Saturday, November 19, 2016

Jeri


Back in 1992 I was renting an apartment off of Geist Road in Fairbanks, which was within walking distance to both the UAF campus and my workplace. During the long winters, at least once a week, I would exit my garage door and cut across the backyard to descend into Deadman Slough, and follow the frozen path for a few blocks, until it wound its way to where a dear friend of mine, Jeri Croucher, was living at the time.
Some evenings it was like being in an urban fairytale fantasy ala Charles de Lint, as it felt I was temporarily traveling between the planes and existing in a different world, both familiar and somewhat surreal. The bent over boughs of snow-laden birches created a tunnel that was silent and out of sight of everyone even in a crowded, busy neighborhood, and at night, lit by moon and stars, it was a secret, magical pathway to Jeri's door.
There, ensconced with tea and kitties amongst endless bookcases stuffed with dog-eared copies of "The Power of Myth" to "Nature, Man and Woman" to Tolkien, we would spend hours discussing and debating everything and anything: this was my education in the den of my default spiritual adviser/wise old woman aka crone-mother.


These metaphysical sessions were hand-in-glove with my re-emergence into academia, this time as a philosophy major. Jeri was one of the core group of fellow students in our discipline that constantly occupied our own table in the UAF Wood Center, off of the cafeteria and back in a corner of the smoking section. Over an everflowing Pirene fountain of coffee we would learn, laugh and lament together, and we shared classes taught by Barbara Alexander, Viola CordovaRudy KrejciWalter Benesch. Jeri was grandmothered into the system after a catalog change dropped the Humanities major, and she steadfastly refused to graduate. A meta-lesson in that you never, ever have to stop being teachable and remain open to new experiences and ways of looking at the world.


I shared everything with her, the highs and the lows, and the more mundane stretches inbetween the extremes... for many years I carried on a keychain a tiny little book with a quote from Poe on the cover that she gave me: “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” Jeri saw me through several great loves + losses, and at one point arguably saved my life - "someday you'll look back after all this and be really glad that you're still around."
I stuck around, and I am really glad. She was so right, about so much.

Except for one recurring point: for years Jeri would be adamant about claiming there was one area she lacked any knowledge about, and consequently would always be keen about questioning and listening to her resident artist about anything related to being an artist. "I don't have a creative bone in my body" she'd say, and recount the one time she took an art class and had to hang her exercise up on the wall for review with the other student's work, and she couldn't remember which one was hers. And yet increasingly over the last decade one entire room in her apartment became dedicated solely to the stockpiling of supplies for her beading, which was her primary craft (after a lengthy bout of paper origami). Just an incredible place to be... meticulously organized drawers of every conceivable material and specialized tools.


Another aspect of Jeri that was inextricably intertwined with my own fate was her side-business in computer consulting, which is where the above ads originated from. Our friendship straddled the periods of time (think cassette tapes & VCR's) when I was a non-user to eventually becoming a computer addict geek. She always reveled in watching me evolve and adapt, from being ambivalent at best/disdainful at worst of the technological sea change eclipsing modern life to embracing a crucial component of making my art.


The passion for reading and love of books was another common bond: she introduced me to the catalog of Sheri S. Tepper via "The Gate to Woman's Country." For a few years I became an ardent fan of reading aloud, being influenced by a particular English professor who often read poetry to his class. So I began to bring along a piece or two to share with Jeri, and any company who might also drop by. The best one, which seems to gain in poignancy with each passing year, was Neil Gaiman's short story "Troll Bridge," along with many others from any one of the "Snow White/Blood Red" anthologies edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow.


Jeri had one of the best laughs: a big, hearty one that was as honest and raucous as her sense of irony and irrelevancy. Another apropos and telling detail in our mutual love of offbeat humor was in a shared favorite movie: Harold & Maude.
"Well, if some people get upset because they feel they have a hold on some things, I'm merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow, so don't get attached to things *now.* With *that* in mind, I'm not against collecting stuff." - Maude

The greatest recent event for her was to witness the (re)legalization of marijuana in Alaska. Jeri was a staunch supporter of all things hemp. She also loved sharing tales of bartending from Detroit to Fairbanks, and could go toe-to-toe with any sourdough when it came to telling stories.

I'll really miss Xmas at her place... as it was the one holiday she went for broke on decorating. Every picture frame on the wall would metamorphose into a wrapped present, and tinsel, trees and ornaments would festoon the rooms. Spiced tea was a tradition, which supplemented the normal stash of many, many different varieties kept on hand. I'll miss the traditional pot roasts with cabbage, and even the omnipresent Doctor Peppers and Winstons.

And then there were all of the cats.


She kept a stack of my work - over a foot-high heap - on the top shelf in one of her hallway closets. time-capsule. Kinda like the boiling frog scenario, I had gradually become anesthetized to the accumulation of imagery that adorned every wall in every room, from the bathroom to the refrigerator, that she had picked up over the years from all of my various exhibitions. How humbling to see it all in the perspective of someone who was one of my all-time greatest fans and collectors.

Posted here are several doodles done on-site over her living room table, which I was astonished that she held on to so many scraps and leavings I had long since forgotten about. All the more insightful within the context of recent moves and accompanying purges + throwing away accumulated detritus, and the internal struggle of creating art versus the temporal nature of making what amounts to so much stuff. So this veritable compost heap of my work was loaded up in the Subaru along with cases of books bound for donation to the Literacy Council of Alaska.


Sunday, September 25th was the last time I saw her in person, as our little sketch group was having our monthly outing right across the street in the cemetery. I bailed out for a half-hour to run over for a quick hug and hullo.

One last sketch off the upstairs porch

We talked a week later, as I was wrapping up my latest stint working downtown at the Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center, which meant opportunities for dropping by for a random and spontaneous visits would be winding down, since my sorties to downtown would correspondingly begin to drop off over the winter season.

She passed in her sleep Monday, October 17th.


Over the many years of residency here in Alaska, one thing I've come to understand is how family is by no means limited to blood kinship, and in fact there are relationships one makes that are far more real and no less trusted and loved with folks you meet along your travels. And with no baggage or expectations either: many a time you cross paths with such a special friend after extended absences without explanation, and it's all good: you just simply pick right up again where you both left off. And those are the kind of losses that take more time to recognize the depth + breadth of what's missing, an empty space that seems to grow deeper as the days go by.

Jeri was in a lot of nooks & crannies of my life, which is something very special. And as very special friends go, she was precious + rare.

2 comments:

  1. My condolences. We should all have friends that touch our lives so deeply.

    ReplyDelete