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When an Internet Friend Dies

My friend died yesterday. I got a text as I was leaving my house. “did you see the email!?”

I hadn’t seen the email. I had been entertaining some close friends for a few days.

I want to share a little what it’s like to lose someone you like a lot, even if you didn’t live near them or spend a significant amount of time with them.

His name was Scott Dinsmore. To be frank, he was — to me — a “Marina Bro.” But unlike most of the Bros I know, there were more ingredients in Scott. Fun loving, sensitive and brutally charming; he believed in himself without being arrogant; a child-like exuberance mixed with an upper middle class “we can do whatever we want” kind of confidence; utterly adventurous; it was almost terrifying to make plans with him because you might accidentally end up on an eccentric billionaire’s yacht… or a hot air balloon or something.

He was California and Tony Robins and Evil Knievel and Ekhart Tolle and a toddler boy enthusiastically putting everything in his mouth all wrapped up in one exquisitely manicured DNA string. Oh god, did he ever come from good stock.

I worked with Scott professionally for a time. Scott had grown a huge website. Then he did a TED talk and after that video got, like, a billion billion views we worked together to redesign his site.

I never tired of poking fun at him for the “passion” stuff he wrote about and I always guffawed at how he mangled the beautiful typography I setup for him… italicizing and bolding every other word, throwing in HUGE QUOTES OUT OF NOWHERE and writing in tiny, 5 word paragraphs like his return button was sticky from one of his morning fruit smoothies. He thought it “looked cool.”

I made fun of it, but it fucking killed it on the internet. People ate it up. Scott, even though he was literally extraordinary, felt like he was just one step ahead of you; like you were exploring some ancient ruin and he pauses just in front of you, taking a big breath and turning toward you with a cheezy dad-with-daughters kind of smile to say, “oh man, you gotta see it from up here,” before giving you a hand up.

I made his website pretty and he filled it up and the people kept coming and all the words on that site were written by a person who is dead now.

He was a pair of Sperry Topsiders with brandy and pineapple juice spilled on them. He was the Jimmy Buffet of small hedge funds and the Warren Buffet of the beach. He was like a Tommy Bahama party you were actually glad you went to. Jesus, I’m really going to say this, I’m trying so hard not to, it’s too on the nose: he really was a living legend. His site was called Live Your Legend and he was a goddam living legend. That’s as bad as any of his dad jokes ever were and I can’t delete it because I know it’s true.

His perfect DNA. His stunning bride. His love for his dad. Oh god this is hard. The parents who made him, the woman he loved… I’m just a guy who got to hang out with him quite a bit in the past 5 years. I got to call him and jest and pour him strong cocktails, I got to bar-hop late night in San Francisco and Portland with him during conferences and dream up ideas with him about his business and my own. God dammit, Scott.

This is, I think, the first time I’ve lost a friend I knew principally on the internet. We had only a handful of days together, really. But we texted and tweeted and Skyped and I sent him Gifs and he’d laugh and we’d get serious and he’d recite his nearest goal to me and then I’d laugh… and he’d wear those fucking five-fingered shoes. I really knew him, but when I look back on it the relationship really, principally lived on the internet.

This is the second time I’ve had to watch grief as it moved through me. Two years ago we lost our son Rowan in labor. I hadn’t known Rowan; but I knew him. And I processed that like this and like this and like this. It was the first time I had experienced grief, and it had this weird “I know this person but I also don’t” kind of thing going on.

I feel something similar with Scott. I knew him but we weren’t fixtures in each others’ lives. We cared about each other, but it’s not like we had a weekly call or a season where we lived near each other or a yearly vacation or something like that. Let’s put it this way, he’d definitely get an invitation to my wedding, but he’d be sitting at the “friends from the internet” table… actually, if we were getting married today, most of the tables would be “friends from the internet” tables.

I had this moment when I was grieving my son where, exhausted and isolated and lost under thousands of leagues of dense sadness, I could clearly picture Rowan alive, bundled in his baby blanket, wearing the hat my sister knit for him, sucking on a pacifier and looking at me through the slats in the crib we made for him… and I saw his eyes for the first time… in my mind… and he looked at me with empathy and pride — he was proud of me. For how I was taking care of his mom, for how I was talking through it with his brother, for how I was grinding through the gears inside myself trying to know how to feel and what to do. It’s almost as if he spoke the words: “I am so proud of you and it doesn’t hurt and you’re not doing it wrong and you’re not disappointing me and if you cried for a million years or shouted or wrote until you withered away or never wrote again there is nothing you can do to change how I feel about you, what I know about you. You don’t have to keep trying, you can just be.”

