by Angeliska on February 22, 2008
September 29, 1974 – February 18, 2008
A Letter From Vi
This is a letter written by Vi, sent to many of us
just as she was finishing school.
I hope it brings some comfort. Love, Jenny.
Yesterday I fell down in the subway.
I mean, all the way down, as in, to the ground, both legs in the air.
You see, I had gotten up to give someone my seat.
I wanted to give up the seat because earlier that morning, on my way
in to school, an elderly Asian woman wearing too much makeup had
given her spot to a family with small children, and I should have let the old lady
take my place. But I was busy reading about shit that happened two hundred
years ago, and I didn’t see what was happening in front of me until it was
too late. Then I felt bad. I also felt bad because my thesis is bad. Not
horrible, but mediocre. I spent a few hours trying to make it better in the
library at school, then detoured through Washington Square Park on my way
back to the bus stop when I heard the sound of drums. Not hippie drums, but
the insistent pounding of Japanese drummers. It was a students association,
and of the twenty or so kids running around in the rain wearing Japanese
garb and pounding on their instruments, at least five were awkward anglos.
I was trying not to cry in public.
There was something so beautiful about those kids cavorting in the park,
sweating and smiling, looking so wonderful and ridiculous.
It reminded me of New Orleans, but it was undeniably New York.
Then I got on the subway and tried to give my seat to a man so he could sit
next to his daughter, but my bag was heavy with books and I wasn’t ready for
the train to move and there was a split second where I didn’t know who or
where I was and I couldn’t see. Then I looked up and there were two big men
with their long arms stretching at me and I remember I wanted to stay on the
ground for a minute, but they pulled me up anyway.
And then I was laughing, because now I was the ridiculous one,
but in a good way.The man across the aisle was smiling so big,
and I know I must have looked crazy, this big somber white girl
down on the ground with both legs sticking straight up in the air.
I have felt better ever since I fell down.
I recommend it to anyone who has been feeling too heavy.
Just give up for a moment; let the gravity take you away.
Once you’re all the way down, there’s no where to go but up.
If you are reading this story, then you are one of the people
who has been solidly listening to me stress for several months now
and I want to thank you. I am so glad you are my friend.
Here is one little gift.
It’s a poem by Rumi that I remembered after my subway story.
I love this poem, and I love you,
and I hope you love each other.
The New Rule
It’s the old rule that drunks have to argue
and get into fights.
The lover is just as bad. He falls into a hole.
But down in that hole he finds something shining,
worth more than any amount of money or power.
Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing,
falling up into the bowl of sky.
The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.
Here’s the new rule: break the wineglass,
and fall toward the glassblower’s breath.
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
The speechless full moon
comes out now.
I used to want buyers for my words.
Now I wish someone would buy me away from words.
I’ve made a lot of charmingly profound images,
scenes with Abraham, and Abraham’s father, Azar,
who was also famous for icons.
I’m so tired of what I’ve been doing.
Then one image without form came,
and I quit.
Look for someone else to tend the shop.
I’m out of the image-making business.
Finally I know the freedom
A random image arrives.
I scream, “Get out!”
Only the holder the flag fits into,
and wind. No flag.
Her funeral was on a Saturday at Jacob Schoen on Canal Street, and she had a beautiful second line memorial as well:
Many of Vi’s friends and family have been
posting their stories, memories
and fond recollections in the comments
of my last entry about her here..
There are some really wonderful things there,
including the letter above (thank you, Jenny)..
All of us up here in Brooklyn miss Vi so very very much. She was a good heart, a bright light, full of such generosity and goodness. So many of my memories of her are of dancing with her to our friends playing music.
I remember her one night in Brooklyn riding her bike off into the night after seeing Stagger Back Brass band play — she had on a lacy black dress and an utterly stylish hat that would have looked ridiculous on an ordinary person, but Vi had such style.
I remember dancing with her in my backyard, in my kitchen, in JR’s kitchen and backyard, in Sarah’s, at Barbes, I remember her rubbing seltzer water and salt on me after I spilled red wine on my dress, I remember riding the train down to Coney Island with her dressed as a sailor, dressed as a fuzzy-antlered creature, at Sam and Bruno’s wedding dressed as a bride. I remember her with a bunch of money pinned to her chest on various birthdays, seeing her in new orleans dressed as a greek goddess or as a termite queen. She brought me a big bag of oatmeal cookies after my friend Brad died, and they were almost the only thing I ate for days. I don’t know if I told her that, I hope I did. I miss her friendship, her romantic advice, her phone calls.
I remember how much she loved all of her friends, and how frequently and specifically she let us know it.
It is so deeply wrong that she is gone. I love you, Vi. I miss you.
Vi audited a writing course of mine at NYU. I supervised her thesis, and we became friends. She was brilliant, generous, terribly brave, fundamentally and deeply kind, witty as hell, and genuinely talented. She was going to do great things. No — she already had done great things. I looked forward to the book I thought she would write one day. She had a big, wonderfully odd soul, a very rare soul, and this world is much the poorer for her absence.
i spent lundi gras night at mimi’s watching panorama play. i was in a quiet mood and really happy to be left alone at a table for a minute behind all the dancing people where nobody could see me. then vi came and sat down. vi had a way of checking in with me about things i really give a shit about. we never made small talk. we always talked heavily about the things around us, our community, our lives. this time we talked about her daddy. i knew him, tim, for a long time through a lot of other friends. he was part of my extended community before vi, or our shared community was. she told me about tim dying, about struggling to feel his presence or to know where to find him. we talked about his grace, his strength in death. we talked about death and where to find a person when they die. we talked about energy, and the weight of a physical beings presence. i told her about my dog, (my best friend and spiritual advisor) dying the month before and feeling dizzy when she was gone. about dreaming of he (maggie) as a giant creature i could talk to with my mind, flying through the sky. we got silly about what death could bring, about how her daddy must have loved the experience, a new adventure. and we both left feeling happier. for me, as soon as vi got up and left, i felt ok to go home, because the evening had amounted to something. i had had a real conversation, with a very real friend, about something that really really mattered. vi was special like that. we all loved her for that… shelley
There is also a flickr group for anyone
who has photographs of Vi that they
would like to share.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
Paul Bowles – The Sheltering Sky