I have this image of brains. Not actual gross anatomical brains, but up close, CGI wisps of semi-translucent colors. Of high magnification images. Stained and dyed.

Image of Golgi stained neurons in the dentate gyrus of an epilepsy patient. 40 times magnification.

Gyrus Dentatus, MethoxyRoxy, CC-BY-SA

Inside of these brains are signals that move, flashed of light that travel like subway cars at light speed. There is brightness and shining. There are also dark places. There are things that lurk where nothing else is, hiding among dendrites and axons. These are the little twitches in my head, the thoughts I am ashamed of or uncomfortable with. Unkind things. Things I wish I didn’t think or feel. I imagine that these don’t want to be found, even though I know exactly where they are.

death, 03

I sat down with my new supervisor for the first of our weekly one-on-one sessions. “I don’t know what CN told you,” I said with little warning, “but there were two deaths in my family last month.”

“I knew you went to Florida,” JC said.

“Yeah, so I fell really behind. I’m still catching up.”

Death is like that. Still catching up. AA, my cousin who came to our grandmother’s funeral, was given three days of bereavement leave from her office. I took nearly a week and it still wasn’t enough. I’d still been reeling from the news of my uncle when my mom called me at work and told me my grandmother was in hospice. I retreated to one of the conference rooms in the office. I sat there in silence for several minutes before I began to cry.

I went home after that and sat in the shower with the water running until the steam and scalding drops turned cold and the redness in my skin faded. I’d barely been functional at work since the news of my uncle–the day I buried myself against W and my body rocked with sporadic, uncontrollable sobs. I spent the rest of December useless. I’d sit at my desk, sometimes just staring at the screen, looking out the window, doing nothing for hour after hour other than listening to my own breath and watching the clouds move.

I won’t lie and talk about how close I was to either of these people. I was closer to Alec than I was my uncle or my grandmother. I felt, I feel, bad about how deeply I was–am–affected by these deaths. I grin and say I’m okay, that it’s not that big a deal. Both were, in their own ways, expected. That didn’t make them any easier for me. I didn’t want any sympathy and I didn’t want to share it. I had the liberty of privacy. My grandmother, the last of her generation, had been an extraordinary woman with a quiet life. My uncle’s death was not reported by anyone outside of his family. No one knew unless I told them and, even though I told the internet, it passed with silence. My sadness was my own. I needed it to be. I needed time to process and understand and grieve and I still do. Three days could never be enough.

Someone I was–am–in love with once told me that how I feel is how I feel–it doesn’t matter what anyone else says I should feel. I shouldn’t be apologetic. I return to my grief, the grief I feel I don’t deserve. I grieve for my student and Jeff, who both killed themselves years apart. I grieve for Moses and Alec, my grandmother. Now I grieve for Aaron. I am angry and sad and my heart aches for my friends who lost someone. This grief is mine, this struggle for understanding is mine, and I deserve it.

Aaron Swartz Memorial Ice Cream Social Hour

A photo of Aaron Swartz, SJ Klein, and Benj. Mako Hill at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup.

Photo courtesy of ragesoss on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

Friday, January 18th, 5:30-7pm at the Media Lab, 75 Amherst St, Cambridge, MA.

Aaron Swartz was a friend, a Bostonian, and a Mystery Hunter. Codex would like to invite members of the community and participants in the Mystery Hunt (that’s you!) to remember our friend, collaborator, and teammate with stories, jokes, discussions, and pictures. He touched many who did not know him personally, and we hope you join us to celebrate his life and mourn his death. Ice cream generously provided with the help of the Free Software Foundation.

(This takes place at the same time as the MIT Mystery Hunt. Though it is unaffiliated, it is hosted by Aaron’s Mystery Hunt team.)


Steve was a writer as I had known working writers to be. His house was full of books and artifacts from his life, pictures done for him by his favorite illustrator. He had a tendency to talk, endlessly, and latch on to the one thing you said he knew enogh about to keep talking. Some mix of well educated middle class wrapped up in an unpretentious shell. He had been a nice enough guy that I decided to read his book. “This is his only autobiographical piece,” CM told me. “All of his other books are about hunting.” I read the introduction, even though it’s something I rarely do.

East of Amarillo, it’s all suburbs.

I started to laugh and laugh until I was on the verge of crying. I’d given that book to Alec years ago.