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Archive for March, 2011

I never liked “Alice in Wonderland.” The book, the Disney movie, the Broadway musical, or even the latest Johnny Depp version. Hated them all.

I never wanted to go to Wonderland. Never had the desire to chase after a talking rabbit.

Got to thinking about all that the other day when I came across an Alice quote:

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire Cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat. “It doesn’t matter.”

In Oz, the movie, Dorothy also comes to a fork in the road. There’s no Cheshire cat sitting in a tree. Just a scarecrow on a pole. Dorothy doesn’t address the scarecrow but wonders which way she should go. The scarecrow responds by telling her “some people go this way (he points), but other people go that way (he points the other way).

On the surface Alice’s dialog with the cat is quite close to the one-sided conversation between Dorothy and the Scarecrow. Scratch the surface, however,  and you discover a world of difference.

In Wonderland  it really doesn’t matter which way Alice goes because she doesn’t know where she wants to go. Dorothy, on the other hand, knows exactly where she not only wants to go, but has to go.

Dorothy has a purpose. She wants to go home and she believes that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz can send her home. Alice was chasing after a rabbit…and if she had a reason why, well, we really never knew it.

Dorothy’s life was all about a purpose. She wanted to put meaning in her life. I don’t know if Alice had a purpose.

To find meaning in her life, Dorothy had to go on a journey of discovery. And along the way she does meet up with some strange out-of-this-world characters, but they help her and she helps them. Alice isn’t interested in learning anything about herself. She just meets some very weird characters.

Dorothy’s story is rooted in the classic hero tradition, which is all about the journey. I can’t say the same for Alice.

Other than a possible topic for an academic paper, do I have a point?

Yes. I think the world has fallen through a hole. We don’t know where we are. We don’t know where we’re going. And since we don’t know where we want to go…it doesn’t seem to matter.

We launch military attacks…for what purpose? To make the world a safer place for democracy?

How has that worked out for us?

It seems to me that the world is chasing after a stupid white rabbit…and we’ve fallen in a hole and we don’t know how to get back out.

On an individual level, I think most people have fallen in a hole because they are chasing after a stupid white rabbit (you can call the rabbit money, fame, power, etc.)

Only a handful of people are following the yellow brick road because they want to get back home…and most of us are afraid to go home, because home means self-discovery.

The choice is ours. When we come to a fork in the road, let’s hope we know where we want to go. To Oz!

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March 25, 1911 – March 25, 2011

146 lives lost

Thousands of lives changed forever.

to learn more:

http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/

I am honored that the organizers of the Centennial of the
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
have included an excerpt from my book
Dorothy: This Side of the Rainbow
on their site.
(Listed under literature sources)

My grandfather, James Walter Begley, a NYC firefighter,
was a first responder. He was never the same after the fire.

R.I.P.

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I’ve seen the Oz movie a countless number of times. I’ve read the book dozens of times. But neither in the movie nor in the book does Dorothy do any laundry. There was that one time when she and her travelling companions were in Emerald City getting all “gussied” up to meet the Wizard. Perhaps the great and powerful Laundress of Oz washed her one and only blue and white gingham dress. But if so, that was the one and only time it was washed.

Simple. Life was very simple in Oz. Meet some Munchkins. Follow a yellow brick road. Kill a few witches. Simple. Very simple.

Would it be so simple here on the other side of the rainbow. Life is not so simple here. Wearing the same outfit day after day without washing it might guarantee you your choice of seating on a bus, but it won’t gain you many friends.

I’m guilty of telling my grown children how simple life was way back when I was a kid. I’m sure they don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. That doesn’t mean it was any easier because life is always difficult.

Perhaps a better word to use would be less complicated. That’s it. Life was less complicated when I was a kid.

But saying it wasn’t enough. I had to see it for my own eyes…so I went to ShopRite (I could have gone to any of a number of stores, but I chose ShopRite).

Before going to the laundry detergent aisle I remembered our old cast iron Blackstone single-dial washing machine…without a matching dryer (our dryer was on a pole in the backyard and it was powered by the sun). I also remembered that my mother used Tide. It came in a box and was in powdered form. It was original Tide before all the improving began. (Proctor and Gamble has improved Tide so many times I can’t believe it can’t be used to solve global warming, terrorism, the economy and bad toupees.)

My mother used Tide for colored, white and light washes. It had no fragrance. It just smelled like soap.

Well, the other day in ShopRite I came face-to-face with laundry detergent for the modern world. Tide took up more shelf space than there was in the Associated Grocery store my mother shopped in back in Seaford.

I might be wrong but when I was a kid I remember Tide came only in one size. So, discounting the half-dozen different sizes of Tide available today, there I counted no less than 10 different Tides. (Oddly enough I didn’t see any powdered Tide) But in addition to the plain old liquid Tide there was: Tide with Fabreze, Tide with Fabreze Sport, Tide with Downy, Cold water Tide, Tide free and gentle, Tide with Downy April Fresh, Tide for high-efficiency washing machines, Tide Total Care; and Tide with Bleach alternative for High Efficiency…

Overwhelmed by the over abundance of Tide, I looked to my right and was equally overwhelmed by the number of different Clorox Bleach types available from regular and lavender to fresh scent and clean linen. (Clean linen. How come no “dirty sock” scent?)

