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rest in peace

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It's five months too late, but I just found out that Leslie Harpold, one of the most talented writers I've ever met, is dead.

Even though I hardly knew her, she pushed me in the right direction, right when I needed it.

Back when I was a recent college graduate, with an English degree and nothing in the world to do to make a living, I ended up working for a housing company attached to a local university.

It was a boring job, in a beautiful location. Outside my window, there were blocks of city park, stretching down a lightly sloping hill. In the winter, when it stayed dark until I started work, and when it was dark before I left, I spent a lot of time staring out that window.

I also started to write a lot. It was what I was trained to do, and while I did get to write for work, it was mostly meeting notes and notices to residents of one of the many apartment buildings we managed. It wasn't satisfying, and it wasn't even remotely cathartic. I needed catharsis.

When I was in college, I remember running up against a website called Chunk that didn't seem to do anything. It was just this big colored blob. No links, no text, no nothing, except the word "c h u n k" and color. I remember very clearly wondering, "what the hell is this," and then wandering off elsewhere.

Well, in this new job, sitting and staring out that window, I remembered Chunk. I looked it up and it looked just the same, but there were links there now that led me other places. I know now that I probably just had the wrong browser (remember those days?), but whatever the reason, I suddenly was stumbling around all of these wonderful websites, pages and pages of rich text. I found myself reading all of these sites, and I remember feeling like I knew Alexis, Lance, Derek, Maggy, and Leslie--five people who were connected somehow by this invisible strand of data that ran from link to link, and story to story.

Later on, I found all kinds of other people--people a lot of you probably know, like Jason, Maura, Shauna, Paul, and countless others. This was back when everyone had online journals, and either they were hard coding the HTML, or they built their own dynamic CMS. No blogger, no wordpress, no movabletype, no facebook. These guys were the pioneers.

I loved it. So I got myself a geocities site, I read the design-o-rama (thanks, Lance), and I started writing.

After a little while, I got my gumption up, and I started emailing these folks. Alexis was the first to respond. She threw a link up to my site, and some other folks found me, and I was on the very edges of the same community I loved participating in as a reader. But now I was writing, and a few people were reading. It was heady stuff.

Other folks corresponded with me a bit, too, but there was really only one person back then who took the time to push me in the right direction. It was Leslie Harpold, who published Smug and Hoopla.

I wrote her an email, I guess, and she responded. And I responded to her reply, and so on, until we exchanged IM accounts, and chatted about lots of stuff. She was my first real online friend. Someone I never met in person, though I spent hours chatting with her about everything in the world.

I remember at one point she told me how much she loved Annie Dillard. I told her that Holy the Firm was probably my favorite book of all time, and she told me she'd never read it. So I got the book out and typed it--every word of the first two chapters--in little blocks small enough to make it through the chat engine. She loved it. I remember very clearly what her last note was that evening, as I was leaving work:

"Thanks for sharing that with me. It really was beautiful, and now I'm starting to feel like I really know you."

I built out my personal site a bit more, and at some point created a resume, and Leslie was the first person to critique it (she critiqued the hell out of it, which those of you who knew her will understand). She was always honest with me, which meant that she wasn't always nice. But she also never stopped being supportive.

At some point in the whole process, she gave me her phone number and asked me to call her. I remember her telling me, in that very forward and open-vowelled midwestern-ish voice of hers, that New Yorkers aren't as mean as everyone thinks they are. She told me that everyone in her neighborhood knew her, that they looked out for her, for each other.

This all started somewhere in 1998. In 2000, we worked together a bit, and then I lost touch with her. When she finally got back in touch with me, she was pissed (and rightly so) that the work we had started wasn't finished. I can't even remember how long she was gone, but it was months. I know now that she had surgery of some kind and something had gone horribly wrong.

Whatever the case, whatever happened, our friendship was over. I never did anything more than brush against the edge of her life, but I can tell you that she was one of the most amazing people I've ever known. I wish I'd somehow been able to reconnect with her, but I don't think there was space for me in her world after that. Considering all of the people she knew, I'm glad there was time and space when there was, even for a season.

She was the most private person I know who put everything in the world on the Web. She gave herself away in little pieces, finely crafted, carefully controlled. But for that short season when she took me under her wing, she gave me every bit of encouragement I needed to get on with my life--to stretch for something bigger and better than I had at the time. Jason Kottke said it, but it's true of me, too:

. . . like most people who knew her, she did me a favor I didn't know I needed precisely when I needed it.

I'm spending the week in San Jose, at the Streaming Media West 2006 conference. It's very interesting, and my time here has been productive. We're talking about video deployed through the Internet to multiple devices -- primarily PCs, but also mobile phones, iPods, etc.

