Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanks for Robin Williams

            Last night the Mark Twain Award program was aired on PBS. This year it was given to Jay Leno. It always bothered me that it was never awarded to Robin Williams who, in my mind, was one of the funniest and wittiest people of his generation. He was a humorist, an actor, a stand-up comedian, and a philanthropist. I didn’t watch the program on PBS, but this morning I came across this blog post that I wrote about a month after Robin’s death, so I decided to post it today, as  little way of saying thank you to his spirit.

            I haven’t written a blog post for a while. Honestly, I didn’t like the things happening in the world, and I found it painful to reflect on them. We have suffered collective loss, and at first I was too close to grief to write anything worth reading. But since Robin Williams’ death, I’ve marveled at the human ability to adjust and adapt.
There’s no doubt that adaptability is one of the great blessings of human evolution, but the next day when I woke up to a world without Robin Williams in it, I didn’t want to adapt. I wished I could stand out in the street and protest, as I did over the Farmworkers Strike, or the abuse of Tibetans by the Chinese. I wanted to have some kind of power to bring him back. But all that was left was adaptability. Sure, I could feel sad, and sad, and sad day after day. But eventually I had to accept, especially in this case, that he chose this absence.
            I went through this to a greater extent when my father died. Not by choice.
            We had stoically nursed him, encouraging him in the smallest gestures: ‘Great, you finished your Jell-o.’ ‘You’ve managed to drink more water today than yesterday, that’s really good.’ But the fact was, though we didn’t want him to be so ill, at least he was with us, and we could love him, and touch him with our love. Then, he wasn’t with us anymore. Grief is a tornado that rips you from your moorings like Dorothy’s house in Kansas, without Oz. It whips you around and shakes you til your teeth hurt. Then it drops you back into your life, and all you can do is ‘adapt’. Get used to it. The world is a different place. Then you have to go back to work. You have to get your car lubed. Pick up the dry cleaning. Christmas saunters in again like a cruel, arrogant creature, red and hurtful as thorny holly. But it doesn’t kill you, and when it’s over you say to yourself, Okay, I can do this. I can keep going.
            The thing with Robin is that he was in a way an avatar of our inner wild child. Most of us tamed our wild child to stay out of the Principal’s office, or to ease up on the spankings (past generation). But Robin managed to feed that genie inside him, the creative genius who he managed to control at times, and sometimes not. And we loved him because he pulled us into his imagination and his lightning fast improvisations. When we watched him or were near him, we lived in that magic land inside of him, the type of place we tamed ourselves away from. It is right that he came to us as Mork, because he really did come from a place few people have ever visited, the world of uncensored, raw creativity. And now there’s no one to take us there, not the way Robin did. Watching him was like a hold-onto-your-seat roller coaster ride of the mind.

            I can’t imagine the loss felt by his family and friends. I mean, if the man was loved by millions of people around the world, people who didn’t even know him personally, how deeply must his family and friends have loved him? We can’t measure these things. No reason for measurement. But love endures, and the whole world will love Robin Williams far into the future. New generations will love him the way we love Charlie Chaplin. These are people who transcend their own lifetime. They live on in the laughter that meant so much to them, more to them than tears.

Monday, August 4, 2014

My Moment with Maya Angelou

Murmur of the Mother Tongue, A. Díaz, 1993

            At the end of May the world lost a great person, a powerful woman, intellect, and humanitarian; the death of Maya Angelou was one of those events that left many of us speechless. Over the last two months, I have managed to write down an accounting of my personal moment with Maya Angelou, it was the briefest of meetings in the most appropriate place, a book store.

