Yesterday we lost Joel Jonientz, one of my closest friends, collaborators, and neighbors. He was 46 and has a wife and three small kids. It sucks.
Joel was a remarkable guy. He had vast knowledge ranging from painting, drawing, and comics (his scholarly specialty) to music, technology, baseball, football, and (while he refused to discuss it as a Seattle sports fan) the NBA. He knew how to use a circular and a table saw (and rebuilt my front porch while I helped). Whenever there was something to do, he’d remind me: he could read how to do it on the internet, and he had a masters in FINE arts. He could go from moderating a panel of poets, artists, and writers at the UND Writers Conference to complaining about an offseason move by the Seahawks in a moment.
He co-produced a podcast and you can hear it here.
He maintained a blog that documented his art here.
He always stayed to the end of the game when watching sports at my place. When things were going well for one of our teams, he would insist on high-fives. I don’t do high fives.
He understood that it was just as important to hang out when things were going poorly. In 2011, he was the only person watching the NLDS with me (in a crowded house) and we both noticed Ryan Howard limping after running hard to first on the final out of the Phillies’ losing effort.
More than any of that, he was a family guy. He loved his wife and kids in a way that gave perspective to the entire world and gave him a consistent set of priorities that guided his life, work, and friendships. When he and I were stressed out about something, he’d smile and tell me that when he got home, he had three little people who would remind him of what was really important in life and produce joy.
Whenever I needed something, he would be there to help. He was supportive of most of my ideas (and he was supportive of most of his friends’ ideas) even if it was largely because “he loved a bad plan.”
Yesterday, I was barely able to function, but today, I think I’m seeing a bit more clearly. Anyone who met Joel – even just for a moment – remembers him, and we’ll all feel his loss for a long time.
Joel and I had plans! He was the co-director of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota with me. We had both worked hard to direct the disparate energies of the Working Group in Digital and New Media (there was even talk of us getting a web page!). He was fascinated by my work in the Bakken and, when we last talked on Easter, he was excited for my plan to excavate Atari games in the New Mexico desert.
If yesterday, I was wracked by grief, and, while today I don’t feel any less sad, I also realize how much work I have to do to live up to Joel’s legacy.
A little update : This post has received over 400 page views in the last few hours. Joel used to tell me that a mention on my blog was worth about 30 page views on his. He and his friends are returning the favor 10 fold. So take a few minutes to click through to his blog, listen to a podcast, or check out a video. This image was touching today.
There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.