Michæl W. Bard is dead.
I wish I were joking (for one thing, Bards sense of humor was twisted enough that he probably would have enjoyed that kind of gag), but Im serious. Dead serious, even. And Im trying to think of some wordsany wordswhich arent Yet Another Profound and Serious Expostulation of the sort which has been written a million times before, about a million other freshly-deceased humans
and Im coming up blank. Hell, even the fact that this sort of thing already has been rehashed a milli0n times, has been rehashed a million times.
There is nothing new under the sun
We only met in the flesh once, Bard and I. The occasion was a road trip I made in order to take custody of a library Id purchased from a fellow fan
who lived in Cleveland. Me, Im a California boy, so I dont spend a whole lot of time in the Eastern parts of the US; while planning said trip, it occured to me that since I was already going to Cleveland, Toronto (the city Bard called home) wasnt that much further away
so, why not? I didnt manage to spend more than a day or so there, and a busy day it was. Among other things: Since this was after I picked up the books, Bard spent a bit of time sorting through them all to see if there were any he might like to keep
Anyway, I always wanted to see Bard again, but never actually put any effort into making it happen. Apart from the practical difficulties imposed by my unenviable financial status, I figured there was no hurry. I mean, Bard was four years younger than me, so its not like he was going to drop dead any time soon, right?
Yeah. Right. One of those rehashed-to-oblivion-and-back observations: If you care about someone, do not wait to let them know, damnit! Dont put it off until tomorrow, because tomorrow is now.
Anyway: As things turned out, our first encounter (which was shorter than either of us would have preferred) was also our last. Beyond that, the two of us interacted strictly via text; mostly emails, and a decent chunk of internet chatting. Typical furry, really. And it was through the medium of text that Bard invited me to join him in assuming editorial control of the transformation-focused netzine TSAT after its founders decided to move on to other things. Its worth noting that this happened back in 2001, when I was a wet-behind-the-ears newbie in the TF community of interest. I wasnt more than vaguely aware of TSAT at that time, and absent Bards involvement, its not likely that Id have even considered taking over where the zines original crew left off.
Thats right: Me being an editor was originally Bards idea, not mine. Now you know who to blame.
After we took over TSAT, Bard and I spent the next five years as co-editors producing its bimonthly issues. We worked well together, and we both agreed on the big thingslike, a transformation story can and should be more than just The Big TF Scene with or without some vestigial elements of story on the side.
Which is not to say that we agreed on everything, of course. One time I asked Keith Morrison if he could write a review column for TSAT, basically taking up where his late, lamented Slaughterhouse website left off; he agreed, and before long, hed finished the first of these columns. Both Bard and I thought it was a damn good review
but Bard had noted what he considered a serious problem: It seemed that the item Morrison was reviewing was on the internet, but stuck behind a paywall, not freely accessible to all and sundry. Now, if youre saying to yourself, What difference could that possibly make?, youve summed up my position; I was all for going ahead and running Morrisons review, (lack of) free access be damned. I mean, how many reviews have you read where you could read/watch/hear/whatever the subject of said review for free, you know? However, for reasons mysterious to me, Bard felt that the paywall thing made a very big difference indeed, and on that basis argued that we should not run Morrisons review. Neither of us ever changed our minds on this point
so we never ran that review, and TSAT never had a Keith Morrison review column.
One thing we both agreed on, when the time came, was the decision to cease publishing TSAT. The zine had always been a respected institution in the TF community, its status being why Bard wanted it to continue when the original crew moved on. Unfortunately, the zines relationship with its readers was very much a one-way deal. For instance, it was a rare month when we received so much as one email of comment from readers. So in the fullness of Time, both of us found TSAT to be less and less rewarding in any sense of the word. I think it was around TSAT #44 when I asked Bard what he thought about ending the zine; significantly, his response focused on the question of, not whether to end it, but when and how.
TSATs final issue was #48.
Bard was always more inclined towards writing than editing. While Anthro started with both of us sharing co-editor duties, he bowed out of his position about the time Anthros second year started, on the not-unreasonable grounds that he just hadnt been doing all that much in the way of editing for the zine. Which is not to say that Bard was underemployed thereafter, mind you
The Bard-written editorial named Through the Looking-Glass was replaced by a new regular feature, a Bard-written column named Through the Looking-Glass; and of course he kept writing stories, both contributing to pre-existing settings (perhaps most prominently Mark Van Scivers Tails of the Blind Pig shared world, which Bard established the most complete online library of) and creating his own wholly original works.
At this point, it would be appropriateif not downright expectedfor me to talk about Bards strengths as an author. And sure, I could do that; I could go on and on about his interesting plots, his deadpan sense of quirky humor, his ability to use mere words to conjure up exotic realms and times as if Tens Of Millenia In The Future was here and now
but Id rather let Bards own words speak for him. It is, after all, those same words which are a big part of the reason we even care about his untimely demise.
