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An artist who seeks fame is like a dog chasing his own tail who, when he captures it, does not know what else to do but to continue chasing it.

The cruelty of success is that it often leads those who seek such success to participate in their own destruction.

"Don't quit your day job!" is advice frequently given by understandably pessimistic family members and friends to a budding artist who is trying hard to succeed.

The conquest of fame is difficult at best, and many end up emotionally if not financially bankrupt.

Still, impure motives such as the desire for worshipping fans and praise from peers may spur the artist on.

The lure of drowning in fame's imperial glory is not easily resisted.

Those who gain fame most often gain it as a result of exploiting their talent for singing, dancing, painting, or writing, etc. They develop a style that agents market aggressively to hasten popularity, and their ride on the express elevator to the top is a blur.

Most would be hard-pressed to tell you how they even got there.

Artists cannot remain idle, though.

When the performer, painter or writer becomes bored, their work begins to show a lack of continuity in its appeal and it becomes difficult to sustain the attention of the public.

After their enthusiasm has dissolved, the public simply moves on to the next flavor of the month.

Artists who do attempt to remain current by making even minute changes to their style of writing, dancing or singing, run a significant risk of losing the audience's favor.

The public simply discounts styles other than those for which the artist has become famous.

Famous authors' styles—a Tennessee Williams play or a plot by Ernest Hemingway or a poem by Robert Frost or T.S. Eliot—are easily recognizable.

The same is true of painters like Monet, Renoir, or Dali and moviemakers like Hitchcock, Fellini, Spielberg, Chen Kaige or Zhang Yimou.

Their distinct styles marked a significant change in form from others and gained them fame and fortune.

However, they paid for it by giving up the freedom to express themselves with other styles or forms.

Fame's spotlight can be hotter than a tropical jungle—a fraud is quickly exposed, and the pressure of so much attention is too much for most to endure.

It takes you out of yourself: You must be what the public thinks you are, not what you really are or could be.

The performer, like the politician, must often please his or her audiences by saying things he or she does not mean or fully believe.

One drop of fame will likely contaminate the entire well of a man's soul, and so an artist who remains true to himself or herself is particularly amazing.

You would be hard-pressed to underline many names of those who have not compromised and still succeeded in the fame game.

An example, the famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde, known for his uncompromising behavior, both social and sexual, to which the public objected, paid heavily for remaining true to himself.

The mother of a young man Oscar was intimate with accused him at a banquet in front of his friends and fans of sexually influencing her son.

Extremely angered by her remarks, he sued the young man's mother, asserting that she had damaged his "good" name.

He should have hired a better attorney, though.

The judge did not second Wilde's call to have the woman pay for damaging his name, and instead fined Wilde.

He ended up in jail after refusing to pay, and even worse, was permanently expelled from the wider circle of public favor. When things were at their worst, he found that no one was willing to risk his or her name in his defense.

His price for remaining true to himself was to be left alone when he needed his fans the most.

Curiously enough, it is those who fail that reap the greatest reward: freedom!

They enjoy the freedom to express themselves in unique and original ways without fear of losing the support of fans. Failed artists may find comfort in knowing that many great artists never found fame until well after they had passed away or in knowing that they did not sell out.

They may justify their failure by convincing themselves their genius is too sophisticated for contemporary audiences.

Single-minded artists who continue their quest for fame even after failure might also like to know that failure has motivated some famous people to work even harder to succeed.

Thomas Wolfe, the American novelist, had his first novel Look Homeward, Angel rejected 39 times before it was finally published.

Beethoven overcame his father, who did not believe that he had any potential as a musician, to become the greatest musician in the world.

And Pestalozzi, the famous Swiss educator in the 19th century, failed at every job he ever had until he came upon the idea of teaching children and developing the fundamental theories to produce a new form of education.

Thomas Edison was thrown out of school in the fourth grade, because he seemed to his teacher to be quite dull. Unfortunately for most people, however, failure is the end of their struggle, not the beginning.

I say to those who desperately seek fame and fortune: good luck.

But alas, you may find that it was not what you wanted.

