October 11, 2016

In Loving Memory

A dear old friend of mine died today.

Beyond the obvious depressingness of that, I've also been depressed, since I found out, at how hard it's been coming up with a fitting way to commemorate him. It seems like all my ideas somehow revolve around posting something he wrote or did, or a photograph of him, or some other quote or image that captures what he meant to me. But never mind the difficulty in doing that for an eighty-five-year-old man who did all his best writing in private correspondence and avoided pictures and was so unique and encyclopaedic and indescribably good that some random internet epitaph could never do him justice anyway — he would have hated that sort of millennial social media dross. He liked depth. He saw the value in propriety, and tradition. Even in his most off-the-cuff emails, he wrote poetry in perfect meter if he thought the situation called for it. What would a stupid fucking GIF be to someone like that?

That's not to say he was a stubborn old fuddy-duddy. Sure, his emails had a lot of the same features as the ones you get from your grandparents — changing fonts, weird line breaks, that sort of thing — but he wasn't anti-change or anti-technology. He probably would have giggled at a lot of the GIFs I giggle at, too, come to that. He had a roomful of computers, and a digital camera he carried with him everywhere, and when his daughter got her PhD he exchanged half a dozen messages with me agonizing over the various different configurations of Windows and Mac computers he might buy her to mark the the occasion. (He even Googled reviews of them all, long before reviews likes that were easy to find on the internet, and certainly long before it ever occurred to me to do the same.)

But he also thought it was important to take time and care to express yourself clearly, to express yourself right, and I can't help feeling that so much of what I do to express myself these days wouldn't really meet his standards. I post pithy jokes on Facebook, and tweets that rely on so many levels of obscure pop-culture and twitterverse self-reference that even I look back sometimes and think, what the fuck was I going for there?

I use vulgarity too much as a shortcut for a certain kind of humorous tone.

I rush past words that I'm only 90% sure are correct instead of taking the time to look them up, even though the dictionary he bought me fifteen years ago is still sitting here on my desk, ready and willing. (Or I use lazy coinages like "depressingness" because, you know, dude, you understand what I'm going for, even though there's doubtless an existing word I could use that would do the trick much better.)

I use emoji. Emoji! Yeah, okay, show me all the research you like about how they actually increase intimacy between users and capture a lot of sophisticated meaning depending on their context. Send me a link to Buzzfeed's "Ten Best Famous Novels Retold In Emoji" if you think it will help. I get it. But don't tell me a smiling pile of poo is superior to a guy who takes the time to write you extemporaneous rhyming couplets just because he thinks you'll get a kick out of it.

Even when my cat died (and I loved that cat), my first reaction was to post a picture on Facebook accompanied by a reference to a TV show that was in turn referencing the cat's name, and a glib afterthought that we'd miss him. I only wrote the thoughtful blog post about it weeks later, and then only elsewhere and because I needed it for a publication credit. This is what the internet has reduced me to: shorthand and self-promotion.

Well not for you, Michael. You only get the blog post, and you only get it here, on my own blog, whose traffic, now that you're gone, has probably halved or disappeared altogether. I've tried to pay attention to language, like you always said I should, even though you won't be sending me an email in the morning to point out all my sloppy mistakes — but I've not tried too hard, either, because you always said I wrote best when I didn't. I've tried to express what you meant to me, not just in obnoxious, oblique ways but in clear, genuine, heartfelt ones too. And I know how much joy you took in describing yourself as my honorary godlessfather, so I won't make the twee suggestion that I hope you're appreciating all that with a smile, wherever you are. But I do hope that by some standard, somewhere, I've done good by you.

And now all that's been said, good grief,
Thank you, sir, and rest in peace.