Jessica and I were colleagues when we worked together at Freehold at its beginnings in the early 90's, She as an Adjunct Faculty member and I as Director of Operations. Jessica and I were neighbors with apartments across the hall from each other at the Essery on Capitol Hill. Jessica and I were friends. Jessica and I were both steeped in the humidity of our East Coast youths and as such I feel comfortable in saying that she would not want me to share with you some white washed homily of her life. So I am going to start with this: Jessica could be a real pain in the ass. Jessica didn't particularly care about making it easy on you. Jessica wanted what Jessica wanted. Jessica knew what she wanted.
These characteristics that sometimes made it difficult to schedule her classes and keep her from smoking in the bathroom adjacent to my office, that frankly made it difficult sometimes to just be around her are also exactly the same characteristics that allowed her to do what so many of us aspire to and so few of us achieve: to spend our whole working lives as artists. Jessica did this.
As a result of her passion and determination and her belief in herself and her abilities, Jessica leaves behind her, in the words of Robin Lynn Smith, "a garden of artists." It is a legacy that cannot be underestimated. A few months after Jessica's diagnosis with glioblastoma I was out playing with my three year old daughter Lily in the park. I met another parent, Chelsea, and it turned out we had a lot in common, most centrally Freehold. She began singing Jessica's praises, and I had the unpleasant duty, now all too familiar, of asking if she knew what was going on with Jessica. She had heard that she was sick, and I filled her in on her diagnosis and prognosis. We talked and reminisced and I gave her my card so that we could keep in touch around Jessica's condition. A few days after Jessica's death I got a message from this woman that read in part:
"I just heard the news and my world is rocked. Jessica was such an amazing woman. She is the reason that I chose to act as a profession. I took the leap to act full time and I have not looked back since. I have so many fond memories of her ... Sitting in her apartment on Cap. Hill and Jessica rubbing her pregnant belly. Me holding Jonah when he was just days old. I shared things with her that nobody else knows. She was my mentor. Besides my mother, she was the only one who I allowed to truly KNOW me."
And the thing is, I bet that most of you could find five people that would say something very similar. Not even just at Freehold, but at Cornish, at Rato Bangala School in Nepal, at the University of Alaska and I am sure everywhere that Jessica taught. Like the best teachers, Jessica inspired fierce loyalty and a voracious appetite to learn and excel. I never took a class from Jessica, but I heard from many students that Jessica knew just how to push to get her students to want to do more. Jessica's style was not for everybody, but for those who responded to her, it was a form of deep intimacy. Just like great art.
As Jessica's disease progressed and she could no longer read (which is a tragedy in itself as anyone who ever walked into her house and saw the thousands of plays that she owned would understand) and as conversation and even understanding became more and more difficult, she struck out on a new endeavor. A new art. She began cutting pictures out of magazines and catalogs and I think maybe even books. She made some collages but mostly, I think, collected them and cataloged them. If you were very lucky you would go to your mailbox and find a mailing envelope stuffed with pictures that she had selected for you. I was blessed with two envelopes, the first one I opened with fear of what I might find inside, what could Jessica be sending to me, and I was blown away. For the simple reason that Jessica, who was not always even sure who I was, had picked out images (every one) that I would have selected for myself! The second envelope came just a few weeks before her death; it was less targeted but not random. There were a lot of images of naked women. Not pornography. Art images, abstracts, classic nudes, some advertising images. I don't know what, if anything, it means; maybe Jessica was getting elemental? Maybe Jessica knew me better than I care to admit? Maybe, in the end, everyone just loves a naked lady.
Here's what I do know: Jessica's response to the end of her life was to make art. Her garden will prosper and spread and I believe there is no greater gift you can leave for the world.
Yer Old Pal,