Open Source Cadavers

Written by @Willow Brugh, with feedback and general awesomeness from John Willbanks, Sam Klein, and Michael Stone. Additional props to Adrienne and Sands for edits, and to Fin and Matt for kicking my butt into delivery.

In loving memory of my crypto-loving, open-access enthusiast, and occasionally suicidal friends. We will build more open worlds with our corpses. I just wish you would have held off for more unavoidable causes.

Early this year, yet another friend of mine up and died. There was of course a mess of things that had to be figured out. It wasn’t just the traditional things of cleaning out her house (I wasn’t around for that part) or figuring out the funeral (Viking in variety). It was new and interesting technical and moral turmoil of getting into her hard drive, questions of “should we even?”- her prolific music and authoring contributions rivaled by her extreme privacy. It was seeking the edges of her far-flung pockets of internet community to notify them personally, racing the deluge of social media notifications, not wanting them to find out about her the same way I found out about my grandmother – before the familial phone tree had reached me, a peripheral friend calling me based on a facebook post from my sister. A morbid seismic wave.

While I don’t have any control over how others plan for (or don’t) their demise, I have a say over my own. I can show my care for people dear to me my own compulsive, facilitating way by¬†being sure they find each other as they find out, and in making sure information and knowledge I have to offer continues to be released under open access, even if I’m not there to do it. From doing humanitarian and disaster response (and just a general “awareness of the abyss,” as my mother used to tell my vast and angry younger self), I have had to face the looming possibility of my own death head-on. The networked reality that brought those strange new questions and moral quandaries for my friends’ deaths can instead be used to carry forward care and knowledge. This is a sort of guide for the bits of postmortem planning the internet and most lawyers have missed. It’s not complete – I’ve run into some interesting blocks and quirks, around which I’m eager to collaborate with others.

This post is less about things like wills (what happens to material possessions, who doles it out, and the like) and living wills (if you want to be kept on life support etc) – although I’ve added the templates I used to the wiki associated with this post as it includes digital artifacts and more awareness of gendered pronouns than other bits of the internet. This write-up focuses on specific aspects for Open Access and encryption enthusiasts. Brace yourselves for a morbid entry. Know I’m peachy keen, and being an adult about things, not in danger of harming myself or others. If you are in danger of harming yourself, please say as such directly, and get help, rather than indirectly through things like estate planning. It should be possible to speak about death without fear – that’s what I’m doing here. I hope you can hear it (and act) from a similar place.

I’ve divided components up into documents, accounts, notifications, and people. Documents are centralized with accounts, which are propagated via notifications to people, as triggered by a notification from a person. This means I only have to worry about keeping something up to date in one place — a change to a will or to a website password simply happens in the place of storage, without needing to notify everyone involved. As people become close to me, or exhibit destructive¬†behavior, they can be added or removed from the notification pool. The notification mechanism is the one thing that has to remain consistent in this set up. Continue reading

Goddamnit, Annie. Goddamnit, America.

Annie and I were fighting in that way you can fight with people you’ve known for awhile. She thought I was blissfully optimistic and, in expressing that, was disrespectful of people in difficult positions. I was also not good at being a friend at a distance. I thought she was being overly rash and weird. She was upset that I thought her that un-self aware. We dropped it when my dad went into surgery, and we didn’t bring it up when I offered to help pay for a medical visit when she collapsed recently. I thought it was anxiety. She refused to get treatment because her insurance wouldn’t kick in until today. Today. She disliked this country, for the same reasons she died in it. It doesn’t take care of its people.


She was the lynchpin of our sharebro group, bringing together these strange collections of people around long-form analysis and banter. And when Google Reader went away, she was the one who pushed to find a new space, and brought us back together again on The Old Reader. In all these deep conversations, Annie was still hard to know. Intensely private. Irate when images were captured without consent. Always interrogating the blasé assumptions of sharing, preferring it as an act of intentionality rather than of status quo.

