(originally posted 3 March 2009, livejournal)
Elizabeth Appling, for the uninitiated, is the founder of the San Francisco Girls Chorus. She is also a great many other (impressive) things but, to myself and several hundred other once-young women, she is the creator and founder of what was, for many of us, our entire world.
If my mother instilled in me stubbornness, Elizabeth is the one who honed that into dedication. If I from somewhere inherited neurosis, Elizabeth forged that into perfectionism.
Elizabeth showed us who we were by bringing us up against seemingly impossible challenges. If she ever doubted the ability of one of us to memorize complex melodies in Czechoslovakian in 24 hours, she never showed it. We were never children, we were never coddled. We strode confidently onto stages, into city halls, before queens and presidents, never doubting our abilities.
She showed us the great equalizer – we were all powerless before music. If we weren’t properly conveying the emotion of a given passage, she would sit us down and tell us a story. These stories could take up a quarter of our rehearsal time … they were mesmerizing, and incredible, and never failed to achieve the goal Elizabeth had set out – the goal of getting 50 girls under the age of 17 to express sensuality, or the bitter grief of death.
My first 5 years in the chorus before being promoted to Concert Group, I lived in terror of Elizabeth. A woman who would cut off hair that covered the eyes if it wasn’t dealt with by dress rehearsal. A woman who reduced girls to tears for lack of preparation.
I was never so terrified as my first camp (a two-week memorization intensive with evening activities with names like “mandatory fun”). My first direct exposure. I had never worked so hard…but I learned how hard I can work. And, over the course of my three years in the Concert Group, I learned something for more important; a lesson that can only be learned by experience. That is this – that, for the things that matter in this world, attention to detail, preparation, compassion, and care will serve. They are the best things we can do for ourselves. They show others what it is of which we are capable and, more importantly, they show us, ourselves, what it is of which we are capable.
If I can walk into any room of any group of people and know they are my equals, it is because of Elizabeth. Make no mistake – I do not refer only to presidents and queens. I refer to children, to seniors, to the homeless and the rich, and the sick, so very often, the sick, who are so healed and enriched by music… they drink it up more thirstily than anyone else, and sickness is the other great equalizer.
My dedication to what I do, my perfectionism and attention to detail, allow me to find equals everywhere.
Of all of my memories of Elizabeth, I hold one dearer and closer to me than the others.
We were all in rehearsal, on October 17, 1989. We were in the basement of the first Unitarian church on Franklin Street, had just finished singing in a circle around the room. The earthquake struck as we walked back to the risers. As I dove under a riser, convinced I was going to die at 14, I saw Elizabeth, back ramrod straight on her conductor’s stool, quietly observing the chaos as a grand piano slowly made its shaky way across the floor.
Once the shaking subsided, we went upstairs and continued the rehearsal in the courtyard.
I don’t know what Elizabeth was thinking as the earthquake struck. I know only that, in my deepest moments of chaos, I remember that straight back, that calm observation, and I try desperately to emulate that.
It has been more time than I care to recall since I first met Elizabeth, at my first audition, in 1983. I sang “Tomorrow”. She later asked how I managed to get in singing that song. I remember noticing her nerves, at the first Davies Hall Christmas Carol sing-along. I felt so guilty missing my first one, in 2008, as though someone, somewhere, were still tallying my perfect attendance record.
And I remember, with surprising accuracy, the shock of being granted my very first solo, to be sung at my last Davies Hall as a chorister, in 1990. My legs trembled as I sang my verse of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” in front of 3,000 people, but I knew I could do it, because this amazing, powerhouse of a woman had faith in me.
I wish more people had had an Elizabeth in their lives. I wish more people had learned personal responsibility, and pride in their work before they graduated high school.
I count myself so, incredibly fortunate to have had this Elizabeth in my life when it mattered most.
Her belief in me, the expression on her face when I sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria” publicly for the first time, come with me on every audition, and further, help to quell any doubt I could have in my abilities.
There is no way to give back to such a woman, such a force, than to live well, with dedication, compassion, and just a touch of perfectionism.
