Saturday, March 20, 2004

Am working on polishing the first draft ...

of our convention center proposal while in the background my radio is carrying a remote broadcast of the Stop The War demonstrations taking place in San Francisco. Feels strange to not be a part of the action. Not sure whether I'm beginning to withdraw from age, or, whether somewhere deep inside I've given up on the effort as useless? I've noticed that I'm beginning to flip the remote away from newscasts when the war is shown. The list of pundits that I avoid is growing so that -- unlike earlier times when I felt a strong need to hear from both sides -- this is no longer true. My senses have crystalized into a single view of reality, and I've become a part of the polarized state of the union. The outrage is beginning to fade -- a bad sign - and in its place is a growing sense of futility. Is this what others are experiencing? Isn't this what breeds apathy? Maybe these are the danger signs that need to be recognized and resisted. If I begin to lose my sense of urgency, it will mean that I will also begin to squander whatever influence I've acquired that helps to shape the opinions of others.

There's a presidential campaign and election to be lived through over the coming months , perhaps the most important in my long lifetime. The possible outcome is frightening to me, since the recent election in my state. I was so sure that George Bush could not be elected, or, that my state would ever be governed by Arnold Schwarzennegger! Found myself staring in disbelief yesterday while watching him speak of the amending of the constitution so that those not born in this country can aspire to the presidency. His examples, "...look at the fine work of former Secretary of State, Madelyn Albright and Kissinger!" To watch him speak those words with the awareness of what this weightlifter has already managed to achieve gave me chills!

This continuing public adulation of image combined with the monopolization of the world media, encourages the "empty suit" system of running the world. The extension from the image of handsome movie star that launched Ronald Reagan and now includes Arnold may suggest the simplistic way we may be choosing our future leaders. It's like the pretty blonde as the dominant prototype for the most desirable of women. It suggests a system that encourages the dominance of handsome charismatic male (movie star?) that is the most acceptable to a homogenized and dumbed-down society that can then be manipulated by a Corp-ocracy (or is this a word?).

I'm reminded that -- of all of the presidential candidates who appeared at the California Democratic Convention last summer -- John Edwards was the most handsome and least impressive. He was actually booed by the delegates as he defended the US's invasion of Iraq. After seeing him there, I watched him in the months that followed in disbelief, as he rose higher and higher as the potential Democratic nominee, and saw him sharpen his "acceptibility" while improving his delivery and "nice guy" image until he is now seen as a possible vice-presidential nominee along with John Kerry. "He's turned out to be a fine campaigner," say the pundits. I heard little in his speeches that would justify his ascendence to the highest office in the land and the world. And I am reminded (after spending some years in speech-writing that placed words in the mouths of leaders), that those carefully crafted campaign speeches were the products of others who fine tuned every thought he and others expressed. I'm influenced by the thought that -- as an obvious intellectual and man of principle -- John Kerry's speeches will have been, if not actually written, are necessarily endorsed and approved by him, personally. I'm certain that, when possible, he is his own chief writer.

John Edwards honed his generic speech so that it needed little change as he moved from state to state and crowd to crowd. It was an all-purpose speech built upon Democratic universals primarily created by Howard Dean. May I add that John Kerry also wisely borrowed generously from the same source. All owed candidate Dean an enormous debt for the shaping of the Democratic response to the Repubican administration's choice of directions for the future of the country.

I remember sitting in awe as John Kerry appeared before Congress in protest of the Vietnam War many years ago. Hoped that one day he would be precisely where he is -- on the threshold of the White House. His Lincoln-esque appearance is surely helpful to his candidacy, and I am certainly hopeful that he will be our next president -- but this is again the yielding to "image," is it not? He happens to share the monogram of JFK (a subliminal clue) and is clearly an intellectual and a man of deep moral courage. It took months for me to fully appreciate this over the obvious daring and strong conviction shown by Howard Dean -- a commitment to those things that I hold non-negotiable. I'm one of those who wavered between the "Anyone but Bush" movement and a strong pull toward Dean. At this point I'm completely satisfied with Kerry as nominee and will give it my all, but I'd feel a lot better if I didn't have the feeling down deep that the entire process may some day be turned over to Central Casting!

