Jamie Bishop and Steffi Hofer
Clayton, NC; March 13, 2004
First of all, thank you so much to everyone who either commented on the previous entry or emailed me personally. I know that many of you found my entry from the link at Locus Online, or elsewhere on the Web. The outpouring of condolences was a bit overwhelming; every time I checked, 30 or 40 more people had responded, and the sorrow and sadness over the loss of my friend sent me into a fresh bout of sobbing. That was how I spent much of yesterday: in alternating states of absolute shock and uncontrollable weeping. I've been deliberately staying away from the television, because the slipshod speculative reporting at CNN just upset me even more.
I'm still trying to come to grips with it all, to try and comprehend how such a senseless and violent event could occur, and I just can't. In Buddhism, we're told to accept that there is suffering in the world, that the cycle of worldly existence (samsara) is an embodiment of that suffering, and that the best thing we can do is to let go of our emotional attachments. Seemingly easy in theory, but much harder in practice.
There is a hole in my life, once filled by the presence of my friend Jamie Bishop. He was one of the most kindhearted and compassionate people I've ever had the good fortune to meet. Words are not coming easy today -- it's taking me hours to compose this entry -- but I shall try to do my best, insufficient as my efforts will be. After writing a tribute last week to Kurt Vonnegut for Bloggasm, I never could have imagined that I would be writing another one this week for someone so close to me.
I first met Jamie at Trinoc-con, a science fiction convention held in Durham, NC, in 2000. I knew several of the author guests there, and at one point I insinuated myself into a large group of them going out to dinner. I was still unpublished at that point, and my starstruck eyes could hardly believe that I was eating alongside Paul Di Filippo and Michael Swanwick and John Kessel and Michael Bishop. Jamie was there as well, with his wife Steffi, and as we were the only ones there around the same age (and, fortunately, seated across from each other), we struck up a conversation. He seemed amazed that I could find the time and energy to write fiction after an eight-hour day at my office job. I told him how much I enjoyed his pieces up in the Art Show. Later, I bought two of the pieces, and he gave me a discount, even though we'd just met, because that was the kind of guy he was.
We lost touch for a year after that; he'd given me his email address, but I must have misread it, because none of my messages went through. Thankfully, he came to the next Trinoc-con, and we got to spend much more time together. I discovered that he and Steffi were living in Chapel Hill (only a half-hour away from where I lived in Raleigh) while she finished her PhD at UNC, and we made plans to get together after that.
From then on, we would occasionally meet either in Raleigh or Chapel Hill (or nearby Carrboro, after they moved there). We would sometimes watch serious films and discuss them thoughtfully afterward, or cheesy B-movies that we would yell at and make snarky comments a la Mystery Science Theater 3000 (a tradition he would continue with his Kitch 'n Bitch groups). We would sometimes just hang out and talk about books or movies or comics or art. He was always generous with his time.
In December of 2001, I decided to create a chapbook of my fiction to give away as Christmas presents, and Jamie agreed to illustrate it. The results can be found here.
I would send stories his way to get his opinion, and he always had an insight I hadn't thought about. When I announced that I was quitting my job to attend the Clarion Writer's Workshop, he was one of the first to congratulate me.
When I was directionless after getting back from Clarion, he convinced me to apply for graduate school, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. One other was the decision to ask Janet to be my wife; Jamie was an usher at my wedding, and the photo above of Jamie and Steffi was taken at our reception. Yet another was the recent decision Janet and I made to move to Singapore, and he was incredibly supportive; in January, we drove up to Blacksburg to visit Jamie and Steffi before leaving the country, and I'm so glad we got that chance.
He was often unsatisfied with his artistic efforts; I can't remember the number of times that he decided to revamp his portfolio website, memory39. He constantly pushed himself with his digital artwork, creating more and more interesting pieces as he gathered confidence in his skills and tools. He renewed his love for photography, taking astonishingly beautiful photos while staying almost invisible behind his camera's eye. In recent years, he combined his passions into large format photocollages, pieces maybe three feet wide by three feet tall, made up of dozens of smaller prints all glued together to a piece of wood.
He played acoustic guitar, and took lessons on the djembe drum. When he interviewed me, it was in a home studio he constructed himself. That was another thing: if he required a bookshelf or entertainment center or coffee table, and what he wanted didn't already exist, he would build it himself.
Jamie loved the German language, receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees in German language and linguistics. While living abroad and teaching in Heidelberg, he met the love of his life, Stefanie Hofer, and German was the language that they spoke to each other at home alone. From everything I've heard from Jamie's German students at Virginia Tech, he was a patient and enthusiastic teacher, and I believe it. It makes total sense that his love of the language would translate to the classroom.
I miss my friend terribly. He was too young to be taken from us this soon. It's going to be difficult to think of my life without him in it.
One of Jamie's favorite poems was "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant, a poem that is a meditation upon death. I'd like to quote the last few lines:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Goodbye, my friend. You will be greatly missed.