Saturday, March 13, 2004

If you don't have a grandchild of your own,

beg, borrow, or steal one from a friend or neighbor. When the Lion King comes to where you are, choose a Saturday matinee when the theater is filled with wide-eyed children. That's the way to see this magnificent production! Felt the years drop away at the raising of the curtain on Scene 1. Julie Taymor's genius has created a spectacle unlike anything ever seen in the history of the theater. We were all spellbound for the full 3 hours of pure magic.

Must have been a performing artist in some former life. "The smell of the grease paint, the roar of the crowd" are more compelling to me in these later years than ever before. To be able to facilitate that kind of magic is such a gift. Drove by the convention center on the way back from the BART station, and imagined it filled with the young and the young in heart -- experiencing the kind of afternoon we'd had this afternoon. And it wouldn't have to be "Broadway," but theater of the kind that this area is capable of producing or sponsoring.

Will call Jennifer later and talk spectacle and magic and drama, music, dance, and all of the wonder that I felt tapped into this afternoon.

It was impossible to stay with the fear (terrorism) and panic that crept into my consciousness this morning. That was all cleared out by the sheer joy and color and love of a shared experience in that beautiful old art deco theater. Maybe those things are totally incompatible -- fear and that kind of wonder.

Also recalled a comment made by one of the presenters at the recent California Arts Council conference I attended a few weeks ago. "When asked to create a list of those things most essential to creating and maintaining community, the lists include jobs, affordable housing, education, crime reduction, etc., but rarely do "the arts" appear in the top ten." Then she added, "but everything on the list is arts related in some way." How true. In one way or another, there's a component of art somewhere.

I'm fairly sure that every dollar saved by the school district by cutting out arts, athletics, libraries, will be expended through increased police budgets. We must feed the souls of children or their childhood will suffer a short circuit of some sort along the way.

This old kid got a shot of adrenalin in some places that I thought were atrophied! And I find that I'm about as turned on by this new direction (away from politics) as anyone can be. It's clear that doors are still opening and that there is still much newness to experience. The teachers are out there, and I'm beginning to accept the notion that I might be one of 'em!
After several days of running down the list ...

of available apartment possibilities (all in vain), Saturday is back and Dorian is off at basketball practice for Special Olympics. Stopped just long enough to say that today is our Lion King day in San Francisco. Am leaving to pick up my little granddaughters for the trip across the bay and the great adventure of live theater as seen through the eyes of six and eight year old aspiring dancers. That should take care of all of the residual garbage that's cursed the past couple of weeks of uncertainty.

Must admit that I woke in the night thinking about the bombing of the train stations in Madrid and had a moment of panic as I thought about crossing under the bay on BART with the kids... . It's always just under the surface these days, the danger of life in our times. Caught the news this morning and a clip of our fearless leader making his boastful macho verbal jabs at the terrorists, and wondered if this idiot has enough sense to be fearful? He came off like a kid poking a wasp nest with a stick, or, a fool pouring gasoline on kindling -- to get a light for his cigarette! How did we come to this? To even consider that we are in danger of being bombed off the floor of the bay seems incomprehensible, but is it? Will surely think of it as we leave ground surface and move under water today. Hope the pot of gold (Lion King) at the end of the rainbow is enough to create sufficient calm so that I won't pass along the fear to the kids.

Living in the shadow of the Chevron/Texaco refinery caused some concern in the first few days after 9-11, because it was the nearest prime target for sabotage. Since that time I suppose I, like most, have gotten used to the danger in the shadows -- and gone about the business of creating my own reality. The fear has a way of being refreshed from time to time, and today brings another spasm... .

Impotency that rises from having no clear ways to respond to the danger threatens to paralyze me. The only response that makes any sense if that which we can do only in the aggregate. Allowing myself to believe that we'll all do the right thing come November, and sweep the present administration out of office seems far fetched. Realizing that there are few responses that one can apply as a single being, and that letting that truth surface too frequently adds to the feeling of helplessness. I'll have to trust that there are enough rational folks who see the real perils, and that we'll come together to change the course of history. Would that we could "out source" this president and get back to the business of creating and re-creating the democracy as our founding fathers intended; each generation in its time.

Meanwhile I'll just send another little check to MoveOn, sign another petition to my representatives before leaving for San Francisco, and trust that others are out there doing the same, each time with a silent prayer that we're not acting alone... We'll just have to trust that there are enough of us leaning in the direction of constructive change -- and that, together, we will prevail. I believe that.

But for now -- there's The Lion King and the excitement of a trip to San Francisco to enjoy, before picking up Dorian and another weekend of checking out ads and making plans -- and feeling uncertain about the future ... .

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Met this morning with a member of Richmond city council, and later with the president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. Decided that -- in light of the total breakdown in the financial structure of this city ($35,000 million deficit), an environment of utter chaos has been created -- out of which will come opportunity!

I have joined in partnership with my friend, Jennifer Ross, in her consulting firm, "In Face Consulting." Together we've proposed to take over the Convention Center in the heart of the civic center, and bring it to life in service to the community and to produce much-needed revenue. Learned that the Chamber already has a proposal before the council to do just that, but even after a year of negotiations -- they've gotten nowhere. Today the president and I opened up a conversation that should end with a contract for Jennifer and me to manage the convention center and pull together the arts community (National Arts & Disabilities, wonderful Richmond Arts Center, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, etc.) into one entity.

Yesterday's newspapers carried the news that -- as the first school district in the state of California -- ours has eliminated all sports, arts programming, closed all libraries, and cut out counselors. That makes the convention center and its assets an extremely important engine for creating or re-creating community and making up for the losses our young people will suffer.

