Thursday, May 19, 2005

New (old) and precious discoveries ...

Organizing my files of yellowed fragile papers is a bit like being reborn. I'm finding correspondence from many now deceased but well remembered; bits of incomplete poems jotted hastily on the backs of envelopes long ago; song lyrics that failed to give birth to music; faded newspaper clippings of feats I'd forgotten long ago but now see as the stepping stones leading to the Betty of now. All demanding that I stop and pay attention. Every scrap leading to openings into a past of all of the women that I am. What a strange, emotionally exhausting, and wonderful process ... .

For instance:

I discovered these notes of something called


(while ironing)

The sun glows within me - the wind sings my song
the ebb and the flow of the tides mark my cycle of being
A Woman am I -- and the day of my dawning is now!

I hold deep within me the buds of the flowr's of creation
their blooms ... color all I behold!
with man I have moved throughout time 'roun this Garden of Being
A Woman am I - and the day of my dawning is now!

I've carried within me the kings, queens, and slaves of the ages
I've havened the dreams of the poets and painters and pages
I've borne, nurtured, buried the young ones destroyed by man's rages
A Woman am I -- and the day of my dawning is now!

© Betty Reid, 6/1961

The date on these notes places their origin long before the Womens' Liberation Movement became an irresistible force for change. Prophetic?

I can only imagine very young Betty standing over that ironing board on a blazingly hot day -- dreaming huge dreams of power and rebellion and starved for freedom from life with no access to the depths of herself; trying terribly hard to fulfill the expectations of marriage and motherhood. Can't remember the time of day or what caused such a sense of determination; defiance! It must have been an epiphany that heralded a major life change. If I recall correctly, this preceded the beginnings of what would later be diagnosed as a period of psychosis. In looking back through the lens imbued with the wisdom of accumulated years, I know now that this was surely an unfortunate mis-diagnosis. It did not take into account the impossibility of being sane in a world gone mad.

As a lonely young mother in a failing marriage with a troubled adolescent son struggling with gender identification; two little boys battling valiantly with racism in an all-white world of the suburbs; having to deal daily with rejection from an irrational hostile community because of skin color; and just beginning to come to terms with the growing certainty that my beautiful 3 year-old daughter was born brain damaged and would need a lifetime of constant care. I'm certain now that what was then seen as a mental breakdown was an appropriate response to an impossible set of life circumstances. The mind finds ways to protect itself from what it cannot process. Mine did it through art and music. What could have been more fitting?

That there was undeniable evidence of suicidal tendencies was troublesome, but I was able to move past that crisis and survive. I apparently used it well under the care of a sensitive and caring therapist who -- after months of reassembling my psyche, was able to broaden my understanding of what "normal" meant and to broaden the definition enough to include myself with little alteration. No small feat, that. He gave me the strength to be centered, to stand pat, and to let the world adjust to me. I suppose that I'm still doing that, even as we speak.

I know that the song was never completed since the cadence is rough though I can surely hear strains of the music in my head still, as I read the words and know where the "held" notes are that create the rhythm of the piece and make the words fit into a melodic pattern.

There are many more such works here in these boxes; some that went on to be performed, but many -- as in this one -- never rose above their existence as words scrawled passionately in pencil on fading notebook paper, or in some cases, brown paper bags - then long forgotten.

It's quite possible that in this neglected collection of papers -- moved laboriously in cardboard boxes from place to place over a long lifetime without really knowing why, or even taking the time to open the files to read through them -- are the makings of a book. It could be that mine is a life with universal themes as there are in all our lives; themes that speak meaningfully to other women from other times across many lines of separation ...

Surely there are ironing meditations in the lives of most of us -- even while the chore of ironing has virtually disappeared with the development of synthetic fabrics. Along with them may have come synthetic lives in which the variables must be erased in order to be compliant with some agreed-upon normalcy. Maybe such thoughts now come to us on the stairmaster or while waiting in the SUV in the parking lot of the soccer field -- while we wait for an insane world to adjust to us... .

Maybe ... .

Could it be?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

So many battlefronts, so little time ...

Met last evening with two dedicated women working hard to find answers to the problem of youngsters returning from incarceration -- most coming back into environments that created their problems in the first place. Both were African American. One is a legal assistant while the other is a long time professional who works with the California Youth Authority. Both are compassionate, bright, effective people determined to take a new look at an old problem, and were inviting me to join with them in that effort. What they want to do is to create a support system for families that will enable them to help their youngsters re-adjust more effectively into home, schools, and the society; a tall order.

It's such a familiar story, and one that re-awakens cynicism each time I hear it. It's such an overwhelming social problem with such longterm systemic causes that I find it hard to stay focussed and pay attention when others raise these issues. My mind wants to opt out in self defense. After all, my own sons are now adults. My grandchildren are the responsibility of their own caring parents, and the issues are now purely academic for me, happily, except when I overdo the grandmotherly worrying thing.