Since I have a lot of experience with Flash, and Flash Video is one of the fastest growing formats used to deliver all of this content, my past life touches the edge of "streaming media," but just barely. The world has changed in the last 5 years, and the "bleeding edge" work I was doing way back when with Flying Rhinoceros is old hat now. Drag and drop, and boom you've got a video interface in Flash.

The one bonus is that I get to see Lars and Anne tonight, and I'll get to meet Kira for the first time. Having Zoe around has helped me to appreciate all of the beautiful children my friends are having. I miss my daughter, and seeing Kira and her wonderful parents should help to dull the "where's my daughter" ache a bit.

I thought about going to In-N-Out Burger for lunch today, but they provided a box. Maybe I'll make the trip tomorrow. It's rare that I'm in Cali (or even out West) these days, so I have to take advantage when I can.

Sorry that this is such a boring update. I've been swamped at work, and all of my time at home is focused on my daughter and my wife, or on recovering from work and family commitments.

Travelling with Ree

It's going to sound random, but I'm on tour right now in the Pacific Northwest. My brother Doug was going to play guitars and sing backup for our good friend, Annemarie, but something very important came up and he couldn't make it. So I'm on tour instead, playing guitar, mandolin, and tin whistle, and singing backup vocals.

We just finished the first show--a house concert in Everett, Washington--and it went really well. I'm wired, I miss my wife, and I'm excited about going to Portland to see my family on Sunday.

hawaii or bust

So I've got this friend who is getting married in Hawaii in August. The happy couple lives in my old stomping ground, Portland, Oregon. My wife and I (though you all know this) live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

(By the way, YES, it's absolutely unbearable just about now. Hot and humid beyond human understanding.)

Though I doubt we'll be able to swing the cost of a trip to Hawaii this summer, I desperately want to go to this particular wedding. So I've been dreaming about it a bit, and obviously I've been trolling all of the ticketing sites for good ticket prices.

Here's the funny thing: It's cheaper to fly to Hawaii from Fort Lauderdale than it is to fly to Hawaii from Portland. It's no major discount--the price is better by about $50--but it's still kind of funny.

And it's not at all surprising. Fort Lauderdale is the "domestic hub" in South Florida. And from here, we can fly just about anywhere else in the country before flying to Hawaii. Going to Texas, going to Utah, going to Washington . . . from here, it's all pretty much the same. So when the ticketing engine revs up and starts looking for the good prices, there are more chances for (relatively) cheap tickets.

Anyway, it's still right up in the $800+ range, which is crazy. And in a month, I'll wager the price will double. Bah.

Maybe I've got a long-lost great great grand-uncle who will leave me a fortune in diamonds.


Tim & Katie Evans

When Tim and I were roommates, I was just months from marrying Amy. So he didn't see much of me, and when he did see me, I was usually thinking about this or that aspect of the wedding.

Now, over a year after Amy and I were married, Tim and Katie are honeymooning in Cabo San Lucas.

The wedding was simple and beautiful--a fine reflection of the two of them.

We spent the weekend in

We spent the weekend in Seattle, with Ryan and Heather. They invited Amy and me up to celebrate our year anniversary at Assaggio Ristorante. We dined there Saturday night, and the food was wonderful! It has been a good while since Amy and I went out for food as good, and it was a pleasure to be there with Ryan and Heather.

We took Ryan's canoe out on the water, through Montlake Cut and into Portage Bay. We were mostly looking at houseboats and dreaming of living in them. I had this clear vision of rowing across the bay every day on the way to MFA classes at UW. Not a bad vision.

It was clearly the perfect weekend, though I am a bit sore in the shoulders.

Yesterday, Matt and I accidentally

Yesterday, Matt and I accidentally ended up running through Forest Park during lunch. Usually, we run by the river, under the Broadway Bridge, by Union Station, and back up through Northwest Portland to our office.

But yesterday, the road along the river was closed to pedestrians. So we turned around and headed straight for Montgomery Park. We felt better than we thought, so we found our way to Macleay Park, along a beautiful creek into heavily forested Forest Park, and home again.

About halfway, on our way down Cornell, we stopped at the top of Northrup Street (at that point, the street is just a staircase) for a quick look at the city and the mountain.

It's been a good while since I climbed Mt. Hood. When I think of it now, I'm not sure whether I'll ever climb a mountain again. Part of me clearly hopes so.

The rest of me is hard to understand.

The poetry of soccer

"Go ahead and kick it."

"Yeah, you say that, but what if I miss you and it goes in the water?"

