Roving Mars, Without a Business Plan
Without realizing it, I’ve joined those plucky rovers transversing the surface of the Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, explorers with no goal other than to keep going. Landing on the red planet early in 2004, each rover bounced a few times, took a deep breath as it spread its solar wings to collect power, rolled forward and never looked back.
Seven and a half years is a long, long time for space hardware to survive in hostile conditions. Spirit is still there but unresponsive for more than a year and the folks at JPL have pretty much given up on it, but Opportunity continues its quest, its progress minimal (it traveled three feet on Sept. 8, for instance) but constant. It’s being driven in reverse now because that’s the only way to keep it moving forward (there’s some sort of lesson there), toward…whatever it comes upon around the next boulder.
Here is what makes me a rover. I’ve been on Mars, more or less (if not boots on the red ground, then at least mentally) since I began my Venus on Mars project a few years back. I can describe the terrain I’ve covered: the dry stream beds, towering volcanoes and breathtakingly deep craters. I’ve choked on the unagreeable atmosphere, been swept up in intermittent dust devils, shivered in the chilling temperatures, and admired the odd salmon-colored sky dotted with two irregularly shaped moons. I’m nearly worn out but still moving forward, mostly by sheer persistence and determination, toward…hmmm.
What is is you want to accomplish, my friend Jim Mahoney asked me recently when we met for lunch and I talked about my Venus on Mars project – what it was, what I wanted it to be. A few weeks later, I’m still struggling to answer that question.
Mostly I talked about what Venus on Mars wasn’t. It wasn’t yet the new form of narrative with augmented moments I keep thinking about because I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Moreover, the application I need to do what I want to do doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell, which just makes me frustrated and way too whiney.
Do you want to create a new application, he asked me. No, most definitely not. Jim is an experienced Silicon Valley coder – he creates applications and web pages from scratch – but now after completing his MFA in cinema he’s looking, as I am, at new media forms. Lately he’s been developing online interactivity for music and movies.
Jim tells me he has something I’ve never even considered: a business plan. These VC types he’s been meeting with have convineced him this is the next logical and absoutely necessary step in his own pursuit of success. He’s abandoned Strip-Press, a project I thought was really cool, because he realized it would not be as profitable as the one he’s working on now. He calls it Exploded Views – equally cool, but more promising profit-wise.
I’ve never tried to make money on what I do, a double-edged sword. I’ve always had teaching for income, my creative work for funsies. Now I’m thinking maybe this good fortune, salary-wise, has actually kept me from being more serious about it the work I’m doing, creative-wise.
Do you want to sell lots of copies of your book, Jim asked. Sure, but I never envision it becoming a best-seller. It’s not that type of book, I’ve been told. Emphatically. Respectable sales figures are the most I can hope for. So, no, that’s not what’s driving my rover.
There’s a “transmedia” conference planned for October in San Francisco, all about new narrative/media forms. I’d like to participate, to share my ideas with the public at large. I’d like to be one of the people known for creating something new from the old. I’d like to be among the avant-garde, the innovators, the go-to experts when questions arise about how to create media-enhanced narratives without losing the literary essence we associate with reading books. But I didn’t get invited. When I looked at the list of presenters, I realized the thing they all had in common was the very thing I lacked – a way to parlay my thoughts, dreams and occasional products into profit. They’re all into making media-money and I’m not.
Because I never have taken myself and my creations seriously enough to think of a business plan.
I’m thinking about those Mars rovers – and the far-away scientists who drive them. They must take themselves very seriously; otherwise they’d never survive.
Meanwhile I’m chugging along mindlessly, joy-riding, perhaps, when I should be forging ahead more seriously.
Where’s my spreadsheet?