Archive for the ‘Dorothy’ Category

oz gate guard

The 2018 Commencement Address at Emerald University

It is with dubious distinction that I stand here before the Emerald University Class of 2018. I say dubious because last year’s commencement speaker, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate, was stripped of her honorary degree because she ran afoul by misusing her power.  I found it a bit disingenuous that while the university took back her honorary doctorate, they did not return a single penny of the mega bucks she donated to said same university.

In that regard I have  nothing to fear because I have no intention of donating a single Oz buck to this university.

I stand before you a humble man. I say this in gest because I am not the least bit humble. I take pride in being proud. I don’t intend to fill the already hot air with worthless platitudes. Rather, I want to talk to you honestly in a straight-forward manner.

As you all know, or as you all should know, the Wizard of Oz was nothing but a humbug. A man who invented false news. No sooner had he landed in Oz, he began building the walled city of Oz.  And because he was so intent on keeping out what he called the un-documented, aka the “Undudes,” he hired me to stand guard at the only entry point to the Emerald City.

For years I turned back more people than you can imagine. And then I began to wonder what filled the poet, Robert Frost’s’ mind when he wrote  “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.”

Before I lapse into a political polemic about walls, I want to steer the conversation in a different direction. I want to talk about the wall that separates the splendid garden of learning and the world you will be stepping into after you cross the stage with your diploma in hand.

When Dorothy and her three friends, and Toto, too, stopped by at the gate to Emerald City, you’ll recall that they rang the bell. When I answered the door I confused the matter by telling them the bell was out of order and that they should have knocked on the door as directed by the sign that wasn’t there.

I had no intention of letting them in to see the Wizard until Dorothy told me she was sent by the Good Witch and as proof she showed me the slippers she was wearing.  I had no choice but to let her in.

You are like Dorothy and her traveling companions. You not only knock on the door because you were instructed by a legion of  Good Witches. You have been instructed by dozens of men and woman who were eager to share their learning with you. And not only were these people you called “professors,” your Good Witches, first among your Good Witches were your parents, family, mentors, community and friends.

Today you stand before the grantors of degrees wearing metaphorical ruby slippers, a symbol of your status as a college graduate. You stand knocking on the door and I say “welcome.”  I would also like to suggest that you don’t go looking for the Wizard of Oz, because as I said earlier, he is a humbug.  I also suggest that while your entry-level job was your four-year goal, don’t think of your career as your final destination because I am here to tell you that as you cross over the portal into the “real world,” you are about to step foot on another long and winding yellow brick road.

Make sure you take your yellow brick road and not someone else’s because if you do your life will never be as full as it should have been if you follow your own yellow brick road.

Follow it, follow it, follow it, and when you do come to one of the many crossroads on the yellow brick road that you will undoubtedly encounter, listen to your head, heed your heart and have the courage to make a decision.

I officially open the door to Oz for you.  Welcome. Enjoy the journey of your life time!


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wicked witch

Today we toss words around like a volleyball and as a result the words not only lose meaning but get turned inside out.  The word “deserve” comes to mind because a young neighbor of ours just lost his mother suddenly and his father, who is divorced from the mother, is battling cancer.  My wife said that no family deserves that much hardship.  And while I agreed with her that such a burden was more than anyone can handle, I disagreed with the word “deserve.”

A very old word that once simply meant the benefits accord to someone who was worthy of them because of what they had done.  Being deserving was not a trivial honor. It was a high form of “earned”recognition.

Today you might hear someone say that a young Boy Scout who was working in a soup kitchen did not deserve to have his bike stolen or the young rock star did not deserve such praise and adulation.  In both cases the sense of deserving is purely subjective.  We, in our often misguided ways, think we have a right to determine who should or should not be deserving.

Did the Wicked Witch of the East deserve to die when the housing market dropped?  She was evil and if we are to believe the Munchkins, she ruled Munchkin Land as a cruel despot. So, did she get what she deserved? And did the Wicked Witch of the West get what she deserved by being melted away?

I believe in the demise of the Wicked Witches we are talking about our sense of justice which is “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.”

In our daily and ordinary lives we often confuse deserving or not deserving of something with our sense of “fairness.”  We don’t think it’s fair when someone we believe is good , and therefore deserving of good tidings, is stricken with cancer or suffers some tragedy.  We also don’t think it’s fair when a rich and powerful person gets richer or more powerful…for no reason.

We need to forget about deserving and fairness in the human condition unless we can say justice has been abused.  And when justice is abused we not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight to see that justice triumphs.

I think the worst thing we can do is bring in a “supernatural being” into the equation as if this “being” is the cause of or responsible for usually allowing bad things to happen. When we do this we minimize we make ourselves a pitiful victim of a whimsical god.

