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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remembering Cheryl B.

I'm too sad to be coherent at the moment. Maybe it was naive or stupid or just wishful thinking but I was sure Cheryl would pull through. And I didn't let myself think too much about the fact that she might not, I just couldn't, though maybe part of being an adult is facing that. I didn't visit as often as I could have, but I thought of Cheryl often the past few months.

When I visited her a few months ago she showed me the honey badger video, which I hadn't seen, and then right after that I saw this t-shirt on my coworker's desk, and ordered one and gave it to Cheryl. When I got to the ICU, I was struck with this feeling of stupidity; maybe she would have to just wear a hospital gown and I shouldn't have gotten it. I realize now that I let my fear of not knowing what to say, of being nervous and uncertain, get in the way of telling my friend how much I cared about her. I hope to never be in that situation again but if I am, I'm gonna get over myself, and right now I'm trying to both take care of myself and not just wallow in sadness, reach out to my friends and loved ones, and live life as fully as Cheryl did.

But you know what this reinforces for me? "Everything happens for a reason" is total, complete bullshit. There is no reason for this to have happened and the only positive things I can say are that I'm glad Cheryl is no longer suffering, and sharing memories about her and just "I'm sad/mad too" sentiments is...something. Not heartening and not cheerful but comforting, I guess.

Anyway, I'm sitting in Starbucks at Grand Central, surrounded by bags of stuff that feel really useless, crying and blowing my nose and traversing the internets, after having fallen asleep so hard on the train a stranger had to wake me up to tell me we were here. I got some coffee and am trying to edit other people's stories but can't seem to get anywhere.

Speaking of my stuff, tomorrow my organizer is coming over for a session. I was supposed to have either bought a dresser or gotten rid of the 4 giant bags of clothes we gathered for giving away a few months ago. I haven't done either yet. But it reminds me of this one time Cheryl brought her cat over to help catch mice. The cat got lost in my two bedroom apartment and we were looking all over and it was crazy hot. We found dollar bills that had been eaten by mice and I think Cheryl was a little annoyed that her cat might have gotten lost in my home (we found the cat under my bed, caught in the netting). "This place looks like a crack house, and I would know," she said. It was funny but caustic, and, yes, true (well, I'm gonna assume it's true, never having been in a crack house). I think she'd like to know that I'm gonna part a little more freely with some of my stuff, at least, I hope I will. The stuff that matters is what's on the inside. I know that, much as I might surround myself with belongings, and I hope to be someone who privileges people over possessions. That's part of my goal in this year of transformation.

I wanted to share this beautiful tribute to Cheryl Kathleen Warnock of Drunken! Careening! Writers! wrote. DCW is a pioneering, amazing reading series and I'm posting details about Thursday's reading there. My favorite part of Kathleen's post:

She had a dayjob until a couple years ago, then got downsized along with a significant chunk of the American workforce. She pieced out a living from freelancing and editing (she was a very good editor), and while the unemployment was difficult, it was hardly a period of lying fallow. She got a lot of writing done, and her name appeared on a lot of articles and blogs, and when she came to DCW, she read pieces of her memoir, which she called “When I Knew Everyone on Avenue A.” There was a piece about when she decided not to drink anymore. A piece about her father throwing a plate at her across the dinner table. She performed in a multi-media piece downtown with some other poets at the Flea Theater, in an evening curated by Regie at full glamour. It was marvelous.

We saw each other often, at readings, panels, birthdays, the occasional “at home” at her apartment in Brooklyn, where a salon of queer divinity often reigned. While the accent was on queer, it was talent that got you in the door with Cheryl, and labels were the last thing she judged you by. As someone who had identified as bi, she occasionally took some pushback from people who demanded she pick one side or the other. She told me once a guy asked her what PERCENTAGE she was (which seems to me just the kind of question a lot of guys would ask) and she said answered: “75/25 women/men” and then commented that she answered so quickly, she knew it was true.


Is that not a brilliant memoir title? I hope we get to read it. From Cheryl's site:

When I Knew Everyone on Avenue A is Cheryl B.’s personal, irreverent take on New York City in the 1990s. In this humorous one-woman spoken word/storytelling presentation, Cheryl offers up bits of her twenty-something existence; logic-defying relationships, sexual bewilderment, artistic experimentation, fleeting friendships, the death of her father, high doses of self-medication and ultimately, sobriety. While in the background, some of her beloved NYC haunts fade into relics.

This is an amazing lineup - I'm looking forward to reading Bob Smith's novel Remembrance of Things I Forgot, which has been waiting for me in its beautiful hardcover, beckoning me.

Drunken! Careening! Writers!

Isa Coffey

Joel Derfner

Jenifer Levin

Bob Smith

"Glitter and Be Gay"

Thursday, June 23, 7pm

KGB Bar

85 E. 4th St.

FREE

Kathleen posted this video of Cheryl reading and it's so quintessential Cheryl. She had this tough girl voice and style of reading, even though she was wiry and didn't "look" tough. She was one of the first slam poets I saw read. When I first met her, she wasn't sober, and I don't know how much to say about that, plus that was a looooong time ago so some details are fuzzy, but we always laughed about one particularly crazy encounter with a boy who is long forgotten. Anyway, enjoy this video:



And I found the photo below at Sugarbutch Chronicles, taken by Syd London, of Cheryl looking as fierce and glam and gorgeous as she could.

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3 Comments:

At June 19, 2011, Blogger Kathleen W. said...

Thanks Rachel, for your own beautiful post. I love how her cat got lost in your apartment, and I can just hear her saying that.

 
At June 19, 2011, Blogger Bill Scurry said...

Great piece, Rachel. I only met Cheryl a few times, but she seemed an estimable lady. Her courage in the face of cancer only burnished per legend to me.

 
At June 19, 2011, Blogger heather gold said...

You are so right: how could there possibly be a reason for this?

I feel lucky to have known Cheryl a little and performed with her and angry and sad at how unfair and hard to believe this is.

 

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