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Archive for February, 2011

The 2011 Oscar

There aren’t many people who like “good” movies more than I do. I love a great story told well be it in a  book, on stage, on the big screen or on the little screen.

However, I am not so enamored with all the buzz about the Oscar and the Academy Awards. Although I’ve only been to the Tony and Emmy Awards, the Oscars is an entertainment  award show on prozac.

But, my God, why are we so caught up with so many fake people working in a fake world? I admire the skills that go into making a wonderful movie – from script and acting to directing and the technical side, but to be honest there are other people in my life who do great things who don’t get to walk on the red carpet.

I want to give an Oscar to all the tradespeople who have made my life a whole hell of a lot easier. The husband and wife team who installed my new kitchen. The plumber who stopped the leak and put in new pipes in a bathroom. The teachers who taught my kids.  I could go on and on.

But my point is simple. We might like to dream about the glamorous life of a star, but we need not be blinded by the spotlights.

With that said, I want to present some of my own Oscars.

Best Wife: Patricia Luzon Begley

Best Daughter: Jennifer Devine

Best Sons (a three-way tie): Jeremy, Nicholas and Kieran Begley

Best Son-in-law: Bryan Devine with a supporting Oscar to Donald and Barbara Devine

Best Daughters-in-law: Sarah Miressi Begley and Courtney Muller Begley with supporting Oscars to Jerry and Muriel Miressi and Steve and Krys Muller

Best Grandchildren: Jillian and Brielle Devine and Andrew Begley

Best Picture: My Life As It is Because My Life Is What I’m Trying to Make It.

I would also like to hand out special Oscars to my sister, Patti Perez and her children and grandchildren (my nephews/ nieces and grand nephews and nieces); my brother, Tom Harkins, his wife Barbara and my nephew and nieces); my sisters and brothers in-law: Annette, Paul, Marianne, Billy, Dave and Eileen…and their children and grandchildren.

And many little Oscars to all those friends who have been there when I needed them – especially to my aunts, uncles and cousins.

And finally some posthumous Oscars to my mothers and fathers and my father-in-law and mother-in-law.

Those are my Oscars. I suggest you hand out your own.

 

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One of the best musicals (in my opinion) is “Fiddler on the Roof.” And in a book on the making of the musical I learned that in the beginning, when the book for the musical was first written, the part of the fiddler was a big one. When the musical opened out-of-town the creative team started making changes and the part of the fiddler was cut…a little. By the time the musical opened on Broadway, the character of the fiddler had no songs and no lines. It had been reduced to a bit part.

That’s what happens on the road to Broadway…and the same thing can happen on the YBR…if we let it. I believe we are all characters in a very big production. In this play we call “life” we are not only a character in our own production, we are also characters in the productions of hundreds of other “plays” produced by other people.

Sometimes we play a major role in other people’s productions. Sometimes our part is gradually reduced over time. Sometimes we’re cut completely.

If we are overly concerned about the part we play i someone else’s production we run the risk of finding our identity in that other person’s production.

I believe it’s essential that we concentrate on our own production because in the end that’s all that really matters. If we continue to believe in ourselves and the important role we play, our part cannot be cut. We can not be the fiddler on the roof.

Unfortunately it’s not always easy to do that because so often we worry about our role in someone else’s play.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was only concerned about her part and her journey. Of course she was appearing in the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion’s plays, but she never lost sight of her part in her play.

So, there’s nothing wrong with playing a supporting role in someone else’s play as long as we star in our own.

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The other day I happened to arrive at an opening meeting and not by any choice or design, ended up sitting on the right side of the theatre where about five people were sitting. There were about 100 or so people on the other side of the theatre.

Following a very interesting presentation (after the other people sitting near me had vacated the theatre) there was a Q&A. I had a question. Up went my hand. I wasn’t called on. Up went my hand a second time. I wasn’t called on. (Wash, rinse, repeat).

It was like being in elementary school all over again. (A note to Jennifer: This is not meant to solicit sympathy or to make you feel bad.) You know how it was when you suddenly felt invisible.

