— Memory — 3 min read
To have a voice that soars, you’ve got to have a soul that sings.
– NDK Creative Artist
This weekend I learned of the death of NDK, my oldest friend, most important mentor, and a brilliant writer, songwriter, musician, and thinker.
I haven't been sitting with this news for very long, and I keep expecting to find a message from him and to have another chance to engage with his brilliant, kind mind.
I met NDK when I joined a collaborative world-building project in the early 2000s, when Yahoo! Groups was in its prime and people sometimes still disengaged their shields of irony while online. I would have been around 13 when NDK took me under his wing. He taught me so much about writing, editing, songwriting, music, ideas, thinking, creativity, intellectual property, compassion, humanity, friendship, and so much more. He invited me into his most dearly-held and ambitious projects and I in turn helped him over the years. We built a real collaborative partnership and, as we traversed the ups and downs of life together, a deep and enduring friendship as equals.
NDK shaped a great deal of my worldview. He is the only person I ever felt I could trust to give me truly honest feedback about my work, and go beyond a taste-driven reaction to dissect exactly why. He would always pour his full energy into these moments to advance my knowledge and improve the work. It may not have been the intended destination for his mentorship, but when I became a parent in my final year of high school, it was key in preparing me to tackle responsibilities my peers didn't worry about for another ten years.
Last year NDK took some time to mentor my oldest son, who is now 14 and a passionate guitarist and songwriter. My son always says that an hour with NDK was more valuable than years in any music class. I remember saying the very same things.
NDK had a gift for navigating perspectives and I knew that whenever the structures and pressures of work, society, news and politics, and day-to-day survival itself began to impose their will too much on my way of thinking, he'd remind me of what truly mattered. He knew how to scrape off the barnacles. No matter how he felt, he always seemed to know how to get to those ideas outside of the viewfinder. The ones that did away with dogma, partisanship, and the learned helplessness of nihilistic futility and considered what humanity really needed from first principles. I think I will miss that most of all.
By the time of his death he had become my oldest friend, the others preceding him having long fallen away through the usual, natural processes. Obviously, this aspect of our relationship was not bidirectional. But twenty years ago or two years ago, I didn't need any defenses or disclaimers with NDK, and we could interface directly at the level of our ideas. He was as disarming as he was an intellectual force.
NDK spent so much of his time envisaging better paths forward for humanity, showing creative artists the power they had to enhance society, and lifting people up. He was intense in almost all of his modes. He never did anything in half-measures. He was accomplished in his fields, but fiercely private.
And man, he could write. He could walk the talk. I've never met anyone else who could churn out so many pages so quickly — let alone have them turn out to be good. I don't think I've ever had to read so much just to keep up as during the most active years of our collaboration… and I'm an editor working in digital media in 2020.
I hate that he closed his eyes on the world for the last time in the state that it's in today, but mostly I just hate that he's gone. Rest in peace, my friend. I hope your next journey is an easier one. You've earned it.