Bottom line?  We should be advocates for justice (and mercy). And we should stop thinking we deserve anything just because.  I don’t “deserve” to be treated fairly.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s actions. I can only be responsible for the way I think and the way I act.  I need to live each day being a positive force.  I need to be kind and caring. I need to put others before me. But that does not mean I should not stand strong against injustice.   That’s where I stand firm and say no one “deserves” to be the victim of injustice.




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L. Frank Baum really never told his readers how many days Dorothy spent in Oz. In fact, time as we know it, stood still in Oz.  Unlike the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” story who was always running late or J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who wanted to stop time so no one would ever grow up, Dorothy was not limited to or hindered by time. (When The Wizard asked her to bring him the broom of the Wicked Witch, he didn’t give her a deadline.)


Locked in time

peter pan.jpg

The last moment in time was on the Big Ben’s clock

I was reminded of time in my Marist class the other day when one of the student’s asked me what was my best time.  It was a good question in a class built around the importance of asking questions. I didn’t have much “time” to think about an answer, but my head was flooded with images of past events. And while I was tempted to say one of my best “times” was my year as a student at Oxford, I found myself saying that the present was my best time. And I meant it even though it wasn’t the kind of answer the average college student is looking for.

College students are all about time.  They crave it and want to be washed in “good times.”  They look at the future and want to hurry it up.  Their impatience is understandable because when you are young you are always looking forward.  When you are “older” it doesn’t mean you don’t “look forward,” because you do.  Many seasoned individuals, on the other hand, tend to look back at “good times.”  And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it can be dangerous though when the past is where you live.

Living in the moment often gets an undeserved bad rap.  That doesn’t mean I encourage selfish and careless living where you abandon any sense of responsibility for your actions. What we do in the moment does come with consequences.

However, the present is really all we have.  And while there is always room in the present to prepare yourself for the future, I think we miss something if all we do is think about the future.

There is no arguing that I have far more yesterdays in my life than I have tomorrows.  But I have the present and it is up to me to squeeze as much juice out of each moment in the present that I can.

I am very fortunate to be in the presence of young, eager minds.  And if there is one message I would hope to give them it would be this: There’s nothing you can do about yesterday. What happened is in the books. Believe in tomorrow, but don’t take up residency there before tomorrow happens. If you do, today will slip through your fingers. Make the most of today by living in it and celebrating it. Carpe diem!

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WARNING: This blog might be offensive to people who are strictly literal by nature or default. I prefer absurdity over anything.

I had a difficult time coming up with an image for this blog because I didn’t want to take the easy way out and post a picture that ridicules the subject of this blog, because if anything destroys an open dialogue it’s mockery.

I was reduced to bat-shit bafflement the other day when I watched the news coverage of the opening of the Noah’s Ark (amusement/bemusement) attraction in Kentucky. I might cringe at Bible Villages and Water Parks (Old or New Testament) and other religious themes attractions, but I am rarely left dumbfounded.

It’s not that a certain conservative Christian raised money to reconstruct Noah’s Ark using a Biblical blueprint. It’s the fact that one man’s religious conviction/faith is dismissively arrogant and steel-trap closed minded.

The founder of this Biblical attraction is of the school of a literal interpretation of the Bible. His many visitors/followers are of the same school. That there has been a very vocal negative reaction to this Arktraction (my word) can be found by a simple Google Search.

What saddens me more than the literal reading of the story of Noah in Genesis, is the ripple effect such an interpretation has on almost everything else. Not only does it reduce scientific research and discoveries to a pile of saw dust, it supports such “arkaic” notions regarding life in the 21st Century.

But, and it was a big but that went off in my head like the big bang, Noah’s Arktraction is too easy a subject to attack when “we” are so willing to “accept”  other sacred stories, dogmas, religious rules, etc. on face value.

If we want to poop-poop the Ark ( and there must have been a lot of shit in the hold of that boat at the end of the voyage), we have to be willing to poke a stick at some of the other “big beliefs” proclaimed as truths by the other major world religions.

Walking on water, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, immaculate conceptions, virgin births, transubstantiation and resurrections, also have to be free game for thinkers and non-believers.

And lest we forget, Christianity is not the only belief system that obliges followers to strict adherence of dogmas and laws.  Have you ever taken a glance at the 613 Mitzvots (Commandments) of Judaism?  Oy! Made me shake my head so many times I risked having it fall off.

Not to mention some of the eye-opening “beliefs” put forth in the Book of Mormon (not the  musical) and the Koran.

Proving or disproving any belief system is a waste of time.  People who are wired to a particular belief system are usually not willing to abandon their beliefs…and people who are adamantly opposed to a particular belief system are equally unwilling to embrace the “thoughtology” of another person.

Because I have pushed the boundaries of a belief system imposed on me as a dumb ass kid and opened my mind to dozens of belief systems, I can no longer be a literalist in any fashion.