It happens. It happened to Dorothy on her Kansas farm. Nothing she did could get the attention of Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, the farm hands…

(Cue up the orchestra for Over the Rainbow).

And that’s how it is for us. We are constantly surrounded by people but all too often we feel isolated or alone. Like being the only orange fruit loop in a bowl of apple jacks.

The fact of the matter is that isolation is a part of being human. Unfortunately, most of us are so afraid of being alone that we fight to be part of something even when we know we don’t belong.

We want everyone to think we’re happy, but deep down inside we’re not.

When we feel like we’re on the wrong side of the YBR, we’re really not. It’s just our way of separating ourselves from the herd long enough to hear that inner voice deep inside us telling us to listen to what our heart is telling us.

Dorothy thought she had to go far and wide to find her heart’s desire. But in the end she learned that she really didn’t have to go anywhere because everything she was looking for was in her own backyard.

I appreciate moments of solitude or those times when you do feel isolated because they help to make you appreciate what you have so much more.

I fear that in this age of instant contact we’ve lost the sense of solitude. It’s like we’re afraid of ever being alone.  But it’s only in those alone moments that we discover how unique and special we really are.

(Below is a picture that I think speaks volumes. Reflect on it.)

You can almost hear Dorothy calling for Toto.

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Writing in real-time can be dangerous. It’s way past my bedtime. I should have gone to bed hours ago. But I did something.  I just watched a very disturbing movie (at least it was very disturbing to me) and because I am a story junkie, I can’t come down…yet.

The movie was The Social Network and I can’t remember the last time I was so depressed by a movie. I really don’t care how much of the movie was ‘true’ or how much of it wasn’t because you should never confuse fact with fiction because facts always get in the way of truth.

The movie exposed the utter hollowness of life as we live it today. It seems that unless you’re a hot-shot rock star, a super model, a mega athlete, or the founder of an internet company worth three gazzlion dollars…all of them before you turn 30…you’re nothing.

The nightclub scene in the movie brought me back  42 years ago to the first night I went down  to London with another Yank at Oxford. He was cool. I was barely lukewarm. He was comfortable with London nightlife. I was scared shitless.

We were at the newest club in London…lots of flashing lights, plexiglass and loud music. We weren’t there three minutes when we got separated. He didn’t care. I did. But in the end it was the best thing that happened to me because I knew that not only didn’t belong there…I didn’t want to be there. It was all too hollow for me.

I never went back there and I really never had anything to do with the other guy because he was hollow. (He boasted that one day he was going to be president of the United States. I thought not if I had anything to do with it. He did become a state senator and a big CEO with a Forbes 100 company. I never ran for election and I never read Forbes magazine.)

The Social Network also triggered another flashback when I was studying abroad. It was spring and I was in Heidelberg. It was late at night and I was walking around the famous castle high above the Rhine River. There was nobody around. No flashing lights. No plexiglass. No loud music.

I can remember sitting at a window in the castle watching some ships moving on the river below. In an instant I knew that that’s where I belonged.

But I digress. Back to The Social Network. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I was held captive in a world where people don’t talk to each other about things that really matter, but instead talk about talking about things that should matter.

After the movie was over I dug out a folder of  poems I wrote when I was at Oxford and some I wrote my senior year in college. I don’t include any of them in this blog because they aren’t very good. But they were good enough to make me realize that even though I wrote them when I was 20 years old…I am still the same person today. And that’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It’s not even a fact. But it is the truth.

I realized then as I realize today that we spend a number of years trying to figure out who we are, a number of years trying to become who we think we should be, and a number of years trying to find the person we were meant to be. And all the while we end up like Dorothy realizing that all we want to do is get home.

And where is home? And what is it that we’re looking for? Home is not out there. And what we’re looking for is what we have always had inside us.

At times like this I’m glad my blog only has 6.5 followers. Otherwise, like Lucy, I’d have “a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

There is life at the end of the tunnel.

 

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In his amazing book “The Road Less Traveled,” the late M. Scott Peck opened it by telling his readers that “life was difficult.” And while most of us would say that he stated the obvious, I think Peck had much more in mind that telling us something we already know. I believe he was trying to remind us that the difficulties that are the very fiber of life make it wonderful.