The boy looked like a soccer player, though he was young and very small. A pair of maroon indoor soccer shoes and a dusty mop of blond hair gave him away.

His cousin was older--probably thirteen or fourteen--and she was not as comfortable as he was with the ball.

But he kept prodding her.

I looked at Ryan and Heather and remarked on the lack of railing and the small sidewalk, and the possibility of the ball ending up in the sound.

The cousin kicked the ball.

It bounced across the feet of another child, and against the heels of the smallest girl in the crowd. Down the steps it went. In two bounces, it was in the water, rolling over and bouncing through the salty waves.

We were close enough that we could have slipped in to grab it, but we didn't. We figured the soccer child's father was going in. He made motions like he would.

But instead, he leaned close to his boy and began explaining the reasons for not calling his little sister names, though the ball bounced off of her feet last.

She hadn't even been looking.

So we watched the ball drift slowly along the bank. It never came within reach.

It didn't move quickly.

Suddenly, the family pounced into action. The father--young, smiling, and admirable to the three of us as we drift toward a time of life he knows--told the children to get their walking sticks from the car.

They didn't reach.

Ryan and I looked at the ball with shining eyes. We were thinking of how the water would feel, weighing the cold and wet against the glory of retrieval.

"I would probably just tell him that I would get him a new one. It's like a three dollar soccer ball."

"I would have jumped in for it right away, while it was still shallow. We could have grabbed it, you know, without getting too wet."

Despite our words, we hung out over the water, one foot planted against the concrete walkway, one hand gripping the railing, the other hand and foot pointing out across the Sound, toward the Olympic Range, toward the drifting ball.

Further along the walk, the father looked at us with a half smile. Part of him was enjoying this. Another part was wondering what we were thinking.

He climbed down to a three-foot-square swatch of rocks and dipped his toe in.

By this time, the ball was thirty feet out, where we could no longer see the rocky bottom of the sound. It was drifting around a point, headed casually toward Lincoln Park.

The father climbed in to his waist. We excitedly anticipated the rescue. I kept thinking about how much I love to swim. I counted three good strokes to the ball. Three strokes back, and then out.

But the cold and wet were threatening, and I was wearing my change of clothes for the weekend already. I found myself wishing I lived on the beach.

The father jumped up and down a couple of times. Then he looked at his son and said, "there's no way. We're going to have to let it go."

And he climbed out.

Ryan and I scaled a pile of rocks and stood on them like child kings. We threw a few rocks into the water, toward the ball.

The family gathered around a park bench nearby. One small boy had a life-preserver wrapped around his waist and he was running back and forth along the edge of the bank. He was dreaming of the glory of retrieval, too.

"Well, if your ball is going to go, that's a pretty good way," we said. "Into the sunset."

The father looked at us and smiled. He looked at his son and said, "Yeah. Into the sunset."

The boy pointed away from the ball, toward the sun, and said, "the sunset is over there."

We laughed at his objectiveness.

For him, there was only the loss of a ball.

For us, there was the possibility of parenthood, the dream of being wet and cold for glory, and the poetry of the ball's slow drift.

Just a few small things

I'm sitting at my desk at work, headphones on, Tool in the CD player. I tried to listed to the CD yesterday, but I couldn't. I wasn't in the mood.

Monday, I would have been in the mood, except that I was so much in the mood, I couldn't stand it.

Today it's perfect.

I'm going to a wedding in Seattle on Saturday. Then I'll probably meet up with Ryan and Heather (the pair in all the wedding pictures) for a night out on the town.

At least once a week, a different band plays in the park blocks next to my office during lunch. It's one of those things I'm not going to be happy about giving up whenever I move on to another job or graduate school.

Naturally, the bands aren't always good. But some days, like today, they are *great*.

I whine

My head hurts.

I haven't had enough sleep, I've had an unbelievably long day at work, I've pissed off a number of my friends, and though it is now after five o'clock, I have a distinct feeling that the day is hardly beginning.

On a good note, I spent Saturday night in Seattle. My brother and I drove up there to see a good friend in Pirates of Penzance.

I kept thinking I'd run into Josh while I was there, which was silly considering the thousands of people hanging around the Seattle Center for a Garth Brooks concert and The Bite of Seattle.

Doug and I finished catching up with our old friend around 2am and drove home. We left for Seattle at 4pm and arrived back in Portland at 4am. I don't recommend it, though the short time in Seattle was worth the trip. We wouldn't have known each other, anyway.

There isn't much else to say, except that I'm tired and a bit crabby.

So if you think of it, send me some good thoughts, or a joke or two. I could use a good cheering up.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Friends category.

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