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The Foyer is a Room: For John Timmons

He made much and there’s too much of it to say it all in one weblog post.

On Friday, December 12, I, other friends, and Tunxis Community College lost the powerful presence of John Timmons. John was a faculty and staff member of the college for over thirty years. I met John after moving to Connecticut in the mid 90s and started working with him closely soon after. At the time he was directing our ambiguous instructional media department. Why “ambiguous” doesn’t matter. What matters is that the department assisted the college with digital instructional and online tools. I remember my first encounter with John, telling him stories about my work at UT El Paso with digital forums. I wanted his assistance with replication and system development for commuter students. He jumped right on the case. We found the Webboard system and got right to work, and this was the beginning of a long and profitable friendship.

We developed tools and pedagogy. We developed Tunxis’s New Media program. We attended conferences. We met with others to talk stories and writing in the Narratives group. He introduced me to the guitar and gave me one. He helped build an air hockey table for my son. We developed and grew the 100 Days diorama. We collaborated on art, books, film, and media projects. He was principal, along with his partner, in guiding me through a divorce and opening my heart to new love and loves (for which I will always be grateful–that’s for you, Bae!). This was deep and intimate stuff, and along with Maggie, whom he dearly loved, and other good friends, we joined and have joined in a life circle that will continue to grow and effervesce even in John’s absence, because he was a big man with a big heart and big talent. He will never really depart the planet or the minds of those who knew him.

These last years saw us continue a habit: we’d meet and smoke and drink coffee or water or beer and talk for hours about what we had been thinking and were thinking. This was an old habit. In the old days, we’d stand outside the college and hatch plans, provoke those who walked by, then walk back to our offices. Then we’d go out again. Even when we quit the smoking habit, we’d sneak a pack together and pick up the conversation. We shared the art we were enjoying. He’d show me some progressions. Every movie he suggested was a good one. When I think of him now, it’s hard to be sad. Rather, I’m just glad he was a part of my life and I smile. I’m glad he will never disappear. Much of what I make from now on will see his subtle genius in it.

His legacy is and will be wide. No matter the demand, John would never say “No” to it. John’s influence brought online education to Connecticut and not a lot of people know this. He built the College’s first website and initiated early crews into the wonders of the digital database. He brought Interactive Fiction programming to new media students. When he told me about his adventures with Zork, Deus Ex, and Half Life, I knew we’d hit it off. His big line in this regard was just to say: “The Foyer is a room.” Or do well by your Grammy. It was because of his leadership that many people now have professions; they must now work to fill John’s shoes and learn to avoid saying “No” to the things and people that matter.

We’re doing a lot with wishes these days and so I’ll close with a story that John inspired in one of our fiction projects. It speaks a lot to John and how he thought about things. Sometimes it’s hard to read between lines. It’s called Wishing Tree.

People have that book they remember reading. They find the book later in life, pick it up, open it, then put it down because it isn’t the book they’d read when they were young. It has the same title, the same words, the same folds in those places where the reader had paused. But it’s a different book. The reader wonders what happened.

When I went back to that old wish tree, the paper slips now brown with age and clinking in the breeze like dried fruit peels, I found the one I’d written and hung there so long ago. Understand that we can wish to keep something; we can wish to hang on to what we have. In this world, one can wish for riches or peace or a cure or even another world or rain. Given this, the tree had sagged, so weighted down it was with wishes. When they’re new the trees stand green and high and proud, but whey they grow old, they lean and look sad in the shaded evenings. Their backs grow crooked. There are so many wishes.

When I removed my wish, the tree kept its posture. It wasn’t such a heavy wish, not so bold, and wasn’t the kind of wish that would bring the clouds to the desert or the warm to winter or life to the dead. No, it was a simple wish, the script written small with the nervous hand of a child. It is, however, customary to keep wishes to oneself, and so I can’t reveal the wish, and I wouldn’t know what to make of it anyway, as, since the wish had been made, I couldn’t say what had happened, what had changed. Why such a wish would matter to me, unknown. But I do know that in most things, other than oil spills and the sicknesses I can do nothing about, I would wish for nothing, as I yearn for nothing more than what I have.

 

Monday, December 15th, 2014


Role Playing and Nostalgia

John Mutchek has a nice roundup of our first Dungeons and Dragons gathering on the 29th of December, where I practiced with two dwarves. He’ll be posting regularly on our encounters–and our beer drinking also, as we’re all sharing favorites. Luckily my good friend Dave is a brewer. John’s also into the making as are a few other colleagues of the game.

Sure, this is partly nostalgia, as I played DnD many years ago in high school when things were simpler but it took hours and lots of math to drum up characters. Now we can work with Wizards’s character builder and get down and dirty quickly. I remember loads of graph paper, multiple rolls, and reading through lists of capabilities or character and culture variables. Not a computer in sight as none were to be had.

As a digital person, the first night of play was refreshing. At the heart of Dungeon and Dragons is story first and foremost. The Dungeon Master, in this case, John, preps encounters for fighting and spell casting, but he also has to be a weaver, working those encounters into a larger story frame, and we as the players play into and grow as the narrative builds in character. Our crew is a group of excellent and smart fellows, and I’m really looking forward to sitting together and acting out the parts.

A second critical element of the game is emergence, that self-organizing quality of complex systems to form perhaps unintended or unforeseen patterns out of elements, actions, decisions, turns, and other subjacencies. We’re all waiting for what’s to come in the game. It’l e interesting to gather again and either make things emerge or get the crap kicked out of us as Level 1s.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011