SFGC singing at the inauguration:
(originally posted 21 February 2010, livejournal)
Ben needs no introduction.
On the one hand. On the other hand, writing about Ben is much like writing about one of my limbs. How much do I talk about it, or think about it? Sing its praises? And yet how much do I take it for granted, how would I have to live if it were gone, how can I even begin to comprehend its worth?
I have known Ben half my life. We met through the internet, back before the world wide web, on a BBS system that was responsible for so many of my friendships; that still is.
Ben was a somewhat reserved guy, an observer of the situations around him who waited until he was certain of his audience before unleashing the blackest, most incredible humor I’ve ever been thrilled to witness. To this day, the victims of his farfetched deadpan will ask me what happened to his motorcycle racing career, how his trip to Zanzibar was.
So it has come to pass that I’m forced to look at a life without a limb, or at least, a limb that’s gone to sleep (ok, it’s time to give up this analogy).
Soon, Ben will be more than a short drive in the middle of the night away. He will be 3 hours ahead, hysterical midnight phone calls for me will be groggy, if answered, 3 am phone calls for him.
I can’t bear the thought of it. A conscience-angel on my shoulder, quite possibly the only person in this world who understands my definition of right and wrong.
Ben is a fierce, unintentional guardian of my definition of not only right, but of what is appropriate to do in any given situation. Even before he joined the World’s Worst Club, he knew when it was and was not appropriate to make dead mom jokes. He has never, once, looked at me with death-face and said “How are you holding up?” He has know, inherently, that humor and distraction and the rare willing ear are what’s most necessary in times of great grief.
Ben and I have become adults together. Slowly, painfully, ploddingly and as surely as the sunrise, we have grown older, and with each other as a balance. If I have mistreated another human being, I have had to meet Ben’s eyes and face my own shame in them.
I think also, secretly, that our friendship is the reason that neither of us felt the need to commit to a serious, grown-up relationship until it was 100% the right one. Or, as close as one can get in this world. He is such an amazing companion that I never had to settle for lesser companions and, on the occasions that I have, knowing I’d have to look him in the eye afterward was enough to straighten me out.
When I was in college, and we lived across the park from each other, we would order pizza and hang out at 1 in the morning.
When I was miserable in New York, he came to get me and drove back with me. Then we were roommates, a golden time in our friendship, and then, for years, just one Bay away.
There are a millions stories about why Ben is significant to me, and the fact that he accidentally met his long lost sister on a dinner date is not one of them.
He is the most bizarrely lucky person I know. He always finds rockstar parking, we won front row seats to WWE and met the Big Show and Jeff Hardy, but this was overshadowed when he met his sister the next month.
I first met Alan & Elaine (Ben’s parents) my first year of college at a long-gone restaurant called Tre Fratelli. With some chiding, I nervously sang for Ben’s parents (Met season ticket holders) outside the restaurant. From that moment forward, I inherited another set of parents. Alan is a bear of a man, a wonderful father. Elaine was…well, Elaine was the perfect mom. I have cards from Alan & Elaine signed “Love, Mom and Dad”.
When Ben told me that his mother had pancreatic cancer, my heart broke. It is one thing to experience a thing. It is quite another to watch as one of the people in the world to whom you are the closest goes through the worst thing in the world (or, as I like to say, the worst thing in the world so far), knowing pretty much exactly what they are feeling and knowing that there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.
When Ben was home with Elaine, I asked him to put her on the phone. I knew that she could no longer speak, but I told her that, if she had to go, I would take care of Ben, that she didn’t need to worry about him. I don’t know if I ever told Ben that that’s what I said to his mother.
When it came time for the funeral, I went to North Carolina with dirt from my mother’s grave, and placed it in hers.
Ben is my chosen brother, my non-sexual lifemate.
Today, he leaves this coast for the East Coast. Though I’m incredibly sad, I know this is right – he will be with the only woman in this world who is right for him, making a life for them out there that isn’t possible here. Naturally, selfishly, I am sad to see him go. But the deeper part of me knows that this doesn’t affect real friendship, that distance is nothing, and that this can’t change the promise I made to Elaine.