While I'm continuing to do the online things like signing petitions, emailing my representatives, sending small checks to support those who are closest to the centers of power -- I'm feeling less effective. This all feels too easy, somehow. Will probably shut down this keyboard and join with others tomorrow in the continuing street actions. Guess I really do need to be in the middle of those marches in order to recapture the fervor, a sure cure for growing apathy. That's contagious, and can't be simulated by sitting comfortably in front of my television set or sending off emails from the solitude and safety of my den. The confirmation that I'm not alone has to be reinforced by live action from time to time -- if only as a frame of reference for those times when I can't join with others of like mind.

Today I'm experiencing some guilt at not being among my compatriots on the streets of San Francisco. Pretty evident, wouldn't you say?

Friday, March 19, 2004

Met yesterday with Jennifer ...

to go over the Convention Center and gather what background information we might need for the writing of the proposal for the Chamber. Learned a lot. Our major competition appears to be Clear Channel, the media giant that now owns and operates Bill Graham Presents (out of San Francisco). They've approached the city with an offer to take over this venue for the purpose of presenting WWF (WorldWide Wrestling!). Can't think of a more perverse use of a public facility in a city with little history of supporting its cultural heritage or colorful history. I shudder to even consider such use of this valuable facility. But we will persist. In the interest of that we met with a member of the city council to seek his support and to ask some pertinent questions re the city budget. Good meeting, but disconcerting since he seems to see nothing wrong with the city's at least considering leasing the place out to some outside entity as long as the city could climb out from under the continuing losses incurred by the Center through under utilization. We will have considerable work to do to turn this kind of thinking around.

Afterward, with Dorian quietly at home with her cats and working happily on an afghan, I attended a meeting of a fascinating group that was brought together to do some planning for a panel discussion to be presented to the public on the history and effects upon Japanese-American, African-Americans, and Italian and German immigrants who were abused or interned during World War II. This was the first time within my experience that I've had the chance to compare notes in this kind of diverse group. It was a rare privilege, and in looking around that room -- it was clear that these "chosen" people were aware of how important these explorations can be.

I'm sure that the conversations about that period of shame has been talked about over the decades, but mostly within our individual racial communities. To have the opportunity to break the silence and share the feelings of confused Americans, and simultaneously "inside outsiders." We are surely both, even after years of citizenship by birth (in most cases) and accomplishment. There's something schizophrenic about it. It's crazy-making to feel so much a part of the whole, by right, and therefore participants in making the laws that govern us -- while at the same time being the "outsiders" without the chance to ever truly come "inside."

The personal disclosures we experienced yesterday ran counter to Asian culture, I believe. The natural reticence of the Japanese would run counter to these kinds of exchanges. The three women had lived in Richmond for most of their lives and were a part of a community that was both Christian and agricultural -- operating nurserys throughout the area. The conversation was slow in getting started with lots of words and little information. However, before we ended the the session, the interactions were warm and open and begged more time for developing deeper. After all, we came together as strangers for the most part, and the period we were re-entering had been painful and better forgotten -- at least until now.

There were two men at the table, both Italian, and both historians (as was one of the Japanese women, a doctoral candidate from the university). It was such a privilege to come together (this is a project related to the development of the Rosie The Riveter Memorial Park), since I can see little reason for it to have happened under any other circumstances. Learned a lot.

New insights: At some point in our young history as a nation, it became more important to be white Americans than to retain ethnic identity. Have no idea when that happened, though I can recall some time ago, hearing an interview of two Cuban men who said that it was a revelation -- after arriving in the US to find that -- where they were "Cuban" in their own nation, upon arrival on our shores one became a "White Cuban" while the other became a "Black Cuban." Their lives separated at the point of entry and their potential opportunities to enter the mainstream was dictated by their skin color.

The two men (Italians) and their German counterparts -- spoke yesterday of simply melting into the mainstream at war's end, while -- for reasons of our physical differences -- both Japanese and African-Americans remained outside. White privilege continues to heavily impact what happens to lives within our borders. That has changed little over time, sadly.

Will tell you more about it, but now I must leave to pick up Dorian from NIAD and hear about her block printing pieces that will be in the next exhibit in their gallery. She left home excited and anticipating a fine day. For that I'm grateful.

But meanwhile, I do want to share more about yesterday's exploratory meeting and about the plans to extend and develop this conversation to include the greater community.

That shameful period in our nation's history needs to be re-visited in order to (maybe) raise our consciousness about the fate of those being held at Guantanamo Bay under similar circumstances. Bringing today's sensibilities (post Civil Rights Revolution) to yesterday's abuses is urgently needed in these troubled times.

It feels that way... .

