Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Looks like Boys Day at the Rosie the Riveter Memorial ... .

I do so enjoy interacting with youngsters -- especially those who are from other cultures.  We always seem to be able to surmount whatever generational differences that may lie between us in short order.  

These were middle school Latino boys who are enrolled in the PAL (Police Athletic League) summer program which includes sleeping on board the SS Red Oak Victory, the last ship built in the Kaiser shipyards during World War II.  

That was yesterday.  Today I met with a group of about 8 young African American men (18-22) and one young woman who  are members of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), and who are doing a remarkable job painting and cleaning up the old ship and the dock against which she's moored.  This is a paid summer job sponsored by a city program called Youth Works.  They are proud to be engaged in such meaningful work on this iconic ship.  They're doing such a fine job that praise is being heaped upon them by everyone who is observing their work and the purposeful way they're going about it. 

I went aboard at their invitation today, and shared a brief history of World War II Richmond, making the assumption that these would be the stories of their grandparents who may have arrived in the West as migrant workers to help to build these 747 ships.  Since I'm a contemporary of those grandparents; I can make those stories live for these grandchildren.  Maybe in the telling I'm adding a layer of dignity to those lives.  It is such a privilege to be able to spend even these short periods with the young -- you can see the lights turn on behind their eyes as they listen!  I share my own stories as well over brown bag lunches.

Summertime is going to be rich and exciting for us all, I think.  This park-in-the-making has come such a long way in its development since it was legislated into being in the year 2000, and the community is gradually awakening to the importance of its history in the context of the national stories.  The National Park Service is "America's best idea," and being a part of bringing that to life in this place is magical -- and such a privilege ... .

Photos by Ellen Gailing

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Think I mentioned some posts back that there is nothing more satisfying to me than to become incorporated in someone else's art ... .

It was so with the Shotgun Players when the opportunity arose to assist young playwright, Marcus Gardley, in the development of a new play, "This World in a Woman's Hands" ...  and I got to piggyback on the artistic achievement of an important young playwright of an exciting theater experience.  It was so when the Richmond Art Center's program of community arts made possible a multimedia-event that allowed me to work with a young high school male student; or with author Summer Brenner's presentation of "Where I'm From", a visual arts exhibit that placed elders with teens in a show that is still traveling about after two years.  It was so when I was invited to participate as one of the subjects for 4 young women from Richmond High who produced a wonderful video while learning their craft and -- in some cases -- forging a potential career path. And it was so when Director Kathy McCarty cast Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues with those remarkable local actors and moi earlier in this year of surprising adventures in the Arts.

There have been other times; but none more rewarding than a leisurely Sunday morning spent with muralist, UCLA Professor Judy Baca, who has been commissioned to create an important work for the City of Richmond.  

The video below is an example of her work which is boldly exciting with an appeal that transcends boundaries and enters some realm that unites us all in her experience.

Professor Baca was in town meeting with community people in order to find some direction from which to create what promises to be a work of national import.  She invited me to the Richmond Arts Center one morning last October to talk about what that focus might be.  We talked for what turned out to be 4 videotaped parts of a conversation that is now available online in several places.  During that talk the concept emerged of "extraordinary ordinary people" (my description of that heroic generation of Richmond's migrant workers of WWII) -- has been adopted as the theme of the work.  I've not yet figured out how to add the link so that it is accessible here.  Meanwhile, you might try Judy Baca Betty Reid Soskin Vimeo which may bring it up if you're interested.  Maybe www.richmondmuralproject will work as well.

I learned only a day or so ago that the conversation had been posted online; though it has been many months since it occurred.

Meanwhile, I'm going to run this Danza de la Tierra video again just to bask in reflected glory!
It was Dorian's attorney on the other end of the line ... "Just wanted you to know that I'm hereby nominating you for sainthood!  (His grin was audible.) ... .

I laughed long after he'd hung up -- it had only taken a minute or two for him to tell me that he'd just gotten off the phone with Dorrie who had called with an 11 minute uninterrupted litany of complaints about her mother's acting out (I figured he was regretting having handed her his business card in that first meeting!) and, Wow!  But with all the nonsense about client's rights and all -- it's what we do -- even when said client's best interests can rarely be served by such edicts.  (And with that statement I just eliminated all chance of my ascension to sainthood.)

