Fem år.

Når noen sa “strålende” om hans innsats, sa han “greit nok”. En perfeksjonist i ett og alt. Alltid presis, nøye, alltid kontroll. Og alltid like blid.
«Jeg tror han ble rammet av en bunnløs, svart tomhet» i Aftenposten (04/04/14)

Det er snart fem år siden min bestekamerat Janemil tok selvmord. De årene har gått forholdvis fort. Selv om jeg ikke har hatt noe problem med å snakke om det med de som måtte spørre, så har jeg vært nølende til å skrive om det. Delvis fordi det er vanskelig å skrive om, delvis fordi jeg ikke ønsker å rette oppmerksomhet mot det. Samtidig som det som skjedde fikk en enorm innvirkning på livet mitt, er det heller ikke kun det som definerer hvem jeg er og det jeg gjør.

Da jeg i dag leste artikkelen om Camilla som mistet sin kjæreste, slo alle likhetene meg: En flink, ambisiøs type, som tilsynelatende var glad og fornøyd. Ser man etter, finner man flere sånn tilfeller. Og alle er selvfølgelig en for mye.

For mange er selvmord et tabu, og for flere er det ekstremt vanskelig å snakke om. Men når gjennomsnittlig seks unge menn tar livet av seg hver måned, så er det på tide at vi lærer oss til å snakke om det, ikke bare på tomannshånd, men også andre steder, også i det offentlige. Ikke for å normalisere det, men for å gjøre det enklere for de som måtte føle seg utsatt å oppsøke hjelp. Men også for å hjelpe de etterlatte og — ikke minst — de rundt til å finne en måte å snakke om det på. Som en slik «etterlatt» er ikke det verste å snakke om det, men når jeg merker at en man møter lurer på det, men ikke våger å spørre om det.

Før nå, så har jeg bare klart å skrive en sammenhengene tekst om Janemils bortgang. Jeg skrev den i 2011 i forbindelse med Steve Jobs’ bortgang, og av en eller annen grunn på engelsk. Den oppsummerer ikke alt, men det er mitt første bidrag til å kanskje gjøre det lettere å snakke om de som har valgt å ta livet sitt.

Om du lurer på noe, ta gjerne kontakt med meg, og husk også at det finnes noe som heter Nasjonalt senter for selvmordsforskning og -forebygging.

Traces in the margins

Plenty has been said, argued, written and discussed of Steve Jobs in the wake of his passing. Say what you will about the man, but numerous of talented and hard-working people holds him as an ideal and an icon. A handful of the eulogies stand out as an example of some the best writing I’ve seen from some of my favorite writers in technology[1]. Hence, I do not feel as I have much to contribute. That being said, I have felt the need to express something in relation to the passing of Jobs. I am not sure exactly why it prompted such an emotional response, maybe because I can be characterized as an “Apple fanboy”. I indulge in the discourse surrounding Apple technologies; or, simply because I find Apple products – such as the Mac, OS X and the iPhone – deeply satisfying to work with. Yet, I think the main reason is found in an idea to which Jobs lent some attention in his commencement speech at Stanford University: Death.

Jobs – at least in his commencement speech – expressed an affirmative relation to death. He called it life’s change-agent, that which clears out the old to make way for the new. This is true, whether you find it as a good or bad thing (‘new’ is not always ‘better’). More importantly, Jobs reminded us that life is to short to live someone other’s life. Though, it is paradoxical that one of the persons which we so easily idealize, encouraged us to follow our own paths (the ‘You are all individuals’-sketch from Life of Brian comes to mind). It is easy to say – especially for a rich and successful entrepreneur such as Jobs–, but way harder to do.

I only knew Steve Jobs as the public and much rumored figure that he was. I can still associate many of his proclaimed polymathic qualities to one of my closest friends, Janemil. Of all of the things they have in common, death is now also one of them. This is also the first time, beside the speech I made in his funeral two years ago[2], I have managed to write something remotely sensible about it.

