Saturday, October 18, 2008

It is here that I find the balance to a life so often strained by too much, too often, too filled with intensity and purpose... .

Last weekend I drove up the coast -- through Marin County, past Santa Rosa and through Cloverdale - into the long approach to the Anderson Valley with its miles of curving roadways past Boonville and Philo -- through more miles of orchards and vineyards, into the redwood forest -- then -- to the blue Pacific with its unbelievable expanse out to the horizon with its suggestion of eternity!

I do this as often as time allows and at the end of the long 3-hour drive I find him waiting - fulfilling his promise of sunsets and salt air and peace. With the latest copy of the New Yorker and tea and toast with marmalade in bed with the large skylights over the bed changing its program from starlight to wisps of drifting fog to clouds and -- an occasional swooping hawk or a stray gull warning of a storm far out to sea -- for just a fleeting moment... .

There are long talks about cabbages and kings, friendly "fierce" debates over today's developments, speculations about the upcoming presidential election, and the dire financial picture that seems far away and less threatening in that setting.

It takes less and less time now, to become aware of the world dropping away and in its place a serenity to which I'm unaccustomed and which I don't always trust, but that I'm beginning to understand as essential and attainable when I stop long enough to look and listen ... . I remember Sister Corita Kent's admonition in an art piece of the Sixties that said, simply, "don't just do something, stand there!"

Until, I realize that there are those for whom this is normal. Everyday. Proving by the sheer magic of this sublime state of being enjoyed by so few in my experience, that the ocean and the redwoods are as real and as close and as accessible as we allow them to be.

Time at this stage in our lives is all the more precious. I can no longer afford pride nor lack of time or dedication to purpose to steal this birthright that we owe to one another as sentient beings.

This is the place where the magic lives -- and where beauty is tangible -- and where the illusion that time is eternal holds irrevocably true. Where there are no remaining doubts that we're each an element in the universal all. It's where I can go to experience what forever looks like.

Such is the friendship that I've found and cherished over these past years ... .

There have been days when the fear of the fragility of life brings quiet terror, but the feelings are fleeting and are quickly replaced by the joy of the moment. It's in such moments that time becomes painfully relevant and finite. A moment when there is so little future to look forward to.

Now is truly all there is.

But then we've always known that, of course. The acuteness we're experiencing demands that attention be paid to just how it will be lived -- now that we're where we are on the continuum.

So we drove high up into the mountains -- high up into the giant old-growth redwoods -- later returning back down along the magnificent coastline from quaint Westport past the Pacific Winery to Fort Bragg and home again to Mendocino ... and the panic was dissipated.

I called it motion sickness.

He couldn't know that it was the cold cloying fear and profound sadness of inevitable endings ... .
A very special Saturday -- another one-of-a-kind day of surprises ... .

Today started in its usual Saturday way with a leisurely cup of tea after sorting laundry and selecting the first load ... then musing absently about just what I would write today ... choosing to edit instead of create -- separating what was originally one lengthy piece into two quite separate entries (see below) and making myself another post for this date.

By 11:30 it was time to stop procrastinating and get back into uniform to return to the office for a prearranged visit with a group of young people who make up the newly-formed Home Front Youth Corp. I wasn't exactly sure what was expected of me, but their instructors (Rangers Elizabeth, Carla, and Craig) were already there and I was to slip in to do whatever my part required.

When I arrived they were viewing videos of the World War II era -- Rosie was the centerpiece - but our little DVD of "Lost Conversations" was also to be shown (as I now recalled) and I would probably be expected to lead a short discussion afterward. Easy. This was something that has become fairly automatic and requires little preparation.

It went well. I could feel the connection that I've now learned to wait for and not try to force in any way. The young people were receptive and the films shown were interesting.

That lasted all of 45 minutes leaving me with a feeling of being all dressed up with no place to go until I got into my car and remembered that Dorian had mentioned a show at the Richmond Art Center (now under renovation) where she'd heard that there was something I might like to see. She'd grinned mysteriously in the telling -- and I guessed it might be related to the piece that Rodrigo and I had participated in a couple of weeks ago. Maybe they'd produced some stills that I might be able to see. I recalled that this was a part of the community program opening soon. Would that be today? Maybe. I'd stop by and take a look.

Walked in to the Center to find a meeting in progress. It was a meeting of the Richmond Art Center's Board of Directors who were in the process of electing new members and preparing for the opening of a new show when the meeting ended. I was motioned to a seat and slipped in as inconspicuously as I could but felt just a little out of place. There were many in the room whom I knew in one context or another, and it was soon comfortable and I felt a little less like one who'd crashed a party.