I met Annie not too long after moving to Seattle, a long-time friend of some of the Bloomington Diaspora. She was this persistently present enigma in our shared social circle that I didn’t take the time to get to know more. She didn’t take on casual friends, and I have trouble interacting with people unless it’s on a project. We talked about ideas and society on Reader, but never really got to know about what was in our ribs, sticking to what was in our skulls. Annie was an intimidating intellectual sparring partner, steadfast in her outrage at The Patriarchy and Capitalism.

Some rant she went on about if games were useful for things other than play, and about gender, and about all sorts of other things sparked a “what would it take to fix this?” conversation. We met at Jigsaw, a block away from us both, for what we thought would be a few hours of talking. Instead we launced GameSave together. For 3 months, we shared a project. We lived across the alley from each other, and I would walk up the appallingly uneven steps to the back door of her building, she and Gretchen just back from their walk. She would make eggs and coffee, her apartment in the colors I now recognize as the Icelandic pallet. She conceded to playing my “fairy glitch” as opposed to her preferred metal, sitting for hours at a time on her awful futon. We talked through what was possible in disaster and humanitarian response, and what was people-dependent, and what large-scale logistics supported through crowds and gaming structure would look like. We took on a seemingly impossible project, and pulled it off. I was proud to live up to what she saw as possible.

And one night, tired of working, we binged on YachtRock and Aquavit, and actually opened up to each other. She was a person, and she was my friend, and she was utterly, utterly stubborn. I didn’t know her nearly as well as some of the other Seattle crew, but I knew her more than most, and that was an honor to hold.

I bought a plane ticket when Lindsay called. I didn’t know if I’d be taking a watching round at the hospital or holding people’s hands, having mine be held. It’s the latter.

So I’m sitting in the last Seattle coffee shop I saw her in, wondering what of our shared experiences are for my public tendencies, and what are to keep in my ribs, strangely territorial of the the grief I feel for this intensely private person. I hope to help make the world that wouldn’t have let her die for lack of money. I hope to not alienate the people unlike me by failing to include them in that language. I hope to live up to what she saw as possible.

Annie's feelings on creatures

Goddamnit, Annie.

Waking Irene

Sometimes I wonder if writing about a family member or friend who has recently died is sort of like telling someone about your dreams – fascinating and useful to you, but completely without the same meaning from context for them. This entry is a celebration of someone who aged with incredibly good humor, and who has been a steady thread in my life. This is what it is to have deep roots spread wide.

Grandma Irene Murphy died yesterday. She’s been ready to go for years, but some subset of her eleven children weren’t. Which means she hung on, being revived when she slipped too far, living in the same house she had for 30 years, with a rotation of those children and their spouses taking shifts to care for her. We moved her bed down into the same room Mammy (her own mother, who was married to Pappy, and whose actual names I will never remember) had lived out her final days some twenty years previous, with notably less joy than Grandma. It was the third house Irene had taken the kids to, after the farm, the farm being after the house on Spear Street.

The house on Spear Street is now my Uncle Bill’s. Decades earlier, they had left it for the farm when my Grandmother had packed all the kids in the house out to it, fleeing her abusive husband Charlie. My grandfather Charlie, who taught me that assholes can be assholes to anyone, not just to their own kids, and not always behind closed doors. Charlie who used to sit at the kitchen table drinking Budweiser and smoking while basketball blared on the living room TV, taking up all the space in the house he could. Charlie who used to “take his kids out for the day,” leaving them to play in the car while he sat in the bar and drank. Charlie who could also be genuinely gentle in the strangest of moments, making it easy to forget. Charlie, whose children not only fought to protect each other and their mother from, but also their own children.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about these aspects of my grandfather, of the deep reasons behind the strange giddiness Irene’s children experienced upon his death. This amazing woman, their mother, my grandmother, was finally free to play and make space for herself in more than passing moments. I had always assumed the move to the farm, and later the move to their final house had been of choice or necessity, not of flight. Their last house, where they both lived out their lives, was two away from Peggy, proximity to family some sort of safety, at least a place for the kids to escape to. The house separating Peggy and Irene was later purchased by my parents, where they still live, and where I grew up, the house undergoing slow remodels around me as my own body and brain changed. But always, always, grandma next door. A door that was never locked, and a motorized easy chair, and saccharine pinwheel cookies, and electronic poker games.

