Picture this. It's a quiet winter day in Cannon Beach. Hardly any cars or people are moving around downtown. I'm alone in the bookstore, staring at the computer screen, trying to convert mental images into words.
Then a man walks in, someone I don't recall seeing before. He browses a bit before bringing a book to the counter, a brightly colored hardcover of western stories.
"Where you from?" I ask.
"California," he says, "but I grew up here."
We establish that he knew my wife Jennifer at Seaside High School and graduated in the same class as her sister Jeanne. I ask his name to pass along greetings. He tells me he is Jim Reardon.
"Wow," I say, recognizing the name. "You're the fellow who works on The Simpsons."
Later I learn that Jim's direction of 30 episodes of the animated TV series earned him five Emmys, along with a lengthy listing on Wikipedia.
"I still consult with them on the side," Jim says without a hint of conceit. "But my day job is at Pixar now."
I tell him my daughters and I enjoyed watching Pixar's movie WALL-E.
"I co-wrote that," he says in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he were a carpenter commenting on a house he framed.
That's some house, too. The screenplay he co-wrote with Andrew Stanton has been nominated for an Oscar. It's one of the few to receive such distinction without a primary emphasis on dialogue. The story in pictures is so compelling that audiences don't need verbal cues.
"Writing without dialogue is so much more ambitious," says Rick Bonn, former screenwriter and owner of Haystack Video. "The story has to stand on structure and visuals."
After watching WALL-E with his daughter, Rick told her she had just witnessed history.
"I was so impressed with its creative audacity. It conveys emotion and theme without much dialogue. It would be bold and fitting for the Academy to honor them with the Oscar."
Jim shows us a future in which mountains of waste are all that remain of an Earth that has been utterly consumed. The only thing moving around in the polluted landscape is a battered little custodial robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth Class), who spends his solitary days compacting garbage into cubes. In the process he collects artifacts of our lost civilization, observing how humans interact by watching an old video.
I confess that Jim is the star in a family story we've shared with our children - a parable about how people can transcend circumstances to make their mark in the world.
Years ago my sister-in-law told us that The Simpsons owed its success in part to Jim's creative genius. Yet she described him as an introvert in high school, someone who did not belong to any social group.
"Most of the kids didn't interact with him much," said Jeanne. "He didn't say a lot, but was always drawing great cartoons."
A role model
We hold Jim Reardon up as an example at home, reminding our children that they need not conform to social groups to excel. He's living proof that kids who don't belong to cliques can be incredibly cool.
What many of Jim's peers probably didn't know was that his father died when he was young. He picked up odd jobs around Seaside to help support his mother and two younger siblings. At one point he was grateful to get extra hours working at the bumper cars place.
Jim did receive encouragement from two people in particular at school. He credits art teacher Sandra Wentzel for fostering his creative interests. He also received support from business teacher Harvey Lerner, who steered him toward the California Institute of the Arts.
I can't help but think of Jim's personal story in tandem with his screenplay for WALL-E. The humble robot is steadfast in pursuing his heart's desire, and thus transcends his isolation. In the process he helps exiled humans reconnect with life and return to take care of the Earth.
In a similar way, Jim did not let social solitude interfere with his aspirations. Because he persevered in honing his art, Jim's visionary work now inspires people all over the world.
Picture a place where lots of folks learn to embrace our dreams and engage in creative collaboration. That idea fuels the imagination in a little arts town, especially on winter days when it's easy to feel alone.
Watt Childress is a Cannon Beach bookseller and freelance writer who lives on a Nehalem Valley farm. Readers can e-mail him at email@example.com