Saturday, February 14, 2004

Leisure doesn't play well today ...

It's Saturday and I'm finding that a Saturday that isn't preceded by a busy week holds little meaning.

Read The Nation cover to cover, and gave due diligence to the pundits on the Left and decided that I need to locate a new base for political activities and soon. Came to the conclusion that -- for good reason -- the Democrats have clearly come together in the hope of unseating the Bush presidency by supporting the "electable" John Kerry. S'okay. I can live with that, though I find myself hoping that Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean will remain in the race through to the end in order to provide a ballast on the Left that may keep Kerry from doing the "Centrist" thing by moving to the perceived middle after the primaries are over. Clinton with the help of Dick Morris moved to the right of Nixon when running for his second term, and the temptation will be great for Kerry to do likewise. His positions were far more conservative at the beginning of the primaries than in the more recent past. It wasn't until he adopted Dean's far more feisty anti-Iraq Bush policies that Kerry's fortunes began to change. Becoming more critical of Bush's stance on both economic issues and foreign policy turned the tide for him. Were Kucinich and Dean to remove themselves from the race prematurely, I fear a pulling back on his part. By liberalizing his views, he's given a political home to a brand new constituency -- one that will quickly disintegrate if there are signs of that kind of "Clintonism." That would mean a far closer and more perilous fight for the presidency against a powerfully-financed George Bush.

Am finding MoveOn and People for the American Way essential to my ability to track events. I've come to trust a host of sources; George Soros, the Guardian, The Nation, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, and (yes) the Berkeley Daily Planet for local stuff, adds a sense of being part of something larger than myself these days. This is new, and largely made possible by the Internet. Having access to CSpan and the cable coverage of city, county, and state governance is making a difference in campaigns and the way we've come to use political power. Never have ordinary citizens had the tools to move governments in quite this way. We've magnified power of the electorate a thousandfold through technology. Hope enough of us are aware of that and are using it wisely. Eli Parisher and MoveOn have surely changed access and provided the means by which we can bring accountability into the equation, raise funds, and have our voices heard in an effective way.

And -- today is Valentine's Day. Noticed on the last pages of The Nation a column of personal ads. I'm aware that many folks my age read the obituaries with the same interest. Sometimes read the personals for entertainment value, and for what little vicarious thrill there is in seeing bold and sophisticated men and women with enough daring to say precisely what they want for the entire world to see. Smart! Not sure that I could ever do that, but I did see one ad by "a professional man (mid-eighties, it said) who lives on the east coast and is seeking companionship," sounded mildly interesting. "Has home in New York and summer place ...". Now if that had been "lives on the west coast with a summer home on Tiburon or Belvedere," who knows. Maybe would have answered it. Felt daring just thinking about it. Nah, he'd probably be a Republican anyway.

It did stir memories of living in relationship and brought up some nostalgia for times past. Guess I've kept myself too busy to have regrets about living singly, but -- maybe it's just the effects of February 14th. Remembered with a grin of the Valentine's Day that I baked a heart-shaped meatloaf for Bill. He told that story for years, and embellished it with descriptions of sprigs of parsley placed strategically to suggest God knows what! He always made me sound clever and Noel Coward witty in the telling. It's also true that it takes an awful lot of "busy" to re-direct all that sexual energy elsewhere -- and an equal amount of self-delusion to convince oneself that none of that matters. It does.

I'm thinking that I may need to re-think the entire notion of romantic love, and embrace a broader definition of just what that is, and just how that might be achieved. I may have more time on this planet than previously thought, and updating my conception of just how that time might be spent may need consideration (grinning wickedly!).

Now, back to those tango lessons ... .

Friday, February 13, 2004

Though little has changed and the future is still "dimly lit," yet ... .

I woke to a more hopeful day today.

Dinner with Marilyn Langlois and her Jasper was productive and found some new friends who may prove to be very helpful in getting the school open and running again this fall. I'm always buoyed by contact with other productive people, and the Goode's (husband from the legal staff of now-deposed Governor Gray Davis, and wife, Erica, a physician) proved to be wonderfully warm and innovative and shows all the signs of becoming good friends in the future. Became reacquainted with Maury, about my age and a recent widower. Met him a week ago and enjoyed good conversations with him and with Marilyn. There's a brightness of eye and animation in body that announces the presence of the Goodes in a room -- I've sensed it before in others who've come into my life in the past. Chemistry? I liked them and Maury, and of course, the Langlois. Jennifer Ross, grants writer and dear friend, and Melita Sims, principal and adminstrator of the school, completed the group. We agreed to come together for a celebration exactly one year from last night -- assuming that we will have by then breathed new life into the Barbara Alexander Academy.

With my stockinged feet resting on the warm body of the family Newfoundland (whose favorite place during meals is under the dining-room table), we shared a wonderful feast and a wealth of goodwill. Good wine, good food, good company, and a great project to worry into being, plus a spectacular view of the night sky over the San Francisco Bay from Point Richmond. Can life be better? Hardly.

Home about ten thirty to the sound of a telephone and the plaintive voice of Dorian who was not scheduled to be picked up until this morning ... .

