Friday, November 26, 2004

Been thinking a lot over the past few weeks,

about the city's ongoing debate about the wisdom or lack thereof of allowing the Pt. Molate site to be used for the development of a world class resort-open space-retail- and- Indian gaming operation. It's been fraught with drama, lawsuits threatened and real, backroom discussions, lively community meetings, and the pitting of environmentalists vs. industrialists vs. developers vs family interests vs. Indian sovereignty. California is being bombarded with "invasions" from Indian Casinos from one side and WalMart's Superstores on the other. People are coming together in strange configurations with unlikely partnerships being formed and old enmitties freshening between the oil giant, Chevron-Texaco and the city; between the conservationists and the unionists. It's been wild!

For reasons unknown, and after a long period of knowing precisely where I stood on the issue of gaming (evil stuff!); after listening to arguments from all sides; and, after finally allowing myself to admit that there really are many sides to those arguments, a scene out of an earlier time played itself out behind my eyes and I did a complete turnabout :

We were still living in the suburbs. Bob was in his early teens (14 maybe?) and had gotten himself into some kind of difficulty. Mel was passionately offering some fatherly counseling. It was the usual, "...why don't you ever listen to me! I've been through all that stuff. I could save you a lot of grief if you'd just open your ears and listen!" Bob, even at that young age -- wise beyond measure responded with, "...then what do I tell my kids -- Grandpa did for all of us? I have to live my own mistakes!"

How does this fit? Easy.

Not sure that I can do my argument justice, but there is a relationship. It has to do with paternalism. It has to do with white privilege. It has to do with having to have some things in order to know you don't need them. And, it sounds crazy.

White privilege -- having enjoyed relative dominance over the known world for centuries with the freedom to choose the best of education, jobs, political power, property ownership, etc., means that there has been ample opportunity to sift through all that there is and eliminate many elements as non-essential to the living of a good life and a healthful planet. Those so privileged have lived out the full spectrum of possibilities -- so far as humanly possible -- and can tell the rest of us where the ruts in the road are and describe the environmental pitfalls, and save us from ourselves in the race to save the planet.

White privilegers, to their credit, have a front row seat on the tragic drama being played out and know that there is no way for the world to accommodate every last African, South American, or Asian to own and drive a Hummer or eat the last lobster in the ocean. They've learned the folly in over-consumption and the plundering of the earth's resources for personal and/or corporate gain. They're Mel being father. "We've lived that and can save you traveling the road to oblivion."

On the other hand, non-whites are only now beginning to climb up the economic ladder despite inadequate educations and lack of opportunity. That being so, the casino development (for example) offers jobs to a city with no economic base save the oil refinery and related chemical industries. To the non-white population, the possibility of employment far outweighs the fears of the social ills associated with the gaming industry. We've seen worse from our seats in the upper balcony. Except for a small part of the church community, gambling is not frowned upon in quite the same way as in the white community. Nor do we enjoy the long view enjoyed by white futurists with the luxury of foresight created by a broader world view. For those with little chance of overcoming, the bright lights of Reno have always offered hope where little exists elsewhere. The vast majority of the citizens of this small working class city of Richmond will probably not be particularly interested in participating in such activity, but will enthusiastically embrace the chance to be gainfully employed. Those who gather at the gaming tables and slot machines will come mostly from outside the area, anyway, to be served by workers who have had little opportunity to gain economic independence any other way. Or so we'll tell ourselves. Most have been unable to peer into the future any further than the next paycheck -- if ... .

It occurred to me while working for members of the state assembly that I could get few to hear me when I warned that when the subject of environmentalism came up -- if those in the meeting were White we talked recreation, open space, clean water and air. When the attendees were Black, the word had an entirely different meaning; we talked asthma, brownfields, ground contamination, chemical leaks -- environmental justice. I'm not at all sure that the homeless people I saw gathered 'roun the Thanksgiving tables yesterday could be convinced of the benefits of sleeping under the stars and foregoing indoor plumbing, whatever their skin color. From where I sat in my staff position, the environmental movement was made up of hikers and kyakers for the most part, and all others were simply considered naive and/or simply uninformed.

We're the "Bobs". We're steadfastly demanding the right to make our own mistakes for the sake of the need to attain maturity on our own terms. So what if the planet can't hold on that long? Not sure what the answer is for that, but it suggests that we need to find some way to reach across the polarity toward some middle ground where our human dignity can be maintained while we try to catch up with those further up the spiral of life. Internationally we must reach some accord or none of us will make it, I suppose. Sadly, many of the world's peoples -- held at a level of ignorance for whatever reasons -- are unable to fathom the concepts of cause and effect, and will stand innocent of our roles in any ecological catastrophe.

