My Eulogy for Maggie Estep

My grandmother died on Wednesday at age 94. I’ll write something about her really soon, but I wanted to first post the eulogy I wrote and delivered today for Maggie Estep at her memorial service/tribute at Nuyorican. John S. Hall is a miracle and he made it all happen. It was seamless. I left before it was over because there was a little too much death for me this week, but I was so honored to be included and I’m terribly sad I missed hearing everyone. Thank you to all who came, and those who couldn’t make it. Thank you to Francis Hall aka “Faceboy” for hosting.

MAGGIE ESTEP

A few days after Maggie died, I couldn’t feel her anywhere. I’d look at her photo and think, Who are you? I can’t remember anything you’ve ever said. Everything about her had been relatable, but this last thing–dying, turned her into a sudden stranger I knew nothing about. I’d walk past my refrigerator and stare at the photo booth strips that have been hanging there for a year and feel like I was house-sitting, staring at someone else’s life and friends, wondering who they were and whether I’d like them. The harder I tried to call up my experience of her, the less of her I felt. Another thing was my confusion.  There was a strange two-dimensionality to life, like the world was made of cardboard, and everything suddenly looked flimsy, easy to disassemble. Other days I felt we’d been dolls in a dollhouse and the little kid who played with us abruptly and unexpectedly pulled Maggie out.

Maggie and I met for the first time eleven years ago. I wanted to thank her for providing an incredible blurb for my first book and we decided to meet for chai at my brother’s yoga school, where we’d discovered she and her best friend Jenny Meyer studied. Turns out we had a remarkable amount in common: two of the most important were our love of complaining and our shared birthday.  Not long after, we spent an entire summer together at Yaddo, an artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, down the road from the racetrack, where she taught me how to bet on horses, although she didn’t teach me how to win. That was the summer she started calling me Frankie and for reasons I can’t remember, I started calling her Oscar. We never called each other by our actual names, again. We talked about everything from writing and boys to recovery and religion. I wanted to know what she thought and felt about every last thing and in many ways I wanted to be just like her. Still do.

Seven months ago we were in Seattle where we did wickedly un-deviant things like turn down offers to smoke pot, leave an outdoor concert after five minutes because of the noise and “steal” handfuls of complimentary Clif, Kind and granola bars so we had our meals for the next day. We felt like batty old ladies. She couldn’t believe she was 50. Everything in our lives was funny and hard and weird, but I remember feeling so present, even when we were talking about where else we had to be, and what else we had to do. My mind didn’t wander when I was with her. I didn’t feel worried or anxious about anything else because being with her was fulfilling; it was an experience. She was brilliant and acerbic, with a caustic wit, and making her laugh felt like you’d won the big door prize, every single time. Deep within her was a rare and vital duality–she had a loud, jangly soul which led her to be wickedly acid, but really she just wanted quiet so she also kind of Zen. My 94-year-old grandmother died on Wednesday, of a heart attack. She went fast and on her own terms and yesterday as I was looking through photos of her I heard Maggie’s voice for the first time since she died. I can’t tell you what she said because it was inappropriate, and also private, but I heard the specific way she swallowed certain letters while drawing out others and then I heard her hearty punctuated laugh and realized, it wasn’t making Maggie laugh that was the door prize, SHE was the door-prize, and the opportunity of knowing her was something everyone in this room had won, and we never, ever, have to give that prize away, all we have to do is dust it from time to time.

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What Maggie Can’t Do.

Maggie died and no one knows what to do, and since doing happens no matter if you’re in bed staring at the wall, or standing under a stream of water not remembering it’s the shower, why not get purposeful about it, control the doing and name it? When people you are close to die, it shifts the way you look and feel and behave and believe, and the amount you can do about any of that is so limited that people tend to channel their energy in a set number of ways.  Some people put their efforts into organizing memorials or celebrations or events for the person, others start scholarship funds or donate something in their name. Me, I write. And cry. And stare. Sometimes I do all three at the same time. Maggie was really into her blogging and I am really into neglecting my blogging, but I’m starting to think about all the things Maggie is being denied. Apart from the people she loved who loved her, her dogs, her burgeoning real estate career, there’s writing, and more specifically blogging. She loved it; I hate it, but I’m alive and she’s not and maybe I should start doing it because she can’t. But then I think about all the things I want to write about and all the reasons I don’t, and then I forget and then I remember again. Of course there’s also yoga, which she can’t do anymore either, and which I also don’t like doing, but I’d rather blog because I hate it less than I hate yoga. I also don’t like taking my dog out at night because I live in a four storey walk-up and I’m lazy. But, that I really have to do, like right now.

