time in much the same way have done so by claiming to be younger than their driver's license admits. A nip and a tuck here and there, and ''voila!" instant youth retention! In that way, younger women lose the opportunity to learn that aging can be as fascinating a time of life as any other -- and that vitality doesn't necessarily disappear when your first social security check arrives. Dementia isn't necessarily the natural result of accumulating years, but is an anomoly of our times for reasons unknown. That's unfortunate for those who follow us, and who need to know that.

The advantages that continuing to grow and evolve intellectually are that one's spirituality and perspective can grow as well, with a deepening of everything one has been all along -- only now everything is the more precious as we face our mortality and the acceptance of the fact that life is finite. The sense of urgency sharpens the edge of existence and makes poetic those things that were at one time merely ordinary. How I wish I'd known that when it was still years ahead -- I had no recognizable models in my own life.

And, I'm still loving and being loved, wearing black lace lingerie, reading Vogue and Elle -- still reading the New Yorker right along with Arandahti Roy, Noam Chomsky, and The Nation. I'm also slowly experiencing the graying of hair and the crumpling of skin -- with those strange little age spots on my cheeks that I'm told were always there but are only now rising to visibility. It feels strange to look into the mirror to watch my mother brushing her teeth! My muscle tone has only recently begun to soften but my body retains its youthfulness, probably from jumping in and out of my car (surely not from formal exercise though I keep promising myself that I'll join a yoga class, soon).

The only time I'm really aware of the changes are those times when I see photos of myself taken ten or so years ago. The changes are profound, though they surely don't feel so. Working with my wedding pictures recently (I was a little over fifty) -- trying to put them into my blog -- I was moved by how young "she" appeared. Funny, but it really does feel like "someone I once knew." But we share great memories, and somewhere inside she still exists and moves into the forefront to take over "the bod" at a few strains of an old song or when I find myself in "woman" rather than "mother" or "public servant" mode. That complexity is shared by us all, I'm sure, but the awareness of it may be unique to fewer of us.

I will probably never be accused of living "the unexamined life."

And I'm certainly not alone. There are probably as many versions of eldering as there are of adolescense or forty-something-itis. Despite all attempts at ghetto-izing this stage in life into age-specific lobbies, communities, and services, some of us insist upon the right to contribute the fruits of our maturity into the mix; to remain in the mainstream of life in the work force where and when possible -- while being the patrons of the arts and sciences and the tutors and mentors of the young.

There are those of us who will continue until we're all used up -- and then we'll donate our remains to science labs so that nothing is left to bury or incinerate!

And what a way to go!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Great day!

Attended a conference today in Oakland on "The State of the African American Male," subtitled: What is happening with ex-felons re-entering the community, and how can we improve the transition? The event was hosted by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-9) supported by Rep. Danny Davis (Il-07) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. The keynoter was Oakland Black Panther co-founder, Bobby Seale. It was held at Laney Community College in downtown Oakland and drew a large number of young black men, community program directors and staffs, Oakland's mayor, Jerry Brown and California State Senator, Pro Tem, Don Perata. Big stuff.

Learned that, nationwide, 900,000 black males are incarcerated -- more of its people are in prisons in the USA than any other country in the world. It was interest to me that there was no mention of the growing number of women now doing time. There are -- by far -- more black people in the prisons of the nation than in colleges and universities. In fact, County Supervisor Keith Carson had just returned from a meeting at UCBerkeley where he learned that in this year 2004, only 6 black students have enrolled in the graduate schools. That's almost unbelievable, and a sad commentary on the state of educational opportunities for non-whites.

Will write more about this later, but having left early and before the keynote address was given -- I feel that I missed most of the substantive material and heard only that which was ceremonial. There was much filming of the event and -- having access to Barbara's office through old friendships, I'll be able to have access to what was missed.

Of interest was the fact that both Mayor Brown and Senator Perata spoke their few words of greeting and congratulations then slipped immediately out of the nearest exit when that was done. How often I've seen this happen? The emotional and highly-charged testimonies that come out of these breakout sessions rarely reach the ears of the powerful who might be able to effect meaningful change. Those making the pleas for that change end up speaking to each other. At least those members of the Congressional Black Caucus remained, and the work would carry on, but they, too, may be speaking only to one another in the context of Washington, D.C. Makes one wonder ... .