The dog who catches his tail discovers that it is only a tail.

The person who achieves success often discovers that it does more harm than good.

So instead of trying so hard to achieve success, try to be happy with who you are and what you do.

Try to do work that you can be proud of.

Maybe you won't be famous in your own lifetime, but you may create better art.


One summer day my father sent me to buy some wire and fencing to put around our barn to pen up the bull.

At 16, I liked nothing better than getting behind the wheel of our truck and driving into town on the old mill road.

Water from the mill's wheel sprayed in the sunshine making a rainbow over the canal and I often stopped there on my way to bathe and cool off for a spell—natural air conditioning.

The sun was so hot, I did not need a towel as I was dry by the time I climbed the clay banks and crossed the road ditch to the truck.

Just before town, the road shot along the sea where I would collect seashells or gather seaweed beneath the giant crane unloading the ships.

This trip was different, though.

My father had told me I'd have to ask for credit at the store.

It was 1976, and the ugly shadow of racism was still a fact of life.

I'd seen my friends ask for credit and then stand, head down, while a storeowner enquired into whether they were "good for it".

Many store clerks watched black youths with the assumption that they were thieves every time they even went into a grocery. My family was honest.

We paid our debts.

But just before harvest, all the money flowed out.

There were no new deposits at the bank.

Cash was short.

At Davis Brothers' General Store, Buck Davis stood behind the register, talking to a middle-aged farmer.

Buck was a tall, weathered man in a red hunting shirt and I nodded as I passed him on my way to the hardware section to get a container of nails, a coil of binding wire and fencing.

I pulled my purchases up to the counter and placed the nails in the tray of the scale, saying carefully, "I need to put this on credit."

My brow was moist with nervous sweat and I wiped it away with the back of my arm.

The farmer gave me an amused, cynical look, but Buck's face didn't change.

"Sure," he said easily, reaching for his booklet where he kept records for credit.

I gave a sigh of relief.

"Your daddy is always good for it."

He turned to the farmer.

"This here is one of James Williams' sons.

They broke the mold when they made that man."

The farmer nodded in a neighborly way.

I was filled with pride.

"James Williams' son."

Those three words had opened a door to an adult's respect and trust.

As I heaved the heavy freight into the bed of the truck, I did so with ease, feeling like a stronger man than the one that left the farm that morning.

I had discovered that a good name could furnish a capital of good will of great value.

Everyone knew what to expect from a Williams: a decent person who kept his word and respected himself too much to do wrong.

My great grandfather may have been sold as a slave at auction, but this was not an excuse to do wrong to others.

Instead my father believed the only way to honor him was through hard work and respect for all men.

We children—eight brothers and two sisters—could enjoy our good name, unearned, unless and until we did something to lose it.

We had an interest in how one another behaved and our own actions as well, lest we destroy the name my father had created. Our good name was and still is the glue that holds our family tight together.

The desire to honor my father's good name spurred me to become the first in our family to go to university.

I worked my way through college as a porter at a four-star hotel. Eventually, that good name provided the initiative to start my own successful public relations firm in Washington, D.C.

America needs to restore a sense of shame in its neighborhoods.

Doing drugs, spending all your money at the liquor store, stealing, or getting a young woman pregnant with no intent to marry her should induce a deep sense of embarrassment.

But it doesn't.

Nearly one out of three births in America is to a single mother. Many of these children will grow up without the security and guidance they need to become honorable members of society.

Once the social ties and mutual obligations of the family melt away, communities fall apart.

While the population has increased only 40 percent since 1960, violent crime in America has increased a staggering 550 percent—and we've become exceedingly used to it. Teen drug use has also risen.

In one North Carolina County, police arrested 73 students from 12 secondary schools for dealing drugs, some of them right in the classroom.

Meanwhile, the small signs of civility and respect that hold up civilization are vanishing from schools, stores and streets. Phrases like "yes, ma'am", "no, sir", "thank you" and "please" get a yawn from kids today who are encouraged instead by cursing on television and in music.

They simply shrug off the rewards of a good name.

