Posts Tagged ‘Jim Sachs’

A Magical Birthday Ritual

I just wished my late brother Jim a Happy Birthday on Facebook. He would have turned 58 today. I did the same thing two years ago, here on my blog.

If Jim were alive today we would’ve had our annual East-Coast/West-Coast mutual birthday call. My birthday is the day after his, so at midnight (Eastern) and 9:00pm (Pacific) we’d call each other. It was our little ritual, sort of like a secret handshake. 

1956-JimToday I remembered you in 1956, Jim: 11 months old, and NOT enjoying the photo shoot of you and your four siblings for the annual Christmas card. 

I was 9, and my heart went out to you as you waited around for the photographer to do what she could to make ALL FIVE of us photogenic, one at a time.

No wonder you were crying! Finally we found you a tiny, tinkling bell, and it cheered you up, though I see one little tear still glistening in your right eye.  

You just needed a little magic.

Jim with eBook



Now jump ahead 44 years.

There’s a picture of you in THE BOSS column of the NY Times. You talk about being paid $5 to invent a computer language when you were 12, and you’re holding your newest invention: the electronic book. 

The two photos remind me of our little ritual, but in the second one you supplied the magic. 

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY, little bro… love you. Thanks for the magic.  

Talk to you at midnight.



Where Inspiration Spreads Wide Its Glorious Wings*

* Inscribed (in french) on the proscenium of the old theatre in the Carnegie-Mellon School of Fine Arts, my alma mater.

Once again I have returned to Baker Library in the town where I grew up: Hanover, NH. This is the place I wrote my term papers in high school…

The place I Iearned from a classmate in 1963 that Oswald had been shot.

The place I found a desk with a secret drawer filled with treasures.

The place of many flirtations.

The place “where Inspiration spreads wide its glorious wings”.

The place I am from.

Of the many rooms I love in this library, I’m drawn once again to the Theodor Geisel (Dr. Suess) “imaginative place to study!” Must be something about unleashing the imagination of my childhood.

Voices from long ago join me, yet it is silent and I am alone. An exhibit in the hallway about the history of printing and binding of books reminds me of my brother Jim (who invented the electronic book).

I ponder an illustration from Dr. Suess’s last book, published in 1990: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and I can’t imagine a more perfect place to work.

It’s time to disconnect: no tweets, no emails, no calls.

Over and Out.

Happy Birthday Jim, Forever 47, On What Would Have Been Your 55th Birthday…

Jim in the Adirondacks, 2001

Jim in the Adirondacks, 2001

Those of you who read my blog may remember that I wrote about my brother Jim Sachs, who died in 2002 (see September 9, 2009). Today is his birthday, which in our adult lives we used to share with childlike relish at midnight Eastern / 9pm Pacific time, as my birthday is the day after his.

Our enormous family spent as much time as possible with Jim in the months before he died. We accompanied him on one last trip to the Adirondack mountains, where we had spent every summer of our childhood, and we frolicked together at his home in California. It was an unforgettable time.

One day during that last summer, Jim and I were sitting alone by the pool at his home in Atherton, and I read a limerick I’d written for him:

You darling young brother named Jim,
Came into the world with such vim
And vigor and smarts
In all of your parts
That your four siblings welcomed you in.

You barely were two
When your family knew
That you had your own way of thinking
You’d play in the dirt
Wearing Chris or Pat’s shirt
Making toys and inventions (some stinking!)

And when you were nine
I remember the time
I thought you were rather deluded
You concocted some stuff
An object – enough
To prove to me what you’d concluded.

You explained it to me
With great patience and glee:
The widgets ’n’ stuff (on the side)
Worked together to make it
With no need to fake it
Add – multiply – subtract – and divide!

You went on to say
In the future some day
Smart people would show up to hock it.
Your further conclusion:
(I thought, a delusion)
We would each carry one in our pocket!