What was I doing there? All a part of climbing back in the saddle, I suppose. The subject has been important to me for a very long time -- and if all goes as expected -- I may be in a position to bring some new energy to the subject in a few months. It feels familiar -- and in a good way.

Maybe it's a little like riding that proverbial bicycle -- once learned ... .

No problem.
This is hysterical!

While exploring some of the features of this blogging phenomenon, a few days ago I discovered something called Google Adsense. What's that" (I asked myself)? Oh, turned out to be a program whereby one can sign up to be a more formal "publisher" and allow for the addition of ads that "are relevant to your content." Aha! There's the rub. Followed the directions, created the proper codes and copied and pasted into the template as directed, and waited to see what would happen.

In theory, each time someone clicks on the ad there is a deposit to an online account. When said account warrants it, a check is forwarded for the advertising privileges I've allowed. Nice arrangement.

There was a judgement made somewhere in cyberspace by a Google panel that determined that the content of my blog was acceptable and that there is a market for advertising here. So what would be relevant, I ask myself? Dental adhesives, adult diapers? Perhaps retirement plans for reverse mortgages? Mobil home sites and used RVs? How would these young advertising panelists see my age group? The defaults would surely give me an idea of how seniors are seen by advertisers. Might learn something here.

Then I looked in this morning: Would you believe a talking Ronald Reagan doll? If anyone really seriously read my writings, they would have surely known that I'm far from a Reagan follower, and that my political leanings are not in keeping with our former late president. To the contrary, I was one of those in the streets during the People's Park demonstrations years ago when he was governor of California and I was a youngish community activist. His helicopters were overhead spraying us with tear gas while my folks were singing Kumbaya and tossing flowers!

However, I choose to let it be. To keep the ad and watch closely at what is chosen for my site. It will be interesting to watch (in the site reports) to see if, indeed, there is actually interest in the man -- and if a Ronald Reagan bobbing-head-doll actually is of interest to us. This should be important information for the advertiser, as well, right? The thing that we will never know, though, is just how many people who visit here will click on the ad simply to see what's underneath? Oh, the wonders of technology!

So much to learn and so little time ... .

Click away, friends. I'll let you know when and if I can retire on my earnings!

Betty -- checking out the economics of marketing and media!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Today was an important planning session for the new national park.

Leading up to this series of meetings has been a major public relations campaign. In addition to the local park staff, several NPR people from the regional office in Denver also attended and conducted a series of small workshops. It was well planned and executed. In all, there have been five such meeting held this week in the attempt at involving the community in the process. The last is taking place tonight at the Civic Center.

I learned from the park superintendent that during an interview on NPR - twice yesterday there was coverage on my experiences of the war years working in that small auxiliary union hall. My name wasn't used, but during her interview, she'd provided the reporter with the story as taken from my oral history from the Bancroft Library.

Would like to have heard it and there's a chance that this will be possible. She told me that there is a service that is able to retrieve such pieces and that she will try to get a copy.

What is most interesting about this is:

Though I've never been asked to tone down my criticism of the trials lived by non-whites in those times -- and I surely don't imply that there has been anything but encouragement for me to be as outspoken as I dare -- there is a subtlety that continues to concern me. Whenever Boilermakers A-36 is referred to by me (my place of employment) I use the words "Jim Crow union auxiliary." When the NPS refers to it, it comes out "she worked for one of the parallel unions." The use of such language suggests an alternative equally empowered organization. It was not that. The auxiliary was created because white workers refused to belong to unions to which blacks were also members. The auxiliary had little or no power of its own and none in the context of the larger body. It was a facade that kept membership records as required by the Kaiser Corporation but had little or no power to act on complaints or grievances. It was a false front "Jim Crow" union where all members carried cards with "helper" or "trainee" behind their names. There was no opportunity for advancement into journeyman status, or to compete with whites for union jobs when the war ended; a crippling practice with echoes into our times, I firmly believe.

And you know what? To object to the softening of the language sounds so much like nit-picking that it's hard to force the correction. Yet, it's in just this way that history becomes revisionist and made less honest to those who might benefit by being allowed to re-visit those times armed with the knowledge of later gains in human relations and civil rights.

