where there’s smoke there’s….naked hula girls

E and I met up with Octavian and discussed E’s recent weekend out on Necker Island for a global-warming conference with people including Blair and Branson, whom E got pictured with in a news story about the thing. This was E’s I’m-thinking-about-a-rocket-problem stance, which makes me pretty sure that he had just gotten some kind of bothersome work-related email, and was clearly oblivious to the fact that a picture was being taken at all. This is also the reason I get suck a kick out of it — the spouse the camera caught is the exact spouse I encountered, say, last night en route to the bathroom, standing in the hallway frowning with his arms folded.

I’ve been to Necker once before — for the Google wedding — and I’ve met Branson a couple of times and been charmed by his strapping blond sons, particularly the youngest, who a) has one of the coolest tattoos I’ve ever seen* and b) told me a little bit about the problems and pitfalls of dating some kind of princess. I had the distinct sense, during that particular conversation, of two worlds colliding — my own smalltown origins and upbringing amid an environment where you were encouraged to dream big…sort of…as long as you remain ‘realistic’ and don’t set yourself up for too much disappointment* — running into this other, international jet-setting existence where part your birthright is to regard things like royalty and space as two more corners of your playground.

In person, Branson can come off as surprisingly awkward and shy, or at least very, very guarded, and my (admittedly limited) impression was that his larger-than-life performance of a personality is in many ways just that — a kind of performance, something you can put on and hide behind when you need to deal with crowds of people you might not otherwise be completely comfortable with. (Whereas you get the feeling that someone like Donald Trump is simply being Donald Trump, on camera or in crowds or at a small dinner or alone, that the ‘performance’ really is the personality and vice-versa). Branson is also very much the cheeky Brit, and clearly believes that although life is serious you should never take yourself very seriously. You can see that same kind of spirit lighting up his sons, who moved around his island and hosted Google wedding guests with a born-to-the-manor ease that Branson himself didn’t quite seem to have.

So at Necker, E related, Branson was being his tongue-in-cheek, larger-than-life self, very merry, and during a social gathering that I imagine involved a wee bit of alcohol, got to saying things like “Yes, we would have had some naked hula women here if it wasn’t for the presence of the Prime Minister!” as well as asking everybody, “So do you believe the world is on fire? Do you believe the world is on fire?” There happened to be a reporter present, who seized on that last question and used it as the basis of his story, which reads, at least between the lines, as: “Look at all these rich dudes who think the world is on fire and are so serious about this issue that they flew all their private jets to this island to party!”

And so as E put it, in his bemused, dry tones: “The bloggers were not kind.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m going through my life with a kind of double vision: my here-and-now perspective and the perspective of the modest sheltered small-town world I came from, where I lacked for nothing I needed or wanted (except maybe travel, which I went after as soon as I got old enough to become a Rotary exchange student) but was certainly light-years away from where I am now, a world that didn’t seem to truly exist outside of TV and movies and tabloid magazines. So when “the bloggers are not kind”, I get irritated and offended on behalf of my husband and some of our friends, and I want to plunge in and correct what I see as blatant errors in fact and thus in perception, a timesuck-trap if ever there was one. This is a different thing from trying to change an opinion; all you want is for that opinion to be founded in the truthful, and the truth gets filtered through the media in such incomplete and fractured ways.

After all, the most skilled liars grow their inventions from seeds of truth — using those bits of truth to sell the exaggerations and hyperboles, the spins and downright deceptions. A little bit of truth can indeed be a dangerous thing. I’m not saying the media is a liar. But it can’t help but feed into our natural human impulse to connect the dots and fill in the blanks ourselves, in ways we don’t even realize we’re always, constantly doing.

So I know exactly where those ‘unkind bloggers’ are coming from, that satisfying, almost kneejerk reaction of filling in particular blanks in particular ways, how I would have done it myself way back when. Look at those smug rich assholes.. And maybe they’re not even entirely wrong…which is still light-years away from entirely right.

* It’s the only tattoo I’ve ever seen that documents the history of air travel — evolutions of the airplane running up his inner forearm.

** There’s an inverse variation on that, just as damaging: encouraging kids to dream big and believe in yourself and have it all, without teaching or modeling for them the skills and all consuming all sacrificing work ethic with no guarantee of an actual reward as well as the ability to constantly take the toughest constructive criticisms and use it to constantly and realistically appraise yourself and where you are and where and how you can go from there needed to actually achieve the big dreams.

*** Yeah, the private jet thing. What people like the Necker Island conference-goers are working for, however, is a shift in cultural paradigm, which people like Branson and my spouse believe will be achieved through capitalist means: ie: giving a person a choice of consumer goods so stylish and compelling and efficient that the fact that it’s also eco-friendly is just the icing on the cake. In other words, you change the world not through giving up your current private jet, especially since it’s the only way you can get to these kinds of obscure places given your insane overscheduled schedule, but through creating a truly awesome alternative-energy jet that everybody can fly in. Which is the philosophy behind the Tesla Roadster: that this car is so cool you would choose to buy it over a Ferrari or a Porsche even if you didn’t care about the environment, because it’s just as fast and sexy and will even save you a hell of a lot on gas. Because developing the technology for these cars is still so expensive, Tesla has elected to go top-down rather than (as companies have tried in the past) bottom-up. In other words, they’ll develop expensive technology through building and selling expensive cars, then as they refine and perfect that technology the cars get cheaper and mass-produced (which is the company’s ultimate goal). So this is how certain individuals manage to connect the creation of a six-figure sports car with, well, saving the freaking world. Baby steps, people. Baby steps. And someone does have to take them…starting with the people who can afford to.

In any case, E has been talking about the need for a viable alternative energy source ever since I first met him on a university campus sixteen years ago. He believes it is absolutely crucial we develop this technology, and not just for environmental reasons (although, as he puts it, “the environment is a really really good one”).


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