April 9, 2013
September 19, 2012
My grandmother, Elsie Marie Rigby Partridge, passed away early Sunday morning. She was 95 years old, going on 96. She was raised in the farmlands of Idaho, where she had seven brothers and one sister, not to mention five stepbrothers and a stepsister. She had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood, including my mother. She had 18 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren.
She suffered a stroke about ten years ago and had been in a wheelchair ever since. Her mind was still mostly sharp, but she had gradually lost the ability to much for herself. Between that and my grandfather's passing five years ago, she had been praying for the end to comemostly with good humor, at least on the occasions when I was able to visit her.
Grandma Partridge was a strong, funny, acerbic presence, one of the few people who could go toe to toe with my dad in the sarcasm sweepstakes and put him in his place. (She was his mother-in-law, after all.) She trained as a nurse before getting married and having kids, but I'd never call what she did settling down. As a child when we would visit, I remember all us kids looking forward to when Grandma would get home from work in her nurse's uniform. We were also always delighted to hear her talk about how she'd trained herself to say "shhh-ugar!" when she was mad, instead of the farm word she'd picked up from her many brothers.
One of my clearest memories of her comes from when Laura and I last visited her together, in early 2011. She would usually tire after a brief visit, but that day she was on, and she told us stories for a couple of hours. My favorite was about when she was a young mother living in Queens, where Grandpa's job had taken the family. This had to be sometime in the mid-1950s. She was driving with her three kids in the car on one of those outer-borough parkways that are still confusing to this day if you don't know your way around. She missed her exit and rather than risk getting lost put the car in reverse and tried to back up to where she had needed to get off. When another driver stopped and chewed her out, she played the just-a-lost-farmgirl-from-Idaho card and managed to escape the parkway unharmed.
If there is a better place after this one, I'm sure my grandmother is there, salty farm words or no.
February 28, 2012
UPDATE: Mark's funeral service will be Thursday, March 1, in Seattle. (Details here.) A less formal celebration of his life will be held in a few weeks.Growing older comes with a lot of unexpected benefits. One of those benefits, though, is most definitely not the way that more and more good friends seem to leave this life before their time.
I was stunned yesterday to learn that Mark Bourne passed away on Saturday. Given his history of serious heart problems, I probably shouldn't have been, but you're never really prepared to hear that someone as young as he was has gone.
Besides writing many very fine science fiction stories, Mark was a musical theater enthusiast, a film reviewer, and a writer of planetarium shows. If you ever went to planetarium star shows, you probably saw some of his productions without knowing it. (I did.)
It's funny. I considered Mark a good friend, even though we only met in person a few times. I think the first time I ran across his name must have been in 1994, when he and I turned out to have come in 9th and 10th place in the balloting for Campbell Award nominations. Our first actual interaction came during an unfortunate online flamewar a few years later. I sent him a note of apology some months later, which he very graciously accepted. This was entirely to my good fortune, as he had no good reason to do so. It didn't take long before we were fast friends.
One occasion when we met in person was at the 2004 Nebula Award banquet in Seattle. Another was on a visit he and Elizabeth made to New York City. Laura and I took them out to Kabab Cafe in Astoria, and Mark talked about how amazing that evening was for the rest of the time that I knew him.
But as I said, mostly we were online friends. We used to trade short stories back and forth, point out great film and theater reviews (sometimes our own) to each other, and for as long as I was making them I used to mail him copies of my monthly CD mix discs. It wasn't that long ago that, having both written science fiction stories about stand-up comics, we started half-seriously batting around the idea of editing an anthology of such stories. I was also trying to persuade him to make Chicago a vacation destination in the near future so I could have him appear at the Tuesday Funk reading series. I'm sad that neither of those things are now going to happen.
If you knew Mark at all, you knew him as an inveterate punster. He was a master at that low art, and sometimes in the comments of our blog entries we would trade the most horrendous puns back and forth for as long as we could possibly sustain it. I hope and suspect he would forgive me for saying that a change for the better is the mark borne by everyone who knew him. I'll damn sure miss him.
We send all our sympathies to Elizabeth Bourne, whose loss is incalculable, and to everyone else who knew and loved him.
