Dear Mark

Mark,

I shouldn’t be this shook up over your departing, but I am. We met only four years ago at Matty’s impromptu housewarming party. You were being a total smartass and stealing the limelight and I was laughing my guts out and at the same time wishing you’d settle down for just two seconds so we could all have a serious conversation, dammit.

We subsequently texted a couple times for whatever reason (probably to trade in some harmless, ancient, and medicinal herb of a spiritual type) and at some point I suggested we get together and hang out, to which you replied something like, “Oh, is that how it’s gonna be? We gonna be pals and play and BBQ and shiz?” To which I said, “You know it.”

We never did play as much as we should have. We made it into the mountains with our cameras one time, to the park with our kiddos another time or two, up the river for a jump and swim, but we had plenty of occasions on your back patio or in your front room or office, often with a beer in hand, whether 11am or 1am, and talked life and art, photography and music, the Utah desert and the unmatched way in which Ruess and Abbey represented it. We somehow always connected during down time, when neither of us was out chasing highs in some canyon or on some trail, along some new street or wilderness horizon.

You were that one friend I could count on to be around in the middle of the day when everyone else was off working. Not because you were a sloth, no, but because you had some obscure arrangement that allowed you to work from home. I had a similar arrangement, and so both of us were busy chasing down that dream of making art in our “free" time. And that’s what our conversations centered on: how do we do it? How can we succeed at this thing called art? How do we be altogether true to that call of the heart and make a living and be strong fathers to our children and men to our women? I always struggled with the dichotomy of it; you always reminded me there is no dichotomy.

I remember nights on your patio, admiring your handiwork and greenthumbery, drinking whiskey or playing guitars, talking. One night you strummed a song you’d written, sang it for me. And then I returned with one of my own. And then you played again, and then I returned with another. It was a moment you’d invariably call gay, but we both knew there was nothing gay about it. We basked in the summer night air and in our mutual love for good and real country music, for the storytelling lyrics of Guy Clark or Townes, both of whom sang it best: To live is to fly.

Which you did.

Just as you pushed back on my binary thinking, I pushed back on your perfectionism. I didn’t want to cure you of it, and never would I attempt to; I knew it contributed to your quality workmanship and creativity. But I’d often tell you to put your unperfected work out there, remind you that success is the end result of a willingness to repeatedly and publicly fail. And you did, but you were also ever perfecting your work, which I so respected. Each time I visited you’d show me the progress you had made on your handmade frames, on your work space in the basement, on your photo editing processes, on your website and prints.

Photo we made together as we readied for your updated website.

Photo we made together as we readied for your updated website.

I came to love that I could pop in for a visit, almost any time of day or evening. I’d bring you inconsequential gifts from time to time, you’d send me out the door with the same: a six pack, a bottle, some homegrown tomatoes, a well wish and a smile, and the unspoken appreciation for that rarest of gifts in life: a friend that understands. I can’t tell you how much I’m gonna miss our visits.

When I heard the news, I couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it. And I have to tell you that I was immediately filled with regret. It was but two or three weeks ago when we last hung out. It was midmorning, and as usual we made our way to your back patio. The springtime sunlight had that faint and aery quality. You looked disheveled as hell, yet as bright and bushy as a squirrel tail. A breeze tossed your lengthening mop of auburn hair here and there. I pulled out some tobacco and loaded my pipe. You suddenly recalled having found a pipe recently and with a grin you went into the house to retrieve it. When you returned I briefly instructed you on the art of smoking a pipe, which I’m sure you were versed in, but you humored me. And there we sat and toked and talked. You mentioned you were heading off to a photo shoot with Traeger Grills—as a model, no less. I razzed you for what I was sure would burgeon into a part-time modeling career. And then I had the strong urge to photograph you. You looked so at peace, so Mark Magleby, and the light that was on you was as beautiful a light as I’d ever seen. My cameras were in the van and I thought about asking you to wait so I could go get them and come back and make your portrait. But I second-guessed myself, worried that it would all seem gay, that I would interrupt the über-relaxed moment we were soaking in. And so instead of putting a camera between us, I stared at you and concentrated, taking in all the details and feeling of you.

That’s what I regret: that I didn’t make that photo. Because I so want it to remember you by. And it’s all I can do now to console myself with that image, that picture I captured with my heart, and construct some narrative that says the unmade photo, sometimes, is more powerful than the one that is made. You understand, right?

So now I am reeling in what I can only call the death perspective. Your influence on me, your personality, your life and particularly your unexpected passing have brought all my perspectives under scrutiny, all my behaviors up for reconsideration. I am forced in your absence and in the memory of you to reflect on how I live and how your life shaped and will continue to shape my living. And I guess that’s the key point here: living. You were one of the rare men who lived, Mark. How do I know? Well, Bukowski said it like this: “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it—basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.”

The way I see it, only the free soul truly lives, Mark, and I always felt good, very good, when I was near or with you.

Note: Two years ago I wrote an article called Real Men Remain Boys that was inspired by a trip to Havasupai. It seems fitting to attach it here, in tribute to Mark.