As the meeting ended a raffle was held. (Virginia had slipped a raffle ticket into my reluctant palm and urged me to take part.) In the way that happens on very rare occasion to those of us who "never win anything" I found myself the recipient of first prize -- a $100 contribution toward an art class of my choice! Incredible! Been wanting to do this for years, but never felt the time was right and it seemed so totally self-indulgent. But after all, Dorian is a NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities) artist and this would give us something new in common. What a wonderful gift! This I will do, and soon.

In addition, a noted muralist, John Wehrle, a board member came over to tell me that he had received the commission to create a new giant mural at the primary gateway to the City of Richmond (Macdonald Avenue off I-80). He is using a number of identifiable community people in his mural and would like for me to be one of them. At first it felt a little dishonest since there are so many members of this community who have lived here all their lives and have given so much. Though I've spent most of my entire lifetime in the San Francisco Bay Area, only the last ten or so years have I lived in this city. He waved away my limp protest and I agreed despite those very temporary feelings of guilty pride.

To his comment that he would be giving me a call "one of these days" to make arrangements, I laughed with "...don't wait too long. I no longer buy green bananas!"

Photo: The marvelous fish sculpture that adorns the entrance to the Richmond Art Center is being removed in order to be cleaned and restored to its original splendor before being lowered back into its place high over the entrance to this great art center. There is no comparable arts facility in all of the Bay Area and beyond.

2nd Photo: The very active arts community seen here at the opening of the annual "Art of Living
Black" exhibition that has become one of the great events this city features.

I've not written for days, and it was certainly not for lack of material ... .

To the contrary, It has been more a case of allowing feelings to amass without relief for lack of the time to record them. It's always this way. I remember what I want to say while idling at a stop light crushed in afternoon traffic; while standing in line at the bank; or squeezing avocados at the green grocers ... then the thoughts slip into what should not yet be "the past" and are lost.

Some of those are hard to write about for other reasons. There is the new but (apparently) ongoing (past two weeks) strange brief relationship with a professional photographer. When I've worked through and understand it more fully "where the words go" ... I'll write about it.

There are also some after and still burning effects of the Eugene O'Neill/Paul Robeson festival still suspended in the air and being processed. Interesting. What has followed over the past couple of weeks is reaffirming that growth doesn't stop with age. The experience of "All God's Chillun Got Wings" has provided a way to grow beyond my presumed limits. Silly? Maybe not.

In subsequent conversations at a recent luncheon with two friends who attended the last of the 3 performances I learned that "Chillun" (as do most of O'Neill's works) turns out to be autobiographical as well. Yes. That had completely escaped me - though I pride myself on a good sense of both theater and literature, and some familiarity with the body of the work of this particular playwright since becoming associated with the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Site -- at least peripherally through my own work with the NPS.

I'd missed so much while preoccupied with the racial implications. The Robeson role of Jim Harris had blinded me to the main story that I should have been able to see had that not been so. I missed it.

Learned over lunch (yes -- goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and arugula, grapes and melon, with fancy crackers) that the lead characters; Jim, the submissive black husband; and Ella; the abusive schizophrenic white wife had been given the names of the author's parents; James and Ella O'Neill. (I'd failed to notice that and it is a key to understanding the play.) Or that Ella's obsessive determination to prevent Jim's ever attaining his goal of becoming an attorney mirrored O'Neill's father's acting ambitions, though he did reach limited success over the course of his career. One can surely guess at Ella's effect upon his ambitions over the course of their troubled lifetime together. The real life Ella was addicted to morphine. I'm familiar enough with the narrative of their lives but had missed the metaphor. Maybe I need to go back and -- using this broader perspective -- read the troublesome play again. This time free of the effects of the emotional effects of the "n" word. Obviously, the layering of realities that characterize O'Neill's work is why we honor him as American's greatest playwright and why the Pulitzer would be awarded to him for a 4th time.

I might have missed all that had it not been for the conversation over lunch with two friends who were not "of color" and who were therefore free to have a broader view of meanings, and to experience the complexities that were lost on me. I find myself wondering how often in life I may have allowed the narrowing of an experience simply because I was unable to get beyond race?

On the evening that my friends saw the play the talk-back between the audience and the cast lasted a long 40 minutes. Everyone came away with good feelings that some kind of threshold has been crossed, and that "Chillun" (with a Q&A) should be performed far and wide. That its presentation was extremely timely, and that the nation is finally ready to move -- together-- into these conversations. I'm so proud of the National Park Service's role in helping to bring this work out of mothballs and back onto the stage -- and of my own role in acting (albeit) briefly as consultant to the project.

Maybe there were lunching ladies throughout the valley last week -- and, just maybe, we were all moving ever closer toward a kind of atonement.

I think that I'll look back on this year's Festival as a pivotal place in my theater learning curve. The ability to see the human story -- somewhere beyond the racial story may be something I can share with my grandchildren in some casual way. But then they're growing up in a very different world than the one that produced my generation and may have been spared the limitations I'm sensing in myself.

Photo: From this year's production held at the Village Theater in Danville, California.