Take good care of him, New York. You’re getting one of my favorites.
(written 26 April 2012)
This is a gray area. But I’ve made my own rules and have decided that you are still alive, especially as the process to carry you on in the forms of others has not yet begun. So I will say… you are the brightest light I know. I can’t remember the first time I met you…but I know the place you held in my mind from the beginning. If I visualize people in my mind, some are lush grass, a part of the landscape. You are a bright white light, a point to which I am drawn over and over, a happy moth.
When it fell to me to find a new venue for the Thunderdome Fundraiser in 2006, though I didn’t know you very well, I knew enough. I knew you would make a good impression. I knew you would be warm and welcoming. I knew you would have my back without overpowering the situation. I trusted you implicitly. And, even when it became apparent that we were at no risk of being swindled, you maintained genial professionalism until after we left the building. I knew at that moment that I had an ally. I didn’t know the quality of friend I had just inherited.
From that point forward, you were a confidante and, slowly, a favorite carousing buddy. Your rare combination of intelligence and humor sparks everyone you know. We are all pulled in by your brilliant wit, and we stay close to be in proximity of your wise words and, often in my case, shop talk.
Our friendship has grown over the years to a level I never anticipated. Our most recent conversations about the nature of relationships, of the evolution of friendships, will always resonate deep within me. I am honored to be evolving with you into this new world, this new way of being – of deepening friendships not based on intoxication only but on creation, of big concepts and ideas that we are finally able to bring to fruition. Thank you for being with me and talking so openly about our entrance into the next phase of our lives. Knowing that you will be there with me for it makes me feel less alone in a world in which I have increasingly little faith.
Basking in the warmth of your glow is like sitting outside at one of our barbeques, warm in the sun. Being the focus of your attention is to know that I have done something right. The thoughtful gifts you have given me over the years speak volumes of what you learn about people while you seem to only be drinking with them. I will never forget the time the birthday cd you gave me accidentally played through the speakers at work. My headphones on, oblivious, rocking out to what I had requested (“ass rap”), playing “My Dick” for my entire office. I’ll never forget how excited I was to relay the story and hear your ridiculously infectious laugh.
Our recent months of puzzling have meant the world to me. Evenings spent laughing, no libations necessary, giggling and doping the cat into the wee hours while we worked on puzzles with too many people in a totally impractical way. We called ourselves old and boring but it’s the way I can see myself growing old with friends.
No regrets about any part of our friendship. I know you love me. You know I love you. I have spent more time with you in the last six months than in the first years of our friendship combined, and you know I have cherished every moment.
Our future plans weigh heavily, but the memory of your laugh will lighten the load.
With unspeakably heavy heart and love,
At Burning Man 2011, as you know… I was faux-raping people. I accidentally gave you a fat lip, and you refused to wipe off the blood because you knew how terrible it would make me feel if you left it.
(Addendum 28 April 2012 – Marci told me that the two of you bought tickets to see the movie, and you didn’t tell me. Thank you for supporting me, even now.)
(originally posted on LiveJournal, 4 December 2008)
It is impossible to write about Chris Reeves without a smile on my face and either a cup of coffee or flask of brown liquor at the ready.
Chris and I were trying to determine the other day when it was we first met. We never pinned down the exact date or circumstance, other than that it was sometime in 1994 and that we were fast friends.
Chris is a wonder, a phenomenon, a vessel of pure emotion, and that emotion is typically joy.
He is the reason my parents opened their eyes to my strange-looking friends because, although I may have made many poor choices later, Chris was the first freak I brought home and the first one my mother trusted.
Chris knows my true self. Whether it is because he met me at a time before I knew how to hide it or because his natural openness doesn’t allow for any falsity, I couldn’t say. Either way, his open smile, easy laugh, cruelty-free honesty and ability to put things into clear perspective, a perspective whose worth is deepened by his long-term knowledge of my life, make him among my most valued friends.