There have been so many enlightening studies done over so many decades now, that one has to wonder why we haven't reacted to those findings and corrected what has to be obvious to law enforcement, the justice system, PTAs, criminal courts, judges, drug abuse clinics, social services, colleges and universities, clinical psychologists, anthropologists, etc. The files and archives of every university library and research laboratory are filled to overflowing with those study results -- all pointing directly to the inadequacies of our justice systems, racism, and lack of the ability to move into the mainstream due to unequal educational opportunities and/or job training. Just how many ways can that story be told? How many more billions of taxpayer dollars will be spent before we move to implementation of those findings? I don't believe it too much of an exaggeration to state that -- if the billions of dollars spent on studies nationwide had been used instead to implement once the causes were revealed, we might have lifted the lion's share of the neediest out of poverty and into the mainstream long ago.

There are days when I'm convinced that those studies are really meant to provide career opportunities for middleclass professionals and were never intended to bring any really significant social change to benefit the poor, the societally abused, and/or the disenfranchised. They get funded, evaluated, then shelved until displaced by a new one that essentially proves the same or similar results, ad infinitum.

For instance:

A couple of years ago in my role as field representative for Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, I attended the annual convention of African American city planners. It was fascinating. The most interesting section by far was the presentation of the results of a study done in Hennepin County, Minnesota. As is true in most heavily populated innercity communities, those imprisoned were disportionately young men of color. The assumption being, of course, that these were largely youth jailed for illegal drug offenses. Not so.

The study found that the place where young black males first encounter the justice system was through traffic court. Yes, and as often as not for relatively minor traffic violations.

Youngsters find themselves facing a fine that they can't possibly pay (maybe $60) so -- because they can't ask their already stressed parent for the money, they ignore the ticket. Next comes a doubling of the fine to $120, then to $240, then after months of fear and worry, they identify with the subculture of those outside the law, a warrant is issued and they're picked up and jailed. Incarceration then introduces them to gang life and a higher level of sophistication in street crime. The alternative is that this is the place where they opt to sell a few grams of crack to get the money and that leads to deeper involvement and, finally, to entering the underground economy feuled by illegal drug sales -- in many cases to supplement family incomes (remember the cuts in welfare benefits?), then for status in gang life, tattoos, or gold chains and proper bling. the spiraling down is tragically traceable; predictable.

As the direct result of the study findings, Hennepin County social services, police department, educators, probation officers, etc., came together to recommend addressing the problems by declaring an amnesty to declare a clean slate and new beginnings while positive alternatives were sought by all for all. They expected a few hundred to turn up and instead found themselves with a couple of thousand! It worked. The pattern was recognized and addressed with workable solutions and measurable successes. Not sure what the status of the problem is at this moment, but it's worth checking to see. Will do.


Wonder how many more effective programs are at work out there?

Given the changes I'm dealing with in my personal life at the moment, I can't possibly take on any major responsibility for organizing around the problems of youngsters returning from the CYA. Besides, I need to return to the work force before I go into total financial meltdown! But I will surely try to work with them at least during the first few organizing sessions -- long enough to try to feed new strategies into the mix and try to change the old conversations enough to breathe new energy into the subject. Maybe, even to spend some time on the web researching other study results that beg implementation. Surely there has been a wealth of work done in many places and under reputable institutions and/or nonprofits.

Besides, now that I'm learning to speak only in declarative sentences, I'm getting listened to more closely (grin).

We'll see.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Finally, movement!

With full recognition that I am simply not capable of being case manager, social worker, nurse's aide, policewoman, and returner-of-all-things-to-unsuspecting-mall-merchants -- I made that call. I've finally accepted the fact that the most important role I'll play in my daughter's life is that of superfriend. Only I can be her mother. Having to place myself in the role of disciplinarian and keeper of the checkbook is threatening to our friendship. I need to be the one she can turn to when the world runs out of patience with her. That must be protected against any assault from outside. I need to step back and allow that to be reinstated as of old. If I continue to battle with her over finances and/or anything else, I'll jeopardize our ability to maintain the kind of trust we had before she returned home last year.

Yesterday, as promised, I found the name of that nearby Senior Housing development and emailed it to Dorian's case manager. She will call and try to make arrangements for us to find a way to bypass HUD's age requirements and secure a one bedroom apartment for her. If it works, we may be ready to make the move on the first of the month. She will be less than two blocks away in a safe complex -- where she can reach out to me when and if she needs to -- and where I can give her freedom from the mounting battles over her inability to resist instant gratification.

Under the Lanterman Act funded Regional Center of the East Bay, that agency will receive her SSA check each month and dole it out to her as needed. She will have her finances managed so that her rent will be paid and her monthly obligations met automatically. She will also receive living skills training (as before) to take care of menu planning, cooking, budgeting, etc., and I can go back to more hugging and less nagging!

