I haven’t even written a handful of words yet, but I already feel like, without some significant divergence from the norm, this year’s customary reflection will ring contrived.
It’s 12:21 PM EST, NYC time. I’m sitting in an empty Manhattan apartment in an emptier Manhattan. The city is quiet — far quieter than the internet flowing around and through it may suggest.
LinkedIn and Medium, the only cables I’ve left plugged into the failed social network that powered much of the last year’s chaos, are strewn with articles aplenty and gratuitous displays of gratitude and pithy platitudes and affluent influencer aplomb.
Befitting those digital surroundings, I sink further into my armchair and grunt into my $8 third-wave, Brooklyn-born latté. I’m a New Yorker now, after all. I earned that title this year, even if I’m not willing to play the part of staff writer for their rag.
After all, what can I write about 2020 that hasn’t already been written?
How can I, as a white heterosexual man who falls so crystal clearly after this year of working from home in Manhattan into the world’s top 10% with scant effort to have earned it, write on hardships that I haven’t known and that I’m not equipped to observe and document?
How can I pontificate on the poor of soul and the poor of heart and the poor of wallet that suffered this year?
To do so would be both tone deaf and color blind. I can’t. And so I won’t.
In simplest terms, and with the harshest of synopses, this was a year deluged with death. Some unavoidable, many unnecessary, and all consequential.
But alas, for fear of achieving the aforementioned if not implied self righteousness, my mind this year toddles towards self indulgence instead.
For me, this year, among the most consequential deaths was a quiet one: one that came not with the bang befitting of the year but with the wimpy whisper of my Wonder Years.
I’m talking, of course, about the death of Flash and the immortality project that went along with it.
Of Mice And Macromedia
I am not generally a sentimental person.
Sure, I may tear up at the satisfied grin of Ralphie’s father as he sees his son’s face flush with Red Rider happiness; or when I hear the delicate tip toe of tiny fingers across the ivories as Gosling’s quiet whisper-singing opens one of the musical’s marquee tracks; or when Kate Hudson starts singing Tiny Dancer to bring the band back together; or when the camera pans around Pink, his stoned friends splayed across the football field, as Don jokes, “I just wanna be able to look back and say… I had as much fun as I could when I was stuck in this place” — you know, the seminal scenes that succinctly describe my humanity in simplest terms.
But if I’m being honest, my sensitivity is generally only truly aroused upon the arrival of a new muse. It’s some sort of weird Darwinian reflex, one that has earned me the eternally-degrading title of the Bamboozler.
Yet, as I sat in a cab at 2:35 A.M. this morning driving through Times Square from Jersey home to the Upper East Side, hearing the shrill silence borne by the vast emptiness of activity and of noise in the city’s center that so perfectly punctuated the pandemic-produced loneliness I enjoyed and Vanessa endured this year, I did feel sentimental — and I mourned for the death of my first true muse.
On December 31 at 11:59 EST, Adobe end-of-life’d Flash.
It seems fitting that this happened after we watched Pixar’s latest, Soul. I won’t spoil the film, but its’ primary preoccupation is with the notion that our passions aren’t, in fact, our purposes.
Yet, with that clear thesis still fresh in mind, I couldn’t help but feel the death of Flash so distinctly. Its life, alongside my own, flashed before my eyes as I stared blankly out the light-streaking portlet of that cab early this morning.
I found Flash in the fall of 1997.
There was a boy in elementary school that I was particularly envious of; a girl I had a crush on liked him. He was one of those sort of effortlessly-cool kids: he was good at art, he played guitar, and he did well in school.
One day, I was at his house, and his older sister, as I remember it, had turned him on to this radical animation tool on the computer. Coming from Kid Pix just years early, this application was immensely more powerful. With simple tools, you could create complex animations, and those complex animations could then be shared as videos that you could run on your computer — or a friend’s.
He’d begun to tinker with it, and it was at that point — with my own computer fascination — that I set out to beat him at just one thing: this Windows application from a company named Macromedia titled “Flash 2”.
Over the next eight years, I would develop an obsession with Macromedia’s magic. I read books. I scoured the young internet. And I experimented. I learned, in earnest, to animate with it, and later to code with it as the tools for front-end animation turned into tools for back-end software development.
