Most of us have anchors in life. These anchors take on many living forms: family members, BFFs, spouses, pets, flora and fauna. Without them, we have nothing to hold on to or (if you’re not the clingy type), to look forward to…
To swim towards.
To go home to.
To anchor you.
A few days before my birthday in March this year, one of the most spectacularly gifted artists I know died. Awakened by rain one early morning rapping on the houseboat where she and her husband lived, she had gotten up to close the windows.
It would be the last time she would see the rain, as half an hour later, she dropped to the ground and never woke up again.
Certain people born and raised in Antipolo, or Paranaque, or live in a closely-knit suburban village in Rizal, or went to Assumption in high school, or UP Diliman in college, or embroider textiles in Guatemala, or stay on houseboats on the marina in Darwin, or live as immigrants in America, or belong to a remarkable class of human beings who live artful lives on their own terms, have been quietly mourning her passing. Her artistic footprint was light, but confident in stride, and indelible in our minds. She wasn’t super famous and she kind of preferred it that way. I suspect that if she and Fame went out for a drink together, Fame would have ended up crying all the way home after, body gruesomely carpeted in sharp barbs of wit and satire requiring hours of surgical precision to remove.
Her houseboat was moored at a creek a little ways down from a marina that on many days, was a reflection of hand-painted sky, or vice versa, a hand-painted sea. She spent her days doing art: painting, calligraphy, embroidery, journaling, bookbinding. Her husband spent his days travelling to distant shores on a sailboat without a motor. Her latest feat was doing magnificent inscriptions on the wedding guestbook of the Royal Couple in Britain, reminding me of those ancient handcrafted books from the early days of Gutenberg’s press.
She possessed an artfulness and intelligence as deep as the ocean, and made conversations that sparkle like it on a moonlit night. Sometimes, she worried about her husband (as when he made the Australian news after his sailboat got towed to safety), but on most days, she let him be. She wasn’t the clingy type – she was the type that looked forward. Always.
It was in 2003 when I got an email from her saying that she was sailing away to another country with the love of her life, who she once called her djinn, an Arabic word meaning demon and angel all at once. If I told her “you live a life more potent than literature itself,” she would have dismissed me, pointed to her adventure-loving husband and said: “he is living the literature; I’m staying put to upholster these sad-looking seats, then going outside for a smoke! Care to join me?”
Since then, she has captured my imagination. She has become the anchor of a life that I could look forward to but never reach. I wanted that life there in sight but somehow also out of the way. I had a conventional married life that grounded me in the practical, that fulfilled the biological imperative, that was a correction of my mother’s own heartbreak. As far as I knew, she didn’t want children in the life that she’d chosen for herself, but was happy for friends who’d chosen to be parents to one or two.
And she was maddeningly literate, witty, funny, wise, and had impeccable taste in music (if only because she appreciated my own small-time productions and supported them in her own fashion, by writing about me on her website, or purchasing my music online). She did that not only to me but to all of her friends struggling to produce art in various media and on their own terms.
She always wore her hair long and was called a mermaid due to her affinity with the sea. But she was such an atypical mermaid. She shunned virginity and fragility, valued candor and muscular language, and loved the way I wrote and lived my life.
Though I was but a poor reflection of how she wrote and lived her life: so strongly suffused with intense color, opinion, and yes, love.
She was breathtakingly brilliant in every way.
It had been so gloomy out here until I got a postcard of her amazing art, a great mercy from her husband, who has kindly responded to condolences and vowed to look after the friends she’s left behind (as we will no doubt look after him too).
In the words of one of our favorite bands, TFF, I will “look forward to a future in the past.” Because unlike her, I am (unfortunately) the clingy type!
I don’t need too many memories of us. Though we only have a few, mainly from our time together in 2012 when she taught me and a handful of friends how to bind a journal, they are more than enough to mural my whole life with the extraordinary.
Thank you Natalie Quintos Uhing – creator of www.smallestforest.net and @homehomeonthestrange on IG – for being the anchor of my unlived life.
You are now free from my unrelenting gaze, but not from my imagination.
I love you.
May 30, 2019, British Columbia