Friday, December 31, 2010

The closing of the books on 2010 is with an Auld Lang Sigh of relief ... .

The year started with dealing with the after effects of Dorian's auto/pedestrian accident which happened on November 27th of 2009.  It was a devastating nightmare that resulted in badly fractured legs and the beginnings of two rounds of orthopedic surgery months apart (the second to correct the first) and 7 months of stays in 4 rehab facilities -- and ends with the two of us waiting for the New Year's confetti and noisemakers to kick in.  We're sitting before a fireplace, together, and grateful for having prevailed in the face of a troubling year.  But it's bitter sweet.

Dorian is not reflecting her mother's doubts and cynicism, and is blithely unaware of the costs of a year of travail.  She is simply glad to be sipping her cocoa and waiting for the sounds of celebration.  Would that this were also true of me.  Not so.  I'm still aware of a dip into depression that will be addressed when I've wrung all of the angst out of this one! 

I've lived long enough to know that this is cyclical; that this is the time of year when ancient Man created the Saturnalia to coax the sun our of hiding -- and that eons have not changed the needs for such.  I plan to start a promising calendar of events that are waiting for the turn of the decade to kick in, and that happy fact sits just behind the depression -- waiting to be expressed in the weeks to come.

But for now, I'm understanding how a mother might feel less comfortable leaving an adult/child in the world beyond their lifetimes ...  than wishing ... no, I won't go there ... but know that it is surely love that brings such thoughts into play -- even when such unspeakably dark images rise to prepare us for the dealing with our own mortality.  Repugnant though such thoughts may be; they need to be dealt with for the sake of preserving one's sanity; confronted and consciously discarded. 

I was so sure that  -- having devoted my entire life to increasing her capacity to survive beyond me -- only to find that in the final decade of those long and dedicated years -- that those attempts may have failed after all.  Maybe I was trying heroically for the impossible.

For Dorrie it was 7 months of learning to walk again, twice, upon discovery that the right tibia had rotated enough to make walking impossible without re-breaking and re-setting -- and starting all over and again learning to deal with new physical disabilities added to lifelong mental deficits ... .

And that was just Dorian's trials.  Her mother managed to visit noon hours every day without fail, taking and returning laundry and providing gifts to keep the peace while continuing to fulfill the requirements of a demanding job as a park ranger guide all the while.  It was a tough year that left scars that we're still dealing with.

The irreparable damage to the fragile framework for the living of her life beyond mine cannot be overstated.  We don't have time to do it all over again, and no amount of financial settlement can make up for that loss.  We've both regressed to the point where I've become a nose-wiping baby-talking "Mommy," after a lifetime of training us both for my departure from this world and leaving her as prepared as possible to withstand the loss of her principle support system.  It is now threatened beyond imagination by recent events, but before the year ended she was back living precariously again on her own in a condo nearby with assistance -- and though it will never be quite the same again -- I've gone on with my own separate life in an exciting career far beyond either my own or my colleague's expectations.

Something was destroyed with that accident -- something that has to do with my confidence and trust of "The World," and the vagaries of "Fate." 

This night -- when the world feels so fragile and peace ever more deeply beyond reach, I'm finding myself more timorous -- wary -- and, while relieved that 2010 is ending, I'm far from ready to move into the unknown future, and for the first time in memory. 

Maybe it's that damned Mayan calendar ... .

and please, dear Goddess, ... may it be

a Happy New Year!

Maybe another visit to Dmitri's website is in order ... .

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A day or so ago I crashed out of that blue funk and back into "The World" ... and all it took was a  fan letter ... .

After reading the email sent by a kindly stranger on Tuesday, I realized that here was someone -- the age of one of my sons -- with whom I could start a conversation somewhere in the middle of the sixth paragraph!  We both speak "jazz!"  There has not been a lot of that in my life over the past several years.  I've had music experiences, though, in many forms, all wonderful.  I've stretched and grown to meet the new (to me) more disciplined art form of chamber music, and have felt enriched by it, though never feeling quite "at home" with the genre -- in its equally disciplined audiences I remain somewhat self-consciously involved.  I'm always aware of my fashionably-confined toes struggling to express themselves invisibly to the insistent rhythms put down by the low notes of the bass or cello -- but failing miserably.  Music for me is a participatory art form, a gift left over from my instinctive intuitive African American "call and response" roots.  It's in the DNA!

Somehow I'd missed "serious" music despite the attempts made by Ms. Reiniger, my fifth grade teacher at Highland Elementary.  It was she who introduced me to the classics, but my own cultural background soon crowded that out in favor of input from the likes of Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and the jazz masters of that day. Yet, to this day the first strains of Sibelius's Finlandia brings feelings of elation that take me back to that modest classroom in the East Oakland Flatlands and the scratchy primitive recordings she brought to share a passionate love of symphonic music with her students.  It's always Ms. Reiniger who is (in spirit form, of course) sitting approvingly behind my left shoulder at chamber music concerts; and I truly welcome her re-entry into my life on such occasions.  But jazz is home!

The name at the bottom of this wonderful letter sounded vaguely familiar -- enough to cause me to Google it, then to spend a delicious hour or two browsing his website and discovering signs of myself there; even my Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Renascence", which reminded me of sitting on a piano bench in the basement-turned-studio of the North Oakland home beside a young friend, (later) renown tenor saxman, the late Jerome Richardson, as he introduced me to Edward MacDowell's "To a Wild Rose." It was exquisite in its simplicity.  We sat in silence as the last notes faded away.  I was about sixteen; Jerome perhaps 3 years older,  I think we both  recognized that day that beauty could not be confined to genre -- that labels could not limit its power and that it would turn up in unexpected places for the rest of our lives in music in all of its forms.  (And how long has it been since that image has come up for me?)

Dmitri mentioned that we shared a world view and that he has moved to the Southwest from the Bay Area, and "We'd met at a jazz concert in the East Bay," his email read, "...and when I get homesick for the Bay Area I read your blog."

I typed his name into the little search bar -- (above the banner at the top of the left side of the screen), and guess what?  I'd written an entry on June 12, 2005 about that very jazz concert where I'd heard him play that one time. I didn't recall the name of the pianist who'd appeared with him, but there it was, "Dmitri Matheny." He plays flugelhorn, and as I read my description of the experience I was transported back to that evening as if it were yesterday. The concert was one produced by the Gold Coast Chamber Music Players; before an audience of suburbanites in Rossmoor,  a retirement community in the Diablo Valley.  Who ever would have expected that?  By what powers did I mark that evening 5 years ago for remembering -- a wisp of an idea that one day I'd be brought back from a blue funk by a kindred spirit?  Hardly.

Yet, this Berkley School of Music-trained brilliant jazz musician gave me a most beautiful tribute; it affirmed me as an artist -- something I rarely self-identify with or feel worthy of claiming title to --

Dmitri said,  "I don't have your gift for the written word, but here's the thing: I want to play music the way you write."  How unbelievably lovely is that?