It must have been around 1980. I drove into Montclair village, an Oakland neighborhood, to shop at what was then known as Village Books. As I turned onto the narrow one-way block of Antioch Court, I saw a statuesque black woman on the sidewalk, gliding in the direction of Village Books.
            My eyes widened and my mouth went slack. “That’s Maya Angelou,” I said to the empty car interior.
“My God, that’s Maya Angelou.”
            “That must be Maya Angelou.”
            “I’m sure that’s her.”
            Following her with my intermittent gaze, I saw her enter the bookstore. I was lucky to find a parking spot on the always busy street, and as I pushed coins into the meter, the rhythm of my heart gathered momentum. Walking toward the bookstore, elements of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings came to mind.
“Oh my God,” I said silently, “Maya Angelou”. As I entered the store I wondered what I could say to her. Could I tell her how much the book meant to me? Should I single out a particular aspect of the book? Maybe I could ask her an erudite question. Then her voice floated forward from the back of the small shop as the saleswoman spoke with her. They exchanged sentences, I presumed, though exact words softened into a sweet audible cotton candy. Just the tone of her voice was delicious.
            Where is she exactly, I wondered, positioning myself in one of the outside aisles. Slowly I inched my way closer and closer, judging distance by volume. Then I realized I was creeping up on the woman as if I were about to snatch her purse. I stopped, straightened my posture, and regained my dignity, but my heart was pounding now, and the ability to form whole sentences seemed too ambitious an undertaking. I stood still a moment and just enjoyed my proximity to her. The sales person had gone and Maya was silent, obviously standing alone. I listened to her standing there. She was probably perusing the selections on the shelf. Finally, I took a few more steps pretending to be looking for a book as I turned the corner. Then, there she was, every tall inch of her. Every dignified, regal inch of her.
“Thank you for writing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said.
“It was very meaningful to me.”
“I am very glad,” she said.
I kept moving. In fact, I think I kept moving as I spoke, with no idea where I was going. I just needed to slide out of her line of sight as gracefully as I had entered it. When I found a spot alone, I took a deep breath and smiled. I knew I’d never meet her like that again, and I just wanted to savor the moment. I hadn’t reverted to being an adoring teenager, and this was not like being near a rock star. This was a new sensation. There was something nameless about Maya Angelou, something profound and timeless. Her presence was separate from her writing. With her, presence was its own talent. That is to say, presence was part of what she was. She wasn’t just a writer or a dancer, an actress, or a professor. She was being, and such a full manifestation of being that it made me understand that being can also be an accomplishment, something we work toward.

I think our planet survives the loss of stellar human beings because of the cumulative vibrational energy they leave behind. Maya Angelou was the kind of person who never should have died, but since we had to lose her, we must continue to connect with her presence through her poetry, her interviews, and the thoughts she left in so many forms. I will also cherish my memory.

Monday, May 12, 2014


It seems nearly impossible that it is time for East Bay Open Studios again, but that is the case. We just celebrated  the opening reception for the Open Studios exhibition, and this is also the 40th birthday of ProArts, the organizational engine that drives Open Studios in the East Bay. 

Once the pressure of detailed preparation is done, Open Studios becomes a nice opportunity to reconnect with regulars (people who come by each year to see my work and say hello) and to meet new people. It’s nice to get new work out into the open and get responses from people. I am happy to say, most people ask very pertinent questions. Only once did a lady actually put a swatch of fabric next to a painting to ask her husband, “How do you think this green would go with the sofa?”

If you can get a chance to visit the Pro Arts gallery at 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza, you will see work by over 400 artists. Each is given a 16” square. This makes for an eclectic and fun exhibit. Give yourself  time to take in every piece. You can also collect post cards of those you want to remember, and pick up a catalog with maps.

The painting posted above is a detail of a 36" x 36" piece entitled Blue Lagoon. I hope you will come by to see the whole painting. I will be with my usual gang: The Uptown Twenty, we call ourselves now. We create a beautiful shopping environment within an auto body shop. You must come see us, it is a beautiful place. We have painters, potters, jewelers, weavers, and mixed media artists, all exhibiting under a skylight bright ambiance. We have also live music off and on throughout the weekend, some food to munch on, and tables where you can sit and rest your feet.

Opening festivities will be Friday, June 6th from 6-9p.m. (Yes, I will dance a tango or two) Then, two weekends:   Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 7 & 8, 14 & 15 at
                                 401 26th St. Oakland (between Broadway and Telegraph)

Hope to see you there!