Suddenly, my simple animations could actually be used to create complex programs, and to take input and process server-side actions. Suddenly, my websites went from being static visual “pictures” to fascinating, interactive movies and games. It was, in no uncertain terms, a revelation.
Newgrounds followed. Shockwave followed. Albino Black Sheep followed. And soon so too did hundreds and then thousands of dollars in teenage earnings.
I started making websites for people and for small businesses. A pizza place. A tattoo parlor. An air conditioning supplier. I started making popular films, including a 1:1 remake of that famous Nike commercial — with stickmen, of course, which was the style at the time in ought-2.
And then, it got serious. I was hired by the Toronto District School Board to take the entire co-op program for high school and turn it into an interactive Flash course. And I did.
My work won awards, and I was seen as the wizard of this then-fledgling technology. I was wonderstruck. The sheer possibilities were endless — I could create web sites, and web applications, and full on games. The world was moving in this direction — my direction.
This was my future. I was born to be The Flash. This was my destiny.
In 2005, Adobe bought Macromedia — just in time to profit for a year or so before the web would then be fundamentally changed forever after.
Computers were evolving faster than web tech was at that time, and mobile was emerging as the future of how we would compute. And like all technologies, it wasn’t long before that the sprint towards novel innovation had turned to a trudge towards obsolesce for Flash and to a lesser degree, at the time, for Adobe as a whole.
The web grew up, and so did I, and we both outgrew the toys that made us.
I rarely felt sentimental towards the past, because I felt I was moving well towards a better tomorrow with each step further away from that beginning.
But this year, something changed. I found myself careening into the holiday season on the verge of burnout. I was miserable, stressed, and disengaged — and I couldn’t in good conscience place the blame on COVID.
In candid truth, this year was relatively easy for Vanessa and I . She missed her family, of course, but we remained isolated, and healthy, and comfortably employed and likely positioned to benefit from this coming year’s rising tides.
Sure, we paid way too much to rent what amounts to a hotel room in a closed amusement park, but that aside, we had no right to be stressed. Two well-to-do DINKS on the Upper East Side with a killer healthcare plan and walking distance to one of the best hospitals in the world? Self-talk of stress was met immediately with a self-directed “go fuck yourself”.
That’s what made feeling burnt out so frustrating — and why the death of Flash was so moving to me.
Like the great toys and places and people and memories of our youth, Flash for me represented the better times — the times in the Before Covid (B.C.) era when things were a little bit simpler, and a little more romantic and a lot more fun.
There’s nothing romantic about the year behind us. There’s nothing worth remembering, aside from perhaps the many mistakes and lies and deaths that this country is solely responsible for and for the crumbling globalism around it which its institutions encourage in a sick game of cat’s cradle it plays with its international bedfellows.
That’s why I cried for the death of Flash this morning. It, like all the deaths this year, was one of many demarcated the turning point from once A.D. now B.C. to A.C., the last epoch of my lifetime.
Impressions Of An Immortality Project
Perhaps it’s likewise fitting that 2020 and that the death of Flash happened as I approach my 40th birthday.
This age offers me enough hindsight to draw deeper observations from, and to allow myself the due time to digest, our entire collective existence — not just the petty illusions of my immediate, isolated manufacture like that next girl chase or that next exam or that go-live date.
Then again, perhaps it was the move from Product to Sales, or perhaps reading the ramblings of our modern monarch thumbing tweets that would taint the times, or a thousand other things that led me to latch onto our futile immortality projects.
If you haven’t read The Denial Of Death, I strongly recommend it, but I can summarize it quite succinctly, if you’ll forgive me the tangent, to make clear the salient takeaways of today’s scribing.
We have reached an apex in humanity. The death of religion and the rebirth of tribalism have accelerated a path we were already traveling rapidly down as a collective.
Our intelligence, and our ability to index it and curate it and access it and digest it, has put us in an impossible position. If you’re not a nihilist or a practiced philistine of professional medicine, you’ve likely faced the fear of death at least once and many times more questioned what this is really all for.
