Friday, June 8, 2007

Success is a Neon-green, Glow-in-the-dark Monkey Around Your Neck and a Squishy Yellow Duck in Your Arms

What is success?

I've written elsewhere that for me, success is peace with oneself. Last night my family and I shared an evening at our town's annual carnival, and I can say without a doubt that I was at the pinnacle of what I call success.

The sky was overcast but not gloomy - grey overhead, but a soothing slate blue near the treetops. The air was pleasantly cool, just warm enough not to have to untie our jackets from our waists. The fairground, set up at the local high school, was not overcrowded. We saw a few people we knew, making for a nice, small-town atmosphere, the kind I loved to see romanticized in films like The Music Man. Our daughter had her fill of high-speed rides that made my stomach lurch just watching them. Our son went twice down the giant slide and happily bounced on two different moon-bounces. My husband got his turn playing Siegfried with a crossbow at one of the game galleries. Each child won a choice stuffed animal (for our son, a neon-green monkey, and for our daughter, a large, squishy, yellow duck).

As for me, I hungered for nothing. I had had some oboe time earlier in the day. We had just shared a simple dinner of seafood, salad greens, and strawberries. The aroma of fried dough was a pleasure but not a temptation thanks to our earlier meal. We were together and content, enjoying each other's company, laughing at each other's quirks and near-misses. After 11 years of marriage, my husband was still flirting with me and sneaking little glances and moments of affection here and there at the fair. His hand on my back was warm and sure. Work was faraway, and I would be able to return to it the next day and continue to help provide for this special family. We lived in a free country and were blessed with good health. Life was good.

A popular graduation-time greeting-card poem often mis-attributed to Emerson, but probably authored by a woman named Bessie Stanley in 1904, says you are successful if you have lived well, laughed often, loved much, and basically made the world a better place somehow. I agree, but I like even better the words of William Henry Channing (1810-1884):

To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury
and refinement rather than fashion,
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with an open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the commonplace.
This to be my symphony.

No worries about getting tenure, publishing research, making it to the top of a pop song chart or athletic tournament, or winning a prize for beauty or talent. Instead: gratitude for the love in my life; kindness to the world; honest work; peace. Noticing the extraordinary in ordinary moments. This is the kind of success I aspire to and pray to fulfill every day.

People might think this a rationalization or lack of ambition, but I know from experience that although a Harvard degree or an award-winning article might bring a sense of accomplishment and a momentary happiness, they do not bring real joy.


Nostalgia moment of the day: a friend who has known me for 22 years finally found the Japanese anime characters I've been looking for, off and on, for at least that long. Richard and Erika. I bet no one outside of the Philippines, even the most diehard manga and anime fan, has heard of them.

Growing up in the 70's in the Philippines, I remember loving two TV shows. One of them was Candy Candy. Candy Candy, a cute girl with curly blonde hair in pony tails, was a Cinderella-figure in the home of a nasty girl named Eliza. They were both attracted to a boy named Anthony, and to my delight Anthony of course preferred Candy Candy and Eliza was unremittingly jealous and bitter about the whole thing. I remember I had a pink Candy Candy pencil case in school. After I moved to the U.S. in 1981 I didn't see Candy Candy again until I was on vacation in Paris during high school and found it dubbed in French over there. I was beside myself with excitement.

The other show, which I thought was called Richard and Erika in the Philippines, never turned up on my radar screen even after I started searching the internet. But my industrious friend finally clued me in: the real name of the show is Tosho Daimos. Filipinos, being entranced with starcrossed love scenarios, focused on the romance element of an otherwise robot-battle-filled series. In our dub we gave the name Richard to Kazuya Riyuzaki, the earthling hero, and the name Erika to his forbidden lady love, Miyuki Ueda, a winged princess from the planet Barm. Like many little girls back then, I wanted to be Erika, with her long black hair and gorgeous looks, and her Richard. And young as we kids were, we could sense that there was some intense feeling between those two that was not the stuff of most science fiction we were familiar with. There were schoolmates willing to play Han Solo or Luke to my Leah, but not Richard to my Erika (nor would I have welcomed the act from most of the boys at school who, if memory serves, would have been more interested in piloting imaginary giant robots and engaging in combat against rogue Barmians anyway). I've read on another site that watching the series now, in adulthood, is a very different experience, with too many characters sacrificing life and limb for the sake of the starcrossed lovers. Oh well..."when I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child..."

I found new kids' shows and cartoons in the U.S. in the early 80's. 3-2-1 Contact, Mighty Mouse, He-Man, Inspector Gadget, even The Smurfs. But none had the drama and passion of those Japanese animated series! They didn't "make 'em like that any more..."at least, until the American public got clued in to anime. Now the love triangles continue...I hear Inuyasha's quite good.

Ah, the 80's. Peanuts was still in the funnies section of the paper. Everyone's hair except mine was big. There was no internet. I typed my college applications on a typewriter. I had a record player and a Walkman. To keep in touch with faraway friends, I wrote and received letters. Real, snail-mail letters.

It's interesting how music can so powerfully conjure up a particular period in life. My high school days were replete (of course) with 80's songs - Love Bites, Waiting for a Star to Fall, Never Tear Us Apart, Don't You Know What the Night Can Do, all the Chicago hits, U2, George Michael, Red Red Wine, I've Got My Mind Set On You. Every time I hear those I think of those sheltered days, of my cozy little home on Friars Road in Bethesda, Maryland.

In the O.R. today the nurses and surgeon played a CD that was a nostalgia walk back to their high school days, or so they joked. Big Girls Don't Cry, Stay, and the like. Those were popular in the 80's too, thanks to Dirty Dancing. What gives a song staying power? I wonder - will any of the songs that are said to be "great" today be familiar to my children when they have children?


My son's statement of the day, to his friend; overheard from the kitchen, during their playdate: "Shaman is NOT a weird name. It's a kind of DOCTOR for tribes in the AMAZON." You tell 'em, Little Sage.


Ann of the Incredible Gift said...

Your quote from William Henry Channing makes me think of Margret. I may adopt it onto her website at some point in the future.

She managed to maintain a certain dignity and independence even while yielding to the reality that she was dependent on medications, and on me to manage her schedule, finances and so on.

T. said...

Ann - I had had a chance to visit her site even before your email arrived, and I loved it. I can see even from afar what a difference she has made.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I came upon your blog when I did a search on "Richard and Erica". I also grew up in the Philippines in the 70's. This was one of my favorite shows, along with Candy Candy. Thanks for the nostalgia!!