Mystic Microsoft, Chapter Ten: Flash Flood

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"What do we need to make OLE 2 successful?" On a typically dreary Pacific Northwest Friday afternoon in January 1993, Jon Lazarus, Vice-President of Systems Marketing at Microsoft, was spelling out the problem: ISVs were struggling desperately with OLE 2. They had no idea what they were really supposed to do with the technology. And for that matter, neither did we. Our evangelical efforts in Developer Relations had been somewhat confused. We succeeded only in disseminating our confusion.

It was increasingly clear that if things kept going the way they were, many ISVs would soon abandon OLE 2 altogether. This was simply unacceptable. So Jon called together everyone who had a key role in promoting the technology and asked for solutions.

"What do we need to make OLE 2 successful?" Jon's invitation opened the brainstorm. "What we need are good, clear, technical papers," someone said. "And articles…" injected another, "that's what we need!" "And standard demo programs!" "More focused sample applications!" "Technical presentations!" "A developer's conference!" "And a book! We need someone to write a real how-to-do-it book!"

Whew! What a list! We definitely needed a lot—and, of course, we needed it all now!

I went home that weekend thinking about what I could do, personally. I was certainly in a position to write articles, papers, and samples because it was already my responsibility to do so. I figured I could also help slog out a few more presentations and whip up a demo or two. Still, I had to wonder just how much I could really help the situation in the short term. For nearly five months now I'd been beating my head against a wall trying to grok this stuff with only marginal success. Writing a book was strictly out of the question—at the rate I was going, it would take me years to understand it enough to even write an outline.

With all the time I'd struggled with it, I was at least clear on one point: there was much more to OLE 2 than we were seeing. What we really lacked was a clear, high-level understanding that could be expanded upon in the precise details. We needed to piece together every one of OLE 2's seemingly disparate elements into one coherent picture. But how? No one but the two software architects who had designed the technology would even know where to start, and they were so immersed in finishing OLE 2's monstrous specification that they didn't have time to even pretend to think about another project.

These thoughts spun around in my mind as the weekend progressed. "How do all these complex pieces fit together?" "How can it be simplified? What are the connections? There must be some way to make sense of all this!" More and more I focused my attention on these fundamental questions, seeking answers almost desperately. By Sunday, I was thinking of little else.

My wife Kristi probably noticed the strain of these mental gymnastics on my furled brow. With what I imagine was the most compassionate patience, she encouraged me to relax for a few hours while we visited her parents that afternoon. Realizing that my analytical mind was pushing itself to exhaustion by trying to forcibly invent solutions, I was more than happy to oblige. Perhaps if I took a little break now I could find a new approach to my questions when I returned to work on Monday.

Aaaaaah. After enjoying a fine lunch and visiting with everyone for a bit, I felt much better. I had been able to put OLE 2 out of my mind for a while and, after reading the Sunday comics at the kitchen table, I sat back in my chair with a soothing sigh and found my mind at rest. Not a single thought disturbed the spotless sky of peace.

Then suddenly, as if magnetically drawn by my intense concentration upon it, the singular question that I so deeply yearned to answer returned: "How do all these pieces of OLE 2 fit together?"

BOOM! A bolt of lightning flashed into my consciousness with tremendous power, and in one timeless moment I simply understood OLE 2. Not just bits and pieces—everything! It was magnificent. Full-blown insights appeared in my mind with an indescribable thrill! Every knot untied itself! Every piece of the puzzle took its proper place! In an instant I knew the answer to my every question, even in those areas that I had yet to really study. The entire architecture of OLE 2 stood before me with perfect clarity: an exquisitely simple foundation giving rise to mighty pillars that in turn supported the most elegant spires, each reaching into lofty technological heights.

It was astoundingly beautiful. So wonderfully exhilarating! And so absolutely right.

I was in awe: never before had such magnificent superconscious awareness coursed through my brain. Never before had my entire being thrilled with such joy! It literally stunned me into stillness. I wanted nothing more than to just sit there and absorb the profound bliss of these sudden realizations.[*]

Yet in that very same moment I knew that this inspiration was not for me alone: this vibrant consciousness had been given to me to help others and would have to be communicated to them in some material form.[†]

BOOM! Another flash! With immediate and utter clarity there crystallized in my mind the full-blown structure of a book that would present OLE 2 in its wondrous entirety. Each chapter would have a distinct focus on a particular piece of the whole. The sequence of those chapters would gracefully erect a complete architectural understanding, step by gentle step. And the sample programs accompanying each chapter would demonstrate each part both by itself and in the context of a larger application. It was the perfect way to do it! Individual chapters could be easily shortened into articles, too. The whole sequence of the book provided the exact framework for a series of technical presentations. Thus a focused effort to write the book would satisfy not just a few, but almost every piece we needed to make OLE 2 successful. Better still, I could start doing it all immediately!