Death affects us all. I have been fortunate in only have a few close encounters with it. Except for Janemil’s, they have all been old relatives, and I was too young at the time to really take in the profundity of it all. It’s no wonder that after nearly ten years of nearly daily interaction and immense collaborations in countless projects, Janemil’s decision to end his life, came as a shock for me, as for all his friends and family. In retrospect it feels as all his dark and destructive thoughts had been cloaked in his artistry (through songwriting, poems and roleplaying-game narratives) suddenly was realized in a blunt and extreme real-world action, leaving us all bewildered. His symptoms of depression (also in retrospect) set aside, Janemil was as a energetic and enthusiastic person. His suicide still feels so highly unlike him.

Jobs used death to remind us to do our best and live out our potential, what was exactly what Janemil did while he lived. He relentlessly pursued his goals, and did not hesitate to make the necessary sacrifices along the way. Janemil was not self-centered though, and did also recognize talent in others. More often than not he offered much of his time and attention to help people he met along the way to advance in whatever flair they possessed. He saw this not as a purely altruistic, but a reciprocal act, where he gained insights into certain fields, but also numerous relationships he later could favor from (and he did). This made him rather intense in a way that some people found “a bit of a handful” (this didn’t seem to bother him much though).

As my closest friend, I was also blessed with much of his time and attention, but his perfectionism and contrarianism was also demanding and even exhausting at times. Much like Jobs, Janemil didn’t care about about your unreflected emotional attachments to an argument, theory, article or the like. He ventured to ensure that whatever you did, it was done in the best possible way. His criticism and objections was at times harsh, but he always invited you to change his mind, by coming up with convincing arguments and better solutions. And this is the crucial part which also associate the two. If Jobs had not also been open to persuasion, we would not have the iPod, iPhone or even OS X. “Real artists ship.”

Jobs’ sentiment that “life’s is too short to live someone else’s life” strikes an odd chord with me. While I have always pictured myself as someone ending up at the university in some capacity, it’s much to Janemil’s credit that I decided to pursue an education in the study of religion\s. He definitively played a role as mentor for me, in capacity of being both older and more advanced in the field. On some occasions, I was even called a ‘disciple’ of his (of course, he being the elder and often the loudest) by other students. Now I have the job he applied for, but did not get.[3]

In his death note, he gave me all his books. I received them with much emotional ambivalence. As a symbolic action it can be interpreted in many different ways. I take it as an encouragement to pursue an academic career. In this sense, he wished for me to the life he so abruptly gave up. Meanwhile, he isn’t here to listen my objections and counter-arguments: There is no guarantees for a career after my four years as a PhD Fellow, and the prospects for a doctorate in the humanities is not exactly characterized as ‘prosperous’. As giving and fulfilling such work is, it is still work. Science is not like Mythbusters, it is mostly doing tedious stuff in the hope to reach meaningful and rewarding insights. You will need something keep you motivated and to keep you going.

Jobs asked his mirror-reflection if the things he was to do that day, was really the things he wanted to to if this day was his last. My version is slightly different, and is indebted to the way Janemil lived his life: It is whether the thing I am to do really serves the purpose for what I want to achieve. It is all too easy to fall into the safe patterns, those which provides you a dull comfort, but doesn’t take you anywhere. I feel I owe it Janemil to make something constructive out of his tragedy. To expect only the best, to help others advance, to «ship», and not be satisfied with easy answers and lazy solutions.

We all will be reminded of Jobs’ diligence in the many proofs of care and attention found in Apple devices and operating systems. In the same way, I will always be reminded by Janemil’s pursuits and reflections in the many notes and marks left in the margins of his books. It is as sentimental as it is inspiring.

  1. E.g. MG Siegler, John Siracusa, John Gruber. Also, the 5by5 “Thank You, Steve Jobs” special podcast episode.  ↩

  2. I wrote this in 2011. Now it has been five years since he left us late May 2009.  ↩

  3. He applied only once, and at the time, the application process at UiB was rather unforgiving, leaving the applicants with no information or feedback at all during the many-month-long process. However, there was no doubt he eventually would get a scholarship, or the like, either at a later time, or somewhere else. In fact, when he passed, he was considered for a PhD-position at Oxford U.  ↩