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On Losing Maggie Estep

Like many, I knew of Maggie before I met her, which made her that rare person whose presence preceded her actual company. I moved toward her in increments: I read her work, I saw her perform. We shared a publisher; she blurbed my first novel, and when we finally met it was at my brother’s yoga studio where she was—quite coincidentally—a student. It turned out we liked each other instantly, and enormously, and that was before we discovered we were born on the same day which, for reasons that are invented, tend to make same-birthday people feel linked in an other-worldly way (I’m looking at you Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Spike Lee and Ovid—March 20th, all). She was sexy and ballsy and funny and smart and most of all brave and I wanted very much to be like her. The blurb she wrote for my book I envied, and wished had come from my own brain. On the inside cover of her novel, she wrote to others “Enjoy the madness” which, of course, I starting writing too, because copying is what girls tended to do with Maggie.

She and I (and also Nelly Reifler) were often put together for readings because we were all small, we assumed, but it was a great match-up. The three of us were well-suited for the stage, and it turned out, for friendship.  Maggie had a kind of magic that made those around her feel they had a kind of magic too, and it was pure luck that the 8 weeks I spent at Yaddo in the mid 2000’s was when she was there. We got to know each other well. It’s where I got my nickname Frankie and where, for reasons I don’t recall, I gave Maggie her nickname—Oscar. It’s been 7 or 8 years since I’ve said her actual name. She was Oscar, I was Frankie, we were born on the cusp, and if memory serves, she also didn’t know how to drive.

Not long after Yaddo, she invited me to a reading she was giving and I went. I remember Steve Buscemi was there, but I can’t remember the bar. It was long and narrow with wooden tables and Christmas lights strung by the foot of the stage. After she read, she announced that the next day she was moving upstate. This, I thought, was the bravest thing in the world. She didn’t even know how to drive! She was a city person! She would be all by herself! She’d never have to go to Yaddo again and then I’d REALLY never see her! I didn’t like it, but I envied her ability to sweep her doubts and worries into a dusty patch small enough for her to simply step over.

Five months ago we went to Seattle together to read in the Bumbershoot Festival. She was in a van being driven from the airport to the hotel and I was on the street, waiting for her. The van honked and I heard “FRANKIE!” from the back window. “OSCAR!” I yelled and danced right there, on the sidewalk, knowing she was behind those tinted windows. I loved the way she talked, like she’d trademarked her own accent. She flicked her r’s like mini-batons and swallowed her u’s, and when she laughed you actually heard the joy pumping out with each triggered ha-ha-ha.  There was clarity in her enunciation and reason inside her laughter.

We had a car and driver (Jason) and he drove us to the festival and along the way Maggie asked him questions, steering the conversation in one direction: are you suitable husband material and will you marry Amanda? It was clear though, to me and to Jason (who fronts a band called The Rorschach Test and is a father and arborist, and also an occasional driver) that it was Maggie he wanted, and in the spirit of compromise I proposed he marry us both. We’d move upstate with Maggie, but live in separate houses because Oscar and I needed our space, but just to be clear Jason would have to come whenever we called and do forestry things and also make us dinner. He seemed amenable to our terms. The truth is, gender and sexual preference didn’t actually matter around Maggie, invariably people always found themselves crushed out on her, not only because she was sexy but because she made you feel how you actually want to feel: cool, funny, original, worthy, awesome, smart and dazzling, and only someone who embodies those things can help someone else feel just that way.

Jason dropped us off on the side of the road, away from the festival and we felt like cargo. A few blocks later we found the entrance and wound our way through the festival worried that our event would be canceled because two people showed up. There was a VIP area and we made our way there, and would return later for free haircuts, thousands of tries in the photo booth, and to “steal” the free food so we’d have breakfast the next morning.  Off we went to find that our two-person audience was a massive line, which totally confused us, but secretly made us proud. It wasn’t until we were on stage and Maggie was reading her Zombie story that we realized the audience mistook our appearance as part of the “Marijuana Chronicles anthology ” for something that was not reading. Lessons on how literary folks smoke? Who knows, but it was weird and odd. Afterwards, we signed books and two sweet, stoned boys came up to us and asked us if we would smoke with them. We declined but asked if we could take their photo. They were just so stoned and we thought it was hilarious. Also, one would not stop hiccuping. They agreed and then gave us their information about their grow house in Utah.

We walked around the festival and saw a little bit of Deerhunter and talked more about boys and books and what we were working on and how we were working on it, and our complicated friendships and specific suffering, our dogs and of course, how old we felt. “You’re not 80,” I said. “I’m 50!” She told me. “FIFTY!  I can’t believe how fucking old I am.”  She felt old. I feel old. We all feel old, but people will say, as I’m sure they’re already saying, that she was the most alive person they’d ever met, and it’s true—she was. She was fully present in so many ways. Her laughter followed an entire life-cycle, each sound was full-throated and complete, and she seemed surprised and delighted to find herself laughing, as though experiencing her delight for the first time. She spoke from her diaphragm, and she was larger than her own body. She said what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, and you knew when she liked you because you felt her attention like an action. Maggie was action, even when she was totally still. Like now.  Even now I feel her. I will always feel her, because being around her left you marked by the experience of her, one that didn’t drop away, one that summoned a desire to be more like her, to try and embody her magic. We went back to the hotel and hugged each other hard and long, vowing to do more things together for longer. We talked on the phone and emailed a bunch, neither of us knowing we’d never see each other, ever again.

