October 10, 2011

Love Letter to Steve Jobs. ~ Nicole Billa


We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.
~  Allen Ginsberg  “Sunflower Sutra”

It was a bad night. It was one of those nights where I am scared of my bed. I paced the neighborhood. I came in at 11, knowing I must be up at 5:30 to write. I went on Facebook even though I knew it would cost me at least half an hour of sleep. I don’t know what I was hoping to find there.

Not this, though:

RIP Steve Jobs.

The news must have broken only minutes before.

It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming. Who survives pancreatic cancer as long as you did? I saw a video clip of your last keynote, and I knew. You had the look. I spent a few months at Sloan Kettering, when Big Son was ill. I knew it wouldn’t be long.

Just a few months ago, I read a book about the early years of Macintosh. You always knew where you were going. You spoke of a time when we would have handheld computers that could do everything. We would have access to information and each other. Who knew what would happen, once we could do that? These machines you envisioned would mean people could communicate freely with each other, and thus we would have a chance at remaining free.

You didn’t let the fate and direction of the world deter you. You had your failures and your successes, but your vision remained clear.

I read you were dead and I cried my eyes out. I couldn’t stop crying until I fell into a desperate sleep at 2am. I could not understand the depth of my grief. We’ve never even met. I woke up after a few hours of broken sleep and I still was crying.

I have children. I have work to do, heart breaking or not. Big Son asked why I was crying. I gave him his breakfast and I told him you had died.

“But he only resigned on August 24th!”  He is 11.  He knows the day because he is a musician. You matter to musicians. He loves you.  Big Son can make a music video of himself and his friend covering a Metallica song, because we have an iMac. They sat down at the computer and figured it out inside of an hour.

I keep hearing “Power to the People” in my head. Did you use that in an ad once?

I couldn’t find the words to explain to Big Son how I felt the world had shifted with your passing. Usually words are the only thing that come easily to me. As the day went on, my thoughts settled and the words found some kind of form to explain your meaning.

This is why you matter so much: If I want to record a song, or publish a screed, or make a poster that looks professional, there is a program on the iMac for it. It will be simple enough that I can figure it out for myself. If I, no computer wizard, want to make a film protesting any of the things there are to protest, well I can. I think they call it iMovie.

Maybe I will. Maybe I will use a John Lennon song as a backdrop, and show pictures of mothers all over the world crying because their sons, American or Iraqi or any other artificial divisions, are hurt or dying. Maybe I will show the children starving 5 miles down the highway while we keep building better and better guns. Maybe I will speak back to the people who tell me I am ‘politically ignorant’ and a ‘ridiculous idealist’ for thinking that no matter how you slice up the war pie, every piece you get is poison.

I might even start tomorrow, Steve. You’ve made it pretty easy to use your machines.

You gave us the means of production. You handed us the power. You saw the way the world was going. You knew that if they ever got full control of the words and the images and the sounds, we would be living in 1984. So you did what you could to stop it. Sure, they control the networks and the newspapers. So what? We have blogs and independent films and we can organize ourselves to Occupy Wall Street if we need to.

Paul Revere was a printer. I remembered that today, thinking of you. He helped start a revolution and it came from the word, and the means of transmitting the word. He had a printing press of his own. No one could stop him from printing his words.

Knowledge in the hands of the few is tyranny. In the hands of many, it is democracy.You are a continuation of a movement that began hundreds of years ago, when the word moved from the control of the Church to the pens and presses of the many.

 “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.”

Me too, Steve.

As long as we can communicate with each other, we will always be free. They will not be able to stop us. Already I have been scoffed at. After all, Apple is just another big rich corporation. But if we’re going to be ruled by corporations, let it be that one.

I was lucky enough to work for your sister. She taught me how to write, at Bard. I took her writing workshop when she was writing the book that was most definitely not about you, and I had a work-study job where I practically swooned to file her papers for $4.50 an hour. Perhaps that is why I have always felt I knew you.

A few months ago someone told me you had gone to India to meet my guru, Neem Karoli Baba. You went to India to meet him but he had already left his body. I don’t believe in coincidence, only meaning, so I read the book about you and then my husband found your Stanford speech. I posted it on Facebook back in May. It started a conversation. You were teaching the Gita.

I took your Stanford speech to heart.  In the truest sense; I took those words as coming from a higher source at exactly the right time:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

I listened to your whole speech and it was true, every word of it. I knew I had to make my life worth living or die. I started the very next day. Tonight they replayed that part of your speech on NPR.

We’ve moved since your speech; not just where we live but in the direction of the way we want to live.  Yesterday I wrote a little, prayed a little, helped someone to grieve. Mostly I was the mom with the house where the kid who always gets screamed at is safe. Where you can stay if you are nice to each other, and you are allowed to dig up the yard. People come in and out as if our house is some kind of base camp. If today was my last day, I am happy with what I did.

Let others write about your cultural and technological impact. I only know what you did for me. I was a sad girl, always lonely. I was poor and I was hated and every day at school the kids reminded me of how awful I was. I was the loser who had skipped a grade, I was ugly, I was bad. They never let me forget it. School was a prison.

But at home, I had a nook with an Apple IIGS. Someone had helped my mother scrape the money together for it. I wrote enough poems to decide I had written a book. I wrote whole novels. I printed out my work and it was real, and I was real, and I knew I could write, and that was armor against their derision. It was armor strong enough to keep me from being one of the kids who killed themselves when the pain of being hated was too much.

When I sat down at the computer, I wasn’t a dirty locomotive, I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t a bookworm who didn’t fit in anywhere.

I was a writer, and I could publish myself.

Thank you.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”



Nicole Billa (Ananda Dasi) is a longtime student of religions and philosophies.  She lives in an old house with her husband, two kids, a couple of cats, 8 geckos, and a whole bunch of other pets her kids couldn’t live without.  Nicole was a Yoga instructor for 8 years before giving it up to spend more time writing and singing kirtan.  She is the author of “Off the Mat: Thoughts from a Yoga Practice.”


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