Saturday, April 04, 2009

Womens' History Month observance ... and ... suggestibility ...

I was invited to be the guest speaker at a brown bag lunch at the National Park Service's regional offices in downtown Oakland. It was an honor to be appreciated, though I'm always a little uncertain about what's expected of me. For those who work from an acquired body of knowledge, one draws from accumulated academically-approved research. For me, it's a case of working from memory, and finding them shifting from time to time depending upon the stimulus that nudges them to the forefront. A song, a few lines from a poem, a photograph from some fading news clipping, all have the power to thrust me back in time -- and because of our growing collection of artifacts that lie within an arm's length of my desk -- I never know when something I pick up will trigger a flow of fresh memories that change my presentation significantly. So giving my talk is often like working from a moving target. That constant element of surprise leaves me feeling insecure at times when I most need confidence. It may have been this that set the trigger, but:

As I climbed into the car (all decked out in my ranger garb) with the fancy-schmancy arrowhead decals adorning the doors, I slipped the key into the ignition -- turning on the radio (tuned to NPR) and drove out of the parking lot. From the speakers came the voice of the interviewer in conversation with former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. They were discussing her recent appointment to a seat on an important commission on Alzheimers disease. I was aware of the tragic story of her husband being stricken years ago and of the heart-breaking effects upon their marriage and her life. There followed a torrent of alarming calls from members of the listening audience describing their experiences with the caretaking of loved ones. These, unfortunately, included graphic descriptions of clinical symptoms that were truly frightening.

As I slipped easily into the freeway traffic I found myself glued to their conversations. During the 20-minute drive into an increasing traffic flow, the feelings of insecurity began to mount as I felt myself tightening up -- as my breathing became more shallow. My palms were now damp and began to slip ever-so-slightly on the steering wheel ... .

By the time I reached my destination and turned into the underground garage (headed for parking space 55 as directed), I had acquired the symptoms! I was in full-blown Alzheimers mode. Though a competent driver (quite good according to my race car driving mechanic), today I simply could not park the car. I inched back and forth between two cars, twisting and turning the wheels back and forth with no success, and finally becoming hopelessly wedged awkwardly "on the bias," until I finally got out of the car to walk to the security kiosk to ask the guard if he would please park it for me. He didn't offer to do so, but did come over to direct me into the space. By then I was completely unstrung! I'd spent about twelve minutes in the vain attempt and my composure was shot to hell!

Imagine my surprise upon entering the first floor to find the security person and the NPS staff member who was there to greet me -- looking at a computer screen at the reception desk trying to hide their laughter unsuccessfully. They'd been watching the crazy drama going on in the garage! Instantly I saw the insanity of the situation and staggered up to the desk giggling helplessly! Through the laughter I told them about my "alzheimers" attack -- and decided that I had the opening to today's luncheon talk.

It worked. I was able to relax into my presentation and decided to never again allow myself to be defined by external forces -- until next time.

Note: If you'll type Sedona into the search bar (small white strip above my photo on the far left side of the screen) you'll see that this curse of succumbing to definition by external forces has happened before. It will appear as if you've not accessed earlier posts because this entry will appear at the top because the word Sedona is mentioned -- so scroll down to the second post and those that follow.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Lovely day -- exciting young people ... the perfect combination ... .

Earlier in the day we'd met with a large group of perhaps 50 students from a Richmond High school history class. They'd come to visit the memorial to Rosie the Riveter; the home front women who replaced the men who were fighting overseas during World War II.

I love the "interpreter" role here in this place. The memorial is such a moving site that tells its story so well with or without anyone's help. It was designed by two remarkable Bay Area women who understood their subject and blended their talents so fluidly that it's all there; the story, the feel of the times, the heroism of the ordinary people whose lives were forever changed, but who have all but forgotten "what they did here."

At around noon the second wave arrived to visit this important part of our new national park. The entire city of Richmond with its many deteriorating scattered historic sites has been declared by Congress to be one of our most recently created urban parks. Some years ago Fort Mason and the Marin Headlands became two of the formerly war-related sites to become a "Swords into Ploughshares" parks. Point Reyes and Alcatraz Island prison make up the other national parks in our region. Port Chicago is a national monument with legislation pending that will make it, too, a national park. Parks established in the names of naturalist John Muir and playwright Eugene O'Neill NHP's are also part of our 4-park consortium here in the East Bay. These are the sites where the nation protects and preserves stories of national relevance for succeeding generations. There are memorial sites, historic sites, urban parks, wilderness areas, all set aside by Acts of Congress to be protected for all time. As Ken Burns' soon to be released latest documentary claims, "The National Park Service; America's best idea." (I'm paraphrasing since I'm not certain of the title.)

The second wave of young people to arrive today were students from the California College of the Arts. They're working on a community arts project whose work is based on looking at the city of Richmond as a living entity. They have been interviewing various community leaders with an eye toward developing a product through which they will try to identify which are the circulatory system, the heart, the source of lung power, etc. Haven't the foggiest idea where I fit in with all this, but we spent almost two hours walking the memorial and talking about the city, my work, my feelings about my work as well as my response to the times of my youth and how that was effected by the war of my generation.

I'm never sure just how much I'm able to communicate, but I liked the conversation as it flowed, felt comfortable with the young women and their instructors. The day was blissfully serene and the weather beautiful ...

Was introduced to yam sandwiches(?), and have to admit that the experience was a trifle strange. My Creole taste buds are tuned to hot baked yams smothered in butter, or, candied with brown sugar then sprinkled with orange zest and chopped pecans. I just may not make it as a vegan ... ever. It may be a generational thing; do you suppose?

Meanwhile, it was lovely day that left me feeling well-used.