The good name passed on by my father and maintained to this day by my brothers and sisters and me is worth as much now as ever.

Even today, when I stop into Buck Davis' shop or my hometown <49>barbershop for a haircut, I am still greeted as James Williams' son.

My family's good name did pave the way for me.

2A He was born in a poor area of South London.

He wore his mother's old red stockings cut down for ankle socks.

His mother was temporarily declared mad.

Dickens might have created Charlie Chaplin's childhood.

But only Charlie Chaplin could have created the great comic character of "the Tramp", the little man in rags who gave his creator permanent fame.

Other countries—France, Italy, Spain, even Japan—have provided more applause (and profit) where Chaplin is concerned than the land of his birth.

Chaplin quit Britain for good in 1913 when he journeyed to America with a group of performers to do his comedy act on the stage, where talent scouts recruited him to work for Mack Sennett, the king of Hollywood comedy films.

Sad to say, many English people in the 1920s and 1930s thought Chaplin's Tramp a bit, well, "crude".

Certainly middle-class audiences did; the working-class audiences were more likely to clap for a character who revolted against authority, using his wicked little cane to trip it up, or aiming the heel of his boot for a well-placed kick at its broad rear.

All the same, Chaplin's comic beggar didn't seem all that English or even working-class.

English tramps didn't sport tiny moustaches, huge pants or tail coats: European leaders and Italian waiters wore things like that.

Then again, the Tramp's quick eye for a pretty girl had a coarse way about it that was considered, well, not quite nice by English audiences—that's how foreigners behaved, wasn't it?

But for over half of his screen career, Chaplin had no screen voice to confirm his British nationality.

Indeed, it was a headache for Chaplin when he could no longer resist the talking movies and had to find "the right voice" for his Tramp.

He postponed that day as long as possible: In Modern Times in 1936, the first film in which he was heard as a singing waiter, he made up a nonsense language which sounded like no known nationality.

He later said he imagined the Tramp to be a college-educated gentleman who'd come down in the world.

But if he'd been able to speak with an educated accent in those early short comedies, it's doubtful if he would have achieved

world fame.

And the English would have been sure to find it "odd". No one was certain whether Chaplin did it on purpose but this helped to bring about his huge success.

He was an immensely talented man, determined to a degree unusual even in the ranks of Hollywood stars.

His huge fame gave him the freedom—and, more importantly, the money—to be his own master.

He already had the urge to explore and extend a talent he discovered in himself as he went along.

"It can't be me. Is that possible? How extraordinary," is how he greeted the first sight of himself as the Tramp on the screen. But that shock roused his imagination.

Chaplin didn't have his jokes written into a script in advance; he was the kind of comic who used his physical senses to invent his art as he went along.

Lifeless objects especially helped Chaplin make "contact" with himself as an artist.

He turned them into other kinds of objects.

Thus, a broken alarm clock in the movie The Pawnbroker became a "sick" patient undergoing surgery; boots were boiled in his film The Gold Rush and their soles eaten with salt and pepper like prime cuts of fish (the nails being removed like fish bones).

This physical transformation, plus the skill with which he executed it again and again, is surely the secret of Chaplin's great comedy.

He also had a deep need to be loved—and a corresponding fear of being betrayed.

The two were hard to combine and sometimes—as in his early marriages—the collision between them resulted in disaster. Yet even this painfully-bought self-knowledge found its way into his comic creations.

The Tramp never loses his faith in the flower girl who'll be waiting to walk into the sunset with him; while the other side of Chaplin makes Monsieur Verdoux, the French wife killer, into a symbol of hatred for women.

It's a relief to know that life eventually gave Charlie Chaplin the stability and happiness it had earlier denied him.

In Oona O'Neill Chaplin, he found a partner whose stability and affection spanned the 37 years age difference between them, which had seemed so threatening, that when the official who was marrying them in 1942 turned to the beautiful girl of 17 who'd given notice of their wedding date, he said, "And where is the young man? "—Chaplin, then 54, had cautiously waited outside.

