Life is a Banquet
By Patrick Dennis
I am an artist and I’ve been thinking…
I’m old, and that means I have a “different” frame of reference plus some disturbing physical idiosyncrasies. So before you read another word, please go rent the classic 1959 movie Auntie Mame or you won’t know what I’m talking about. I promise you’ll love it. Everyone does. And this is not just old people talking here!
Even though he was doomed, sometimes I wish that I was the “real” Patrick Dennis who wrote the side-splittingly funny Auntie Mame in 1955 then went on to live with the fame, fortune and inevitable excess and decline that came with the success of the play, book and movie. (I won’t mention the hideous remake because it’s slander to speak against Lucille Ball, but let’s just say she looked like a man in that movie.)
Rosalind Russell was Mame, and the line, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” was a classic. Can you see her wearing a Chinese dressing gown and wielding a 3 foot cigarette holder to make the point? Even though I was still in fancy cloth diapers at the time this book was introduced, I can still embrace that sentiment and call upon its effect to jolt my daughters out of their post holiday stupor and urge them onward and upward to at least try and grab life by the ankles and go for the ride. Don’t mind the turbulence. It will pass, like a fanfare of flatulence on the Burnside veranda.
I watch that movie every year during the holidays like a refresher course on how to live. Sure it’s nice to have a Rolls Royce and who wouldn’t like to have a Beekman Place apartment, but the “moral” lesson is best learned from the words Mame gave to an extraordinarily mousy Agnes Gooch: “Live, live, live!” And so with that, dear readers and adorable daughters I give you my New Years Resolution: live!
Sure, it was a tough 2010 and you probably didn’t have a rich suitor whisk you off to a quick trip around the world, but remember in the book (okay, or movie), the rich Beauregard was the one who fell off the mountain. Mame survived to tell the tale and boy did she! Nothing slowed her down. No obstacle she couldn’t befuddle, no prank too rude, no ethnicity she couldn’t offend, no… (okay, you get the point). She made the most of life every day.
I asked my two daughters, who I suspect are just slightly bloated from eggnog or perhaps their metabolism slows down when temperatures fall, whether they were prepared to strike out into the unknown in 2011 and exercise their talents and ambitions? Their glazed expressions were all I needed to know they were still reliving their lively trip to Montana and the company of some very rugged natives there who most likely do not get cable or have a library of movies from the 1950’s. So, rather than try to rummage through my basement looking for a defib unit, I turned to my artist friends. This is what I heard.
“I lost my job two years ago. If I wasn’t doing art every day I would lose my mind.”
“I traded with a friend for some wool and made scarves for my family. They said it was the best gift they’d ever gotten.”
“I chose my best painting from the year and gave it to an artist friend that I knew loved it. Now I know where it is and that someone will appreciate it every day.”
So next time you answer the door in a kimono while having an impromptu cocktail party where you may or may not know who is swinging from the chandelier, don’t be surprised if it’s me, the “other” Patrick Dennis looking to bring my art and the art of my friends to you. We want to be at the banquet, too. Because we know the secret: without art, your home would look just like Agnes Gooch.
Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. He lives in Atlanta. Email: Patrick@affps.com