January 13, 2012
Five years ago today, Michael Breckerone of my favorite saxophone players, and a pioneer on the instrument in many wayspassed away of complications from leukemia. He had suffered from the rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome, and never found a matching donor for a successful stem cell transplant.
Brecker was one of the most in-demand session players of his time, besides being a consummate jazz innovator in his own right. He was also instrumental in promoting and pioneering the use of the EWI (electronic wind instrument). Back in 2007, I put together a Michael Brecker tribute mix as my contribution to the CD Mix of the Month Club I used to belong to in New York. Called Tenor of the Times, it contained a sampling of some of his best work both as sideman and band leader. On this anniversary of his passing, I thought I'd make a zip file of the mix available. Grab it quickI won't leave it up for long. Some liner notes are here.
Download (88 Mb)
January 11, 2012
My friend Scott Swanson passed away on January 11, 2010. He had battled a severe heart defect his entire life, and in fact his poor circulation made it so that he could never walk very fast in the time that I knew him. Complications from those heart problems eventually took his life. He was 36.
I first met Scott in 1998, when I joined the online department at the Children's Television Workshop in New York City. (Our group were the ones who built the Sesame Street website.) I was one of the programmers, while Scott was essentially our IT department. He scared me at first. His tolerance for stupidity was low, and his tongue was as scathing as his wit, and I admit I bore the brunt of both as I learned the ropes at CTW. But before long we discovered a large set of geeky mutual interests, and that in turn led to a genuine friendship.
Scott was pained and bitter in a lot of ways, especially when it came to matters of the figurative heart, an area in which he never got particularly good treatment. (By contrast, his medical treatment was probably the best anyone could have received.) But underneath the gruffness, it was not hard to to see that he was one of the most caring people around, who took more responsibility for the people around him than certainly his job required.
We quickly discovered that we shared an affinity for good food and good scotch, which left both our pockets poorer. I don't know how many times we popped downstairs for decadant lunches at one of the obscenely overpriced restaurants around Lincoln Center. We were also, like the rest of the tech crew, obsessed with celebrity sightings (as Andrew Lienhard has documented in his remembrance of Scott). I remember once going out for a cup of coffee, alone, when Scott was having a particularly bad day at work. On the way back I saw, across from the back entrance to our building on West 64th, something that made me call him from my cell phone and tell him he had to meet me downstairs stat. When he joined me on the sidewalk a few minutes later, I pointed across the street to where Kevin Spacey was eating, alone, at a table outside a fancy Irish pub we often frequented. Scott's mood instantly brightened.
Eventually, though, Sesame Workshop (as it by then was known) laid most of us off, one by one. Scott had always envied the spirit of romantic adventure he saw in the way I'd abandoned everything to move from Utah to New York City in 1995, so, for better or worse, I somewhat unwillingly helped encourage him to abandon everything and move to Arizona, where he jumped into an ill-fated marriage. (Later a small crew of his school chums would drive to Arizona and physically extricate him from that situation.)
Scott ended up back in Chicago, where he was originally from, living with his mother and stepfather. He took a full-time job at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, which is where he'd gone to high school. I think he was probably as happy there as he'd ever been, and that's where he ended up doing some of his most important work. Unfortunately, he and I had fallen out of touch by then. One of the bonds we'd shared had been our vehement atheism, but during his time out west he had acquired a new set of spiritual beliefs and practices that I found difficult to understand, so much so that it was hard for me to be around him, even though those beliefs clearly brought him some measure of peace.
This was entirely to my own detriment, and it's my one big regret about our friendship. Laura and I had lived in Chicago for two years before I finally got over myself enough to drop by his family's apartment and pay him a visit. As soon as I walked through the door, I wished I'd done it two years sooner. Scott's physical condition had deteriorated so much since the previous time I'd seen him that I barely recognized him. He was gaunt, skeletal even. He was working remotely by then, no longer able to make the commute to IMSA. We started getting back on track that day. In a painful irony, he told me that I was one of the only people he trusted to talk about his spiritual beliefs with.