Joseph Campbell, a man who devoted his life to unraveling religious thought, once said, “Mythology is someone else’s religion.”

And to be very honest, I am not particularly concerned with religious truth. I wake up each morning excited about possibilities.  I live my day making an effort to be kind and compassionate and when I see a wrong, i.e. where someone’s life, liberty and the pursuit of joy is jeopardized, I will speak up and out.

I don’t need an afterlife. I might need an occasional breath mint after dinner, but I don’t do anything during the day to secure an orchestra seat in a place many people call heaven.

I no longer believe in a God presented in any so-called books of sacred scripture. If there is any truth to the idea that I was created in the image and likeness of “God” I don’t have to take it literally.  I’ll just think that I have to power in my little hands to do my part to create a world where all people can bathe in the sunlight of life.

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Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been. I’ve worn lots of shoes. I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my first pair of shoes. Momma said they’d take me anywhere. She said they was my magic shoes. – Forrest Gump

It’s funny how the mind works, or doesn’t work as the case might be. I was thinking about Dorothy’s silver shoes (the ones MGM found it necessary to turn ruby red) and my mind went a wanderin’ as it often does when a thought drops into my head.

The meaning and role of the shoes, silver or ruby, in The Wizard of Oz, is something even the very young can grasp. But, thinking outside the shoe box, there is much more to the shoe in fairy tale, fables and folklore.  Shoe expressions have even found a permanent place in our daily lexicon. Three of the most common sayings using shoes are “You won’t understand a man until you walk a mile in his shoes” (moccasins as in the original), “It’s going to be hard to fill your shoes,” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

I don’t think any other item of apparel has gotten as much attention in stories. Where would the Cinderella tale be with out her glass slippers? And while most of us don’t remember the fate of Snow White’s not-so-nice step mother, it was the shoes that done her in when she was forced to step into a pair of red hot iron shoes and had to dance to her death.

Hans Christian Anderson’s telling of the tale about the red shoes has not only earned  a fixed place in literature, it went on to become a classic piece of ballet. And we can’t forget Puss in Boots and the whole idea of the boots of a hundred leagues.

Shoes, sandles, boots and even sneakers, cast a magic spell on us. As a kid, I was convinced that unless you wore Keds, you would be at a disadvantage.

Keds TV commercial from the black and white days

A shoe historian wrote “In Biblical times a sandal was given as a sign of an oath. In the Middle Ages a father passed his authority over his daughter to her husband in a shoe ceremony. At the wedding, the groom handed the bride a shoe, which she put on to show she was then his subject. Today in the U.S. shoes are tied to the bumper of the bridal couple’s car. This is a reminder of the days when a father gave the groom one of his daughter’s shoes as a symbol of a changing caretaker. In China one of the bride’s red shoes is tossed from the roof to ensure happiness for the bridal couple. In Hungary the groom drinks a toast to his bride out of her wedding slipper.”

Maybe my fascination with shoes is genetic.  My Irish great-great-great grandfather was a shoe maker. As a kid I used to like to go to the shoemaker with my father back in the day when you would have shoes repaired (new soles and new heels).  There was just something about a shoemaker’s shop. I found the massive mess confounding because as messy and disorganized as it was, the shoemaker never had a problem locating your shoes!


 I’ve learned that the shoemaker is often a magical and mystical character in fables and fairy tales. I also learned the difference between a shoemaker and a cobbler.  A shoemaker was considered an artisan while a cobbler held a much lower position because all he did was repair shoes. (Even our language denigrates the cobbler because when we say someone has cobbled something together, the result is usually shabby or second rate.)  The two professions became one when shoe making was industrialized.

I fear that today we’ve lost our ability to grasp onto the symbolic nature of something.  As magical as today’s Nikes are, I can bet that most wearers don’t even give the iconic swoosh a second thought.


Very few know that the athletic shoe is named after Nike, the Greek Winged goddess, and that the swoosh is her wing.

Dorothy had the power to return home by clicking her heels together (three times). Remember that. And don’t forget what Forrest Gump said about how shoes can reveal a lot about a person’s character.

If the shoe fits, you might consider wearing it. But if it doesn’t, kick it off because you’ll never be able to run like the wind if you’re wearing shoes someone else tells you to wear.

Don’t ever lose the magic of your shoes.

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witch of the north.jpg


Past commencement speakers at Emerald University didn’t need introductions because they were all iconic figures. Even after Chancellor Green introduced me I could see a sea of puzzled faces asking the question, “Who is she?”

Well, I’ll tell you. I am the Good Witch of the North.

