Friday, November 19, 2004

Stopped in to say that --

after many years of good works and world saving -- I'm taking off in the morning for a shamelessly self-indulgent weekend. Not sure if I've simply given up on ever singlehandedly turning history on its ear, cleaning out the scoundrels that are currently swinging the country around like a cat by its tail -- or -- if I'm simply too discouraged to continue tilting at windmills and am finally facing the need to cede the battle to the enemy and move on. My patron saint has always been Don Quixote. Never for one minute did I believe that I couldn't do whatever the hell needed doing; so I did it! It didn't stay done, and there's a part of me that knows that -- for whatever it's worth -- the time is not available to me to do it all over again.

Discouraged? Maybe. But in a weird way I'm feeling relieved, as well. Been a long time since I've worn a paper hat, and confetti is the very essence of the lightness of being. I've stashed some in my briefcase for tossing into the wind of my immediate future ... .

Lovely story to be shared:

At the dedication of the Bay Trail markers on Wednesday I was approached by a lovely young African American woman who announced with a grin, "'re Betty Reid Soskin! I'm so pleased to meet you. You don't know me; the name's Jackie and I transcribed your oral history interview for the Bancroft Library project at the university -- and I feel that I know you very well, indeed." Then she went on with unabashed delight, " should be a mini-series. It should star Hallie Berry!" We were interrupted by the text-writer for the plaques (from the Redevelopment Agency) who was standing nearby listening to our conversation, she added, "...oh, Betty, you may be hearing from Kevin Guillory of Channel 9 (PBS). The channel is considering the creation of a documentary on the untold stories of WWII, and we'll need you on our panel." Felt like a rock star! How cool it that?

I think that was about the point where I mentally shut off the television, set my car radio to a 24-hour jazz station permanently, stopped in at the mall and bought myself some new lingerie (okay so they're pink pjs with no feet or dropseat), booked myself a pedicure at the local salon, and made plans to drop the grandmothering and the world-saving and take off for some hearth-sitting and whale watching and star gazing and driving north through autumn leaves toward who knows what?

Having reduced my (more manageable) planetary sphere to 500 feet, I will now withdraw my life from the public to the personal, at least until I can orient myself to living with this feeling of being at the mercy of forces totally beyond my control.

Maybe that's all that really mattered, anyway.

Maybe the rest is pure illusion ... .

Maybe I'm living a lovely vignette -- at least for now.

Besides, now is all there is, but then

I've always known that.

Note: Been experimenting with uploading photos. So far I've sent 10 to the CBreaux Annex blog (reachable from the link in the left column) but only 1 arrived. Back to the drawing board. But that 1 is a photograph of the Bay Trail Marker from last week's photo shoot. Take a look. It's quite beautiful. The other 9 pictures are from my wedding album (the beginning of the second half). Fifty was a hoot! Actually I may have been a few years older than fifty at that time. Great photos. Probably pulled that album out today because that may have been another time when I felt this light and expectant -- and pleased to simply be ... .

I'll try again when there's time and I better understand the process.

Photo: Taken at my very private wedding ceremony at home in the hills of Berkeley.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It's been days since I've posted ...

Today was an important one. We dedicated the beautiful iconic Bay Trail markers along the waterfront. The weather was glorious and the crowd impressed -- as was I.

The design team was flown in from Portland (Seattle?) for the celebration. It was wonderful to see them again -- the engineers, artists, architects, project managers, creative writers who handled the text that tells the story of WWII and life in Richmond in those tumultuous years. That group plus a small advisory body of citizens were brought together to flesh out the stories with authenticity that can be found no other way. The names are beginning to take on legendary status -- Lucretia Edwards, the environmentalist chiefly responsible for saving public access to the shoreline against great odds, and, Antonio Medranos, Latino retired educator brought here by his parents during that time and is photographed here at the age of 4 sitting on his tricycle in front of war housing. And then there were photographs that I'd been able to resurrect from contemporaries and that now are given permanent status as images on those beautiful plaques now open to public view. It was quite a day for us all.

Another important piece of the new national park is now in place -- or rather 8 new pieces -- since they now ring the park and enhance the landscape.

After the crowd began to scatter back into the city I climbed into my car and did a private tour -- visiting each one along the waterfront, and in the process recalled something I learned during those early days in Berkeley when times were difficult and my involvement in redevelopment seemingly fruitless. It was a priceless lesson. I learned that beauty can be as contagious as blight and that this bruised and battered city of Richmond may well be on its way to living out that truth. It's happening in tiny increments, but it is beginning to happen.

I then drove away from the waterfront -- back through the infamous Iron Triangle district where the body count goes on unabated -- to see whether my euphoria would hold up. It did. I took myself to the corner of 4th and Macdonald to tempt fate and the strength of the concept. A young woman was walking toward me on the sidewalk -- she was pushing a stroller in which (for reasons I can't understand) a sleeping(?) baby was hidden under layers of blankets despite the warmth of the day. As is so often true, she appeared to be not much more than a child herself. We exchanged smiles as she passed. Across the street two African American men walked toward the litter-strewn park to join others in not doing of whatever it was that they were not doing. In any other culture these men would be seen as socializing. Here in Richmond they are seen as loitering. It was the kind of day that places idleness into proper perspective; an honorable activity to be enjoyed under blues skies with just a hint of approaching winter. The elder of the two friends did something I've not seen for years. He reached up and touched his cap in polite greeting as he approached. He mumbled a greeting in my direction with head bowed; a gesture I'd seen my father do for his whole life; a custom left over from a mamma-driven southern upbringing. I think Dad called it "tippin' his hat." I felt warm and wondered if they had any idea that beauty may be just around the corner, budget crisis or no? Today in the fall sunlight, anything is possible and I'm feeling hopeful.

Tomorrow I'll go back to worrying about Fallujah and Mosul and that tragic woman whose good works tragically failed to save her life. Cried hard over that one. Hating the deepening of the outrage that's taken over our nation, and hating equally the piety of those we rail against. Then there's the arrogance so strong in the body language of those now in power. Creeping fascism has arrived and no amount of protest or outrage is effective against it. Not sure that I can watch another "Frontline" (last night it was WalMart) or hear another story about Tom DeLay or Jerry Falwell or Sean Hannity. That's all true.

But today I enjoyed the sense of having participated in a minor miracle out of which much may grow new life and a new commitment to positive change.

It's back to another 500' realm in which small increments can grow into the next steps in a real recovery.

And who am I to even suggest that the answers are ever this simple? After all, those beautiful trail markers were not much more than figments of the imagination of some talented and dedicated artists who invited me to their party. There have been so many wonderful and serendipitous "parties" in this long life of mine, and my dance card is not yet filled... .

Only remaining small frustration is that the mayor has not yet invited me to join the Centennial Committee, something I'd so love to get involved in. Perhaps I'll give her a call tomorrow and offer my services. I'm not sure why I invariably wait to be chosen. Maybe it's a carryover from a childhood when I wasn't, and a young adulthood when I couldn't be -- both due to circumstances beyond my control.

Probably need to think about that a bit... .

But, maybe ... .