Tonight I will attend one of four community meetings where the mayor and council will lay out the budget deficits for the citizens, and take comment. On Thursday, I will tour the assets (as well as the convention center) as preparation for several days of proposal writing for the Chamber to consider. They would be the fiscal agents and rent the facility from the city, while About Face Consulting will create programs, build calendars, work out budgets, do booking and leasing for conventions and seminars, etc. We will operate masters classes in various of the performing arts, and people such programs from the broad range of contacts we both have in the arts community.

Those recent informal pot luck dinners in Berkeley lofts; the visit to Joanna and Zaccho Dancer Theatre, lead us to today's developments. Among that group you'll find Carlos (manager of the Yerba Buena Cultural Center in South of Market in S.F.) and Zellerbach on the Berkeley campus; David who manages the Herbst Theater - also in S.F.; plus friends who are involved in the very troubled Alice Arts Center in downtown Oakland. All are ready to work with us in creating another venue for the artists they bring to town (at their expense). We would involve such artists in both performances (when appropriate and affordable) and as Q&A's for young people of the area weekend matinee sessions. Exciting stuff!

Next week we'll begin to put pen to paper (Jennifer is grants writer and financial wizard while I'm the "visionary" and the "bringing-people-together-person"). We'll meet the following week with the inner core of the Chamber and the members of the city's finance sub-committee of the council.

This feels terrific.

Now, I'm off to look at an apartment for Dorian in a nearby complex -- within walking distance to my condo.

Hold good thoughts!

Betty Lloyd Webber

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Life goes on ... .

Spent last 48 hours looking into day programs, 30-day notice for moving, checking out truckers, places where donations of household items are wanted, (whatever will we do with 13 umbrellas?), hauling 15 years accumulation of junk ... It's gonna be a long spring of readjustments. So far, so good. Not too much resistance to date.

First program (just a few blocks away) turned out to be unsuitable. Population is at a very different level of functioning -- below her by far. That may prove to be a problem I've not given enough thought to. Her social worker has weighed in and she's someone whose counsel I value. Have arranged to visit another that she's recommended on Tuesday of next week. There is a web site, and it looks promising.

It would be so easy to just give in to the temptation to keep her here with me over the next few years and then let the chips fall where they may. Unfair to David and Bob, though. I owe it to them to complete my role in her (their) life by continuing to prepare her for my taking leave of the planet to fulfill my role in this universal recycling process called "Life!"

Which reminds me of one of those attitudes I've exhibited over time -- an attitude that tends to alienate me from many in the community of professionals who work with the mentally disabled. I am unalterably opposed to allowing my daughter to bear children. Felt so strongly about it that I arranged to have that possibility eliminated when she was in her early twenties. Sterilization is not legal in my state, and required finding a sympathetic physician who would perform the necessary surgical procedure. Have never regretted that decision. We prepared her with as much honesty as she could understand and it went well. It was done only after she'd been allowed (by the institution) to become pregnant while in their care -- and been aborted without my knowledge or consent. She was an adult, so neither was required. Nonetheless, had she not very innocently reported the fact to me -- I'd have never known. I bitterly resented not being able to be with her for comfort at what must have been a frightening and confusing time. She was in her fourth month, I believe.

When confronted, staff explained to me that the legal reason why she could not be sterilized had to do with her inability to give informed consent. She was not considered capable of signing her name under the law, but was capable of giving birth and parenting my grandchild. There is a young woman in Dorian's disabled community who has now given birth to three children, and is "caring for them." Such a tragedy... .

When I see films like "Forest Gump" and "I am Sam" and others of that genre, I am furious! They romanticize this population to their detriment. Allowing parenthood to the mentally disabled doesn't take into account that the custodial responsibility is therefore extended to the next generation. No one thinks about what it means for the siblings of the disabled when the parents have passed away. This heavy load will die with me. Had I not eliminated this complication, my sons would have their freedoms and those of their children limited both financially and psychologically. The movies end far short of doing those important projections, therefore leaving much that is critical to the story unresolved. The emotionality such stories produce mis-inform audiences and add to the problems that families face over the generations. I hope that I've guaranteed Dorian enough goodwill and caring by not placing her brothers in the position of having to bear the considerable weight of her existence throughout their own lives. I think that I've allowed enough room for them to love her by not having their lives restricted prematurely.

Interesting fact: Dolls never worked with Dorrie. Other little girls use them as a way of role-playing their way through their childhood. "Let's pretend" was beyond Dorian. This requires abstract ability. She brought her babies to me to be dressed and fed. That's what mommy's do, right? Given her very limited ability to project herself into the future, there was no way for her to imagine herself in the role of mother. She's come to that late in life through caring for her two cats. Now, she's "mother" and I'm "grandmother" to Speedy and Gracie. Have you any idea what it would have been like had she been allowed to give birth to a child? She would have brought it (rightly) to me. I'm the "mother." Or, it would have been taken from her -- given her inability to parent. The irony of being allowed to give birth while being considered incapable of "informed consent" is shocking to me.

On the other hand, we have a healthy young woman whose body is strong and capable of reproduction but whose mind is hopelessly damaged ... do you deny sexual expression? I say not; another departure from the view of the professionals, though that is changing in this time of sexual freedom. Keeping that all in balance has been a real challenge. We have a lot of growing to do, as a society, but there are signs that all is not lost. I do meet some truly enlightened souls along the way, and it helps. My views aren't as shocking as they once were, and I run into an occasional parent who says a silent "amen."

I'm off to pick her up at her arts program (Tuesdays and Thursdays, all day) and I'm late.

Tango still mostly in the mind, but coming up fast... .