I was having Thanksgiving lunch with my friend Jay since neither of us could make it home for the holidays and I was bemoaning the fact that I had to come up with an idea for a column. I didn't want to write about politics and I figured everyone was tired of turkey stories.
Then I looked across the restaurant booth and realized that I would write about Dorothy Parker and her roundtable and about think tanks which I think have something in common. Are you lost already?
Dorothy Parker was this writer who had a series of literary friends and they decided to eat at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City and talk. This roundtable became legend.
Parker was a critic, satirical poet and short story writer. She is probably best remembered for the line: "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." She was known for her other quips, some pretty pointed.
None of the conversations at the roundtable changed the world, but they made those present better. Think tanks, on the other hand, seek to change the world by spending their time thinking and talking and reasoning.
We are all better and more rounded because of our friends and what they share with us and what we share with them.
Jay is an engineering student at Georgia Tech and an expert on certain things in life like science fiction. He puts up with my long conversations about whether we will ever be able to dissolve people and transport them thousands of miles away. And if we do succeed in taking them apart and putting the molecules back together, is there something unseen that exists in all of us independent of the compilation of molecules that would make us a different person on the other end?
And in our discussion about colonizing the moon, he tells me the hotels have to be underground because of the thousands of small particles constantly bombarding the surface. But we want the hotels above ground because the view would be better and we could charge more for the rooms, I say. You scientists are just going to have to find a way to deal with the bombardment, I say.
I certainly am better for having someone with the patience to put up with my crazy ideas and Socratic method of learning. I don't know if he learns anything from me, but I am certainly learning from our "roundtable" discussions.
This, I think, is what is wrong with the world. It doesn't have enough roundtables or think tanks. It certainly doesn't have enough dreamers. All of the great inventors and scientists certainly were dreamers. They dreamed what could not be and then they set out to make it happen.
Certainly I think that science fiction writers are the same. They see a world apart from the world in which we live. They have the creativity and mind-set to envision something, whether it is robots or transporters. Then later scientists set out to make it reality.
I once interviewed the creator of color television (his method was the one used by NASA while another was used for home use.) He talked a lot about the food of science fiction, about how we would one day shop at home and cameras would roam the aisles, pausing while we looked at the items. Then everything would be brought to our homes. He was partly right. The hordes of credit card-laden shoppers clutching the sale pages of today's paper would prove him partly wrong. But the millions of people ordering from ebay and Amazon.com and thinkgeek.com (one of Jay's favorite sites) would prove him partly right.
My point is that we have got to not be afraid to dream. Even if it takes a "roundtable" of dreamers, we must make room for this needed concept. Never accept what you see. Dream of something better.
Secondly, the process of making our laws has become dated also. It doesn't work very well. We need to employ this same concept. Around the table are the Senate and House leaders and the medical officials and the patient all deciding how to fix the nation's health care problems. What makes this concept harder to implement is that you need people like Jay willing to put up with stupid questions and people like me willing to ask stupid questions that are earnestly asked.
The television show Dinner for Five is the modern day version of Dorothy Parker. The interplay of bright, creative people makes for an entertaining hour. There are no monologues. Each brings to the table, each takes away from the table. Life is A banquet. But you've got to be willing to eat.
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.