Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One day I'll learn how to better handle all the public attention ... but it's still a work in progress ... .

In the days leading up to Norman Lloyd's (now retired) visit yesterday, I was so careful to not breathe a word except to those who needed to know.  This was surely a sign of my insecurity, and tendency to under-anticipate events.  When something really big is in the offing I tend to go into "dimmer" mode which most resembles an emotionally-unresponsive artificially-induced light coma!

On those days scheduled for my two o'clock presentations in the theater a pattern has not yet formed. We never know who will come.  On some days there are few visitors, while on others its standing-room, only.  I had no idea what to expect yesterday, but I'd been told that "the news of his visit had gone viral," and that there would be many in the seats for my short talk.  Not so.   I'd discouraged those who indicated that they might show up,  "just for support."  What I didn't need was a room filled with my friends for whom the stories are old.  What I did need would have been enough faces, eyes, for whom the stories are new so that there is a freshening of the too familiar material -- the kind of resurrection of ideas that I need in order to keep my own interest in the stories alive.  The day they become mechanical, robotic, is the day I retire, I think.

As the hour arrived there was nary a soul in the Visitors Center.  Not even Norman Lloyd had arrived at the agreed-upon hour.  Of course.  It was just as I'd figured.  No surprises here.  That's life, right?

During my presentations I always have the lights turned up when the film ends so that I can see the faces -- the eyes -- of those in the audience.  Since I'm working with material that rises from memory, and that is pretty repetitive -- I'm totally dependent upon the feedback from the people sitting on those attractive red-painted benches.  I not only need that, but could not do the talk without it.

I remember a time last year when I was invited to participate on a radio panel with 3 in the studio in San Francisco, and I, the fourth -- coming in by phone from our offices in Richmond.  I was literally sitting alone in a sound-proof room speaking into a telephone while listening to the conversation across the Bay.  It was impossible!  I never did join the conversation; only contributing dead air!  The only way to participate would have been to interrupt, and I couldn't think of anything I could say that would be important enough to warrant that.

But,  Lloyd did arrive, and with two friends in tow.  That trio was joined by a visiting park ranger and an intern he had in tow in a training exercise that had brought them to our park from Golden Gate National Recreation Area across the Bay.  I believe that there was also a woman who crept in at the beginning of my commentary, after the film ended.  I felt only half-alive in my delivery, but at some point I could see reactions on the faces -- especially that of Mr. Lloyd -- and it was finally comfortable.  As I got more deeply into the story his face became animated, alive, interested.

Lloyd and Bradley in Vietnam
We went to the classroom when the theater assignment was completed, and we were able to become acquainted.  He was obviously interested in exploring his idea of creating some interest in our story for CBS, but what was important for me was what I learned about him.

He was a close friend of my favorite on-air journalist, the late great Ed Bradley!  The two had traveled to Vietnam at one point where Lloyd was Bradley's cameraman on an assignment for a documentary that involved returning to those battlefields with 5 Vietnam veterans in a search for friends lost in those killing fields during the war.  He gave me two DVDs of his work in Southeast Asia which I'll watch when time allows.

This is just the beginning of explorations, and where it will go is hard to guess.  There was mention of at least one other producer who is currently with CBS, and who could be brought in to see if there's enough of a story for a national audience, I suppose.  But, wherever it goes, I've met some new and very interesting friends who may provide new edges to grow from.

Stay tuned ... .

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The great educator, Mary McLeod Bethune
Musings on the State of the Union ... .

I cannot recall ever being as depressed about the state of the country and of our government-- even during the Sixties, when at least there was a feeling of change in the air,  marching in the streets. and the visible push-back from the American people through every cultural form then in existence.  

I really have no idea where we go from here, but the feeling that Congress is acting on at least two levels, both of which are encoded so are impossible to deal with -- and that increases the sense of hopelessness. It's as if the real problem is simply that this young president is not to be allowed the most obvious of successes, even if it costs the lives of our people -- and the honor of the nation. How can this be? Yet, we dare not call it what it is; the unexploded ordnance from the Civil War.