Sadly, the next time I saw him was in the hospital. It was also the last time I saw him. He was surrounded by a seemingly unending flow of his friends, coworkers, and schoolmates from IMSA, which was the place that provided him with the majority of the close relationships of his life. For the week or more he was there in that bed, I don't think he was ever without the companionship of his mother and at least a few IMSA friends. He is, in fact, now memorialized at IMSA with the Scott Swanson Fund for Transformative Student Learning and Innovation. I know that technology transformed Scott's life and opened up a world of possibilities he might not otherwise have had.
I meant to write this remembrance of Scott two years ago, but it was too hard. I've never forgotten that I needed to, though, and I got an added push a couple of months ago when I ran into his mother at a Mexican restaurant near our place, where I was picking up a takeout order. It was very strange seeing Gail in a context where the connective tissue that was the only reason we knew each other no longer existed. I promised myself that I wouldn't let another anniversary of Scott's passing pass without making note of some of my memories of him.
Scott was a good man, as you can tell if you scan some of the links in this post. Despite the hand his body dealt him, he had a good heart. He was a good friend to me, and I miss him.
September 20, 2011
My friend Mark Worthen (nitewanderer) passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was a horror, crime, and science fiction writer who worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the Stoker Awards for the Horror Writers Association and also served as HWA's webmaster. I wandered around in dark fog yesterday after hearing the news. I can't believe he's gone.
I first met Mark in 1993 when I joined a writing group called Xenobia in Provo, Utah. He was only a few years older than I was, and we bonded over a certain darkness and irreverence in our fiction and our worldviews. I wouldn't have expected it back then, but he's the person from that group that I stayed in closest touch with over the years. Through one circumstance or another, we both ended up moving out of Utah around the same time and leaving some misunderstandings behind. That was another thing to bond over, the feeling that we were outcasts and exiles.
While I went to New York City, Mark's path took him to South Korea. He was a brilliant linguist and specialized in teaching ESL. I was amazed by his adventurousness, but he had lived in Europe and South America already and from the stories he told later he took full advantage of his time in Asia.
Next I heard from him, he was in the Midwest, Missouri to be precise, with the love of his life, J.P. Edwards. It was probably around then that Mark asked if I'd contribute a story to his new online horror magazine Blood Rose (one of the earlier of its kind). I did, and actually ended up hosting the website for him (which I still do). It wasn't much later that I found myself traveling to Jefferson City for Mark and Jeannie's wedding, and found him happier than I'd ever known him.
I didn't see much of Mark in person, though a visit he and Jeannie made to New York for World Horror is particularly memorable, as is the trek we made to Kabab Cafe in Queens. I don't do a great job of staying in touch with my friends, but somehow Mark wouldn't let me get away with dropping off the face of the earth. Months would go by and then he would call or email or text or DM me, often to ask if he could run a story or novel fragment past me, or if he could get a sanity check about one thing or another. Then we'd catch up all in a flurry, bitch about the universe in general, and fall out of touch again for while. We talked about getting together in Chicago, since somehow I'd ended up in the Midwest too, but we never managed to make it happen.
One of the most excited messages I ever got from him was this past spring, when he'd just discovered that his story "Final Draft" was going to make the shortlist for the Stoker Award. He gave a lot of quiet effort to HWA, and it was thrilling to see him get recognition from his peers in front of the scenes for the thing he loved doing most.
I can't believe I'm never going to get another unexpected text message from Mark asking what I'm working on. I can't believe he's the one who dropped off the face of the earth this time. That's not the way it's supposed to work.
I'm really going to miss him, as are countless people who knew him. No one more than Jeannie, though. If ever any couple were soulmates, they were the ones.
Rest in peace, buddy.
February 8, 2007
Anna Nicole Smith, née Vickie Lynn Hogan, a/k/a Vickie Smith, a/k/a Miss May 1992, a/k/a 1993 Playmate of the Year ... we barely knew ye.
Unless, you know, we were Playboy subscribers back in the early '90s.
Rest in the peace you never found in this straitlaced, size-two world.
Update: Laura points out that, only two hours after the death, Anna Nicole's Wikipedia entry is already updated. Man, those motherfuckers are inhuman.