Felt that again today when I realized that -- over the national public radio network the softened version had described my homefront experience, and I felt disappointed at our continuing inability to confront our reality and learn from the past without shame.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Met last night with the consulting team

that now makes up my public life so-to-speak. We're submitting a grant that will enable us to create a youth-oriented program component related to the upcoming Centennial year. It's disappointing to see how low on the city's priority list is this 100 year celebration. The opportunities it provides as a marketing tool are being squandered, or so it seems. The city's preoccupation with the mounting financial crises and job losses that resulted in huge cutbacks in city services has cut into all attempts to embrace this important benchmark in urban life.

The mayor has formed a committee to do the planning (two months before the onset), and I'm not on it. Put out enough hints that I'd love to be, but am of the growing opinion that the things I'd like to contribute may be better served by being handled independent of other efforts.

This morning a call came from the park superintendent asking if I'd be willing to appear before the city council tomorrow night at their regular meeting -- to promote a series of public meetings being held this week in the region. They will be the next in the master planning process that will complete the Rosie the Riveter Historical National Park over the next decade. I will do this as a volunteer (having completed my contract with the NPS).

The next few months will involve working with others to bring to life our youth program; will meet (at her invitation) with the Executive Director of the Main Street Initiative to talk about her organization's role in the Centennial (she's been named to the mayor's committee), and about my visions for an Arts & Entertainment District in the old downtown. That's been lying dormant for a while now, and it pleases me to have that dream being revived by others.

It appears that -- despite the disintegration of the nation as I would wish it to be -- life does go on. I'm less frightened of approaching fascism (yes!), and strangely enough -- am beginning to watch for the signs of the pendulum beginning to return to a new place of temporary rest on the Left. With the government in the hands of extremists and with the fate of our future now lying far beyond our city boundaries, pulling back feels right and wise. My life won't last long enough for there to be any impact from my efforts in the short term. That's freeing, actually. I'm free to skip the long term goals and leave the global stuff to others.

So I'll join with others in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic -- and remind myself that the whole of life and the new directions of change are made up of those tiny atoms of dailyness lived out by billions of folks just like me.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Been thinking a lot over the past few weeks,

about the city's ongoing debate about the wisdom or lack thereof of allowing the Pt. Molate site to be used for the development of a world class resort-open space-retail- and- Indian gaming operation. It's been fraught with drama, lawsuits threatened and real, backroom discussions, lively community meetings, and the pitting of environmentalists vs. industrialists vs. developers vs family interests vs. Indian sovereignty. California is being bombarded with "invasions" from Indian Casinos from one side and WalMart's Superstores on the other. People are coming together in strange configurations with unlikely partnerships being formed and old enmitties freshening between the oil giant, Chevron-Texaco and the city; between the conservationists and the unionists. It's been wild!

For reasons unknown, and after a long period of knowing precisely where I stood on the issue of gaming (evil stuff!); after listening to arguments from all sides; and, after finally allowing myself to admit that there really are many sides to those arguments, a scene out of an earlier time played itself out behind my eyes and I did a complete turnabout :

We were still living in the suburbs. Bob was in his early teens (14 maybe?) and had gotten himself into some kind of difficulty. Mel was passionately offering some fatherly counseling. It was the usual, "...why don't you ever listen to me! I've been through all that stuff. I could save you a lot of grief if you'd just open your ears and listen!" Bob, even at that young age -- wise beyond measure responded with, "...then what do I tell my kids -- Grandpa did for all of us? I have to live my own mistakes!"

How does this fit? Easy.

Not sure that I can do my argument justice, but there is a relationship. It has to do with paternalism. It has to do with white privilege. It has to do with having to have some things in order to know you don't need them. And, it sounds crazy.

White privilege -- having enjoyed relative dominance over the known world for centuries with the freedom to choose the best of education, jobs, political power, property ownership, etc., means that there has been ample opportunity to sift through all that there is and eliminate many elements as non-essential to the living of a good life and a healthful planet. Those so privileged have lived out the full spectrum of possibilities -- so far as humanly possible -- and can tell the rest of us where the ruts in the road are and describe the environmental pitfalls, and save us from ourselves in the race to save the planet.

White privilegers, to their credit, have a front row seat on the tragic drama being played out and know that there is no way for the world to accommodate every last African, South American, or Asian to own and drive a Hummer or eat the last lobster in the ocean. They've learned the folly in over-consumption and the plundering of the earth's resources for personal and/or corporate gain. They're Mel being father. "We've lived that and can save you traveling the road to oblivion."

