Monday, June 7, 2010

Castles in the Air

Liebe and I liked apple pie when we were 5.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

Henry David Thoreau

Today is the birthday of someone I've probably known longer than anyone else — excluding my immediate family members, of course.

We're about the same age. I'm about six months older than she is. Our mothers were close friends since childhood so I guess you could say ours is a second–generation friendship. It certainly wasn't as random as most friendships seem to be. I mean, we didn't just bump into each other one day in a play group or a kindergarten classroom and become lifelong friends.

I couldn't tell you when we were introduced — probably before we could speak. We've just always been friends, even though we've spent most of our lives separated by hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, and I suspect we will always be friends, no matter where our lives take us or how long our lives turn out to be.

We seem to have gravitated toward artistic pursuits, which is something we both attribute, at least in part, to my mother's encouragement. We've both been sidetracked by the bad economy, but we remain hopeful for better times.

I have always been a writer, although that hasn't always been how I made my living. I worked for many years — and in various roles — for newspapers. Liebe (pronounced LEE — bee) was always more of a thespian. She has been a clown, and she has written, produced and performed in puppet shows. She has a lot of talent, and she backs it up with a lot of hard work.

(I've heard some speak disparagingly of occupations like clowning and puppeteering, mostly because they seem so simple. But that's deceptive. Those who do something very well, no matter what it may be, make it seem effortless.

(Believe me, there is much truth in the old observation that if something was easy, everyone would do it.

(I am reminded of a fellow who was a guest host on the Tonight show during one of Johnny Carson's absences. His monologue was a real bomb, and it set the tone for the rest of the show. After the program aired, Carson called the substitute on the phone and said, "It ain't as easy as it looks, is it, kid?")

Anyway, it seems ironic to me that, since today is Liebe's birthday, today also happens to be the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the Gazeta de Buenos Ayres, which was created by journalist Mariano Moreno (pictured at left) in Buenos Aires to publicize the actions of the first government of Argentina.

Because the illiteracy rate was so high in those days, the government ordered that the newspaper be read at chapels following mass so information could be spread more efficiently.

Ultimately, the Gazeta de Buenos Ayres was closed down in 1821.

The newspaper may well have served as a "government house organ," as Marcelo García writes in the Buenos Aires Herald, and he may be right when he says that "[t]his alone says much about the tradition, present (and future?) of Argentina's journalism," but apparently the act of publishing a newspaper was so meaningful to the people of Argentina that, since 1938, June 7 has been celebrated there as "Journalist Day."

OK, well, that would probably be more ironic if today happened to be my birthday. But I think it is significant for Liebe, too, because the concept of freedom of the press — and, along with it, freedom of thought and freedom of expression — changes constantly in America as well as the other nations of the world.

The openness of our culture is reflected in the freedom of the press. In turn, it affects how we report on the events of our times and how we interpret them in our art, our literature, our music.

There have been some pretty amazing developments just since Liebe and I have been around. And today I have been musing — what kind of amazing things await the people whose lives are just beginning on this day in 2010?

I'm not going to betray how old Liebe and I are, but, frankly, I find it staggering when I think of how much the world has changed in our lifetimes. Since we were born, man has walked on the moon. Communism in Russia collapsed. A black man has been elected president. Women have served on the Supreme Court, and they have run for vice president.

I doubt that my parents, or Liebe's, could have imagined when we were born the world we live in today.

And I can't imagine what may happen in the coming decades. Admittedly, there are times when I feel like Charles Duell, who was commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Duell supposedly remarked at the end of the 19th century that "everything that can possibly be invented has already been invented."

There has been some conflict over whether Duell ever actually said that, but, even if he did, it isn't as ludicrous as it may seem on the surface. Seen from Duell's perspective, a century of unprecedented change was concluding. Think how far mankind had come since the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. What could the next century do to top it?

Quite a lot, as it turned out. But Duell was an administrator, not an inventor. I never heard anyone suggest that he was a visionary.

And I know of no one who foresaw, in 1899, jets or space travel or any of the other miraculous things the 20th century brought. So don't be too hard on Duell. He was an ordinary, hard–working stiff.

When I was growing up, I never imagined mobile phones or CDs or computers in homes — or an internet where anything I wrote could be seen by anyone on the planet who had access to a computer.

But progress comes at a price — and sometimes that price is pretty steep. I hope those who are born today learn from the mistakes we've made.

Our achievements will seem small in hindsight if they do not.

Happy birthday, Liebe.

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