Saturday, May 14, 2011

The time is 10:50 a.m., the limo is scheduled to arrive at 12:15 to deliver Dorian and me to the Concourse where Commencement of the Class of 2011 will begin promptly at two o'clock ... .

It's reminiscent of those late teen years when my mother would try to talk me into not waiting for my date to arrive -- sitting on the front steps.  I'm now waiting for the limo and trying to not be looking out through the drapes for signs of arrival, two hours too early.  I will surely have wilted before the party begins! 

I've been up since six o'clock.  I lay awake for hours -- after attending the Fashion Extravaganza on campus; a most exciting event!  I hadn't planned on going, but found that I needed to have a continuing immersion in the universe that is CCA in order to fulfill the role that I've been given as mentor.  I'm finally convinced that this word is fittingly descriptive of why I'm here and being honored on this day.

On Thursday evening there was the warm reception and beautiful dinner (with bouquets of cream-colored tulips on each table) in the honor of the two of us who are being honored.  The limo's arrival at 4:30 was preceded by a ring of my doorbell and the delivery of a lovely floral bouquet with a card of congratulations from President Stephen Beal of CCA.

By midnight last night the panic set in.  Was I simply foolish to think that I could actually deliver a major address without notes?  What ever was I thinking?  This would be like performing a high wire act without a net!  And the promised carefully constructed speech of my dreams was nowhere to be found.

I spent hours trying to recall just what it was that I felt so sure would be standing by to be drawn upon.  Nary a word.  Had I become over-confident from conducting years of bus tours as an National Park Service interpreter, and for total strangers -- and doing it without notes?  I work from memory and whatever the moment held for us, together, to be expressed and explored.  Why had I put such stock in my capacity to transfer those abilities into this once-in-a-lifetime event?  Is this not what others train long years in order to do? 

Then, at about three in the wee hours of the morning the words began to line up in recognizable order to be uttered from the lectern this afternoon.  Rose about six and logged on to my computer and brought up the word processor in order to pull together at least the first few words of thanks to President Beal, my friend, Sanjit, who would be introducing me; the Board, faculty, staff, family and friends, and finally, to the graduates.  I'm counting on those important words to provide a proper foundation -- a chance to settle in and become accustomed to the setting -- and I'm gambling on this being enough to steady my emotions enough for those words of long nights of tossing and intense dreaming to come through.

It's still "Thumb prints, Gate Posts, and Bookends."  The connecting truths are there waiting in the wings of my mind.  If not, I will allow my words of gratitude to suffice.  But they will come.

I'm certain of it.

Almost ... .

Peace be with me ... please!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

As one might guess, as the day of Commencement approaches -- the tension grows ... .

How on earth can one ever measure up to such expectations?  But then maybe it is only I, myself, who is setting those expectations, right?  Maybe I've already reached whatever heights others were setting for me, which would suggest their rationale for choosing me for this great honor in the first place.  But then the very fact that they're sending a limo to drive me from home and back announces their expectations in a fairly serious way, does it not? 

The big decisions have now been made; the "what to wear" and "what to say" are now set in stone.  It will be something already on hand and previously worn and guaranteed "comfortable" so that I don't have to think about appearances.  That will leave only the commencement address to concern myself with.  The title remains unchanged, "Thumb prints, gate posts, and bookends" it shall be.  Let's hope that I can weave them successfully into whatever final form they take.  At this point I'm happy to allow the content to continue to deepen and mellow.  I'm sure that I've given this talk over and over again in many settings -- in my dreams.  I'm experiencing a very active dream life from the disheveled state of the bedding in the mornings; though I'm noticing that I wake more at peace in the past few days -- a serenity that may indicate that the work is nearly done.

As foolish as it may sound, I'm reluctant to try to capture it into a paper for fear that I'll be tempted to simply read it instead of delivering the words as they present themselves at that moment at the lectern.  I know that I'm best when I can see the faces and look into the eyes of an audience; and I also know that about five minutes into my presentation, all of the paralyzing fear vanishes, and that I'll be safely home until just before the ending, with just a millisecond of panic in the silence just before the audience responds.

My colleague, Lucien, emailed that -- as she was at the StairMaster at her gym yesterday -- reading a magazine to while away the time (it was Real Simple Living) -- she happened upon a quote from me.  I vaguely recalled a writer calling from New York a few months ago (having been referred by Bruce Frankel, author of How Should I Spend the Rest of My Life).  She wanted a quote on aging to add to others from other older women whom she'd also interviewed for the article.  (It was jarring to note that those other older women were in their fifties and sixties -- the age of my children!)  By now it all seems a part of the job and a natural request that I can accomplish without losing a beat before returning to whatever I was in the middle of before my phone rang... .

Then, a few days ago a request came that seemed more important, and in keeping with my new found status as a resource in areas far beyond my ranger-ing.  This one caught my attention.   I've been invited to interview Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer prizewinning author of the brilliant "The Warmth of Others Suns"and then write an article for publication.  In a kind of rubber-hitting-the-road moment, I realized that it is quite possible that I'm being invited to participate just a mite above my current level of competence, and that I need to leave that kind of journalism to the journalists.  I lucked out with that article published in the California Historian, and this may be one of those times when I will over-reach and in so doing, risk this heady moment when I'm soaring far above my own expectations when I only need to bask in the rapture of having done so!

Since last weekend my schedule of activities included;
  • driving (with Dorian) in uniform representing our park in the city's Cinco de Mayo parade; 
  • that afternoon guided a 3 hour bus tour of 50 Tradeswomen, Inc., (members attending a national conference in Oakland)  through the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front sites scattered throughout the city;
  • ended that same day with a 101 mile drive to Aromas, a hamlet on the road to Watsonville in Monterey County, in time to attend a 7:30 pm sold-out "Songs and Stories" concert performed by my eldest son, Bob.  Dori and I stayed with Bob at his ranch home in San Juan Bautista, a  beautiful valley surrounded by hills in the greenest of springtime glory;  since then we
  • participated in the Rosie the Riveter event at the Crucible in Oakland;  and yesterday
  • attended the grand opening of the brand new state-of-the-art soccer field in the Nystrom District.
Life is good on this Mother's Day on this planet.

Photo:  Lottie Allen Charbonnet, my mother at 95.  She was partying at a luau in Hawaii when this photo was taken.  She lived to see her 101st birthday, and as you can see by this picture,  savored life despite the hardships her generation endured.