Saturday, April 17, 2004

Big Saturday.

Dorian and I are in the last throes of moving her junk (quite literally!) out of her apartment in Oakland. She's been living with me now for several weeks, but I've extended her tenancy long enough for us to have her supervise the taking-down of her living space of 16 years. She's done much of the packing and crating on her days away from NIAD, with my help and that of her once-a-week teacher. Psychologically, it's important that she dismantle her old place and not feel as if she's been completely taken over by others. To the extent possible, she needs to feel that this is a voluntary move. Not easy to accomplish, but possible, I believe. Today we have the help of a handyman with a truck. The end is almost at hand, phew!

Needed to stop long enough to say that the long-awaited Ed Bradley 60 Minutes piece on Stanley Williams should air tomorrow night. That is -- if some big story doesn't push it off the radar again. The last word Barbara received was that April 18th is the new date. We'll see.

Reactions are still coming in on Redemption -- and it's almost 99% positive. This may be the impetus needed to put forth that bill in the California legislature for a moratorium. Let's hope.

Yesterday's Rosie workshop was interesting. Am finding that my day-too-day interactions around important issues has barely diminished with my leaving my official position. My connections were apparently as much personally-driven as they were related to the state assembly and my role as a field rep. Were I younger, I'd try to convert this reflected power into a lobbying role for myself. Instead, I'm finding it just as interesting to continue connecting people to power in a more natural way. There was more juice there than I'd imagined, I suppose, and that's a pleasant surprise.

After two days of bathing in the past through this planning process with the NPS, I found myself last night pouring over boxes of accumulated "stuff" from long ago and dredged up a document that authorized my father to be a block warden during WWII, a publicity photo of myself and two cousins taken from a newspaper article showing us as beauty contestants in a Treasure Island World's Fair event, and assorted relics from the war. I was seventeen. What memories... these. Decided to donate to the Rosie collection a silver fox fur jacket ("chubby") that I've had hanging in my closet for lo these many years. It will go to the Rosie exhibition. Never owned any of those poor little animals that we strung together around our shoulders, but I'm sure some will turn up as donations. Glad we're enlightened enough to have grown past the need to wear animal skins as totem. Will drop off that fur jacket early next week, and continue to scrounge for other items. Hope those of you who are of my vintage will check out the Rosie the Riveter web site, tell your stories (or your mother's), and contribute items that may still be in old trunks in the attic. We need them all.

Now, off to join Dorian for an entirely different kind of scrounging... .


Friday, April 16, 2004

Back to the present:

There are a couple of loose ends that need gathering up.

About "Redemption," if you've been paying attention, you'll know that it was aired last Sunday night on the FX cable channel and repeated last night (twice). Great news! According to Barbara (my friend who acted as co-producer), the channel would have been content with a market share of 2. That would have been extremely good for a cable channel, especially in the same time slot as the "Sopranos" in some places in the country. Instead, they received the highest market share in the history of the channel. Some samplings around the country, Atlanta - 7, Memphis-8, Florida - 6, and we don't have the numbers for last night when the word-of-mouth would have probably boosted them even higher. Barbara is receiving calls from all over the country and those are voices supporting a moratorium on the death penalty. In the week prior to the airing, she was bombarded with enough emails and calls from victim's rights organizations to have made her pretty apprehensive about what she had wrought. "I may have hastened Stan's march to the death chamber by my work, Betty." The communications since the airing have been heart-warming, and she's been vindicated in her own mind, at least. Next stop, Cannes! Hope you've had a chance to watch the film.

Issue two: Tibetan Dzi Beads.

Recently I wrote about my longtime association with Lama Wangdor of Rewalser in the Himalayas. It had never occurred to me to learn more about those "Zee" stones he'd sent to me years ago. But then there wasn't access to the Internet at that time, and I was surrounded by dreamers who believed that all things Tibetan were magical by definition. All I knew about them was that they were rumored to have magic powers of some sort. There were six of them. The fact that Lama had smuggled them out of Tibet in 1987, sewn into the lining of his clothing should have suggested their value to me, but I simply took the little homemade leather pouch that contained them and tucked them away for the moment. Intended to have them made into a necklace at some point -- when there was time to think about it. Only about six months ago I did just that. A friend combined the six beads with other antique pieces and created a lovely necklace. Having read the explanations of these ancient beads, I'm wondering now if I've done them justice? Wondering too if it makes sense to wear them as casually as I have -- their only real value to me was the tawny colorings and how they did or did not blend with whatever I was wearing. Today something changed. I wore them to my meeting, but this time under my sweater -- against my skin. They're definitely not to be taken for casual jewelry anymore than a rosary or a St. Christopher's medal might have been.

