“I was in something called the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU and I was having the time of my life, finally. That place is heaven.”
That’s from the introduction for my first book, Cyberville. The Interactive Telecommunications Program, aka ITP, is where I went to grad school. I started ITP straight out of rehab. It was 1986 and I was lost in life, afraid, and struggling. I was also suffering from terrible anxiety attacks at the time and I remember it took all the strength I had not to run screaming from my classes and give up. I couldn’t learn much, I couldn’t raise my hand and ask questions. All I could do was keep my seat.
I’ve told this story many times: I was taking Red’s class, and we were given an assignment to write about “implementation.” That was actually my job at the time. I was a telecommunications analyst for Mobil Oil and my job was to design and implement data communications networks.
I tried and failed to write a paper about implementation, I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I wrote a play called Corpse in Space. It was about a company in the future. There was no longer any room to bury people and my fictitious start-up proposed an alternative—launch them into geosynchronous orbit with Earth. The characters in my play included a saint, a couch and a praying mantis. I was doing something I hadn’t done in a long, long time. I was playing. I was having fun. My story was, in fact, about implementation. I was showing how hard it can be to get a business off the ground, especially when you have a team as different as a saint and a couch.
I didn’t know Red well yet, and I was terrified to hand in my paper. She is often described as a force of nature and until you learned she was a force for good she could be very scary. I put my paper at the bottom of the pile and ran. The next time I was in the halls of ITP she saw me and yelled out “STACY! STACY!”
I froze. She looked so mad. That was just Red’s determined face. She rushed over to tell me how much she loved my play and what a pleasure it was to get something so completely off the wall.
That moment saved my life. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m crying now as I type this. That Red force enveloped me and changed my world. It was okay to play! From that day on my anxiety attacks began to ease up and finally stop. I truly did have the time of my life in a place that was completely magical to me. I could write what I wanted, learn what I wanted, create what I wanted. Her acceptance changed my life. The place she created changed my life. I wouldn’t have launched Echo without Red, and I wouldn’t have gotten what I wanted to do most of all without Red: write books.
Thank you for heaven, Red. Thank you for my life.
A good article by Jason Huff about Red Burns and the history of ITP.