My Friends

By David Walsh

I just made a Facebook friend.

For the most part there is nothing particularly interesting about that. In my case it is unusual, though. In fact, it is unique.

I didn’t create my own Facebook account. A close (but often annoying) friend spoofed me, and she knew enough about me to get my password right (meaning I could guess it).

I wasn’t the only one who could guess it. Another friend (that proves I have at least two, but not on Facebook) logged on in my name, and randomly befriended a bunch of people before I snatched the iPad out of his hand. He was taunting me. He wouldn’t have bothered without some potential for me to discover his misdemeanour.

I never checked my Facebook account, but I didn’t delete it (I assume that’s possible). I found it came in handy. The smart bastards that built this insidious system hold out access to some parts of Facebook when you are not logged in. And I wanted to know Mona stuff.

A couple of years ago I went to a wedding dinner. My newly nuptialized mates told me what time the dinner was because I didn’t commune electronically. Everybody else was told on Facebook. They all turned up an hour late because the time specified on Facebook was wrong. I sat with the bride and groom for an hour, a self-oiling third wheel. It was rather pleasant. But also rather edifying. I discovered that everyone I knew was on Facebook.

Occasionally, very occasionally, it crossed my mind that trying hard not to be like everybody else doesn’t really work. It seems okay to be a rugged individualist, but communication, honest communication, isn’t just an extension of your own consciousness. It also extends someone else’s. You and they, that’s the definition of need. No one benefits from being themselves alone.

An ex-girlfriend had a new partner. Some time ago she thought he might be a danger to himself. But, actually, I knew him better than her. He was part of my family. And he wasn’t a danger to anyone. In fact, he was kind of lovely. So I ignored her.

Just now, wondering if I failed him, wondering if I’d failed his family, wondering if I’d failed our mutual-ex, I checked my friend requests.

There were 263 of them. Many, perhaps most, were people by the name of David Walsh, and they were recommended by David Walsh. Do people think that coincidental characters, in a coincidental order make one compatible? Does coincidence define character?

But there were people in that list that I like, and love, that I’ve hardly communicated with for years. And some that I’ve spent some time with recently, and maybe they don’t know my Facebook habits (which might be the habits of a lifetime) and they think I’ve spurned them. Maybe not taking the time to care, maybe not being suckered into a medium or process that everyone is a part of, maybe that’s what spurning is. Maybe, sometimes, you have to sell out to the shysters, to keep your integrity, to maintain your shit.

One of those 263 requests was, as I expected, from Aled Garlick. He was the brother of a man who is my brother’s son, but is nearly my son, because it isn’t just biology that makes one a son. But Aled was not my nephew, because my brother died too soon to be his father. He is the son of two people that have other sons, and a daughter, but he will not be less missed because he is not all they have. And he will not be less missed because they have lost before, and because they didn’t understand then, and cannot understand now.

He is, too late, my first Facebook friend.

Aled Garlick (1988-2013)

Graffiti wall at Mona’s Moonah office
Aled Garlick, 2012

I don’t know much

I don’t know a lot about permaculture, but I know that the reason it works is that it increases the number of interactions between the species in a given plot. This makes the system less prone to disruption by an impactor on any given species and thus the system is more robust. This resilience is in stark contrast to the many ‘single points of failure’ that a monoculture has.

In fact, a permaculture is better than merely robust, it is antifragile. Robust systems are impervious to impactors; antifragile systems actually improve when perturbed. We design very little of our world to be antifragile. We should do that more, at least if a new text by Nassim Taleb has any merit. And it does.

Some years ago my formerly sick friend Martin told me about permaculture, and he made the observation that such a system improved on robustness. He had an inkling of antifragility. I mostly missed the point at the time. Sorry, Martin. I gave you credit, but not enough.

Martin is my ‘formerly sick friend’ because he is dead, as of last night. Bugger. But not really bugger because dead is not really that much worse than dying, when dying is a process ‘undertaken’ as a result of the terrible intervention of a tumour (are there any nice interventions by tumours?). The bugger was the diagnosis, not the dying. Nevertheless, I shed a tear. And am seeking consolation in these words.

Many years ago, but not so long at all really, Martin and I had an argument. It concerned who should get credit for a particularly clever way of grouping a list of trifectas into boxes, a faster but less precise way to take them. I gave Martin credit, but not enough.

A few months later, in June 1991, I was at Caulfield Racecourse, filling in for my brother, Tim. Betting on the last race of the day, I ran out of time. I used the box trifecta algorithm and put on only one bet, a box of seven horses. That probably means nothing to you but, in the event, I won $19,000.

Later, I told Tim of our win (he had a share). He quipped, ‘I am dying within my means.’ This was three months before his cancer mediated death. That’s why I know the date.

Martin and Tim you may not know. But a small part of these things that I can share, Mona and these thoughts, I can share because they lived. Because an idea is not held in the dominion of one, but many.

– David Walsh

Life’s greatest invention

Last night my friend Martin hugged me twice. The first was the normal friend-departing sort of cuddle. The second had a distant intimacy, and I immediately recognised that paradox as a marker for the mindset that enabled it – Martin had identified, and then inadvertently transmitted to me, that this was the last time we would see each other.

Once, during the second third of our lives, we had been very close. Although the contact had petered out (in fact I didn’t see him for the last three years) we were still fast friends.

We didn’t see each other for the last three years because Martin moved to North Carolina from Tasmania, following a dream – or it might have been a fantasy. He won’t be going home. He has pancreatic cancer and, unless he manages to die of something else in the next few months, it will be the cause of his demise.

It turns out that the most common cause of pancreatic cancer, adenocarcinoma, allots you just four months from diagnosis. Strangely, having drawn the shortest of short straws in this dastardly lottery, you are better off pulling off another long shot. The rarer form of pancreatic cancer is survivable. But Martin hit the diabolical jackpot only once.

There is a form of chemotherapy that gives you a bit more than four months but it can be horrible. Martin tried it, and then he decided he would rather be human and soon dead than a shell of himself but dead slightly less soon. A brave decision for most people, not for Martin. For him it was obvious. The need to spend ‘quality time’ with the kids and wife was obvious, and paramount.

So now I’m on a plane, bound for New Orleans, a city that promises debauched fun, but this time it also promises guilt. Each fried thing or sazerac that I gulp down will remind me that Martin can only tolerate his body because he gulps morphine, ironically one of the debaucheries practiced by many of New Orleans’ transients, and not a few of its denizens. And he will gulp morphine and he will suffer and he will sleep and he will be confused and he will struggle to shit and he will die. Just like my brother, twenty years ago, he will die.

And I will think about him and feel sadness and grief, and a cocktail of guilt and relief that it wasn’t me, and the eruptions of grief and guilt will, over the great deal of time that I imagine is available to me, be fewer, and farther between. And then I will die. And then we all will die.

And all that doesn’t matter. Because each moment is a tool. I sharpened my tools with Martin when we argued about infinity, and when we out-implemented each other’s algorithms, and when we ran out of petrol after driving 200 kilometres to get a milkshake, and when he reminded me that we ran out of petrol thirty-three years later, and when he hugged me, bearing the burden of his mortality, and thus imparting to me the certainty of mine.

Our bubbles will all burst. Last night I watched his thinning, but as it thinned the light shone more brightly through.

-David Walsh