Chronicles in Ordinary Time 80: They Changed the World

your life isn't about you PKDYour life is not about you.

A guy I know would say that the above statement is absurd; of course his life is about him. To his mind, there is nothing more in life than his life. Nothingness follows his life. What will be left behind from his life [from my perspective] is a bunch of broken relationships; because, his life is only about him…

Your life is about others.

You will be remembered for what you did for, or to, others. If your life has never been about others, or has only been for others as some benefit to your own life, then your life has been wasted. You may be remembered, but not fondly.

This wasn’t the message I was raised with; it took a lot of effort for me to understand. Looking back, it didn’t seem like effort; I wanted to live my life in a way that I wasn’t seeing very often in this world; and I realized I needed new information.

Fortunately, there are far more people in this world who choose to be remembered because they did something positive for another person, rather than by choosing the negative.

Our American society tends to make villains into celebrities; mass murderers who somehow become celebrated for the pain they inflicted on others. Because we tend to make villains into celebrities, those who have been given no real value by the ‘others’ who raised them feel that “15 minutes of fame” as a monster, somehow equates with a life that has meaning. They were here; they made a statement. When historians look back, they will find the tale of a monster…a person remembered because they were ‘bold’ as a monster… Maybe there will even be a cable television series about his exploits…

How many lives have you saved by the simple act of driving safely? We may never know until we arrive at Home. It’s easier to count the damage done while driving with our minds elsewhere. We generally don’t get credit for doing a job ‘well’—the way the job is supposed to be done. The reality is that the reason for driving well is others. Not to avoid traffic tickets; not to see if you can manage to avoid getting caught; driving well is a gift you give to others. Doing your job well is a gift you give to others.

Your life is not about you.

 

This week I watched the PBS biography of Walt Disney on American Experience. I would not have enjoyed working for Disney; although a part of me wishes that I had left Eugene, Oregon in 1975 and headed for Los Angeles, to work full-time as an illustrator. In the late 1930s Disney’s crew worked 12-18 hour days in order to complete Snow White on time; the background painters, inkers and ‘in-betweeners’ worked for minimal pay [it was the Depression, and most of the painters and inkers were women—‘any knucklehead can do that job’]; while the ‘creative talent’ was paid well for their work. In the years following World War II, Disney employees went on strike for higher wages, wounding Disney deeply; this forever changed Walt’s vision of the world he wanted to create. As with many creative geniuses in the Art world, Disney was a tyrant, who had an entirely different persona displayed on camera, and with his family.

To a degree Disney’s life was about others; but for the most part, his life was about him. His highest praise, in general, was ‘that will work’. He chose a career that depended upon people liking what he created. The struggle every commercial artist faces, regardless of the form in which the art appears.

If one provided Walt with what he wanted, on time and in good order, Walt was a friend. He wanted the Disney studios to be ‘families’ [albeit dysfunctional ones]; with himself as the father, and his artists as ‘his boys’ [gender bias noted]. Loyalty was rewarded; disloyalty was not permitted.

In 1937 he premiered that which his detractors called, “Disney’s Folly”: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. The movie that changed animation forever. The movie that proved that ‘a drawing can make an audience cry’. The wonder of those early images is lost on modern viewers; we’ve become accustomed to sophisticated imagery.

When I heard the words, ‘he wanted to prove that a drawing can make an audience cry,’ a chord was struck in my ‘heart’. While I’ve never used those words, I can understand them. I’ve had ambitions of artistic immortality. I doubt that this will happen.

mickey's cafeI apparently had a relative of some sort, a guy named Milt, who worked at Disney Studios sometime in the past. Hanging on my wall is a drawing that I inherited from my Grandmother, after we moved her out of her house in a little town in Eastern Oregon. An original ‘Disney’ drawing—probably a personal project. I used the image to explain the concept of layering in digital art, the great tool that makes Adobe Photoshop the ‘giant’ it is; the digital giant that the .psd file is. A digital algorithm that enables ability to create a ditital drawing using transparent layers—the digital equivalent of the ‘cels’ [celluloid sheets] Disney used to create his animations. Disney created his early animations by photographing layers of transparent cels, which gave his animations the illusion of depth.

After the post-war strike, Disney’s enthusiasm for creating ‘art’ rather than making cartoons, disappeared. He started turning his real interest to television, while his studio continued to turn out feature films. Eventually his interest turned to Disneyland.

Walt Disney touched everyone in America who has lived in the 1950’s and beyond. I realized this week that Disney was foundational to my early life. I grew up with a television as a babysitter [two working parents]; and Walt Disney provided a lot of my entertainment. He also told me about my ‘history’—a white, conservative, ‘American Dream’ history. I think Disneyland was still new when my parents took me there, along with a million other white, conservative, American families. The Disney version of American history omitted “Manifest Destiny” and the genocide of the people who were here before the Europeans arrived, in Frontierland; ignored Slavery and Civil Rights in Fantasyland; and the Atomic Bomb in Tomorrowland; and all of the atrocities carried on by the real version of American history.

The Disney version of the world created some of the most enduring stories in American culture. Many today want to return to that world—one that really didn’t exist beyond parts of rural America. A vision of small town America that didn’t translate well into the urban environment. Geographically, America is mostly made up of rural towns; in terms of population, America is mostly made up of urban-dwellers. Cities where knowing your neighbor takes a lot of effort [more effort than I want to put out].

In spite of all of his cultural shortcomings [against the advice of the NAACP, Disney’s Song of the South was filled with ‘darkies singing happy songs;’ and premiered in Atlanta, where the story’s hero, ‘Uncle Remus’ was not allowed into the all-white theater], the truths his stories tell told remain true: if you live for others, you’ll find a reason for your life.

Audrey p22-23From an unpublished biography of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was a sensation in Hollywood in her day. Surviving privation in Belgium during World War II, she emigrated to the UK to study ballet. Life being what it is, she instead became an actress, a virtual ‘overnight success’ after her role in Roman Holiday, opposite Gregory Peck. After she retired from movies, she devoted her life to UNICEF. My guess is that her impact as UNICEF’s ambassador far outweighed her career as an actress. Her life had taught her that her life was not about her.

 

 

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