What a powerful antidote for depression.  I may never feel blue again -- at least not until the next time.

Which reminds me to plan to take in at least some of the San Francisco Jazz Festival this year.  Maybe I'll hear Mr. Matheny again, and if not, to at least allow myself to be open to the creativity and aliveness that jazz represents to me -- still.  I was reminded of that vibrancy as I listened to the music on Dmitri's website ... and I will visit often now that I've discovered this wonderful resource that is so much a part of the essential me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

As these holidays approach, I'm acutely sensitive to the irrevocable passage of time ...

This year December brings with it a depression tagged with my name and address -- and I've not wanted to write lest the very act of recording those feelings would embed them hopelessly in my psyche -- never to be removed.

To the extent that there is inevitably some semblance of the old self-fulfilling prophecy connected with it, the news of Sparky's death (Lily Mae's canine companion) gave substance to feelings that I'd been trying to deny for weeks.  Lily's grief was contagious and became hopelessly attached to mine -- grief that may have gone unrecognized without the stirrings of empathy for her tragic loss.  It would have remained a disembodied sense of loss and sadness without cause -- but now could have a name and rise to be identified and owned.

Heading into the Christmas season has always involved troubled waters and denial.  I do miss those who are no longer here.  I do miss my parents, my sisters, my eldest son, old friends long gone, and during the holiday season most of all.

Yesterday may have seen a final break in the darkness.  December 17th was the birthday of Mel, my teenage friend and first husband;  and the father of my children.  It is also the 20th anniversary of my father's death. And then Bill, my second husband and partner who also died within the same year (1987) as did the other two significant men in my life; Mel and Dad.

But now that fateful anniversary day has passed and I've survived  -- and maybe now I can return to my blessings -- of which there are so many.

And, no, we've not yet succeeded in rounding up the lumber with which to continue the work on the Lily Mae Jones Gardening Project -- and yes, the kids are still showing up on the weekends -- to see what comes next.  The mulch pile has grown as the Department of Public Works continues to make truckload deliveries to the site.  Not sure how long simply shoveling that pile around will satisfy those young people, but maybe all is not lost.

There is also the disturbing probability of staff changes in the city's great youth program, YouthBuild, in light of our having gone through another election cycle and the changes that inevitably  follow.  There will be the usual political appointments that are in the interest of the newly-elected, and which are seen as more in keeping with changing agendas and priorities.  Adult leadership will be impacted by "process" and it may take months to get the rhythm back -- meanwhile such programs are interrupted as new alliances are formed in the civic political infrastructure.  

A local photographer (after reading the story here) emailed this week to say that he would like to visit the site take some photos and, just maybe, he can draw some interest to the project before it's too late.  He has connected with Lily and Lena, and they'll meet sometime early next week to see what can be done.

Meanwhile, I've continued to conduct bus tours in my capacity as "interpreter" and accept speaking assignments in and out of the community -- and still find them rewarding experiences -- though the reason defies understanding.  I'm surely not an historian by training, and am subjecting my "tourists" to what is clearly my own oral history, though that seems to be pretty effective and I still end each 3-hour tour with a busload of new friends and feelings of having "connected" beyond my generation.  Maybe that's more than enough to expect in these waning years.

More later; meanwhile I need to meditate on today's Senate's repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" for my late gay son, Rick, who, regrettably, didn't live long enough to benefit from a greater acceptance from a world that proved too cruel to continue to exist in.

Meditation in this case will consist of sitting wrapped up to my chin in a blanket before the fireplace missing him, and all those dear ones whose lives ended before my own.

Now if only I could get up the courage to go out and find that perfect tree and begin to unpack the ornaments with each memory attached ... .

Oh, yes, then I'll give a call to Kokee Amanda Reid, my granddaughter whose birthday was December 16th -- more than enough reason to be aware of the passage of time and the value in appreciating each life as it unfolds or passes on in the irresistible march through the decades into eternity.

Me?  Oh, I'm still shopping around for some Faustian bargain that may match my tenure on the earth with the 30 years my banker gave me on my mortgage!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

In the Sondheim lyric as sung by the inimitable Broadway Diva, Elaine Stritch, "I'm still here" ... .

So is my friend, Lily Mae Jones, though she was truly looking forlorn last week when last I dropped by to inquire.  She was sitting in her wheelchair at the front of her driveway -- tossing the daily spread to the pigeons who visit for the toss-out that sustains her sense of self-worth.   She makes a daily trip in her motorized wheelchair to the Rescue Mission some blocks away for stale bread with which to fulfill avian expectations. Her beloved aging dog is lying hopelessly ill on the garage floor just behind her -- Lily can't possibly afford the vet's bill to relieve him in what are surely his last days.  She was obviously heartbroken but stoic; and I was of little help.  This could mean quite literally thousands of dollars -- the fate of so many of those whose heart capacity includes much-loved companion pets but whose income doesn't allow for much beyond that.  One of the unheeded tragedies of life in the Iron Triangle and communities like it.

On our last visit to Dorian's vet for a look at a growing bald spot on her cat's hip (to the cost of $85 for examination and prescription), she was admonished for not maintaining her pet's dental care, "there's tartar building up which will cause problems in a short time."  Dorrie's face clouded over with guilt - because her mental retardation did not allow her to filter out what is truly needed from whatever else this might be.  Dorian, like Lily Mae, lives on Social Security that surely doesn't allow for such costs -- but I can't imagine what life would be for Dorian to live alone and independently without the companionship of her pets.

While just across the street, the work of the young people has been stalled despite the delivery of a truckload of mulch from the city's Department of Public Works.  Due to a lack of response to the call for lumber with which to construct the raised beds for plantings; and because of soil contamination left over from industrial practices that date back to the time of the World War II, seeds planted directly into the soil yield food not fit for human consumption, sadly.  There has been excited announcements of  much grant funding awarded in this city for such projects (as announced in recent press releases), so it may be simply that we need to attempt to get some of that directed into CYCLE's gardening project.  So often problems arise from the simple fact that one is not in on the politics that are operative -- even as it applies to what's going on in the Congress at this very moment.

Still working on solutions and finding little more than fitfully listening ears and not much else, actually.

Ironically, much of the time I find myself as well as agencies I've worked with over the years providing answers to questions that no one is asking.   But I think this is simply a case of finding the connecting links that may need some nudging. And, yes, I'm aware that this is probably way beyond my job description and the ranger's "civic engagement" box on my reporting forms.  But it's where the work takes me.

In the park service there's something called "wayfinding," an attractive word, right?  Can't see where there's any application here, or at least that I can see at this point, but maybe by stretching here and there something will give ... .