Chris laughs at my jokes. I tell a lot of them, most of them not really funny, and often a simple whistling in the dark that I hardly expect anyone else to understand. He laughs either because he’s easily amused or because he understands the roundabout path my mind took to get to the joke in the first place. I suspect it’s the latter. A friend like this is rare to come by, in my world. Most just look at me with a bemused smirk; Chris laughs openly and long, unaffected.
I still have the card he wrote me on my 20th birthday – the closest I ever came to a crisis of age, my first realization that youth was, indeed, fleeting, and that I was marching inexorably on to young adulthood. I couldn’t have known then that the words he chose would provide such solace in the unspeakably difficult years immediately following that birthday.
He also gave me my first length of toilet chain. This may sound strange to some of you, but those of you who know to what I refer are smiling right now. As if to say, or exactly to say “You are of my tribe,” Chris bequeathed me a chain (ever mistaken by little old ladies as pearls) that I wore for years, and years, until, on the bus one day, I gave it to a kid who asked my companions and I if we were “gothics”. Chris is not attached to “things”, and so I was far more attached to the gesture than to the chain, and later replaced it with a strand purchased from a hardware store (they now sell these for $5 or more at hot topic).
Chris introduced me to a definition of family the likes of which I had only previously dreamed, hoped for, grasped at unknowingly in the darkness. His inappropriate crush on my mother notwithstanding (and, in retrospect, I suspect my mother must have reciprocated on some level – despite his numerous, since-removed, piercings, he is just that charming), Chris remains dear to me throughout the years, despite distance and time. He helped me to understand, by living example, the kind of tribe I wanted, and would spend the rest of my life cultivating.
(Originally published in my personal blog 11 April 2012)
Writing as I would were this Leslie’s eulogy is impossible. For one thing, I can’t conceive of a world without her. My world has been rife with her for 20 years; a world without her does not and cannot exist. For another, I wouldn’t be able to function were such a thing to come to pass. I killed her once, in a drama class exercise, and called her immediately after, hysterical and apologetic. And, finally, I have every intention of dying first – someone has to pick through this vast shoe collection with Irene.
We met in Catholic school, where some of the best friendships start. It took us years to get to the point of hanging out and, to be honest, I can’t remember how it came about. I do know that we went to Santa Cruz and sat on the beach during Spring Break.
It was April 20, 1992 – go figure, the anniversary of our friendship on that date at a time when Leslie’s theme song was “Goody Two Shoes”.
She was then much as she is now – a stalwart friend, graced with the chosen innocence that comes with insisting on the best in people. It’s not that her world hasn’t had the sorrows and griefs and cruel awakenings that come to all of us – it’s that, somehow, she manages to believe that these are the aberrations, rather than taking the easier path of so many of us letting cynicism win and thinking that what is good is a fluke.
She always believed in love, and that it meant being treated well. The light of this belief shone through into one of my most abusive relationships – a high school drama, when I was still young and stupid enough to believe that that kind of miserable passion was a measure of strength of affection.
Nothing is real until I tell Leslie – verbalizing things to her is how I come to understand most of my own feelings about anything that matters. And so, by design or by accident, my friendship with Leslie saved me from far more egregious mistakes – how will I tell her this??
The Summer after high school, she brought me to my first goth club; Through the Looking Glass, an all-ages club at Thunder Bay. I credit her with showing me my people. Despite the distance (she went to school in Portland and I was in San Francisco), the next four years we grew up together, summering at my apartment and clubbing every night before heading to our financial district jobs in the morning, trying on the clothing of adulthood without realizing we were paving the way for our own unique, eventual path there.
We fought, once…I’m not certain what it was about, now, except that we had spent weeks traveling together and I brought a boyfriend…either would be strenuous on a friendship but the combination of both required a break shortly afterward.
All I know is it was 1996, the year my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Leslie and I hadn’t spoken for a few months, but I couldn’t bear the news alone and I called her without a moment’s hesitation.
Despite both of us being too young to experience anything like this (and, being older now; one is always too young), Leslie stood with me every step of the way.
