I went to nerd-camp at Grinnell for several summers before I ever went to college, and it seemed like a wonderland. When I tell people familiar with the campus that my first kiss took place in the basement of the Forum, the summer before ninth grade, the usual response is something like "Ouch -- the Forum basement? I'm sorry." But their sympathy is misdirected, because if it wasn't exactly idyllic, I didn't notice. I was in the Magic Kingdom and everything was perfect. Well, the kiss wasn't so great. But everything about Grinnell was.
The luster eventually wore off after I started going to school there. I still thought it was a nice place, but I didn't think it was perfect. I guess that the longer you stay in a place, the more you start to notice things that your brain was able to hide from you before. Tonight, though, as I walked through the Reed campus at sunset, I wondered if maybe my first impression of Grinnell hadn't been the more accurate one. I looked around at all the kids (and, happily, unlike walking through the campus of the university where I used to live, I didn't get any overwhelming impression of "Holy sweet mother, when the fuck did they all get so young?" while walking around Reed) and wondered if they appreciated the beauty of their surroundings at all or if they were, as I had been, too busy going to college to really care. After walking through the main part of campus (I kept an eye out for Leigh phthoggos, but didn't see any tall, self-assured redheads), I detoured down a service driveway behind the gym. I'm not sure why I went that way; maybe I wanted to see if the spell would be broken. Large windows faced the driveway from the pool, and a Speedos-clad swimmer in the lifeguard chair, probably a kid putting the "work" in work-study, stared out at me through the plate glass for a good ninety seconds. I hoped nobody was drowning. From the next room over, I was grinned at by some guys in black robes with long thin swords who were practicing some martial art I didn't recognize. Not too many girls walk by that way, I suppose.
Distances don't seem so far when you ran sixteen miles over the weekend. I walked from Reed all the way up to the coffee shop in the middle of Ladd's Addition -- and speaking of places, I've got to write about this coffee shop, sometime -- with the intent to do some thinking about cross-domain XMLHttpRequest stuff, but it's true what they say about intentions. Instead I'm waxing existential. You know, most of the time, I subscribe to the Charlie Brown philosophy that our purpose in existing is to make others happy. (Lucy: "What are the others here for?!") Writing songs that people like seems like a pretty direct means toward that end. Software development seems like a pretty indirect one. But with software development, one could argue that the goal is to help others do their own happiness-making more directly, with fewer niggling annoyances. That's a pretty high purpose, no? Or, as Kathy Sierra always says, to help other people kick ass. I think I did a little bit of that today. I took away some niggling annoyances for someone else -- I feel pretty good about that. And then some other programmer somewhere is making it their life's work to take away the niggling annoyances in what I do. Crazy. So does anyone ever directly make anyone else happy? Can we ever make anyone else be anything? Or is helping others (to help others to help others to...) get closer to their own self-made happiness the best that we can do, the highest purpose to which we can aspire?