Tribute

wanda

Wanda Watson - July 31, 1991 - November 4, 2010

We laid beloved kitty Wanda to rest two days ago, on Thursday, November 4, 2010, after her short period of collapse — after a long and warm life of nearly 20 years.

Wanda had been my constant companion for over 17 years in 6 of my various 8 San Francisco homes. I can’t imagine living in a home anywhere without her presence, and I still hear her on the stairs and across the floor, see her sleeping in every soft place, and feel her fluffy purring as I lie and try to rest in my new quiet Wandalessness.

When I moved to Landers Street in 1993, I was separating from a relationship of five years. It was a painful and confusing time, and I found my new solo apartment thunderously silent. I went to the SF Animal Shelter and I saw her. Wanda was a young fluffy thing at 1-1/2 years old and had been abandoned by some soulless creature who never had any idea what they were going to miss over the next 17 years. She looked straight at me with her huge yellow eyes, held my gaze, and said “take me home.”

When I took her home she immediately burrowed into the mirrored cabinet corner as if she was seeking her litter. Within a few days she emerged, and began watching over me while I slept, poking my eyes and mouth and nose gently as if to see if this dream was real. After that, I could feel that she never let me out of her radar as long as I was in the house.

wanda and moya on xmas eve

wanda and moya on xmas eve

We moved quickly to a warmer tiny studio apartment on Lloyd Street, which was the home of many legends in our lives. She loved the warm perch with a sunny view, and in the studio she could always be near me. When I was not home, she retreated to a lump under my bed covers, which is the way most of my friends got to know her at first. When I approached home from way down the block, in a car or on foot, she would immediately rouse and hop out onto the fire escape to greet me. I will never cease to be amazed at how she always leapt out for me no matter what time of day or night I approached. When I came through the door, she always greeted me loudly with the Wanda(tm) yowl of cranky-sounding delight.

spike and wanda

spike and wanda

When Leanne and I moved in together on Vicksburg, Wanda first met her step-brother Spike. Spike was by all accounts an incredible, daunting, and epic animal. In many ways, there could not have been two more different beasts. While Wanda retreated during the daytime to hide under the bed or blanket, Spike trotted on the sidewalk, and waited. While Wanda’s feline fantasies struck out in the night in solitary bursts, Spike gathered her up and patiently taught her the intricacies of mousing. Spike spent at least 9 out of 9 lives exercising every bit of maximum animalness, and died early in 2003 at 9 years old, the very second the heart of our girl Lucy started beating. Wanda lived a long warm fairly quiet and very devoted life. In this way, they differed not at all: they were both devoted to us.

Even though Lucy refocused all of our time, Wanda welcomed her into our home. Wanda patiently taught Lucy how to be kind to animals, and gave Lucy a great way to learn about being gentle. She amazed us with her agility, although she was already elderly, with accepting Lucy and tolerating infant and toddler love. In many ways, Wanda really emerged after Lucy was born. She came out to play, greeted guests and total strangers, learned of the presence of several other felines in the Clinton Mews, had many caring visitors and caretakers, and generally a happy existence with us for the past several years.

wanda and lucy

wanda and lucy

Lucy has been the dearest person to Wanda in her last few days, preparing comfortable spots and sharing her sardines. Now Lucy is coping mostly internally, as I know too well, fairly capably with a mostly incomprehensible wound.

I don’t yet know what to do with the few things I kept that I can’t part with. I catch them in the corner of my eye and see Wanda. As we prepare to go out of town for the night, I catch myself walking across to make sure Wanda has enough food and water to take care of herself while we are gone. And when I come back home, there will be no cranky hello. This is going to take quite some time, but I will listen for you, Wanda, until I can realize you are frolicing with brother Spike and all the good company that came before you, letting me know I too can move on to open my heart to the next furry adventure.

free wanda

free wanda

Wanda, thank you, Wanda.  I will miss you every day. Thank you.

Louise’s Garden

A memorial, it would seem, is about the memorialized, so my own journey in figuring out how to speak at Louise Doggett’s memorial today should have been secondary to Louise herself. In the end, though, so much was said about this woman by so many different people at this great event, that it struck me how any given person is so much all about who that person touches and how they are touched. In speaking about someone who is gone, we talk about how they live on through the lives of others. Often we talk about things that maybe never actually happened, but in our memories, this was what became real through someone else’s influence. We transformed. Perhaps this is what it means to be a perennial.

My family was greatly touched by the Doggett family; for me those were especially formative years. I was honored to speak and this is some of what struck me at three in the morning about what I wanted to say today:

Let’s go back to the decade of the 1970’s, when the Watson family moved to Sacramento and met and began our long love affair with the Doggett family.

