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Written by Kerstin Pollack for a presentation in 2004 to the “Widows and Widowers” of Palm Springs

I was half of a whole

Now I am half all alone

Who am I?

I was born in 1932 in Sweden with a Swedish pappa and, luckily, a Danish mamma;
she is the reason I smile at times. I lived in Sweden across the waters from Copenhagen until the age of 29.

I was in the middle of five children. As is rather common in Sweden, where there is little sunshine, the youngest brother committed suicide at the age of 59, most likely because his only daughter who was named after me, “Lilla Kerstin”, died from melanoma at the age of 21.

My father was a very strict Lutheran. Thus my first marriage was to a man who was very sweet and cultured; he is the father of my only child; he got three PhDs and became Sweden’s best criminologist. The marriage lasted five years.

The second marriage was to a man I met on the ferry between Finland and Sweden on Midsummer Night’ s Eve. He was a half Jamaican and half German, a science writer at New York University. He is the reason I came to America. While we were married he became the music director, then the station manager of the radio station WBAI in New York City, part of the Pacifica Foundation, the predecessor of National Public Radio.

Thus my psychological development continued: This man was stricter and more controlling than my father (and I let myself be controlled). He did not want me to have contact lenses, a driver’s license, birth control pills, nor to become a U.S. citizen.

After eight years in this second marriage I, at the age of 37, became a woman. I had known Reginald Pollack, the painter, as a friend during the eight years I was married to my second husband. Reginald also had been married twice before. When our souls came together I made this sign (……….) saying that the top part had been missing in the earlier relationships: A godhead; something bigger than us. So it became the union between God, Man, and Woman, a golden triangle, which became our wedding rings. The Golden Triangle appears in many of Reginald’s paintings.

My own history of work started with wanting to become an air hostess to see the world. That led to a required stay in England for six months taking care of two children. It also led to an envisioned required six-month stay at a hospital in Germany. The latter was run by nuns and was so restricted that I stayed for two months. Thus I never became an air hostess. Instead for a year I managed my father’s glass and porcelain three-storey store in Sweden and then went to a business administration school for one year. For a couple of years I was an executive secretary with stenography in three languages. I then became the administrator of the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Lund in Sweden for five years.

When I came to America I had to change jobs anyway and had brought my loom. I now wanted to become a textile designer so on Madison Avenue I was an apprentice to Jack Leonard Larson for two months. It was very non-creative to weave his samples. I could have written a couple of books in the meantime.

So, I then became the Assistant Director of the Engineering Foundation, an organization sponsored by the five big engineering societies. The building was next to the United Nations. One of the Engineering Foundation projects was “Should there be a National Academy of Engineering or not?” So, assisted by a committee, I wrote the proposal to establish the National Academy of Engineering. It was established in 1964 within the congressional charter of the National Academy of Sciences. The two academies jointly govern the national Research Council. The three organizations, later joined by the Institute of Medicine, advise the Federal Government on issues dealing with science, technology, and medicine.

My boss was asked to become the first Secretary of the National Academy of Engineering. He said he would go on one condition. I said, “Ok, let’s go!” So in this wonderful land of opportunity this woman who was blond, had an accent, had no engineering degree (only seven languages and one year of business administration), was not even a US citizen, became the Assistant Secretary, the second staff position from the top. It was a great job ranging from marine to aerospace to mining to manufacturing to education. It took me all over the world and provided interaction with the best engineers and scientists in the world.

So I knew Reggie for 40 years, as a friend only for 8 years, and as my best friend, lover, and husband for 32 years. Our relationship was blessed, fully giving of all we had to each other like I have not often heard of in other relationships.

He lived fully for 77 years although the last seven years were marred by illness. Then I more or less became a caretaker.

Reggie’s spirit lives on in his work. I have not heard of anybody who left so much of his spiritual and visual messages behind for the rest of the world to experience. We must not be greedy. If we had a good relationship, treasure the memory and spirit of it. It is not a tragedy to end the part of our earthly bodily experience. It is only part of our whole that says goodbye. The spirit lives on. I believe that when the bundle of energy that is our body gives out, the energy goes into a large cloud of energy from which energy for a new life is drawn when a baby or some other creature is born.

When Reggie’s body gave out I brought him home from the nursing home where he had been for about two weeks (hating it). His words as he came into the house with the bed facing the mountains were “This is wonderful!” He saw the sun rise on Mount St. Jacinto the next morning and died at 11:00 a.m.