No one could ever say that Dorothy’s journey on the yellow brick road was easy. No matter how difficult it was, how many obstacles she had to face and how many challenges she had to face, she still thought it was wonderful. But Dorothy was only a fictional character. A real young person who traveled a different kind of YBR said: Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.

And who said that? Anne Frank said that.

I think we are so burdened by everyday matters that we have lost the ability to say “WOW!”

In the last two days I made two phone calls. (I sometimes call people for no other reason than to say hello, I was thinking about you.)

I met the first person I called  we were freshmen at Marist College. He was amazingly talented, courageous, giving and free-spirited. He also suffered from manic-depression, something that was an unknown at the time.

That was 40 years ago. Today my friend is living in a home. The medication that kept him functional and happy was taken off the market about a decade ago. In the ten years since, his life fell apart. He collapsed one day and was oxygen deprived long enough to cause brain damage. And because his life was so difficult the people who were in his life slipped away.

I was saddened to learn that I am the only one who calls him. And I only talk to him two or three times a year.

I wish I had a magic wand.

The second call I made was to another friend from my college days. He and my wife were in the same class at Marist. Having had a successful career and living abroad for more than 20 years, he was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and when we talked the other day he was in the Mayo Clinic about to undergo his fourth round of chemotherapy.

His life has been very difficult. But he still believes he is going to make it. I believe him, too. But I still wish I had a magic wand.

Life is difficult. But I also think life is wonderful.  We can spend our days saying “woe” or we can spend them saying “wow!”

Let me end this feeble blog with another quote from Anne Frank.

Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!

Amen. Go out and say “WOW!”

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Since she was only a fictional character we have no idea when Dorothy was born. And while we might not have an actual date in time for one of the most important moments in her life, we not only know when Dorothy was launched, we know how she was launched.

Dorothy’s launch date was the day her humble home was ripped from the earth and sent hurtling into a neverland. And of course the cause for Dorothy’s launch was a cyclone.

We all have a real date of birth. And eventually we will all have a real date of death. And as I believe my son-in-law, Bryan, told me, it’s really the “-” found in the middle of dob and dod that really matters. I can’t agree with him anymore.

Now here’s something to consider. Our launch date. Most of us do have a launch date (however, there are some who are forever tethered to an umbilical cord).

We might not be able to recall our journey from the womb into the room, but many of us can recall much about our launch date.

For some the launch day came early in life for a number of reasons – usually an event that launched you into maturity (and sometimes it happened before its time)). Some people’s launch date came on the education highway…with many people claiming their graduation as their launch date.

And for others their launch date happened when they got married, when they got divorced, when they moved, when they got hired, when they got fired, when they were diagnosed with an illness, when they recovered from an illness, with the birth of a child, with the death of a parent or friend….

Here’s the thing, most of us had a premature launch, meaning we thought it was time we were launched (or in many cases someone else told us it was time we were launched).

So, we are launched and the next thing you know we’re in orbit and we begin going around and around and around. And that’s not always a bad thing. For those lucky enough to be in the right orbit, meaning they found their calling or place in life, an orbit is a positive.  But, for those who are stuck in an orbit and end up going around and around, their orbit becomes hell.

We all learned that an object stays in an orbit because of gravity. Oddly enough, gravity has more than one meaning. It is part of the root that also means grave, i.e. the place we all wind up at some point in time. It also means “serious.”

And it is a serious thing when we are stuck in an orbit.

Far too many people remain stuck in their orbit for a number of reasons.

Dorothy was at risk of being stuck in an orbit, but she was fortunate enough to understand that she had to get out of it. She had to break loose. And how did she do that? She went through a number of trials – things that tested her strength of character.

And when she learned she had the power within her to break free from the gravitational force that kept her in her orbit…well everything ‘clicked.’

I say we all have the power within us to break free from the power that holds us in an orbit of our undoing. We need to believe we can break through.

And no, it won’t ever be easy. But it can be done. And more often than not it can’t be done alone (although the source is a solitary one).  We have each other. And we need to reach out to one another. It is not a weakness to do that. I say it’s a source of strength.

 

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