If you saw the movie, you didn’t see me, because my character didn’t make it to the silver screen. Whether the reason for my absence was financial or literary, Glinda did double duty, stealing whatever thunder I had for my brief appearance in L. Frank Baum’s book. .  If you read the book, you’ll remember I didn’t have a name.  All I had was a description:

“The little woman’s hat was pure white. It rose about a foot above her head and was pointed at the tip with little jingle bells which ran all across the brim and made a faint tinkling sound as she moved. She wore a puffy white gown that hung in pleats from her shoulders. Over it were sprinkled little stars and half moons that glistened in the sun like diamonds. The little woman’s face was covered with wrinkles, her eyes were the color of violets, her short curly hair was nearly all white, and she walked rather stiffly, but had a friendly, welcoming smile. ”

Despite such an innocuous characterization, my life mattered as does yours. With social media placing a heavy burden on your shoulders, the thought of being nameless in a selfie world is anathema to you. By the end of the day I can’t tell you how many new profile photos of freshly minted college grads will grace the pages of Face Book. It’s clearly an indication that we want the world to know we are here.

Being the host of a top rated cable talk show, appearing on the cover of some high profile business magazine, going viral, or selling an app for a gazillion dollars, might be what gets your adrenaline flowing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those goals. But.

And by “but” I don’t mean a little “but.”  I mean the big “But” with one “t.” I have to add that in the event I get accused of making some a remark that can be taken the wrong way.

My role in Dorothy’s journey might not get the recognition I believe it deserves, but that really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I was the one who came to Dorothy’s rescue after she dropped in on us in Oz. I not only welcomed her, I assured her that I was there to help her. When Dorothy told me she wanted to go home, I turned my white cap into a slate that told me to tell Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz.

Being the least powerful of the four witches of Oz, I couldn’t join Dorothy on her journey, but I didn’t let her go off without me doing something that made all the difference. I placed a special kiss on her fore-head and told her “No one will dare injure a person who has been kissed by the Witch of the North.”

As scary as the deepest and darkest stretches of the Yellow Brick Road might have been, those stretches pale in comparison to the long road you are about to travel. And while I wish I could tell you that a kiss on your forehead will protect you from all the evil people who are out there waiting for you, I would be lying.

So what should you do?  How can you be assured that you will have a safe journey? The answer is as simple as it is complex. If you’ve yet to do it, you need to reach down deep and find your center. You need to align yourself with the spirit of goodness you were born with. You might have forgotten about this center, but it is there.

Don’t confuse this center with a GPS, because if you do, more likely than not it will keep “recalculating.” Your center is your internal compass. You will know in your heart if you are going off course as might be the case because in the end we are only human. But always remember being human should not be used as an excuse.

If you do happen to take a selfie today, take a long, hard look at it and ask yourself, is my face a reflection of the spirit that informs me and drive me, or is it a faceless face.

No matter where you go and no matter what you do, you will never be nameless, because the universe knows who you are.

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Oz the great and powerful

Taking a risk here by presenting the first of three blogs on a subject  that has been as much a thorn in my side as a spur to ride on and battle windmills. The subject has to do with power and authority.

To begin, take a stroll with me down the YBR and a brief walk through the dictionary.

In Baum’s novel, Oz introduces himself by saying “I am Oz the great and terrible.”

You might say what’s the big deal.  I say, it is a big deal.

In  common parlance the word terrible means “bad.” BUT, that was not the original meaning. The word terrible did not originally mean something that is bad, as in “that was a terrible movie.:  The origin of word is rooted in the Latin/French word “terre” which actual mean to “cause one to shiver” and is closer to our word for “terror.”

So…when Dorothy and her traveling companions met Oz, he was telling them he was a “terror” and he was as much “terrific” as he was “terrible.”

In the movie the big Green Man booms “I am Oz the great and powerful.”

Instead of saying he was “terrible,” he says he is “powerful.”  That’s a big difference because the word “power”  has Latin roots that mean “to posses the ability to act or do.” The word power also shares meaning with the word “potent.”

So…in the book Oz was a character whose main characteristic was “terror.”  It was the way he “ruled.”  In other words, he literally scared people into acting.  In the movie, Oz possessed the ability to get people to act.

In my opinion one who rules by terrorizing is a monster. One who rules from a power position can choose to be right, fair and just in using his/her power or use his/her power to dominate without any regard to the people subjected to this power.

Ruling from a power position raises another important question: Where does the power come from? How did the person with the power acquire it? (This will be the subject for the next blog.)

The one word common to the book and movie is “great.”

We all know what great means…or do we?  I think we toss the word around without any regard to what we should mean when we describe something as “great.”

The original meaning of the word great meant big in size or coarse. It also came to mean “grit.”

Simply put, the sense of something or someone being “great” but meaning warm, woolly and wonderful is wrong.

To wrap up this “lesson,” in the book Oz was a monster. In the movie he wasn’t so much a monster as he was scary.

What, you might wonder does this have to do with blogging on power and authority?  It is the foundation for a discussion on who has power and authority, how it is used…and more importantly, how it is mis-used.




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