December 16, 2007

Memories of Deb...

Laweh – we never did know how to spell that word, but traveling through China, it was what everyone called us. Not entirely sure whether the word meant “foreigner” or “white devil”, it was used with amusement and a sense of amazement. It is only now that Deb is gone that I wonder if she didn’t feel very much like a laweh in her own world over the last year of her life. My last conversation with her worried me. She talked about “taking a sabbatical” from photography. She talked about separation from Tony and custody. She talked about her fragile mental state. She talked about medication. About her sister. But she was Deb. Laweh. She would make it through. I tried calling her again a while later. And emailing too. But I didn’t hear back. I didn’t think much of it, because living so far away, we were in touch very sporadically. Months could go by without a word. Then suddenly we’d talk and it was almost with desparation that we attempted to catch up, always feeling somehow equally as inspired by one another. Which amazed me, because she was truly an inspiration to me. So full of wonder and love and curiosity and talent!

I was lucky enough to meet Deb before going on a trip to China with our photojournalism class in photography school.
I remember meeting Deb, and Tony and having this sense of incredible excitement about not only meeting these two wonderful new people, but of heading off around the world.

Deb drove this little old school orange VW beetle when she lived in Santa Barbara and I honestly remember my heart being in my throat as she careened over those mountain roads. The school sat on the mountainside, and she would seem to find the steepest road to take to head downtown. I swear we were airborne as we descended. This is when we first met. I adored her immediately and she scared the hell out of me. I thought to myself she’d make a perfect traveling partner. Daring, brave, wild and wonderful.
We had a conversation before we left, looking off into the distance and dreaming about what it would be like to see a sight in the distance and say “let’s go there!” and just go! We did and we wound up lost rambling down a mountain in China after touring a temple at the top. For some reason we figured we’d find our way down the back-side. The road led us to an unlikely place as it quickly drew dark – a television transmission station or something like that. 3 people worked and slept there – I guess to make sure that the antenna was always working? We fumbled through a conversation using Mandarin-English dictionaries. They fed us, gave us a place to sleep and led us down the mountain on foot the next day – stopping at another monastery – I guess to show us some sights.

Deb and I traveled through China together for 3 months and it was spectacular. We spent almost the entire time together. Tony came and joined up with us (by bicycle no less) for a couple of weeks. We drank black tea in our guesthouse rooms with Nespray in it (introduced to us by the television people – one of nestles wonderful powdered milk products) and we ate these unbelievably delicious candies called white rabbits. I can find them in Toronto’s Chinatown and when I eat them, I always think of deb.

After China, Deb had the courage to just go to San Francisco and start her career. I admire her for so many things. And so many things I’ve read on this blog describe her so perfectly. Her vivacity, her charm, her curiosity, her constant thinking and wondering and asking and listening and loving. Her wonder. She constantly reminds me to wonder, though I’ve never been able to come close to her openness and absolute delight at everything she encounters.
“I LOVE THAT!” I can hear her saying it, with her slight drawl and a sort of puppy dog look on her face of true endearment for something – anything.
God I miss her.
I was shocked. Absolutely shocked to read about her death. I was forwarded an email on December 13th with the heading ‘sad news’. Sad news doesn’t even come close to the devastation I feel, that I know that many of us feel at the loss of Debra McClinton. The entire world shifted. We lost a bright shining star, a magnificent spirit, a delightful and firey and passionate and imaginative windstorm of a woman. I miss her with all of my soul.

Though missing her is a part of my life, as I live in Toronto and rarely see her – knowing that she was still out there shining always made me feel somehow that all was okay in the world. That she was out there touching people’s lives with her excitement and love and, well, infuriating lateness.
Her spirit will always be a part of me. I am grateful for all of the memories. All the love. All of the ways she touched my life. My only solace is that she is soaring now, is at peace and has found a way to be eternally and gracefully herself. She must have embodied the brightest stars in the sky with all the fascination and discovery and mystery of the universe. That’s where I want her. In the night sky, and in the leaves of the trees, and on mountaintops and in the oceans and lakes, and in the tiny beautiful rocks that are actually smoothed out pieces of ceramics on leslie spit in Toronto – where she and Frankie picked up bits and pieces a few years ago and then helped decorate my garden. I want her everywhere and that is where she will remain. She has captured so many of our hearts, our imaginations, our minds and our souls. I miss her terribly right now. And it still hasn’t sunken in that she’s gone. How can this be?
I love her dearly. My heart goes out to her entire family and all of her friends.

Lisa the laweh from Canada.

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