I found out Friday that a friend of mine, Bill Brent, died in August.
We never got to meet in real life, but I don’t believe in the equivocation of “internet friends”. We knew each other from a mailing list I joined in my early twenties, and e-mailed each other irregularly from my mid-twenties about all sorts of things. I knew he’d struggled with severe depression and chronic pain. But he was such a kind and witty man–when I asked for a sweet-but-macabre name for a three-legged cat, he suggested ‘Gingersnap’–that it was a real shock to learn that he’d died after throwing himself off the Golden Gate Bridge. It is, I learned the same day, something writers are prone to do. We’re getting better at talking about mental illness and suicide, but we still have a long way to go.
Despite being friends with him on Facebook, I didn’t notice the posts on his wall about his death. Which probably says more about how often I’m on Facebook than it does the shallowness of social media. But still. The twitter effect, Bill called it, before Nicholas Carr–the atomisation of attention spans.
Bill’s last e-mail to me was a quick note sent last year from San Francisco, congratulating me on appearing at the Queensland Poetry Festival. He said he was about to read his work publicly for the first time in five years, and I told him I wished I could be there. I meant it. I really valued his encouragement of my writing–he often commented on my blog posts, particularly my haiku, as well as asking about my latest projects. Coming from an established writer, editor, and publisher–from San Francisco no less–it meant a lot to me.
Other than subscribing to his blog, I never thought to seek out Bill’s writing–perhaps because he spoke more of his publishing company, which went bankrupt, perhaps because his books include the Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men. But among the obituaries, I found this short story of his from an anthology called Noirotica: Dick Death, Punk Detective. I’d perhaps quibble with a few of the speech tags, but it’s short, sharp, and tight. The subtitle reminded me of a line of his: “Every mind needs candy”.
Bill loved music–a punk rocker, he dealt with insomnia by writing long e-mails and playing guitar. He told me once that he loved Penguin Cafe Orchestra, so here’s my favourite of theirs, along with a haiku Bill sent in reply to one of mine.
Still echoing, Bill.
Life is thus:
Voices turned away