These 85(!) young people  turned up on Friday despite the rain, only to find the resources needed to complete the work had not turned up -- at least not yet.  This was the third weekend, and I'm not sure how long we can expect the momentum to last before they give up on this particular dream.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Important happenings around my friend, Lily Mae Jones, and her CYCLE program for young people of the Iron Triangle ... .

Lily, whom I've referred to in past writings as "Gatekeeper of the Iron Triangle," has successfully launched the most recent version of another violence prevention strategy that was overwhelmingly accepted by the young people on Friday.

Lily and her granddaughter, Lena, have been joined by Iyalode Kinney, known affectionately as "Earth Mother." (See for more information.)  She is a former member of the Peace Corps, and has traveled worldwide --  including the Dark Continent -- from Egypt and Ethiopia to South Africa -- to study native healing regimens and farming methods for growing medicinal plants and herbs.  She travels to Africa to selected countries every two years, and has invited a delegation of young people to come along to participate in this year's research.  Together, Lily Mae and Iyalode will guide the young through the creation of a community garden in which they will plant and harvest such products for sale at farmer's markets throughout the area.  The cultural riches; the sharing of stories; the wisdom of these warm and engaging women of obvious strength and power is immeasurable.  "Earth Mother" radiates power and confidence to kids who probably have little access to either.

A benevolent property owner has granted planting privileges to Lily and her youngsters on about an acre of ground (for $10/year) that surrounds one of the no longer inhabited historic buildings (circa 1900) located just across the street from her home.  It is within a watchful eye from her living-room window,  and, there is access to the site for her motorized wheelchair.  (I'm not sure we'd find anyone in the Iron Triangle who would describe Lily Mae as disabled.)

On Friday when Ranger Matt Holmes and I arrived for an unplanned visit --there were about 50 young people (18-24) from a city-sponsored job-training program called YouthBuild supervised by their Conservation Corps-trained big-voiced streetwise leader, Antwon.   Wielding shovels, rakes, hoes, and brooms, they expertly cleaned up the site in record time in preparation for the building of raised wooden planter beds that will come next.

We're at the mercy of our combined faith in where the lumber,  paint, tools, and countless other items needed for such an enterprise will come from, but we'll put out a call and trust that it will be heard by those who can enable this effort by matching resources with the inspiration, young muscles, and enthusiasm Lily Mae has created in this most recent incarnation of CYCLE; a nonprofit she and Lena created and have maintained over many years --in both good times and bad -- as one of the few consistently dependable programs for the troubled and under-served youth of the Iron Triangle.  

On Saturday I returned to find (despite the disappointment of not having the city-provided vans that brought them to the site yesterday) a number of young people busily pruning the several remaining reverted-to-wild apple trees -- and carting away branches from which to propagate cuttings -- baskets filled with tree-ripened fruit to distribute to those living nearby who had not dared to climb the fences as they watched fruit drop wastefully year-after-year to rot on the ground.  Now there will be pies, applesauce, and cider for all!
My friend, Lily Mae Jones, and moi

How ironic that the city-owned vans were in service to take a group of the city's "at risk" teens to San Quentin prison for a "Scared Straight" experience with incarcerated men whose lives had veered irreparably in the wrong direction long ago.  I also suspect that -- in her usual way -- Lily had neglected to put in a request in time for the city to grant use of a vehicle.  But then neither she nor I are always adequate to the task at hand; nor do we need to be.  Perfection can be boring; but less than perfection and compliance with protocols sometimes taxes systems and creates disappointments unnecessarily.

I have no idea where this project fits into the civic engagement aspects of my role as a park ranger, but I tend to go with the flow and figure it all out later.  Being able to fall into the rhythm of the environment has always served me well, and this simply feels too good to resist.  Such opportunities are rarely recognized before the fact, and rarely do they appear in the conference rooms where the brainstorming takes place; where agendas are drawn with colored markers on giant flip-charts; and where program plans are laboriously and wordily arrived at.  I've always suspected that going where life leads and leaving tracks for others to follow is the proper role of leadership, anyway.   It's up to others to draw the maps; it's up to us to blaze the trail. This may be where 70 year-old wheelchair-bound Lily Mae Jones and I are in sync.  Maybe we've just lived long enough to have achieved the confidence to claim the right to take the helm and plow full steam ahead, and "flip-charts be damned!" 
Sandwiched between other experiences was this class of graduate students from the California College of the Arts ... we met at the Rosie Memorial ... .

Over time the Memorial has become a feature of the curricula of the school.  It started out small but has now grown so that this is the second class we've hosted over the past two weeks, with other visits over the past two years.

On our bus tours of the scattered sites, I usually save the Memorial for the final experience.  It is so moving, and so easily made relevant to today's young people through the time-line which tells the story of the home front -- from the outbreak of war in 1941 until peace came in 1945.  The thoughtful preparation done in the design phase by historian and project manager, Donna Graves, artists Cheryl Barton and Susan Schwartzenberg, dramatically brings vibrancy to an era that was all but forgotten until recent years.  It skips nothing, and provides the foundation for our national park interpreters to give voice to the history that forever changed the nation as my generation lived it -- and for all time.

It sometimes feels as if we (African Americans) have been invited -- albeit late -- into a national dialogue that will be seen one day as having solidified the social changes made during those earlier painful struggles for human rights and human dignity. 

Now I'm beginning to feel the need to find those other voices out there that are on the same or a similar path in order to not feel quite so alone on this new edge that may be finally leading toward eventual reconciliation.  These stories require many voices in order to deal with the complexity they present.

There are freshened dissonant voices rising that seem determined to renew the alienation and separation, and, through our National Park Service, we've empowered our response to it through keeping alive the nation's history through the urban park concept with the creation of sites like the Rosie the Riveter Memorial; the Montgomery to Memphis Trail; the De Anza Trail; the marking of the Underground Railroad, etc.  These sites, when added to the scenic wild places already set aside, enhance powerfully the American story, though most were only developed since 1981.  The City of Richmond now takes its place among those recently-developed urban park sites -- and -- if it works out as I suspect and hope it will, this community may become the first unit of the Greater Bay Area cities in what will eventually evolve into a National Heritage District that will include the numerous sites that are spread throughout the area's 9 Bay Area counties that meet at the bay's shoreline -- and that will support the interpretation of the WWII Home Front stories for a new generation of Americans.

I so agree that the National Park Service is "America's best idea."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Then there was the inspection of the Maritime Child Development Center (Kaiser Permanente WWII) -- and one of the scattered sites named in the legislation which established the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park ... . 

Richmond Community Foundation board, staff, and interested community folks were allowed entry into and a progress report from the president of the Rosie Trust, Tom Butt.  His architectural firm is re-building and restoring this historic landmark where Head Start was born under the careful guidance of Dr. Catherine Landreth of the University of California at Berkeley.  The Foundation is one of the many civic, county, etc., with whom the National Park Service partners in the creation and maintenance of this unique park that will someday give greater definition to this city.

