Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[personal] Mark Bourne's Eulogy

Mark Bourne's eulogy, reprinted here with the kind permission and support of his wife Elizabeth

When I told my daughter that Elizabeth had asked me to present the eulogy for Mark, she had some advice for me. “Dad,” she said, “just pretend he’s still alive. That he’s sitting there listening to you.”

Wise kid.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Mark is still here, in so many ways. And he’s a very funny man. I know that anything I could say today would likely have him snorting with amusement, and being delightfully snarky to me later. I’ll miss hearing his post-game commentary on his own memorial service.

Trying to characterize Mark’s humor, I recently told somebody to visualize Steve Buscemi playing Alan Rickman playing Oscar Wilde.

I think he’d like that.

But enough of my description. In his own words, here is how Mark describes himself:
I'm a writer and creative director by trade; an astronomy buff by both avocation and erstwhile vocation; now and then paid the rent, back in the day, as an actor and stage director; and have been a seriously good teacher. (Modest) The best were the occasions when I've been able to combine all of the above.

You know, that makes him sound interesting in a somewhat staid, almost professorial way. Like he’s wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and smoking a meerschaum pipe.

Mark being Mark, the pipe would probably have psylocibin or nutmeg or ground up twenty dollar bills or something equally strange smoldering within.

What his self-description doesn’t capture, though, is the essence of being Mark Bourne. The way he held himself poised like a bird about to take flight. The light flashing in his eyes — sometimes the love of an angel, sometimes the reddish glare of a killer cyborg, but always Mark. The sly smile teetering on the edge of a leer. The dirty joke looming on the tip of his tongue, waiting to be sprung at the very wrong moment. The absolute attention he always paid to whomever he was speaking with.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure any of us ever really knew what he was thinking. Except maybe Elizabeth. Poor woman. Being married to Mark has been a heck of an adventure for her.

Now, let me spend a moment on the official, boring part of this whole business. (Here’s one of the places where he’d be snickering and rolling his eyes at me from the audience.)

Mark Bourne passed away last Saturday at the age of fifty. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and his stepson Austin, as well as his brothers Richard and Randall. Mark was born July 10, 1961 in Russellville, Arkansas. He grew up there with childhood friends such as Tim Williams, Chuck Pistone, Mark Turner and the Egg Man. (No, really.) After graduating from Russellville High School, Mark attended Arkansas Tech and the University of Arkansas to earn his bachelor’s with a double major in English and Music. He then achieved a Master’s Degree in Theatre at the University of Nebraska.

Leveraging that academic experience, Mark went on to script shows at planetaria and museums across the country, which is how he met Elizabeth back in 1992. They were working together on Star Trek: Orion Rendezvous, which is the only officially sanctioned Star Trek planetarium show. That, frankly, tells you everything you need to know about both of them.

As Mark might have said, they were star-struck.

Not only did he meet Elizabeth through the magic of Star Trek, but there’s a solar system in the Star Wars universe that Vonda McIntyre named after Mark: Markbee’s Star. Mark is also well published and highly critically regarded in the science fiction field. (Which is how I first met him, as a writer). His story “What Dreams Are Made On” was reprinted in the 4th edition of Literature and Ourselves: a Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers — making Mark a writer of academic significance. He was very proud that his piece was between Woody Allen's “Kugelmess” episode, and Louise Erdrich's “A Naked Woman Playing Chopin.” Mark is also listed in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction as having the earliest use of "morph" in professionally published science fiction, his story “Being Human”. He obviously practiced what he preached. Which is to say, better living through science fiction.

Eventually Mark and Elizabeth wound up here in Seattle, sharing a lovely house with one another, their dog Kai, and Elizabeth’s son Austin, who loved Mark as a second father. He has a host of friends and family-of-choice both in Seattle and around the world. I see many of you here today celebrating Mark’s life together.

Mark and Elizabeth do make quite a pair. They have both been incredibly generous with their time, attention and emotional energy to me personally as I’ve struggled with cancer and emotional upheaval these past few years. This includes not just phone calls and mealtime conversations, but hospital visits and personal care. As my friend Holly King says, Mark has been one of the Wise Men in my life. And I know I’m among the many people for whom both Mark and Elizabeth have been a lifeline.

Unfortunately we’re all here today because Mark decided to upstage, well, me. It wasn’t good enough for him to be funnier than me. Better looking. Have a nicer house. Share his life with the delightful Elizabeth. No… Mark also had to have a more serious medical condition than mine.

Dude, that is not a contest you wanted to win.

Still, his wit lives on. In online venues and in conversation, people have been sharing thoughts and memories about Mark since his passing last weekend. I’m going to retell a few of those stories now, because his wit and humor and good nature are what define Mark. I’m pretty sure it’s how he wants to be remembered.

Don’t worry. In a little while, we’ll have an opportunity for you to share your stories of Mark as well.

I’ll start with one of my own. A couple of years ago, during my first round of chemotherapy, I had a little accident with some yogurt and a poorly balanced chair. I wound up flat on my back on the floor, coated in vanilla yogurt which had gotten all over my shirt, my cargo shorts, my bare legs. Even inside my socks and underwear.

Shannon Page took a photo of me sprawled on the ground and anointed with white goo. She then ran a caption contest on her blog. Mark smashed the contest with three simple words.

Best. Orgasm. Ever.

Did I mention he wasn’t always, well… appropriate? As Lindsey Johnson says, Mark has a dirty mind, and he isn’t going to let it go to waste.

Janet Freeman-Daily tells another story, also oddly enough involving cancer. She has recently been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, and has been quite open among her circle of family and friends about her experiences of the disease. When she couldn’t make it to OryCon due to her treatments, Mark and Elizabeth and Janna Silverstein organized “Washicon” for Janet. As she says, “Whenever the conversation wandered into too-serious subjects, Mark would brighten and shout “Kittens!” and we’d shift to something lighter.” Nonetheless, as Janet was talking about her illness, she told the group that it was OK to ask her anything.

Mark leaned close, looked her intently in the eye, and said, "OK... what IS dark matter?"

He’s not just irreverent and offbeat, though. Mark is also sensitive to people in important ways. As his friend Katrina Martin says, to him, her first name wasn’t “Katrina,” it was “The Lovely”. And he was never afraid of getting out in front of the joke. The Lovely Katrina’s favorite memory of Mark is seeing him dressed as Superman at one of her parties. It was as though he had stolen and donned Clark Kent’s crime fighting outfit. She has a picture of him with the extra length of the Superman-sized tights dangling from his feet like a child in footed pajamas.

Mark owned everything he did.

Stewart Stern, one of Mark’s film school instructors and a fellow warrior of the heart, tells us that one resurrection was all that Mark could manage. Now "Heaven Could Wait" no longer so he is there and "The Little Prince", on his own little asteroid, is only a shout away. Stewart goes on to say that he and all the other friends who have been here with Mark in his fight will forever keep a spirit chair in their classrooms and in their theatres for him to overhear all we say, and make his own contributions for us to feel in our hearts and bones.

Stern also quite correctly observes that remembering and taking courage from Mark’s victories will be his best memorial, no matter how we offer it, together or alone. We need never cross his phone number out of our address books, because his presence and his lesson will be eternally available to us all, so long as we remember and beyond.

People say a man isn’t dead so long as he lives on in the hearts of others. In one of his moments of dark humor, Mark might say a man isn’t dead until his heart stops living on.

While Mark’s heart took him from us, he’s also still here. In every laugh, in every tear, in all our hearts. I see before me scores of people who love him. We all love him, and we all miss him.

This document has been placed into the public domain.
Tags: friends, personal

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