I spent a lot of time in the Doggett house on Crocker Road, and in my memory the house itself was like a garden in the wilderness. To me, it was a huge and magical place where all sorts of wild things grew.

Through the front door, when I listen I can still hear Louise calling “Victoriaaaaa” – kind of like a bird, and I can see inside the house. The piano stood just to the right when you walked in. Music was an undercurrent, like a blood flow through the house, and it seemed to me Victoria was particularly adept at playing anything at all she wanted — like “Beth” or “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

The master bedroom was to the left, which I strangely remember as being a place for foot baths (this drew much puzzlement from Victoria when I said it, so it’s clearly a piece I invented all on my own). Wendy’s room just beyond was the image of sunny lemon yellow and a matching sunny smile from Wendy. Then there was a back room with a TV that regularly played Monty Python and the Carol Burnett show, complemented by an assortment of medical books that were somehow treated like porn what with the naughty pictures in Greys Anatomy books. This seems to be the scene of many ghost tales during slumber parties in my memory too.

I don’t remember Louise hanging out in the kitchen much. The cooking I best remember in the kitchen was to create Ethel’s Sugar Cookies and Scotte’s boiled, peeled tomatoes. There was a kind of forbidden attic place where the strong and somewhat mysterious Scott had his lair.

But I spent the majority of my time with Victoria, Orangie, and Blackie in Victoria’s sunny front room.

Where was Loiuse? She was in the garden. In the huge back yard. With a hat, a basket, gardening gloves, a flowered mumu, and probably a few various forms of magic potions. And a rabbit named Petunia (or was it a guinea pig?).

Louise gave me one of the most significant relationships in my life in her daughter Victoria, and her tremendous spirit continues through the many untold passages of creativity from person to person to person. Almost like navigating through the wilderness, in a garden that she not so much tamed as tended, she wrought — and she gave — great gifts of life. What more could be said? Thank you Louise.

In the end many people spoke of many things today, and I did stand up and talk about some of the things above. Just now they seem not so much all Louise — but not so much all me. Somehow I feel both introspective and universal.

The kryptonite that bought Prop 8

via creative commons license from courosa on flickr

via creative commons license from courosa on flickr

Freeze-frame in memory from my daughter’s infancy:

She’s rolling around on the floor several feet away. I’m talking with someone on the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a tall lamp post begin to fall in a trajectory towards my daughter’s head. I leap up from the couch and my body flies horizontally, lingering in mid-air to barely intercept the lamp post before it makes contact with her head. Then everything returns to normal, I’m back on the couch, and we resume our conversation.

In fact, what was happening behind the scenes was that my body was transforming from mild-mannered “parent” into cape-clad superhero, faster than the speeding lamp post that threatened my child. Parents in particular are instinctually familiar with this state, but I have learned that these powers used in service of good are also highly vulnerable to purposeful deception when the safety of kids is involved.

In Behind the numbers of Prop. 8 today in the LA Times, David Fleischer takes us through the revealing study of just how effectively the awesome power of parental instincts was exploited to move a half a million parents to pass Prop 8 in California:

The Yes on 8 campaign targeted parents in its TV ads. “Mom! Guess what I learned in school today!” were the cheery-frightening first words of the supporters’ most-broadcast ad. They emerged from the mouth of a young girl who had supposedly just learned that she could marry a female when she grew up.

Among the array of untrue ideas that parents could easily take away: that impressionable kids would be indoctrinated; that they would learn about gay sex; that they would be more likely to become gay; and that they might choose to be gay. California voters, depending on where they lived in the state, were exposed to the Yes on 8 ads 20 to 40 times.

This deception is the kryptonite that bought Prop 8. It’s important to note that these parents are far from evil. They are not motivated by hatred, as Fleischer points out most crucially:

Another misconception was that those who voted for Proposition 8 were motivated by hate. This does not describe most of the 687,000 who changed their minds in the closing weeks. After all, they supported same-sex marriage before the opposition peeled them away. Yes, they turned out to be susceptible to an appeal based on anti-gay prejudice. But they were frightened by misinformation.

Although it is is not news to folks close to the campaign that we lost because of these school scare tactics, it’s good to see it validated in today’s report. Yet while the No On Prop 8 campaign reacted as if stunned by the explosion of kryptonite, and the other side knew all too well we didn’t have time after the ad-bombs to recoup in the dwindling days of the election, we’ve all had no excuse to not see this coming again. In fact, the exact same ads were used with success to beat gay marriage just last year in Maine.

The blame is not on the parents who are only doing what they are instinctually conditioned to do. Likewise, the solution lies not in further trickery and deception. To truly help parents continue to do what they do best is to expose these scare tactics for what they are, but sadly, the element of fear remains a top-seller in our world. I have asked myself how to neutralize this element every single day post Prop 8.