Complete with "hard hat and tough-toed shoes" (it is, after all, a busy construction site), we were treated to a preview of this important site for which our National Park System interpretive team is actively planning exhibits even as we speak.  (And, yes, I'm a part of the interpretive team.)

The grand opening is scheduled for March 7th, if all goes well, and it will take at least that long for our interpreters to design the portion of the building that will be arranged for public viewing  of life as it was lived in this state-of-the-art (at the time) facility.  We have the miniature tables, easels, chairs, etc., items that will form the permanent exhibit along with story-telling plaques, plus examples of some of the 5000 pieces of childrens' art that were thoughtfully saved by a loving teacher whose intuitive act has preserved for succeeding generations a startlingly clear view of their life and times as seen through their own little eyes.

This is a busy and exciting time, as well you can see.  Wish I could count on at least one more decade.  It will take at least that long to upload everything I'm learning back into life for those who will follow in my footsteps.  Not sure there's any precedent for extending one's lease on life, but if there is ... .

And if there's not.  I'll leave only under protest!

Too many things going on ... all important and all extremely exciting.

First there was the afternoon of being a "go-fer" for the cinematographer who is creating the film for the Visitor's Center for the newly-established national park at Port Chicago.  What an experience! He was filming 5 young African American youth who will be the surrogate images for those 202 who were lost in the greatest homeland loss of life in the WWII explosion of July 17, 1944.  They will give us the human faces for that tragic story.

I've been involved in just enough of the process to know that the story is in good hands; that (in my humble opinion) those are the hands of sheer genius.

I sat with him the day before in our conference room -- in complete darkness -- while he ran the rushes of the work so far on his laptop.  He was sitting at my elbow speaking in a whisper while describing what the visitor will bring into the room and how he was hoping to shape their understanding and experience through his film.  There were few images, only his voice and the sounds he'd created through which to tell the story.  It was a brief ten minutes in that darkened room with only his soft voice feeding my memories and imagination.  When it ended I was quite literally in tears ... .

On the next day we went to the SS Red Oak Victory with the youngsters outfitted in plain white tee shirts and sailor hats -- where Doug shot his photos under a magnificent blue November sky.          

Those youngsters will be heroes in their Richmond community when the film is premiered.  They will be immortalized on film for as many years as the Visitor's Center at Port Chicago stands as a memorial to those lost lives.  I wonder if they have any idea of how important today may become in their lives over time -- as a kind of marker which placed them in the continuum of the African American story? 

Ranger Ed Bastien of the Port Chicago National Park, seen on the deck working with the cinematographer casually recounted the tragic story to them as we gathered on the dock before the work began.  In a brief conversation as we approached the gangway to the deck, I remember mentioning to Ed how I am becoming aware of the need to edit my remarks when speaking to young people about those cruel times in American history; lest I increase their disaffection and fuel the quiet and justified rage that I sense they're unconsciously bearing.  It's a new awareness on my part -- I, who has always prided myself on candor in such conversations --  at least with adults.  I must remember to bring this up when we interpreters gather to learn from one another.  What is it that I'm picking up in these more frequent encounters with the young that suggests a need for caution?  And is restraint called for where the up-churning of that painful history (though true) might do unintended harm?  Is it ever wise to curb truth?  But then truth is subjective, isn't it?  Maybe reminding myself of that fact is when the doubt creeps in ... .  

Wish I could have been around when those young men discussed the experience later.

They 're so young ... just as those young sailors were who haunt my memory in the quiet moments ... still .. after all these years.

Photo:  Chief Engineer Bill Jackson, 90 year-old veteran of the Maritime Service and of WWII showed them how to "square" their sailors caps while waiting between shots.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's a miracle!

I was living in an intensity of far more than mind and body could absorb comfortably.  I knew that.  The last post describes it pretty well.  The fact that I rose that morning and -- within a few minutes -- in the pace set by my calendar -- brewed the usual cup of Earl Grey breakfast tea and booted up MAC to scan the incoming emails before jumping into my winter uniform (it's gotten pretty damp and cool since last Sunday), then took off for another day of busyness.  At that point there was no hint of anything out of the ordinary.

But, for some reason I began to experience some subtle visual distortions with just a little dizziness  -- "out of focus" which caused my balance to be precarious; maybe just a tad. Vertigo?  Was this "aging" setting in?  Is this how it would occur -- without warning?  Could this be the high blood pressure that my internist was on the alert for at my last checkup?  After all, she'd prescribed 25 mg tablets, halved, of hydrochlorothiazide for the first time when I went in this year.  I'd noticed no difference, however, and always had to remind myself to take them.  Had I taken one this morning?  Yes. I remembered distinctly doing so with the first sip of tea.

It made for an uneasy start of my work day.  Would they notice; those young rangers with whom I spend most of my waking hours? 

I hopped into the car but found myself fumbling around in my purse for the keys (but hadn't I not used them only a minute ago to unlock the car?) and not finding them -- (Oh, here they were!)  Was this a sign of memory loss; at least a hint?  Dutifully checked out the rear vision mirror before backing out of my assigned parking space and the feeling of being not quite in focus persisted as I noticed a slight difficulty in judging the distance between my car and that of my neighbor ...  .

Drove off to our offices and spent the next few hours feeling "off" and wondering if anyone was noticing?  Should I just return home and wait it out?  But the fear that this was the onset of "old" kept me from giving in to these symptoms.  We'll see tomorrow -- (as if one ages in such increments of immediate time).

Then I got caught up in the rhythm of my day and needed to deliver copies of the newly-published Master Plan Summaries to the Main Library in downtown Oakland.  This meant signing out one of the federal vehicles for an hour or so. Routinely gathered up the keys from the key cabinet and logged myself out; climbed into the driver's seat and -- as I began to adjust the mirrors set by the last driver -- caught sight of my image therein, and,

Mystery solved.  

I'd left home wearing my black-rimmed computer glasses!  Reached into my purse for another regular pair and -- instant cure!  A miracle! The world righted itself in an instant and -- Voila! -- I was young again!  But just for those hours, y'all, it was touch and go! 

Photo:  One of Dorian's art pieces; a pretty accurate depiction of my faux mental state.
Where to start ... ?

   On Sunday there was the panel for one of the final activities of the "Blossoms and Thorns" events which brought  me together with the co-authors of "Wherever there's a fight"; the history of the ACLU in the State of California."  We are pictured here  (without proper lighting) all-in-a-row - Historian Donna Graves, Stan Yogi, Elaine Ellinson, and me, in what turned out to be a fascinating discussion about civil and human rights.

The event was held at the East Bay Methodist Church.  The congregation is primarily Japanese/American and the church serves as the home of the Japanese/American Historical League; our hosts.   The audience was thoroughly engaged and responsive from the introduction to the closing words.