At twelve you were solving
The problems revolving
Thru Dartmouth’s math classes each week.
And word got around
That the kid from the town
Was the true and original geek.

Now I was much older
Clearly wiser and bolder
(The Dartmouth men were all mine)
But YOU had the gall
To break down the wall
Into Dartmouth’s mainframe! (So fine.)

Your room in our cellar
You (solo) the dweller
Had carpeted walls plus a lab
To produce your photography
Math and geography
Your Life – As You Saw It – Way Fab!

As we all got older
(Less wiser, less bolder)
You seemed to take off in a spin.
Your toys and inventions
Broke all known conventions:
Apple’s Mouse, Laser Tag, Ted Ruxpin.

And now I see YOU
With your life partner Sue
And Jessica, Betsy and Chris:
You’ve taught us to squeeze
With such joy and such ease
Each minute with its unique bliss.

And so with this ditty
Altho itty-bitty
I’m striving to thank you and say
That you’ll be in my heart
And each memory part
For the rest of my life, every day.

Neither of us could speak for a while. Then Jim, to me, oh-so-quietly: “Vigor and smarts in ALL of my parts?” (Pause) “Like that.”

We sat silently by the pool for a long time.

Sometimes there are no words.

My Brother Jim Sachs

My recent infatuation with Twitter makes me think of my brother Jim. He was a man of few words and the 140 character tweets would have suited him just fine. I’m sad to say he’s not here to join the fun; he died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 47, leaving a void in the hearts of his wife, three teenagers and his enormous family. Jim certainly left his mark.

His name, with 3 of his colleagues, is on the patent for Apple’s mouse (below). 

Jim’s Name on Apple’s Patent for the Mouse: 1988

He invented the electronic book a dozen years ago, and predicted it would take about a decade to catch on. Need I say more? No. (But I will… he was my little bro, y’know?) Jim’s electronic wizardry made Laser Tag and Barney possible (remember that  talking, purple dinosaur?) I often wonder what other breakthroughs he might have come up with, if he’d only had a bit more time.

Jim has been on my mind this summer, influenced no doubt by the death of our mother. I’ve been flooded with memories of older-sister-younger-brother shenanigans from our childhood in New Hampshire. In retrospect, Jim was the first person in my life to give me a glimpse into what I now refer to as Theatrical Intelligence.

One particular memory from the early 60’s keeps coming back to me: he was a serious 8-year-old and I was a rather dramatic 16, preparing for one of those standardized tests and trying to make sense of a word problem that had one train going X miles an hour colliding into another train going Y miles an hour and I was nearly apoplectic at the image. Jimmy (as we then called him) asked “What’s the problem?” And I launched into a harrowing description of children being catapulted from the train and lovers “untimely ripped” from each each other’s clasp and infants rendered orphans and… Jimmy stopped me and said “Ann, it’s a math question.” To which I immediately responded “It’s a tragedy!”

I will never forget that little face peering up at me through 1960’s glasses, shaking his head in disbelief: “I guess that’s why you’re going to be a Broadway actress,” and I, with deep disdain: And you’re going to be an engineer!”

It was a pivotal moment: we understood that each of us viewed the world through a completely different lens (albeit his lens in this case sure was clearer than mine!) Over the years we reflected back on that particular moment, and as we grew older confided in one other about our contrasting perspectives. We both loved learning, and never ceased to learn from our differences.

Looking through my Theatrical Intelligence lens today, I see that Jim’s dominant roles were Designer, Technician and Producer, whereas mine were Actor, Writer and Producer.  We came together as conversation partners as Producers, and were able to expand our capabilities by incorporating the other’s vision.

Shortly before he died we had a boffo laugh when we secretly agreed that together we would have made one perfect person. How blessed have I been, to have such a brother.

Sometimes I think that writing this blog is not only a way to explore the world of Theatrical Intelligence, but a way to continue my conversations with Jim. 

And when I miss him, which is every single day, I find myself saying…

“This is for you, Jim.”


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