Written April 15, 2015
Amethyst, also known as Patricia Kevena Fili, passed away on the 19th of March, 2015. While at her memorial at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland today, April 15, 2015, I had an epiphany that led to the creation of this series of writings saying thank you to the people who had profound impact of my art. This is one more thing I get to thank her for, after the fact.
The short story of what this woman meant to me:
Many years ago, Amethyst inspired me to do a series of art work featuring people who identify as transgender. She even generously arranged for an exhibition of the work and a related series of drawings at the Lighthouse Community Center in Hayward. The exhibition and series of four paintings were called Divine Being. The image featured with this post is my painting of Amethyst as Sehkmet, our Protectress, offered up now in eulogy and honor.
Passion, strength, compassion. These are the characteristics I remember most. And I will forever see her walking in a field with lionesses.
The longer version that is much harder for me to tell:
I don't like to talk about health issues, but this story needs back-story. To tell the story appropriately and honestly and to make sure Amethyst gets her full due, I'm going to briefly bring up some things I would otherwise keep off the web.
After graduating from art school (Yay CCA!), I went to work at a corporation-who-shall-remain-nameless (CWSRN) and ended up with carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet syndrome. For a while, I couldn't even lift a glass of water or turn the pages of a magazine. I was declared Permanently Partially Disabled with a side note to expect periods of total disability. I think I was 26. So you can imagine, I wasn't able to paint or draw at the time. (I had part time jobs and contract work after the CWSRN found a way to legally let me go and Unemployment sent me to Disability who sent me back to Unemployment.) That time period lasted a few years. I still tried to make things. I sort of finger painted and formed bas-relief flower sculptures of paint. It was what I could do with little pain. It was all I thought I could do. Don't get me wrong, they were cool! But they were an acquiescence to my new limitations.
Amethyst and I knew each other from volunteer work for a non-profit organization. She got me to agree to the show. She arranged the event at the Lighthouse. I was grateful and excited. I told my friends. A couple people who I knew longer than I had known Amethyst reacted to the news rather negatively. "Why you!?" in a disparaging voice. "Why would she choose you to do it?" with a roll of the eyes. And Amethyst's response? "Yes, you. Of course, you." She trusted that I would handle the subject matter respectfully. She knew I would work on the paintings to honor the transgender community. She believed in me and the memory of my ability—and she got me to put a paint brush back in my hand.
And, yes, it was painful. And, yes, I had to reteach myself how to draw and paint with hands that worked differently. But blah blah blah, I got through it. And I keep getting through it every day. I keep painting with my brushes and drawing with pencil or pen or whatever on my canvases. I live with pain killers and heating pads and ice packs because I'd rather fight my disability than acquiesce to it. Amethyst gave me that. And I didn't realize the depth of what she gave me until today.
Sekhmet, Our Protectress copyright Sarah Soward is the featured image for this post.