Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm (more or less) firmly back under my hat, but just barely -- at times ...

Had no idea what it would mean to have to deal with the less disciplined part of myself (the artist), but maybe it was for just this reason that she remained buried for so long.  I'm daydreaming and fantasizing, and "what-iffing" for long periods of time, except for those times when my work -- which is so compelling -- intervenes.  That's when all of my "Bettys" come to full attention, and my mission takes precedence.

... as on a recent day when members of the ROHO (Regional Oral History Office) of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley brought a small delegation from the United Arab Emirates to visit the park and a bus tour with me as interpreter.  Aisha Bilkhair, Ph.D., Director of Research & Knowledge Services, headed the group.  When I learned that it is Dr. Bilkhair's responsibility to re-create and document the history of her young country through the capturing of oral histories of those still living, I felt the current of new excitement.  I learned that she and her assistants travel to Berkeley to work with the ROHO staff, and that this was one of those purposeful trips.

I recognized this as precisely the task before us in recapturing the history of the Home Front years 1941-1945 of WWII, a period only now being documented and recorded through the work we're engaged in, in collaboration with the Bancroft Library and its staff of researchers and historians.

I felt a surge of pride and a deep sense of the privilege we're being given by the National Park Service, and a new appreciation for the responsibility this demands to be accurate and honest and to imbue the work with authenticity -- a fading resource available to us mainly through the still-living veterans of the great home front mobilization of WWII.

... the fact that this Muslim woman from the Middle East has been given this important mission to accomplish at a time when the impression in the West is that women would not be chosen for such an important work was a revelation to me.  That a woman of color at such an advanced age in the West -- would be working for a federal agency in a position such as mine was undoubtedly as surprising to her.

We do live in a time of collapsing stereotypes, do we not?

Meanwhile, I'm working hard to climb back into my box, but each day I discover ribbons, sparkles, and confetti spilling out as I find myself humming under my breath ... re-imaging that road not taken ... but maybe this, too, shall pass ... .  (a gig at some upscale oasis in Dubai might not be too shabby, right?)

Note:  Aisha Bilkhair Khalifa, Ph.D., a Fulbright Post-Doctorate Fellow at Harvard University (2005–2006) holds degrees in Filmmaking, Electronic Engineering, and Ethnic Studies and a doctorate in Arab Gulf studies. Her main research interest is the African diaspora in the Gulf region. Specific areas include spirit possession, women, youth, and the transformation of identity. Recent publications include “Spirit possession and its practices in the United Arab Emirates” and “Secrecy and the circulation of knowledge among Gulf African Musical Groups”. 

Oh what I wouldn't have given for a leisurely evening probing the mind of this amazing scholar from faraway exotic lands!  My work allows me to touch lives with oh so many fascinating scholars from an increasing number of other cultures.  My options at this stage in life seem limitless.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dorrie's Art with Mardi Gras beads
Another necessary step taken in the "taking leave" process of aging ...

Yesterday Dorian and I drove out to a nearby town so that she could meet -- for the first time -- members of the Trust team who will be responsible for her life after my death.  It went beautifully!

I'd carefully avoided building too much anxiety before the fact by too much preparation.  She has been aware that a Trust has been created, but its purpose was never defined so that her expectations wouldn't involve her having to lose her mother in order for her team to take over responsibility for the decision-making.  The goal, for me, was to try (before I become infirm and therefore unavailable to her) to have the luxury of setting my successors in place in order to have a chance to witness her life as it will be lived when I'm no longer here.  Given any luck, some of the dependence will have been transferred to others before that happens, and therefore lend less disruption to her life.

I've never wanted to have my sons responsible for her since the added weight upon their lives might one day be experienced as a burden.  I want them to go on loving and caring about her into the foreseeable future, and that might be jeopardized were she perceived in that light.  They have their lives and families, and I've carefully protected their love for her by assuming all of the responsibility myself.  It was an investment in all of our futures.  We've arrived at this point with an unbroken bond that may be sustainable with professionals bearing the responsibility for decision-making on her behalf.  Her brother's will ultimately take my place as guardian ad litem when signators are needed, or in acting for her legally, but the team created as her Trust are staff members in the law firm of highly-reputed Attorney Stephen Dale whose practice is designed for the sole purpose of serving the physically and mentally handicapped.  They will assume the major guiding role in her future.

Dorian's team consists of an investment counselor, an attorney, and a day-to-day adviser.  She remains a client of the Regional Center of the East Bay, one of a chain of agencies created and supported by the State of California under the Lanterman Act.  The RCEB will continue to provide case management, fund her NIAD education, and auxiliary services as needed.   

Yesterday, Dorrie met with her team, and as her session ended she came out to the parking lot where I sat waiting in the car with some quiet fears -- to announce that her team understood the importance of Special Olympics -- a real concern for her.  She was glowing!  She explained who her "new friends" were, and came away with a fairly good idea of what a Trust is, and of its role in her future.  Allowing her to experience this session alone, made them her team and not her mother's.  That is precisely as it should be.  My first baby steps out of the foreground and into the background of her life has been successfully accomplished.

My feelings as we drove home through the lovely and newly greening Alhambra Valley were of contentment.  Another step has been taken to insure her safety and security -- even as Governor Jerry Brown was announcing on the car radio that substantial budget cuts were unavoidable and would kick in as mandated by conditions set forth last summer in order to gain enough votes for passage. These would be in education, elder services, and for the developmental disabled ... .

... and maybe now I'll have time for those tango lessons and riding my new bike .... .

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About that press conference aboard the USS Iowa on Wednesday ... .

There is something sad -- and maybe a little comic -- in an old battleship that has been resurrected from the Mothball Fleet to live again as a tourist attraction.  Those 18 inch guns that once blazed menacingly at whatever served as the defined enemy at any time have been silenced, I believe, for all time.

The men aboard on Wednesday were obviously reverent and awed in her presence.  I guess it was the gender gap that caused me to have to hide my amusement when standing 'neath those big guns -- reminding my irreverent soul of the phallic symbols they so ably represent, symbols of male dominance over the seas?  Such thoughts could not be repressed, try as I might.

Wonder how those who sailed her into battle in an earlier time would feel about today's drone jockeys -- contained safely in a capsule of some kind -- somewhere in Colorado while bombing faraway places -- over an ocean away -- with little regard for lives lost.

Where do we find the heroism in that?

Nonetheless, it was impossible to not feel the drama beneath our feet on those decks so soon to re-enter history, this time as a naval museum, a reminder of days past when heroism was differently-defined.

Photo:  Ellen Gailing

Sunday, December 11, 2011

... and just what other human being do you know who received a bike for her 90th birthday?

Yes, as a complete surprise and at the top-of-the-evening, I was invited into the room with, "we have something for you," and there it was sitting in all its orange and yellow splendor in a side room at Nexus -- my bicycle!

My friends and park colleagues (plus Rosie, my southern California granddaughter who couldn't attend) picked up a collection and made the purchase weeks ago.  It had apparently been hidden away in an attached storage building outside our administration building waiting to be sprung at the concert.

It was almost too much -- and all I wanted to do in that moment -- was to crumple up in a heap and weep for pure joy!

... an unforgettable evening that still resonates daily just before sleep each night and probably will for all of the nights yet unborn ... .