Remembering Steve Inness

Friday September 30, 2022 — Brooklyn, New York

A close-up photo of Steve Inness' face A photo ofSteve Inness, putting together a wooden or metal box, holding a industrial glue gun in one of his hands.

Steve Inness died seven years ago today, by suicide.

I don’t think I appreciated until recently how profound of an effect he had on me. The immediate thing that stood out about him was that he knew about everything. Whatever the topic of conversation, it was bound to be something he’d thought deeply about. You got the feeling talking to him that he’d spent his entire life collecting knowledge, and he was happy to dust off any of it, to show it off and share it. He was never overbearing about his knowledge, though — you don’t end up as knowledgable as he did without listening intently, and he was willing to take seriously whatever people said, to really listen to it. He was one of very few adults when I was growing up to do that — to be willing to listen, think, respond, to treat my ideas seriously despite my age.

I remember the moment I realized that he was taking leftover food from the robotics meetings in order to have enough to eat — realizing that he was homeless much of the time. Realizing what a injustice it was that his teaching and volunteering did not — according to our society — merit a place to sleep, enough food to eat.

But I think on some level, one of the things that I respected the most about him was that he understood what was important to him. He spent his life pursuing knowledge, learning and teaching, and if that meant he was homeless, well, so be it. I’m told he said that Davis was one of the best cities in the US to be homeless in — it seemed to me that he’d carved out a life for himself where he was able to focus on what was important to him, and I respected that.

I think that’s the thing about him that I most carry with me — he was the first person I ever met who lived doing what was important to him, despite it being completely outside the bounds of the ordinary. Those are my people, and more and more these days, I’ve been trying to treasure them while they’re here.