Meanwhile, like a father who lives by the dictum "do as I say and not as I do," many of the privileged march along conducting earth-destroying wars and contaminating the environment through the continuing use of fossil fuels that have been proven to destroy the earth's protective cover and hasten global warming. Fishing industries continue to plunder the seas, guaranteeing a worsening of the world's food supply for our progeny. How on earth can we possibly place blame? How will we ever come together enough to think with one mind or speak with one voice? Until we have some common ground upon which to stand, we're surely doomed to self-destruct.

Maybe what we all need is the chance to have all those things that we don't yet have with the experience to know that we don't need. The paternalistic attitude that tells us that others have done it for us all -- and that we should pay heed to those reports and dire warnings now coming back to the ears of the unwashed from those who've enjoyed the bounty of modern science and technology. It'll take a little while, but we'll get there eventually, if eventually doesn't come too soon, that is.

This may sound simplistic. It's subtle and hard to pin on any one person or group. I don't think that we even know we're feeling such things. The best way that I can explain it to myself is to see it through the eyes of memory and the common sense of my 14 year-old now in his mid-years.

I know that I've done a complete about face over several months. I now embrace the development of Pt. Molate as proposed by Upstream Development. Until now I've held my silence. Reason? Though the addiction of Mel's gambling robbed our family of everything at one point in our lives, it no longer frightens me. The addiction to alcohol that took Rick's life was his way of ending an impossible existence and does not indict all young gay men or doom them to self-destruction. For reasons I'm not certain makes sense without further consideration, what has happened to us is relative and not necessarily predictive of what will happen in the lives of others. It has to do with choices, and so long as choices are so tragically limited for some and not for others, the imbalance will continue to be our undoing. It appears to me that the sooner we even the odds for opportunities for all, the sooner more of us will be ready to assume the responsibility for saving the planet. We will have had in order to learn what we don't need.

Is this simply another of the unexplored faces of racism?

And, by the way, the first time I heard the phrase about "needing to have some things in order to know that you don't need 'em" came from Papa George on the occasion of his separation from his third wife!
The holiday has been put to bed (yet another year) and

-- as usual -- there is a residue of renewed joy at having my family gathered 'roun' my table in celebration. This year 18 year-old Rhico brought his lovely Amelia to add to the clan -- a beautiful high school senior preparing for college. The littlest grands were with their other family -- this year we get custody of Christmas as the holidays alternate with most divorced parents in these times. I missed them, and look forward to having them breathe new life into the Christmas tree again as we gather in the creation of new memories for them and for us.

For the first time there was no turkey to roast. David prepared his first goose and brought it along ready to carve. The rest was up to Mom, and consisted of side dishes and dessert. There are benefits to having the kids grow up and take over, right? I suppose this will be increasingly true as the years pile on.

Bob drove up from the ranch at San Juan Bautista, bringing with him Julie, the latest DVDs of their work together (impressive), and his music to share. David's lady joined us later in the evening, having other family obligations to attend to earlier.

Dorian was filled to overflowing with the joy of being surrounded by family. We rarely see the boys these days, and she misses them terribly. The hunger rises as does her need for dominance over all conversation. She is unable to understand the "whys" of the feelings but obviously senses my not-so-subtle attempts at shushing her and becomes bewildered and resentful. I also understand, but am helpless to control my need to create spaces for others to interact. She only knows that today is all there is and that her beloved brothers will disappear out of her life again tomorrow for endless periods. It's always been that way, at least since the day one early September when she -- at the age of 9 -- left home for the first time to be educated and to live at The Cedars in Marin County where we would all see the end of the family-as-a-whole . I suppose that she has no way of knowing whether it was something she'd done that sent her away from us ...? Now the hunger is expressed in her need to compete for their attention -- to vie with the children, with their ladies. It makes for some awkward moments, but we manage to cope despite all. They've always managed to reassure her for brief periods, but I'm certain that they're grateful for having been spared the constant demand that she places on their lives and mine.

That's the bittersweet part of these reunions. They hint of an unknown future when I will no longer be here to absorb the responsibility of her life into my own. When I will no longer provide the buffer that allows them to live their lives free from the weight of hers. The fears that I've not done enough to prepare them all for that time, and that all of the work done earlier when she lived on her own over all the years may be in the process of being undone now. The infamous "social safety net" has been almost totally removed and people like her will become a burden on those who want to go on loving them but can't despite a deep sense of obligation -- because of the fear that their lives will be diminished by her all-consuming need.

We've so rarely spoken of such things, and I find myself wondering why that is? Denial on all our parts? I truly don't know.

Pictures on the tube this morning of the countless homeless people who were fed yesterday at the various rescue missions, churches, temples, and public diningrooms are disquieting. There are so many this year, more than ever, with many seen in family groups with small children. People living in cars and on the streets and under the bridges ... .

My sons and I need to be having this conversation.

I'll find a way to do that soon. But when? And why am I so fearful of where those revelations may lead? Is there fear that they won't feel as responsible as I? That they will walk away because I've failed to instill in them the will to succeed me as caregiver? Or, am I simply wishing to postpone the burden of her care for as long as possible?

