Saturday, January 21, 2006

Time to re-direct ...

and AlterNet provided the perfect means to do just that.

This morning they're running a fascinating article about biologist Rupert Sheldrake, originally of Australia but now living in London. His was the controversial theory of morphic resonance,

"-- a complicated framework of ideas proposing that nature relies upon its own set of memories, which are transmitted through time and space via "morphic fields". The theory holds that these fields, which operate much like electrical or magnetic fields, shape our entire world. A panda bear is a panda bear because it naturally tunes into morphic fields containing storehouses of information that define and govern panda bears. The same with pigeons, platinum atoms, and the oak trees on Hampstead Heath, not to mention human beings. This theory, if widely accepted, would turn our understanding of the universe inside out -- which is why Sheldrake has so often felt the wrath of orthodox scientists.

For the past 20 years, he has pursued further research on morphic fields even though no university or scientific institute would dare hire him. Much of his empirical explorations focus on unsolved phenomenon such as how pigeons and other animals find their way home from great distances, why people experience feelings in amputated limbs, why some people and animals can sense that someone is staring at them. He believes morphic resonance may offer answers to these questions."

the most memorable was the "100 Monkey's theory" so widely discussed during the period of the Human Potential Movement of the 80's. Sheldrake posited that -- in an experiment conducted in the south pacific involving a tipping point where, when a particular number of monkeys on separated islands were introduced to a process of a kind -- the monkeys on the neighboring island adopted it as well -- without contact of any kind, once a critical number had been reached (i.e. the hundredth monkey).

Sheldrake was one of the "heretic" scientists associated with John Lilly and his dolphin studies and others who were intrigued by Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. There was a coming together of physicists, biologists, Buddhists, psychologists, writers like Isaac Asimov and Fritjof Capra and Loren Eisley -- through astronaut Ed Mitchell's Noetic Institute at Stanford and the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley. It was a world I drifted around the edges of while married to the university and to Bill who was deeply involved in all things esoteric and edgy (in its time).

Reading today's article (more to be found at served as a reminder of a life I tend to forget about in the dailyness of the past 20-30 years. It all feels very far away now -- like a fine film I once watched, with players so much larger than life. It was a period that lasted only ten years of my marriage -- until Bill's death -- and it changed the direction of my life for all time.

That Betty would hardly be squashed by little things like hayfever; not knowing how to deal with a pilot light on the furnace that blew out when she tried to change the filter; finding herself again chained to a child-woman who has returned home needing tending and chauffering and patience (oh the patience!) after being seduced into believing that the time of caretaking was ending ... and that life might finally be all interesting work, art galleries, time to muse, concerts, fine dining, and feeling womanly again. At least a few of yesterday's tears were certainly related to disappointment, a dash of self-pity, and at least a wee bit of guilt at feeling so.

That's what I need; a new infusion of thought by those wonderful daring dreamers -- or today's counterparts -- who knew no limits and who believed in themselves and in all the rest of us as well. Those learned men (and they tended to be all male at that time) saw wonder in everything around them. They were the antithesis of today's scientific leaders who are all bound by the bottom line instead of the upper limits of the universe of the mind.

Today I'll read some Rupert Sheldrake and try to recapture some of that dreamdust.

Photo: Taken in the livingroom of Deacon John Weaver of the Northern California Episcopal Diocese -- listening to a discussion in preparation for the Vallombrosa Conference at Stanford (circa 1976).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Where is my brownskinned heart to hurry?

The title of a song written long ago ... and that has been playing in the back of my mind since yesterday. This morning I woke sobbing into my pillow. Why on earth ...? No meaning came -- only the music -- as if coming from another voice -- as if in a dream ... but muffled so that Dorian wouldn't wake and find me distressed. I could never have explained to her dimmed mind the cause of the tears -- I couldn't even explain them to myself. Last night I went to bed so elated! But I had spent much of the past two weeks swinging wildly between highs and lows -- the executions at San Quentin, the Martin Luther King celebration, and the honors being bestowed soon by the NWHP. Was this then what it means to be manic-depressive? Surely not, since these were all larger than life events and my feelings appropriate to each. I'd surely never had such a diagnosis, but could this be? More sobs. I lay still for a long time quieting myself in preparation for climbing out of bed and into my clothes for work. Surely this would pass soon. But I'm still here ... .

