Nikhil Swaminathan

Reporter, Writer, Critic (and Hopefully More …)

Archive for JR Minkel

Remembering JR Minkel

A charcoal drawing of JR by his Aunt Nancy.

Exactly a year ago, I lost a close friend. JR was among the most brilliant, most engaging, and most enigmatic people I’ve met in my life. Though we were friends for only four years and change, he had a profound effect on my worldview—as he did on most people who spent any time exchanging ideas with him.

I wasn’t really able to write about JR initially after he passed. In fact, it was an email from me that informed several of his friends that he’d taken his own life last winter. Obviously, losing a friend is traumatic, but being the bearer of such awful news was among one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I spent a lot of time, especially early last year thinking and talking about JR, but I couldn’t really focus my thoughts long enough to write anything about my friend.

In late-November, a colleague of mine forwarded me an email from an editor at NPR’s This American Life. The producers of the radio show were going to curate The New York Times Magazine‘s “The Lives They Lived” issue and wanted it to focus not on the most famous people who passed, but on “people who haven’t gotten a lot of press attention but have extraordinary stories nonetheless.” My colleague thought JR qualified and suggested I submit something. So, I thought about it throughout Thanksgiving and cobbled something together, largely in JR’s words (which are far superior to my own).

As it turns out, they were actually looking for well known people, just maybe not Amy Winehouse-level well known. (No matter, the piece I submitted was way too long for their purposes anyway.) Still, the exercise was greatly beneficial for me. I got to spend a lot of time thinking about my friend. I got to spend a lot of time reading his thoughts, via his brainy, extemporaneous blog A Fistful of Science. I got to know JR better.

Below is what I submitted to the editors for their consideration.

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