Writer's Harvest, the benefit to raise money for local food banks. went splendidly. Last I heard, we'd raised over $4000 through corporate donations and direct ticket sales, at a reading featuring Ishmael Reed and Anne Lamott. The house was packed, the donated food was devoured, I was on duty for about eight hours from set-up (fairly light) through event (insanely busy) to clean-up (not too bad with lots of help). This was Thursday, and it exhausted me. Didn't really recover until Saturday.
Friday went slow; just tutoring and music class and Sherman coming over and a bunch of us hanging out in front of the fire in the evening and drinking wine and chatting. I am such a lightweight. Two glasses is pretty much the most I can handle. It was a pleasant evening; Ian's sister Julie and her partner D.J. are staying with us right now (it's so nice having a guest room), so they were there, me, Sherman, Ian, Heather, Aaron and Shannon (who were having a little tiff (or perhaps a spat. Definitely not a lover's quarrel; such a condescending term)). Toddled off to bed after and slept like proverbial log.
In the morning, breakfast with Sherman at the charming diner down the road (Cafe of the Bay) over comics. Pleasant. Then back home, wrote a poem for Paul of which more later, then Sherman dropped me off at Thida's for roundsing.
That's getting together and singing rounds. Like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, only a little more complicated. Jed organized it, provided munchies and led us through some surprisingly lovely harmonies. By leaning real close to a strong singer and trying to listen just to her, I think I managed to hold my own. If not, they were too kind to tell me. Four hours of singing, I think; throat was very tired by the end. I've picked up a cough, too. Dinner at nice Italian Restaurant which let us color on the tables (well, encouraged us), so we played hangman. Is 'aubade' a fair hangman word? How about 'syzygy'? Then back to Thida's, so she could finish her poem and dress for Paul's wake.
This is the harder part to write.
Paul Edwin ZimmerPaul died in the earlier part of last week, in the midst of a sf convention in New York, of a massive heart attack. Fans attempted resuscitation, but did not succeed. And doesn't that alone break your heart? Can you imagine being at a con with your favorite writer and feeling him die under your hands?
Paul left behind a wealth of family. A son, Ian, by Diana Paxson. A daughter, Astrid, by a woman named Nancy. I believe another daughter, though I'm not sure. Grandchildren, from Ian and Ian's wife, Elizabeth. A sister, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Many friends who were close as family.
I was not one of those friends. I only met Paul in January of this year, at the infamous Greyhaven (their home) New Year's bash. I can't eulogize him properly, but I can tell you a little about what I knew of him.
He was a scholar. First and foremost, that's what impressed me about him. Paul knew his Indian history backwards and forewards (far more than I do), and knew his Norse history even better. Words I can't pronounce, names of gods and heroes and battles rolled off his tongue, often declaimed in the best old style. Paul had a voice that could have filled one of those old Norse halls (despite the constant smoking that probably contributed to his death), and did not hesitate to use it. I wish I had his gift for delivery.
He was kind. I was very nervous even entering Greyhaven. To meet Diana Paxson, whose books I had loved as a child and still re-read from time to time (Brisingamen is one of my favorites). To meet Paul, who I knew only as Marion Zimmer Bradley's brother (Marion the creator of Darkover, and the Free Amazons, editor of Sword and Sorceress anthologies, etc. and so on for quite a long time). I'm so glad I got to know Paul in his own right, rather than just as Marion's little brother. When he first saw me at Greyhaven, in a sari, dressed up for the New Year, his eyes lit up. He had a soft spot for the Asian subcontinent, and genially escorted me around the room, even, at one point, introducing me to Diana (also exceedingly kind, as it turned out). Together the two of them encouraged me in my writing, invited me to local SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) meetings, even though I'm not yet qualified as a member, and were generally very sweet to me. When I was trying to decide whether to take the Clarion plunge, they advised me. He was a good friend to me, in that little time, and would clearly have grown to be a better one as we got to know each other better.
Paul was also reknowned for his lovers. At 54, he had not slowed down at all, and I must admit that I first thought him a bit of a lech. Yet he took rejection like a gentleman, and treated me as a friend ever after. That's an attitude I can respect. At the wake, one of the women who'd been propositioned by him said that even though she'd declined, it was one of the loveliest propositions she'd ever received. I believe that. Hail Paul!
What he was first and foremost, though, was a writer. Go read his books. They're bleak, and a bit frightening. They're heavy on war scenes, which I must admit to skimming. They're not brilliant, yet they have a certain knack for characterization, for unusual situations and unexpected plot twists, for making the difficult choices. The end of his second book, King Chondos's Ride, makes you put it down, hollering for the next chapter, saying, "That can't be the end!". Yet it is, and it's right, and this will make no sense to you unless you read them. I went to a publication party at Greyhaven shortly before his death. One of his stories had just been accepted for an anthology, "Elf Fantastic", I believe. It would certainly not have been the last to be published, and I'm very sorry that I will never read what Paul would have done with the next twenty-thirty years of writing.
I crashed the night at Greyhaven after that publication party, and woke at five to find Paul still up, working on the invitation list for the New Year's party, trying to trim it down a little (they regularly have over a thousand people arrive, even when only 200-400 are invited. The house is big, but not that big). We talked for a few hours, until Nancy woke and the kids were stirring. I don't remember the specifics, but likely we talked about projects we were working on, about Indian history, about books he thought I should read, about the perils of publishing, about friends and family. It was really the only time I got to sit down alone with him and talk. I'm very glad I had that time, but it wasn't enough. The overwhelming cry at the wake (which was as fine a tribute as any man could wish, with the main room packed and friends stacked in the hallways) -- "It wasn't long enough."
Others tell me he was a warrior as well. I cannot speak to that, yet with his booming voice, his ever-present kilt (regimental), and his amazing presence, I can believe it. Paul was larger than life; rest in peace would be a phrase entirely inappropriate for him. If there's a life after death, whether it be reincarnation, Valhalla or something entirely different, I think I can guarantee you that Paul will not be resting. He'll be chasing the women, shouting poetry at the top of his lungs. Warrior, lover, scholar, bard. I want to do so much. I miss him more than I'd expected. I still find it hard to believe he's gone.
I enclose below the poem I wrote for his wake.
A Warrior's PassingBy firelight, he sat, a book upon his knee, a hand
that stroked his beard. Low-pitched, his voice did rise
and fall, like waves upon the sand, and spoke
of warrior's wyrd, of wizards wise and maidens fair.
Friends and strangers gathered round, to hear the tale
so stoutly sung, a tale of hearts so torn and wrung,
of weeping women's wail, of sundry melancholy parts
all wove together in a gleaming battle-shroud.
Or perhaps a sprightly tale; he told those too, and see --
the children laugh at dragon's antics, cheer the hero
who can command grim death to flee, cheer the maid
who has no fear of what lays beyond the lee, but strides forth...
They have no fear, these warriors of days long past;
they know what lasts, beyond the grave, beyond the tear.
So much more than life, oh, save your tears for lesser folk;
this bier is but a passing thing, a momentary strife,
and after, who can say? Yet surely something wondrous
does await, beyond that gate, and shall we weigh our hero down,
with calls and lamentations? Nay, let us rejoice instead,
and send him forth with all our hope, a brave panoply
to clothe his sturdy bones. For he was surely more
than a simple chronicler of the tale; his breath was too large,
for his frail body to enclose. Mix in this grief some mirth.
Despite his human failings, he was more than just a man;
through him deeper music sang,
and for a little while,
a giant once more walked this earth.
for Paul Edwin Zimmer