It was in those few moments of quiet that the lyrics began to come together with the music -- and the ephiphany!

I was late twenty-something and living in Walnut Creek. The racial hostility was at its worst and one of my little boys had been stoned by some teens shouting "nigger!" from a passing car as he was returning on our country road from Sam's market -- across the creek and a few blocks away. He wasn't badly hurt and came to me looking puzzled and frightened to ask why? There was no answer. He was so young. I couldn't tell him that I just didn't know. The feeling of helplessness is one that I recognize as being always there playing softly in the background of my life as mother -- over all the years -- freshening unexpectedly from time to time. Maybe that's true for every parent, but perhaps not quite to this extent.

Later that day, after hours of torment and doubt, I wrote this:

Where is my brownskinned heart to hurry?
Where will I find my song?
Why must my mind be just for worry?
To whom does my dream belong?

What are my hands to hold this morning?
Where is my place in the sun?
With what shall I fill this time of longing?
Whose will shall be done?

The fruit of my labor will tumble in soon
in search of my love and my lead
Gave all I had when they left this mornin'
Why can't they know how little souls bleed?

Where is my brownskinned heart to hurry?
To whom does my dream belong?
Why must my mind be just for worry?
Who will hear ...
my ...
song ......?

I recognized that same feeling of helplessness on the day, years later, when my now grownup son, Rick, asked tearfully why his partner, Gordon, was lying dead on a slab at the county morgue because his northeastern family would neither claim his body nor release it to us for burial? Gordon was white and Rick was not. They were a committed gay couple who'd been together for 18 years. We lived with that gruesome reality for the 30 days required by law before we could claim Gordon's remains and memorialize him. Rick was dead a little more than a year later.

All of that rushed into my mind this morning -- replacing the giddiness I'd experienced last night as I dropped off to blissful sleep with the honors front row and center.

The sobbing that wracked my body this morning suggests that I may finally be willing to give up my self-assigned role of being "...the only grownup in the room." That I cannot possibly change the basic wrongs of the world no matter how hard I try. That I never could. That no one of us can and that it may be time now to set the world back down on its axis and allow it to find its own way toward redemption.

But you know what?

There is unspeakable relief in knowing that someone may have finally heard my song! The recognition being bestowed in March will symbolize this for me. Makes me wonder about the journeys taken by the other women with whom this honor will be shared. I so look forward to learning more about each of them.

Perhaps the tears were some indication of the power of releasing all that unspent pain.

Maybe I've finally exhaled.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another execution has been held ... with several more slated in the coming months ...

But I cannot live my life weighted down with this issue. It's all consuming and begins to block out the sun after awhile. Dues have been paid -- and I'll table it now until Paul Sawyer trumpets the call again in a few weeks -- to confront the issue for another round of protests at the prison gates. The issue of a moratorium is gaining ground nationwide, and may find some support when the several bills now in one or another committee finally makes their way to the floor of the state senate and/or assembly.

I sense that we're beginning to wake to the death and destruction that this generation is cursed with, and to react to the chaos. Change is in the offing. I can almost feel and hear the brakes being applied to the administration's ugly power surge as the constitutional questions begin to be asked, and impeachment begins to be a serious and grim possibility.

But in the meantime, I'm still wearing my paper hat from the King Birthday Celebration on Sunday. That, coupled with the news from the National Women's History Project this week has me humming to myself and generally having a difficult time getting my hat on at all! They've asked for more information to include with my bio. Our images are featured on a lovely poster being distributed by the organization. The letter announced the dates and times of the presentation of the honorees at an event to be held on March 19th at Griffiths Park in Southern California. I will fly down and will meet the other women at that time. For more information you may want to check out their website. I cannot-- in my wildest dreams -- imagine being mentioned in the same breath with such remarkable women.

Am back at work with a schedule of activities that could threaten a woman half my age, I suppose. Every new project that I take on now carries a time clock with it -- an acute sensitivity to the fact that all this energy could end at any moment -- and that the work is important and must go on with or without me. It adds a note of urgency (but also preciousness) to everything, and makes me feel breathless at times.