If you’ve ever lost a friend and didn’t know the right way to grieve, if you knew Scott but from afar, tell stories about him amongst yourselves, feel all the things, be reminded of the good stuff we get in these slowly expiring bodies.

Scott, I loved you. I couldn’t see that when we were together, I didn’t know what was at stake. I will keep missing you and the ways you wrote and the shoes you wore and the exuberant perma-youngness that lubed up our interactions.

More on grief & Scott

“I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.”

Michel de Montaigne

“The spirit is really the bouquet of life. It is not something breathed into life, it comes out of life.”

Joseph Campbell

“Religion is a defense against religious experience.”

Carl Jung, via Joey Cambs

“I would have given anything to die in a war that meaningful”

Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

Who Have I Blessed More Than You?

I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.

And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.

And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

Tony Hoagland

This comes from a poem called Bible Study. I’m not as ostensibly churchy as I used to be, but you don’t have to be for this one to hit you right between the lungs.

Here’s the rest of the poem Bible Study by Tony Hoagland:

Bible Study

by Tony Hoagland

Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born
to find people who would love me?
And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?

In the dream JoAnne was showing me how much arm to amputate
if your hand gets trapped in the gears of the machine;
if you acted fast, she said, you could save everything above the wrist.
You want to keep a really sharp blade close by, she said.

Now I raise that hand to scratch one of those nasty little
scabs on the back of my head, and we sit outside and watch
the sun go down, inflamed as an appendicitis
over western Illinois — which then subsides and cools into a smooth gray sea.

Who knows, this might be the last good night of summer.
My broken nose is forming an idea of what’s for supper.
Hard to believe that death is just around the corner.
What kind of idiot would think he even had a destiny?

I was on the road for so long by myself,
I took to reading motel Bibles just for company.
Lying on the chintz bedspread before going to sleep,
still feeling the motion of the car inside my body,
I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.

And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.

And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

“I decided a while ago that I would only do things that were really important or really fun.”

Lawrence Wright

This was a really great interview. He came from evangelicalism, expanded outside of it but continued to explore stories of faith from Al Qaeda to ISIS to Scientology. (Wright wrote the book which that great scientology documentary was based on.)

Hayao Miyazaki on His Life’s Work

Hayao Miyazahi on His Life’s Work

All that work you’re doing on your company, your reputation, your skills, maybe it all comes to a moment like this.

You’re 72, you just finished a project that took you two and a half years of constant, steady work, you’re on the garden roof of a building your company designed, where you’ve spent the majority of your life for the past 20 years, and you can sense how pointless it is to imagine it all somehow staying together.

“It’s just a name” you say with equal parts broken-heart and indifferent wisdom.

And then you get distracted by a perfect moment of sunlight and leaves.

This was from a documentary on Studio Ghibli called The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. If you’ve loved Miyazaki worlds like Totoro and Spirited Away you’ll love this film.

This scene struck hard. He’s lived the way I find myself dreaming about and here he is at the end and he’s just as full of dissatisfaction, sorrow, creativity and expectation.

I said this to my friend who was stressing over having kids or not: “In the end everybody loses. It’s not like some people win and others lose. Everyone loses. Nobody wins in the end. This being so, what kind of adventure do you want to have? For myself (and I didn’t know this at the time), my son is the best adventure I’ve found. Nothing else in my life is as dangerous or joyful or exhausting, nothing else — no movie, company or creation — elicits the depth of feeling from within me that my sons have.”

The kid stuff is my story. Regardless of where you land on that, the first bit is true: you’re going to lose in the end and you won’t be able to take anything with you. You could build the best goddam company and bring more magic to people than any of your contemporaries… and you’ll still stand somewhere at the end recognizing that whether it persists or falls apart won’t be up to you. And then the wind will brush your hair and face and you’ll get distracted by something beautiful regardless.

This being so, what kind of adventure do you want to have?

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

John Roderick on Being Busy

“I spend hours everyday just trying to fill the increments of time between now and my inevitable death. It’s been 20 minutes since I had a cupcake. Propriety and dignity prohibit me from having another cupcake for 45 to 50 minutes. So I’ve got almost an hour here to kill.”

John Roderick

“Happiness is a myth. It was invented to make people buy things.”

Karla in Shantaram

David Vanderveen on Why We’re Afraid of Doubt

“We’re afraid of doubt only because we haven’t learned to love mystery yet.”

David Vanderveen

Not to “understand that it’s important” or to “get the sense that it undergirds everything” but to “love” mystery.

That is an interesting idea. How do you do that without becoming some unhinged crazy person?

Regardless this conversation was a delight to listen to for me.