Bright Spirit

By: Peggy Nelson
February 11, 2011

This will happen to you.

You’ll log onto Facebook one day and see a different voice with a familiar name, saying words you both do and do not understand. And if you’re scrolling backwards like I was and if you don’t log on very often as I do not, you will see a disproportionate number of photos about a particular friend filling your wall and it will put you in mind of them and you will think, no, they really haven’t changed at all since college and yes, I really should visit their city and I will look them up, it has been too long. And you will think these thoughts as you keep scrolling until you reach that post that makes you stop, the one with a familiar name but a different voice, and you will stare at it until the impossible words stop dancing around like crazy letters and arrange themselves in their fatal, comprehensible order, and you will finally realize that you will not be seeing your friend any more, at all. They are gone. My friend is gone.

One day, yours will be too.

Jeff Coudriet was a member of my first and most formative Argonaut Folly. According to HiLobrow co-editor Josh Glenn,

. . . in decades past, certain writers, thinkers, and artists have taken off on even more ambitious flights of fancy. For such dreamers, merely collaborating with peers who possess skills as unique and impressive as they know their own to be isn’t good enough. Like the Argonauts, they want nothing less than to live and strive together, each and every day.

I call this dangerously alluring fantasy the Argonaut Folly.

I’ve been in and out of Argonaut Follies my whole life, but the first one was in some ways the most successful. As undergrads at Cornell a number of us formed an intense intellectual and emotional constellation, with a tangled web of relationships buoyed and directed by philosophy and politics; we felt we were discovering the worlds of ideas and reality for the first time, as one does at that age; discovering their grounded, inner truths and their unrestrained possibility spaces; we felt like any moment we might sprout wings and soar into flight, but not like rockets — more like falcons, graceful and fierce, with ever-more elaborate peregrinations and delight. Of course there was much wrong with the world. But we would fix it, change it; we would break through to free the destinies meant for us, meant for everyone.

We had big dreams. But Jeff also had big plans. And he was the first of us to act on them, moving to DC and pursuing his work through activism as well as government, pushing through positive, tangible changes in laws and policies. But Jeff changed the world significantly just by being in it. He was one of those rare, truly happy people, who light up a room merely by stepping, or parkouring, over the threshold. He had sadnesses, he had struggles, of course; this is not to minimize griefs or sugar-coat a life. But people like Jeff, who never lose sight of that star, who harness their fate to its promise and never drop the reins; those people give the rest of us the hope and energy to get up and try just one more time — and that one more time might just be the time that makes all the difference.

But I hope I might be forgiven as I eulogize my friend, to a readership to whom he was largely unknown; and to whom, it must be admitted, I am personally unknown as well. I want to make the small but significant point that his Facebook page, which functions in outline form as a kind of virtual living room, has become, after his death, his living memorial, as it fills asynchronously with photos, with testimonials, and with mutual friends, not previously known to each other, reaching out and making new connections, keeping the space alive through Jeff’s account as if through his lingering guidance.

So I share a bit of my private grief with you to say that, vis à vis cemeteries, about which I have lately written, Facebook is actually appropriate, in a way. It can gather friends from all over the world, its event status is ongoing and not exclusive as to date and time, and it maintains a vibrancy in the virtual living room that is a reflection of the resonance that person had when alive. It’s better than the official memorial sites, in that Facebook, if it was used, was used by the person while they were alive and still feels like a space they are “in.”

We are verbs, not nouns. We are our relationships through others, not merely isolated, discrete monads. We are virtual as well as physical, and in fact those two states are so interwoven as to make the differentiation often meaningless. We cause patterns in the world that others outline, and fill. Stone and ironwork are quite lovely, and of course have weight and persistence in time. But to the bright, happy spirit that set out to change the world, and who did do so, his best memorial is built in all the people to whom he made such a difference; and the virtual space enables another way to keep that going, for as long as they might wish.

And when this happens to you, as it will, I invite, no — encourage, you to keep it going, to maintain a vibrant virtuality for your friends, and for you. It matters.

Jeff would like that. This is about where he’d make some kind of silly joke, about walls and dead links, and get everyone laughing over the absurdity inherent in both existence and love, from the far reaches of stars and dreams, to the near reaches of just across the couch. And he would have said it better than I can, with a lightness of touch that yet never lost sight of the gravitas at the core.

Rest in peace, my old friend.


Activism, Kudos

What do you think?

  1. This is the first time I’ve encountered the term “Argonaut Folly,” for which I’m grateful. I’m sorry it had to be in a context of loss.

    It seems to me the attraction of ideas is partly their immortality and the way we can live on through them. But there’s always been one barrier or another to even a good idea or good memory’s survival, whether because of erosion or an eventual broken link in the chain of reproduction.

    Even though innumerable sites have been taken down and I know this and miss them, I somehow maintain a feeling that the virtual world will not (or need not) decay, so that both the good and the bad will survive indefinitely and outside time.

    In any case, I can’t think of a more fitting place for a memorial than a giant network made of light and energy. Thank you.

  2. This is really touching. I was with Jeff for most of the 90s and the first Bush II administration. Man, was he a strong guy! He faced off with Bay Buchanan on teevee without breaking a sweat, and loved his neices and nephews with abandon, thinking all the while of the crazy world they would inherit. Each day since his death I have learned a little more about his past, before 1994, and it reminds me that I could only hope to achieve one quarter of the greatness he possessed. If I tried really, really hard. Thank you for this wonderful tribute. Jeff would have hated it, as he always hated the spotlight that gravitated to him nonetheless.

Comments are closed.