It got me thinking of now many more of the same is available today than just a few short decades ago. Pizza was pizza.  It was a big thing when they introduced pepperoni. Now? Pizza comes with every topping im-and unimaginable from pineapple to elephant.

And don’t get me started on ice cream. And I remember my father’s liquor supply. There were high-end brands back then, but vodka was vodka. Now it’s vodka that tastes like Tang, Tootsie Rolls, Twinkies and Doritos.

My point?  Do we really need to be so overwhelmed by so many choices? I appreciate the marketing effort, but it’s turned us into a society that demands more, but perhaps doesn’t appreciate much.

Simple. Simple. Simple.

Right now I could go for a cup of coffee. Should it be extra roast, decaf, lite, vanilla bean, cinnamon spice, hazelnut or perhaps turbo.

I think I’ll have regular. I like simple.

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As I was preparing to post a meaningless, if not trivial, blog, my son, Nick, called to tell me that a good friend of his died this afternoon. And while I had never met Harry, I felt as if I knew him because my son painted such a vivid picture of him.

When your child falls off a bike and scrapes a knee you can pick him up, carry him home and put a band-aid on the cut and say “all better.”

It’s not that easy when your children become adults and the world hurts them in ways that make you feel helpless.

With all that’s been going on in the world it’s sometimes hard to let real feelings come through. It can even make you bitter. But, every life is like a pebble on the water, it causes a ripple that goes on and on and on.

In my least-seller, “Dorothy: This Side of the Rainbow” Dorothy, who is near death, looks back on her life and says:

“So. What did I learn during my nearly fifty years of life? Well, I learned to how to read good books and find the right words to express my inner thoughts. I figured out how to take a good photograph and how to paint a picture that captured something elusive. I learned that none of us are incidental. I also learned how to laugh and how to cry.

But of all the wonderful things I learned, I believe that loving and being loved are the two essential ingredients to a happy life. Without them, money, power, and fame are meaningless. Unless we are loved for who we are, warts and all, we will never feel we belong to the human race. Unless we learn how to love, passionately and earnestly, we will live unfulfilled and inauthentic lives. Yet, before we can be loved and love others, we have to let the grace of God shine through our hearts. We have to be a beacon of light in a dark world. We have to believe that we can make a difference, even if it is only a little ripple on the water of time.

I have had the great fortune of knowing many wonderful people. Some of those people will earn a place for themselves in the pages of history. Many more of them will go to their graves without having earned a footnote.

I say this to you, dear reader . . . whether you make a name for yourself or not, our true names . . . our deeds . . . and our life stories . . . are known by our Creator. And that’s all that matters.

My life has been a wonderful adventure. I wouldn’t change any of it for all the money in the world. And now, my greatest adventure awaits me.

I’m ready to take my first step onto that part of my Yellow Brick Road that lies in eternity.”

Harry. Walk strong on that Yellow Brick Road. You had a friend in my son.

 

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When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always be worse. And when they are we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better

” Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow” – Albert Einstein

This blog was prompted by a Facebook post my son, Kieran, made the other day. He wrote “It’s hard to believe the world is not coming to an end after what I am witnessing right now on CNN…crazy live feed of a tsunami wave from an 8.9 earthquake.”

I responded that you can take at random any period from history – even down to a year…and you will see that some things never change. Life has always been tough and Mother Earth has not always been the kindest momma.

However, as smart and sophisticated as we the people of the 21st century are (or think we are), the earth’s rule book has not changed all that much in a billion or so years. Mother Earth still stretches…causing earthquakes; yawns…causing cyclones; sneezes…causing hurricanes and tsunamis; and occasionally blinks…casuing famine, pestilence and all those other good things made famous in the Old Testament.

But Mother Earth also smiles…causing days filled with blue skies and sun; sighs…bringing new life into the world in all different forms; and laughs…covering the world with rainbows.

And it’s the rainbows we remember long after the storm has passed. Look at poor Noah who had a helluva lot on his plate with not only having to build a mother of a boat but collecting all those creatures.

But when the rain stopped, it was the rainbow he saw, and the rainbow was a sign of hope.

Dorothy’s heart was filled with hope and she hope to find fulfillment over the rainbow.

We all share in the power and majesty of natural disasters. And since there is very little we can actually do to prevent such disasters, we feel so inadequate. But our inadequacies turn to delight when the people of the world abandon their selfish attitudes and lend a big helping hand.

Natural disasters are one thing. But when we are the cause of pain and suffering – war being our biggest sin – we have no one else to blame but ourselves.

My son, Kieran and his generation, have reason to wonder if we are coming to an end, but not because of the disasters that befall us, but because we are living in a world that has been as cursed as blessed by instant communication.

In the past, it took time before word of a disaster spread. In that time, people had the “time” to digest what had happened.

But when the enormity of an event smacks you in the face the instant it happens and continues to smack you around with by-the-second updates, videos, etc., it’s almost more than the average human can take before throwing up his hands in surrender.

