Tuesday, April 15, 2008

If you think the last post was over the top; this one is outrageous!

I'm desperately in need of an emergency intravenous injection of humility! It may be too late -- but I pray not. I haven't felt this sought-after and important since being invited as the object of "Show and Tell" in my 9 year-old granddaughter's fifth grade classroom last year. She presented me before her peers, her park ranger grandmother, with all of the pride one little girl can muster. Wait 'til my kids and grandkids run into this one from the highway!

Today came the announcement in a quickie phone call on my cell from the organizer of Senior Day. I was sitting with an adviser at my local bank when it came. "Ms. Soskin, we would like permission to use your image on two billboards and some bus shelters." Crazy! I'm about to be immortalized in full uniform to advertise the upcoming Senior Month celebration being held mid-May at Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland's city hall. I'm the keynoter -- but of course that much I was prepared for. I'm scheduled to give a brief ten minute talk (about the upper limit before sheer panic sets in). This is the sixth annual, I believe, and is expected to "draw thousands."

There will be tabling by businesses, nonprofits, service providers. There will be stiltwalkers, line dancers, poets, and music. And there will be me; hat 'n all, and I haven't the foggiest notion of what I'll say ... but that will come ... some night just before sleep... .

It always does.

Meanwhile, maybe I need to spend more time with Dorian. Doing so tends to reduce the ego blast by reminding me always of how much she does with such limited capacity. And of the importance of holding onto perspective when life appears to be spinning out of balance. The pendulum will swing back -- and if I'm lucky -- some of the stardust will settle into the cramped and troubled spaces we share as I grow older and she remains ever the child. This is the cruelty of mental retardation -- that one can never be certain the carefully-taught lessons stay learned.

I think that she's experiencing some regression and losing the carefully-nurtured sense of independence we're worked so hard to achieve over all these years.

This is troubling...

Maybe the ego boost is needed just about now, in order to help me to get through this bumpy period while we try to strengthen her trust in a world that was simply not designed for her to navigate except precariously.

Photo: Appeared July 30, 2007, in the Oakland Tribune. They eliminated the busy background and spread it across 4 columns. It is this image that will be used on the billboards -- if the paper grants permission to the City of Oakland.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Yesterday it was brunch in the Napa wine country after a drive through the most incredible display of wildflowers in years ... .

Today ... it was a gift like no other ... .

One of my colleagues asked recently if I'd be free to have lunch with a performing artist who would like to visit the park and learn more about our work. I remembered vaguely that there had been an invitation in my email-box about an exciting one-woman show about World War II that was happening at the Marsh theater in San Francisco. A group of my co-workers were making up a party to attend. I somehow missed out on the event -- being still in the throes of making up for having left Dorian for that long two week sojourn at the Grand Canyon training. She was still showing signs of resentment and confusion, and I'd allowed myself to be drawn into her drama.

When dealing with one with real mental deficits; and when something comes up that you really want to do (as with this amazing trip to Arizona), things can become pretty weird. Dorian couldn't reach me by cell phone (no reception) for the entire two week period -- and on the occasions when I'd tried to call her, either her phone was being charged, or was lost somewhere in her little apartment -- probably under one of her cats!

At any rate, we're still working out the kinks in our relationship and I couldn't free myself enough to do the theater party. And oh how sorry I am that I missed it!

Today Ms. Jovelyn Richards, a performer who came to the west coast from Minneapolis and the creator of that one-woman show came to Richmond to have lunch and to join Carla and me on an informal tour of the Rosie the Riveter memorial and other sites.

When she arrived she greeted me with, "... I saw your picture on the newstand (the big photograph published by the Oakland Tribune); read the article about you and within 3 days I'd created this piece." She was talking about a monologue (with music) entitled "Come Home." I was stunned! It was difficult to wrap my brain around. At first the words refused to compute -- but it was clear that this young woman was quite sincere. She told me that she'd hoped that I would attend her play -- and suddenly I heard from somewhere deep in my brain -- almost for the first time what no one had made clear. The invitation to the theater party was not in the least casual. It held great meaning. I'd missed something extremely important. I'd gotten lost in the pathos of my "Dorian dilemma" and -- as I'm sure has happened numerous times in our lives -- gotten lost in a vacuum of misplaced mothering that denied both this young artist and me a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An artist had been inspired to produce a work based on my research. On a critical era in my life and times. She had lifted our ordinary extraordinary black experience of the war years into a new dramatic form and I'd missed the show!

The show is not about me, of course, but about 15 African American soldiers from Arkansas who were fighting overseas during WWII. There were 13 survivors. The stories are told through a female character -- though I believe our playwright/actress slips in and out of many characters. I believe that she's used my words as a way to provide context to the stories. But that's only an inference I've drawn from today's conversation.

I tried to make it up to her by talking too much; by trying too hard to show her how sorry I was to have ignored her invitation; by trying too hard to assure her that I was sorry and would do better in the future.

She emcees an hour-long weekly Women's Magazine for Pacifica Radio's flagship station, KPFA, and I'll do an interview for her soon. I'll also be looking for ways to let her know how honored I am to have a performing artist amplify my work by introducing a new medium for delivery of the stories of ordinary African Americans of my time and history.

What an amazing experience.

Ms. Jovelyn Richards has promised to send a DVD of "Come Home," so I won't have missed it entirely. But wouldn't it have been a thrill to have been in the audience as it was unfolding? She told me that she used my actual words (taken from the newspaper article) in places in her script ... .

Life is unimaginably surprising!