Nine of their eleven adult children live in my home town, scattered in a radius around her home. The tenth lives beyond city limits, and the final is in California, buying grandma’s house from afar so she had income and so it would stay in the family. All the children’s kids live within a few hours’ drive, and Mary’s four children live in the state, and Theresa’s fourteen children have scattered across the country but stayed away from the coasts. In short, it was incredibly difficult to throw a party as a teenager. But grandma would sometimes look at me with this glint in her eye, and her laugh sounded like getting away with it.

She loved murder mysteries. We used to watch Columbo together – there was no TV in my parents’ house, but I was allowed an hour of television over at grandma’s on rare occasion. She was convinced John Edwards was legit, and that angels watched over us. She made curtains before her hands got bad, and would let me sketch child thought-scapes with chalk on scrap fabric, and examine how her sewing machines worked, and hunt for dropped pins with magnets. She liked my blue hair, and objectified my boyfriends, and missed my mohawk (but was glad I had grown it out). She told me I needed to give her a motorcycle ride, and if I wasn’t willing to take her, it wasn’t safe enough for me, either. She chose Baltimore when my parents offered to take her anywhere at all in the world. She laughed at herself when she had no idea what was going on, and she didn’t mind at all that she had heard the joke before but forgotten the punchline. As she slipped deeper into dementia, she cracked jokes that no one else got, that no one else had context for, and she still laughed like she was getting away with it. She aged with incredible good grace and humor. And when her children had finally gotten to see a mother they had only seen glimpses of while growing up, when they were at last ready to let her go, she gratefully and quietly died.

I just got off a plane to Indiana for the wake. A wake where so many Irish-Catholic family members will attend we simply call people a generation older “aunt” or “uncle,” anyone younger “niece” or “nephew,” and anyone your own age “cousin.” My Uncle Mike (not even a full year younger than my father) will point out the faint four-poke scar he claims is from my grandmother stabbing him with a fork when he wouldn’t shut up at the dinner table. (Mike who also once told my cousin RD that a lion had bitten his leg, rather than explain Vietnam and mines and what it is to have a toe tag replaced by a purple heart, so that’s the sort of trustworthy he is.) Her great-great-grandkids will still be in diapers, unless my sense of time is completely off. We’ll bring out albums and stories and track mud into the home for which we exhausted the local framing store in a vain attempt to keep up with the propagation of this family. The hodgepodge collection of folding chairs will be brought from every nearby house, nearly enough but why not pick up another mismatched set. Everyone will bring a casserole, spilling off the kitchen table and onto the nearby counters. Someone will turn on the TV, and someone else will mute it. Aunt Suzy will wonder why I insist on wearing a tie, and an endless line of nieces and nephews will insist on airplane and piggy-back rides. We will play with blocks and marbles and race matchbox cars. (And I, for the first time in years, will not hide myself away in front of the recently-emerged fireplace in my parents’ home with glass of Bailey’s, furious with myself for anxieties.)

As the night wears on, and the children go home, we’ll drink cheap beer and reminisce about a woman who brought so much joy despite everything in her path. We’ll remember sitting in our shared yards as night fell, lightning bugs flashing and the smell of a recent rain. We’ll remember how she protected as best she could with the beliefs she had. How she left Charlie’s presence but never his side. How she made what was never enough food or money or hours sustain so many. How each of her children coped with that upbringing. How some, my father included, got themselves out – and how that meant leaving others behind. The ties of family, and of love, and of dreams, and of responsibilities. What it is to protect your family from your family, and see those patterns repeat. What love is, no matter what, even if you don’t want it. Love without the need to understand. Love that sometimes lacks care, and the kind of love that combats that. In the morning, we’ll shine our shoes and go to church for her, albeit less begrudgingly and a little bit more hungover, one last time.

In short, it will be business as usual. Celebration of life, celebration of death, and the ever overwhelming presence of family.