Friday, April 30, 2021

The Transmigration of Stephanie Sinclaire Lightsmith

© Mandi Lynn

On April 14, 2021, my friend Stephanie died unexpectedly at Seatoun Beach. She was 67.

If I could begin to be

Half of what you think of me

I could do about anything

I could even learn how to love

When I see the way you act

Wondering when I’m coming back

I could do about anything

I could even learn how to love like you

Love like you

Love me like you

—From “Love Like You,” Steven Universe

I remember exactly where I was when I met Stephanie. One of the holistic health practitioners at our yoga studio had invited us to a party. You may not know this about me, but I am not the biggest party person. In this case, however, I was willing to hold my introversion/ neurodivergence/misanthropy somewhat more lightly for one February evening in Seatoun. This coastal Wellington neighborhood had held a special allure ever since we first rode down Marine Parade in a van named Gollum on a Lord of the Rings tour of the city and its environs.
The occasion was the arrival of Katey’s mother. She was in from London, where for years she had been part of the film and theater scene, running the iconic Kings Head pub theater. We found each other immediately, retired to a sofa, and shared our journeys as immigrants, entrepreneurs, artists. We talked for hours, about everything, stopping only to watch the orca in the harbor. It was an auspicious beginning.
Four months later, as the Fates and real estate situation of Wellington would have it, we ended up moving into the cottage next door to Katey and her family. In the meantime, Stephanie had returned to London to tie up some loose ends so she could return for the birth of her granddaughter later that year. It’s when she got back that we started an intermittent series of what we called “artist’s dates,” after Julia Cameron’s concept for sparking creativity. Our version was simple, a conversation, really, that ran for 10 years.
Some sessions we planned, but more often than not we met by chance. They were regular but never routine. More than anyone else I’ve ever known, Stephanie had a penchant for popping up at the most opportune moments. Her sense of timing, in that sense, was perfect. She and I would find each other at countless industry events, workshops, trainings, conferences, parties. We ran in the same overlapping circles. She made everything better; if she was there, you felt as if you were on the right track.
With Stephanie and playwright Phillip Tyler Wilson, Creative Leadership NZ 2017.

In LA, every coffee shop is filled with aspirants writing screenplays. In Seatoun, it was just Stephanie and me. We were respectful of each other’s writing time, because we knew how hard it could be to come by.
During our joint sessions, we would check in with each other, pitch our projects and share our processes, commiserate on our challenges and disappointments. Most of all we would encourage each other. We never collaborated directly on a project, but we were nonetheless collaborators. Stephanie wasn’t a mentor, at least not in the traditional, hands-on sense. I think she knew that the best way to provide guidance, at least in my case, was by example. As much as Stephanie had already accomplished, she’d had her share of obstacles and hardships, as any creative does. She was not without self-doubt. But she also had a titanic courage, a deep well of experience to draw upon, that saw her always pushing forward.
We shared a kinship but our temperaments were quite different.
Stephanie was always onto something new, a splendid hummingbird, and catholic in her sympathies and allegiances. For someone who excelled at beginnings, she got a lot done. She was a creative with a capital “C,” someone who understood the importance of generating and then shipping the work. For someone more deliberate but equally ambitious, it was always a healthy reminder.
Stephanie was vain but not despairing of growing old. Glamorous but not false. She was well on her way to cronehood.
She was the only person who called me “Darling,” which she spoke in her enchanting Mid-Atlantic accent.
Stephanie took Hawk seriously, always, most recently hearing his pitch for a trilogy of YA zombie-apocalypse novels he had dreamed up. She brought Hawk into our tradition, the ways of our little club, for why would you not honor the natural creativity into which we are born?
Stephanie sampled widely the menu of life, an epicure of the noblest intent who never failed to make you feel welcome, the center of the universe in that moment. She gave you her full attention. Jenifer put it this way: “When you were with her, she always held you as if you were already whole.” She spoke as if everything were possible, with a gentle but unassailable conviction that what we most longed for was eminently possible. I will continue to trust in her wisdom here.
When, in late 2013, a change in immigration policy meant we had to leave New Zealand, she was one of the first we told—in a chance encounter outside St. Peter’s Anglican Church. She was also the last person we saw before heading to the airport. She saw us off, radiant in her white ceremonial garb, from her Sea Star Studio. We were so rushed, so pressed for time, she finished cleaning out our apartment, selling off or rehoming the housewares, books, and sundries we were unable to manage in what we thought were our final days in New Zealand. We were very pleased when, shortly thereafter, she moved into our cottage.
At this, our first parting, her gift to me was The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. She couldn’t have known that the afterword and part of the annotations were written by my favorite graduate school professor. Or maybe she did, via her cosmic intelligence network, or a little bird.
The week after Stephanie’s death, I was telling my friends at work, “my Millennials,” all about her. What she meant to the arts community here, to our neighborhood, to our family. To me. “She was one of my favorite people,” I told them, my voice breaking. And so she was. I may not have known that until just then.
I went for a walk on the City to Sea Bridge overlooking the harbor. Once upon a time I had run into Stephanie there, with Katey, shortly after my return to New Zealand. As I was reflecting, I noticed a duck swimming below me, right to left. An adult duck, male, and clearly competent in the ways of duckness, of duck-being, and moving with clear-eyed intent. Once, I thought, he had been a duckling and not yet versed in the ways that would be required of him. He paddled past me, and then I noticed another duck, swimming at a right angle to the first duck, along the y-axis to his x-axis. They came together and met in the corner of their mutual graph, their 0,0, and passed from view. Who is to say what transpired after this meeting? What might these two share from this center of all centers, this core of cores? In this life, we meet one another, and our connection and shared path may be invisible to others. Sometimes even to ourselves.
The way I want to remember Stephanie is how I once observed her: walking along Ferry Street, too far away to call after her. I knew exactly where she was going and why, to the cafe to write. I envied her the journey, but it was hers to make, and I had elsewhere to be. On she went to inhabit whatever faraway world she had called into being. On she went.
Godspeed, Darling.

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Blogger Mandi Lynn said...

Thank you Ryan your words touch my heart as we share similar journeys with that lovely soul. I miss her dearly.

3:54 PM  

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