The barrage of bad news…and it always seems to be bad news…that constantly  floods us makes us feel as if we are drowning in sorrow.

Songwriters E.Y. Harburg and Burton Lane got it right  song they penned for “Finian’s Rainbow”

On the day I was born,
Said my father, said he.
I’ve an elegant legacy
Waitin’ for ye,
‘Tis a rhyme for your lips
And a song for your heart,
To sing it whenever
The world falls apart.

Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow it over the hill
And the stream.
Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow the fellow
Who follows a dream.
Follow the fellow,
Who follows a dream.

So, who are you going to follow? The newscaster with the dire news, or the “weather man” who predicts a rainbow?

I say, always reach for the rainbow.

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Had a dream last night that I pulled into a gas station on the YBR and was greeted by this at the pump.

 


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Very few people know this, but Dorothy made a number of return visits to Oz. On one such visit she came home…in the family way. She never let on to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry who the father was, but I think the baby’s straw-berry blond hair was a definite give-a-way.  Her baby grew up to be a fire marshal despite his fear of fire.*

Unlike ultra-conservatives who are so far right they have no where else to go and radical liberals who can’t be anymore left, there are some subjects that they deal with in their own political way without giving it a second thought that I am very conflicted about. Call me a wimp, call me wishy-washy, or call me chicken shit, but there are certain areas of life that render me like a high-wire walker just trying to keep his balance.

A pregnant and unmarried Natalie Portman spoke glowingly about her pregnancy when she accepted her best acting award. A very politically minded Mike Huckabee came out and made some remarks, as misinterpreted as they might have been, that more or less unflattering. He basically voiced his opinion on unwed mothers.

Considering my less than traditional way of coming into this world, I have always thought much and hard about unwed mothers, single mothers, birth control, abortions and adoption.

Should my birth mother have found herself in a family way? Consider her track-record (having already had one son she placed for adoption) I think she should have taken precautionary methods or at least stopped going to Church.

Should my birth mother have been a single-mother? No way. No how. Knowing the tragedy of my birth mother’s life, I don’t think I would have prospered as the son of a single mother if she had raised me on my own.

Should she have been on the pill? Moot point since they didn’t have the pill way back when.

Should she have had an abortion? I’ll take the fifth on this and just say you wouldn’t be reading this blog if she had opted for an abortion.

I am conflicted.

I am not an advocate or champion of abortion. But I do believe in a woman’s right to choose. I have no problem with a single woman having a baby and raising it on her own as long as she can shoulder the burden of single parenthood. If the pregnancy was a mistake and the woman could ave taken preventive measures…but deliberately didn’t, I might say she was selfishly irresponsible.

Saying that, however, I would never attach a moral clause to my “opinion.” And I think that’s what some people do. They take an issue and take a moral stand on it. I think morality is not always black and white. Much of our moral thinking has been tempered by religion, culture and customs.

I might not agree with someone’s moral stand on certain subjects. I might even engage in a debate, but in the end I would probably find myself vacillating.

Life is precious. It’s the greatest gift in the whole world. It’s also a great responsibility. Unwed mothers and the such fall into a morality category. You can say whatever you want. You can have whatever opinion you have. But don’t go on thinking that your opinion is anything more than that.

If a single woman “chooses” to get pregnant, that’s her decision. How she arrives at her decision and how she chooses to get pregnant is also in her court.

Although I think there are many advantages to being raised in a house with a mother and a full-time father, I would not say that is , by itself, the best situation because I’ve known of many two parent families that are hell on the kids and sometimes the kids would be far better off living with a single mother, a single father…or with someone else.

Statistics might show that the majority of single-mothers are poor, uneducated and in and of a minority and that the children born and raised in such circumstances will have a, much, much harder go of it, but that’s more of a sociological issue worth looking into, but not in this blog.

I’m talking about the moral aspect of it and how we as a society still can’t get it right…because it is not always a matter of right and wrong.

What might have been looked down upon and called immoral a generation ago is no longer a cause for moral alarm. And while growth and change is potentially a good thing, I would have to say that change is always better after a positive debate when people can voice their opinions without casting aspersions, and when we remember that choice is more often than not personal, and as long as we can remember to walk in someone else’s shoes, we will be a much better society.

And I leave abortion to the end of this blog because it is, in my opinion, the most divisive subject facing us today. As great as the slave debate was almost 150 years ago when people were debating whether or not a slave was a “person,” the abortion issue is even a little greater because it does not discriminate.

It all comes down to one’s definition of life and a living being. And since we can’t agree on the heart of the matter, there’s no way we can reach any rock-solid conclusions. And until we can debate the issue without bringing our own moral prejudices to the table, we will always remain divided.

And in conclusion, I don’t think we should let politicians or church leaders have the final say.

I can only say that I have taken my birth mother’s choice to give birth to me and place me for adoption as both a gift and a challenge. A gift because life is a gift. And a challenge because life is also a challenge.

* To all the Oz purists I say get over it. It’s my blog and if I want Dorothy to be in a family way to prove a point, I’ll do it.

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