A Better Way Of Doing Business

Day 040/365 - The First Circle of Hell: Greed

Image by Great Beyond via Flickr

In the build-up to the holiday season, I was fortunate enough to be following a sneak peek preview of a most intriguing novel, Steve McAllister's The McAllister Code. I'll try to describe the book here, but that won't do it too much justice. Simply saying "It's about two wise-cracking aliens who visit Steve and convince him to write a book that will turn his hometown of Sarasota, FL into a marketing mecca" seems like it wouldn't achieve too much, but that's exactly what the book is about.

Or rather, that's what the book isn't about. There are several other recurrent themes throughout it, some striking, some novel, and some that will strike a chord with many readers. (There's my plug: go buy the book as I intend to, and tell @inkensoul I sent you). One theme Steve reiterates is something that I have believed for a long time. Businesses can be successful without being evil. For a long time it has been held that the "greed is good" images perpetuated in the Nineties were the model of how businesses should compete; win-lose, zero-sum games, triumph or die. One of Stephen Covey's seven habits is often quoted as "strive for win-win" yet only recently have companies appeared that can actually thrive on that model. It takes a huge amount of nerve to be the first adopter of that kind of policy and exchange short-term gains for long-term successes for all. It seems to be the sort of strategy that is only successful, once everyone accepts it. Although I was intrigued, I must admit, I had my doubts that such businesses could be successful. Yet, even as I read the daily excerpts from Steve's book, I ran into the following three quite remarkable examples.

Firstly, I'd like to mention Qualatek, right here in Hollister, California. My change in circumstances recently meant that C and I ended up sharing a laptop for a little while. This was quite an enlightening experience for C, as, suddenly she discovered that sharing a computer with a code monkey is quite a proposition as the poor machine begins to grunt and groan under the strain. I believe it lasted somewhere around a week before the monitor gave up the ghost. A quick peek inside seemed to confirm that it was a worn-out cable; it also confirmed what I believed about the interior of laptops. Nobody in their right mind should try to get inside one. It takes a can opener, and the number of bits and pieces is simply mind-boggling. Hence I started on my search for a repair professional, which is relatively easy, provided you don't mind being treated like dirt. Typically, computer repair folks will charge you the earth for an initial 'diagnosis', after which they'll then tell you what you might expect to pay should you decide to repair it or not. You're out of pocket immediately. Both C and I have had bad experiences this way that have left a terrible aftertaste. Enter Nick from Qualatek, who quite happily accepted my initial diagnosis, sat on an eBay auction for the missing part over the Christmas break, ordered it without even setting eyes on the machine, took the machine to fit it, and let me know that didn't cure the problem, then ordered a new display – all without any strong-arm or hard sales tactics. The whole experience has built such a level of trust that I know he is going to fix the problem, competently and economically, and I won't hesitate to recommend him to everyone. A wonderful way of doing business.

That "change in circumstances" I mentioned above was finding myself unemployed just before Christmas. Of course, everybody makes a comment that it's a terrible time to find yourself out of work, as if there was ever a good time, as if your sudden lack of a paycheck would overshadow the festivities and that would be the only thing on your mind. Of course, it's true it isn't a good time to be looking for work – but for many other reasons. So many corporate HR departments and recruiters are taking time off for the holidays that getting a response from anyone is difficult in itself. In December, I made something like sixty submissions to many and varied companies in the area, using the big-name job search sites that everyone has heard of. In the midst of all this I discovered Jobfox, and can certainly testify to its effectiveness. Like the other sites, there are benefits for premium membership, offers for resume writing services, and so on – of course, the companies have to make their money – but I was most surprised at the level of questions required during my initial sign-up for an account. As a result, the opportunities I was offered, which from the other sides were simply the same old stale postings that I'd seen throughout Christmas, were new, fresh, and more importantly, precisely targeted to my skills. The other sites had been fruitless for a month. It seemed within a week of Jobfox, I was well on my way to securing my current post. (Another mention here of course goes to my new employer, who distinguished themselves by acting surprisingly quickly over the Christmas and New Year break while other companies and recruiters let the holiday slip by).

Finally, one more mention of how human ways of doing business really make all the difference. We ate at Flames in San Jose after one of my job interviews, and were amazed at the friendly atmosphere, quality (and quantity!) of food on offer. We had a good conversation with the table server about where I had been that day, and wishing me good luck in my search. Of course, a recommendation for a restaurant always comes with a risk. You wonder whether or not your experience was a one-off; whether next time you go there it will not meet expectations, or worse, you take someone else there and things are terrible. C and I decided we were going to take two of her sisters there for their dinner after arriving in San Francisco airport last week. Fortunately, the food quality met – no, exceeded – our previous expectations, everyone enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The biggest surprise though was most unexpected, the table server from our previous visit recognized us, asked me very directly and specifically about whether I had had any luck in the job search, and remembered so much from our previous visit. He surely had served hundreds of people in the interim, yet remembered everything, treated us well, and of course earned his tip. That's service, and that's a better way of doing business for everyone.

The coconut pie was wonderful, too.

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It’s No New Year’s Resolution, It’s More Than That

Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

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Oh, there were so many blog posts to read in my reading list yesterday, all with so many familiar titles. It doesn't matter the style of the blog; the commercial, the personal, the fiction writers; one subject dominated over and above anything else yesterday. New Year's Resolutions.

I suppose I ought to get one thing straight before marching on. I'm all for any exhibition of resolve, a commitment on the part of the individual to achieve something, ambitions, affirmations. By all means, make promises to yourself for the coming year, and if January 1 is the trigger that's needed to make that happen, so be it. But there's an implicit assumption in that "New Year's Resolution" phrase; The whole concept is weighted down by the cynicism that, in all honesty, the resolution won't be kept. There are plenty of statistics to bear this out; about one-fourth of the resolutions are broken within the first week, and over half don't make it past the first six months. On the plus side, it's generally considered better to try and fail; going through the motions of setting a resolution does improve your chances of achieving something; setting concrete, measurable goals (such as an amount of weight to lose by a given time) makes success far more likely as well.

I haven't made resolutions officially for many years; not since I was a child. The nearest I got to a resolution was a commitment to keep the diary filled out that my grandmother had given me for Christmas. The realization that my twelve-year old life wasn't all that exciting meant this was one of those resolutions destined not to make it past the first week. This year, I did toy with the idea of resolving to update my blog daily. It's now January 2. Whoops. The important part though about a resolution shouldn't be whether it's tied to a date; it's something you can choose to do, any time. I chose to stop smoking, and that had nothing to do with the calendar. I chose a gym membership and I chose to go there and exercise. (I have also chosen not to go there on many, many mornings). The element of choice is important. Even when circumstances seem beyond your control or are outside your sphere of influence, you do have a choice whether you wish things to stay that way.

Originally, the purpose of this series of blog posts was to track significant changes in my life, opinions, and environment, to see how they affected me personally and professionally. I'm just beginning the third year of that change; I could never have foreseen any of this. It started in 2009 with a commitment to expand my horizons; push myself professionally; try some new ventures; start writing and blogging the way always said I would; meet some new people. It was all a question of outlook; diverting my gaze somewhere other than the navel I'd been focused on, seemingly for years. I didn't commit to any particular change, but change did indeed happen. There were professional successes, and more than one or two destabilizing events at work. There was a fair amount of self-improvement; I read more, I studied more, I played more, and, quite unexpectedly, my world changed virtually overnight as my partner and I found each other. 2010 began with promises to each other; dedication to face the hardships and obstacles ahead, to get through them together, to make the journey next to each other and to experience so many 'firsts' together; birthdays, Christmas, and New Years.

And now, 2011. There are still challenges to be faced. These are new challenges brought upon by these still recent, astonishing changes; few of them have been easy, some have been painful, and others are accompanied by hostility. On more than one occasion, and from more than one direction, we have felt ill at ease; believing that forces outside us were at work, pushing against us, putting our resolve to the limits, and sometimes leading to disagreements. We never thought we would be immune from argument, but were resolved to keep communicating. Between ourselves, we manage just fine. When it comes to others, it is more difficult. We discussed this in detail yesterday morning. No matter what darkness, what wickedness, or what other feelings of opposition get sent our way, we will send them back. With love.

It's no New Year's Resolution. It's more than that.

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The Leftover At The Bottom Of The Sink

Dishwasher, open and loaded with dishes

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It was always the same.

Loading the dishwasher was never a glamorous job, but it was something I'd learnt to make the most of. I felt something of a oneness with the dish brush, the handle filled with the vivid purple soap, dispensed through its all-too-worn brushes with a squeeze of the handle. I'd joked that I wanted a new one of these for Christmas. In a way, though, I'm not sure if I could handle that. This brush and I have been through a lot together. A lot of cups with all manner of clabber at the bottom of them; plates with remnants of food I can't even remember eating; cereal, stuck to the bottom of bowls with incredible resolve. They ought to stick those heat tiles on the space shuttle using soggy corn flakes. They'd never have any problems with them coming off, then.

The top shelf was always the easiest. First the cups, once, of course, they'd been retrieved. The ones that had been sipped out while watching TV, left on the coffee table; the ones on the bedside tables that had held our midnight sleepytime drinks; those which had inexplicably ended up in the other room and been forgotten about, sat there abandoned. There was surely some moral about what labor-saving devices had done to our society, here. That so few of us could completely fill a top shelf with soiled cups from one load to another? That seemed something like inordinate extravagance. I remember the "good" old days, only having one cup, one bowl, one plate. If they were clean, I ate. If they were soiled, that was a meal I missed. Nothing was more encouraging than hunger to make sure the chores got done.

The bottom shelf followed, by now, I was well into the swing of it. The plates, encrusted with the remains of the meals, got a cursory rinse and scrub with the brush before getting loaded in, then the various kitchen miscellany; the mixing bowls, the measuring containers, the smaller saucepans, the cheese grater, all jiggling and jostling for position between the tines of the lower rack. A small optimization exercise; it was surely possible to get them all in, get the entire sinkful done in one go. It just needed a bit of creative packing, that's all. This smaller container could go under this larger one; there, plenty of room. Next, the utensils, an easy enough job. Picking them up, meticulously yet subconsciously sorting them, putting the forks into this side of the basket, then the knives, then the spoons.

There it was again. As always, the same leftover in the bottom of the sink. The unidentifiable lid, seemingly always filthy. It must be part of the food processor, but I never knew where it belonged. I scrubbed it briefly with the brush, placed it in an empty slot on the top shelf, put the soap tablet in, closed the lid, and started the machine.

It was always the same. But perhaps this time, I would learn something new.

Unloading the dishwasher was never a glamorous job, but it was something I'd learnt to make the most of. The organizing, the putting away, the making the most of the space we had, all seemed to bring its own reward. The cups and glasses never seemed to fit back in the cupboard where they belonged; the plates balanced precariously; the storage containers were just squeezed in wherever space remained. One day I'll reorganize this cabinet. Not today. And last, but not least, the leftover. The curious lid. I took it and placed it next to the blender. Someone else would know how exactly it fit.

"It's very clean," the familiar voice uttered. "You do such a good job with that, every time."

"Thanks, love," I replied sheepishly. "I still don't know where it goes, though."

"Back in the sink. It's the plug to the waste disposal."

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Writing Workshop – Imagine 2018

This is a Treo 650 Smartphone from the OpenCli...

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Josie over at Sleep is For the Weak put forward a set of writing prompts based on words found while walking around the city of Glasgow. I choose Imagine 2018 as an excuse to get, well, a teensy-weensy bit speculative.

"Dad, I wish you wouldn't insist on real-time." The acute barbs in the voice came across very clearly, even through the right-angled digital packets getting reassembled and decoded in the earpiece. "It's so twentieth century, ya know? And it means I just have to squeeze you between customers, so I'll have to hang up when the next one comes. It's just, like, so inconvenient."

I sighed deeply. "You know I can't stand voicemail tag. And with news like this, I figured it was worth a call, Sugarplum." I heard a grunt on the other end of the line. "I wish you had told me personally. It's a bit of a shock to find out your daughter is getting married through a status update." Already the grunt on the other end was turning into a rebuke. "Dad, don't call me that any more. Especially not any more. I don't want Squid to know that's what you call me. I am twenty-five, you know. Not some kid. And don't even start on that 'you'll always be my little girl' routine. Been there, done that. And as for the status update, well, that's how everyone else found out, too. You're not the lone stranger.  That's the way these things are done these days, you old fart."

"What about S.P.? Can I still call you S.P.? So tell me about, erm, did I hear right? Squid? What kind of a name is that. Where's he from? What does he do for a living? How long have you known him?" I heard a bleep at the end of every question; my daughter was bookmarking my sentences again. I knew what was coming. "Well, number 1, what about it? Number 2, sure I guess. Number 3, yes. Number 4, well, that's his screen name, yes he's got a real name Dad before you ask but, well, I don't think that's relevant, he doesn't like it. Number 5, he's from Lincoln, or somewhere like that. Number 6, you're not going to like this, he's a social marketer. And number 7, we've logged about five hundred hours so far."

"He's a spammer?"

"I knew you'd respond like that. That's why I wasn't going to tell you. Social marketer, Dad. It's not the same any more. It's a good job, he makes good money, you couldn't even guess how well he does. And yes, just like you, he has a job that didn't exist when our parents were growing up. Just like everyone used to call you a code monkey or a computer junkie. I know you hated that. Don't you complain about what my generation does with their online presence. It's all stuff your generation invented, anyway." It was the same irrefutable "everyone does it" speech I'd heard over and over again. I wasn't going to encourage it any more than I had to. "Oh," I responded, obviously crestfallen.

"You don't sound very happy."

"Let me see. You're getting married to someone who's real name is 'irrelevant', who you're not sure exactly where he lives and you talk about how many hours you've 'logged'. To be honest, it doesn't sound like you're very happy. Aren't you going to have a proper wedding?"

"Hey, remember Mitzi? From school? She's married now, and they'd only logged fifteen hours. And, if by 'proper wedding' you mean inviting everyone to see it, well, there doesn't seem much point, does there? Oh don't worry Dad, we're going to have it done all legal, properly, and even get all that religious stuff dealt with. We've got a mutual follower who does the ceremonies all the time. He can telepresence us both onto screens next to each other, and he'll podcast the entire thing. Of course, we'll share the file with everyone, so there's no problem. You won't miss any of it."

"And then what? Is he moving there to be with you, or are you going out to Lincoln. Nebraska? There's probably more than one, you know." I had a funny feeling this was going to be a pointless question. "Is it Nebraska then? Oh no, neither of us is moving. He's got far too much concrete investments in his home town, he can't possibly just up and leave them. I think he's got a cat as well. Or a dog. No, it's a cat. He couldn't just move. And his Mom I think. That wouldn't be fair on the cat. And I couldn't possibly give up this job, after it took me so long to find it, could I? You wouldn't want me doing anything foolish. We've decided that as long as we both move each other up out of our nights and weekends lists and into our free call 24/7 groups, that's all we need. And no, before you ask, I'm not going to change my name, either. You can't even begin to imagine just how many online accounts I've got in this name. I don't see the point in changing them." "What about kids?" "DAD!" she yelled at me down the line, before the question was complete. "What do you think this is, the dark ages? We're getting married. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether we have kids or not. You can do one with or without the other, you know. We've never thought about it."

I couldn't stand it any more, I had to say my piece. "This isn't the way I saw things happening, S.P. I remember that evening, all those years ago, when I brought you and your mother home from the hospital. You know ever since then I've been thinking about this moment. And the moments to come, where you'd be there in your dress and I'd offer you my arm and walk you down the aisle to give you away. By the sound of things, that's not going to happen. You're going to be 'telepresent' and 'podcasted'. To someone who's idea of commitment is moving you to a list of names where he doesn't have to pay for telephone and video chat. I don't see what was wrong with the way things used to be. Where you'd meet someone, for real, in the flesh, go out for dinner and a movie several times, talk, get to know each other better, learn everything about each other, share everything, your entire lives, your complete existence, struggle together, bring up kids, and meet the challenges head on, at each other's side. This way you kids get together these days, it really doesn't sound like a happy ever after."

"You mean, like you and Mom?"

"Point taken." I said no more.

Why not go ahead and join in? Check the prompt page for instructions, and remember to add your link on Thursday.

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Writing An Adaptation Is Tougher Than You Might Think

Image via WikipediaI recently got my hands on a video game for the Nintendo DS entitled Hotel Dusk: Room 215, for an extremely competitive pre-owned price at the nearest GameStop. It describes itself as an interactive novel, even going as far as getting you to hold the console just like a book and write notes in your detective's notebook using the stylus and touchscreen. One of the most pleasing things about the experience for me was to discover that, perhaps for the first time ever, the tag "interactive fiction" seemed appropriate. Hotel Dusk is not so much a video game with an underlying story, but more a novel that just happens to be presented on a handheld console. It is by no means perfect, but all too often the storytelling in video games is sorely lacking and seems very far down the priority list for the software development companies. In many cases, story is incidental, which is probably why video game titles typically make some pretty lousy movies. In this case, though, the gameplay is secondary to a competent story, certainly one that could stand up with some of the paperbacks you might pick up in an airport bookstore at least. At some point halfway through the novel – yes, I'm not even going to pretend it's actually a video game – I did in fact realize that it would make a good, old-fashioned, dead-tree book, with of course a few tweaks here and there. There are plenty of plot devices that only work within the concept of a video game, and in a book would make no sense, but they would be relatively small cosmetic changes to suit the medium. I began to wonder whether perhaps that had been done by CING, the Japanese development company who produced Hotel Dusk and a couple of other similar titles. Sadly, CING filed for bankruptcy a few months ago, and so it's quite unclear exactly what the status is of their intellectual properties. (If anyone out there does know if there is a written version, I'd appreciate finding out about it). In theory, the story must have already been written during the design phases for the Nintendo version. Would it be difficult to flesh it out into a novel? This month, while it seems everyone else with writing aspirations has taken leave of their senses and given NaNoWriMo a go, I've been investigating writing at my own pace; looking into suitable tools and software, experimenting with a few exercises, and trying out a few sites. I've been participating in sprints, trying to get as many words down on paper, and even tried a bit of flash fiction, a six minute story or two. Today it occurred to me that the prologue to Hotel Dusk is a video cutscene that takes perhaps about six minutes to run through, and I began to wonder again about a paperback adaptation. In brief, here's what happens in that first six minutes. Firstly we see the skyline of New York on December 24, 1976. A phone rings in the police department and Detective Kyle Hyde answers it, surprised to hear from someone called 'Bradley'. Next, we see Hyde on the docks, pointing a gun at a character whose back is turned to us. Hyde fires, and Bradley falls into the river, yelling the name "Mila" as he falls. Hyde wakes up from his flashback. It is now apparently three years later. Next, we see a shot of early morning in Los Angeles. An authoritative gentleman named Ed answers the phone and takes an order. he asks his secretary Rachel to get a hold of Hyde; we see Hyde get a beep on his pager and throw it down in the car seat next to him. A slide tells us it's now 4pm in Nevada, where Hyde pulls into a gas station, returns the call using a payphone, and gets some grief from his boss before being told he has a job, to pick up a package and an order sheet at a place called Hotel Dusk. Hyde gets back on the road, passing a young girl in a white dress walking along the roadside. Once he arrives at the hotel, Hyde gives us some exposition as how he quit the New York Police Department and moved out west, and is a door-to-door salesman for an outfit called Red Crown, but occasionally his boss gives him some quiet jobs on the side, while he looks for his missing partner, who apparently he believes isn't dead after all. The hotel door lies in front of him, and a click starts the game (or novel) for real. There it is, the first six minutes of the title. One thing should be clear; what appears above is not what you would want to read in a book. This would by no means be sufficient for a written treatment. I could have gone into more detail, explained every shot, every camera angle, and every detail that appeared on the screen, but it still would not constitute written storytelling. The fact is, even though something like Hotel Dusk tells a story, it does so with other mechanisms than just words. Furthermore, even if you try to substitute the images, the sound effects, or the music with words, what you have is not a particularly palatable story. (What you have is a description of a video game). At this point, I am desperately trying to avoid using the horrible word "multimedia" – media is, after all, already plural – but there are several key areas where the storytelling medium makes an enormous difference. We should not be surprised. We might expect a good movie to be two hours long, but the book that it was based on might take ten hours to read in actual reading time, perhaps spread over a few weeks' bedtime reading. A good video game may occupy us for as much as forty hours (personally, if a video game doesn't absorb me for as much as that, I feel somewhat cheated by the purchase, and if it goes on for much longer, I simply don't feel like it's worth the effort). Adapting one of these forms to another is not a simple job. This is why screenwriters have to work so hard adapting books into movies. The changes (or omissions) that were made  in the Lord Of The Rings movies, for instance, were not done lightly, but reflected tradeoffs between what the different media allow. It's also typically why adaptations to and from video games are always a bit fraught, simply because there is very seldom as much effort gone into the adaptation. Rather cynically, slapping the movie artwork onto the game cover will typically sell the game, no matter what its quality. Even when there's already a good story to work with, as with Hotel Dusk, writing a book version would be non-trivial. Let's consider what we would need to do to that "just the facts" description to turn it into a suitable book prologue. That skyline shot of New York needs to somehow be conveyed into words. We have to paint that picture, verbally only. We need to describe the sights, the sounds, the smells; what the weather is like on that day. Do we have to be accurate here? Will some know-it-all go and look up what the weather actually was that Christmas Eve? There are obvious ways we could communicate it was Christmas; perhaps we need to add a Santa character in the street. We similarly have to do the same with the police department, somehow transition our focus to the individual building, get us inside, describe Kyle Hyde, his desk, his co-workers, his surroundings, whether he smokes, a few touches here and there to convince us it is 1976. We have to explain the tone of Hyde's voice; we have to decide what our point-of-view is for this scene. Are we narrating in Hyde's first-person perspective, or from a narrator's viewpoint? We have to be especially careful here; it is quite convenient for a video game to show cutscenes from a third person perspective but the actual user interaction is first person. In a book, it might not be particularly comfortable if we flip between the two. We have all the scene setup work to do again at the docks, another character to describe, events, emotions. This is a relatively short yet dramatic scene in the flashback, and presumably we'll be revisiting it several more times in the story to follow. Then again, somehow, we have to get us to Nevada, and indicate three years have passed, presumably draw attention to some changes in Hyde's character or looks, some other way to indicate the passage of time, then communicate the details about his employer in Los Angeles. Do we even explicitly write that scene in the book? Won't that be awkward, if we intend to write the exposition in first person? (Or will we have some sort of Blade Runner "director's cut" to handle this?). That's a lot of questions to answer for what ends up being a very tiny bit of the story – the 'trailer' for what is to come – and some of those decisions will radically impact the rest of the book were you to actually go ahead and do so. It's all too tempting for a writer to believe that adapting existing material might be a shortcut. Indeed there may be some elements such as plot for which a pre-existing work may make significant contributions. However, the actual craft of writing still needs to be done; the description, the communication, the physical effort of getting the words down, but above all doing so in such a way that entertains and enthralls the reader. I am still intent on doing my prologue exercise at some time, but I am quite sure it will be considerably more effort than the six minutes it runs for. Related articlesNa. No. Wri. Mo. No. No. No. No! #nanowrimo (reinventingme.posterous.com) You looked over my shoulder #searchenginesunday (reinventingme.posterous.com) Book Review: A Spy At Home by Joseph Rinaldo (reinventingme.posterous.com) Is yWriter 5 The Novel Writing Tool For You? #nanowrimo (reinventingme.posterous.com) Review: How to Write a Blockbuster Novel With Storybook #nanowrimo (reinventingme.posterous.com) Zemanta helped me add links & pictures to this email. It can do it for you too.