We have grown up together. Despite the fact that our lives are very different on paper, we end up learning the same lessons at almost exactly the same time – how to be in a grown-up relationship. How to balance a career and another passion. How to grow in a grown-up relationship. How to deal with confrontation.
Leslie’s practicality has tempered my unreasonable flashes more times than I can count. We have become friends who can talk about any perceived slight without ego. Leslie has shown me that it is possible to be a parent – an amazing parent of twins – and still retain adult friendships with people without children. By never responding to my “I’m tired” or “I’m busy” with a scoff about how it doesn’t compare to her own hectic life of mothering and a career, she has raised the bar and set a standard, simply by living her life.
This is so much of who Leslie is to me – not by emphatic preaching and wordy monologues (I’ve cornered the market on that in this particular friendship), but by simply living a life in which she believes, Leslie inspires me daily to be a better human being. And, if I can’t be better, I can at least attempt to be the best, most honest version of myself.
Every performance, every high and low in life, Leslie has ridden that roller coaster with me. Her unflagging faith in me has gotten me through my darkest times.
Once, we were in San Francisco, crossing the street. I must have been particularly glammed-out that day – a man saw us crossing the street and said to Leslie, “Is she famous?” Leslie, without missing a beat, said “Yes, she is”. Despite knowing me for 20 years, Leslie sees me as I want to be seen. Conversely, Leslie will not hesitate to say when, while there is no such thing as an overreaction, I might have handled things better. To say that she knows me better than I know myself is not, in this case, an exaggeration. She knows how I will respond, if at all, to various pieces of news, often predicting it in a way I never would, and with frightening accuracy. In anyone else it would be discomfiting – with Leslie it is an immense comfort. It’s how she knew I would want her childhood Peter Rabbit; while she is sentimental, she is not in the habit of developing physical attachments to inanimate objects. It’s an inspiration to my cluttered world, and is part of why, while she’ll get a physical copy of this Living Eulogy, as has every recipient, I will understand if she only refers to the one online.
We are friends with people because they reflect things in us that we like, to which we aspire. Leslie, on your birthday, thank you for 20 years of growing, laughter, unflagging honesty, and the best friendship in the world. Thank you for showing by example and by faith in me and in the world what a beautiful world this can be.
(Originally posted 21 October 2008.)
All content and concept created by Marisa Lenhardt unless otherwise stated. Copyright laws apply.
Or “fuck this shit”.
The best and truest things I ever hear about my friends and family are after their passage from this earth. No more.
Living eulogies. Written at a time when we are not confused as to whether or not we should use the present or past tense, when people are living to appreciate them.
I encourage you to write your own. I plan on writing several, many, hopefully, as the mood strikes, never to placate anyone, or for response. Simply to have Out There, because it is important that people know.
My first is about Heather
What is there to say about a woman about whom there is never a negative word to say?
Only the truth.
Heather is an incredibly true friend. She is an incredibly true person all around and to all whom she encounters but, if you are lucky enough to call her friend, she will be the truest of these you have.
She delivers advice without sugar, friendship without falsity, insult without bile. She brings class to the term “classy bitch”, and will have your back with claws and brawn in a fight.
She will say the same thing behind your back as she will to your face, good or ill, without apology.
She has accomplished, and continues to accomplish more with silence, strength and grace than most people manage to do in years of crowing about intentions. She does what she sets her mind to without pride or insecurity and hones whatever craft to which she sets her mind to perfection.
I am honored to call her my friend. I say this for many reasons. Chief among these is that Heather has what she likes to call “enough fucking friends”. She is not interested in a popularity contest, in racking up the numbers of her friends, in having everyone in the room know her when she walks in. If she makes a new friend, it is because she has sought them out, has seen something in them that she cherishes. She doesn’t suffer fools, idiots, people who waste her time, or dishonesty. Anyone with whom she chooses to spend her time does so with the knowledge that they can’t have gotten there without doing something right within their own lives.
Heather, this first Living Eulogy is for you. Thank you for letting me ride with you.
(Marisa, Irene, Heather @ Port Costa – the ride where Irene told us she was pregnant.)