Friday, March 13, 2015
This week I attended the memorial service of Susan O'Malley. She was one of my forthcoming authors, an amazing social practice artist, and the best friend of a dear friend of mine. But most of all Susan was an absolutely magical human being. She died young and while pregnant with twins, and the baby girls didn't make it either. It is a tragedy in the truest sense of the word. I, along with everyone who learned of her death, was rocked by profound sadness, shock, and anger. So how could her service be anything other than unremittingly sorrowful? Because of who she was. Of course it was deeply sad, as of course it should be. Her myriad devoted friends and family put on a beautiful event for her, but the true glimmers of light that shone in the darkness of the day came from Susan herself--her astonishing combination of smarts and positivity, silliness and thoughtfulness--and while these are of course some of the very things that make her loss so hard, they are also the qualities that bolster us up in the face of this disaster. It's an all-too-easy cliche to say when someone dies "let's celebrate their life" or "they wouldn't want us to be sad" or "we owe it to them to carry on" or "they live on in our memories of them / they live on in their work" when of course, of course we should be sad, even devestated. But as Susan's close friend, the journalist Christian Frock puts it "we must do the painful work of focusing on the life she lived and the optimism in her work, even as we grapple with incomprehensible tragedy. It is the only way forward to honor her life and celebrate her legacy." Susan's compassion and fierce optimism really do live on in her artwork. And Christian is right--it is hard hard work to engage with that positivity, to take receipt of the gifts Susan has left us. But it's the right thing to do.
These images are from the book I was working with Susan on. It's called Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self. For this project she interviewed people of all ages on the street (San Pablo Avenue to be specific) and asked them what advice they thought the 80-year-old them of the future would give to the them of today. She made these images from their words. The book will come out in about a year. I hope we can do her justice.