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In Memoriam: Joanna "Jo" Papin

Good Morning My Confidants,


Lately, I have been feeling pretty mortal. I'm sixty-three and sixty-four is just around the corner, and the last few years haven't been easy, and I am what is called "morbidly obese" (I really wish that term could get replaced), and there are times simply making it upstairs makes my heart pound. And that is why I have started to finally start taking care of myself, in so many ways. I have no intention of being the next person that everyone talks about for a day or two, and then lets slip from memory. I am not done on this Earth. I have things to do. I hope you do too. Let's be.


But another of the reasons I've been feeling this "mortality" is the passing of so many friends. It was one thing to come out during the AIDS Crises. That was scary. To watch so many new friends I was making as I found gay community wither and die before my eyes. It was terrible. Now I make it a point to remember as many of those gay friends as I can. Because they were here.


Here's the thing. They don't tell you that when you are growing up, that everyone you know isn't going to make it. That simply by living, you are going to outlive others. And the longer you live, the more and more and more people are going to leave this plain of existence while you stay. And they don't tell you how quickly people will forget those who have moved on. Just...forget. Dust in the wind.


When a friend of mine loses someone, it is always so hard to know what to say. I personally hate, "My Condolences," and "Sorry for your loss." People ask me why I don't like these words. "It expresses concern," I am told. But for me it just sounds like words that roll of the lips. Like when someone automatically says, "Bless you," without even thinking when you sneeze. It doesn't help me. It doesn't sound real. It doesn't show concern at all. It says to me, "Oh, death. Someone has died. I don't want to even think about that." And so with a, "My condolences," their duty is done and they can quickly move on to what's next.


What do I prefer? The one that brings me comfort, the one that make it okay even if preceded with "My Condolences," and "Sorry for your loss," is something like, "I hope the memory of your friend will live on inside your heart. They are never really gone as long as you remember them."


That brings me at least some comfort. Because really, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."


Dust in the wind....


Therefor it is my duty to remember the friends I have lost to Lady Death. My duty to keep them alive. My duty to let people know that there are people no longer among us who were.


This morning I remind the world that once upon a time, there was Joanne "Jo" Papin. And she was wonderful.


No need to say, “Joanne Papin? Gosh, should I have know her?”


No. Probably not. You probably didn't know her.


But I wish you had. The world should have.


I mean, among other things, Joanne was an amazing writer. She wrote in the fanzines way back. Thirty-five plus years agon. Dragon Riders of Pern stories. Battlestar Galactica—the original good version. Starsky & Hutch.


And (this was the really good stuff), original fantasy stories. Absolutely amazing fantasy stories! She should have been famous. Her books should be held in high regard and on everyone's reading lists. But that never happened I am so sad to say.....


But who she was to me was my friend.


Yesterday was her birthday.


Joanne, or Jo as she was known by many, was one of the best friends I’ve ever had.


I could write a book about Joanne. Maybe two. She was sweet, she was talented, she was loving and thoughtful. She was there with an open ear and open heart. She loved animals (most especially cats) and that right there is a huge plus as far as I am concerned. She was amazing.


She was also a deeply troubled individual. Somehow, someway, she just…missed the mark. I don’t know what happened, but she got going down a “wrong” path and never seemed to be able to get off of it and onto a road to happiness. Please know that it wasn’t drugs or crime or anything like that.


It was just...I don't know...bad decisions?


But she was always there for me! She was my Voice in the Dark. If I was upset or troubled, if I woke in the middle of the night from a nightmare, or was unable to sleep because my mind couldn’t rest…I could call Jo.


Joanne rarely got up before noon, so two in the morning was the afternoon for her. She always answered the phone. Yes! I could literally call her in the middle of the night! She would listen, never broke in to offer advice, never best of all, she never ever said, “I know just how you feel.”


She listened.


Jo got me though some horrible times. The long years that I lived with a very emotionally and spiritually abusive man (who was also a sex addict), she was there for me. She never got tired of listening (or at least never said me so). She never said, "What the hell is wrong with you? Get away from him! Kick his ass out the door!" She simply let me talk. And sometimes cry.


Joanne was never in a relationship herself—not one with a lover or spouse at least. I could never quite figure out why. For some reason she couldn’t…let go. Couldn’t trust. I guess…. As far as I know she never even went on a single date in her entire life. Joanne deserved a special someone. A confidant. Someone to hold her close.


She certainly had deep and powerful friendships. But several times—they ended. She would have these amazing friendships, almost communal, and then quite suddenly they would be OVER. All parties going their separate ways. I never knew both sides of the stories on what happened. Only hers. Again, it made me sad.


Jo and I even had a fight once—a disagreement really—and didn’t talk for a couple years. But when I chose to call her one night, it was as if the fight had never happened. It was as if the last time we talked had only been a week or two before.


Our friendship really started one weekend before I was even twenty-one. I was living in the suburbs of Chicago, and I had made a date (of sorts) with a man who lived in Kalamazoo, MI. This older gentleman told me he would teach me about…ah…gay love. Or, well...gay love making. And I was more than ready to learn (!!) and I took the train to Michigan and when I got there, and he ditched me! Luckily, I had a place to stay, but there I was, hours from home, and the people I was staying with worked evenings/nights.


I was alone.


A dear friend of mine who lived in the same city had guests she was entertaining, but she still came and got me so I wouldn’t be alone. I didn’t want to disturb her, and I went upstairs and there was her roommate, Joanne. Jo and I had met at a convention and hadn’t gotten along at all. But that night? That night was something completely different.