Still feeling well-fed in both soul and body, it didn't feel like too much of an imposition to climb back into my car and drive to Oakland to gather her up. She was grateful to see me (Kyle was rarely mentioned) and chatted happily all the way home. (Okay, so some of it was complaints about him, but with something added -- a growing recognition of his considerable flaws, with a matching impatience with his inability to change.) But, either I was in too good a mood to have my paper hat displaced, or, she is actually feeling it better to be with me tonight in a place of safety than at home, alone. Either way, we arrived back at my apartment pleased with ourselves despite the late hour. We even did some giggling before falling asleep, always a good sign.

This morning she rose with the expectation of going to NIAD. After a fleeting complaint about feeling a cold coming on, there was no resistance and a sense of anticipation for what she would create today. We're making progress.

Having the time to re-think just how she and I will move into the future is a luxury that I didn't anticipate. There are some programs I'd like to look into and will do so over what might be a short window of opportunity -- until Kyle figures out how to seduce her back into his control. How weird that I find myself in a competition for her affection. How healthy can that be? Feel uncomfortable even typing the words ...

I must be careful to make some corrections in the balances in my own life -- now that my work life has been interrupted. Will have to make a real effort to resist the temptation to bury myself in satisfying her needs and neglecting my own. That would be so easy. So justifiable since she is so impaired. My sons and my grandchildren need me as well, and maybe most of all -- I need myself. The choices don't seem to get any easier as experience mounts. If that were not true, this last stretch would be a breeze, wouldn't it?

Bill used to rise every morning at five o'clock to meditate. For the entire ten years that we were married, this was his practice. "Need this for focus," he'd say. It's a thought...may be a way to get in touch with that being who lives behind my eyes and directs my every move.

If ever there was a time ... .

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Night before last brought a late call from Dorian in distress ...

Drove in at almost midnight to pick her up (complete with her family of two precious cats in carriers) and tucked her into the futon beside my bed -- for the night. These calls usually involve her sometimes live-in, alcoholic, and paranoid-schizophrenic lover who is either moving in or moving out -- depending upon whatever is shifting his body at the moment.

This "living in the community" feature of dealing with the mentally handicapped has a definite down side. When she was much younger, the State was, too. The Lanterman act made it possible to move many patients out of institutions into communities because -- through several Regional Centers scattered throughout California -- services were provided to enable each to live up to his or her potential (whatever that might be) within the general population. A valiant goal. Through a series of successive budget shortfalls and an ever-increasing population, those services have been drastically cut and we now have barely-functioning mentally deficient souls struggling out there with less and less to support them. It's really tragic. Many living under bridges and on warm grates throughout the country are those without family members to fill in the gaps for them. They fall through the cracks and often die from neglect, heartbreak and total confusion. As parents and siblings die off, they're left without advocates.

Dorian's young man is one such. He was born to parents who abandoned him, and was later adopted by another pair who did likewise after much abuse. He is clever, ego-maniacal, and domineering. I have to continually remind myself that he is impaired and not simply pathologically narcissistic. Staff cutbacks have provided a situation that supports his alcoholism and aggravates an already compromised life. And, my daughter adores him. He controls her every move and overrides my influence with her. That's new for me. She and I have always had a fine relationship that evolved intentionally and over many years from "mom" to "best friend." That's all but shattered, except that I can still count upon her honesty when things get really rough. Otherwise, she is so protective of him that I fear that she is being silently abused and shields him from criticism when she can.

I'd picked up the "Sea Biscuit" and "Whale Rider" DVDs on Tuesday, and we climbed into bed and watched them late into the night (both terrific!). Dropped her off at NIAD for her art class yesterday. She was obviously depressed and non-productive. She'd worked on a block print but had trashed it as not worthy of her effort. She a fine judge of when she's done well or failed at whatever she's working on.

Yesterday I drove her back to her apartment in Oakland in the early evening -- her therapist was coming at seven -- so she stayed there overnight. She called early this morning to check on just how her cats had fared without her. Kyle was apparently still gone.

Today I have lunch with a former co-worker (friend), a meeting with the National Park Service folks at 4:30 and dinner tonight at Marilyn's about the Barbara Alexander School. Dorian has Amy (her teacher) this afternoon from 2 until 4:30 so will be occupied fairly well. Tomorrow morning I will pick her up for another day at NIAD. Saturday morning there is basketball practice for Special Olympics -- I'll drive her in to Oakland for that. Then we'll spend the weekend together, hopefully.

That is, if Kyle allows it.

...and I find myself wondering just how long I'll be able to fill in the gaps in funding for her by partially supporting two households? Were I to die tomorrow, despite all, would my Dorian drift out into the social abyss and end up under a bridge somewhere?

Collapsing our lives into a single living space will undo all the years of training her to live without me. It's been such a long and painful process, but may have been an exercise in futility after all. I still hope to not infantalize her this late in life, but must try to continue to confirm her independence in every way possible. That involves taking some worrisome risks.

It seems less likely now than a month ago, but -- given a bit more effort -- maybe I can salvage something beyond my principles. That resignation may be have more costly than I'd realized. It troubles me to think that I may have compromised Dorian's future as well as my own, and she has a lot more future than I have, at least potentially. And therein lies the undercurrent that rules our lives ... the theme that dominates everything.

