tl;dr: so much death, so much kindness
massimo vignelli. maya angelou. a teacher. laura. all within a week. i thought they were supposed to come in threes. three. NOT four. better yet, zero would work.
i've mostly lived by the ring theory before it was a thing with a name. [mostly by accident & a little from early experience. i'm forever awkward, but i tend to grieve quietly. so that means i have less of a chance of saying the wrong thing like i do in pretty much every other situation.] but i'm about to both live by it (hello, internets!) and violate it. because i'm in pretty far out circles compared to all mourning the loss of these people. and some in more inner circles than i may read this. that is, if i even have the guts to hit "publish."
beware of a fair amount of belly button gazing below. not that you've come to expect any less from me and this blog. like the ring theory states, it's not about me. at all. even without ring theory, i know this. but for the first time in years, words are fighting to get out somewhereanywhere, so typical of me, i'm making it about me. at least here for a moment.
usually, the death of famous people doesn't really hit me deeply. i feel a tiny bit sad, yes, but not very far beyond skin deep, i admit. the news of massimo vignelli & maya angelou's passings hit me a little deeper than usual, though. both lived long lives, accomplished & contributed much, and left amazing legacies. their work and words have impacted me so; inspired me. inspired so many. their work is among the greatest & most revered, even fetishized, in their respective crafts. but like the maya angelou quote that is so ubiquitous right now, what hit me most is that both seemed such kind, passionate, real human beings that made me, and many others, feel capable and strong, even from far away.
he wasn't even 60 yet. it was sudden. i don't even really know what happened yet as i've kind of withdrawn from that community. avoidance seems to be my unhealthy coping mechanism of choice these days. so accordingly (2 adverbs in a row, talk about avoidance), while i "liked" the various tributes popping up on social media, i didn't directly engage with even my closest friends in that circle about this. it's been a few days, and i still haven't. i don't exactly know how. and it's too late. much better words & tributes via work he inspired many to produce everywhere. anything i can offer from my distant ring seems paltry. inappropriate, even.
he did great work, he was a great teacher (one of the better ones i had in grad school), he was obviously smitten by his wife & son, and he was so, so kind. i had him for one, short semester for a seminar, not even a studio. even when he wasn't my direct teacher, he was such a caring, engaged critic on any review, no matter how casual the pinup. he backed his students up. he backed his teaching partners up even while disagreeing with them. he knew himself, his principles, his own disciplinary trajectory but was also free, loose, wise enough to know to be ok with starting things from a point of not knowing everything and letting them take him where they may. he was so real and vulnerable. he showed us deeply personal, small sketches he had done daily for most of his life. when i was in a studio next door to his and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he listened & took time to give me a quick desk crit/pep talk--a student he didn't even know--at the request of another student he barely knew. this kindness i will never, ever forget.
the grad program i attended was a very toxic place. it was filled with resin, spray paint, adhesive, and sawdust fumes without proper hoods and ventilation. halfway through my first year there, they discovered one of the supply air vents that serviced our studio space was blowing in debris from the wood shop & cnc mill exhaust. i shit you not. and worse, it's toxic in the psychobabble way you were probably expecting me to bring up. the types of people this institution tends to attract are usually highly talented but with major baggage. it's filled with conceited, delusional, narcissistic megalomaniacs and the most painfully self-doubting insecure of the insecure--many times both in the same person (and lots of normal-ish people in between, too). it's competitive, full of back-stabbing, dirty politics, debauchery, adultery (literal & figurative), mind fucks, mind games, and crushing anyone and everyone else to keep from drowning under the constant, pounding waves of criticism & resulting self-doubt that just won't stop pummeling everyone. don't get me wrong--it's your high-performing, high-functioning, eccentric, enormously talented uncle who never fails to amaze and deliver; it's an amazing trip, but it can be toxic as hell.
[i obviously still haven't recovered from that trauma and am still all "you ruined my LYFE! i'm like this because of YOU!" like early 20somethings are toward their parents, even if i know it's not entirely true. i don't regret it. i learned so much, met so many amazing, non-toxic people, met toxic people who are amazing & had so much to offer if you drew your boundaries close enough/just right, grew a lot even if not in the ways i wanted or expected, have gained so many opportunities, and absolutely would not be where i am now without it. it's really not all bad and a lot of what you make it, like anything, but it's still not a wholesome, nurturing place for most, either.]
he stood above and outside of all that hot mess. he was there since nearly the beginning, i think. he survived the various shifts in power, the coups, the factions, the moves, and came out still respected by even the most irreverent young bloods.
just a couple of weeks ago, i came across his work via facebook link, of all places. it kind of applied to a project at work. while talking to my boss about the project, i brought it up. we looked it up together & enjoyed both it and its idiosyncrasies. and bonded over mutual respect for him.
a month ago, i was cleaning out my email. i only leave emails requiring a response or some kind of action in my inbox and try to file or delete all others as i answer them. the oldest one left was from him. i was supposed to pick up my lithograph plate from the final project for his class at his office down the street one day. i didn't make it & asked if i could come by another time--he said he'd either bring them to school or i could drop by any time. a month ago, i re-read it & left the email there, wondering if it was too late. if he was still holding onto what was undoubtedly a big pile of students' plates, forgotten or almost forgotten, like mine.
oh, laura. we were mostly internet friends. you guys, were, not are. i still can't comprehend this. so young. leaving behind two little girls and a man who loves her so much.
i met her only a couple of times in real life but had the pleasure of internetting with her way more often than those in-person meetings. she was witty and snarky, but she was always kind. sadly, 95% of the time i'm snarky, i'm mean and downright bitchy because, well, that's me inside. her wit & snark was definitely of a different, better cultivated, more elevated breed. but seriously, she had such a gift of saying the right, considerate words at the right time. and saying the most hilarious, witty things exactly on beat. so many in that internet group, in closer rings, have paid tribute in much better words than these, so i'll stop trying to attempt that now.
my heart hurts so deeply for her husband and her girls. i was one of her girls. well, a little older, when i lost a parent too soon. because of this and because of the strength, humor, and faith her husband has demonstrated & lived throughout everything they've been through lately, i have no doubt they will be ok, even more than ok. but i also know so deeply in my spirit and my bones what this kind of a loss is like for a young family. you're young and resilient, blessed to be surrounded by love & support, so you go on & thrive. living, living well in a way that would make that parent proud, and time does help. but all of that doesn't erase. you don't really want it to be erased anyway, as you do your best to remember & not forget.
my last direct interaction with laura was via twitter. she tweeted that she was so afraid all of her time away from home in the hospital was damaging her children. she needed reassurance they wouldn't remember this & that it wouldn't scar them forever. in a few 140-character spurts, i was able to share a little bit of my story and assure her it wouldn't. i still remember the distinct smell of my dad's hospital room, but i really have no memory of my parents being gone from home for that week or so, of being "left" at home during that time, or of any feelings of missing my parents/neglect. all i remember is my dad's quiet kindness toward every person he ever encountered, how fiercely he loved my mother, and how fiercely he loved my brother and me. i have no doubt her girls will remember most her kindness, humor, and love.