Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jos Claerbout

Today, Flag Day, is my friend Jos' birthday. The morning of August 20th, 1999, Jos got up, went to the gym to lift weights, and then biked to the offices of WebTV, in Mountain View, California, where he worked. A few minutes later he was dead of a heart attack. Today he'd be 31.

Do a Google Search of his name and you'll find hundreds of references to him--many of them are kept by his father, who has collected a virtual memorial of many of things Jos wrote, made, filmed, recorded, or otherwise produced. If you happened to be a knitter, you might have stumbled across the incredibly elaborate, incredibly funny site he created about the hats he made (on which, if you hunt closely, you will find my picture). If you write software, you might have run into Don't Fear the OOP, which compares object-oriented code to a trashy western novel, and has been reprinted all over the web.

Jos' father Jon also collects friends' memories of Jos. There's a brief paragraph from me among them, something I rattled off a few months after he died. It wasn't really what I wanted to say on the subject, and it's been six years and I never did get around to saying it. I don't think I ever got around to figuring out what it was, actually. I guess I read what other people had written and it seemed like everybody had better memories of him than I. They were clearer, more articulate, smarter, funnier, and more real than anything I had to offer. So I never did write anything down.

Maybe that's what I want to say about Jos. He was clearer, more articulate, smarter, funnier, and more real than anybody I ever knew. He had that thing that you want, that you want to be around all the time. He was that person whom you wanted desperately to like you, and then he did, and you couldn't believe your luck.

Jos and I met in college, where a long, slow conversation about life started. We carried it on via the U.S.P.S., and then later electronic mail. Every couple of months or so I'd write something long and involved and then a couple of months later he'd write something back, and I'd go about my daily life and sift it over and then the next time it came into my head, I'd write him back. Jon has published an expurgated version of part of the dialog here. It was called 'The Utility of Belief'. There was a lot more to it than appears, but it was also very personal and so it seems appropriate that Jon has edited down to Jos' writing about his experience finding the first job he really loved.

This was the part of the conversation where Jos realized the value of faith in something you couldn't experimentally verify (yet). It didn't matter whether you believed there were aliens in spaceships on their way to bring us peace and love, or that the unified universe is made up of tiny pieces of vibrating string of unmeasurable length, or that there was a girl out there that was your one true soul-mate. The important thing was to believe it, because that was what was getting you where you were going, and that was making the universe go around. I never really stopped to think about it in an analytical way, but I think that idea got absorbed right into my core tenets and it forms the basis of what I'm doing with my life now. I miss that conversation we were having. But then, I guess I'm still here, having it.

1 comment:

Peterbilt said...

Just found this entry after getting a little wistful about Jos, as I still do from time to time. Love it.

He was a good friend to me, as he was to many. I try to keep his spirit alive. He'd do a much better job than I manage.