I was at my desk  when the call came, and when I stopped laughing it occurred to me that -- where this diatribe must certainly be a mystery to any outsider who was wondering how caretakers of the mentally-disabled can maintain their sanity? There really are strategies that develop that allows us to not only withstand the verbal abuse, but to actually get beyond it into areas of mutual enjoyment. Dorrie and I have an honest loving relationship most of the time; the exceptions prove the rule since we rarely end the day in anger. 

I've become a master manipulator; and am unapologetic and as unrelenting in the exercise of those techniques as Dorian is at pushing buttons.  And the important thing he didn't know was how easily she is redirected.  Often it takes no more than, "....did I leave my glasses on the nightstand?" and we're off into a new conversation, or, "did we remember to write kitty litter on the shopping list?"  But how could he possibly know that?

I learned early-on to limit her choices.  That's basic.  When she was a little girl I would never ask if she wanted to go to bed.  It was always, "do you want to wear the blue or the pink pajamas tonight?"   That sets the pattern for much that has followed in our relationship.  It's also what didn't follow her into "The World" where social workers and case managers -- adhering to the strict rules (justifiably) about "patients rights" and "client's rights," added complexity to what I consider common sense. 

It was clear that my daughter would never have the capacity to use judgment in matters critical to her survival in the general population.  The professionals who would guide her life would or could not pre-screen her options the way that I had been free to.  They were at a disadvantage of what I saw as some pretty weird regulations -- all in the interest of fairness.  Maybe it's all in the interpretation of those regulations; interpretation that requires less rigidity from those with the power to express it.  How else does one allow someone with my daughters mental limitations -- who has the physical ability to bear a child but who is without the capacity to parent -- to be denied her right not to bear children? The legal reason being because she lacks the ability to give informed consent.  Hogwash!

I fully understand the rationale behind that state ruling.  It came onto the books in order to protect poor and minority women from being sterilized unknowingly; a practice shamefully performed in an earlier time in order to save the state welfare funds.  It's like those cuts placed in the sidewalks at the curb to enable those in wheelchairs a way to cross the street -- but that thoroughly confused the blind who rely on that curb to tap their way through traffic.  Interpretation is essential almost without exception.

Right now, I'm needing Dorian to be apart from me; for both our sakes.  Our long range campaign for life beyond her mother requires that.  The past 8 months have served to regress us both, and I've become "Mommy" with a vengeance!  She is settling into being treated as a protected child when that is terribly destructive to her future.  

Perhaps her attorney and her case manager (both men of good intent) needed to be exposed to her wrath and inconsistencies in order to get some measure of her deficits.  They're both new in her life.  I have faith in them both, but they may not understand that the subject of her rage (mostly around control of her finances), and her mother's insistent dominance over her check book, are intentional parts of the next steps in her future.

Instead of "shall we wear the pink or the blue pajamas," what this situation requires is enough expressed love and support from me to continue her recovery to the extent that is possible, but with enough abrasiveness in our relationship so that she will soon be ready to move out into her own apartment (with an attendant) of her own volition, and not have the feeling of having been rejected by her mother.  I need to reestablish myself in her life as "Mother as best friend."  She needs to feel that it was she who made the choice to move on.

There is a lovely apartment available for her to move into -- about ten minutes from mine -- and soon those of us charged with her welfare should be showing her the variety of options open to her (a residential institution for the disabled; another group home with other mentally-challenged clients; or a great apartment in a development with 3 swimming pools and a small gym for her continuing physical therapy), but among the choices will not be the option to remain in a living arrangement with her mother.  See what I mean?  

Limited choices is the strategy that is missing from the rule book that social scientists live by, and the practice might well improve the lives of both clients and families caught up trying to get from day to day in a world filled with contradictions and hardships that often defy logic.

Sainthood?  Nah.  Manipulator?  Sure, and unabashed.  

Patience?  Not so much. 

Love?  Most definitely.  It's the balm that makes all else possible.