A fellow producer on Women’s Magazine whom I’d known through feminist and queer activism for over 25 years died last Sunday. We were not close, but we had gotten a bit closer over the course of her struggle with lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain.
|Yvette posted this photo on the Individual Initiatives|
for Nuclear Disarmament website
It so happened that she died the morning of an event which had been planned in her honor, to raise money for supplements and ayurvedic therapies not covered by her insurance. It morphed into a lovely memorial, and I usually don’t like memorials. Singers chose songs that meant something special to Yvette, or that they thought articulated something about her. Poets had written things specially for her (one particularly nice one about the monster backpack she always carried).
Memorials always make me think about my own life, and whether I’m doing what I want to do in the world and living the way I want. Especially when the person was relatively close to my age (I’m 52, Yvette was 63), it’s a wake-up call that I might not have as much time as I think to become the person I want to be.
Yvette and I were extremely different. I’m shy and self-conscious; she was a champion “networker” (my friend Chaya said the first time she heard that word used was in connection with Yvette). She didn’t work for money much, preferring to live off the grid. She housesat – if fact she housesat for me the first couple times I went to Palestine. She ate at the events she went to, or at the food pantries where she volunteered; where she got the little bits of money she spent on food from the Discount Grocer, laundry and the occasional play or movie she couldn’t get comped to, I never knew. She went to every political or cultural event she could cram into a week, often volunteering in exchange for getting in free. She volunteered at the Arab Film Festival, the South Asian Film Festival, the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, the Queer Arts Festival, dozens of other festivals I never heard of. She cared especially about Palestine solidarity, Africa (she spent the nineties traveling through much of Africa, living in ten different countries), and disabled women’s issues. She went to parties and lectures and discussion groups. We used to joke that she was like Zelig, turning up everywhere you went. She would always sit in the very front and as soon as the event was over, if she liked it, she would be introducing herself to the speakers or performers, getting their numbers, recruiting them for events she was working on.
It was a talent I both envied and found irritating. A lot of my friends felt she never gave them the time of day because they weren’t important enough. I felt that way myself at times. Yet on a deeper level, I think all that networking left her lonely. Everyone called her friend – in the last five years, just about everyone I ever told, “I work on Women’s Magazine on KPFA,” would answer “Oh, I’m friends with Yvette.” She had a steady stream of women – mostly women, the occasional man – visiting her in the hospital and then the nursing home. Yet when she checked herself into the hospital the first time, thinking she was having a stroke, and got the dreadful news about her diagnosis, I’m pretty sure she was all alone. It was we at Women’s Magazine, who didn’t know where she’d grown up or how many siblings she had, who rallied around to raise money for her treatment and living expenses, and set up a website for people to help with rides and meals. And when we said we wanted to do that, she was truly surprised. On some level, I think she had no idea how much people cared for her.
The last time I saw Yvette, we were talking about the benefit that was coming up. She wasn’t even sure if she was going to be able to make it but she was very worried that the food wouldn’t be consistent with her all-organic, whole grain no salt or processed sugar diet. She wanted me to make sure there was plenty of food and that she’d be able to eat it. (As it turned out, the organizers decided not to have food at all. I kept thinking that Yvette’s spirit was deeply disappointed in me.)
The biggest difference between Yvette and me, I think, is that I believe she loved every minute of her life. I like my life but I’m always angst-ridden about what I have to do and whether I’m focusing on the right things, whether I’m doing enough and whether I have the skills to do what’s really valuable. I have to fight with myself to get myself to focus on writing and radio, and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, who even reads or hears this stuff? I worry that people judge me for spending eight hours a day at a stupid job that doesn’t contribute anything useful to the world, but maybe it’s that I judge myself for making that choice, so I can have material security and health insurance. Even the activities I’m the most excited about I often approach with some level of dread. I have recurring fantasies about disappearing from my life, just finding somewhere to hide out for a while.
I never got the sense from Yvette that she had any such doubts, or that she ever got up thinking, “I wish I didn’t have so much to do today.” I might be wrong, but my impression is that until she got too sick to make it to the events she wanted to go to, she looked forward to every day. And that, I think, was her true gift.