29 October 09
Many of you know a little about my activist past… some of you were even part of my shenanigans “back in the day” when I was fighting for artists rights with the Kansas City Free Speech Coalition (1997-2001), Rock the Vote/Rock the Nation, and Poetry for the People. For those who don’t know… in 1996, I lost a dear friend to suicide. David MacDonald was an artist, musician, and UMKC debater alongside me. He was a gifted writer, an articulate and imaginative artist, and a loyal compatriot. But when he took his life in 1996, I lost more than a friend. He was a hero. Someone who took the risks artistically that I so admired… and his death set me on a road determined to develop my own art and writing.
That’s how I came to meet Anne Winter (photo above: us at her house 1997 – Always smiling and laughing…) owner of Recycled Sounds music in Westport, KCMO with her husband Kurt, I was sent to her immediately upon circulating my zine Cynical Soul
as her store was the zine capital of the region. And as I spotted her, the only other 6 foot woman in the room, I just knew her store was home. People often said she made every single person who came in her door feel like a long lost family member… And when she heard how I’d lost David, she went immediately to the cassette shelves and put in my hands all of the music he’d recorded and left with her to sell. It was the first of many precious gifts she would give me in the coming decade…
After supplementing my alternative publishing education with graffiti arts, DIY musics, activist doings, and community building, she took me in hand and gave me the tools to help her create a place for zine publishers, artists and musicians — via the network of the Kansas City Coalition Against Censorship she helped me build the Midwest Underground Media Symposium – MUMS. It was presented in Spring 1997 at UMKC as part of the Coalition’s Culture Under Fire events offered every spring to raise awareness and gather support for free speech and 1st ammendment rights. We had a buy-or-barter marketplace, seminars, workshops, and I opened my first art installation: Zine – The Story of a Four Letter Word.
It chronicled 20 cases of censorship of writers and artists of zines (self published periodicals). I became “the Zine Queen” and Anne my guiding light. Read Me in the Zine Hall of Fame Here
And even when during MUMS Anne had just given birth, she tucked her new baby into a carrier & trundled in to sit and enjoy what we’d created.
Later, in the fall, she signed me up to perform at The Bus Event, a Banned Books Week feature where for an entire day, artists & writers read censored books to the crowds waiting at downtown busstops.
I performed “Trashy Words: censored poets from the trash bin”, and debuted my collection “Out on the Ledge: poems from 1989 to 1996″. (photo of anne by Lisa Cordes, captured from anne’s facebook photos) Man those were great times. So many lives were touched, friendships forged, alliances created because of what we built together.
And then, for the second time, Anne gave me the tools to build something: she introduced me to my husband. With Anne’s urging and blessings, we married and had a huge reception that Anne helped organize. We spent a lot of time laughing that night as we were usually exactly the same 6 footer height, but I wore heels & she wore flats — so I got to be the tall one!
For the toast, she made 2 foot tall placards for the guests to read with the Irish blessing SLAINTE (and phonetic spelling ITS-A-LAWNCHAIR), and led the crowd in a rip-roaring toast-along (“Come ON people – ALL together…”)
Next, when we had our daughter. Anne’s hand was on me the whole way. When I couldn’t get my prenatal vitamins down, she brought me a hammer and a box of ziploc bags and showed me how to crush them into applesauce “because you’ve got to build that baby!” she laughed. When I got to 170 lbs and was whiny and miserable I called her and said “This Sucks!”, and she ordered me to come over. When I arrived, she’d dragged all of her maternity clothes out of the closet and gave me a whole wardrobe of comfortable, soft, all natural fiber clothes — and I walked miles in her awesome black loafers & fuzzy black socks — and man, I LOVED that dress!!!
She gave me classes at aqua-moms so I could exercise in water where it was way easier and soothing to move. “You’re training for a marathon” she’d say, now eat this muffin!
In my ninth month, she gave me a doll of Max from Where the Wild Things Are — we named him Contraction Max and he was my focus object.
And when it was finally time for the baby, I’d had a backache all day & as we were talking, she casually remarked “Vic, I think you’re in labor… you need to check that out.” I had the baby later that night. (I’d probably still be carrying it if she hadn’t told me what was going on!)
She took me in for momming101 and I learned all about carseats and she gave me a sanity saving baby swing. She patiently decoded baby noises, illnesses, and that damnable backpack-sling contraption thing so I could carry little Trinity against me hands-free. Being a music chick, she taught me the “bass-boom” trick. When Trin was crying & unconsolable, Anne gave me trance and groove cds & coached me to play them “like a mother’s heartbeat” with the bass LOUD to soothe the baby — it was BRILLIANT! We still listen to Tricky at bedtime ;0)
And at the end of that marriage’s journey, she gave me encouragement and again pushed me to begin a new life. I moved to a new city, and a new husband, but Anne was always just a phone away –
And was still an ever present force in my daughter’s life through my ex-husband as he still lived close and got our kids together regularly.
Even in divorce and both of us remarrying, she remained a touchstone between us…
When he called me the evening of October 23 I expected him to tell me of his crazy pancake breakfast with Anne and our kids, and to get the address of the Rime Buddhist Center where Anne had made me promise to meet her for yoga in the coming weeks. She felt so badly that she’d missed the opening of my mixed media embroidery show and wanted to yoga together and see some of my work… but it was not to be. On the 22 of October, he told me, Anne took her life.
I will, in the coming weeks and months, write poems and memorials for her. I will probably set about immediately designing a work of art for her… but in the present I am so stunned, I can barely think. Luckily, I have Anne’s words as a guide, a telling quote inspired by EL Doctorow that she kept on her facebook profile:
Grief is like driving at night in the rain with headlights on. You can only see a few feet in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.
Anne set us all on a journey — and was guide when most of us didn’t see — at her memorial I addressed the attendees and told some of my story. I said something that our dear friend Linda had said so often, “Anne pushed us all to be our best selves… and you never even feel her hands on your back.” Her hands are still there pushing us, ensuring that we remain stitched together as a tribe. Her Dad’s words echo in my mind: If there is something you want to do, something to say… do it now. Dont wait until it’s too late.
Anne lived and died by that philosophy. She took a piece of us with her, but we are better people for what she left us. And her love and works remain indeed a push. And we just go, without question, toward our best. And we keep going, for each other, and for her children who will undoubtedly need hands to hold and the strength of a tribe in the coming months and years. Luckily for us all, she stitched us together strong and solid.
For those of you who have children, or who have faced unexpected death, you know there are deep and wide issues. If you feel compelled, there is a legacy fund here **LINK** that is stewarded by the closest of her circle. She took such generous care of us, it’s time to give back if we can.
(photo October 2009)
Her cousin Erin Winter is assembling a legacy book to be kept for the children. Send rememberences to firstname.lastname@example.org which will be available in both hard copy & scanned webpages. Additionally, Anne loved the Rime center **LINK** & supporting its mission for compassionate living. They too are collecting a family fund. If you’re in the KCMO area, they welcome & encourage Anne’s friends to take refuge there, find peace, and share in the community of compassion and love. In the beginning of this piece, I told you about David. He always signed things, including his goodbye letter “Peace, Love, and Compassion”.
**For those of you who have been faithfully awaiting Hand Embroidery Network classes, I’ve been building the first set for enrollment next week. I’ll post here & on the HEN site when we’re ready to blast off! I am proud and thrilled that Anne’s daughter Eva will be one of my students. Anne emailed me last week asking “HEY, can my girl get stitchy with ya?” I’m honored to fill that wish;0}
Thank you all for your encouragement & excitement about the coming projects — doing work you truly love is a most wonderful way to live!