7620 — Reach

Ray Bradbury put up a sign in front of his desk that read: DON’T THINK. I copied him and put up the same. You can’t care what happens, you have to just love the doing and the drinking coffee and the typing itself. And the words boiling out of your brain. Around 8% of what he ever wrote was published, by my calculations a little while back. And, of many of the stories I’ve read of his, there are many I don’t like or think are only so-so. And that is just why I LOVE him. He is experimental. He is unafraid. You have to be experimental to be good.

I also have a sign above my desk that reads: EGOCIDE. This is what Bucky Fuller decided to commit instead of SUICIDE. Which is: why would you ever care what anybody thinks of you? Reputation, standing. None of these things are lasting, and the people who maintain a good ‘reputation’ with everybody throughout their lifetimes are the ones forgotten in a generation, because they did nothing new and were nothing. It’s funny, because I often find myself acting more loving, caring, genuine, affectionate, and compassionate when I have in my mind EGOCIDE. It is what I want to do, and society has taught me it is difficult or unstrong or a waste of time.

I added a third sign to this set, which are all really saying the same thing. The third one says: REACH. In school, when I loved writing and first got into it — and then immediately got out of it until I turned 19 — one of the first things they told me to really ruin my enthusiasm was “Don’t reach.” In other words, only state what you can clearly and defensively and precisely back up, cite, evidence, know will work, and on and on. This would make me preposterously angry, even in the youngest grades. But eventually I capitulated to be validated as smart. After my first year of writing short stories, during which I wrote one per week, I looked back on all of them, and my first thought was: They’re all too good! I’m so disappointed in myself! I wrote a letter to a friend and I said: I wish I had had the courage to write more truly terrible short stories. Because the bad ones, the few ones I did go with, were weird and terrible and wonderful in those two things: they had new ideas and textures and styles to them, that point me where I could be going, to new ideas. Not just for fiction, but for inventing, for managing my teams, all the rest of it. They were when I was reaching.

Reaching is all that we can do as the human species, and exactly what you should strive to do, not shy away from. If you only did what could be backed up by a mountain-wall avalanche of success, and a surefire underwriting of non-failure, what would you do? If you couldn’t reach, where would you end up? All your stories would be just the same. The new genres would never happen. Sci Fi wouldn’t exist. Hell, what’s the point of imagination at all! Just record, point form, what happened last Tuesday.

With no reaching, nobody would have ever paid attention to electricity, because energy pulsating through everything is just pseudo-scientific nonsense. Tesla would still be a ditch digger. Einstein a dropout filing papers. We wouldn’t have steel or bronze, because there’s no reason that could work over the stone: you’re reaching too far. And, of course, we wouldn’t have the many many many failures — no, experimentations — which led to these successes, but were not them. No refrigeration, no television, no paper or printing presses, or even written letters. Every invention has had to start as a dream, vague and on the horizon, and has started out as a lie until we turned it true. You have to go, as far as you can, to reach, however vaguely and unsolidly, at the periphery, grasp it and get it and then try to understand. But everyone and every idea has been a reach first.

“Don’t reach,” Is possibly the stupidest piece of advice ever given, although I hesitate to make this claim since terrible, counter-factual norms are driven along all the time, but I still abhor that this is given to us, all of us, in schools till this day! Without it we would stay in the caves! So I say: REACH! Reach away!

— cole