Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Remember those Fates I was appealing to ... ?

They're being most reasonable and cooperative and it begins to look as if we'll be able to hold our memorial/reunion to Rafiq at the old Masonic Temple in the Fruitvale as hoped.

A few phone calls to the present leaders in that colorful community led to tomorrow's visit to the old site. I hadn't seen it over all the years. There has been little reason to pass through that neighborhood. Had no idea if the old temple was actually still standing, but it is and -- as far as I could tell in a quick once-over from the street on my lunch hour today -- is quite possibly exactly as it was when we were last inside.

The colorful new Transit Village that now stands at 34th Avenue and International Boulevard begins at that building. The tiled arched entry is warmly inviting. The entire area has been redeveloped with shops and housing that reflects the Mexican, South and Central American, and Carribean cultures that make up a large part of the population of the Fruitvale district. It is so ethnically rich as is the entire city of Oakland.

At the invitation of management, I was invited to meet with the property manager at noontime today for a walk-through. We missed connections somehow, and I found myself standing outside next to the street vendors waiting -- trying to see what I could that would give some notion of how practical I was being in this wild fantasy.

After a long wait, (as subtly as possible), I clicked together the heels of my utility ranger brogues and circled 3 times -- hoping no one was noticing -- but this time it failed. No property manager. I'd left his cell phone number on my note pad back at my desk in Richmond. We've arranged to try again tomorrow at noon.

It was clear, however, that though the old building had been added to with neat shops that connected seamlessly to one wall-in-common, the stairway that I could see from the sidewalk didn't enter the old part of the structure (at least not to the level that I could make out). It appeared that the large assembly hall that we'd used was probably standing abandoned over all these years and that the old dinosaur has existed in Limbo since we were there. I did ask the vendor with whom I'd spent all of 20 minutes if the building was currently in use and she didn't know, "...except I seem to recall that there was a childcare center here a long time ago."

One of the really welcoming contacts I've made over the past few days has been involved with the Fruitvale project long enough to have actually remembered the Nu Upper Room and has offered to do anything that she can to help us fulfill the wishes of Rafiq's family and the Upper Room alumni who will gather in his memory. So far 3 staff members associated with the Transit Village have emailed offers of help. Their board will meet soon and our request will be considered. The history we're refreshing adds to the status of the historic Masonic Temple and to the district, which makes it of particular interest to their enterprise.

Meanwhile, a small group of us will gather Monday evening at the Guerrilla Cafe run by visual artist, Keba Konte, on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley to remember and begin to plan. It will be the first in a series of memorial events to be held in honor of Rafiq and his legacy. Hopefully, the Memorial service and Reunion at the Old Temple is planned for sometime after the first of January.

On Monday I'll take along my precious tattered manila envelope and its collection of artifacts to give to Aisha and the others. They'll know what to do with them. Perhaps they'll form the beginning of the formal telling of that colorful Hip Hop history that will serve a new generation of emerging young artists. The Bay Area has been home to generations of Muses for the arts, not the least of which are those who found their creative voices at the Nu Upper Room.

Working with the park service has given me a keen appreciation for this kind of stewardship and of the value and necessity in historic preservation. My advanced age seems to have brought with it the confidence and the right to determine what is precious and deserving of preservation. Coming into that kind of awareness sometimes leaves me awestruck ... with a sense of wonder at the appropriateness of such an arrangement. But then I truly believe that I've had the ability to recognize greatness over a long lifetime. What's changed is that I've now lived enough years to own that ability without flinching.

(Not much humility in that paragraph, is there?)

Silly, maybe, but it kind of justifies my continuing existence -- at least for now, and maybe next week, too.

Photo: Works of Nu Upper Room Alumnus, Keba Konte.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Have you ever wondered about how some who've been singled out as "special" (and of whom you've never heard) managed to get into the literature?

I've never really had occasion to wonder about that until fairly recently, but having found myself approached by several writers over the past few years -- in the process of books they're working on has given rise to the questioning ... .

Does it really take no more than the living of a life ever so slightly above the fold? This appears to be what I've spent a lifetime doing without conscious awareness of it. There has been nothing, no one, to compare my life to. So few of us can do so except on rare occasion when something monumental happens and we're "outed" for some reason completely beyond our control.

There has been little occasion before the advent of the Internet for ordinary folks to share their lives in the way that I've been able to do over the past seven years.

The early experience through membership in Cyberspace through SeniorNet prepared me for trusting the virtual world with my truths. Through that online program for seniors, I've been actively involved in friendships with people I've never met and many with whom I've shared the most intimate facts of my existence; many of whom have now passed on. That led to blogging, and the ability to reflect on life as it occurs in ways that (I've now learned) are in no way typical of the lives of anyone else on the planet. The fact that we're all one-of-a-kind persons gets lost, doesn't it? Each on his or her own unique orbital path, and each subtly changing the world as we encircle it. I don't believe enough attention is paid to that mind-boggling truth.

Some time during December an author from New York will be traveling west for interviews that will include me in one of the later chapters of a book he is working on. There is a part of me that cannot believe that there is anything worth holding for posterity in the life of one woman with so few recognizable credentials that would merit that kind of attention. There's another part of me that sees cause for celebrating the extraordinary ordinariness of this one life. It's kind of like an Ira Glass of NPR's This American Life taking on the Nature of Existence; a bit more e.e. cummings or Charles Schulz than Will Durant or Aristotle; more Sarah Vowell than Joan Didion or Susan Sontag, maybe. But then why not, one might ask?

Tennyrate, I've agreed and will (some time this month) meet with someone who sees value in what he's learned from my writings and biography and who will add my story to those of others he's exploring for inclusion in his work. He will interview friends and family for a more complete picture upon which to build his portrait. I will be curious to learn just what it is that he sees here -- but perhaps that's the secret; to be written about is to be included in this great human experiment -- leaning with countless unknown others in the direction of positive social change -- trusting that we're all being propelled into a future that will bring humankind to its full planetary promise.

That sounds so nauseatingly preposterous; so utterly pompous! But how does one possibly absorb what feels like undeserved celebrity at my age? Would love to be noted for having worked out a reasonable bargain with Fate for another decade as rich as the past few have been. I'm beginning to suspect that the good stuff is cumulative, and that the least known fact is that they don't seem to begin until after one has entered the second half. It took that long to begin to see myself as a free-standing individual being on a solitary journey through time. Before that -- like most women, I suppose, I was a purely relational being, one defined by those around and dependent upon them for their existence. Perhaps the best of all worlds is to have the chance to live both periods vigorously; which I certainly did with the support of the two men to whom I was married (sequentially) and children whom I love dearly and am still sharing a significant part of my life with. Maybe more attention needs to be paid to that kind of transition so that it can be anticipated and more fully appreciated. Had I known ... .

But then, would I have lived any differently? Probably not.

Maybe living life in a constant state of surprise is preferable to any other alternative.

Photo: Photo taken years ago at the home of Archdeacon John Weaver of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California. We were meeting to discuss the upcoming nation's 1976 centennial celebration.

Lower: Author and noted humorist, Sarah Vowell.