March 20th is 5 weeks away, and I’ll have to get older without her. One day, I might even pass her in age. But no matter what happens to me, or anyone, I think even Maggie would agree, that for someone who always felt old, she was far too young to die, and we were far too young to lose her.

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Page Turner Festival OCTOBER 5th!

The Happy Ending Music and Reading Series is a proud media sponsor for the PAGE TURNER FESTIVAL, presented by the ASIAN AMERICAN WRITERS’ WORKSHOP

It’s half block-party, half book-bash, with more than 60 (SIXTY!!) writers and performers and the best of Brooklyn Culinary culture. Food vendors include: Bombay Sandwich Co, Brooklyn Soda Works, Brooklyn Wok Shop, Granola Lab and Parantha Alley!

I’ll be there all day, and so should you.

Oh, P.S. It’s FREE.

Drop by Roulette and the YWCA in Downtown Brooklyn on Saturday, October 5, 2013, grab a cup of Pearl Milk Tea, chomp on a dumpling, and prepare to have your heart opened and your mind blown.

Kid-friendly, mother-approved.

Here’s the SCHEDULE of events.

REGISTER to secure a spot in one of the MANY amazing activities. Among them:

  • Make a poem booth
  • DIY screen-printing & butterfly making
  • Sound installation & video art
  • A pop-up gallery of immigrant poster art
  • Tarot card readings by novelist Alexander Chee

Come on by and MAKE DUMPLINGS ON THE SPOT. We’ll have the dumpling skins and two fillings, as well as instructions on how to wrap them. You wrap. We steam. You walk away with free dumplings. Admit it, this is awesome. 

 

AFTER-PARTY HOSTED BY ASHOK KONDABOLU OF DAS RACIST

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One Word Celebrity Interview with Will Ryman

Will Ryman is an American contemporary artist based in New York.[1] He uses found objects, consumer products, and construction materials to make large scale sculptures and installations that deal with the dualities and contradictions of the human condition. Many of his works have been influenced by the absurdist philosophy, the culture of urban street life, consumerism, and capitalism.[2]  Ryman’s work has been shown at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Inc., The Saatchi GalleryFrist Center for the Visual ArtsThe Phillips Collection, The Park Avenue Malls, and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Will Ryman is currently represented by the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York.[1]   (Ripped straight from the center of Wikipedia’s heart)

 

Will also happens to be a friend of mine. His new show, America, opens tomorrow at the Paul Kasmin Gallery at 515 West 27th Street. It’s up until March 30th. I asked Will to do One Word Celebrity Interview (which is really One Word Celebrity Answers) and he was game. So…buckle up. Ten words from Will Ryman–artist and new father.

1. First thing in the morning?

coffee

 

2. Favorite novel?

stranger

 

3. Favorite Tabloid Magazine?

post

 

4. You’re walking down the street, you see a dog on a leash waiting for its owner. You pass by again in a few hours, dog is still there. A few hours later, the dog is still there and there is no owner in sight. What do you do?

Adopt

 

5. You’re on a crowded subway and there are 4 heavily pregnant women standing. You’re sitting and want to give your seat to one of them. Which one?

heaviest

 

6. What are you most nervous about for your opening on Thursday?

people

 

7. What’s the one thing you are most glad about?

son

 

8. What do you wish never happened to you?

Vomiting

 

9. If you had to choose one piece of makeup to wear for an entire week, what would you choose?

Cream

 

10. What is the theme of your life?

ART

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More Laura….

        So, the incomparable Robert Lopez has snapped up the Laura Found a Baby story (title now changed to “The First Thing about Raising Babies”) so I’ll let you know when he puts it up, but (and I don’t think he’ll kill me) here’s a couple more lines as a teaser.  So, scroll down a couple blog posts for the first paragraph, because this is the next one…

        And that’s when Laura went and picked Pete Derry, which was the exact wrong choice. Pete Derry doesn’t even like babies or girls. He likes Little League and video games and he isn’t even good about sharing because he never gives me a turn at anything.  Pete Derry doesn’t even like his own baby brother! Laura said that was different because that baby was a brother and this baby was a daughter, and those are not the same things.  Pete didn’t want to be the baby’s dad, but his father said he had to. He said, it’s the right thing to do.

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