In fact, I suddenly realized that I was the only person who could do it. No one else had the right combination of time, experience, and writing skills. Those who had the experience just didn't have the time. Other writers didn't have the experience. And my time was already committed to doing this kind of work anyway.

Clearly, this book was going to happen, and I was to be the instrument of its creation.

◊  ◊  ◊

Like I said, this experience of "OLE Nirvana" (as Eric Maffei, former Editor-in-Chief of Microsoft Systems Journal later called it) happened in a flash as I sat at my in-law's kitchen table. As soon as I brought myself back to outer awareness (perhaps a brief minute later), I walked into the dining room where I'd set my notebook computer. I'd brought it with me "just in case" I had any good ideas during our visit.

I was again amazed. From the moment I sat down at the computer my fingers literally tap-danced on the keyboard. With an energy that was intense yet perfectly calm, the book's outline essentially wrote itself, line by line—the only effort needed on my part was to accept what was happening and just keep my fingers moving! In fact, I don't remember a single moment when I had to stop and think about what came next. Whatever was pouring through me simply had its own intelligence, no less astounding to me than the inspiration itself.[‡]

Sometime during the three non-stop hours that I sat there "writing" this outline, my sister-in-law ventured by. Seeing how engrossed I was in what we normally consider "work," she asked, "don't you ever stop and just have some fun?" What could I say? How could I explain to her that I'd never before experienced such utter delight? No mere pastime could compare.

The next morning, I went to my office at 7am (I lived only a mile away) and began writing both the text for the book and the accompanying sample programs. To my deepening amazement, that joyful, effortless flow that was there with the outline continued, only now taking the form of paragraphs and source code. And it went on!—not just for a few days but day after day and week after week for a total of seven months. Without strain or exhaustion of any kind I wrote all morning long and did my programming throughout the afternoon. Sometimes the flow was so strong that I wouldn't have a moment's pause for up to eight hours at a time—the words just kept a-comin' and I just kept my little fingers a-movin'!

This, I discovered, was the real trick. Superconscious or divine inspiration depends upon willing cooperation with its own inherent course. Self-assertion, or the desire to control its direction, simply stops the flow. I felt this clearly. Whenever I thought to impose my own will or opinion on matters, or tried to solve problems with my intellect alone, I got bogged down and felt the energy dissipating. When I once again gave myself into the flow, the whole process instantly became effortless and energizing: problems just seemed to solve themselves. (As St. Paul said, "God is not mocked.")

Such joy! Such delight! I was having more fun writing this book than I thought possible! "So why not make the book fun to read as well?" I thought. Yes, why not? So many programming books I knew started dry, proceeded dry, and ended dry. Not this one! Pushing the boundaries of style and convention (which my editors at Microsoft Press were gracious enough to accommodate) I pulled colorful quotations from playwrights, philosophers, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Indiana Jones, and a handful of decently esoteric books on completely offbeat topics. Chapters began with themes on Tupperware, Cookie Monster, fishing, Darwinian evolution, and Howard Carter's excavation of King Tut's tomb, each of which somehow managed to bring fresh insights to the discussion at hand. And rounding out the mix were a few world maps, a musical intermission (based on "Old MacDonald had a Farm"), a few satirical advertisements, a fair assortment of entertaining stories, and some outrageously bad puns. (Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?)

By early September 1993, the final galleys of Inside OLE 2, as it was appropriately christened, were complete. A wonderful thing had been accomplished—not by me, but through me. I felt no egoic pride in the book's creation; I instead felt a wordless gratitude and delight for the experience of being immersed for so long in such boundlessly creative energy. Seven short months had witnessed the manifestation of nearly a thousand pages of print-ready text—edited three times over—and fifty sample programs. It was a rate of production well beyond what my poor editors at Microsoft Press had encountered before!

Yet unlike other authors I later met who came close to having nervous breakdowns after writing books half the size in twice the time, I didn't feel the least bit tired. I was rather energized and uplifted, feeling far better than ever before.

◊  ◊  ◊

Now lest you get the impression that I worked relentless twenty hour days on this thing for seven months straight, let me make it clear that I "had a life" beyond the book. Quite a bit of life, in fact: my typical ten-hour workday, 7am to 5pm with lunch in the middle (usually), was actually below the Microsoft average and left plenty of time for other activities.

I took up walking as exercise, often cleaning up litter as I went. In the evenings I read about one book each week, many of which inspired new ideas for my writing. I was also actively designing and running an extensive Dungeons & Dragons campaign with an after-hours group at Microsoft.

I traveled a fair amount to speak at four or five conferences and visit a dozen ISVs. Kristi and I also took several vacations: five days in Illinois to celebrate my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, ten days touring Arizona, and a week in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands where we attended a unique and deeply inspiring workshop with Dewitt Jones, the well-known nature photographer.