I talked a lot that night and she introduced me to…her. She listened and listened. She was one of the first people I ever told that I “might be gay.” It didn’t matter to her in the least.


I cried. It was good tears. She read my tarot cards. She introduced me the art of Alphonse Mucha. I fell in love!


With Mucha, not Jo.


And Kate Bush. Long before "Running Up That Hill" became THE song a few years back, I knew it and knew it well.


Jo was a brilliant storyteller! OMGosh! Jo should have been one of the fantasy greats. She easily could have been a Mercedes Lackey or Tanith Lee or Katherine Kurtz. Or if she wrote MM Romance, she would have been the next Amy Lane or Marie Sexton or Heidi Cullinan.


The problem was she just didn’t believe in herself.


She never leapt.


There was no way the net could appear for her.


Jo slipped into a long period of ill health, fighting catastrophic allergies that almost took her life at least twice, and cancer at least once.


I used to visit Jo about once a year—my parents lived in the Chicago suburbs and Jo had moved back to Chicago. So, I would make sure to spend a day with her. But when my mother and father retired to Arkansas, I just stopped making it to the Windy City. Years passed where I never actually saw Joanne, just talked to her on the phone, with only some of those being on dark and lonely nights.


But then a writing conference took me to the city where I spent my teens and I got to see her again!


It was a shock when she answered the door. I thought it was her mother. Jo looked at least ten years older than she actually was, if not twenty. It worried me deeply. We only had a few hours, but I loved every minute of it.


Then a few months later I got a call from a friend of hers.


Joanne was dead.


It was very sudden. She was having episodes where she would collapse. Her mother (and the EMTs) finally insisted she go to the hospital. The next day during this exploratory procedure to find out what was wrong with her—she very suddenly died.


And here I am, still walking this planet Earth, eleven years later—Eleven! How could it possibly be eleven years?—and still can’t believe it.


She and I were supposed to write a series of New York Time bestsellers together! We were going to write a series that was a cross between The X-Files and Fringe!


She was supposed to be my Voice in the Dark for the rest of my life. I still cannot believe she is gone.


I miss her. I miss her so very much….


I want to end this by giving you a glorious example of why I loved her so much and why our friendship outlasted so many others.


A year or two after Jo and I became friends, I got very, well, interested in a male friend of hers. He and I were flirting a lot. I was getting a very big crush on him. One night, right before I went on a vacation with my family, he and I started making out! I was very excited. I couldn’t wait to get back to see him and see what was going to happen between us…. Was I finally going to have my first boyfriend?


But what I found when I got back what not a boyfriend, but someone acting very distant. He started avoiding me. A few mutual friends told me that he wasn’t ready to admit he was gay and what he and I had done had freaked him out. He flipped out. Mainly screaming that he wasn’t gay. And he made all our mutual friends choose between him and me….


One of them was Joanne. She called me and told me what had happened.


It broke my heart, but I told her that she should choose him. To my surprise, It seemed to offend her.


“Jo,” I said. “You two have been friends since grade school. You’ve been friends all your life. You and I? A year maybe? I don’t want you to give up a friend like that.”


And with those words, Jo chose me. She told me it was because I was putting her first instead of myself, and because I wasn’t telling her what to do or holding my friendship over her head.


I will never forget that.


We were friends for over thirty years.


And I miss her deeply. I grieve still. I probably always will.


But I am also so very, very blessed to have had her in my life. She lives on in my memories. She was here! She mattered. Her life mattered.


She inspired me. She was proud of my success.


She was a good friend.


Most people will never be so lucky as to have had a Joanne Papin in their lives.


Yesterday was Joanne’s birthday. And I celebrate it.


Thank you, Jo, for being my friend. I will love you forever. And I often think of you on dark and troubled nights. Do you hear me, I wonder? I think that sometimes, maybe, you do….


Joanne “Jo” Papin

Jan 27, 1958 – July 10, 2013


And to all of you, including me, never take a friendship for granted. Truly, never go to bed angry with them. You never know when the last time you saw them will truly be the last time you saw them.


Let us hold our friends in high regard, and be grateful for them, and hold them forever in our hearts and minds.


So that they can live on!


Namasté,

BG "Gentle Ben" Thomas

January 27, 2024, Entry #027



Beautiful art by John Hain Ⓒ. You can see more of his remarkable work here: https://psychimages.com/


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What a beautiful piece to write about a friend. She sounds like someone I would have liked to know very much. Friends are treasures that we are lucky enough to find along our life journey. I would imagine that you were her touchstone as well, honey one of her treasures. I know you are one of mine. 😊

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This was beautiful, Beng! She sounded like such a lovely person and I’m so glad you have the wonderful memories to always remember her.

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I need to be better at keeping up with people. But, do have a few where time will go by and we pick right up as if we'd talked the day before.

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That is the way it always was with me and Jo. Months could pass, at least once a couple years, and we picked up like it had only been yesterday when we saw each other last. Treasure these friends!

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My heart hurts for your loss. May her memory be a blessing to you forever.

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Thank you. ❤️

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I think I might have read a few of Jo's Dragonriders of Pern fanfics. But that was a long time ago not long after I read the novels themselves. Frankly some of the fanfic was better than those novels by a long shot. I'm not sure if they are still out there, I don't know what her fanfic handle was, but I read a lot of fanfic back then while I was teaching myself what made a good story and what did not. Unsurprisingly a lot of fic authors made the jump to published authors, but that's also a conversation we had a while back. It's always hard to lose a friend. I know this pain all too well. Thank…

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