What will happen to Dorrie?

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

One might think that being unemployed would allow for more free time than before ...

Not working out that way. Looking for another position before I default on my mortgage or lose my insurance coverage keeps me not only busy but with a sense of urgency that surpasses even that which comes with the natural course of aging. This is something else. It probably equals the disquiet that everyone feels -- regardless of age -- when living from paycheck to paycheck. Any interruption in that process brings a sense of sheer terror. I'm beginning to experience shallow breathing -- now clearly noticeable because of the absence of the normal sense of power enjoyed for so many years. Always believed that I was facing the world with honesty and directness, and ever conscious of my ability to handle almost anything, given the time and the energy. Have rarely felt helpless and have climbed a respectable number of mountains in my day and made a hell of a lot of lemonade!

Let's get to the good stuff:

Kevin Cooper's execution has been set aside, and the anti-death penalty movement can stop and catch its breath. Turned out to be a celebration instead of a wake at the prison gates last night. Wonderful! The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turns out to be the factor that turned the march toward death into a dance of victory. That panel is still deliberating the fate of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, but did the unprecedented thing of recommending that the governor give full consideration to clemency when handing down their last response to his case. That decision is still pending.

The film, "Redemption" is continuing to cause a great stir in festival circles with invitations to several more. Sundance gave it buzz that has excited the public far beyond the anti-death penalty movement. C.H. Pounder plays Winnie Mandela in the movie. Mandela called Barbara as she was leaving LA/Ex for home. A friend of Winnie's was in the audience and called South Africa to rave about the film. What resulted was an invitation to Barbara to bring it to South Africa for a showing before the Parliament. Channel FX is thrilled and is already working on it.

Spent Sunday lazing under the tallest eucalyptus forest imaginable (a monarch butterfly migration site), within reasonable rock-tossing distance to the ocean. This is the A-Frame home of an artist friend on whose board I'm serving. I so love interacting with these creative minds. There was a stage-lighting specialist, a grants-writer-capacity-building woman of the arts, a dancer-aerialist and one of her dancers, the beautiful black-eyed 4-year old son of Joanna, and a choreographer called "Baby Jose." Jose (the stage-lighting specialist) is from Argentina whose ultimate life plan is to purchase an old castle in central Mexico for a Bed and Breakfast. His specialty is cooking. He created a fine dinner for us all while we huddled before the fireplace and sipped tea that Joanna had brought back from South Africa ... they talked of Paris, the time they'd spent together in Peru ... Jose's upcoming trip to Brazil (we're all invited to go along, of course), and his most recent trip to Italy.

Jennifer and I spent last Sunday at a dance concert at the Yerba Buena Center where we'd accidentally run into Jose (who stage-manages the Center) and out of that came the invitation to Joanna's on Sunday. It was instantly clear that life grows out of life, and that I must continue to move about in the world in whatever way life presents itself. To not do so is to begin the slow and inevitable surrender to death. This may be one of the unstated but driving life forces ... maybe. Also, in a flash this very obvious truth rose out of nothing into full bloom while looking at the moon out of the car window as the others chatted comfortably about things I knew little or nothing about. It felt warm and right, and like one of those obvious truths that was more like a memory than an epiphany. There's a kind of elegance about that ... like something that rose at some elemental level from the experience of 6 year-old Betty long before she had the language to describe it ...

For the thousandth time in my life, on Sunday someone asked if I'd been a dancer at some earlier time in life. I said (again) "no." But silently -- with no future plans at the moment -- I decided then and there that it's not one minute too late. Will save some time in my new (non)schedule to enter a dance class. My body is lithe and moves well. The fact that I've led a relatively active life suggests that my bones can still take some stress without disintegrating. I've no sign of bone loss, yet, and my energy level is still high. But bonuses will surely begin to ebb if I find myself wasting away in front of the TV. Since I'm still a member of the board of the East Bay Center for Performing Arts -- and, since there are no age barriers -- why not? Maybe no one has yet tested the upper edges of the age levels for dance.

Phone just rang: It was a dear friend from Dion's staff inquiring about how I'm feeling, whether I've found work, (checking on signs of depression in my voice, I'm sure). Fortunately, since she didn't reach me when I was writing those first two paragraphs, she caught me contemplating dance lessons. The mind is oddly mercurial, isn't it? Another important truth? Maybe depression comes in short bursts, and can be dispensed with in quixotic ways. Think I'll set aside my job search for today and create for myself a new reality -- one that includes dancing. (Felt such a deep response on Sunday -- to the sound of a concertina in the background of conversation -- of something on CD -- a tango! Wouldn't that be a hoot!) Think I'll come out from behind this screen and pick up a leotard and maybe some maracas -- in case I can find flamenco dancing somewhere. That, too, stirs something deep inside... .

I'm beginning to know that -- whenever it comes -- death will be a rude interruption in a lifelong search for experiences. If only birth came with a built-in rehearsal feature and a place to Slo-Mo the best parts! Other than that small flaw, life's a bargain at any price, even when times are uncertain and the future only dimly lit... .