I'm beginning to think of all the things I've wanted to do, to complete, to begin, to re-activate, and to feel a frustration that I haven't found the cassette tapes of my songs yet and they may indeed by lost for all time; that I haven't re-framed all those great pictures that lost their glass in storage; re-written some of those fragments of essays I've found from years ago in my files, and that still have a freshness of viewpoint and insight that bears what I'm now beginning to recognize as my own particular form of genius (and do I dare use such a word?). Yes. The National Women's History Project has granted permission by anointing me one of their honored "Community Builders of Communities and Dreams!" (Immodesty feels pretty good, y'all, enjoyed in moderation, of course.)

So much to do -- with diminishing time in which to fit it all in. Maybe soon. But for now there is the work of helping to create a new national park with a team of such capable and dedicated young men and women. What an awesome assignment is that, right?

I suppose that I'm still being deeply effected by the so recent deaths of the four Reid women; Dorothy, Linda, Flossie, and Maybelle, and beginning to face -- ever so gently -- my own mortality.

But not yet. There's good work still to be done.

Illustration: This year's NWHP poster taken from the website. My photo is tucked in at the far right very top - under the "N" in "women." There were 10 chosen, nationwide. What an honor! Maybe I'll buy enough to send out as greeting cards next year. Not sure that I've earned it, but on balance -- whatever is left owing I plan to make up before leaving the planet -- or have my progeny repay after I'm gone. And they'll do so in the name of the ancestors!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Garbage in, garbage out and other nightmares ... and then ...

This has been a dreadful week, but all is not lost. Until ... until being reunited with someone I've long admired from afar but lost track of years ago into the busyness of too many days of more trivial pursuits. We've been marching in different parades, with his being the more majestic. Less stressful, of that I know. More than likely it's a question of scale. While I've spent a lifetime of activism within a scant 30-mile radius -- he has served on a world stage; from social worker community organizer and later Berkeley City Councilman -- to Chairman of the powerful Congressional Armed Services Committee as 8-term Representative Ronald V. Dellums, man of peace and representing one of the most diverse congressional districts in the nation. In that role he worked to engineer the end of apartheid in South Africa and greatly influenced the freeing of Nelson Mandela and led to this legend's ascendance to the presidency of his country.

Untypically, the past week has combined forces to send me straight to the dumpster. Ordinarily I would have prevailed against all but the most impossible odds. This week exposed some vulnerabilities I'd failed to notice.

a. Dorian has returned home (temporarily) after months of sharing an apartment with another mentally-handicapped young woman under a program that specializes in providing supportive services. For the most part it has been successful until Zena suffered a psychotic break that brought a broken window, tossed chair, a kick through the sheetrock of a bedroom wall -- and risk that forced a quick decision to close the apartment and move Dorrie home again, or at least until a suitable alternative can be provided. There's a HUD 1-bedroom apartment available to her that's awaiting cleanup and painting, so all is not lost. Meanwhile, she is chafing at having to give up her independence again and yield to the (no matter how subtle) controls of an over-anxious mother (moi).

b. A miserable attack of hayfever brought on by excessive rains followed by a couple of warm days and the resulting early advent of offending pollens. That meant missing work for days while hemmed in (with Dorian) with no escape from hour-after-hour CSPAN coverage of the Judiciary Committee hearings. A recipe for disaster!

A growing depression was further worsened by the spaciness of a low-grade fever that tended to make visible the glaring idiocy of events. It was like a parody of government. How about a committee of old white guys (the Senate Boy's Club) sitting in judgement about another white guy's having once belonged to C.A.P., an organization (like their own) that looked with disdain upon women and minorities? How about a Senate Committee composed of old white males (with the exception of Senator Feinstein) placing so much emphasis on this one white guy's attitude about Roe vs. Wade -- white men who haven't a uterus between the bunch of them -- and none of whom has ever been pregnant. What happened to the idea of critical judgements from a "jury of one's peers"? How did it ever come to this? Who said that intelligence and good judgement is embedded in one gender only, and that men have some special capacity to be wise and empathic enough to rule on a woman's right to choose?

Cases have been overturned by the fact that a black defendant's guilt or innocence has been determined by a jury from which all but white jurists have been purged. Would this not be true where gender is a predictive factor in the determination of a case involving abortion? Can we not see the critical importance of having women weigh in on any such matter? Are men truly capable of the kind of objectivity that would take the issues above the level of simply enforcing the subordination of women?