Thursday, March 18, 2004

My friend, Barbara Cottman Becnel,

the remarkable woman who is the executive director of Neighborhood House, the 45 year-old social program in North Richmond -- but more importantly -- the woman who has managed to arrange the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize to a man sitting on San Quentin's Death Row. That would be Stanley "Tookie" Williams, co-founder of the Crips in Los Angeles. But I've spoken of this before and suggested that you look up his web site (Tookie's Corner).

"Redemption," the film that was shown at Sundance is about to be released in mid-April. It will be shown on FX, but before that date the Sixty Minutes segment will be shown on CBS-TV. I believe the date of the release of the Sixty Minutes piece is April 4th, but I'm not certain of that (will post the dates before this weekend).

Tennyrate, Barbara finally has a copy of the film in her hand and has asked me to help her to arrange a couple of pre-screenings here in the Bay Area -- between the dates of the Sixty Minutes piece and the actual television release. It will be invitational to a selected audience. Could be used as a way to support the work of the anti-death penalty groups. There is growing interest here in a call for a moratorium. Jennifer and I will work on that this weekend. Will probably try for the Oakland Museum (James Moore) theater, if it is free for at least one evening. If you're in the area, you might like to stop in. Another possibility will be Geoffrey's, the club in Oakland that is owned by a cousin (remember Dorothy's recent 90th birthday party?).

It's something to think about; a distraction from the things that are not resolvable at home. That's often the way things get worked out for me. Set them aside, take on something totally different -- and in some oblique way -- the knots are unraveled and solutions pop out in full blown. It's kind of a Zen thing. But you can't cheat. The technique demands that one give up all thoughts of the knotty problem, replace it with something achievable, and -- voila!

So tomorrow I'll meet with Barbara and begin the process. Dorian is working on a "rainstorm" at NIAD (working in tempera, I believe) and an eagle, I believe. There is another exhibit soon and she's doing a series of wood block prints and several paintings (including the "Psychedelic Cat" and her "Rainstorm." That's tomorrow. On Saturday she will do basketball, we will bring her friend Chris home with her for the weekend (he is actually more severely handicapped but with a very different set of abilities. He is literate where she is not -- though he has some physical disabilities that make it necessary that he wear a helmet at all times when out of doors. They have a really compatible relationship that is best described by the fact that when she keeps her journal, it is dictated to Chris who does the writing for them both. This means that he is trusted with her most intimate thoughts. And, no, she's not in love with Chris. He's her friend. She's quite clear about that. They've been friends for about 17 years.

His father and stepmother live about 90 miles away in Willits on the North Coast. He lives in the Clausen House community and has a job in the mailroom at the Kaiser Building in Oakland. He is relatively independent and the two of them have much in common. Chris has spent the past two weekends with us, and will be back on Saturday after basketball practice.

I'll need to be sure to have something to work on or I'll soon begin to resent being confined by the needs of not only my own daughter, but the additional responsibility of picking up and delivering Chris as well.

These next few weeks will begin to cement my immediate future, if I'm not careful. Holding all of this in balance without losing my own sense of independence will be tricky. Keeping track of when I'm working for her welfare and when I'm working for my own will be a real challenge. Thankfully, I have friends and professionals to draw upon for guidance, and enough things of interest to hold off dispair.

Find myself wondering -- if someone with as many contacts to draw upon -- after years of working in the political realm -- if I am so deeply effected by these draconian budget cuts, how in the world are people without these resources managing these days? And, I find myself wondering when someone in that world of powerful people will utter the dreaded word, "Depression?" The economic system has come unraveled, and we keep inventing new words to describe the state in which we find ourselves. With this unprecedented deficit, wars galore, terrorism to contain, a deteriorating system of public education, a decaying infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), a runaway pharmaceutical system and fewer and fewer able to afford health care, retirement systems collapsing, corporate fraud rampant... .For those of us who can remember the Thirties (and I was surely aware), there is a sense of deja vu that causes some sleepless nights. The only difference may be the language we're using to describe this system of self-imposed destruction we find ourselves caught up in.

On my darkest days, I cannot see the corrections coming in time to relieve what Dorian and I are facing in the short term. In the long term, the only answer seems to be to work hard to unseat the present administration. Have been asked to host one of the MoveOn's community meetings. Will do that. Those are being held in selected bookstores throughout the country. My assignment is Barnes & Nobel in Walnut Creek. This is in relation to a book that's being released -- which means that I must find the time to read the book, first.