On the other hand, non-whites are only now beginning to climb up the economic ladder despite inadequate educations and lack of opportunity. That being so, the casino development (for example) offers jobs to a city with no economic base save the oil refinery and related chemical industries. To the non-white population, the possibility of employment far outweighs the fears of the social ills associated with the gaming industry. We've seen worse from our seats in the upper balcony. Except for a small part of the church community, gambling is not frowned upon in quite the same way as in the white community. Nor do we enjoy the long view enjoyed by white futurists with the luxury of foresight created by a broader world view. For those with little chance of overcoming, the bright lights of Reno have always offered hope where little exists elsewhere. The vast majority of the citizens of this small working class city of Richmond will probably not be particularly interested in participating in such activity, but will enthusiastically embrace the chance to be gainfully employed. Those who gather at the gaming tables and slot machines will come mostly from outside the area, anyway, to be served by workers who have had little opportunity to gain economic independence any other way. Or so we'll tell ourselves. Most have been unable to peer into the future any further than the next paycheck -- if ... .

It occurred to me while working for members of the state assembly that I could get few to hear me when I warned that when the subject of environmentalism came up -- if those in the meeting were White we talked recreation, open space, clean water and air. When the attendees were Black, the word had an entirely different meaning; we talked asthma, brownfields, ground contamination, chemical leaks -- environmental justice. I'm not at all sure that the homeless people I saw gathered 'roun the Thanksgiving tables yesterday could be convinced of the benefits of sleeping under the stars and foregoing indoor plumbing, whatever their skin color. From where I sat in my staff position, the environmental movement was made up of hikers and kyakers for the most part, and all others were simply considered naive and/or simply uninformed.

We're the "Bobs". We're steadfastly demanding the right to make our own mistakes for the sake of the need to attain maturity on our own terms. So what if the planet can't hold on that long? Not sure what the answer is for that, but it suggests that we need to find some way to reach across the polarity toward some middle ground where our human dignity can be maintained while we try to catch up with those further up the spiral of life. Internationally we must reach some accord or none of us will make it, I suppose. Sadly, many of the world's peoples -- held at a level of ignorance for whatever reasons -- are unable to fathom the concepts of cause and effect, and will stand innocent of our roles in any ecological catastrophe.

Meanwhile, like a father who lives by the dictum "do as I say and not as I do," many of the privileged march along conducting earth-destroying wars and contaminating the environment through the continuing use of fossil fuels that have been proven to destroy the earth's protective cover and hasten global warming. Fishing industries continue to plunder the seas, guaranteeing a worsening of the world's food supply for our progeny. How on earth can we possibly place blame? How will we ever come together enough to think with one mind or speak with one voice? Until we have some common ground upon which to stand, we're surely doomed to self-destruct.

Maybe what we all need is the chance to have all those things that we don't yet have with the experience to know that we don't need. The paternalistic attitude that tells us that others have done it for us all -- and that we should pay heed to those reports and dire warnings now coming back to the ears of the unwashed from those who've enjoyed the bounty of modern science and technology. It'll take a little while, but we'll get there eventually, if eventually doesn't come too soon, that is.

This may sound simplistic. It's subtle and hard to pin on any one person or group. I don't think that we even know we're feeling such things. The best way that I can explain it to myself is to see it through the eyes of memory and the common sense of my 14 year-old now in his mid-years.

I know that I've done a complete about face over several months. I now embrace the development of Pt. Molate as proposed by Upstream Development. Until now I've held my silence. Reason? Though the addiction of Mel's gambling robbed our family of everything at one point in our lives, it no longer frightens me. The addiction to alcohol that took Rick's life was his way of ending an impossible existence and does not indict all young gay men or doom them to self-destruction. For reasons I'm not certain makes sense without further consideration, what has happened to us is relative and not necessarily predictive of what will happen in the lives of others. It has to do with choices, and so long as choices are so tragically limited for some and not for others, the imbalance will continue to be our undoing. It appears to me that the sooner we even the odds for opportunities for all, the sooner more of us will be ready to assume the responsibility for saving the planet. We will have had in order to learn what we don't need.