As Oona herself was the child of a large family with its own problems, she was well prepared for the battle that Chaplin's life became as many unfounded rumors surrounded them both—and, later on, she was the center of calm in the quarrels that Chaplin sometimes sparked in his own large family of talented children.

Chaplin died on Christmas Day 1977.

A few months later, a couple of almost comic body thieves stole his body from the family burial chamber and held it for money.

The police recovered it with more efficiency than Mack Sennett's clumsy Keystone Cops would have done, but one can't help feeling Chaplin would have regarded this strange incident as a fitting memorial—his way of having the last laugh on a world to which he had given so many.

2B Modest and soft-spoken, Agatha Muthoni Mbogo, 24, is hardly the image of a revolutionary.

Yet, six months ago, she did a most revolutionary thing: She ran for mayor of Embu, Kenya, and won.

Ms. Mbogo's victory was even more surprising because she was voted in by her colleagues on the District Council, all men. For the thousands of women in this farming area two hours northeast of Nairobi, Ms. Mbogo suddenly became a symbol of the increasingly powerful political force women have become in Kenya and across Africa.

Ms. Mbogo launched her dream of a career in politics in 1992 by running for the Embu Council, facing the obstacles that often trouble African women running for political office.

She had little money.

She had no political experience.

She faced ridiculous questions about her personal life.

"My opponent kept insisting that I was going to get married to somebody in another town and move away," Ms. Mbogo said.

Ms. Mbogo also faced misunderstanding among the town's women, many of whom initially were unwilling to vote for her. She became an ambassador for women's political rights, giving speeches before women's groups and going from door to door, handbag in hand, spending hours at a time giving a combination of speech and government lesson.

"I was delighted when she won the election, because men elected her," said Lydiah Kimani, an Embu farmer and political activist.

"It was the answer to my prayers because it seemed to be a victory over this idea that 'women can't lead'."

Education of African women has become a top priority for political activists.

One organization has held dozens of workshops in rural Kenya to help women understand the nation's constitution and the procedures and theory behind a democratic political system.

One veteran female political activist said that many women had not been taught the basics of political participation.

They are taught to vote for the one who "gives you a half kilo sack of flour, 200 grams of salt, or a loaf of bread" during the campaign, said the activist.

Women politicians and activists say they are fighting deeply-held cultural traditions.

Those traditions teach that African women cook, clean, take care of children, sow and harvest crops and support their husbands.

They typically do not inherit land, divorce their husband, control their finances or hold political office.

Yet, political activity among Kenyan women is not a new phenomenon.

During the struggle for independence in the 1950s, Kenyan women often secretly provided troops with weapons and spied on the positions of colonial forces.

But after independence, leaders jealous to protect their power shut them out of politics, a situation repeated across the continent.

Today, men still have the upper hand.

Women in Kenya make up 60 percent of the people who vote, but only 3 percent of the National Assembly.

No Kenyan woman has ever held a cabinet post.

Against that background, Agatha Mbogo began her political career.

After winning her council seat, she declined a spot on the education and social services committee after a colleague called it "a woman's committee".

She instead joined the town planning committee, a much more visible assignment.

Then last year, she decided to challenge Embu's mayor, a veteran politician.

Ms. Mbogo said she had become frustrated because the donor groups that provide substantial aid to Kenya's rural areas "did not want to come here".

"We weren't seeing things done for the community," she said.

"It was a scandal—the donors' money seemed to be going to individuals."

After a fierce campaign, the council elected her, 7 to 6.

She said women in Embu celebrated.

Men were puzzled; some were hostile.

They asked, "How could all of those men vote for a woman? " she recalled.

Ms. Mbogo has not met with the kinds of abuse that other female politicians have been subjected to, however.

Some have said their supporters are sometimes attacked with clubs after rallies.

Last June, Kenyan police attempted to break up a women's political meeting northwest of Nairobi, insisting it was illegal and might start a riot.

When the 100 women, including a member of the National Assembly, refused to go, officers tore down their banners and beat them with clubs and fists, witnesses reported.

