Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gearing up for another season of rangering ... .

And, for one who is no longer buying green bananas ... it's more than a notion to be even considering requests for October, yet that's the new reality.  We just booked September 28th to participate in a campus-wide Teach-in on Diversity at the University of San Francisco, and another for mid-October.

Wondering if I'll still remember how to tie my own shoes by then?

All systems continue to be "Go!", but I'm losing my sense of future.  Is this what is meant by being on borrowed time?

Yet the sense that I'm continuing to do good work; that these years of summation are delivering meaning -- not only to me -- but to those with whom I'm lucky enough to share these deceptively simple insights -- as they continue to unfold.

It brings to mind that wonderful little box-in-the-middle-of-the-page in a long ago edition of Reader's Digest:  "There are two simplicities, the one that comes before and one that comes after, complexity."  The quote was credited to the Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast.  It was profoundly important to me on first reading, and now it accurately describes the stage in life that I've reached in this final decade.  I'm in that place of the simplicity that comes after complexity.  This is the place where life has taken me after the long process of testing, probing, accepting, rejecting, questioning, etc., and now it feels as though I've known all along; Truth.  And as the peeling back of the onion continues, I'm more and more certain that the greater truths were all known by the time I was about six.  Truth was embedded in the senses, intuition, empathy, compassion, curiosity, etc., and would be revealed in bits and pieces over the accumulating years as nuance and sophistication folded in.  It seems to be simply a matter of remembering what was intuitively known, and trusting that despite all.

In re-discovering this photo of these two world renown "6 year-olds" with whom I shared a few meaningful moments long ago, I may have stumbled upon "essential Truth" without realizing it.  Wish I'd had the good sense to pay attention when the opportunity presented itself quite by happenstance.  I should have guessed that it would be in the process of peeling back that I might discover the meaning of it all.  Never in the "piling on and discarding" -- time after time -- on into the absurdities that I'm finally learning to ignore.  

I've met both these great men, the Dalai Lama
and Monk David Steinl-Rast -- both were life-changing events.
Both these beings were humility personified.

Everything I needed to live a life was "in there" from childhood.  It was the triggers and tools that would be acquired through youth and young adulthood that would provide the education that would continue throughout life.  And schooling must not be confused with education.  Schooling provides those tools that are used throughout life -- and it is in the laboratory of life where education occurs.  It was a very wise middle school teacher, John Hughes, who planted that gem when I was barely in my teens.  Hughes was that enabling elder (probably in his thirties) who served as a temporary guide in those critical years.

There is a familiar ring to each new insight these days, as though from a deep well of experience garnered over decades of confusion and occasional revelation.

... the deeper the learning, the greater the reservoir of that which is still to be known!

One day I'll try speak of the experiences of meeting them both, but not just yet.  I've never felt comfortable in sharing the details of those two separate but equally moving encounters.  In a peculiar way, speaking of them always felt reductive somehow, and didn't match the level of intimacy and humility that characterized both experiences.  There was a kind of magic in their presence, a magic that was unforgettable, even as I remind myself of how rare this was/is, and how amazing to have touched lives with them both.

And, no, I was never a student of either, regrettably, but just to be in their powerful presences allowed one to gain a sense of connectedness that left me awestruck for months and years afterwards.  In both instances I was one of many, in a public situation, yet their abilities to cut through --- soul-to-soul -- is indisputable.

Bill Soskin, my husband of ten years before his death, was a devout student of Tibetan Buddhism, and his Holiness, the Dalai Lama, visited Padma Ling, the Temple in Berkeley, where the refugee Lama Tarthang Tulku, Rinpoche, conducted classes for Western scholars interested in exploring the interface between Eastern religions and Western social sciences.  Many hours were spent being exposed to a system of belief that I was content to be a spectator to.  We had the honor of being in the Dalai Lama's presence on more than one occasion.

Wish I hadn't outlived my peer group!  Now that I'm needing to compare notes with other elders, I'm looking into the faces of the young ... .

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Great flood of 1927 - New Orleans
Wish I could remember to whom it was that I spoke of my fears of traveling to New Orleans ... .