Unfortunately, this panel came at the end of a week of relentless intensity; 3 bus tours, meetings on end, and far too many hours "on" as opposed to taking time to breathe and to return to my normal rhythms except for a few moments-at-a-time.  Found myself pretty raw emotionally, and on the edge of tears throughout.  I know the signs.  It was time to pull back.  Tomorrow I would sleep in.  Begin to draw back from the edge ... .

I made a silent pact with myself to ask for ways to connect with some source of nurturing -- some place where I can interact with others in the field (interpretation, historians, social activists, black studies departments?) so that I can find some way of renewal -- so that I don't implode in public.

Would you believe that before the end of the week those prayers were answered?

It was then that I met filmmaker Dr. Shakti Butler and her noted cinematographer husband, Rick, whose work dovetails with my own in uncanny ways.  We met at her invitation at their hillside home with a spectacular night view over a home-cooked dinner of delicious baked salmon -- with white wine and good conversation that I'm afraid I dominated shamefully.  It was a homecoming for me.  How could they have known that -- on a clear day -- I could probably have seen the house where I grew up in the flatlands of East Oakland far below? 

Much more on that later.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Amid the madness these little special moments pop up unceremoniously ...

Case in point:  This is my NIAD (National Institute for Artists and Disabilities) artist daughter, Dorian Leon Reid, shown here with her latest masterpiece entitled,  "Marilyn,"  a portrait of one of her two much-loved feline friends.  As you can see, she is standing free of her walker on both legs after two rounds of corrective surgery and ten months of rehab in 4 nursing homes.

It has been an eventful year for us both, but we've survived and prospered, despite all.  She's now living independently in a studio apartment just minutes away from my condo, and has returned to her work at NIAD 3 full days-a-week.

Her brother, Bob, has made an arrangement with a small shop in San Juan Bautista to handle her lovely crocheted scarves and afghans -- just in time for Christmas.  The shop is operated by the mother of a woman with Down Syndrome who is apparently creative as well.  We've not met them yet, but we've received photos of Dorian's artwork on display.  We'll do the hour-and-a-half drive down to San Juan in Monterey County to introduce ourselves and to see "Dorrie's Corner."  Dorian may get to see  new foals who've been born on the horse ranch where Bob works and lives, and I'll enjoy a day away from my all-consuming busyness ... .

Thanks to those who've expressed concern for our well-being.  It has been a hard year in many respects, but obviously not unbearable.  We've come through it relatively unscathed, except for this ringing in my ears ... .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Overwhelmed ... .

A week ago Friday, on my schedule was a bus tour of 18 for whom I'd planned the first of a specially-designed route with which to tell the Japanese/American WWII home front story.  It was one of two tours planned as a part of the 1st Blossoms & Thorns series that would feature a month-long schedule of events that would bring into focus the internment stories -- not for the Japanese/American community but with them.  A combined planning group which included the Richmond Art Center, the City of Richmond's Arts Commission, the Japanese American Historical League, and the National Park Service.  We'd spent several weeks working out the exhibits, film series, reception, and an exhibit featuring the work of 4 local photographers whose exquisite photos of the now-abandoned greenhouses with roses cascading out of broken rooftops are a haunting reminder of the tragedy of both the lost cut-flower industry that thrived in this city for over 100 years, and of those families whose lives were so fractured by WWII.  The descendants of those families returned and remain in the area since that time.

That tour started at 9:30 and lasted until noon, and presented the opportunity for me to begin what we hope will be the beginnings of bus tours that are culturally-specific.  My passion for the telling of the African American experience during the war years often dominates my interpretive efforts -- and this was my chance to grow beyond my limits.  It went fairly well -- my driver was able to follow my carefully-drawn new route -- and the tour was completed in the two-and-a-half-hours allotted time.

Unfortunately, it was not the end of my day -- nor was it my only tour that day.  For the first time, I'd booked a second tour in order to accommodate a family of 9 visitors from out of state -- the descendants of an historic figure who had launched one of the Victory ships in the Kaiser Shipyards in 1943.  These were two great grandsons (now white-haired) who were presenting the photographic collection of the launching to our collections and wanting to visit the site that meant so much to their family.  They were just little boys in the photos.  These were the descendants of John Swett, remembered as the father of public education.  It was their great grandmother who wielded the champagne bottle as great grandfather stood by proudly!

I'd somehow forgotten that -- unlike trained interpreters or formal historians -- I'm not drawing from a bank of acquired knowledge, but am taking visitors into my own past and sharing my own history on these tours.  Each one is improvised and dependent upon what comes up for me at any one time.  Because it's conversational and interactive, it varies in content -- with basic facts woven in and out of the narrative, but always digging deep into an often painful past that is shared black history.

What had escaped me until that day was that there is an emotional component to my work that I'd never noticed.  The combination of that and the actual physical demands of doing two tours with only an hour's down time served to completely drain all of the energy from my body, and left me feeling tearful and emotionally spent.

The second of the Blossoms & Thorns bus tours will happen on this Saturday.  It has not only filled to capacity, but there is a waiting list for another as yet unscheduled tour.

I'm certain that there are Japanese/American volunteer interpreters who can work with me on future tours who are as passionate about the narratives of their lives as I am for the untold stories of the African/American experience.  The thought that I might find one or more such presenters among these visitors one day is an exciting prospect.  I'll be watching and listening.  I believe that's the key.

But two tours in one day?  Never again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I suppose it just a matter of coincidence, but I woke this morning wondering ...

Several years ago while blogging I thought that I'd created the phrase "extraordinary ordinary people" to describe those who -- during WWII -- dropped their hoes in the cotton fields of the South; left the soup lines of the depression; piled families into whatever conveyance they could find to drive through southern dust storms; hopped freight trains to ride toward an unknown future to build those ships and planes for their country in time of national peril.  It was my feeling that the times brought -- not so much those considered "leaders" -- but the "7 at home for each 1 on the battlefield" who had never been properly recognized -- and whose contribution is now honored by the creation of Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park that I'm now helping to shape along with many others of the National Park System.

Perhaps Ms. Rice is reading this journal, perhaps not.  If we chose the same phrase for different reasons -- it would not be surprising.  Words are interpreted in countless ways. and perhaps her family can be described by this language.  I'm really not sure since serving as Secretary of State and growing up -- even under the limiting conditions of a relatively privileged member of a southern black family -- would qualify her to describe herself under my definition.  But then I may trying to expropriate words that have many meanings.  Slipping them into the search bar of Google made that quite clear.

When I first chose them as an apt description for that heroic generation of ordinary working-class Americans, they were accompanied by trumpets only I could hear.  They were so right.  They've become laden with more and more meaning over time -- as they've become a part of my story-telling on the bus tours.  By now they've developed a patina that sparkles with originality of a kind that only those songs that I composed at an earlier time share.  For me, they are succinct and poetic, and I do love them.