As you may recall from an earlier entry, at one point in our long friendship (not student-teacher but as pen pals), he'd sent to me his mother's traditional apron-type brightly-colored garment, some well-worn silk brocade garments, two prayer rugs and a larger one with two beautiful tigers against a yellow background (it sits on the floor at my front door even as we speak).

My attitude about all things Tibetan was highly colored by those larger than life days at the university -- and by my determination to stand apart from what I felt was the seduction of Buddhism. I surely didn't feel that way about Bill's obvious dedication to his newfound faith or to his religious practices; this was something I felt a little envious of actually, but I couldn't embrace what I had so little understanding of. And the unique friendship with my Lama friend was enough for me. My pen pal certainly didn't demand anything more of me. Our friendship -- at first by mail and later in person when he visited the West -- stood apart from all that, and was always approached as equals. His letters from Rewalser were translated by Lena Ford (American), and his gifts I'd originally felt were at least partly in appreciation for Bill's financial support -- but eventually -- his allegiance was to me, personally. He was a lovely man. That he may also have been a powerful religious iconic figure was incidental. Funny, isn't it?

Last night -- for the first time -- I went on line to look up "Zee stones." This was how he referred to them in his letters to me. Learned in my Google search that this was Lena's error in translation and that they were actually "Dzi beads." What a gift! Take a look for yourself. Put "Tibetan Dzi Beads" into your search engine and boggle your mind!

I'm off this morning to the second day of a two-day seminar sponsored by the National Park Service. We're continuing the master-planning of the Reception Center for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial National Park on the Richmond shoreline. But under my sweater I'm wearing a necklace made of the six dzi beads received long ago , and I fully expect miracles! There may be reasons why I've led such a charmed life for all these years, and I'm only partly joking. Fascinating stuff! Should have paid attention to this gift long ago, but now that I have the time and with my curiosity still active and alive ...

Perhaps I'll stop by Padma Ling and become re-acquainted with the past ... .

Now I'm off to catch up with the present ... .


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Still leap-frogging back through time ...

Learned a lot in the academic community that made my next important life transition far simpler. It's true that I met a few lifetime friends, people with whom I'd never have ever met under ordinary circumstances. That had been somewhat true of my years in Walnut Creek, since that life was as different from the environments of my childhood or even my early years as a young married in Berkeley. But the life of being a university wife as well as worker, stood light years away from anything that had gone before and demanded some unprecedented stretching.

The years in the suburbs produced its own rhythms, deep involvement in an emerging community, car-pooling, exchanging cuttings for the garden, taking ballroom dancing classes at the country club, training Jr. League types for fund-raising fashion shows (I'd modeled and trained models in S.F. at one time); all of the stereotypes I'd lived. Drove a series of wood-paneled station wagons, traded swimming pool serviceman with others. Did the den mother things with Cub Scouts -- until I realized that all the boys really wanted was the uniform. By the time it was David's turn to join, I just went down to Sears and bought the regalia -- skipped the awards part entirely (for shame!). Spent the first summer with walnut-dyed hands from not knowing that to remove the outer husk without rubber gloves was a disaster only time could correct. (You could tell the new folks to the community by our black fingernails and the fact that we wore glove under all weather conditions.)

But the rituals of the university were just as clearly drawn. Case in point:

A lovely practice turned up in the earliest weeks of our relationship. We'd rise on Sunday morning, Bill would often prepare breakfast -- we ordinarily grabbed a bite on the run or eat in the small coffee shops around campus. Sundays were different. This was the time when we'd brunch after a long morning of reading the Sunday paper and working the crossword puzzles, sheer luxury after the breakneck schedule of the work that taxed us both. The experiment was being conducted on five different high school campuses in two counties, Napa and Contra Costa. The stresses were horrendous just to do the work, but in addition, there was the managing of the several grants that funded us -- including a large federal grant from NIDA. U.C. Berkeley was our fiscal agent, but that meant additional reporting obligations to meet. Various parts of Project Community were funded by private foundations, and there was always one about to expire and needing continuation justification. a tall order.

