Saturday, February 03, 2018

Finally better understand the debacle of the Fox News experience ... .

 It would be impossible for anyone to know that -- due to restraints related to my status as a federal employee -- I've been granted a 4-week leave from my ranger position in order to enable my ability to work with the publisher in the launch of my memoir, Sign my name to freedom.  The book is being shipped this week to bookstores nationally.  During this time I am totally out of uniform and into civvies as my private person, Betty Reid Soskin, self.   It's a question of a serious conflict of interest as a federal employee subject to restraints that are important within the system, with necessary negotiations connected with each and every personal appearance and/or interview I'm involved in.  I cannot be seen as profiting in my private life from my federal position, the last thing I'd ever intended.

But then my entire later life has happened in a series of disconnected circumstances and experiences; that "constant state of surprise" that I seem to have been born into.

Most of the media has been cooperating, and the local press has been willing to go along with the federal protocols by carefully wording their stories to avoid the conflict.  It's a tight line to navigate since I'm now so firmly identified as a national park ranger, though over the 85 years prior to this I've known a complicated set of identities, been many women, sequentially.

There are now many conversations with publicity people, agents, producers, who have little reason to even be interested in private Betty Reid Soskin since she certainly didn't rise to this level of public attention until becoming a ranger.  Why should they?  Besides, there's all that buzz out there in the media -- now worldwide -- related to that public persona to take advantage of.

It's a tight line to try to hold.  After today it feels almost impossible ... .

Since I couldn't see Arthel Neville (she was represented by the tiny red light against a black screen), and we'd not spoken prior to this interview, I had no idea whether she or her producer had been briefed on the prohibitions prescribed by my position as a federal employee.  Also, this was LIVE television, so there was no possibility of managing the situation without scrubbing the whole thing and embarrassing everyone in the process!

My breath became immediately restricted, my mouth ran dry, the interview was out of control within seconds of the opening.  There was -- within minutes -- the book cover on the screen, further complicating the situation.

An hour after returning home an email arrived from Fox with the entire short interview as an attachment. I had no idea that the segment had opened with stills of me in various aspects of my work -- all in uniform and on duty.  The first question the host asked placed the interview smack into the middle of forbidden territory! The visuals on screen were Betty the Ranger in full uniform, as prohibited by the agency, followed by mention of my soon-to-be-launched book!  Embarrassing in the worst way.

There had been hours of preparation prior to my going on leave, small meetings held to be sure that I,  Betty Reid Soskin, private citizen, fully understood where those lines were.  All this for the purpose of making this 4-week period free of NPS connections -- free to allow for book-signings, media events, etc.  Small wonder that the words dried up in my throat in those 5 awful minutes!  In watching the piece a few moments ago, I found myself wondering what in the world had we expected?  Maybe we were attempting the impossible.  We were naive and untested in the world of entertainment.

Would it not be crazy were I to have to retire from the important work that I'm doing before I'm ready to do so simply because we couldn't control this aspect of the book release?

My ranger replacement has not turned up yet, and -- if that replacement is intended to be the documentaries now in production, they won't be released for months, maybe not 'til 2019 in the case of the 90 minute film.  The shorter film will probably be in distribution in summer of this year.

I'm off to Los Angeles for the Makers Conference on Monday morning.  Will the problem deepen if an answer is not found?

Has the time arrived for me to have to choose between careers; ranger or author and not both?

... but is it not a miracle that I'd even need to make such a choice in my tenth decade?

It was a Fox News experience ...

Found myself in an alternate universe today, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Picked up at  at my condo at 12:30 by a uniformed chauffeur in a limo and driven to a studio in San Francisco for an interview segment on the Fox News channel hosted by Arthel Neville.  Strange.  Down the rabbit hole it was, and a few hours later  I'm home again (it's now four o'clock).  It all feels like a dream; as if it didn't happen at all.   A pure fantasy ... .

Driver stopped, went around the car to open the door for me (I'd forgotten about that ritual) and escorted me to the entrance to a studio on Battery Street near the tourist-crowded SF waterfront.  The building appeared to be closed, though a woman could be seen sitting in the small lobby.  She rose to tell me that the technician "working the show" was on his way, that he had the key to the elevator, and that we had to simply await his arrival before we could get to the third floor studio.  She turned out to be the make-up artist, and I was her client.

We waited for about ten minutes before he arrived with the key, and the 3 of us proceeded to where whatever this was would occur.

I'd not been prepared in any way for what was to happen, and had no idea what to expect.

I sat in a tall chair as the make-up person prepared her materials from a large bag she'd brought with her; she arranged an array of various-sized brushes, tubes, lipsticks, little containers of cosmetics of one kind or another, and she quietly went to work rising bravely to the challenge of  trying to renew a 96 year-old face in the day of the Millenials.  No conversation.  No instructions.  No nothing.  She completed her work and then ushered me into the Green Room where I would wait for instructions that I'd learned by now were arriving via radio/cellphone directly into the ear of the techie, apparently, and all emanating from the studio in New York.

This was a mere satellite, nothing more.  The real Fox world was on the other Coast.

After a short period Techie came for me, seated me on a chair under bright lights, clipped a microphone to my collar, told me to look at the red light on the equipment in front of me -- then placed a receiver in my right ear through which the New York news team was telecasting Fox news!

