“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer
Mimi and I have just returned from the TED conference in Monterey, California, and I have to say, my mind is well and truly blown. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and is basically the bull’s-eye for the Agents of Change. It’s a collection of a buncha folks on top of their proverbial games, no matter their discipline or area of expertise. In comic book terms, it’s pretty much the San Diego con for the rest of the global, international world.
Comic book folks; think about that for a minute.
There’s a place on this planet, once a year, where shit happens. A place where we’re just not used to having our minds treated this way. TED is like going to college and having everyone in every class being a professor, listening to the Platonic ideal of “instructor” speak in an articulate and entertaining way about whatever that Ultimate Teacher found interesting in his discipline right that second.
And, even in this hyperbolic over-sell, I find my own description of the grey-matter attending TED lacking.
I could give you a list of attendees, and you’d read it and recognize most of the names. It’s the famous and well-known and notorious and infamous checking into TED. It’s the people who Get Things Done and the people who Anoint The Next Big Thing and the people who Know What Time It Is Without Looking At A Clock making up the audience of this particular conference. Musicians and activists Peter Gabriel and Thomas Dolby. Roger Mandle, President of Walt Simonson’s alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. Jehane Noujaim, the director of Startup.com and Control Room. Charles Fleischer, voice of Roger Rabbit and inventor of moleeds. Street magician Dynamo, leadership psychologist Tony Robbins, Saturday Night Live comedienne Julia Sweeney, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and former US Vice-President Al friggin’ Gore.
Visionaries and iconoclasts and malconents and king-makers.
And I learned some things, in this rarified air.
The first thing I learned is that I have no excuse. I get emails from folks asking me about my next books in general, and The Black Diamond in particular, and I have to reply that running the business sort of takes me away from time to be creative. Necessity spawns category-makers like Proof of Concept, of course, but I still think of myself more as talent than bizdev, you know? So I miss the creative side of things and console myself with the thought that I am a beautiful and unique snowflake and you can’t rush creativity and the barometric pressure needs to be just so for me to craft my genius, and all, and so sometimes it takes a little longer to get things out for my talented friends to draw.
And if not for spoken word master Rives, I might have kept on thinking this. On Friday, Rives dropped a glorious piece on the assembled; a rhyming, syncopated gem about mockingbirds as the embodiments of communication, featuring events that had transpired at the conference the previous day. So not only did Rives experience everything at the various presentations as did all members of the audience, but he went back to his hotel room Thursday evening and wrote a masterpiece, learned the entire performance and presented it without notes or stumbles or miscues less than eight hours later.
A quick little perfect brainbomb for the crowd.
I was so impressed I went back to our hotel room that night and crafted another chapter in the project I’m currently working on, and I’m trying to keep that incredible feeling of possibility going. So, thanks, Rives. I’ve written more usable fiction in the last week than I had in the last two months.
The next thing I learned is that everybody’s a fanboy for something.
Longtime readers of these little missives into the ether may recall that I spent some time in Hollywood a few years ago, where my celebrity-worship circuit breaker tripped permanently. Catherine O’Hara feeling the need to tell margarita-fuelled me at the Dresden that she was there with somebody being a particular high point in the bigshots-are-people-too lessons I’ve learned.
So, while hanging out with all these notables was certainly neat, I was more apt to be paying attention to whatever nugget they were offering than thinking, “Holy crap! Al Gore is one of the funniest guys on earth. Who knew?”
Except when I met Burt Rutan, winner of the X-Prize and all-around aviation legend. That smile I’m sporting is probably the biggest grin I’ve had in fifteen years. Like I said, everybody’s a fanboy for something, and my heroes are all steely-eyed rocketmen.
The last great thing I took away from the conference is a renewed sense of inclusion. You’ll understand that creating comics is mostly an individual pursuit. Long hours spent in an office, staring at a computer screen, living inside one’s own head listening to characters populating whole worlds trying to convince you to get their voices out of your mind and onto paper so others can hear them and what they’re saying as clearly as you do. Honestly, being a writer can be a little schizophrenic, sometimes.
But at the conference, I had pretty much the opposite experience. Instead of a whole world trying to get out of my head, it seemed like the whole world was coming to talk to me. I saw a guy juggle while saying pi out to two hundred integers… correctly. Physical and mental concentration, flawlessly performed. I heard Aubrey deGrey make a convincing case for a human lifespan that could span tens of centuries. I saw one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. I heard Dr. Amy Smith tell the audience that the leading killer of children under five in the world is not water-borne diseases, but upper respiratory failure brought on by indoor cooking fires. I heard “She Blinded Me With Science” played live with a harmonica solo by the voice of Roger Rabbit. I saw the world’s strongest rope, and I read charts that prove that the world actually breathes.
And after each one of these and a thousand other brainbombs in Monterey, I learned there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than Making Comics Better. More things are possible now than ever before, and creativity’s only limit is that which it places on itself.
If you’re going to do something, put your whole heart in it. Don’t make excuses. Be the best juggler that can recite pi. Be the best slam poet you can be. Brainbomb the people around you with little cannon shots of your own. Stimulate people to think and act and to achieve.
Be that thing. Make the future.
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