Writing about my experience of someone else’s death feels like a million acupuncture needles at once—I know it’s serving some mysterious purpose, but it feels strange, surreal, selfish. I’ve decided to trust that it will do some good, and frankly, I don’t know what else to do.
The moment I found out about Geneviève (Castrée) Elverum’s death, I began to strain against it. Out loud, a single, “NO—WHY—” escaped me, and then I began to sink. Slowly, like walking down stairs in the dark in a dream, confusion giving rise to curiosity about every mundane thing, every reality so stubbornly true. She’s gone?(.) She was sick (?). She had a baby, and a loving husband?(.) 35 (??). She made art (gorgeous and painful). She made music (innocent and weary). She was kind? Yes, I remember. So kind. She’s not here anymore.
I had only met her once, when she gently approached my table at the first ever Autoptic Festival in Minneapolis, 2013. She said, “I’d like to buy this comic I’ve heard so much about,” and she wasn’t shy but so sweet I almost mistook her for it. She smiled. I wasn’t speaking and so I couldn’t say, “Thank you. I love your work so much, your world is beautiful and painful and inspires me all the time. I admire your life of music and art and self-possession, self-discovery. I want that for myself, thank you for showing me one way it can be.” I just smiled and held a hand pressed against my heart, hoping she would understand. Said thank you in ASL, hoping she would know. She left and I thought, I’ll see her again and tell her all that, at some other festival far in the future. I’ll see her again and maybe we’ll be friendly, peers of a sort.
That’s the one and only time we met, and yet her death makes me cry every time I think of it. How is that possible? Now, I’m able to read what her friends are saying, and know more about her as a person, but all I ever knew, having only met her once, was her work. This very specific world she created in her comics, in her art, and in her music. And I feel this loss. Why? Why does it reach so deep?
I can only vaguely approach an answer, words being so utterly limp and useless in the face of death. The way I see it is this: Art springs forth—or crawls upwards, or leaks and rushes and spits itself out – from a buried heart in each of us. Art is a creative solution to the problem of separation, the vast distance between my reality and yours. When I make a drawing, or a comic, I choose what’s important, the angle of my view, the colours and objects of my story. But that makes up maybe 30% of what I’m saying, of what is communicating with you, the reader. The other 70% is the inherently unique impression I leave on every moment—that all of us leave when we exit a space, or a fragment of time, or draw a line on a page. It’s unconscious, intangible, and attached to the things we create. It’s our most secret heart, secret even from ourselves. Sometimes we’re told it’s there, when someone describes it to us. Sometimes we die without ever seeing ourselves this way. I hope Geneviève knew. I hope people told her in words the things I tried to communicate in a glance and a gesture.
Even though I abhor it, I am grateful that Geneviève’s death reminded me of this magic we all carry and pass on to one another. Everything I received from her changed me for the better, even if I took it for granted before. I see now that I’ll never forget to carry it with me—it’s a part of me, so really I can’t help it. If this is how I feel after reading a book, and hearing some music, and meeting her gaze, I can only imagine the love flowing to her from all corners of the earth and beyond. It swallows me up, the thought of that love. I hope she felt it, and I hope she feels it still. It feels good to hope. Now let’s go make some art about it.
Geneviève Castrée (1981-2016) was a comics artist, musician, and multi-media artist from Québec and the west coast of Canada. She died on July 9th, 2016 at her home, with her family.