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...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"You Gotta Get Up"

On Sunday I decided to tape the Oscars so I wouldn't have to endure all the commercials and those awards that, while deserved, are a little boring to sit through. I'm only interested in a few: best actor and actress, best supporting actor and actress, best director, best picture. Of course, being something of a technological idiot, I didn't consider that the show might run long, meaning I missed most of the awards I was hoping to see.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Tonight I watched Ben Affleck's acceptance speech on youtube, and he said something that I've believed all my life. In case you missed it, here's a portion of what he said:

I was here 15 years ago or something and I had no idea what I was doing. I stood out here in front of you all and was really just a kid. I went out and I never thought I would be back here. And I am, because of so many of you who are here tonight, because of this Academy, because of so many wonderful people who extended themselves to me when they had nothing to benefit from it in Hollywood...I want to thank them for what they taught me, which is that you have to work harder than you think you possibly can. You can't hold grudges. It's hard but you can't hold grudges. And it doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life because that's going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.

Mr. Affleck, you are so right. We will fall down, and sometimes people will knock us down, either accidentally or with intent. No matter who we are, we need to work as hard as we can, hard enough to hurt, because we won't get anywhere if we don't And by not getting anywhere I'm not talking about making money; I'm talking about changing people's lives, and changing the life of the communities in which we live, whether it's Tinseltown or Main Street. We will fall down. But the only thing that matters, in the end, is that we let those who knocked us down -- or tried to -- know that we will get back up to fight another day. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Suborder Ophidia; Order Squamata

There must be something about me that draws animals into my home. I'm not talking about cats and dogs here. Animals. Like those who are supposed to be living outside.

I've reported here in the past that over the years I've had mice. Okay, mice aren't that big a deal. Mice come and go. It gets cold outside, a mouse comes in, you set a trap, you're done. I don't like mice, mind you, but come on. It's...you know...a mouse. Mickey and Minnie and so on, minus the gloves and conversation.

On Long Island a few years back I came home and saw the face of what I thought was a rat peeping out from under the chair. Turns out it was a chipmunk. I opened the door and shooed him away. Later, I found his sleeping corner, tucked under a little table in the guest bathroom. I wasn't thrilled that a chipmunk had taken up residence in the house, but again: come on. It's a chipmunk.

One summer (also on Long Island) yellow jackets invaded. Over the course of a few months I think my nephew and I killed about 300 bees. At first it was startling to have bees flying through the living room, but after awhile we got used to it. "Bee!" one of us would yell, and whoever was closest to the pantry would get out the Pam and take aim. We liked using Pam as opposed to actual insect spray because it was non-toxic. The bee's wings would get gummed up and the poor thing would fall to the floor, whereupon we'd step on it. I didn't like killing the bees, but it wasn't right, having bees everywhere.

There have been quite a few times when I've found the innards of small creatures at my doorstep. The kidneys were the most disturbing. And then there was the giant raccoon, the one who stood on his hind legs and glared at me through the French door windows one night.

I've come to deal with all this. That is to say, I can deal with the organisms I actually see. It's the one I think is living in my family room sofa that's got me crazy at the moment.

Without going into unnecessary detail, something is UP in the family room. I've been hearing sounds, like something scritching around behind the couch. This is a big couch, a leather sectional in fact, and is too big for me to move. If I was the only one hearing these sounds I'd write it off to "poor Kathy's brain is going soft," but Harry and both cats hear it as well. They go wild, racing around the room trying to get back there while I, in turn, sit with my feet up and wonder what's going to come rocketing out from under one of these days with three snarling pets close behind. The other night the scritching turned into scratching. Loud scratching. Sounded like my family room critter was burrowing into the sofa. Harry went purely nuts. As did his owner. I huffed and puffed and tried to pull the sofa away from the wall, but it wouldn't budge. The scratching stopped and I went to bed, plotting my next move.

The next move, as it turned out, was to take a poll of my friends. Most said "mouse." A few who like to torture me said "rat." A few others offered "chipmunk" and "squirrel," adding that household pet food might be getting them through the winter. Then one friend, with a Hannibal Lecter glint in the eye, suggested this:


As in, per the dictionary, "Suborder Ophidia, Order Squamata: a long limbless reptile that has no eyelids, a short tail, and jaws that are capable of considerable extension."

Head cocked, I imagined some exotic pet-owning neighbor with an escaped python and asked myself the question: Was it scritching and scratching I heard? Or slithering?

I have now relocated myself to an upstairs part of the house for TV watching, and await the arrival of five strong men (not yet identified) who will move the sofa and banish whatever lies beneath. Meanwhile, I will be locked in my car with my cell phone, awaiting the call from five strong men who will report, I hope, that it was indeed just mouse.

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The (Lost?) Art of Being Great

I'm reading a biography about Barbra Streisand. I haven't gotten very far yet, but in the beginning the author talks about Ms. Streisand and her motivation. It wasn't fame, nor was it money. Barbra was motivated by quality. What she wanted was that her work be great. Not passable. Not good. But great.

In addition to being a Streisand fan, I'm also a follower of Stephen King. In reading King's nonfiction works, when he talks about writing, I find the same attitude: SK advises writers not to write for cash or accolades. Write, he says, because you must. Write for your art. Make your art great. If the money follows that's okay. But for the love of God, don't write because you feel warm and fuzzy when someone tells you you're a star. Let the work speak, and do all you can to make your work the best it can possibly be.

Have we lost this sensibility? Have we lost the motivation to strive for greatness, even if it means we make no money from our efforts? So many people these days seem to do something not because it's the right thing to do, or the best that we can do. Rather, people aspire to getting awards, or to getting manic applause from fans who may or may not be worthy judges. People make their so-called art and push forward for a paycheck, not because in their heart of hearts they feel they've done their best. As Streisand's biographer says, we now see celebrity born from drunken wealthy housewives, not from those who actually exert effort that has value. Money and fame have become our gods. Paying lower taxes and sticking a few extra pennies in the bank means more than something that inspires, especially when the inspirational "art" is difficult to attain and ultimately without financial value.

Indeed: what is the definition of art? Writing, painting, architecture, craft. Are these things art in 2013? Or is art now defined as the art of the political deal, the art of making a buck that we can later spend on a flat screen TV, or on a new and depreciating car? I took a fine art class years ago at NYU and was surprised to learn that most of the artists who are now considered masters died long before their work was ever appreciated. Their goal wasn't to make a million dollars and move to an oceanside condo. It was to make something spectacular, and hope that someday someone somehow might gaze at their masterpiece and gain from it.

How to we begin to re-teach this to the young, that their creative or community endeavors have value even if their bank account numbers don't rise? How do we teach them that art is in the effort and not in the reward? 

I began this blog two years ago next month. I have made exactly zero dollars from this effort. The Squeaky Pen has not added to my net worth, has not added to the tax base, has not changed the economy by a single nickel. Yet I'd like to think that my words have touched some of my readers and have made them think about something in a way they hadn't before. Maybe some of you...and maybe not even very many...have returned to this blog to see what else I have to say on any given Tuesday. Maybe some of you have laughed, and maybe a few have cried. I'm hoping, if nothing else, that I've made some readers think. That is art in its purest form. Has my art been great like that of the great Barbra Streisand? Probably not (okay, certainly not). Still, it was my way to reach out and see how, in some little way, I could change my piece of the world by putting words and thoughts and ideas in your head that weren't there before.

So I guess I've answered my own question: this is how we re-teach the young. By example. We show them that even when we don't make a bloody cent the effort to be great, even if we aren't, is the most worthwhile effort of all.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum