When I wake up in my own bed, I think sometimes of the morning I woke up in a totally different environment, the tropical paradise known as the Island. I half expected Rover to bounce by, though at the time I was far from amused. I remember how I first looked at Rick with both longing and suspicion. Was he sent to make me compliant, a good little boy? I still regret the way I took it out on him, all this time later.
The Island now lies far away, in time and in space. I have yet to return there, though hope to someday. Normally, I would be angry about the heavy-handed way I was whisked away to that Never-Never Land. But I can’t say that I am. I learned too much during my brief stay. And I’ve come to admire its creator, the Island’s Number 1, Dr. Clarkson, very much. And though I miss the place and the folks I knew there, I still do not regret coming back home. This is where I feel I can do the most good.
So what happened when I returned? Folks teased me about going off to some secret vacation, the island of scantily clad young men or some shit like that. Yeah, right. I let them think what they wanted. I never told them about the Island. That was one of the agreements. Anyway, they never would have believed me, nor would they be able to find it, thanks to Dr. Clarkson’s shields. No, they started giving me real crap after I “changed” and then tendered my resignation from the university. The chorus was unanimous: Why are you resigning! Resigning wasn’t my first choice, but I quickly saw it as my only choice, given the direction I wanted to take my career.
Let me tell you something. The last place where you’ll find democracy and free thought is within academia. You’ll find vast ideas and a currency of bright people thinking bright things, but all within strict guidelines. Academia operates under a secret code of conduct that must be observed at all times. You never learn these rules. They are never spelled out or anything like that. One is simply expected to master them by osmosis, and then never question them and never cross them. When I started to do both, I got into trouble.
First, I announced that I wanted to teach about science and morality. The department chair had a shit fit over it. He laughed it off, over drinks and stuff, but he really wasn’t into it. “You don’t have the credentials for it anyway, Seth. You know that. Ha, ha, ha . . .” Yeah, ‘ha, ha’ to you, too, buddy. So that was my first transgression, wanting to teach out of bounds.
The second, of course, was when I made it clear that I would not be doing any more research on the Lambda or anything like it. That was the bigger transgression. No highfalutin research meant no highfalutin money for the campus. I should have realized that, but didn’t, because that’s not where my mind was at. But the response from colleagues was quick and harsh. One, a former close friend whose name I now refuse to utter, went on a terrible rant. “So, you’re gonna become one of those paperweight profs, is that it?” When we were callous young guns in grad school, that’s what we called faculty who got tenure than did nothing afterwards. I’m not a callous young gun anymore, but apparently my former colleague still is.
I tried to explain to knucklehead what I wanted to do, my interest in science and morality, and then he really let me have it. He accused me of being some sort of born-again creationist or a pyramid freak. “So you gonna go on a oogie-woogie science kick now, is that it Seth? Pyramids? You gonna work on some pyramid power shit now, Seth? Huh?” I wanted to slug him, probably should have.
With crap like that swirling around me, I realized that staying would not be an option. I’d become toxic instantly. No students would want to work with me. No one would take my classes. Old Seth Gordon would become the crazy uncle in the attic that everyone avoided. All because I refused to build stuff that could decimate the planet, in the wrong hands. All because I thought, hey, let’s pause a bit and think about what we’re making here and how our discoveries might be deployed. No one wanted to hear any of that. We have the whole, shameful history of global warming in our very recent past, but still, no one wanted to be bothered with the morality stuff. On the other hand, for any hope of being taken seriously, I’d have to go back to school, get another useless piece of paper in history or something, then write a bunch of malarkey papers and go through the whole tenure grind all over again. No thanks, I said, and I resigned.
As sick of me as they had gotten by that point, my resignation still caused much rancor. You’d think they’d want me gone, but resigning triggered all of their insecurities, about themselves and the secret code of conduct which they slavishly obeyed. It’s like when you become a vegetarian, and suddenly it’s an affront on everyone else. “Well, you used to eat meat!” they scold. What they are really saying is, “Is there something wrong with the way I eat?” And yes, I did become a vegetarian, and yes, I had that shit thrown at me, too.
I teach high school science now. What a great group of kids I get every year. Their bright faces make me happy to show up to work everyday. Everything is new and exciting. And they get the social messages I weave into our lessons. They get it. I love that they want to hear more about the social and scientific history of climate change. “We’re in the early part of the 22nd century,” I tell them, “And all the predictions made at the start of the 21st, 100 years ago, have come to pass. Think about that.”
I talk about the countries that literally do not exist anymore because of the rising oceans. I told them how Greenland was once covered with ice. And I tell them why it’s all changed now, and how we’re fighting to get it back to the way it was, but that if we had had out shit together – and yes, I use that type of language from time to time – that we wouldn’t be playing catch up now. And they listen to me. They listen with ears that the students at the university I taught at never possessed. Or rather, they did possess them once, but years of rout teaching from robots divested them from being able to hear anymore. I joined a group of like-minded teachers and we’re making some changes. I have hope for the next set of kids that will go to university. They’ll get shit done. Then maybe I’ll go back. Maybe.
Oh, and Rick? It’s safe to say that I would not have been able to return home so easily without him. That last night on the Island, when we steamed the windows of my apartment like teenagers in a car on lover’s lane, was the moment that my second life began. Our lips locked, and they have not unlocked since. He came home with me, to my surprise and joy. I’m still grateful, all these years later. I could not have made the changes in my life that I made without my dear Rick.
For our honeymoon, we went to the South Pacific, to one of the islands that has survived the rising oceans. It wasn’t “the Island”, but close enough. Instead of a modern complex, we stayed in a bamboo hut with solar and wind power. I remember asking him if we were anywhere near the Island, and he laughed. He said he didn’t know. Then he placed his hand over my heart and said, “The Island is everywhere we take it, as long as it is here.”
I still hope we go there again one day. But until then, having Rick in my life, and the kids in class, is the next best thing.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.