Reggie was of the Jewish tribe of the Levys. He was an identical twin who had a very close relationship with his twin. A month after Reggie died I held a celebration of his life in the garden of our wonderful house in Araby Cove in Palm Springs. A friend on a white horse came riding down the mountainside spreading his ashes while flute music composed by Reggie’s niece was being played. I then read the poem written by the same niece. (Read It.) The Jewish Kaddish was then sung by Reggie’s second wife, an opera singer, while 20 white doves circled the house and garden three times and took off. The two best opera singers in the Coachella Valley sang and a barefoot 12-year old girl played the piano for Reggie.

You are all invited to come and visit the house of Reginald Pollack, which is full of his paintings and sculptures. The majority of his paintings will be transferred to the Vincent Price Museum in Los Angeles. It is attached to the East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park. A 110,000 square foot center for the visual and performing art is being built. When the architect who designed the center heard that Reggie’s works of art were going to be coming to the center he said, “Oh, this will be the Paul Getty Museum of East Los Angeles!” A show of 70 of Reggie’s paintings was held in April of 2004; the show was extended five weeks beyond its official ending date.

The Palm Springs Desert Museum has five big paintings of Reggie’s; one was shown in the show “Show Me the Money”, curated by the Federal Reserve Board. His paintings are in the Metropolitan Museum, Skirball, Whitney, Stanford University’s new museum, Gene Autry Museum, etc.

Reginald Pollack was a 4-year Veteran of World War II, starting in the ski troops, participating in the invasion of Kiska in the Aleutians, followed by deployment to the South Pacific. He described the horrors of war in his Anti-Vietnam Book “O is for Overkill”.

A few notions that I live by:

Three mottos in my life:

-Work hard
-Stay in love
-Be honest

Be good to yourself or you cannot be good to anybody else.

To work hard you have to be good to yourself. My ways of being good to myself is to
-Do yoga three times a week, 90 minutes each time
-Work out at the gym twice a week with a trainer
-Live in the now with all my senses awake and aware which at times leads to some poetry:
1) Soft song, spring wablers, desert wash, yellow breast, purple finch, twenty in flock;
2) I saw forsythia today, I cried today, electrical waves in stomach;
3) I worked today, received today kindness from four people already and it is only 10:45;
4) Hummingbird, hand, mine, minutes, before flight;
5) The dance of the bougainvillea flowers on the warm tile floor, the chatter of the baby birds; the healing heat;
6) I held a sparrow in my hand; I felt its heart beating; I felt blessed; I caressed its feathers; I held it till it was calm and could fly away

I work hard by

1) Being the full-time curator of Reginald Pollack’s works of art (about 2,000 of them). It is a big responsibility, which involves getting his work into museums and galleries. In a way I have myself to blame for being so fully occupied: I was earning a good salary in Washington, D.C., and Reggie stayed home in his studio painting and sculpting, not paying much attention to getting his work out into the world. I feel honored having been chosen to help in this task.
2) Giving about ten dinners a month to share the wealth of visual and spiritual messages of Reginald Pollack (and I love to network and to cook; I sometimes think I should start a restaurant called “Mondays” since most people who entertain do so on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday; when Monday comes the ones who entertain want to go to a good restaurant but all the good restaurants are closed; also where should the good chefs go?)

I stay in love in at least three ways:

1) I have a loving relationship with my two wonderful shi-tzus. Ten and five years old (presents to Reggie on his 70th and 75th birthdays).
2) I stay in love with nature by working at least two days a week as docent at The Living Desert. My work ranges from leading school tours, to giving guided tours of the Veterinary Hospital, to storytelling, to Cahuilla string games, to dressing up as an African elder having school children compete in jumping the highest or drumming the best, to animal handling (the desert tortoise, chuckwalla, bearded dragon from Australia), including outreach programs to schools.
3) I also stay in love with nature through hiking. I climbed Mount Fuji the last time I was in Japan. A few weeks ago I hiked from the tram the eight miles to Idyllwild, stayed overnight and hiked back the eight miles the next morning. I go on every Living Desert Hiking Club hike and I take my dogs out three times a day for small walks. At times I participate in the activities of the Coachella Hiking Club.

I believe in simplicity beyond complexity. I sense that I have gathered a wealth of information in my life. Now I am churning it all around inside, saving the good parts and sending them out into the world with open arms. I do believe that the purpose of the human being, of me, is to radiate, through my finite self, the infinite light. No religion for me; they all seem to create wars.

Hug a tree everyday, close your eyes, feel the roots going way down into the earth, allow yourself to draw strength from the tree.

Close your eyes, hold your arms out and feel how you would fly if you were a bird. After a while you may feel like a bird and start flying (at least in your mind)