Monthly Archives: January 2013

Remarkable to Look Back

And sad. President Clinton was a impressively smart man, and in this interview he shows it off in spades, able to call to mind statistics and rationales for policies without any aid. He’s a statesman, in the most classic sense of the word. And Amy Goodman is a journalist, in the best sense of that word.

But I think what is most remarkable looking back on his words 13 years later, is that everything he talked about is worse, under both the Republicans and the Democrats. That the gains he crowed were illusory, the economy he pinned so many hopes on had been a pyramid balanced on its tip that could last only so long. The reforms to come he spoke of weren’t just abandoned by the opposition, but by his own party, after he had deferred them himself, always “waiting on reports.” Everything, every single point he made, however elegantly made by this most skilled of politicians and speakers, every course of action he talked about, has all ended in total failure. From ending racial profiling (which Hillary was working on in New York) to New York’s shameful Stop and Frisk, unemployment is of course ridiculously high, schools failing, racism worse, healthcare costs higher than ever, Mexico is a basket case, the private prison system has reinstated slavery largely based on race. Cuba is still under embargo. Since them we’ve gotten black sites, Gitmo, endless wars. We’ve gone from secretive banking corruption to openly refusing to enforce the law against the masters of our economy, who commit fraud routinely, while violently suppressing the growing dissent on the streets. The failure of this system is so total that only insanity can still profess faith in it.

And not only is Leonard Peltier still in jail, this Democratic president has matched his unprecedented secrecy and persecution of whistleblowers with absolutely no pardons.

Amy Goodman is still doing good work, though.

We are Free

“The state can’t give you free speech and the state can’t give it away, we know that. You’re born with it, like your eyes, and your ears. Like old Campbell used to say, ‘Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.'”


I found my file of quotes from Aaron. They mostly happened before we were romantically involved, and some of them are obscure in-jokes, but I preserve them here for anyone.

quotes from my roommate:

a: “Fonts are about the human condition.”

q: “Some of us had to live through the 80s…. all you had to do was potty train.”
a: “Some of those bands made potty training pretty hard.”

q: “I considered converting for the food, but then I realized I could get it anyway, and I was like, ‘fuck your god!'”
a: “Damn! She found our loophole! We need more Manichevitz DRM!”

a: “I think a lot of what I liked about it was sexy shots of Helvetica.”

a: “United sure has come a long way from bankruptcy. I remember the good old days when they couldn’t even afford Helvetica. They had to print signs in Arial instead. It was disgusting.”
q: “I wonder if the United channel is on, I switched to being a United frequent flyer for that.”
a: “I switched because of Helvetica.”
q: stares
a: “I’m not joking.”

a: “Mandatory minimums is your way of locking up people with small penises!”

a: “If skullfucking is wrong, I don’t want to be right!”

a: “Genes load the gun, but it takes parenting to pull the trigger!” (making shooting motion)

a: “I’m part of the Jewish cabal that controls the internet.”
q: “I haven’t actually heard anyone say there’s a Jewish conspiracy running the internet.”
a: “Oops.”

q: “You don’t have crotch prions.”
a: “You don’t know that!”

a: (Looking at his glass) “This fruit juice is making me paranoid.”

a: “Your shirt is in italic, mine’s not.” (We have the same shirt)
q: “No, that’s just my breasts.”
a: (investigates)
a: “Your breasts make a really nice italic.”

a: “I bought a new font. I’m out of my mind with glee.”

q: “I learned a phrase in Swahili.”
a: “Was it ‘My daughter thinks her hand is a pontoon bridge?'”

q: “Oh, you’re not cynical. And the pope’s jewish.”
a: “Don’t say that! it’s a secret.”

a: (Holding a ticking small clock) “Can I take the batteries out of this thing? It’s like a constant reminder of my impending mortality.”

a: (On Lasik) “Lasers are supposed to come out of your eyes.”

a: (looks at aaronquotes file) “You have to put lines between them! See this file, you know how to make lines.”
a: “Give it to me, I’ll do it for you.”

Notes as written

This is the written version of my eulogy for Aaron. I would like to not write any more eulogies for a while.

(The campfire at Lassen)

An event like Aaron’s death divides a life, the BC and AD of one’s personal story. From now on, my own biography will be divided into when Aaron was alive and after he died.

We look for the words that bring him back, we look for the memories that contain him like an incantation that can contain a soul. I have a thousand stories of our pieces of time together, a thousand little nets to trap the smoke he is now.

But I can’t. He has slipped away. I loved him, but he’s escaped me.

Aaron has left us, and entered the realm of mythmaking. He doesn’t belong to any one of us anymore, not even himself. He belongs to memory and history.

Still, I lost a person, a person I loved. That’s who I’ve come to talk about. Not the internet saint, or the incredibly accomplished activist, or the young and notable internet technologist. The Aaron I’ve come to talk about is the one that sang little boxes to my daughter in Daly City. The person that almost never did the damn dishes. The one that stole my camera to take long exposure of Ada and me sleeping. The one who complained all the way through camping trips, grinning, and always agreed to the next one. The one that climbed 30 feet to the top of a tree and sat there insisting he liked it and wouldn’t have any trouble getting down. He ate a lot of water crackers. I studied how to feed him, and in time I managed to get a few vegetables down him on a regular basis. Mostly though I managed to feed him cakes and cookies and creme brulee. He was terrible about making plans at the last minute. he could be a terrible pain in the ass.

We talk about how extraordinary he was, but he wasn’t. Aaron was another human, with all the flaws and glories that each of us have, infinite wells of solitude that we are.

