beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,
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beamjockey

Higgins's Lives of the Fans #4: Mary Lynn Skirvin Johnson

[Another in a series of essays about science fiction fans I know.

Previous Leon Higgins's Lives of the Fans:
Introduction. Alice Bentley. Phil Foglio. Steve Collins.

Written in 2010 for the program book of Musecon 0 near Chicago, a convention devoted to hands-on creativity, which featured Mary Lynn as Guest of Honor.]

drawing by Bill Higgins

My Curious Friend, Mary Lynn Skirvin Johnson

by Bill Higgins

Will we ever have as much fun again as we had in 1979?

That was the year I met an energetic young woman who could draw, write, organize a convention, and critique long-ago TV series. Her specialty was fabulous creatures: dragons, centaurs, griffins, and the occasional Pegasus. They looked real; years of careful observation had taught her how animals and birds are put together. (Riding horses and working at the Indianapolis Zoo might have helped, too.)

Mary Lynn at the Last Moment, wearing her "human clock" shirt on New Year's Eve, as 2009 ends.

I learned that she could do fancy old-fashioned lettering-- calligraphy. I showed her the novel Canticle for Leibowitz. Centuries after a nuclear war, scribes preserve documents from the past, not understanding them but hoping that future generations will puzzle them out. From a few words of description, she brought Walter Miller's circuit diagram to life-- illuminated, in medieval style, with vines entwining the wires, parts list called out in handsome script, and cherubs unscrolling blueprints. I was delighted.

Mary Lynn made hundreds of prints. They hang on lab doors, over workbenches, and on cubicle walls all over the Technoculture. Print Number One hangs proudly in my own house. The original art she presented to Todd Johnson. She was already in love.

For 25 years she has been married to Todd, who is equally amazing in his own way,* and I never tire of hearing about their adventures. Their home is full of relics signifying science, art, technology, history, and just plain fun.

How many husbands would buy their wives a theremin kit? How many wives could solder it together, and have it work perfectly the first time power was switched on? One can only say "Wowwwwww!"

In the Eighties, we all lived in the same West Chicago apartment complex, ordering mushroom-and-pepperoni pizza from Pal Joey's across the parking lot. I remember teaching Mary Lynn how to program a Texas Instruments computer to display graphics. She learned quite rapidly. She always does.

And she kept learning. Nowadays she plays Bo Peep to a whole flock of Windows computers, many of which she assembled herself, plus scanners, cameras, tablets, and so forth. Naturally, she has become a whiz with Photoshop.

Curiosity drives her. Mary Lynn's remarkable mind is a sponge for knowledge. She'll get interested in a topic, and plunge into it, surrounding herself with a cloud of books, pictures, and Web pages. Three weeks later, she'll have an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

In the years that I've known her, I've watched her learning airbrushing; sculpting polymer clay; building up fuzzy little animal heads using a felting tool; learning machine-shop skills by building mock rayguns and real laser rifles; helping Todd make home holograms; fabricating fabulous costumes; building museum exhibits and, just as important, repairing them when they break; becoming a genealogical researcher (turns out that having four names runs in Mary Lynn Skirvin Johnson's family...); even puppeteering for robotic comedians. Those are just a few examples.

Sometimes I think Mary Lynn is ready to make anything. If she doesn't know how, she'll darn well find out.

And she is generous with her talents. Over and over again, I have seen her befriend other artists; swapping tips, sketches, techniques, and jokes with them, she has encouraged even the shy ones to blossom.

She's great with children, working side by side as they draw animals together. They love her, and who can blame them?

She loves the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and returns there often. Get her talking about hunting copper nuggets, or picking thimbleberries, or exploring the ruins of mines, or the forested hilltop property she and Todd own up there.

She has always been good at hunting down bargains, searching flea markets and hamfests for the peculiar sort of items that interest her. When Ebay came along, she learned to become an expert navigator of its byways. Mary Lynn taught me that, starting on Ebay's search box, typing "strange" or "odd" or "weird" (or misspellings such as "wierd") will often lead to unexpected treasures.

She keeps an eye out for opportunities. Not only did she buy a meteorite from the Park Forest fall on Ebay, but after a visit to the seller, she wound up owning a piece of the roof the meteorite damaged.

The past three decades of my life would have been MUCH less interesting if I hadn't met Mary Lynn Skirvin Johnson. I look forward eagerly to seeing what new things she'll learn about, and what wonderful things she'll make, in the years to come.

So during Musecon, if you run across a bundle of creative energy underneath a big black cowgirl hat with a raccoon tail, say hello. Chances are good that you'll learn something.


Mary Lynn and the Satellite of Love. After MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 went off the air, she acquired the show's spacecraft model, and restored its appearance.



*An account of Todd's many talents would be too lengthy to recount here.
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