If this wasn't enough, Kristi had just earned her Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington and had started a full-time job some distance from our apartment near Microsoft. Her commute meant that I was honored with the privilege of cooking dinner every night, a task complicated by the fact that we'drecently become vegetarians.

What's more, our combined income now enabled us to buy a house as we'dlong planned. We walked through a fair number of possibilities before finally settling on one that was still under construction. This meant running hither and yon to select carpets, fixtures, wood stains, paints, and so on.

Coincidentally, we moved into our new home on the very day I finished reviewing the final proofs of Inside OLE 2. Was I then able to "relax"? Not at all: I finished those edits en route to conferences in Europe. I actually returned the moving truck on my way to the airport. Did I relax when I got home? Nyaah. I continued to read. I bought a grand piano and began to play an hour or two a day. And I got to learn about all the demands of a new house with two-dozen windows, oceans of carpet, an apartment's worth of hardwood floors, and a fifth-acre of lawn.

Then again, I didn't feel the need to "relax" with some kind of passive activity. I was reaping such a bounty of joy that it simply overflowed into everything I did!

◊  ◊  ◊

You might have noticed that everything I've described so far took place before the book was actually published. By that time, I can honestly say that I really did not care whether the book ever sold a single copy. I had already felt such tremendous blessings in the process of writing it that anything else was just a bonus.

Yet bonuses there were in abundance, as the blessings were only just now starting to reach out to others.

Inside OLE 2hit the shelves near the end of November. The release was perfectly timed with a huge Microsoft Developer's Conference in Anaheim, California, at which OLE 2 was one of two major themes. As a result, the book literally became an overnight phenomenon. It hit the shelves and jumped right off of them!

Most computer books were considered successful if they sold 3000 copies over two years. At the conference alone we sold that many in the first two hours. In fact, it took only three weeks to sell out the entire first printing of 17,500 copies. Over the next eighteen months and two subsequent printings, Inside OLE 2 sold a staggering total (for an esoteric programming book in those years) of 35,000.

Needless to say, the book accomplished every objective than we'dtalked about in that January meeting. It helped make the conference—and the technology itself—a smashing success, not just in North America and Europe but even globally. Inside OLE 2 found its way to the far reaches of the earth including Israel, Russia, Argentina, India, and South Africa with translations in German, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.

As a result, I suddenly found myself with more friends that I knew what to do with and received a constant stream of email thanking me in some way for the book. Some of them told me it read "like literature." Many told of how much they'd laughed while reading it. I was delighted to know that even this highly technical programming book was infused with the joy I felt while writing it. That it touched others in this way meant more to me than professional satisfaction, more than fame, and more than money.

Not to say that these weren't forthcoming. It was deeply satisfying to have helped so many people with the book, and I had plenty of fame coming my way (and will be coming yours in the next chapter). As for money? Because I wrote the book on company time and had received my usual salary in the process, the book was "work for hire": Microsoft owned the copyright and I wasn't eligible for royalties from Microsoft Press. Given the success of the book, people pitied me for this "unfortunate" arrangement. But because I hadn't done it for money to begin with, it really didn't bother me in the least.

Some months later Jon Lazarus called me into his office. He'd originally opposed my writing the book, quite adamantly at times, concerned with the precedent that it might set within Developer Relations. Even for the first few months of its production he hadn't really given Inside OLE 2 his support. But now he flat-out told me that he'd been wrong and that I had done the right thing. Thanking me for my dogged persistence, he handed me a special grant of stock options that in time became more valuable than any royalties would have been.

◊  ◊  ◊

Joy, beauty, clarity, inner peace—"bonuses" of every kind—such are the natural graces of superconscious inspiration, of an open connection between ourselves and a higher consciousness along with the complete willingness to cooperate with its guidance. It revitalizes, it heals, and it just makes everything work right. Better still, such inspiration isn't the exclusive domain of a few elect souls: if it can come to an atheistically-inclined 24-year-old programmer in the middle of Microsoft's technological marketing efforts, it is truly available to all who express the energy, concentration, and love necessary to attract it and who are open and courageous enough to receive it.[§]

Yes, courageous. Drawing on creative inspiration and learning to make it a natural habit means taking the responsibility to manifest that inspiration in a tangible way. This implies a great deal of effort and self-sacrifice along with the willingness to expose yourself to public scrutiny. More importantly, though, it also means the willingness to expose yourself to how you might be changed in the process!

When the whole Inside OLE 2 project began, you see, I had little visible interest in spiritual matters. Political and social issues occupied my extracurricular thinking, and religion, in my mind, was a negative, repressive influence. I'd just read several books about the Crusades in which religion, as "practiced" in that context, seemed little more than a widespread excuse for hatred, prejudice, and violence. As for God, I saw "it" in terms of a blind socio-psycho-political force that had been used, almost exclusively, as the justification for a dizzying array of nefarious deeds. God and religion, in other words, were barriers that I sought to overcome as much as those I faced with the OLE technology.

