They fired her, and then she died two weeks later.
Barb was a wonderful person to work with.
The soft helping verb suddenly feels like an anvil. Maybe because in the last 5 years, a lot of people have been taken to the land of was.
- My sister *was* funny.
- My grandfather *was* kind.
- My great-grandmother *was* disciplined.
- My friend from high school *was* talented.
Even the shadow of *was* is scary. Right now my grandmother is experiencing dementia. It hurts to know one day she will be a was as well.
So will my wife.
So will I.
But the death of a co-worker feels more futile. I point to family members and connect meaningful Christmases and birthdays. I connect life-changing conversations and decades of memory.
When I point to Barb, I can only say:
“Yeah she politely helped me format a few documents once.”
That feels unfair.
It feels unfair because she was a daughter, a sister, a friend. She was a thinker, a dreamer, a doer. She was a good person in a world which often feels short of them.
And look. I am chained to the ugly three letter word again.
Before I go much further, let’s take a brief stop over Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of Pixar.
In 1972, long before Toy Story became a concept, Ed sat in a lab and waited for a caster model of his hand to finish drying. (He forgot to apply lubricant, which means he will be yanking out every single hair on the back of said hand until he is able to free it from the mold). Once finished, he used his real hands and fingers to paste no fewer than 350 triangles and polygons of varying size and shape on the fake hand. All of this effort is an attempt to mimic the curved structure of a human hand using only 2D shapes.
And why would he want to do that? Because at this time, computers were barely able to show flat objects, let alone a nuanced, detailed, three-dimensional hand. Ed attempted what nobody had done before with success. He would use the translate the X,Y, and Z coordinates of the polygons into an array of numbers in the machine, where the monitor would (hopefully) display a crude yet obvious duplicate of Ed’s hand.
This project took Ed endless hours to complete. It would go on to be the foundation of his dissertation — “A Subdivision Algorithm for Computer Display of Curved Surfaces.” His paper, a monstrous 84-page tome of data and jargon and theory and big words, would be judged and filed away where few people would ever read it.
Did you see what just happened? Decades of thought and work and application — and I boiled it down to three paragraphs.
Best case scenario: what you do ultimately ends up as a trivia question, a piece of esoteric knowledge filed away by only the most dedicated historians of your craft (and, perhaps, a writer obsessing over the most minute details of a creative company).
What conclusions can we draw from this?
Understand life will end, but live anyway.
Understand work will fade, but work anyway.
Understand love will stop, but love anyway.
These are the commandments of being human, best I have found: Live, work, love.
Maybe “Barb politely helped me format a few documents once” is the best possible testament to her memory.
Maybe “Todd once wrote a post that made me feel something” is the best possible testament to mine.
Here’s what I believe without question: The world does not need another Picasso — a sadistic narcissist with little empathy and even less respect for his fellow man.
Instead, this generation requires creative people who will say “my work is important, but so are the people I make it for,” who will understand the need for connection as well as success, who will build a better future for those who come next.
We need artists who care.
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