But Sundays were a thing apart. This was the time that Bill did his intellectual stretching. I soon recognized the signs that new hypotheses were being born. He would first try them out on me. My role was to listen attentively, raise questions on occasion (but only with real questions), but to have the sensitivity to not interrupt the flow. I got pretty good after awhile. Since I was learning so fast and much of it was in areas about which I knew little, it wasn't hard. These periods could go on for hours. This piece gradually began to fit into another more general piece, one that appeared to be a ritual played out in sunny breakfast rooms across Berkeley. Other wives, other places... .

The larger one was the occasional intimate dinner party (well-dressed women, good conversation, wines-complete-with-New-Yorker-Cartoon-evaluations). There were the clever toasts, and (for me) movie dialogue that would have better suited Peter Ustinov and Katherine Hepburn than me. The only thing missed would have been the men retiring to the library for a good cigar while the women removed the shine from their noses! The first such dinner was almost my last.

We were invited to the Orinda home of a University of Michigan psychologist-futurist friend of Bill's. Don and his wife were here at the university for a sabbatical and a first exposure to the West Coast trend-setting Human Potential Movement. We were seated in candlelight at a lovely old oak table -- one that looked to have been lovingly handed down for generations -- in a carefully chosen arrangement for conversational or political advantage. Learned early that not a lot was spontaneous in these circles but very carefully planned.

There would be toasts and what I soon perceived to be "scripted" conversations. I imagined that each of these wives was aware of her husband's latest hypotheses and that the game was to try to direct the conversation to HIS field of expertise; to cleverly dove-tail his work into that of others -- but always to his advantage - and always with an element of challenge. It was not unlike a good game of bridge. Highly competitive -- and one that I detested from the outset! It seemed that this was womens' only role, and how well we accomplished the desired result was a measure of our social skills. There were rarely female scholars in these groups, though I eventually met many.

It took only a few minutes into the evening to discover the ritual being played out here, and how cleverly Bill's Sunday morning "tutorials" fit into this. Over the course of the evening I began to hear what had been scientific Sunday morning speculations being delivered in declarative statements. Bill was stating them as fact. These thoughts were really highly intellectual and the surely worthy of the raised eyebrows around the table, but I'd been in on their development. As a non-academic and very atypical university wife, it was amusing for the first hour or so, but then it all began to feel silly! Found myself wondering if this was true all around that table, and that the theories in this community were only that; theories delivered as truth? Was I being overly impressed by this world of the scholars? Besides, maybe I just wasn't clever enough to re-direct the conversation very effectively. The other wives had years of experience and were adept at the game. I felt new and clumsy, ineffectual. Poor Bill was forced to fend for himself.

On the drive home from that first dinner I could hardly wait to tell him what I'd learned, and in no uncertain terms declared that I'd never take part in such a charade again! Wrong. I did, repeatedly. And, I learned that this was often the way new scientific thought emerged -- usually in reaction to new hypotheses by others. And that it was a highly competitive game that these men (and they were all men), thoroughly enjoyed as surely as they would have a good game of handball. This was their process. Many new papers were probably produced in just this way. I may have been the only person in the room who didn't know that. I'm sure that my sense of inadequacy played an important role in my reaction. A casualty though, was that I became disillusioned and started to develop a healthy skepticism about much of the new "truths" in my new world, and in the books and papers I'd been reading.

We both compromised without ever allowing the words to surface. Bill became my ally. I'd learn in time that when faced with an indefensible situation, he could and would yield to reason. Our Sunday morning brunch conversations gradually transformed into exciting tutorials for me. My challenges became more daring and my questions more probing, both at home and in public. And, fortunately, those practices in campus life were already beginning to yield to new social pressures introduced by the fast-emerging feminist revolution.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