Despite the demands her mental handicaps have placed on mine, my life has been fulfilled and varied and rich beyond measure. I've lived fully and accomplished much over the years. Why would this not be equally true for Bob and David? They've been witness to what's possible. I suppose that's the truth that I must trust. That's the conversation that we must have -- or not. That I've provided the living example might simply need to be assumed and not questioned. "This is how its done" sans comment may be the only means of transmission. Maybe -- having modeled what I want to see will have been enough. After all, in those "sandwich" years when it was necessary to assume a parental role with both my parents as they approached life's endings -- while being responsible for guiding Dorrie's future, the boys were old enough to watched it all unfold. Maybe all that needs to happen now is to trust that the pattern has been adequately laid down and that -- between the two of them -- she will survive in some limited but adequate way. Given her sensitivity and despite her mental deficits, I suspect that at some subconscious level, she shares some of these same concerns and the edge that I sense when we're all together is reflected in her need to control her environment - as long as she can -- against the unknown... .

Do you suppose?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It's taken two whole days ...

to finally let go of a dream weekend on the north coast. As promised, there were stars (living in the city I'd almost forgotten about them except on NOVA, maybe), gnarled cypresses, a single exotic bird resting for a full five minutes on the roof edge as if posing for me; at least one glorious sunset, small cafes, galleries, bookstores to crawl around in, white caps crashing against harbor seal-bearing rocks; the works. A time to cherish and to feel whole without the constant awareness of those tiny hairline fractures in my psyche ... unnoticed or ignored ... but gathering silently waiting for release into either ecstacy or pain ... .

Then the Sunday drive toward home through the filtering sunlight in deep redwood forests for endless miles -- speeding past vinyards dressed for autumn and brightening the Anderson Valley in that burst of maroons and golds and oranges and scarlets that appears just before the dormancy descends with the first frost of winter and the vines take on the skeletal beauty of dark wiry woody twists like endless acres of free-form pre-basketry ... and apparent death.

All that -- most of which I'd forgotten or ignored in the daily busyness of life in a troubled city.

Stopped along the two-lane country road long enough to absorb enough to commit the pastoral beauty to memory as insurance against Monday morning's headlines and the shouts from the world's wars and mounting body counts and the arms race, and ... and I wanted to turn around and drive back to a place where all that seemed far away and manageable ... to the place where at least some personal answers had been found by some and where all else could be held off with hope; a disconnected reality providing sanctuary in the moment if not in the days or weeks or years.

Dorian had done well on her own. After many years of living independently the return to live with me has taken its toll. Try as I might, I'm sure that I slipped seamlessly into the mother role to her "child" and have caused some regression for which I'm sorry but am helpless to control. We invited Chris, a longtime friend from Clausen House (program for the developmentally disabled) to stay overnight, and the two of them had the apartment to themselves. The Mall is a short distance away so there was plenty to keep them busy. She had a chance to enjoy being the "single head of household" for a weekend, and rose to the challenge admirably. And, except for a single telephone call home, so did her Mom. We're connected now by the magical umbilical cord of cell phones.

Yesterday it was back to meetings and commitments and plans for one more exciting project involving the Centennial. We met aboard the SS Red Oak Victory -- the Kaiser ship donated to the city by the Navy four years ago and that is now being lovingly restored by some of the men who built her or ships like her during the frantic arms race of WWII. Absently looking up in the rigging at the huge booms that will play a part in our project, I was reminded of how much we continue to be defined by the wars of our times, and about the human tragedy we've been forced to live that now is best-defined by ambition for power more than by defense of a nation. I tried to recall just why we're fighting and killing in Iraq and couldn't find an acceptable answer within.

At one point I looked out at the incredible blue of the water of the bay and let myself think of the last time I'd stood here. It was from this deck of the Red Oak that -- only a few short years ago -- I'd gathered into my hands the remains of my son, Rick, and together with one-blood-red-rose-at-a-time -- cast his ashes into the wind and onto the waves below. Rick, had lost his private war to his demons long before. The year before he and I with our small family had scattered the ashes of his long time lover, Gordon, from this same ship. Time has softened those memories and -- except for an occasional reminder (like now) -- I've released them both to eternity.

I turned back to the small group of five women sitting in white plastic molded chairs busily planning our project -- let my mind return to Mendocino --to my dear friend -- and to the eternal and ever-changing endless ocean and felt the echoes of the tranquility of that moment on his deck -- binoculars in hand, and, the most important single thing in the entire world -- a magnificent red-white-and-black visiting migrator taking up my entire being and crowding out a world at war, and the excruciating pain of the loss of a son. That exquisite creature of nature symbolized for me the mind's power to create its own reality.

One day soon I'm going back to that place to re-create that reality.

I suppose that's really the only meaningful antidote to the madness that threatens all of existence in our time.