Archive for January, 2012


Great Expectations

In today’s society, people are rewarded for becoming stars in whatever their field, but what happens when someone doesn’t live to see the fruits of his labors?  I think it’s a natural human emotions to want to be recognized. 

I remember vividly 1982 as the year that Henry Fonda won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in “On Golden Pond.”  The year before he had received  a lifetime achievement award from the Academy for his work spanning his entire career.  I don’t think the Academy could have predicted that the very next year he would earn the Best Actor Oscar.  He was in the hospital during the award ceremony so his daughter Jane Fonda accepted the award on his behalf, but at least he lived long enough to see his efforts rewarded even late in life.  He died August 12th that year.

Other creative artists have not been so lucky.

The most obvious recent example is Heath Ledger who died from “an accidental overdose of prescription drugs” during the editing process of the film “The Dark Knight.” Later that year he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Academy Award as the Joker but was unable to collect his award so his family accepted it on his behalf.  Rumors persist that he suffered an overwhelming sense of depression which manifested itself during the filming of “The Dark Knight.”

I’m also thinking of John Kennedy Toole who wrote “A Confederacy of Dunces” then committed suicide in 1969 at the age of thirty-two over his plight as an unrecognized artist.  His mother schlepped his manuscipt from agent to agent until his novel was published in 1980.  It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, something most writers only dream of.

Jonathon Larson created “Rent” the musical, but died the very day of its off-broadway premiere of an aortic dissection.  He had been complaining of chest pains but the doctors misdiagnosed his condition as the flu.  His show later won the Pulitzer and Tony for Best Musical.

Last, Stieg Larrson (no relation to Jonathon Larson) wrote three novels, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “”The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” all of which remained unpublished at the time of his death.  Now, of course, they have all become runaway bestsellers and his first novel has already been turned into a film.

Call me greedy!  I want to live to see the fruits of my labors.  I guess the point, as a writer, is to write faster, write every day, make writing my primary focus.  Don’t worry quite so much about accolades, but don’t give up in despair over what I want to accomplish.  Writers write one page at a time, one day at a time.  The beauty is in the effort, not the end result.

Dogged Determination

The Akita, a Japanese breed of dog, is particularly known for its fierce and steadfast loyalty.  Originating in Japan, the breed almost died out during World War II when Akitas were killed for meat as well as for fur to line jackets.  It’s also believed that many Akitas died so that they would not fall into the hands of the western world.  The term “man’s best friend” rings especially true for the bond these Japanese dogs share with their masters. 

I myself own an Akita which I consider a once in a lifetime dog.  I suspect I will never feel as close a bond again with another dog as I do with her.  Topping out at 90 lbs for male Akitas, these dogs were used to hunt elk, boar, and bear and they won’t back away from any challenge.  If you meet an Akita it’s a good idea to wait for an introduction from the owner.  I highly doubt my Akita would ever bite, but she can be quite intimidating, and she’s a bit unsure whether she needs to guard me from strangers.  Much like the breed itself, she has small, erect ears and a curled tail.  Akitas are often confused with Siberian Husky’s and Alaskan Malmutes, partly because the coloring can vary on an Akita, especially in the US.

The most famous Akita of all time was named Hachiko.  He was born in 1923 and his owner, a professor at the University of Tokyo named Hidesaburo Ueno, adopted him a year later.  Hachiko and Professor Ueno would walk to the train station each and every morning.  The dog would find its way home, then return to meet Ueno every evening at the precise time his master would return home from work.  They did this for a year and four months (such a short period of time), but then Ueno died from a cerebral hemorrhage at work.  Hachiko never gave up searching for his master, and went faithfully to the train station each morning and night.  The entire country of Japan, known itself as fiercely loyal, celebrated this dog and his perseverance and even put up a bronze statue at the Shibuya train station.  Helen Keller was even given an Akita on her visit to Japan.

As I sit in my office, my Akita is lying in the day bed looking out the window, but nevertheless keeping guard over me.  The entire story of Hachiko makes me wonder how much we could accomplish if we only shared the Akita’s dogged determination.

Starting Anew

January 1st always seems to usher in a whole slew of resolutions, but then there are also those folks who’ve tried resolutions on the first of each year, but found the system wanting.  Many people still believe, however, that the new year is a great time to start fresh, leaving the old year behind.

I myself am a bit leery of announcing my resolutions.  Kind of like birthday wishes, I don’t want to jinx myself by letting everyone know my intentions for the year 2012.  I am starting school at Northwestern University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative writing January 5th so I suppose people will be able to guess one resolution regarding writing the first draft of a novel.  I like to excel at whatever I undertake.  Desire to be the best propels me forward.

But I must mention that I spoke with a good friend earlier today, and when I sheepishly told him about another resolution to learn Italian, he cautioned me gently, saying that I do have a bit of a habit of taking on too much with too many competing interests and goals.  Much as I hate to admit it, I do tend to pursue many goals in contradictory directions so I’m shelving the intention to learn Italian until I know how difficult my coursework will be for grad school.

It does strike me as somewhat arbitrary and odd to begin anew right in the midst of winter.  Logically, I would think March or April might be a better time for resolutions, but the powers that be must have had access to knowledge that I don’t have.  It does seem a propos to kickstart anew right after Jesus’ birthday. 

There remain some questions, however, as to when Jesus’ birthday really was.  Many say the wisemen wouldn’t have travelled afar in winter, but would have come to meet their Savior sometime in the early spring even though the angel who came to them announcing Jesus’ birth in a stable might compel them to take on such a journey.  Even if his birthday were in the winter, however, there is also the question of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in terms of how we count time.  When the last of those adherring to the Julian calendar switched over, they had to drop thirteen days so that accounts for some confusion over the exact day of Jesus’ birth. 

The winter solstice was traditionally celebrated in late December by pagans, and it is theorized that the early adherents of Christianity wanted to convert pagans, and it seemed easier to do if they drew in one of the pagan holidays.  Even the Christmas tree was co-opted from its origins in early German festivals of mid-winter.

I guess the point may be that it must a good thing to start fresh in the midst of one of the most challenging seasons or we wouldn’t do it.  If we are tough enough to survive winter, then perhaps our goals won’t seem so unreachable.  Regardless, let me wish everyone a happy, peaceful new year with the promise of newness.