I'd entered an alternate Universe.  Truly.  The panel was discussing the recently-released House Intelligence Committee's  Devin Nuns memo.  The conversation in no way resembled that of CNN's panels last night, nor the more balanced coverage of C-SPAN that I'd listened to for hours before sleep.  I rarely watch Fox News, so wasn't prepared for the wide variance of opinion, though I'd heard of it for years.

After about 15 minutes the NY producer came into my receiver to say that I would be on right after the next commercial.  I was in no way prepared.  Hadn't learned until moments before that the little red light wouldn't turn into an image of a real person with whom I could chat about whatever she was primed for.  I'd had experience with Skype sessions over great distances, and expected to be able to see the interviewer on the screen as we chatted.  With without the image, there was no relationship established, even virtual.  No one to speak with directly.  I was totally lost!  No eyes to look into, a prerequisite for any presentation I ever make in my work.  Couldn't make the experience come alive in any way.  Couldn't get past a feeling of vague discomfort ... . Suddenly -- as suddenly as it had begun -- it was "thank you" time, and I was still alone in that room with no one to tell me that it was over, and that I could disconnect from the mic ... mouth dry ... panic ... but it was over, at least.

The interview had lasted all of 5 minutes.

For this I'd been picked up by a limo for the 45-minute drive in weekend traffic and past the countless homeless who inhabit the underpasses that border the freeways between Richmond and SF -- where that (patient and expensive) driver had waited for me through it all.  Then the long drive home feeling stupid and that it had been a total waste of everyone's time, and that the platitudes exchanged (called an "interview") were simply a part of some ruse so that everybody could feel as if they'd contributed something of value to life on the planet.

Despite all, I came away satisfied that I'd received the most perfect set of eyebrows in the world!  Maybe that's about the best one can expect in these chaotic times.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

It has been a week of interviews by phone, and public events on a scale never imagined ... .

Just finished a conversation with a producer from the Hallmark Family Show.  I'm involved in a one-hour on-camera interview on Monday, February 5th, at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.   It will be telecast the following day. This was the pre-airing interview that sets the guidelines for the experience.   The interview was initiated by my publisher, Hay House NY, as a part of the launching of Sign my name for freedom.  That's a good thing, right?

She was easy to talk with, and asked good questions.  But I felt gently guided away from anything "too controversial."  "Ours is a program designed for women who are family-oriented," and we try to do only those things that fall into that category (gardening, career matters, parenting, etc.,).

I found myself becoming quietly resistant. That's the Disney view of the world, right?  Forming that more perfect Union requires a far more robust attitude, and I found myself finally blurting out, "...but don't you think that runs against what we ought to be doing as feminists?"  There was a silence, then this warm and friendly young stranger answered after a long and awkward pause with a simple, "yes."

We then continued our extended conversation about my former slave great-grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen's life as it related to mine -- and how in the world does one do that while at the same time trying to detoxify the words so that no one is offended?  Slavery is brutal, and since we've still not processed that history as a nation, from a time when the women of my world (women of color) fell into 3 categories (house slaves, fields slaves, and "breeders").   And for a period of 300 years!  From a time when white men were using rape as a tool with which to increase their "stock" after the English had outlawed slavery and no longer were the ships bringing human beings for purchase into our ports.  From a time in our history when white men were quite literally selling their own children on the block.  Tell me how one does that in today's world without explosive rage begging to be released?  And while moving toward the change needed in order for the idealism in our system to outweigh the brutality and cruel injustices that still prevents our rise from relative powerlessness to full equality?

How could this kind young woman know what her questions were releasing into our innocent chat?  Those wounds resurface each time I walk past the portrait of my great grandmother that hangs in my hallway, even today, at a time when her photo is tucked into my wallet along with the credit cards, appointment slips, spare change.  She's with me almost every moment of my day ... .

Yet I understand the constraints the woman on the other end of the line is under.  That each of us are under even in today's world when the power to reach into the void and wrest that history from its moorings -- in order to find the reconciliation and atonement that we must someday confront if America is to ever move beyond its cruel past.
My great aunts, Leontine's daughters - the 1st generation out of slavery

How do we grow past the inclination to try to recapture and reclaim the real history through Disney-tization -- myths that belie the truths that we must face bravely into in order to rise above?

The interviews scheduled for tomorrow in San Francisco with Creole host Arthel Neville of Fox News, and Monday's appearance on the Hallmark Channel can't possibly put a dent in the vast ocean of misconceptions we've held for centuries now.  Far more is needed in order for the social change I've given most of my life in search of -- and that I'll continue to strive toward til' life comes to an end.  I'll simply have to hope that a few segments of my inexplicably long life has contributed to one more piece of the sometimes seemingly futile attempts at forming our "more perfect Union."

Perhaps my book will add a few steps in that direction, but it's a modest memoir not intended to do much more than to tell what it has meant to have lived a life as me.

I will temporarily bury the anguish, and continue to address "the World" in ways not too disturbing, in order to continue to fulfill the vision and dreams of our young nation and, over time, I just may find myself among an enlightened citizenry finally ready to engage in meaningful exchanges that are worthy of the many who've spent their relatively ordinary lives, as I did, trying desperately hard to get it right.