This is the weekend that my son, David, had gone to elaborate lengths to try to organize a Charbonnet family reunion in our ancestral home of New Orleans.  It was to coincide with the return of his two daughters, Alyana and Tamaya, to the US after several weeks of travel as students through Europe.  They were to meet us in New Orleans on June 21st (tomorrow).  We would spend several days of celebration with the relatives gathered there.  We would visit St. Louis cemetery where so many of our ancestors have been interred over centuries.  There would be a gathering at Corpus Cristi church in the Tremé, the Catholic church that was built by Louis Charbonnet, my paternal grandfather, and in whose name there was so much family pride and honor invested.

Though we learned of it after the reunion plans were made but unknown at that time, our cousin Municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet would be announcing her candidacy for the Mayor's race in New Orleans!  This was the summer to celebrate, and  Desiree's time had come -- she would be the first woman of this historic city to seek this high office, and a Charbonnet to boot!

Grave of Voodoo Priestess Marie LaVeau

 St. Louis Cemetery
Weeks ago, as the date approached, for nameless reasons, I began to experience a sense of unease.  A kind of disquiet.  I was torn because -- given the fact that my 96th birthday comes in September -- this might well be the last chance to visit the city of our origin.  I was fairly certain of that, and at a point where David's plans seemed to be falling apart, had written a general message to the family supporting those plans, and gently pleading that alternative plans to postpone to next summer be tossed.

I may not be here.

It was decided that this weekend's arrangements would go forth, and then the fears set in.

I kept postponing making reservations, and -- unable to give a reason -- started to try to justify my reluctance because of frailty, of "aging," though I was continuing my 5-day work week with no difficulty.

I finally admitted to someone (and I can't for the life of me recall who that was), that it was fear, that I'd had a dream that brought that 1927 Great Flood back to reality, and given that June was the beginning of hurricane season in the Gulf -- I became consumed by a disabling fear that lasted for several weeks and could not be shaken.

It made no sense since this was the same weekend during which we'd -- only a year ago -- spent a week in New Orleans for the honoring at the WWII Museum.  There had been no such feelings of dread at that time, and that, too, was the beginning of hurricane season.  Why this sense of prescience now?  But it was undeniable, and persistent.

A few weeks ago, I finally found the courage to call David to tell him that I was not going to be able to make the trip after all.  I could hear the crushing disappointment in his voice, and -- in a day or so -- learned that he, too, cancelled, making the trip impossible for my granddaughters to end their travel summer at the reunion in New Orleans.  I felt profoundly guilty of bringing this important reunion to a halt by my inability to shake the unreasoning fear ... .

Heard just a few moments ago by radio that there is a flood warning reaching from Houston, Texas, to the Florida Panhandle over the next few days.  It is expected to bring 12 inches of rain through New Orleans over the next 24 hours, with serious flood warnings.
A senseless foreboding?

I'm not so sure ...

Monday, June 12, 2017

I sang at my own wedding, no guests, just
another secret ... .

Late Sunday afternoon brought another aspect of filmmaking ... 

... this time adding to the voice-over thread to be filled in behind related images of the other documentary (90-minute) of Bryan Gibel, filmmaker/producer.

For a second day-in-a-row (unusual) I found myself seated in a quickly created "bunker" formed of quilted blankets hooked together to make a kind of sound booth, going over old history, but not of the kind that deals with the WWII Home Front, but of "Betty" history, which turns out to be far deeper and with an emotional content that is only hinted at in the national stories, or of a different kind, at least.

In the aftermath, I've found myself today going back over that interview, and finding places where there are glaring contradictions and inconsistencies:

Where much of the interview was taken up with how thoroughly I'd discounted the artist part of myself in running away from the brief encounter with the entertainment industry, nonetheless I've certainly written about that side of myself in this journal, and rather unsparingly.  In fact, she holds a prominent place in my personal narrative, even while I'm denying her existence.