Then word came down that the California Supreme Court had ruled against clemency for Clarence Ray Allen, compounded later by the governor's denial. The execution will take place tonight of one more human being -- even while the moratorium is being considered by the legislature. How can this be? Were you aware that only a months or so ago this man suffered a massive heart attack -- was hospitalized where he slipped away for a time and then was resuscitated with his execution date scheduled for tonight -- on his 77th birthday? Can anyone imagine a greater irony? Why could they not have simply allowed him to die? Who would have been harmed? Were I the doctor in that ER the choice would have been clear.

Hal, a protester who is organizing the vigil activity, called late Saturday afternoon with a reminder that the group will be gathering for several hours at the prison gates that night for a press conference, and would I join them? Rain is threatened. I could not go. It all felt so useless. I've not yet recovered from the very recent execution of Stanley Williams. This was just too much. And I was beginning to feel that pollen was not my problem as much as the feeling of powerlessness now overwhelming me since that death. But I believe that this is where I touched bottom and the rebound was begun ... .

Always there is that pendulum frantically swinging to bring balance. It was already beginning to sway to the opposite pole -- taking me with it despite all.

Weeks ago I'd received a call from Stacy Hoffman asking if there was some way that I could help her organization (Rhythmic Concepts) get former Rep. Ron Dellums as the keynoter for this year's annual Martin Luther King Birthday Concert; a truly important event. It was an easy matter that called on little more than providing a phone number or two that produced the desired result. He accepted. Last night I enjoyed a front row seat (as a grateful Stacy's guest) before an array of hugely talented Oakland musical groups (Linda Tillery and her Cultural Heritage Choir; The Oakland Children's Choir; Madeline Eastman and Faye Carroll, jazz singers; ending with the incredible Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir led by Terence Kelly). They performed in a format that was interspersed with snippets of Dr. King's powerful speeches played upon a large screen to a reverent audience. You would not believe that evening! It was impossible to maintain the gloom that had clung so stubbornly to my being as I'd walked into that auditorium earlier.

The elegant and eloquent former Congressman Dellums (I'd forgotten) rose to speak before this audience of passionate listeners -- oh how magnificently he's aging! -- he was electrifying! He appeared proudly Lincolnesque with that angular face, shock of white hair, and signature beard. He'd announced his intention of entering the race for mayor of this city only a few months ago. More than anyone in public office today, his presence sends a message of peace and stability to those around him. He is charismatic beyond measure. I dared to allow myself to see him as "presidential," to my own surprise. For a quick minute I felt myself comparing him to the current occupant of the White House and felt a silent giggle form in my throat. This is the model that young, fast-rising, and inspirational Senator Barack Obama may well aspire to emulate. He could hardly do better. The word "statesman" fits few in today's political world. The word comes immediately to mind when in the presence of this iconic figure.

I listened raptly as he drew from the wisdom of Dr. King with great skill and confidence. He breathed new life into the words that have become so familiar over the 30 or more years since first uttered -- and that have begun to be emptily recited by rote by generations who "weren't there." It was an evening I'll not forget any time soon.

For the first time in a very long time, today I no longer feel alone ... .

I will volunteer to work in this campaign in that hope that his leadership will become regional -- will reach beyond Oakland's boundaries into my city of Richmond. Ron Dellums is the only person that I can see on the horizon with the potential to draw the like-minded Progressive community together across political and racial boundaries toward positive social and political change. As goes the Bay Area goes the State of California. As goes the State of California, eventually, goes the nation.

Maybe this is where it all begins ... the first steps toward hope and the dramatic changes necessary to rescue this nation for the next generations. Yes, it's that huge and I'm that fearful of a future as predicted by the everyday de-construction of our country's institutions and way of life ... and before so many of us have been able to benefit by the promises of the first or to achieve the second by divine right of citizenship.

There is so much still to be won.

Photo: Found this photo of Ron on his website. This picture appears younger than the man we reconnected with last night. The older (70 maybe?) Ron has whiter hair and heavier beard but with the athletic (6'4") body of a 40 year-old. Wish I'd thought to take my camera along. Will try to update this photo at the first chance to do so. Do explore his website for more information on this exceptional man.