In the process of writing the book, however, I couldn't deny that there was this tremendous power—a higher consciousness—flowing through me. It couldn't be dismissed, nor could it be buried under some clever philosophical definition. And although it came from within me, it was clearly not my own.

My skeptical belief system had no provision for this sort of thing—yet to suppress that flow or shut it out would have meant not writing the book. It would have meant leaving thousands of desperate programmers out in the cold. It would have meant disconnecting myself from a source of energy that was giving my life purpose and joy.

I couldn't think to entertain such alternatives for even a moment. My only choice was to just let go my opinions and let the flow carry me wherever it would.

Throughout the period I've described in this chapter, my conscious attention was so much occupied by what was happening outwardly that I barely noticed what was happening inwardly. New kinds of thoughts were appearing in my mind, and I was becoming more and more open to new realities. Many of these ideas I found fascinating and meaningful, and I would have loved to explore them in depth. As it was I could only jot them down in my personal journal—I had to keep my focus on writing Inside OLE 2.

It was only while writing this present story that I really looked at those notes again. What they reveal is that God wasn't just giving me a book, he was directly transforming my consciousness. I began to ponder the questions of who I was and what life was really all about. I questioned the complicated modern lifestyle and its advertisements that equated quality of life with the shoes I wore, the news I read, and the beverages I drank. And I questioned many other popular values, especially those related to justice, morality, and "right living." In short, my inner search for truth became significantly more intense.

I also began to read more spiritually-oriented books at this time (including various scriptures) and, amazingly enough, to think a great deal more about God. For years I'd been trying to write him off as a social fabrication, but he just wouldn't go away. Yet I still couldn't think of him as being somewhere "up there," forever distant and unapproachable as he's so often presented. More and more I was searching for some concept that was present, tangible, and intimate.

My attitude toward God and all other spiritual stuff thus shifted during this period from outright rejection to at least a probationary acceptance. As I continued to be immersed in the deeply spiritual (though not "religious") experience of writing the book, I came to understand that spirituality was not a matter of belief or ritualistic worship—it was rather demonstrated by one's day to day choices and experience. As Jesus said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord' and do not what I tell you?" My actions were what mattered, not some intricately chiseled theology. My thoughts mattered too—was it not sheer hypocrisy to talk about kindness while clinging to unkind attitudes? One must do more than preach peace, he must first become peaceful in himself.

More and more I was coming to realize that spirituality is a wholly inner process, not an institutional one. The answers I wanted to life simply had to be inside myself, just like the inspiration—and the very words!—for Inside OLE 2. As Jesus also said, "Neither shall they say lo here! or lo there! but behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." But it wasn't that I, this little ego, was the source of Truth. My little body simply could not contain anything worthy of the name "Kingdom of God." But I was beginning to understand that somewhere within my being—and within every other living creature—I had a connection to an overarching unity—a unity that, for lack of any other name, I could call "God"!

Inside OLE 2, then, was the channel through which God really began to throw open the windows of my receptivity to and awareness of a greater reality. Through the torrent of inspiration that produced the book, the Divine Gardener had washed away many weeds that were choking my soul. And in the now fertile soil of my open heart, where I noticed a slight though not wholly physical sensation, he was planting the seeds of his presence. Those seeds would still need a few years to sprout, and during that time my general thinking would revert to politics, social justice, and other such concerns.

But sprout they would, changing my life in even more complete and wonderful ways.

One of the main ruins at Wupatki National Monument outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, May 1993. I made it a point to be there at sunset.

The view from Cortes Island, home of the retreat center where we spent a week with photographer Dewitt Jones.

Myself at the retreat in July, 1993.

The piano I bought in October, 1993, after moving into our new house. (See Chapter 15 for the house itself.)

[*] Johannes Brahms clearly describes similar experiences in Talks with Great Composers by Arthur M. Abell, which I read only years later. As Brahms said, "I immediately feel vibrations that thrill my whole being—these are the Spirit illuminating the soul power within, and in this exalted state, I see clearly what is obscure in my ordinary moods."   [Return to text]

[†] From Brahms again: "Those vibrations assume the forms of distinct mental images, after I have formulated my desire and resolve in regard to what I want…namely, to be inspired so that I can compose something that will uplift and benefit humanity—something of permanent value."   [Return to text]

[‡] As the inventor Nikola Tesla said: "It was a mental state of happiness as about complete as I have ever known in life—ideas came in an uninterrupted stream, and the only difficulty I had was to hold them fast." (From Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney.)   [Return to text]

[§] For a more complete discussion of this subject see Art as a Hidden Message by J. Donald Walters.   [Return to text]

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Epilogue | Afterword

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