Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bill's presence

Although I didn't know Bill well, he made an impression on me. My angle of intersection with Bill was Cathy, Bill's sister, who has been a close friend since college. Over the years, I would see Bill periodically, and there was always something quirkily memorable about those occasions.

I first met both Bill and Cathy at a party that I threw with roommates in Berkeley. It was kind of a wild night, the proof of which is that I don't remember much about it. Still, I remember meeting Cathy and Bill, and a meta-moment where Bill was talking and I thought, "This guy is really interesting." I didn't quite make it to the end of the party, or even the middle. According to reports, later that night Bill jumped off our balcony, making his mark on every one else's memory as well.

During subsequent encounters over the years, I was repeatedly struck by what an interesting, engaged, and vibrant person Bill was. At one New Year's party I threw with Cathy, Bill walked in the door and embraced and kissed on the lips several of the women there. He did this in a way that was somehow mischievous, playful, charming and good-natured all at the same time. I'm not sure that just anyone could have pulled that off. Another time we met in New York, and I gave him a tour of an alternative video collective I was working with. He "got" what we were doing right away, and we spent a couple of hours talking about the relationship between media, culture and society. That was my first experience of connecting with Bill intellectually.

After that, our interest in media became a common reference point. I eventually became an academic in the field of media and communication, and Bill went to work at Wired. Whenever I'd see him, he was always very supportive of my work. He encouraged me to write something for Wired's back page and offered several times to copy edit the book I was writing. I never took him up on either offer, which I no doubt should have. In the latter case, I was worried that he would find the book too academic (and possibly boring) to edit. When I mentioned this to some of his professional friends and colleagues later, they said that one of the things that made Bill a great editor was that he was able to deal with everyone's writing and ideas on their own terms. In any case, I always appreciated the generosity of his offer.

The last time I saw Bill was about a year before he died. My husband and I had invited a bunch of friends to stay with us in a house we had rented in St. Helena. Cathy and husband Paul were there throughout the week, and Bill came up for a day along with Pat and Ute. I had a new, three month old baby. Bill took the baby and played with her for a while, and I remember being struck by what a natural he was with a 3 month old, and how considerate it was of him to take the baby off my hands for a bit. He also spoke about how he was re-evaluating his life, both personally and professionally, and how he felt like he was in a good place to move forward.

I was deeply saddened to hear about Bill's death, both because of what an all around great presence he always was and because of how much I knew he would be missed by his wonderful and close family, whose openness, generosity and love over the years have always been so apparent and of whom Bill was so much a part and so representative. I think that Bill was one of those people that regardless of how well you knew him, you always felt good knowing that there were people like him in the world.

-Laura Stein

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