The state budget cutbacks had so seriously cut into her safety net, that moving her back to live with me was a necessity. She was in an unsafe situation and something had to be done. That is still true, except that where she was living some distance away without support -- she will now be within an arm's length but still protected by oversight when and if needed. She will still be picked up by First Transit (bus service) every day for the trip to and from NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities), and I can take her to her sports activities on Saturdays. Her program is 5 hours a day 5 days a week, and her life is full and relatively happy. She is doing fine work in sculpturing now, and getting kudos for her accomplishments. Her work is selling well, which benefits both her and the organization (50% split). She feels successful. Now we need to make her independent again.

We do need to get me out of her everyday existence so that she can pick up where she left off in the growing process. As I've said, she continues to grow and learn -- unlike some of those disabled from birth. At this point she's in her late teens. She will need to live to be at least 159 in order to bring her mental age to her chronological -- but we'll settle for a cool 21 any time. It would be nice if she could at least reach the mental age of abstract ability -- an impossibility -- but hoped for nonetheless.

Like so many "normal" folks, she simply cannot project into the what ifs and the supposing thats so will never be able to deal with the relationship between cause and effect. She is totally without the ability to make judgements. But hey, I run into that wall myself on occasion. That's what I'm trying to deal with at this very moment; the confusion and fear of abandonment caused by robbing her of the ability to grow into her own future -- whatever that might be, is the effect that so frightens me.

Having her enjoy a bit of distance may protect her from my unrealistic expectations of her. She must be allowed to find her own level of existence for herself. That may be something that I may never be capable of judging with any accuracy at all. That may take someone from "the world;" the world that I have such a hard time trusting with her life. The living of my own life has left little reason to trust such a world with her future.

I guess that says it all.


Dorrie's mother (hoping to be superfriend again one day soon).

Photo: Dorian at 19 on her first job tending animals at the Oakland Lake Merritt Children's Zoo. She was living at one of the Clausen House program's nearby, and learning to move about in the community with some assistance and a fine network of guides from that institution. The program worked for her for many years but eventually state budget cuts eviscerated much of that support and we had to adapt to the changes.

Monday, May 16, 2005

At loose ends, and hating it ...

Life with Dorian is filled with problems that beg denial. If I think too much about them, paralysis sets in and I become immobilized. It is so at the moment.

I've still not come to terms with moving her out on her own. The past year has allowed me to see just how vulnerable she is in the world, and made it almost impossible to do those things that must be done to re-establish her interrupted independence.

Yesterday we spent the greater part of the day at the Special Olympics swim competition at Laney College. That world is such an interesting one. It is a culture all its own. Parents, volunteers (young and old), members of the Fire Department, specially-trained sports teachers and trainers who work with the disabled year round come together at these sports events in ways that are so heartening. Each athlete is trying so terribly hard to make damaged minds and bodies come together in the valiant effort to compete without envy or false pride. To watch those faces reciting the Special Olympics oath at the start of the games is to experience innocence at its most poignant. "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." Each believes this with every breath. It's expressed throughout the day in every way.

Dorian won 2 golds and 1 silver for the 100 in the backstroke, a second in the 50 yd freestyle, and another 1st for 50 ft. backstroke. She was jubilant! But she was equally content in the two other events where she did not place at all. She is now qualified for the state games to be held at the University of the Pacific in Stockton in early June.

Meanwhile, I really do need to deal with our housing needs.

Yesterday after returning from the games I went into the livingroom closet to find something I needed and discovered another brand new sewing machine. Not sure when it was purchased, but I do know that there is an expensive one in storage -- one with parts missing (mostly cords). She cannot sew. She cannot read. She cannot possibly use a sewing machine in any way. Her bank account is again overdrawn. She's now clever enough to toss the packaging and manuals so that it's impossible for me to return the items that she picks up impulsively. The rebellious teenager reigns at such times and I'm helpless to manage events with any wisdom.

In a way I fully understand her purchases, foolish though they may be. In her distorted mind, she has some notion that sewing machines "make things." She has no idea just how that happens, but when she popped into the hobby store to pick up more yarn, there it was -- promising so much. I'm sure that she's been watching one of the sewing shows on television and that the idea was planted there. It's like the cell phone commercials that are so hard to resist always with their promises of "more".

I also found a receipt for $89 for the purchase of more minutes for her cellular phone. The one she bought most recently (and that I didn't return) is one that has no contract attached and for which she buys minutes each month. She has only one (also retarded) friend with whom she spends endless hours in conversation every night. It's an important friendship for them both. I'm guessing that she also speaks with him during the day from her cell. I insist upon her using our Lan phone when she's at home. This means that she may be spending $200-300 a month for those minutes. She is totally out of control and the Regional Center will not give her home assistance unless she's living on her own. That means no budget counseling or restraints.

So now I will log off and make those phone calls to the Regional Center and set things in motion (again) for locating a new living arrangement that will bring with it the essential independent living services that she must have and that are beyond my power to give her with the kind of objectivity that is needed.

It is at such times as these that I seriously consider a tour of duty in the Peace Corps!

More later.