On a balcony at a cottage on the Atlantic beach, I’m warming myself in the morning sun. The waves crash against the sand below me. Seagulls and pelicans hover above; they aim a hungry eye in my direction, decide I neither have fish nor am fish, and move on.
I’ve left the world for a little while so I can decide whether I want to rejoin it.
Beside me is my knapsack with a book inside. I haven’t written in the book in the past eight months. I tell myself that I have no intention of writing in it today either, and that I really had no purpose in even bringing it with me in the first place; but both I and the book know that’s a lie. I pull it from the knapsack and set it on the table before me. It’s hardbound in bright blue. The only marking on it is a large lower-case ‘f’ in white on the front cover. I open it.
The pages inside depict a multitude of faces of people as they go about their day. Many genders, many ages, some of the images are of couples together, a few of them are cats. They notice me and hesitate, peer at me animatedly from the pages. I flip past most of them. Finally I find the page with the image of a woman in her late twenties – it’s a drawing, a self-portrait of the artist. It’s remarkably good.
She looks surprised to see me. “Where have you been?” she asks, curious.
Once upon a time there is an angsty teenage boy who thinks he knew all about love. To teach him a lesson, Eros turns him into an animal and sends him out to challenge his belief and to find what love really is. The boy meets a grumpy old hunter who is seeking courage – the only thing he’s not brave enough to do is to live his own life for himself and take responsibility for his own choices. Together the pair follow the yellow brick road to the ruins of an emerald city, wherein lives a sorceress who they hope can give them what they lack – but she turns out to be as beautiful as she is unkind, and she … well, she does something … and the hunter tries to sacrifice himself but the boy saves him from it and helps him realize how selfish his decision was. The hunter wanted to know how to stop caring about everyone, but in the end, instead he learns how to make a choice to care about another person. And the boy learns that there is more than romantic love – there’s the kinship he feels with this grumpy old hunter, though neither will ever admit it…
… no, that just won’t work. It’s contrived and boring, and I can’t think of anything for the villain to do or any reason why she should be doing it.
I found myself nose-to-nose with a ferret – in a figurative sense at least, as he stood on his hindpaws to roughly half my height. He was standing on the doorstep. Paws clasped together in earnestness. Friendly smile on his face. “Budgeron Ferret,” he said by way of introduction, “and I understand you could use my help. May I come in? And do you have tea?”
A few months ago, I attended an interview with Floyd Norman. Floyd is a Disney Legend – “the first African-American at Disney,” he says. He got his start in animation, but his career really took off when Walt himself asked him to help with the story on The Jungle Book.
During the interview, he said a lot about the creative process. I took notes. (My notes weren’t exact, so most quotes below are paraphrased.)
Creative people are more willing to take a risk, he explained. “Creativity is not being afraid to be different, and to be a little bit nuts.” He talked about his job being a collaboration between art, creativity, and technology. “Walt and his colleagues were just making stuff up. The painters, the cameramen, et cetera – they learned and made it up as they went along.” His career has spanned from Sleeping Beauty all the way to Monsters Inc.; he explained that Pixar is very much like the Hyperion studio in the 1930s. Because no one had done it before, there was nothing telling them they couldn’t do it.
“What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day?”
I was born the year that “Information Overload” became a thing. I grew up with the Internet supplying whatever I wanted to know about whatever. Before the World-Wide Web there was USENET, so instead of Googling for an answer I would post a question to a newsgroup; people eager to show off would be quick to share their information and their opinions. So not only did I learn details about technology and politics and religion and economics, but I also learned the points on which people disagree and I got to see them spar in public. This is arguably a better way to learn than reading a Wikipedia article.
This is a eulogy for Larry, eight years too late.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I was an innocent young Ivy League graduate with an engineering degree and no idea what to do with it. I took the first job offer I got: with Oracle, the database company in California. They had no idea what to do with me. They threw me into a three-week crash course in databases, then let me pick what group I wanted to join. I chose Tech Support.
Tech Support had no idea what to do with me either. I was assigned to the desktop team. They gave me a PC running Windows 3.1 (a very long time ago, remember!), and told me I had to resolve a certain number of customer tickets each week.