It is as if there are those in the Congress who've decided that -- "just because he has cleverly found a way to actually be elected into the highest office in our land -- and therefore into the position of world leader, this president must not be allowed to actually govern.  This may be our last chance to stop them."  When the opposition speaks about taking back the country, this is clearly what is meant.  No other explanation makes any sense.

Been reading Rising Tides:  The story of the 1927 Great Flood of New Orleans, and getting a close up look at a period in our history when at least 50 black people were being lynched annually throughout the southern states  prior to the great migration of WWII.  The accounts of those killings are horrifying!  Such hatred dies slowly, and the remnants are evident in the encoded language of our day.

That, added to the fact that every Thursday afternoon I'm in the theater with (internee) Flora Ninomiya as she presents the short Japanese American Citizens League-produced film, Blossoms & Thorns, the story of the Richmond rose grower families who were imprisoned in relocation camps during the war.  My awareness of those human rights struggles are being refreshed constantly as I watch the story unfold to a new generation of viewers from the darkness of our little theater. 

Included in the telling of that history is the fact that our government awarded $20,000 to each internee as reparations for the shameful disruption of their lives caused by an irrational national fear and panic later judged in error.  Though moneys could not possibly compensate for their losses,  it went a long way toward healing their wounds that the award was accompanied by a presidential apology.

Find myself wondering what happened to our "forty acres and a mule," and if we had processed the Civil War and the 300 years of enslavement of black people by awarding every African American an education through college without cost -- as reparations -- if America would have grown past this seemingly insurmountable barrier of white privilege and ignorance by now?  But this presupposes that the problem lies with us, and is not rising from the underlying problems associated with the continuing curse of White Supremacy that continues  to dominate our political life, making constructive change almost unattainable. 

... but maybe that's a discussion for another time when we've stopped the festering ... . 

Is my persona beginning to get in the way of my work ... ?

That's a real question these days.

Over the past few weeks I've had my work under scrutiny by ABC's local television Channel 7 for a half-hour special entitled, "Profiles in Excellence."  It will feature 3 Bay Area women of which I am one.  (Air time Saturday afternoon, April 27th at 4:30.)

I'm becoming fairly comfortable with cameras and interviewers since it all seems a legitimate role for one of the surviving relics of the WWII Home Front era still alive and active.  My age in this tenth decade is a part of the human story, and the stories upon which this national park are based are -- for the most part -- recent history with great interest among the visitors who are arriving in greater numbers as the weeks go by.

What I'm not comfortable with is viewing the finished product.  Seeing my wrinkles and obvious signs of advanced and unforgiving aging in HD-TV is pret-ty jarring, I'll tell you!  Since I look out of me and less and less at me (don't even need a mirror to apply makeup anymore), I'm really not too aware of how entropy has taken hold, mercilessly.  Gravity?  Not so much.   In the immortal words of the late great Ethel Mertz, "now that I don't see so good I don't look so bad!"  That is until there comes that icy splash of reality in the form of HD-TV to break the illusion of on-going youthfulness that one's vanity still permits.

On separate occasions a producer and cameraman shadowed me through a tour of the exhibits, videotaped my commentary in our little theater; and, yesterday returned to tape the 2 and-a-half-hour guided monthly bus tour of the scattered sites that make up the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. Out of that footage, combined with their oral interview done some weeks ago, they will edit about 7 minutes of on-air footage.

... and that leaves me wondering if the focus of this park, the stories of those extraordinary ordinary workers who helped to change the fate of the world by producing those 747 ships in 3 years and 8 months -- igniting the greatest social revolution over the ensuing 20 years -- if all of that will get lost as we pay close attention to the storyteller instead?

... I'm not sure what the answer is. That is, after all, what we do.  But does that mean that those stories will die when I do?  Have I laid enough foundation for them to survive me?

... and Mr. Lloyd will be coming on Tuesday to explore the possibility of a segment on Sixty Minutes ... .