He was scared and self conscious, funny, greedy, and petty, loving, curious, hopeful, and strange. He was irreducible, difficult: a person, the most complex thing we’ve yet found in our universe. He turned to me once in a movie theater and said, like someone that had just realized the answer to a difficult math problem, “I contain multitudes.”

To call Aaron extraordinary is, in a way, to sidestep the message of his how he lived his life.

The only reason we’re all here at this memorial holding up this 26 year old as a paragon is that in a culture ruled by fear he learned, and taught me, that trying was more important than being afraid. “Don’t worry,” he told me, “no one remembers your failures.” Don’t waste time doing small things and being cautious. We’re here because he did so much much in his 26 years… despite a culture saying you have to be careful and risk nothing, be responsible, deferential, go through the proper channels, he rejected that. He didn’t wait to start living. That’s all it took.

Aaron understood that learning was more important that accreditation, and that intelligence is a poor and pale substitute for caring. He burned with love for humanity. He surrounded himself with people — also infinitely complex — struck dumb by a love of the world. He lived a life of thought and action.

We shared an understanding, that a life is a thing made in the living of it.

He inspired me, and here, in the AD, I will carry that little inspiration like a jewel gripped in the hand, beautiful, valuable, abrasive, and impossible to forget.

First Fig
Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.

My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.

We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion. I love Aaron. I loved Aaron. There are no words to can contain love, to cloth it in words is to kill it, to mummify it and hope that somewhere in the heart of a reader, they have the strength and the magic to resurrect it. I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world. But for me, he will always be that person who made me love him. He was so frustrating, and we fought. But we fought like what we were: two difficult people who couldn’t escape loving each other.

On the last day I saw him, he grabbed me in the rain while my car was blocking the road and held me and said “I love you.” I don’t know if I said it back. Not that time. I had always told him. Sometimes I told him when he didn’t have it in him to say. I’d say “I love you, and you love me, too” and he would just hold me.

When he was 20, he carried me through my divorce. We promised each other a year. I apologized so many times: that I was better than what he was getting, that he got me destroyed. Still, what a year. Later, I tried to take care of him while he was being destroyed, from inside and out. I struggled so hard, but not as hard as he did. I told him, time and again, that this was his 20s. It would be better in his 30s. Just wait. Please, just hold on.

He read to me and Ada compulsively; he read me a whole David Foster Wallace book. He read Robert Caro to me, countless articles, blog posts, snippets of books. Sometimes, he would call, just read, and hang up. He loved the Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, and the three of us read it together many times. We loved George Saunders. We loved so many things together.

He loved my daughter so much it filled the room like a mist. He was transported playing with her, and she bored right into his heart. In his darkest moments, when I couldn’t reach him, Ada could still touch him, even if only for a moment. And when he was in the light, my god. I couldn’t keep up with either of them. I would hang back and watch them spring and play and laugh, and be so grateful for them both.

More than anything, together we loved the world, with the kind of love that grips and tears. We were fearsome creatures, chained to our caring, chained to other people.

We were destroyed by the investigation, and by enduring so much together in the five years of the difficult love affair of difficult people. In the end he told me he needed to get away from me. I let him go, and waited for the day he’d come back. I knew that one day we’d have a day to be together again, though probably not as lovers. Together, as something that doesn’t have a word. He went on to another relationship, and I know he touched her like he did me, because that’s how he touched people.

A part of me died with him. A part will always be with him.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

–W. H. Auden

Goodbye, my love

I don’t have anything to say to the world yet. But, not long after we moved in together in San Francisco, Aaron posted what follows. He was pressured to take it down; partly by me, out of fear. We do such stupid things out of fear. I regretted it almost immediately, and saved my little copy, untouched, in a place where I could get to it anytime. I carried it with me. I repost it here, because it should have stayed untouched, and I am done with this regret.


Cozy Domesticity

Some days it seemed like all there was was gray. An overcast sky, a broken bus, a freeway under construction, an edifice of concrete and steel. That office was dullening, full of gray pillars and florescent lighting, drones tapping at computers and talking about synergizing, forced conversations with the pleasant, strained tone of someone who knows they will have to live with these people. But Quinn was different.

A bright red shirt in a field of gray. Cargo pants in the land of business casual. Hunched over an iBook in the corner, surrounded by people with desks. She stood out like a stereotype. And as I walked past her to get some water, I felt electrified by her presence. I went to get a lot of water that day.

Late that night, after everyone had gone home and I was left alone in the dark, reading a New Yorker article on my monitor and listening to They Might Be Giants on my headphones, I felt a tap on my back and jumped. It was Quinn. “Hey,” she said.

There are some people you talk to and you just feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. You can’t understand what they’re saying, they can’t understand what you’re saying, you’re completely out of rhythm and unconnected and you just stand there waiting for a chance to sneak away without making things even more awkward.

Not Quinn. Within moments of seeing each other we’d begin laughing. I, normally shy and reserved, would suddenly find myself boisterous and cracking jokes — good ones, as far as we could tell. I felt like a different person.

Quinn was so out of place she didn’t even have a keycard. Whenever she wanted to walk down the hall for lunch or a snack, she’d ask me to come with her so she could get back in. And one day she asked if I’d go with her to the shooting range. I wanted to be that different person.

We went to Europe and I got fired and she started looking for a new place and asked if I would be her roommate. I said yes and she said why? and I said how else am I going to get out of the house?

We got a sweet little two-bedroom in the Mission, with a gorgeous view of downtown — close enough for you to see the skyline but far enough away that it doesn’t feel like the office. We cooked dinner and went to dinner parties, we bought a loft bed and brought over Quinn’s daughter.

I got a new job and there are days — getting up early to carpool to work, commuting home to a home-cooked meal, a great friend, and a lovely little girl — that I feel like I’ve finally found home.