But maybe Secretary Rice's experience in choosing the title of her new autobiography was similar.  I'd hate to think that it was her editor who gave her book its title after a cursory search for something befitting -- and that my phrase, "extraordinary ordinary people" was simply deemed coldly marketable.

I do wish Ms. Rice's reviews were more glowing, but they're tepid at best.  Maybe it would have been wiser to not have stopped the writing just prior to the Bush Florida re-election debacle.  But, as a woman whose trajectory followed the highest arc of power in American politics, I need to read more than the reviews.  I'll order the book tomorrow.

However Pulitzer prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns" is an absolute must-read.  It is a classic page-turner that I couldn't put down for the 3 days it took to read it (one of the reasons I wasn't blogging recently.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I don't believe that -- since starting this journal -- I've ever allowed so much time between entries ...

Fear not for my prevailing good health; but just know that an overwhelming amount of activity has been covered (yes, even more than is ordinarily true), that has not allowed for much introspection. 

Will catch up over the next few days, but meanwhile:
  • Know that Dorian has moved into her own studio apartment and has been living more or less independently for about 10 days now;
  • and, that I'm no longer sleeping in my living room scrunched up with legs hanging over the ends of a love seat never intended for that purpose -- and my back is grateful for the relief;
  • that the Lena Horne tribute at the USO dance went gloriously well, and that Robin Gregory was able to carry off the dramatic few paragraphs in Lena's voice to an unknowing and appreciative audience;
  • that the Japanese/American series, "Blossoms & Thorns", was even more successful in more ways than we'd dared to hope.  The photographic exhibit at the Richmond Art Center is still going on with its exquisite pictures of those abandoned handmade greenhouses with those defiant roses gone wild cascading out of broken glass of rotting rooftops;
  • I've participated in several interviews on film, 
  • continued to conduct interpretive bus tours of the scattered sites that form the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park;
  • Attended many planning meetings in preparation for an unprecedented year of growth and development of not only the Richmond park, but contributing to that of Port Chicago, the newly legislated 392nd unit of the National Park System, and that's for starters.
Our four-park consortium which includes Port Chicago at the Weapons Station in Concord, Eugene O'Neill Historic Site in Danville, John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, and our own at Rosie the Riveter in Richmond has enjoyed a tripling of staff at all levels over the past year, and is still expecting more.  For some perspective, I've only been with the parks (for some years as a consultant and the past 3 and-a-half as a full-fledged park ranger) since 2003.  All four parks fall under one management team.  There is only one other staff member who exceeds my seniority by mere months.  This should indicate just how dynamic these sites are, and of how steep the learning curve.  All of the new staff members are seasoned in their fields, but have gained their earlier experience at other parks in the system.  Many come from the wilderness parks, and are having their first urban park experience -- and learning the lore -- the history of their new assignments.  They bring newness and enthusiasm and a curiosity to the work that enlivens our days and challenges stereotypes.

But I'm finding that my continuing value to the work is my maturity -- having survived the historic times commemorated by this park and lived into the "Now" places a heavy responsibility to try to recover those lost conversations and untold stories in order that those years and all that pain and anguish of the war years will not be lost to those who are trying to "get it right" in these years of continuing and enduring social change.  So far I seem to have fulfilled that goal; at least in my own mind.  Now the challenge will be to remain cognizant enough to know when it's time to leave ... .

Who could have ever believed that I'd live to see the day when age and maturity would be an asset of inestimable value, and even into one's 89th year?

Just a thought:  This morning as I was waking from a deep sleep my bedside radio was reporting on  Condoleeza Rice's newly-published autobiography.  What I heard was that the subtitle is "Extraordinary Ordinary People."  Suddenly I was wide awake.  This was a phrase that I created to describe the heroic generation of those that produced those 747 victory ships in 3 years and 8 months during WWII.  I wrote about it here.  I spoke the phrase in my interview online with renowned muralist Prof. Judy Baca of UCLA, and she (I believe), may have chosen it as a theme for a city-commissioned public art project that will be created some time in the next year.  It hardly seems likely, but do you suppose that Secretary Rice borrowed those words from this blog, or, that two minds might simply have chosen them by chance?  If so, this might be the only thing upon which we might agree, but it's nice to think that at least -- as two sisters of color so-to-speak -- this might be true.   And it only took a minute or two for my ego to shrink back to normal and for reality to set in.  It's like all that music by all those millions of artists -- that are derived from an 8-note scale.  Nothing strange about it at all, really.  But for a minute there I felt a kinship and maybe a little competitiveness with one who has played on the world stage.

... and, maybe as one of those extraordinary ordinary people, I'm entitled.

Photo:  Can you imagine my surprise upon attending the grand-opening of the exhibit for the De Anza Trail in the historic adobe at John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez and finding this photo of myself in the exhibit?  I recall being requested to meet a photographer at that site about a year ago, and being asked that I be in plain clothes.  So often these requests come in the course of my work, and I think nothing more of the incident.  Here my poly-racial appearance is used to indicate the demographics of the times that Juan Bautista de Anza's party settled in what would eventually become the State of California, but at that time was northern Mexico.  There were black people in the Anza party, mastizos, in addition to those of Spanish descent, so there is a basis for using this image.  I felt honored to have my likeness used in this way. My Creole ancestors would have been proud.  My paternal great-grandparents, Islenos, who were Spanish and originally from the Canary Islands, would have been ecstatic.  Photo by NPS photogrpher, Tony Gleaton.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Publicity tends to feed on itself and to become self-perpetuating ... or so it appears to be this week .. .

A radio interview that first appeared on one of the local PBS (KALW) stations out of San Francisco has appeared on the Internet  along with this photograph that was taken in our administrative office in Richmond.  It features this giant poster by graphic designer, Rich Black, of the Shotgun Players of Berkeley.  It was displayed in the window of the Berkeley Main Library and was presented to us by the theater company at the end of the play's run.

If you'll enter into the little white search bar above my photo (left top of the screen above the banner) the play's title, "This World in a Woman's Hands", you'll find the full story of Marcus Gardley's wonderful play and of our role in its development.

I love it!

Note:  The radio interview (KALW-FM) can be heard by putting "Remembering the African American Rosie the Riveters" into your search engine.  It was produced by Callie Shanafelt.  The transcript is on the SF Gate/Chronicle pages, date 9/25.
It was right there under my fingertips ... the answer to the "Lena" dilemma ... .

On a hunch that there would be understanding and agreement, I emailed Robin Gregory, the jazz singer who will be "Lena" in an homage to the original, giving her the link to my blog and asking her to read the relevant entry (below).  Though we've met,  she is still a relative stranger to me, so I had no inkling of what her reaction might be.  

I sent as attachments two accounts of the Camp Robertson incident with the assurance that it was the single paragraph account from Lena's daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, that I would rewrite in the first person for her to use as a preface to her presentation in the persona of Lena Horne.  Inspired?  I thought so, but only if I could convince both the artist and the coordinator of the stage performances on the evening of the USO Dance.  