The transition from college life to the Real World had been a difficult one. No longer were there letter grades to tell me well I was (or wasn’t) doing! I had no objective way to compare myself with other people and objectively see if I was screwing up! But suddenly this closed ticket count took that place in my life and became the measure thereof, and I worked hard to get that number high and keep it at the top of the weekly department report. There were no company incentives for this, of course; as long as the quotas were met, upper management didn’t care about individual performance. I cared, but nobody else did.
Especially Larry. Larry didn’t care at all.
I’ve been trying to learn a few new things lately.
Hello, Amalgamated Fluorodynamics, security desk, Noel speaking!
Oh, hi, Ralph. Hey, I wanted to thank you for your Christmas card, that was really nice of ya! … no, Ralph, I’m kidding, I know you didn’t send me a Christmas card this year. Nobody did. Don’t worry about it, really, I’m okay with it, I’m used to it. I’m chief of security. I make people’s lives difficult by telling them to change their passwords and lock their lab doors. If they liked me it means I’m not doing my job right. If I wanted to be popular I wouldn’t be in this business. Still, might be nice, right?
Slow down, Ralph, you’re yammering too quick, I can’t understand a word you’re saying. What got broken into? No, that can’t be, I’d know about it. My console would be lit up like a Christmas tree. Nobody can disable the alarms ‘cept the CEO.
Uh-huh. He did, did he? What’d he take?
Now, Ralph, you know I can’t tell you anything about the top-secret stuff that goes on in there. I don’t even know a whole lot about it myself, just what I hear during lunch break. They came up with something that can move you freely through any dimension, and I learned back in high school that time’s the fourth dimension – yeah, I did a book report on Stephen Hawking once – so I hear they can hop back a couple of minutes just as easy as strolling across a room, and they can go through walls as simple as stepping around a flagpole. Crazy, right? But the secretary tells me they can’t find a decent practical application for it that wouldn’t give Homeland Security a wedgie. So the official word is that I don’t have any idea what goes on in that lab. And neither do you, y’hear?
So he took that. Man, I’m glad I didn’t schedule any Christmas vacation. Anything else?
Huh. But there’s really not a whole lot special about the 3D printer. It’s just an off-the-shelf model from China. It even came with a whole bunch of schematics for stuff that gets shipped out of Shanghai, mostly toys and personal hygiene products. Me and the guys played with it some and now we’ll never need to buy another toothbrush so long as we live. But the printer ain’t any good without the raw materials to go into it, and do you know how heavy that stuff is? How’s he gonna lug it around?
Oh, that too, I see. Yeah, they call it a “massless gravity-nullifier”. See, gravity is like a bowling ball on a rubber surface – the mass of the ball bends the surface and anything close to it gets drawn in, see … sorry, Hawking’s book again, but basically they found a way to make that not happen, so if you hold up a pencil and let go it just stays here. Strangest thing in the world. Yeah, somebody was showing it off in the cafeteria. I would have written him up for it ‘cept it was just too cool.
That all, Ralph? All right. One 3D printer, one time-and-space-shifting doodad, and one antigravity thingamabob. What’s he going to do, become a revolutionary toothbrush distributor? And even if he can make all of it float, that’s still an awful lot to move around. Is he planning on pushing it from house to house?
By the way, Ralph, I hope you’re going to the Christmas party this year. The invite says they’re bringing in live reindeer from Norway or Canada or someplace so they can put venison on the menu. Really fresh, if you know what I mean, as long as the activists don’t hear about it. Maybe I’ll see you there. No, I promise you, Ralph, no hard feelings about the Christmas card thing.
Ralph. Calm down. Yes, I am listening to you. Here at Amalgamated Fluorodynamics, we take the security of our research and development work extremely seriously. The CEO is the only guy who could have taken anything out of that lab, but we thought of that too, we have a contingency plan for everything. Remember what I said about moving stuff through dimensions? Every one of our prototypes is tagged and I’m the only guy with the button that will pull all of the stolen goods right back here to my office. I’m pushing the recall button right now, Ralph. See, worked like a charm. I’ve got all of it right here in front of my desk and the authorities have been informed as to where they can pick him up. All in a Christmas Eve’s work, Ralph…
Hey Ralph, look, I’m going to have to call you back. I think I’m gonna take the evening off after all.