Whatever happened to the future?

You know what the future used to be? Back when there were still areas of the map filled with question marks and shruggies, it was all about new frontiers. New places. The future, in other words, was somewhere else. After we eliminated the blank spots on the map and turned our maps into globes (sorry, flat-earthers), we still felt the future was somewhere else. Space. The final frontier.

Tomorrowland
Disneyland Tomorrowland circa 1965

When I was a child, the future looked like rocket ships. The Jetsons. Star Trek. Gadgets for everything. Vacations on the moon. So much chrome. (You have to admit, mid-century futurists did accurately predict the early 21st Century stainless steel appliances craze.)

Walt Disney — a genius, a visionary, a futurist — even went and built the future as part of Disneyland. He called it Tomorrowland. Check out what it looked like back when Walt was alive. Rockets flying through the air! Transport cars zipping along a motorized track! There were missions to Mars. There were adventures through inner space, exploring the sub-atomic world. There were houses of the future filled with fabulous new technology. There was a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away!

Have you seen Tomorrowland lately? Oh, there are still rocket ships, and Space Mountain is still awesome. But there’s also Star Tours — fictional rocket ships in a galaxy far, far away. There are adventures with Buzz Lightyear. There’s Autopia (a go-kart ride) and the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure. And all of those attractions are fantastic and fun, and I love them to death, but… go-karts and submarines don’t really scream tomorrow, do they?

And I submit to you this is not because Disneyland’s Imagineers are lazy, and it’s not because Disney’s sharp pencil boys think a park loaded with intellectual properties makes more cents. I think the problem is bigger than that.

The problem is: we don’t know what the future looks like anymore.

4f2dcca05c9f2ee5829c7306a7df8f18We used to, of course, but then we made that future come true. The future is now! We have self-driving cars, and you can summon them with the push of an Uber button. We can cook food in a fraction of the time it used to take, thanks to microwave ovens. Captain Kirk’s communicator? We have that now. Actually, we’re past that now. Flip phones like Kirk’s are already anachronistic.

Sure, there are a few big-ticket items we’re still waiting on, like warp drive, teleportation, and that vacation on Mars. But we’re not exactly eager for any of that anymore, are we? NASA has seen budget cuts, and I haven’t heard any politicians channeling JFK and challenging us to go past the moon. (No, the “Space Force” doesn’t count. Just stop.)

We dreamed it, we did it, and then we stopped dreaming.

Tomorrowland_poster

I’m not the only one who feels this way. This was basically the premise of Brad Bird’s thought-provoking, fun, and highly underrated film Tomorrowland. (No relation to the area of Disneyland. Well, not really much of one, anyway.) Produced by Damon Lindelof, Bird said, “When Damon and I were first talking about the project, we were wondering why people’s once-bright notions about the future gradually seemed to disappear.”

“When [Damon and I] were little, people had a very positive idea about the future, even though there were bad things going on in the world. Even the 1964 World’s Fair happened during the Cold War. But there was a sense we could overcome them. And yet now we act like we’re passengers on a bus with no say in where it’s going, with no realization that we collectively write the future every day and can make it so much better than it otherwise would be.” –Brad Bird

eBook Cover
Tomorrow’s Shepherd

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future ever since I started writing my fantasy trilogy, The Verdant Revival. The first book in the trilogy, Yesterday’s Demons, focuses on how the past shapes us into the people we are today. The second book, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, is about building a better future. But what does that look like for us here on Earth in 2018?

It can’t be a dystopia. No, we need to dream again. It’s time for a new great, big beautiful tomorrow. But let’s not start dreaming about where we can go next or about the next new gadget. I don’t think that’s the kind of future we need. We need to think bigger.

But maybe we should start with some old ideas about the future that still haven’t been fully realized. Thinking about Star Trek again, it’s true we don’t yet have photon torpedoes and phasers. But we don’t have that whole “human hunger is a relic of the past” thing either, do we?

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared with us a pretty darn good dream of a future, a dream that “one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

How about a future without war? A future in which we build bridges instead of barriers. How about a future in which we seek to heal, not to harm? What would the world look like if no one was naked, no one was homeless, and no one was uneducated?

What if, in the future, we showed mercy, not malice? What if we replaced hate with peace? What if we chose to include instead of to divide? What if we chose to be generous with forgiveness instead of grasping onto grudges?

