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The Author In Spite of Himself

On a wintry December night in 1990, I entered WEFT studios for the first time. Secluded along a narrow portion of Market Street in downtown Champaign, it was a radio station comprised mostly of volunteers, with an eclectic schedule and a homey interior full of CDs, records and the requisite equipment necessary to run a radio station. It was the glorious antithesis of modern radio, and I was immediately intrigued.

It was in those funky walls of WEFT that I soon met Christopher Stasheff. He was one of the many talented and unique individuals I encountered while partaking in the local radio theatre troupe. We often met, rehearsed and recorded at the radio station, and our director, Joel, would host the weekly radio theatre time slot on WEFT, wherein our efforts were broadcast. I was part of the performing group from that fateful night in December 1990, until early 1994.

During those years (which coincided with my time at high school), I would sometimes spend time at the Stasheff abode, watching TV, playing board games, or simply soaking-in a home life so unique to my own. The Stasheffs lived in a large house on University Avenue in Champaign, near one of the local high schools. The voluminous abode smelled of baked goods and, perhaps, incense? I couldn't always tell. There were costumes galore that adorned the home, products of the Stasheff matriarch, Mary.

As massive as the house was, much of my time there was spent in a comparatively small room just to the left of the main door. It was, for lack of a better term, the TV room. Cozy doesn't begin to describe it. Full of bric-a-brac, the space managed to be full of things without ever feeling too cluttered or messy. There I would be a guest of the Stasheff family and watch hours of British television -- a common interest. Blackadder was big back then. We really enjoyed the show's brand of humor.

Christopher was an author. He wrote mostly fantasy novels. His first book, The Warlock In Spite of Himself, was published in 1969, and a long and productive career followed. He was working on his Starship Troupers trilogy back when I knew him. As many of you know, I've long had a desire to be a successful, published novelist, going back to when I wrote my first short story at age eight. Meeting someone like Mr. Stasheff felt like living in a dream.

Indeed, much of the Stasheff life was, to be truthful, very desirable to yours truly. Christopher and Mary had four children. I was closest with Ed, their only son, and would sometimes just observe their home life, they way the siblings interacted, Mary's costumery, the occasional frustrations mentioned by Christopher regarding his writing. It was all a fascinating life that I'd never known. Raised as an only child, with a distant father with whom I shared barely any interests, here then was an intriguing family unit.

Bohemian, creative, boisterous, intellectual, the Stasheffs were a respite from my own relatively solitary world, a world where peers would bully me, where I shared no real interests with others, and where I felt as though I didn't belong. I didn't always know what to do with the Stasheffs, so unused was I to the notion of commonality with others. Also, I was an awkward teenager, which didn't help. Alas, those interesting days with them ended, as so many chapters in life often do, and I moved on to a new and different stage of life.

Christopher Stasheff died yesterday, aged 74. I knew he'd been ill, but was still not ready for how much of an impact his passing had on me. I'm not devastated, or anything like that, not for someone I haven't seen in over twenty years. I leave such deeply felt emotions to those who knew him best. What his death does is remind me of those years of radio theatre, of the days and evenings spent at his house, surrounded by his family, of watching him and sometimes thinking, 'This is the life.' On a personal level, that is what I mourn.

Thinking more about it, I can say that I miss his voice, that voice that somehow managed to be both slightly high-pitched. yet resonant. I miss his wry sense of humor. I miss standing next to him at our microphones, reading scripts together for a radio play. I miss that near-constant twinkle in his eye. I miss his intelligence. I miss seeing him interact with his family. These are things I hadn't thought about for decades, not until learning of his passing, the sometimes startling permanence of death being what is needed to shake loose the thoughts that laid dormant for so long.


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