The National Park Service is only one of many partners in the sponsorship of the annual Home Front Festival; the Richmond Chamber of Commerce is lead on the USO dance, and there may be some sensitivity on the part of some about what may be seen as a last minute intrusion in their signature event.  There is, after all, some hint of the old skunk at the garden party aspects to this insertion into their (until now) benign nostalgic revisiting of an era now enshrined in 'Good War" bunting.

An email to stage manager Elmina Green with copies of the information sent to Robin was convincing enough for there to be both understanding and consent.  The need to include an honest statement reflective of the times was apparent to both if we were to honor the memory of this iconic figure now consigned to history - and in truth.  There's no escaping the fact that -- as  3 women of color -- our race has influenced the issue.  

So it will be.

Robin's email -- sent late last night assured me that she is not only willing, but grateful for the opportunity to perform this preface to her songs.  

I am quietly thankful for the chance to enter this vignette of resistance into the record as we honor  one of my personal heroes.  

And, this year I will attend the USO dance, both in body and in spirit,  and for the very first time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Been procrastinating shamefully about a project that has been seething in the back of my mind for several years ... .

It has to do with a feature of the Home Front Festival that the NPS and partners will co-sponsor again this year.  This fourth annual festival will again celebrate the enormous contributions of the great civilian mobilization from the years 1941 through 1945. That historic period consumes my days as our park continues to evolve, and I with it.  One would think I'd have made peace with that world as we lived it then, but apparently not.  It takes little for those embers of outrage to billow into full flame as memories flare anew.

I've come to terms with my painful personal history as it relates to the home front narrative.  Facing  those conversations at the Rosie Memorial as we guide visitors through the plaques which so movingly etch that history into minds that have either never known it or have forgotten the complexity of the times, should have become routine by now.

On the evening of October 1st, the commemorative USO dance will be held in the Craneway of the historic Ford Building.  As before, it will feature a big band playing the songs of the times, and there will be re-enactors in full regalia -- and there will be little recalling of the fact that -- in a city with a black population of about 30% there will be few people of color among those attending. Remnants of racial hatred are still suspended over the City of Richmond and other inner cities like a pall, but for the most part, those ghosts go unrecognized by today's black communities except when reminded -- as in this instance.  We Americans will have all but forgotten that during WWII Black and White Americans did not socialize together even during "the war to save the world for democracy".  The USO as an organization was racially segregated.

What has this to do with me?  As it turns out, my discomfort with the concept of the USO has been stifled (by me).  It was filed away in that corner of my mind that always fell silent on the Pledge of Allegiance with the words, "...with liberty justice for all."  That is, until January 20, 2009 when they were finally given full voice at the presidential inauguraion.

I've not been involved in the planning meetings for the festival this year, and for that I've been grateful.  It was awkward to sit in the room with these gnawing feelings of being the only grownup in the room as the Chamber of Commerce-led committee planned its USO dance.  How could they not know?  How could anyone have forgotten that I could not have attended had I wanted to, or, that I would have had to attend the one across town where the black USO hostesses served punch and cookies to black servicemen and women? And that Glenn Miller's "Tuxedo Junction" or the Andrews Sister's "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", brought no wartime memories of either patriotism or youthful exuberance.

I solved that by holding my silence and simply not attending after the first year.  But as with the Pledge, I was sure that others around me were unaware and that I needed to be forgiving -- and silent.

However, I've been asked to plan a tribute to Lena Horne for this year's event.  Lena Horne, who created one of the most memorable incidents of political activism long before such stories of black resistance were reported in the national press.  But Lena Horne also was one of the few African Americans with enough acclaim that she was invited to the Kaiser Richmond shipyards to star in the launching of the SS George Washington Carver, one of the 17 ships named for prominent African Americans.

But let her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley tell you:

"A USO-sponsored junket to Camp Robertson, Arkansas, stopped Lena in her tracks  She was scheduled to give two performances, one for the white officers, and one for the black men.  She was surprised as she glanced out at the audience in the pre-show darkness at the second performance, however, to see the first two rows of white faces.  "Who are these soldiers," she asked.  "They're not soldiers, they're German war prisoners" was the reply.  "But where are the Negro soldiers?"  Lena asked.  "They're sitting behind the German POWs," was the answer.  To that Lena replied, "screw this!" and walked out of the auditorium to find her black driver and say, "Take me to the NAACP!"  The NAACP's lone Little Rock representative was a woman, Daisy Bates, future heroine of the 1950's Little Rock school crisis.  After Lena and Daisy Bates drafted a  statement of protest regarding Camp Robertson Lena returned to Hollywood and hot water.  She was censured by the USO and was kicked out but continued to visit black army bases at her own expense."
Have we really forgotten that Lena Horne was in Jackson, Mississippi, entertaining at a fundraiser for SNCC with Medgar Evers the night before he was fatally gunned down in the driveway of his home?

I've rarely been so torn.

I feel so honored to be chosen to help in the honoring of this no longer living beautiful and universally-celebrated artist (Antoinette Perry Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Critics Circle Award, the Handel Medallion, the Actor's Equity Paul Robeson Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the NAACPs Spingarn Medal, to name a few).

There will be a lovely young jazz singer, Robin Gregory, who will sing as "Lena," and there are suggestions of just how a display might be created to give an honest portrayal of this complex woman whose life was scarred by the limitations of her times (and ours); but I've not yet figured out just how that can be, or if, indeed,  this is the appropriate venue for honoring her life -- or the ironic sponsorship under the banner of the USO.  Or, if I'm the person to try to make whole in our times that which we barely survived during those painful years; or if anyone could?

'Tis a dilemma.

In preparation for this assignment I've read "The Horne's -- An American Story" by her daughter, and am starting to read another biography by James Gavin, "Stormy Weather," that may be helpful.  But time is running out, and  so far all that seems to be happening is that my anger and outrage are being refreshed.  At times I'm energized by these feelings, and at other times paralyzed by them.  Then there are times when I fear that those powerful emotions will consume me.

... but then I remember that it is this quiet rage, properly channeled, that fuels my work -- and perhaps it will this time, too.

Photo:  Top, Lena at one of the African American USOs.
             Bottom:  Taken at the launching of the SS George Washington Carver at the Kaiser Permanente Shipyards in 1944 which makes this event in Richmond an appropriate venue for bestowing a belated honor. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yup!  That would be moi standing in the front row waiting outside the ballpark before the game ... .

It was Rosie the Riveter Day at the L.A.Dodgers/S.F. Giants ballgame on Thursday night -- which ended in a victory for the Giants (11-2) which moved them into 1/2 game ahead of the pack and into first place. 
The other Rosies are Agnes Moore; Marian Wynn to my right; and Priscilla Elders with Ranger Elizabeth Tucker standing behind; Deputy Superintendent Tom Leatherman; Mary "Peace" Head; Ford Point developer, Eddie Orton of Orton Development with his wife, Amy, standing behind; and another Marian to her left.  Lance, the Ford Point manager is standing behind Tom Leatherman.