This is our universal truth. We as humans don’t just genetically “fear” death and work subconsciously to avoid it, as do literally all of our known biological peers, but we uniquely and consciously fear it. We don’t sit up late at night with one eye open to avoid physical danger; most of us do so out of mentally, and entirely, manufactured danger.
To avoid this constant paralysis, then, we create ways to rationalize our existence. Our subconscious then wonderfully and without fail manufactures “projects” that keep us thinking we are each the exception to the rule of Death.
These “immortality projects”, as the book’s author describes, are our invented pursuits that give us the freedom of blissful ignorance and the obsession of impassioned pursuits that lead to all kinds of crazy things — from real wars to Twitter wars to Flash war games to the war for a young girl’s heart that drove a young boy to spend an entire lifetime going down one road with great purpose purely by random happenstance.
The theory is simple: the stronger our self-psychoses, the grander our immortality projects.
And whether it was my fumbling belief that my destiny lie in Flash, or Trump’s belief that Tweets could overturn an election, or Middle America’s belief that all lives matter — these beliefs are all manufactured as our immortality projects to help us nestle into our beds at night feeling like we’re the heroes of not just our, but, the story.
But 2020, if nothing else, was a year when these immortality projects were so clearly perverted, so devastatingly interrupted, by the complete and utter lack of control we truly have on our realities at any given time.
And for fear of sounding too nihilistic, I leave 2020 feeling, if not hoping to feel, that there’s some grand peace of mind to draw from that.
The End Game
Alas, as my stamina for writing this annual recap wanes, I find myself remiss to not mention the myriad of moments that Manhattan opened up its maw to allow us during the pandemic:
- Riding Revel scooter’s through Times Square as it was empty, like starring characters in some weird Woody Allen and Wes Anderson collab
- Sitting in an empty Central Park nearly every single day to the soundtrack of birds chirping and the laughable “I jog now” locals wheezing
- Having run of the house to walk nearly 100,000 blocks (~9M steps) worth of Manhattan over the course of the year
- Becoming a godparent to a beautiful black baby from a beautiful mixed family to the backdrop of Black Lives Matter
- Realizing that the decisions Vanessa and I made years ago to walk the path we now walk was justly done, as we walk together now and stronger for it
- Finding flow at work to collaborate on closing nearly $40M in revenue as an individual contributor who’d come down this path to learn sales
These are but a few of the moments that I will remember and cherish from this year past alongside the many affected lives and lost causes that I will mourn, if for no other reason than human and humane respect for The Other.
Yet, I will mourn no further Flash and my lost childhood innocence where the joy of learning, and of competition, was enough to get me through the days and to keep me from the trivial turmoil of my white-collar work.
Like the protagonist’s piano-playing in Soul, my passion was never Flash and the illusion that the immortality project I’d created for myself was my purpose, or that the stress I impose on myself now to “do a good job” and to be “better, better, [if] never best” is worth it because it’ll get me more money and that will give me more freedom and then I’ll be happy.
2020 was a reminder not to travel as soon as you can or do what you love or stop smoking or lose weight. It wasn’t a reminder that this shit’s made up and the points don’t matter.
Rather, 2020 was a stark reminder that these immortality projects we create for ourselves are more prisons than passions — and the sooner we can all understand that, the sooner we can start changing our behaviors to be softer on each other and perhaps more importantly softer on ourselves.
This was a fucked up year, and beating ourselves up for it with polite promises or overbearing oaths to improve isn’t going to help us. Rather, we need only take a breath, take a break, have a smoke or a bourbon or a burger, and try to remember that you can’t control much beyond how you feel about your present moment and the people who make you who you are.
I struggle with that every day, and I’ll continue to do so, but that’s okay: I just need to say “I’m sorry” to myself.
I don’t know what else to take from 2020, but if that’s all I can accomplish in 2021, I will be better for it — and so will those around me. And if we all just did the same, that would be a damn good start to what I hope will be a better back half of this decade.
For fear of avoiding that foreshadowed self righteousness, though, let me simply say this: I want to congratulate you on surviving the year and I want to say I’m sorry for whatever grief you went through or pain you suffered. I hope the year ahead is better for us both — for us all.
And if you need a quick pick me up, don’t forget to remember all the great art our species can create before it, as our lives, is gone in a Flash.