Jolly is the best word. The man had charm, fortitude, and humor.
We met in 2015, he was on residency and I was filling in for a professor on leave at Burren College of Art.
We stayed in contact though email since we met. Martin had a knack for sensing my disposition and often when things looked so dark in my life in the post a book would appear from him noting pages of specific interest. Mainly, he was a friend I could email regarding all the shittastic ongoings of my life, a set of eyes to look at my recent paintings, and someone to admire on how he patched his life together. One thing to note is that a birthday and Christmas was never missed, a card always arrived. He knew the joyful power that a bit of paper and stamp could bring.
I was in Germany at the start of any hint of pandemic chatter. When I flew back to North Dakota mid February I was corralled into a waiting area prior to my plane departing as normal, but this time was asked by a ticket agent if I had been in China. Nope. Solid. they let me through. Two weeks later I find myself out a job, and wondering what the hell is going to happen. Leaning into some recently acquired coping mechanisms thanks to the brightest PhD psychology student I handled the life hiccups well. Whatever. Life went on, I had some shitty days, and good days. I was all of a sudden grateful to have space in my life— and no longer had to white lie myself out of social events. Hermits unite. After a couple weeks I started checking in on friends in distant places. Everyone was healthy. Then I emailed Martin, doing the best I could to shout through the keys on my keyboard 'STAY HOME, STAY SAFE.' I didn't think this was an issue for him, as a fellow painter he too relishes in solitude. Then I get an email notifying me that he is getting his galbladder removed, harmless procedure, needs to be done, he will be home within a day. Then another email, he caught the Covid. Handling it well, no need to worry, minor cough and fever. The next day things are looking up, once that fever goes down I'll be home in a jif. As the reality of the course this illness takes I am more and more concerned. Then I get an email, from his daughter. Things have turned and they have sedated him, to allow him rest. I get daily updates and his condition appears decent, things are looking up. After two weeks of this unchanging situation I get an email from his daughter, she tried to call me. In crisis calm mode I log onto Skype and phone her back. Through the phone I hear wet sniffles before a hello and I know the worst has happened. This shit just got real. Stay home, stay six feet apart, wear a mask, wash your hands, dont touch your face.
I watched his funeral online, and while in normal circumstances I am admittedly opposed using a screen to 'be' somewhere, I attended. On my screen I view a cemetery with ten people standing six feet apart. I hope to offer comfort through the tiny camera, knowing that's a stupid thought as I watch my friend lowered into the ground. Out of habit I started to draw. I drew the casket he was laying in, desperately trying to help myself understand the truth that he is gone.
I still open my email and want to begin notes to Martin about my daily idiocies and receive his entertaining and intelligent responses.
In thinking of any kind of tribute I am flooded with ideas, as when someone impacts your life it is rarely because of one action, but a series of many that amount to an overwhelming desire to express gratitude for enrichment of life, and friendship in this case. So instead of specific memories....I am going to share an email I sent to Martin about a month after we had met. Thanks to him I was able to laugh at so many moments in my life rather than lash out in anger or weep in shame.
To make this public knowledge is my ode to him, I hope he is somewhere revisiting this moment of idiocy for me and enjoying that it is now accessible to the general public.
January 24th, 2016
I have been punished for my sins. Want a good story? Ok, well. I ate mouse shit. yes. I ate mouse shit. I didnt bring food to the studio today, forgot it at home. Well, I was scrounging around my studio and found a ball of tinfoil from approximately three days ago, I didnt look hard but just ate the contents of crumbs as I was famished. On the last bite I look down and oh golly gee — turds from a mouse, and that did not taste like brown bread in my mouth. I had no reaction I didnt know what to do. I just thought, well I ate shit, get over it. So I did. Now thinking about it I am really grossed out but I had a fight or flight response and just fought the urge for that moment to ruin my life. I hope to be here in the morning. This is so hilarious. I had beans on toast to make myself feel better this afternoon.