I wonder if the fact that -- over time she has evolved as a third person -- somehow severed from the whole, a "she." Though there is clearly some recent movement occurring, at integrating into a more complex Betty at a time when I'm being forced under the scrutiny of filmmaking to incorporate all of me into coherence.  But is that consistent with real life? Am I not, alternately, all of those splintered pieces, and does the weaving together of all of those divergent bits and pieces not present the next  challenge in this final decade?

Maybe that younger creative artist Betty, was never "disappeared" at all, but has been dormant; waiting patiently in the wings to reappear at some auspicious time when the barriers were lowered, and this final integration was even possible.  At a time when there was no marriage to save nor children to raise, no aging parents to caretake, no business to reclaim as legacy for our kids, no handicapped daughter to prepare for my exit, just maybe ... .

It's beginning to feel that way as I sit behind that west gallery exhibit at the bayside windows of the Visitor Center, waiting to present my two o'clock program.  That perch allows me to become disconnected from those gathering at the front desk for their tickets long enough to find the quiet offered by idly watching the incoming bands of fog silently drift in over the water, the changing light, the wind playing capriciously in the branches of that giant eucalyptus, the rising and lowering of the tides, that ever-changing vista of Brooks Island, the East Bay hills, the San Francisco skyline, the moody panoramic Bay view, shore birds in constant and ever-graceful flight, wind-surfers skating over the waters precariously, the occasional leisurely passage of a sailboat... .

Often of late, I draw my cell phone out of the pocket of my uniform, press the button for music, and holding it to my ear so that voice won't bleed out into the west gallery -- listen secretly to my younger self of 40 years ago -- singing the life I was living at the time my songs were birthed ... and that life returns with all of the affect it carried at the time they were written.  There are times when it takes more than a moment to bring myself back into the present.

10 years ago.  Age 85
But then it's time to creep down the back stairs to enter our little theater where I, alone, sit on that kitchen stool and watch as those inquiring strangers begin to enter my space in twos and threes until the room is full, and the stories begin and a quite different past becomes alive again, once more, and we're sharing that other journey back through time ... .

And as complicated as it sounds, it is I who serves as the connecting link to what is on the surface a set of conflicting realities, but equally authentic and equally true.

What happens to, "I rarely spend time regretting the past or anticipating the future; there is only NOW"?  That's a fine example of conflicting truths, a concept that arrived unannounced shortly after my 90th birthday; an axiom that I stubbornly believe to be not only possible but an important fact of life.

Yet, it is all of a piece, is it not?

It is in these moments that I am beginning to feel all the parts of myself beginning to come together, and the distances between lessening ... and the hope that, in time, over continuing days, weeks, and months, under the scrutiny necessary for meaningful filmmaking ... I will become whole, perhaps for the very first time, like metal shavings attracted irresistibly to a magnate.

Meanwhile, I'm fairly certain that I'm in for some highly emotional moments as that integration process takes over.

The prize is that somehow I've developed the ability to place myself somewhere out of range and watch that process as it unfolds.  I suspect that it is this ability that allows me to learn from it all, and to use it in my work.  I'm able to become a spectator to myself. To see myself in context.

There is the sense that -- in these final years, I'm being all of the women that I've become over time, and using everything that I've ever experienced in reaching this remarkable time of life.  It's all incorporated into that aging women sitting on that kitchen stool before those audiences of 48 friendly strangers every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday on into infinity.

I suspect that it may be time to pull those curtains back and let the sun in; and let the music play ... as I live all of the complex layers of my existence, simultaneously ... .

... and wherever did I get the idea that life was linear?

Friday, June 09, 2017

This was a day of filming, this time at home as the very private person that I am when not "rangering" ... 

One of the fine filmmakers appeared with his team to conduct an on-camera interview to feed into the 30-minute work that is now nearing completion after  more than three years of shooting.  I'm learning a lot about filmmaking in the process, and since the producer, Carl Bidleman, tells me that they now have produced about 50 hours of work which -- after editing -- will become that 30-minute film for the National Park Service. The end may be in sight.

The release date has not yet been set, but I suspect that it might be late fall or early winter.