After that last entry ...,

I found myself peeling back layers of life throughout the day. The house was still. Dorian off painting her birds at NIAD in preparation for an exhibit at Piedmont High School next month -- in connection with their annual and quite famous bird-calling contest. Returned home hours later and rewrote much of it with additions -- more depth made possible by what I re-read this evening. That's new for me. Maybe Bill was right after all with his "...polishing and editing and selecting just the proper word ..." Have tended to re-read for typos from time to time, but rarely to make major changes in what I've written. This journal is quite like those songs I "made up", spontaneous and not subject to change. Something is beginning to happen -- the writing is becoming more serious. I'm also becoming more aware of the eyes of readers other than the intended audience of my sons' and an occasional friend who cruises by out of curiosity. Not sure what that counter means when I look at the breakdown of how many visits, how long each spent reading, etc., and am careful to not pay too much attention to it lest self-consciousness make the writing more difficult. Less honest. Now and then I glance ever so casually -- as if it really doesn't matter -- all the while wondering who's following this journal and what you're thinking? Makes me wonder about other lives and how alike are the elements in your lives compared to mine?

Having more time to re-live the past is quite wonderful, but with that comes a sense of living in a period of summation, the re-cap, suggests endings and slowing down, and those are thoughts that I don't particularly enjoy. I like to think that this is how it feels to be on the threshold of a new chapter of experiences not yet lived.

Maybe I'm simply responding to Good Friday.

Matters not how far from Catholicism I've grown, the childhood dread of the stories of the Passion of Christ, the Cruxifiction, is renewed. (Must look up the spelling of Cruxi ...) Images of statues of saints enshrouded for the Lenten season flash through my head. I'm not sure that I ever really thought my way out of my religion so much as I simply failed at it. I often think (secretly) that -- had I been successful -- I would surely have become a nun.

That thought reminds me that I often lay quietly as Bill left our bed each morning at five to meditate on his royal blue zafu in the quiet of the dawn. Was always careful to not officially "waken" until I could catch the scent of coffee brewing from the kitchen. As a devout Catholic child, (Billy) he and I shared stories about nuns and catechism classes, and shaky confessions, etc., but while I was drawn to Atheism and Unitarian Universalist as a young adult, Bill found himself an alien faith as different from the church of his youth as possible; Tibetan Buddhism. But was it really? He'd been a serious student for many years, dating from his first (guided) LSD experience in Bethesda, Maryland, as a subject of the Stan Grof experiments. This was true of a number of our friends from the East Coast. At that time, such experiments were legal and highly sought after by professionals in the mind sciences.

I often wondered if Bill's Buddhism would eventually become as disappointing to him as I imagined my father's Catholicism did? When the old Latin mass was discontinued to be replaced by English translations under Vatican II, and Dad understood fully the ordinary words he'd chanted so long in that romantic dead language -- the magic of the rituals evaporated. He was outraged to see his young priest, Father Paul, pull up to our house in white tennis shorts -- on his bicycle! Or, a nun in plain clothes playing a guitar at the altar rail and singing folk songs as a part of the mass. This was a long way from his historic parish church in New Orleans.

I often wondered if Bill and his illustrious scientific friends were to suddenly discover that "Om" translated to "Oi" or some other really mundane word, and all those magical chants were translated into the equivalent of "Kum ba Ya," would they still find enchantment? I suspect that it was irreverent thoughts like these that kept me from joining the flight to Himalayan Heaven. It might have been different had I shared in the mind altering adventures that others in my new world could speak of with such awe. Made me feel naive, unknowing, out on the fringe, but too fearful to cross the fragile lines that separated me from madness. I'd been just close enough to those edges to respect my mental well-being.

On the other hand, there were surely enough inexplicable phenomena in Bill's belief system than I'd ever experienced in my own religious life. And, there was just enough respect to keep me humble and in awe. Between what I observed in my life with Bill, Tarthang Tulku, and later with Lama Wangdor, combined with the anomalies in my own life, my spiritual life has become a jumble of weirdness. I'd never been able to separate my personal spiritual anomalies from my ordinary everyday life. I resisted the temptation to assign them religious significance. Times of super-sensitivity, those times when I'd experience communicating across space that would distort my sense of discontinuity; place me out of synch with time. Jean Neighbor (psychiatrist) had convinced me long before that this was a primitive, universal, and often unnoticed human ability that was civilized out of most of us, and that for reasons unknown, I'd retained the awareness of the phenomenon and yielded to it easily. That it was in response to this strange lapse into some other dimension that humans created religions. Made sense to me, and required little proof to be viable and rational... .

Good Friday is nearly over.

Resurrection is only hours away... .