In contrast, Ms. Mbogo generally receives warm greetings from the men of Embu, and many say they are now glad the council chose her.

Donor groups are now funding projects in Embu in earnest.

A new market is going up downtown.

A 200-bed section for new mothers is being added to the hospital.

A dormitory-style home has been built for the dozens of homeless street children who once wandered the city.

Ms. Mbogo is especially proud of the market and the hospital because "they have an impact on women".

At the current market, where hundreds of people, shaded by umbrellas, lay out fruits and vegetables, one person who sells lemons said she liked the new mayor.

"I feel like if I have a problem, I can go to her office," she said.

"The other mayor shouted. He acted like an emperor. He did not want to hear my problems."

Nearby, a man said he found Ms. Mbogo a refreshing change.

"I'm tired of men," he said, watching over his pile of onions.

"They give us so many promises, but they don't deliver the goods. As long as she keeps giving us what we want, she is all right."


A welfare client is supposed to cheat. Everybody expects it.

Faced with sharing a dinner of raw pet food with the cat, many people in wheelchairs I know bleed the system for a few extra dollars.

They tell the government that they are getting two hundred dollars less than their real pension so they can get a little extra welfare money.

Or, they tell the caseworker that the landlord raised the rent by a hundred dollars.

I have opted to live a life of complete honesty.

So instead, I go out and drum up some business and draw cartoons.

I even tell welfare how much I make!

Oh, I'm tempted to get paid under the table.

But even if I yielded to that temptation, big magazines are not going to get involved in some sticky situation.

They keep my records, and that information goes right into the government's computer.

Very high-profile.

As a welfare client I'm expected to bow before the caseworker.

Deep down, caseworkers know that they are being made fools of by many of their clients, and they feel they are entitled to have clients bow to them as compensation. I'm not being bitter.

Most caseworkers begin as college-educated liberals with high ideals.

But after a few years in a system that practically requires people to lie, they become like the one I shall call "Suzanne", a detective in shorts.

Not long after Christmas last year, Suzanne came to inspect my apartment and saw some new posters pasted on the wall. "Where'd you get the money for those? " she wanted to know.

"Friends and family."

"Well, you'd better have a receipt for it, by God. You have to report any donations or gifts."

This was my cue to beg.

Instead, I talked back.

"I got a cigarette from somebody on the street the other day. Do I have to report that? "

"Well, I'm sorry, but I don't make the rules, Mr. Callahan."

Suzanne tries to lecture me about repairs to my wheelchair, which is always breaking down because welfare won't spend money maintaining it properly.

"You know, Mr. Callahan, I've heard that you put a lot more miles on that wheelchair than average."

Of course I do.

I'm an active worker, not a vegetable.

I live near downtown, so I can get around in a wheelchair.

I wonder what she'd think if she suddenly broke her hip and had to crawl to work.

Government cuts in welfare have resulted in hunger and suffering for a lot of people, not just me.

But people with spinal cord injuries felt the cuts in a unique way: The government stopped taking care of our chairs.

Each time mine broke down, lost a screw, needed a new roller bearing, the brake wouldn't work, etc., and I called Suzanne, I had to endure a little lecture.

Finally, she'd say, "Well, if I can find time today, I'll call the medical worker."

She was supposed to notify the medical worker, who would certify that there was a problem.

Then the medical worker called the wheelchair repair companies to get the cheapest bid.

Then the medical worker alerted the main welfare office at the state capital.

They considered the matter for days while I lay in bed, unable to move.

Finally, if I was lucky, they called back and approved the repair.

When welfare learned I was making money on my cartoons, Suzanne started "visiting" every fortnight instead of every two months.

She looked into every corner in search of unreported appliances, or maids, or a roast pig in the oven, or a new helicopter

parked out back.

She never found anything, but there was always a thick pile of forms to fill out at the end of each visit, accounting for every penny.

There is no provision in the law for a gradual shift away from welfare.

I am an independent businessman, slowly building up my market.