I imagine that the editing may be the most satisfying  part of the process, but I'm projecting here, and have no real sense of what really goes into filmmaking.  It was fascinating to see them -- after the actual interview was over, and just before the complicated set-up of lights and cameras were being disassembled -- they called for a "hush" while the room's ambiance was recorded through the cameras.  When questioned, Carl explained that this was needed for the editing, for blending fragments of scenes together without blank silences.

After this extended period of being filmed, it doesn't take more than a few minutes to forget the process,  the cameras, and hear just the questions -- and to react without self-consciousness.  I'd never have guessed this would ever be possible, but it most assuredly happens with experience over time, once those behind the cameras have become simply trusted and good friends, eventually, of longstanding.

What the end result will be I cannot imagine.  But maybe this works for me since I rarely spend much time in yesterday or tomorrow  (except when called for in my work).  There has always simply been "Now!" I suspect that this attitude is a holdover from childhood, and just something that I've never outgrown.

I've lived my entire life in a constant state of surprise, rarely borrowing from the future or regretting the past,  which tends to keep the present always alive and guess-worthy. Anticipation could not have improved this ongoing new reality that sets me right in the middle of the Art of Others, something that has become increasingly exciting as I've grown older.  I feel like an ever-evolving collaborator in training.

The filmmaking has become organic, much as my work with the National Park Service has become over time.  There, I'm but one element in the visitor experience which includes orientation films, life-cast figures, documentation of the Home Front Story, all the works of other rangers,  historians, writers, artists, fabricators, lighting designers, etc., and me!

A Betty sandwich with Carl and Stefan
It is also true of the book which is being set for release in February, and that is being edited by Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor from a combination of my oral histories (archived at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley) and this blog.  It is in second draft stage at the moment, and is being published by Hay House out of New York, and will bring together their writers and editors with my collected words.  These often unrelated essays on cabbages and kings and (at times) pure rants, and sometimes, prayers, will become an amalgamation of all those talents and minds, and I will again be a part of something larger than myself.

A thought that has never occurred to me before this very moment:  What greater exit from this dimension than to simply disappear into the works of others?  That might be the perfect way to move gracefully into whatever immortality there is, just to blend seamlessly into the whole with little notice.  Maybe this insight has moved out from the subconscious to provide a rationale for whatever comes next  ... whenever...  .

Who on earth would ever have imagined that my little living room would become a movie set on occasion, and that I would become at 95 a "star" sitting at my dining room table comfortable in my socks and non-glamorous cotton trousers, and be as relaxed as a cat on a window sill basking in the noonday sun!

Yet that is precisely where we are in life on this day, June 9, 2017.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Betty Reid Soskin & Dylan Lew at An Evening with NatureBridge 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Thirty-five, and counting
Life is definitely not in sync with what's left of the old "Bod"... .

I'm finally beginning to sense myself as living in Leftover mode.  There has, until recent years, been just enough leftover pretty to feed my ego as needed.    I've lately become that 35 year-old woman trapped in an aging and shriveling body -- looking in the mirror each day and wondering what happened?

My self-image has become out of sync with what the camera captures, and it's disconcerting at best.  I don't mind having my photo taken -- countless times each week -- just don't want to look at them.  Maybe it's because my mother jumps in front of the camera lens every time, and she died in 1995!

Maybe this is the cost of continuing to live a life out of context.  The world around me grows younger with each day -- as I grow older. That just doesn't compute, does it?

Then I walked out of the front door and down the stairs (more rapidly than usual, just to show my neighbors might be peeking out from behind the curtains at that exceptional 'lil ole lady) to the mailbox and found therein a large manila envelope from Dr. Stephen Lockhart containing the recently published catalogue of REI, as promised, and I'm the centerfold in a story about the empowerment of women.

There was also a large white envelope holding a long letter from John Hartnett, a student of a museum class at City College of San Francisco who was in the audience of a presentation at San Francisco Maritime two weeks ago.  He was assigned to create a community engagement plan for an exhibition of a local museum with the goal of targeting a new audience, mostly the African Americans who are unrepresented in museum visitation figures.