I'm off to check out the instructions and locate the book. Meanwhile ... life goes on.
Busy, busy!

Dorian and I visited a local sheltered workshop on Monday. There were 92 clients sitting at work tables in a huge warehouse, doing piece work. I marvel at how accurately her antennae registers what are often feelings identical to mine. In some strange way, she "reads" me, and responds appropriately to what she picks up. My instant unguarded response was to the quiet in the room. Should have been comforting, and a strong indication of contentment of those working so diligently at those tables. Instead, I could feel myself tighten up and silently polish up my smile a bit. It was not something I was particularly aware of at the time, but in retrospect, it was there.

We were on a guided tour with the director of the program, a lovely woman who obviously had been prepared by Dorian's social worker well. She was welcoming and gave us room to roam at will. Dorrie discovered an old acquaintance from Clausen House and -- after some hesitation and not well-hidden distress (tears were very near) -- she was in deep conversation with Ed.

Then came the resistance. It was not to be ignored. The rush of tears and the obvious not-yet-voiced-or-understood intention to scuttle this plan before it went too far! She was not having any of this. Not sure where it was coming from, but some of the feeling (from the few words that I could overhear as she and the director talked) were related to her sense of being curbed, reined in, infantalized, loss of independence. It was all garbeled and disjointed, but I could hear it. Coming home to live with me -- even temporarily -- was hard for her to deal with, but Mom was too nice to rail against, but she was "Mom!"

I left her deep in conversation with the director while I left to sit in the car and give her the space to vent. She came out about ten minutes later with face red and blotchy from crying, a tell-tale packet of tissues in her hand, and the director's business card with the promise to call when she'd made her decision about this job. We drove home in silence. She'd managed me very well. I was totally disarmed and wondering where I'd gone wrong?

Yesterday, after a talk with her social worker, I felt a little less lost. Began to realize that most of the plans I'm making will serve me far better than they'll serve her. I need her in a safe setting for my own sake. In the best of all worlds, I'd have her living just a few acres away in a lovely senior housing complex where I can be supportive (and controlling!). How crazy! She would be in a world where everyone would be elderly and there would be no one from her social group with whom to interact.

It's also true that -- in that world of the brain-damaged and retarded -- people operate at a level where needs often overwhelm the ability to give. As a relatively high-functioning handicapped individual, she has as hard a time navigating that world as she has that of "normal" people. The world is simply not designed for Dorrie... . But then I knew that. It may just be that having her on her own all these years has blinded me to the fragility of her existence and of her hunger for understanding.

So, I'm again at a loss. We are living together. It's been little more than a month now, and -- except for her two days a week at NIAD (National Institute for Arts & Disabilities) studios, and two weekends when we've picked up her friend, Chris, to be our houseguest -- little has happened for her. We've not yet given notice to her rental agency and we have yet to go to her apartment to pack up and move things. That may have to do with my secret hope that we're turn up a place to move them to. The total disruption of my small condo is hard to accept since it will (hopefully) be temporary. Is that selfishness? Am I holding out for fate to intervene in some way so that I can keep my space in the world as sanctuary?

But it isn't just that. I'm sensing the same resistance in her. She wants to be on her own, for whatever that may mean. I want and need her to be safe. She has little understanding of what "safe" is, I think. Without the intellectual ability to understand the concept, how can she protect herself? And having that ability, how can I not demand the right to protect her from herself?

She can only think about finding her way back to independence (after 16 years of being essentially on her own), and I keep trying to find the balance between helping her to retain what she can of that -- while distracting myself with the work with Jennifer and the excitement of new projects.

Yesterday I drove her to Oakland to meet with her teacher for the afternoon. Today she is at home while I meet with Jennifer to look over the Convention Center facility -- then to meet for lunch with a council member of the Finance Committee to talk about the proposal we're preparing for the Chamber of Commerce. Tonight we'll attend the symphony. Tomorrow I have an interview with a student from Laney Community College for a taped interview about the union movements of World War II. On Saturday Dorian has Special Olympics basketball practice in preparation for the tournament next weekend. That should be enough distraction for both of us, and the indecision will carryover into next week.

Meanwhile, I'll be working on a MoveOn project that involves hosting a meeting at the Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble -- time uncertain. The calendar remains almost as full as it was when I was working with the State, but the volunteerism doesn't meet my need for earning a salary again. That's what the Convention Center project should produce. Will know more about that in the next few days. So far, so good.

Life does go on... .