It's impossible to jump off welfare and suddenly be making two thousand dollars a month. But I would love to be able to pay for some of my living and not have to go through an embarrassing situation every time I need a spare part for my wheelchair. There needs to be a lawyer who can act as a champion for the rights of welfare clients, because the system so easily lends itself to abuse by the welfare givers as well as by the clients.

Welfare sent Suzanne to look around in my apartment the other day because the chemist said I was using a larger than usual amount of medical supplies.

I was, indeed: The hole that has been surgically cut to drain urine had changed size and the connection to my urine bag was leaking.

While she was taking notes, my phone rang and Suzanne answered it.

The caller was a state senator, which scared Suzanne a little.

Would I sit on the governor's committee and try to do something about the thousands of welfare clients who, like me, could earn part or all of their own livings if they were allowed to do so, one step at a time?

Hell, yes, I would!

Someday people like me will thrive under a new system that will encourage them, not seek to convict them of cheating. They will be free to develop their talents without guilt or fear—or just hold a good, steady job.


It was late afternoon when the chairman of our Bangkok-based company gave me an assignment: I would leave the next day to accompany an important Chinese businessman to tourist sites in northern Thailand.

Silently angry, I stared at my desk.

The stacks of paper bore witness to a huge amount of work waiting to be done, even though I had been working seven days a week.

How will I ever catch up? I wondered.

After a one-hour flight the next morning, we spent the day visiting attractions along with hundreds of other tourists, most of them loaded with cameras and small gifts.

I remember feeling annoyed at this dense collection of humanity.

That evening my Chinese companion and I climbed into a chartered van to go to dinner and a show, one which I had attended many times before.

While he chatted with other tourists, I exchanged polite conversation in the dark with a man seated in front of me, a Belgian who spoke fluent English.

I wondered why he held his head motionless at an odd angle, as though he were in prayer.

Then the truth struck me.

He was blind.

Behind me someone switched on a light, and I could see his thick silvery hair and strong, square jaw.

His eyes seemed to contain a white mist.

"Could I please sit beside you at the dinner?" he asked.

"And I'd love it if you'd describe a little of what you see."

"I'd be happy to," I replied.

My guest walked ahead toward the restaurant with newly found friends.

The blind man and I followed.

My hand held his elbow to steer him, but he stepped forward with no sign of hesitation or stoop, his shoulders squared, his head high, as though he were guiding me.

We found a table close to the stage.

He ordered half a liter of beer and I ordered a grape soda.

As we waited for our drinks, the blind man said, "The music seems out of tune to our Western ears, but it has charm. Please describe the musicians."

I hadn't noticed the five men performing at the side of the stage as an introduction to the show.

"They're seated cross-legged on a rug, dressed in loose white cotton shirts and large black trousers, with fabric around their waists that has been dyed bright red.

Three are young lads, one is middle-aged and one is elderly.

One beats a small drum, another plays a wooden stringed instrument, and the other three have smaller, violin-like pieces they play with a bow."

As the lights dimmed, the blind man asked, "What do your fellow tourists look like?"

"All nationalities, colors, shapes and sizes, a gallery of human faces," I whispered.

As I lowered my voice further and spoke close to his ear, the blind man leaned his head eagerly toward me.

I had never before been listened to with such intensity.

"Very close to us is an elderly Japanese woman," I said.

"Just beyond her a yellow-haired Scandinavian boy of about five is leaning forward, his face just below hers.

They're motionless, waiting for the performance to start.

It's the perfect living portrait of childhood and old age, of Europe and Asia."

"Yes, yes, I see them," the blind man said quietly, smiling.

A curtain at the back of the stage opened.

Six young girls appeared, and I described their violet-colored silk skirts, white blouses, and gold-colored hats like small crowns, with flexible points that moved in rhythm with the dance.

"On the tips of their fingers are golden nails perhaps 8 centimeters long," I told the blind man.

"The nails highlight each elegant movement of their hands. It's a delightful effect."

He smiled and nodded.

"How wonderful—I would love to touch one of those golden nails."

The first performance ended just as we finished dessert, and I excused myself and went to talk to the theater manager. Upon returning, I told my companion, "You've been invited backstage."