He enclosed his proposal, asking me to provide some feedback ("... if time and your busy schedule permits").  His work is both imaginative and evocative.

In the same delivery was a long letter from a young Latina from Texas, Gabriele Contreras, who was responding to the NatureBridge Gala, a staffer, I believe, and it was a stunning testimonial that affirms my work in a way that places the concerns expressed about aging in the category where they justifiably belong, on the trash heap!
Wedding day at Fifty

That I'm being heard at 95 is priceless.  The contents of a long memory bolstered by continuing insightful analyses based in Truth cannot be bartered, bought, or sold.  It is I who establishes the value on that, and no one else.  How I'm being seen is fully dependent upon external sources over which I have absolutely no control.  It is foolhardy to even attempt to influence how one is seen.

I need to be satisfied with the fact that -- when it was important to have those peacock feathers -- they were there.  I wore them well.  I lived a good part of my life as a very pretty woman, though it may surprise you to learn that this was hardly the way I saw myself at the time.  It's only in looking back that the obvious becomes clear.  I wonder just why that is?  Little came from that source except for the two husbands that I've out-lived,  both men who would have settled for far less than the complex woman that I was/am.  Most of my worth was recognized long after the "pretty" began to fade.  Physical beauty was little more than a distraction.  How fortunate that I've lived long and deeply enough to know that my tenure on Earth has been meaningful and far more grounded in reality than physical attributes would ever suggest.

... and when every breath is being laboriously breathed back into life through work of substance; after the last drop of juice is in the process of being squeezed out of the physical frame received at birth and re-shaped year-by-year -- when laughter is still a first response to it all -- this is what remains:

a frame from a film in production by Carl Bidleman
I'm being interviewed by our filmmakers upon return from the National Tree-lighting ceremony in Washington, and recalling a moment in the evening when I overheard someone explaining over the public address system why things were a bit delayed,"... we just heard that Miss Piggy is caught in traffic."  I was so deep into fantasy at that point -- the entire experience had become surreal -- that I remember thinking with all seriousness, "Someone should have told her not to drive!"
Pretty is a lovely thing to be, but is highly transitory when viewed through the rear vision mirror.

But I do still miss the pretty ... .

Friday, May 26, 2017

Maybe it was the altercation in Montana ... maybe it's simply the obvious rise in boorishness ... .

... but -- despite the fact that I'm living in days of unanticipated personal success and triumphs -- there is the undeniable pall of depression creeping up to blunt the good feelings far too soon.  Is this payment for last week's Brigadoon moment?  If so, it was worth every pang of insecurity and shared national embarrassment experienced while watching the national and international news of the past several hours.

How must all this be effecting those too young to have the long range of experience to have seen these periods of chaos that, at least for my generation,  are understood as cyclical?  That they've been occurring since at least 1776, and that the nation is subject to these political and social periods of upheaval from time to time.  Do they understand that it is in these periods of chaos and confusion that our democracy is being re-defined, adjusted, the "buttons" and systems re-set as we go forward onto the next platform upon which we will continue the great experiment that is America?  And that it is in these tumultuous times that we must put our shoulders to the wheel and work hard to recreate the future? That this is what is required "... in order to form that more perfect Union".  That these are the days that provide opportunity to together shape change, change that is irresistible and constant?

Can they possibly know that each generation has to re-create democracy in its time or it will die?  That it matters not whether it is voter apathy or voter suppression that is the cause, but that those slave-owning imperfect white men who founded our country created the pliant and resilient foundation upon which this participatory form of governance is based -- but that it must be maintained and nurtured by a succession of generations of imperfect human beings as we stumble on into whatever comes next?  And that we have become that multiracial multicultural nation of people because it is precisely those founding documents and practices that created us in the first place?  We were produced by the idealism embedded in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights by our better Angels.

... and, just maybe it is this newly emerging generation who are those better Angels.

At least that's who they appear to be to me in my less fearful moments ... .

So maybe I'll just ignore the boors and uncivil and try to remember how the world looked through the confetti of Commencement.

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