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Monday, March 13, 2000
By Paul Ford
Here I come!
Paul Ford, a consultant and writer, went outside today and walked from his house on W 9th St in Brooklyn to Prospect Park. It was his first walk since yesterday.
"I was feeling cooped up," he said. "There's a lot on my mind." Mr. Ford, a husky, tousle-haired independent contractor for several Web development firms, operates a personal Web site, www.ftrain.com, from his home.
Describing his walk, Mr. Ford said, "Mostly I wanted to sort out some of my thoughts. First, I was noticing how women wear these white undershirts and black shirts above them which are fastened by a single button, right below the breast, so that the shirt hangs away and entire stomach area is exposed. And I was thinking that this fashion, if you look at it in a sexual-display sort of way, is a pure advertisement for fecundity. 'Look at the room for my stomach to grow,' is what these shirts are saying. 'Plenty of babies can fit here.' These women lived closer to the park. Women in my neighborhood wear sweatshirts."
Prompted to continue, Mr. Ford said, "I was also thinking at length about this project I'm doing for my friend Erik. I have to set up some software. It's a kind of favor-for-equity thing, and it won't be hard to finish it; I've done most of the groundwork. And I was thinking about an e-mail I got from another writer, and how to respond. And how the navigation on Ftrain, my Web site, is rough. I need to bring things back in line on the site."
His blue eyes flashing, he said, "There's this idea that has been fascinating me. Essentially, inside of corporations, altruism is the most highly propogated value. 'Do it for the team.' 'Cooperate.' 'Contribute.' The lowest people in the organization - the operational administrators or secretaries - rarely deal with competition directly; they live their working lives inside the company, and they must be altruistic, they must put the needs of those who are competing above their own. But as you go up the ranks, altruism becomes less valuable, because you have to actually compete in the marketplace. And when you get to the CEO, you have someone who straddles two worlds. At one level, he or she must promote altruism among their flock. 'Let's all pull together,' and so forth. But to the wider world, they need to be savage chestbeating gorillas, and the more they screw the competition, the more their stock options are worth. It's almost a question of reproductive fitness. So really, with banks, or with financial firms, or with big engineering firms, you have these unbelievably huge tribes where cooperation is essential for the inner health of the firm, but ruthlessness is necessary for the outer health--"
When asked to stop rambling, Mr. Ford sighed, and said, "I was also trying to mentally resolve how the giant computer network in my post-plague science-fiction novel is going to work. And I was doing this little equation where I think about how much weight I have to lose before I can go to a bar and meet someone and get laid."
Prompted for that number, Mr. Ford said, "at least two million pounds. Sterling."
Then, unprompted, Mr. Ford said: "And really, I was sitting on a park bench, wondering how most people can't tell the difference between celebrities and themselves. That when I see journals being written online, or Weblogs, most of the writers have a sort of simulated fame as their motivation. So that what I mostly see are people not doing the work - which I understand, because I can't do it either - but applying a kind of 'look at me' rhetoric. They're conducting their own interviews in their head and writing newspaper articles about themselves. Are we only comfortable with ourselves when we're famous?"
When asked whether he wasn't implicating himself in this behavior, Mr. Ford considered for a moment, and said, "Absolutely. I used to have this fantasy where the New York Times wrote up a big story on me, and I had planned what I'd say. I was going to be very modest and talk about how important the Web was for writers. I would then use the article to get an agent. That Times article would be a first public step towards establishing me as one of America's most important young writers, with the Web site a PR hook."
He took a large breath and rolled his eyes. "I don't seem to have that fantasy as much. I'm young, and ignorant, there's no reason for me to be famous. And somehow that desire, to be in the minds of strangers, it seems irrelevant to actually doing good work. I keep opting out of things - quitting my job, living alone, watching relationships fade, buying almost nothing, turning down paying work - so that I can figure out what is essential to me. Those fantasies of celebrity weren't sustaining, they disappeared when I quit my job. I mean, is the only desired consequence of good creative work a bunch of people telling you how great you are, trying to cut a deal? Celebrity is this cheap commodification of human spirit, to me. That's incredibly stupid-sounding, like socialist sour grapes. But I believe it. I don't think people do better work because they're closer to a news camera or a press agent." He looked at the clock. "I need to get back to work, now."
When asked if he had an overall purpose for his walk, Mr. Ford said "I just like getting into the air."