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Writing Workshop – Red

A red leaf in the mountains of Utah.

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Josie over at Sleep is For the Weak put forward a set of writing prompts based on movie titles – I'm choosing Red as my prompt.

I paused for breath, and kidded myself that the air was getting thinner. It really wasn't that hard of a climb, and the altitude could not possibly be that great, but the side of the hill was steep and the first snowfall of the winter was making it treacherous underfoot. As I rounded the corner onto the final climb of the trail, I look across at the skylift that had been out of operation now for the past six weeks. Anyone who wanted to get to the top of the hill would have to come up the same way I was struggling with. I wondered how many people would try it at this time of year; there were certainly no others to be seen. Not so long ago, there would be people milling in all directions here, but at that moment it seemed I was the only human being for miles around. My fingers and toes were growing numb, the cold was beginning to make its way through the rest of the layers that swaddled me from head to toe. I stamped my feet to dispel some of the numbness, exaggeratedly clapped my hands, and took a slow, deep breath, exhaling, seeing my spirit floating in the air in front of me, until a cutting wind bit across my face, blew the breath away, and started one of the skylift chairs swinging. The creak of the swinging chair broke the silence; in the stillness I heard the sounds of birds who had elected to stay through the winter, scared out of their hiding places by the sound of dislodged snow. A tiny piece of bare metal showed through, painted red.

The natural bridge loomed above me, somewhat intimidating. I still had the most difficult part of the climb to go; the steepest part of the rocks, the most difficult place to find a footing, and a tight squeeze through the crevice between the stone walls. A long time ago, this was the only way up here. There were no steps carved into the rock back then; no cast-iron railings along the side of the path which admittedly still required a significant amount of fitness on the climbers' part. The sight at the top was seen by precious few, but it was not long after those first explorers described what they saw that a way was found to open up that vista to all. I would guess it was the description of the sky bridge colors in the fall that motivated them to create the other way up, so everyone, from the smallest of children to the frail and elderly could take in the view, provided they could overcome any fear of heights they might have. In September and October it was at its most spectacular, all golden yellows and oranges and reds. Yes, the reds.

I had made it to the top, and stood precariously near the edge, next to a tree stripped bare of its leaves. Last time I was here, this tree was aflame. Now it stood here, seemingly lifeless, symbolic of everything that had passed in the two months since the last visit. Two months to the day, apparently. I had not even realized that until this moment. Just two months before, the outlook was incredibly different; breathtaking, vivacious; everything now was sullen in comparison. I trudged onward, more and more dispirited. I paused at that branch. Do you remember the one? Of course you do; it struck us both that day how red that leaf was, the leaf that wouldn't keep quiet and insisted you took its picture? That photograph made the perfect last shot in the photo album, didn't it? No, that's right. The last but one shot. But there was no red leaf there any longer. Anything red on this hillside has long gone. The little red car is not in the parking lot at the foot of the hill; I remember how enthusiastically we had agreed on the color at the rental desk. That little red car, or that little red leaf, or that little hint of red in our cheeks; they simply weren't there any more.

The experience was meant to be cathartic. I had planned to come up here and see that tree, that branch; look down on that parking lot, that skylift, stand where we stood, and bury the past once and for all. Things had indeed changed, just as surely as time had passed. The red that was there was long gone, and seeing this would surely purge those scarlet memories? I must admit, it was hardly the greatest of ideas. The color had indeed disappeared; the first snow had injected some additional finality into the picture, but it was far from final. The tree on the top of the bridge knew all this, and had known it year in, year out. It only seemed to be lifeless; a mere charade, just enough to get it through the darkest of moments. It would survive, awaiting for the return of the warmth, when it would stretch, imperceptibly, absorb every caress of the sun's rays, thrive once more through a spring and summer, and, when the fall colors returned, it would be red once more. Underneath that mantle of snow and ice, the certain processes of life were continuing; underneath the layers protecting me from the cold, a heart was still beating, a heart that knew that not only would it heal with time, but somehow would once again experience joy. At that moment, I knew I would experience the red again, and next winter, it would not fade.

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