Monday, September 10, 2012

Missing you bad, Dylan (RIP)

I miss Dylan bad. I've been missing him a lot lately, as the Summer moves into Autumn and we get our last hurrahs, last rays of sun, last tomatoes on the vine and I'm reminded of this time last year: My friend Dylan Williams was dying, it will be a year ago today since his passing. Part of me knew he was leaving but I didn't want to believe. I was in Fancyland when Emily called to tell me and I crouched down on the ground. While my conscious brain grappled with the news, another part of me saw Dylan in the upper left-hand corner of my vision, a place that was until that moment filled with trees: Oak, Douglass Fir, California Bay, and now there was also Dylan, being so sweet and reassuring. Expressing care and concern for me. It felt ironic and surreal but loving, those quick moments of his ethereal presence.

I returned to Portland the next day as planned, after being in San Francisco for the zine fest—one of Dylan's favorite shows. In the days that followed, I read many testimonials and memoriams to Dylan on the internet through tears. So many people touched and inspired by this special man. I had words for my feelings, but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to post anything in the cyber-world. Finally, I am feeling so compelled.
I met Dylan 4 years ago after returning home from a 9-month stay in Vermont. Just as I've heard and read from so many others this past year, Dylan was the first person active in the comics sphere to invest in my work. To tell me that what I was doing was valuable. He emailed me out of the blue to say that he had heard word from Bak that he should check out my mini I Still Live, and that after seeing it reviewed by Rob Clough on his High/Low blog, he wanted to order one from me. I was pretty new to comics but I had heard of Dylan from my CCS friend Brandon Elston. Brandon told me he met Dylan back in the day and that he was one of the nicest, most sincere and non-pretentious people he had met through comics and that I should pay attention to Sparkplug. They were headquartered in Portland, where I was from. He told me to read Christina and Charles by Austin English and when I did, I knew he wasn't lying.

When I met Dylan in the coffeeshop to pass off a bunch of minis for him to distro, we hit it off right away. It takes a lot for a dude to impress me—I am usually more taken by the ladies. But in spite of myself, I liked Dylan immediately. The more I got to know him I realized we had much in common. A love of comics, coming from punk, appreciating Glen Danzig, etc. Also, we both suffered chronic health problems and struggled with ableism in our communities. Right away we were swapping stories of survival in the medical industrial complex. He told me of his diagnosis, of the leukemia, and that he would probably die of it one day. I heard this and then pushed it into the back recesses of my brain. This was a friend I wanted around for a while.

Thanks to me and Dylan's collaboration co-teaching the first year of the Independent Publishing Research Center's comics certificate program, I realized that I could speak as an authority on things. Dylan and I both grappled with this, the idea of authority and the idea of teaching vs. facilitating, assuming power roles when our first inclination was to buck the system and fuck the man. When he suggested I read Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Opressed so as to be on the same page as co-facilitators, I knew everything was going to be fine. Awesome, even.

Dylan didn't like being seen as an authority, he was such a hyper-vigilant attentive Virgo, and he wanted other people to think for themselves as well. And I was scared as shit because I have panic disorder and I'm sick all the time but man, I really wanted to teach. And Dylan, he knows that sometimes he gets sick and has to stay home. So we agree that each of us can be back-up for the other and bam. You know, neither of us ever missed a class. Because of what Mia Mingus calls access intimacy.

I didn't know Dylan was dying the Spring before this last when we both cried all day about Poly Styrene, but I knew I loved him. We had just put out Gay Genius, an endeavor that were it not for him, may not have seen the light of publication. At the release party, Freddie projected an old X-Ray Specs documentary on the wall. I hoped Dylan might show, but I knew his IBS was so bad that he probably wouldn't. I could relate, having struggled with it myself for most of my life. I knew Dylan had been sick and dealing with the after effects of some invasive treatments. I didn't realize the road he was traveling on.

Two days later I left for an artist residency in Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Art Institute. This was the first official residency I had won and Dylan had written one of my letters of recommendation. He hand-printed it and scanned it in and it is still one of my favorite documents. We talked a lot over the phone while I was in residency, about Gay Genius, about comics, community, interpersonal dynamics, and working as a sick artist. I was the only non-able-bodied person at the residency and it was really hitting me the way my limitations were amplified by the expectations around me and by ableism. I told him: I don't know why when I'm feeling good I work and work and work and wear myself down and then I crash. Why should I work this way? Why do this to myself? And he said, well, maybe when you are feeling well you are afraid that it may be the last chance you get. And so you work and work. And he reminded me that when I am feeling idle, in between projects, or feeling sick, to let my body relax—that it was an important phase of fulfillment, gestation and preparation. I learned a lot about being a disabled artist from Dylan.

