Word from the grave

When I go tripping down memory lane, it gets complicated.

In the last 10 years, I have been a consultant to small companies trying to bring new products to market. The decade before that was my first in the commercial world, kind of a graduate assistantship in engineering, manufacturing and business.

It’s occurred to me before that I seem to reinvent myself roughly every 10 years. Starting with the most recent…

…the Prismlogic LLC decade, consulting and enabling sometimes silly ideas; speculating a bit and working for nothing on occasion; advising entities blinking into reality and winking out of existence; observing investors playing god as if playing legos, frequently driving the blinking and always involved in the winking…

…the Logitech, Inc. decade, learning to be an engineer and project manager; drinking the kool-aid from dozens of projects; squeezing research into an expedited product development and introduction; understanding the chasms between engineering, marketing and manufacturing; watching manufacturing and engineering on the move from culture to culture—a locomotive, stopping briefly only for fuel in an unending zig-zag path around the world…

…the Dekalborama decade, resident in an academic sanctuary; busting out from time to time to carry elaborate theater to outside venues; maturing as an artist, with great creative energy; social networking the old fashioned way—with drugs and laughter and parties and trysts; making music, building theater-pieces, inventing instruments…

…the wanderlust apprentice decade, finding a path from the piano conservatory through early arts and technology experiments to improvisation, composition and a personal voice; experimenting with sex and drugs and love…

…the unfortunate decade nobody likes to remember, escaping high school into university and beyond; family wars and worries; obsessing on sex and jazz and a sense of freedom; becoming the me of my future…

Each of these decades deposited keen memory images in my brain. My sense is these images are quite accurate, especially the painful, wince-causing memories. Why didn’t I modify the memories in my brain to be more pleasant than the experiences were?

Of course, some memories have clearly mutated. As I move through my sixties, I’m sometimes alarmed at memories that appear for the first time in many, well, decades. Not only have I not thought about some of this stuff in a long time, but it’s as if my brain is doing a prolonged near-death accountings of my life.

To none of those decades do I wish to return. My memory sees me as a pompous idiot and I writhe at some remembered episodes. Brilliant moments give me a nice memory rush, but I would not re-live those years.

Many people I have known throughout the years do not reinvent themselves as religiously as I have. Many seem to stretch a seminal decade into a lifetime or a career.

My academic colleagues and teachers, collaborators and friends are mostly dead or retired or still professing the same subjects. I think they get land-locked and never sever roots. I like Updike’s writing on this theme.

I have severed roots, sometimes with a surprising intensity. Changing careers, wives, locations—sometimes all three in one stroke.

There are of course exceptions. Energy and twitchiness slow down with the years, but also a sense of constancy seems to take the place of a manic creativity. In my life, this mellowness came with a partner who severed her own roots and with whom we established a fundamental garden together—kids and home by the sea.

The unhappy artist of my youth would disdain the ironic radical businessman I am today. I very much like the Borges story of a man who runs into himself from a different age. It takes some time and interaction to confirm that this is who he was, and he doesn’t like his earlier self at all.

I’m not as hard on myself (or maybe others) as I used to be. There is joy and pain in the Dekalborama collation effort, since it showcases an intense period of group creative activity in which I assumed to be a key instigator.

In fact, I worry less about my legacy these days. I have always been poor at documentation and write-ups and provenance—as if a personality flaw prevented me from ‘cashing in’ on my many improvisational efforts. I used to find something heroic in the ‘once-only’ nature of performance—boyhood stories read of Liszt or Chopin knocking out a great improvisation before recording, existing only in the memories and writings done thereafter.

I both exalted and rebuked myself for my lack of will to document and publish. Actually, it was the process rather than the product that moved me and I disdained the documentary side altogether.

Now, this seems a brilliant strategy—the internet and google (and others) are recapturing and documenting everything. Sooner, rather than later, every trace of my involvements—programs, presentations, scores, recordings, pictures, videos, writings—will be digitized and made available. This process is automated now and is inexorable. More than I ever intended to collect and publish will be available for sampling. Blessedly, I can ignore this life-long concern altogether.

The challenge and the hope is now with the next decade.

—on a plane from San Francisco to Hong Kong 4 April 2012

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