Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Tribute to You, Billy

It has taken me eight months to commit pen to paper…not that I am still in denial about your death. More a suspended state of disbelief. I can’t believe that someone with such presence is gone. I miss you so much.

In many ways, I can still feel your presence. Your wise words and warm smiles are still with me. In the last few months, whenever I have been in social/conversational situations where I find myself a tad, well…bored, I imagine what you would say if you were there…your ability to add humor, perspective, silliness and/or constructive confrontation to a conversation was unmatched. Your combination of brains, banter and balls was a delight to witness in public, especially if there was a stranger who thought they could take you on.

On a spiritual level I can accept your moving on – your family and friends say that you were taken by the angels – this phrase helps me let you go. But on a selfish level, I am still really struggling. We had so many good times together in so many different places…oceans, forests, bars, nightclubs, restaurants, baseball parks, softball fields, basketball courts, subways…anytime I am on BART, or see Mt. Tam or go to a baseball game, you are foremost on my mind. In fact, everyday you are on my mind. We had so many long walks helping each other figure out our current predicaments, listening to the venting and spilling and confused wonderings and then responding in sympathetic and tough and real ways, helping each other the way old friends do, maybe being a bit more honest than we would have preferred, but as truthful as we needed to be.

I still wish I could have seen you one more time.

Your friendship has made me a better friend. You taught me how to listen by listening to me. Your gift of gab helped me better articulate my thoughts. Your ability to expand the contexts of a myriad of topics helped broaden my thoughts and perspectives. I know some people thought you talked too much (you often said this about yourself), but I never got tired of hearing you talk. After being with you during a 6-hour flight delay, my mom said that you were the best person to be stuck somewhere with. Sometimes just the challenge of following your threads and references was enough to keep me engaged. Hearing you make sense of the world helped me understand its senselessness.

The utter shock, loss and grief that I feel makes me think I took you for granted. Thank you for being in my life, for guiding me to better places, for being there every time I needed you…you were so present in my life in both emotional and pragmatic ways. I was lucky to meet you when I was still a boy because you helped me grow to be a better man.

The toughest thing to let go of is missing the last chance I had to speak with you…the night before you died, you called the house. I was on a work call and chasing Zak into the bath. Cynthia answered and you said no big deal, I could call you back. After Zak’s bath and bedtime routine, I was pooped and by the time I remembered to call you back it was late. So I figured I’d call you in the morning. I did, but you would never get the voicemail. I want that back. I want to speak with you one more time. I want to hear the latest from your life. You were in such a good and hard place. You. I want to hear you ramble on about your life and the middle east and foot long hot dogs and politics and porn and somehow link them all together in a sentence and have it all actually make sense. I want to hear you tell me to take care of Cynthia, Zak and Sean one more time, like you always did at the end of our conversations.

See, Billy, I told you I wasn’t taking this very well. I’m all selfish and me, me, me about your death. I wish I could be more evolved about it all. Your family has been such an inspiration. You must be so proud of them…your friends, too…this website, the articles, the run finishing the marathon…you really were part of a loving and creative and connected community. I just miss you so much. Writing this to you helps, but I want to hear a wise crack. I want to go to Mel’s with you and Jack and lie about a birthday to get free pie and a song from a cute waitress. I want your guidance and perspective. I want to see you being an uncle with Dominic and Lina. I want to go hoarse heckling professional ball players with you. I’m so grateful for all you have given me and shared with me. I could go on and on, but damnit, I miss you.

- Alex Atkinson

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