I didn't know how sick he was until I came back to portland. I subbed for him at his IPRC class, then in its second year, but I still didn't get it. Not until he was back in the hospital and I had a chance to visit him there, did I see. But still I did not know. I had to have hope until the very end, and for that I am not ashamed.
I had offered to take Sparkplug down to the bay in late August for the SF Zine Fest because I knew it was one of Dylan's favorite shows. A week before I was to leave, I got a call from Dylan: it was dusk and he was about to go in for an operation. He'd been in the hospital for quite some time at this point. He was scared because there was a 75% chance that this new operation would not be successful, but it was either do this risky operation, or drench his ailing body in anti-biotics, which he did not want to do. He chose the operation, even though he might not wake up. He was going under in five minutes. Stunned, I asked him what I could do. He said “Pray for me.” I knew Dylan as someone who was not religious per se, though I thought of him as deeply spiritual. He knew I was too. “I will,” I said. I told him that no matter what happened, he was gonna be okay and I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me, and got off the phone. For the next two hours I prayed for Dylan. I saw the threads and rays of light love energy from all of those who were thinking about him and loving him at that moment and his whole life winding their ways from all over the planet, congealing in a pool over Providence hospital and Dylan's room as a source that he would be able to tap into when he needed it. And in two hours I got a call from Emily saying he had made it.

I visited him once more and he was still up for business, to the very end. After the scare, he continued to plot and plan and hatch his comics schemes. He insisted I still go to SF and he had all the paperwork ready. I think this was one of his gifts to me, telling me to go down there, getting to see all those rad queer comcis nerds in one place, meeting so many of his dear friends and accomplices. I am very grateful for all of those meetings. I called and left a message for Dylan, telling him of the people I met, the well-wishes they were sending home to him and how successful the Sparkplug table had been.

                                          [Dylan Williams and Rina Ayuyang at SFZF circa?]

Dylan was so important to me and he still very much is. I miss him so much, all the time. Dylan was, and still very much is important to comics. Dylan was an ally, a survivor, a feminist man who wasn't afraid to show vulnerability, who wasn't afraid to invest in people, or tell them just how special they were. I know he was a feminist because of how many men cried openly at his funeral. I can't remember who it was that said it, “Dylan loved comics almost as much as he loved cats.” But in a way, that short sentence summed up much
of why I loved him.

The last communication I had from Dylan was a late-night email. At the time, I did not understand why he needed to tell it to me. [from August 24th, 2011]:

I realized yesterday how it was a lady named Sally Wolfer who got us all to be artists at Berkeley High. She is so important to me and I was just thinking about how she made it possible for all of us to "have permission". She got me into being an comic artist the way I wanted. She got Aaron/Jeff Ott into music. She got Jesse from Op Ivy into making music. She encouraged us so much. I owe her my whole artistic life and she may not even know this.
And I wrote back:

Dylan, such people as your teacher Sally Wolfer are so important for artists to have in their lives. She sounds like an influence to many exciting things, a nurturer of creative spirits. Hey, you know who that sounds like? You! You are one of those people for so many, Dylan, myself included. I feel very lucky to have you in my life. You create and facilitate the creation of so much amazing shit, it's cool to hear some of the background. Take care for now and I'll be seeing you soon.

I have a feeling Dylan wanted me to tell as many people as possible that this lady was an important person in his artistic ancestry. And I want as many people to know that Dylan was and still is a very important person in mine. Dylan was always so good at giving credit where credit was due but doing it in a way that allowed himself and other people to hold their heads up high and share their gifts--rather than creating a hierarchy of knowledge. I still constantly want to show him things I'm working on and ask his opinions on things--Dylan was like a sacred, bottomless well of knowledge. I long for his creative, collaborative spirit to continue to thrive within my artistic communities. I hope to honor Dylan by pursuing this collective endeavor.

Dylan, I love you. I am honored to know you. you are with me everyday.
                                                   [Picture credit above: Theo Ellsworth]

1 comment:

Amillion said...

I was googling Sally Wolfer and came across this.
Dylan was right. She really turned us all into artists.
I'm sorry for your loss, may his memory be for a blessing.
-Amelia Nahman