Is this simply another of the unexplored faces of racism?

And, by the way, the first time I heard the phrase about "needing to have some things in order to know that you don't need 'em" came from Papa George on the occasion of his separation from his third wife!
The holiday has been put to bed (yet another year) and

-- as usual -- there is a residue of renewed joy at having my family gathered 'roun' my table in celebration. This year 18 year-old Rhico brought his lovely Amelia to add to the clan -- a beautiful high school senior preparing for college. The littlest grands were with their other family -- this year we get custody of Christmas as the holidays alternate with most divorced parents in these times. I missed them, and look forward to having them breathe new life into the Christmas tree again as we gather in the creation of new memories for them and for us.

For the first time there was no turkey to roast. David prepared his first goose and brought it along ready to carve. The rest was up to Mom, and consisted of side dishes and dessert. There are benefits to having the kids grow up and take over, right? I suppose this will be increasingly true as the years pile on.

Bob drove up from the ranch at San Juan Bautista, bringing with him Julie, the latest DVDs of their work together (impressive), and his music to share. David's lady joined us later in the evening, having other family obligations to attend to earlier.

Dorian was filled to overflowing with the joy of being surrounded by family. We rarely see the boys these days, and she misses them terribly. The hunger rises as does her need for dominance over all conversation. She is unable to understand the "whys" of the feelings but obviously senses my not-so-subtle attempts at shushing her and becomes bewildered and resentful. I also understand, but am helpless to control my need to create spaces for others to interact. She only knows that today is all there is and that her beloved brothers will disappear out of her life again tomorrow for endless periods. It's always been that way, at least since the day one early September when she -- at the age of 9 -- left home for the first time to be educated and to live at The Cedars in Marin County where we would all see the end of the family-as-a-whole . I suppose that she has no way of knowing whether it was something she'd done that sent her away from us ...? Now the hunger is expressed in her need to compete for their attention -- to vie with the children, with their ladies. It makes for some awkward moments, but we manage to cope despite all. They've always managed to reassure her for brief periods, but I'm certain that they're grateful for having been spared the constant demand that she places on their lives and mine.

That's the bittersweet part of these reunions. They hint of an unknown future when I will no longer be here to absorb the responsibility of her life into my own. When I will no longer provide the buffer that allows them to live their lives free from the weight of hers. The fears that I've not done enough to prepare them all for that time, and that all of the work done earlier when she lived on her own over all the years may be in the process of being undone now. The infamous "social safety net" has been almost totally removed and people like her will become a burden on those who want to go on loving them but can't despite a deep sense of obligation -- because of the fear that their lives will be diminished by her all-consuming need.

We've so rarely spoken of such things, and I find myself wondering why that is? Denial on all our parts? I truly don't know.

Pictures on the tube this morning of the countless homeless people who were fed yesterday at the various rescue missions, churches, temples, and public diningrooms are disquieting. There are so many this year, more than ever, with many seen in family groups with small children. People living in cars and on the streets and under the bridges ... .

My sons and I need to be having this conversation.

I'll find a way to do that soon. But when? And why am I so fearful of where those revelations may lead? Is there fear that they won't feel as responsible as I? That they will walk away because I've failed to instill in them the will to succeed me as caregiver? Or, am I simply wishing to postpone the burden of her care for as long as possible?

Despite the demands her mental handicaps have placed on mine, my life has been fulfilled and varied and rich beyond measure. I've lived fully and accomplished much over the years. Why would this not be equally true for Bob and David? They've been witness to what's possible. I suppose that's the truth that I must trust. That's the conversation that we must have -- or not. That I've provided the living example might simply need to be assumed and not questioned. "This is how its done" sans comment may be the only means of transmission. Maybe -- having modeled what I want to see will have been enough. After all, in those "sandwich" years when it was necessary to assume a parental role with both my parents as they approached life's endings -- while being responsible for guiding Dorrie's future, the boys were old enough to watched it all unfold. Maybe all that needs to happen now is to trust that the pattern has been adequately laid down and that -- between the two of them -- she will survive in some limited but adequate way. Given her sensitivity and despite her mental deficits, I suspect that at some subconscious level, she shares some of these same concerns and the edge that I sense when we're all together is reflected in her need to control her environment - as long as she can -- against the unknown... .

Do you suppose?