Editorial and column alike, Bards Through the Looking-Glass appeared in 25 of Anthros first 26 issues: The View From Afar; Furry Fiction: A Personal Preference; Cute Fuzzy Fursuit Clones; On Fear and Furries; The Brush is Mightier than the Pen; This Thing Called Furry; An Initial Exposure to Furrydom; The Loneliest Time of the Year; In Search of My True Face; Furries and Personal Space; Horse Runs Free! Film at 11; Fursuiting Arrives!; This Means War; A Furrys First Con; Meeting the Furry Kindred; Criticism, Confidence, and Maturity; A Newbie at Anthrocon; Furries Under Siege; Doing Your Homework; Newbie at the Con; Furry Tales and Fursuit Tales; Con Report from the Great White North; On Becoming a Graymuzzle; Whats Wrong With This Picture?; Of Furs and Meat. In addition, Bard reviewed C.J. Cherryhs The Pride of Chanur, and James Kahns World Enough, and Time.
Of Anthros eight (and counting!) serials, Bard penned two: Fork in the Road (part 1; part 2; part 3) and Mythic Journeys (prologue; part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6; part 7; part 8; epilogue).
Anthro was fortunate enough to have published ten of Bards stories: Homecoming, Wings of Healing, and Zoomin Along in the TBP setting; Like the Unfolding Petals of a Dream (Xanadu); Fighting the Change (WoC); and Becoming a Patrolsentient, Down the Rabbit Hole, The Survivor, Redemption, and Murderer Most Foul.
And Anthro was definitely not the only outlet for Bards literary talents! In addition to his corner of Metamor Keep, Bards work can also be found in TSAT, the Shifti.org wiki and his own personal archive.
Quite a literary legacy for one man to be remembered by. And if early indications can be trusted, Bard will be remembered. But there seems to be a curious lacuna in all the public reminiscences; one aspect of Bards life which has thus far gone largely (if not entirely) unremarked.
Bard was an atheist.
He didnt believe in any god (let alone God), nor in this soul thingie, nor in any flavor of afterlife, nor in supernatural stuff in general. But if you look at the outpouring of messages of sympathy and hope which occurred in his last few days of life, youll notice that a nontrivial percentage of said messages include some flavor of god-talkrest in peace and hes in a better place and may flights of angels guide him and so forth.
This, even though all such sentiments blatantly contradict the beliefs of the person who inspired them.
Maybe its just me, but somehow, I cant help but think that all those well-meaning, god-soaked words about a dead atheist are just as disrespectful to said atheists memory as would be, oh, saying Now hes in the arms of Jesus about a dead Jewand for anyone who might be wondering what could possibly be disrespectful about that, I got four words: Messiah ist nicht gekommen. Nuff said? To be sure, I am confident that Bard would have overlooked the offensive content of such messages and accepted them in the spirit in which they were given
but I am equally confident that hed have preferred it not be necessary for him to overlook their offensive content.
And given the fact that the bulk of this god-talk came from Christians of varying degrees of faith, I think its worth noting that most flavors of Christianity are very clear that all unbelieversa group that definitely includes Bardwill burn in Hell forever
a circumstance which would seem to be somewhat less than conducive to requiescat-ing in pace. So we have the interesting phenomenon of Christians expressing pleasant wishes for someones post mortem fate, and in doing so, managing to simultaneously spit on both the intended recipients memory, and on their own belief system!
Bard would have appreciated the irony, I suspect.
As for me, this whole thing has got me thinking about my own death. I dont expect it to happen any time soon, mind you, but then Bard probably wasnt expecting to die any time soon, either. And just on the off chance that anybody might feel like making a public statement about how wonderful I was or how they miss me, I have one request:
Lose the god-talk.
Like Bard was, I am an atheist. And while I may or may or may not have known Bard well enough to be correct in thinking he would have been offended by god-talk directed at his dead body, I most assuredly know myself well enough to authoritatively state that I would find that sort of thing offensive.
When I die, I wont be in a better place.
When I die, I wont be in a worse place.
When I die, I wont be sitting around any apres-vie anteroom waiting for my friends to show up.
When I die, I simply wont be.
So please: After Im dead, dont go making any noise related to what godany flavor of God or Goddess or Spirit or whatever other Capitalized Entitymay have in store for me. I would hope that anybody who respects me enough that theyd want to say some words about me after I die, would respect me enough that they can resist the urge to compose a testimonial on my behalf that doubles as an advertisement for their Invisible Friend. And if youre the kind of Believer who honestly doesnt see anything wrong with saying that a dead Jew is safe in the arms of Jesussorry, I meant saying that a dead atheist is in Heavenwell, if you happen to be that sort of person, Id just as soon not have you posting any posthumous messages about me, thanks all the same.
Look, folks: We humans are finite beings. Our time on this planet is strictly limited. Once we die, were gone, and thats it. No respawn; no second chances. Death. Is. Final. Which is exactly why death is cause for mourning. But if we are eternal beings, as Christianity (among other religions) is wont to have it, mourning for a dead person is a pointless exercise which makes no more sense than mourning for someone who happens to have emigrated to a different country, because hey, theyre still around, just in a different neighborhood, you know?
Yes, acknowledging the permanence and finality of deathacknowledging that Bard is just plain gone, for no sensible reason and without benefit of any Higher Purposeis difficult and depressing. Yes, Belief in a shiny happy Afterlife is so very comforting. But that Belief is a delusion
and I prefer truth, however unpleasant, to delusion, however comforting.
Heres one of those truths I prefer: The people you love and care for will not be around forever. Cherish them here and now, because there is no later.