"I am the poem"

May 27, 2010

I can barely write today’s post.

Patricia Kaye died Tuesday from advanced metastatic bone cancer. Most of you knew her as YakPate – the audaciously brilliant Los Angeles blogger, poet and daily commenter to this blog. I knew her as Pat. She was my best friend.

I can’t begin to explain how much darker the world is without her.

I met Pat 22 years ago, shortly after I moved to Los Angeles. She was the owner of a boutique graphic design and marketing agency in Burbank, and the coolest business woman ever to rock a pair of leopard print leggings. She hired me as a freelance copywriter, but it didn’t take long to realize we would develop more than just a temporary work relationship. I think the first hint was during a late afternoon brainstorming session for one of her fussier clients:

“We need inspiration,” I said. “Do you want me to make some coffee?”

“Sure,” Pat said. “And I’ll run down to 7-11 and pick up a bottle of Baileys.”

She did. And we drank it. I don’t remember if we came up with any usable marketing concepts that afternoon, but I do know that we planted the seeds of a grand and flourishing friendship. It was a friendship that blessed and transformed me in more ways than I can count.

I quickly found out that Pat was no ordinary marketing executive. Beneath the business suit (“Corporate Drag,” as she referred to it) beat the heart of a true poet. Not only did she write poems and short stories with breathtaking talent and insight, but she viewed the world — all of it — as some kind of beautiful jungle just waiting to be explored. Everything was an adventure, and everyone was invited.

When she was younger, she lived like a character out of a great hippie rock opera: once working as an exotic dancer on top of the Luxor hotel in Egypt, later making leather goods in a commune in the Canary Islands. She was a passionate activist for populist causes and seemed the most happy when she felt like she was making a difference for those less fortunate. Even as a business owner, she infused work with big ideas and even bigger Robin Hood-ish generosity. She specialized in the marketing materials for credit unions — the fair-minded, member-owned, little-guy financial institutions competing with big banks. Pat was the credit union industry’s champion. In fact, she was a champion of most underdogs and outsiders. Maybe that’s why she was friends with me.

There was something wonderfully pixilated about Pat. Just being around her made your surroundings seem as if they were twinkling with fairy dust, with a possible banana peel hidden somewhere to slip you up and keep you laughing. While she could have discussed philosophy with the great thinkers of the Western philosophical canon, she also could have made George Carlin tip his hat, squeal with laughter and quite possibly shoot milk out of his nose. The woman was capital F Funny – possibly from her years following standup comedy in the early 80s (another incarnation, and the topic of her unpublished novel, The Ha Ha Cafe) but most likely from her keen ability to see this world as the ultimate absurdist circus. If anyone could take an existential pie in the face with great style, it was Pat Kaye.

No matter what happened, in Pat’s world the future was always about radical possibility. The past? Something to mine for gems. Although her history included long episodes of tragedy and despair worthy of a Gothic novel, those dark times never defined her. They just made a great backdrop for all of her sparkly light.

And man, was she ever sparkly. She was one of those fairy godmother people who gave far more then she took, who made everything a little more lovely and magical and whose gifts not only delighted but changed you. Just ask her nieces and nephews, her sister and brother, and her many many many many friends. We were damned lucky to be loved by Pat. So much of who we are is a direct result of knowing her.

A couple of weeks ago, Pat flew back to Louisville by ambulance plane to spend the time she had left with her family. The pain had become almost unbearable and the options had been whittled down to one: hospice. Even then, in the face of such surreal, Kafka-esque circumstances, Pat was hopeful and inspiring.

“How do you do it?” I asked her the day before she left. “How do you stay so bright and beautiful in the face of such crap? How do you manage, even now, to have fun?”

“Because life is wonderful,” she said. “Even the part where it ends.”

She shared with me one of the last poems that she wrote. I remember the final lines, although I wish she were here to correct my paraphrasing:

I used to think it was important to be the poet
But now I realize, it doesn’t matter
Because I am the poem.

I am the poem.

Pat was 66 years old. Details of the services in Kentucky can be found here. I’ll update when I know more about the memorial service in Los Angeles. Read more of Pat’s gorgeous words at her blog here.

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