Your Voice in the World

Women Write Now! – May, 2014

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here, but I have not been twiddling my thumbs.
Since the last posting the first Women Write Now! class became a reality and we are moving toward a summer session that will begin in July.
            Watching the women in that circle become better writers is only a part of my reward. They have grown into a genuine support group, learning from each other about their lives, their goals, and their histories. Best of all they have developed new relationships to words. They are beginning to think of themselves as writers, and that shift in identity brings strength to the work, and to the soul. Writers are keen observers. Writers are excellent listeners. Writers develop all their senses to become a more acute receptor, and an honest witness to life.
The painting I've included in this post is titled
At a Loss for Words. I created it from the sense of yearning I felt in my body when I wanted to write something clearly and succinctly, and nothing came out but verbiage. It was like having no language at all, simply an overpowering urge to express myself. Studying writing gave me tools to deal with that urge and with the frustration that came when words seemed to back up in my head like a traffic jam. I have come a long way from those days, but it was my experience that contributed to my desire to help others searching for their voice, and a skillful command of the English language.       
            You might remember that last year, it was the abuse of women going on around the world that compelled me to create Women Write Now! This year, in April, more than 270 girls were kidnapped from their school dormitory by a band of rebel terrorists called Boko Haram. The terrorists have now announced that they plan to sell the girls or offer to trade them back to their families in exchange for imprisoned rebels. It is moving to see that there is a strong international expression of outrage over this atrocity. It has finally forced the world to address the crime of human trafficking as it thrives around the globe. Girl especially are kidnapped or sold into slavery and taken away from their home countries, or they are transported to undisclosed locations within their own countries.
            One of the women in my first writing circle travels to Africa, Haiti, and Nepal doing art therapy work with imprisoned women and poverty stricken children. I feel so proud that WWN! has an immediate global presence through her work and her compassionate character. Strengthening her voice to recount the stories of her work, will be one way I can contribute to the struggle for basic human rights, and an end to poverty.
The fact is, though, we live in a time when everyone can have an impact on the other side of the globe. We can speak out and protest in a matter of minutes. Your voice, your words, have power to expand your presence as a creative person in the world. Developing your voice calls you into a new practice. That word practice implies discipline, a word that often makes people balk and retreat. But during a writing circle conversation, we realized that discipline is not synonymous with repetitive, daily routines. A discipline is a constant awareness, a constant intention, a constant concern. A discipline is part of your inner life, and eventually plays a role in your view of the world, and the way you choose to take part in it.
            If you are interested in learning more, or joining a Women Write Now! circle, call me at 510 530-4182 or write me through this blog. I’ll be happy to hear from you. 


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Women Write Now!

Consonants, Adriana Diaz, © 1995

In the last post I addressed my New Year determination to empower women with writing and coaching circles. So here is all the exciting info!

Women Write Now! is the name of my teaching designed to empower women writers. It doesn’t matter if you have always wanted to write but never actually did it, or if you are a closet writer, or if you are self-defined writer (published or unpublished). We are all self-defined writers. What I envision are small groups of writers who can both learn from each other and teach each other.
If you feel something stirring inside you, contact me (10 530-4182) and let’s talk about the inner voice that is yearning for expression. The classes will be held in six-week segments, and will be no larger than 5 participants. It might be a way to start a project, or focus on an ongoing piece of work, or just a fresh beginning.
            I plan to fashion each class according to the needs of people who register. So that if each person is working on a different type of project, we will look at the aspects of writing that are common to all: organization, point of view, and voice, for example. Or you may want to register for a class that has a focused topic, such as memoir, writing for transformation (from loss, illness, divorce, etc.), writing travel stories or food reviews.
I will be teacher and coach. Registration will include one personal coaching session.

Women’s Coaching Circles
            If you read this blog regularly you know that in 2013 I invited a small number of women to gather as a type of personal focus group. I wanted to learn more about what women needed, and how to coach in that format. I expected the group to meet once. To my delight, at the end of the evening they asked when they could meet again. Eventually, they agreed to meet every six weeks, and they are still together. The success of this group and the joy of the group coaching experience inspired me to announce the development of a second group.
            I facilitate the group, and usually prepare a topic or exercise that allows each woman to reflect on her issues or life situation through that lens. Participants really look forward to their time together. The group is a support and sounding board. The experience is out of the ordinary. It is a meaningful meeting of hearts and minds. As there are no more than 6 members, each person gets a chance to share. Because of the exercises, there's no pressure to come with something on your mind. The process is a catalyst for thought and relaxation.
            For details and prices phone me at 510 530-4182.

"I’m impressed by the highly skilled ways that Adriana helps her clients and students discover their own inner beauty, strength and joy through the creative process."
Harriet Tubman Wright, MS, MA
Phenomenal Life Coach and Author