By definition, the future will never be now, but it can be something that happens here, and not on some distant frontier. And by here I mean inside our hearts. Let’s reclaim the future. Let’s dream again. And let’s do it together.

“Call Me Walt,” Part 2

Walt_Disney_Snow_white_1937_trailer_screenshot_(13)
Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Sharon is a recent college graduate who spends her work week at the lab and her weekends at Disneyland. She didn’t think her favorite place in the world could get any more magical, but that was before Walt Disney himself began spending every Disneyland Sunday with her. Only Sharon can tell that it’s him, and their time together is nothing but wonder, until Walt tells her she has a wish she’s not ready to make. What’s the real reason Walt befriended her?

“Call Me Walt” is my love letter to Disneyland and to the extraordinary man who created it. Part one was published last week. This is the conclusion of the story, published in celebration of this 116th anniversary of Walt’s birth.


Sharon watched Frontierland go by from her seat on the Disneyland Railroad. It was almost time for ice cream, but she was not in the mood for ice cream.

“Are we getting off at the Tomorrowland station?” Walt asked. “Or the next time we get to Main Street? Or shall we begin a third grand circle tour around the magic kingdom?”

The railroad chugged past the waterfalls. The secret entrance to the cave where they stored the floats for Fantasmic! was obvious if you knew where to look. And Sharon knew where to look. But she didn’t look.

When the train resumed after a brief stop at the Tomorrowland station, Walt folded his arms across the lapels of his suit. “If you leave what we do entirely up to me, I’ll tell you right now, we’re going to ride my railroad. A lot.”

“I read about Snow White,” Sharon said.

Walt raised one eyebrow. She speaks, at last.

“The first feature-length animated motion picture in history,” she said.

Walt nodded. His smile carried a wisp of pride. “You have seen it, haven’t you?”

“No one had ever made an animated feature before it,” she said. “What made you want to try?”

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” Walt said.

That cracked through Sharon’s malaise enough to make her smile.

“We were doing well with the Silly Symphonies and, of course, with Mickey,” Walt said. “But I knew we could do so much more. Took us a long time to get it right, though. Boy, we broke that story so many times. Went back and forth on what the Evil Queen should be like. And I don’t remember how many sets of seven dwarf names we went through.”

“Did they really call it Disney’s Folly?”

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“Call Me Walt,” Part 1

Walt_disney_portrait
Photo by NASA, public domain. From Wikimedia Commons.

Sharon is a recent college graduate who spends her work week at the lab and her weekends at Disneyland. She didn’t think her favorite place in the world could get any more magical until the day she meets a man who sounds like Walt Disney and who looks like Walt Disney because he is Walt Disney. Sharon thinks the one thing she wants more than anything is the one thing she can never have. Can Walt teach her that at Disneyland, dreams really do come true?

“Call Me Walt” is my love letter to Disneyland and to the extraordinary man who created it. This is part one. The conclusion of the story will be published in one week, on December 5, the 116th anniversary of Walt’s birth.


The first thing Sharon bought with her first paycheck from her first real, post-college job was an annual pass to Disneyland.

Monday was work, Tuesday was work, Wednesday was work. Thursday was lots of work because the senior chemists enjoyed dumping grunt work onto a junior at 3:00 so they could be done for the week. Sharon spent Friday catching up after the Thursday pile-on, which made the day long, but mostly quiet. She picked up her Friday night feast of pho and french fries on the way home, then went out with friends. She’d only been in Irvine a short time, but she’d already made a decent-sized social circle. Being good at meeting new people and bad at being alone was a powerful combo. Saturday she took care of any chores that needed to get done, bought the groceries, and went to bed early because Sunday was Disneyland day.

She would wake up early and drive up to Anaheim. St. Justin Martyr had a 6:45 AM Mass which never lasted more than an hour. An adorable couple, Mr. and Mrs. Lester, had sort-of adopted her, and she sat with them every Sunday. They told her she felt like another daughter to them. They reminded Sharon of Carl and Ellie, with fewer balloons.

After Mass, it was a five-minute drive down Ball Road to the Mickey and Friends parking garage. Most days, she was on the first tram over to the parks. She’d pass through the gates, walk under the train trestle, and smile at the plaque above her which read, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” And once she got a glimpse of Sleeping Beauty Castle at the end of Main Street USA, she’d breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of thanks for having made it back one more time.

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