This was the scene of the pre-game ceremony honoring us all before a sold out stadium and countless roaring fans!

You cannot imagine how difficult it was to not turn around from the "facing-the-crowd" position to view myself on that giant screen behind us.  There we were in living color in real time and with a series of clips of the Rosie the Riveter story, and advertising the upcoming Home Front Festival to be held on October 1st and 2nd at the Ford Building and the SS Red Oak Victory in Richmond.  We were introduced individually to the enthusiastic roar of the crowd.  Pret-ty heady stuff, I'll tell you!

For the Museum at the Visitor's Center (once completed) we were presented a Giant's team jersey with "Rosie" printed thereon with the year "45" (1945).  It was left behind though, for both teams to autograph for posterity.  I'm holding one sleeve flanked by Priscilla and Elizabeth.  (But I'd have exchanged the privilege for permission to look behind at that giant screen!)  I understand that we'll receive a copy of that videotape for our Visitor's Center that should be ready for the public in about a year.

Photos:  These are thumbnails and can be enlarged by clicking on.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pitchin' and tossin' and discoverin' papers and photos long forgotten ... .

Fortunately, one of the benefits of moving  ( this time it's for Dorian; requiring empty boxes)  comes with the need to finally rid myself of all of those stashes of items that needed further examination before tossing; things that have withstood a cursory examination through several previous moves but by the time we've lived as long as I have -- that collection has become gigantic!  Now's the time to stop procrastinating and either seriously save for posterity or toss!  Unfortunately, the "save" pile is disappointingly generous still.  The only way I can guarantee riddance is to put everything else through the shredder! 

Today was the day to dive in before the closet police stake out my apartment for a raid!

Such memories were waiting there ... and so many emotions ... .

For instance, I don't recall this photo at all, but I do remember the event.  That Sunday I was in the pulpit (at my request) at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek.  The portrait behind the lectern is of my mentor, and great friend, the late Rev. Aron Gilmartin.  (The subject of the sermon and description of the event is in the archives under June 8, 2004.)

I believe that there is a biography online about this true scholar, social activist, and humanitarian.  I could never do that history justice, but author Arliss Ungar has done so in a published paper that is available online. 

I so wish he was still present in my life ... but I know that his influence is still being felt through those of us whom he taught so well.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Wondering (at the first light of dawn this day) whether I've now lived out the crest of my personal life's journey? 

Was it January 20, 2009, sitting on that frigid metal folding chair in front of the Capitol witnessing the inauguration of our new president with two million other dreamers?  That surely seemed so at the time -- and often since; on the good days.  Was it the unanticipated rise to the highest office in the land that made it so?  Was there enough of a crescendo building toward that auspicious day to even begin to prepare us for this miracle? Was there sufficient cause to exult (as we surely did) in the rare experience of wandering up and down the Capitol Mall that day with a sea of ecstatic Americans who were as astounded as I at the course our nation had taken before the entire known world -- at long last? Had the promises of our fledgling nation finally been fulfilled? Should we not have foreseen the blow-back that was certain to follow in the succeeding months and years? Were we naive in supposing that -- this time -- the pendulum that has marked this nation's progress since 1776 would suddenly be stilled?

Have we forgotten that true democracy is formed and exists in the balances between opposing political forces, and that the greatest one can hope for is to weigh in on the direction perceived best for the majority at any stage in its dynamism; and hope to prevail in those efforts for measured periods only as the great pendulum resumes it's rhythmic dance into whatever unknown future awaits us?

A definition of Freedom?  (Nah, maybe it's just a Betty-ism.)

In watching the drama of today's political scenes unfold it is hard to escape the notion that the greatest problem we face may be the steady dismantling of our previously enviable system of public education.  It is hard to imagine that a democracy can long exist without an informed electorate.

How else does one explain the Beck phenomenon; the growing resistance to immigration or even immigration reform, or, the stories coming out of the great Southwest that are so disturbing in that they may indicate just how far we've strayed from the intent of our founding documents?

Nor is there any particular comfort to be found in the potential for restoration of regulations in the world of high finance, or, in support for the sciences, agriculture, and environmental protections.

Maybe I need to give up the Sunday morning television seminars and get out my PPG (Personal Prognostication Gear),  and maybe if I adjust the antenna on my space beanie and call up some audacity - the future won't seem so formidable.

After watching the on-camera freeze of the governor of Arizona this morning, it wouldn't surprise me one iota to learn that I've now lived out the crescendo in the up-cycle of my allotted time on the planet and that it's all downhill from here.

Y'all better stand ready to catch the next up-draft!

Is there anyone else who doubts that neither John Adams nor Thomas Jefferson, himself, could get the Bill of Rights passed by today's Congress?  And just how many of our States would be willing to ratify the Constitution were it to make the rounds today?

... and what do you suppose that means?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Writing that last entry brought musings on mortality and new inevitabilities to ponder... and every indication that I'm still processing Lottie's death ... .

Yesterday I found myself jotting the first requests in my calendar for public appearances for next year; for January and March.  I'm certainly aware of commencement ceremonies at California College of the Arts the week of May 14th; and that my term with the National Park Service is due to end in July of 2011, unless extended.  It will all pass so quickly -- with little sense of control -- unless care is taken now to gain some sense of order over what time is remaining.  (That's time as in a years, decades, and nearly a century of a lifetime.)

Which brings me to the need to begin to plan -- and I'd love to include visits to other park sites in that planning.  There is so much still that I'd love to experience before too much more precious time has passed.  In the course of my work I can still do that, I believe, even in my role in the NPS, maybe as an extension of that work.  

With my sister's death a few weeks ago, I'm reminded that I was so grateful -- even in grief -- that she didn't have a long period of lingering half alive and suffering in unmitigated agony.  Though I have no idea how long she knew that the end was near or what fears she endured; the family had little warning before she slipped into eternity. 

I remember in 1987 while lying at the foot of my father's hospital bed as we shared his last hours (at the age of 93) -- during a blinding flash of insight -- that it may be just an illusion that medical science has extended human life.  To me it seems more likely that what has been extended is death. His death process claimed the last ten years of his previously productive life.  My proud father spent his final decade blind and bedridden and totally dependent upon those around him.

Since I have another birthday in 3 weeks (yes!).  After 70 they come every 6 weeks.  Time is becoming more of a constant presence in my life.  I'm considering giving it a name, and issuing it a serial number!  How that which remains is spent is critically important if only to me; not to be squandered.

... and .. after due consideration (of at least the last ten minutes) ... I see little reason to not proceed on the trajectory that has brought me thus far into the 21st Century!

How's that for a simple declaration of intentions?