Jodi Tilton: A Life


I am writing this and circulating it among friends because of the possibility that I will not be in New York City for Jodi’s memorial. I will be in Europe for a month visiting social centers and organizations that address the condition of precarity and (no) borders as well as meeting with numerous activists, writers and theorists.

In a few days to a week as these processes begin to end – that of her life and of the arrangements that we have adopted to bring some closure to ones life – you all will return to work, school, and other commitments. You should and must in order to continue your own lives and to honor Jodi’s.

During the next month, without employment, with my thesis and all the articles I was working on completed, I see moments where I will be alone. I know that I am not alright in these moments, and I feel myself wandering along dangerous ‘lines of flight’. As these moments collide to form days and weeks I have realized that at the end of this there may be nothing of me left. So I instead have to put myself on a plane to Europe, where I will be active daily and have numerous tasks and conversations to occupy my mind, as a way to have a life at the end of all this – one worth living.

I love you all!

Kevin Van Meter
July 26, 2007

* * *

The question is always how one should begin an undertaking such as this: how does one ‘cast on’? Ending is clear; it is always constructed from the elements that one knits together. Ending is ‘binding off’ or whenever possible, especially in situations such as these, allowing the loose yarns to trail off and wander into other thoughts.

The question I confront here is a complex one: how do I avoid representing a life in some mythical way, where calls to the great beyond and generalities cover the actual elements of that life? I feel that my task here is to amplify a life in such a way as to reflect its very elements and its construction. A life is constructed from the relationships and moments that flow thru it, and the uncertainty and possibilities of it must be lived themselves.

I don’t want to ‘memorialize’ Jodi Tilton, but rather amplify elements of her life that are to be lived by us thru processes of creating, desiring, experimenting and living. These are all corporal processes as they allow one’s desires to overflow one’s body and connect with other desires in the world.

These elements and desires summarized in four parts below are entirely subjective. They are mine, and mine alone.

As a Character

Jodi Tilton was certainly a character as her raspy voice and personality carried on far beyond her small body. Argumentative, sharp, punchy, and quick would all describe her conversational style and how she interacted with the world; yet within this she was unrelenting in her support and love for her friends. Her social conscience intersected with her love of craft and old typewriters, which in turn intersected with unique sense of humor and her obsession with bulldogs (she just couldn’t walk past one without grabbing it in her arms). I find it difficult to imagine a world that is constantly moving, bustling with activity, lives continuing as they have – and all of this without such an energetic and complex person such as Jodi in it.

As a Partner

Our hearts were both jagged edges, and this is where our story began.

The spring after we met and just before her twenty-first birthday, the two of us headed to Philadelphia on what we jokingly called it our ‘Philly Vegan Fatness Tour 2005’. We wanted to eat as much vegan food as possible and ended up at six restaurants in under two days where we began, of course, with an all-you-can-eat joint. The stated purpose — really the excuse — was to see the Salvatore Dali exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

We wandered the exhibit for hours, talking, sitting in front of one painting before moving on to another, and stopped for a while to figure out what subject a particular gentlemen walking the exhibit in his old blazer with us taught. We seemed to go on more tangents than discussing the paintings. The exhibit took us nearly half a day to complete.

I still remember when we got to the hotel that night, after eating our way around Philadelphia and walking for hours thru the exhibit and city streets. Tired and with full bellies, all we could do was lay there with our stomachs pointing toward the ceiling and laugh about the day’s events until we were both fast asleep. It is in these moments, insignificant as they may sound, that we found ourselves and found something that we loved deep within each other.

Ours was a relationship, a partnership without the boundaries that are normally used to define the time two people spend together. The time that we were friends and then the time that we were lovers often greeted each other. At other times, those frenzied and special times, we were intensely both.

Even when we continued our relationship clandestinely we would rendezvous at Prospect Park, on the hill behind the ball fields. We would picnic and while we would always meet with our bikes, we rarely rode. It seemed that we always got lost in conversation and it would be dark before we wheeled our bikes home. It is in these moments as the sun went down, with that look that she would give me, that those jagged edges found their counterparts and fit together.

As a Friend

There was a letter I was always writing to Jodi. She knew of it, and I would at times reluctantly take a moment to share part of it with her. I never felt that it was ready, that the words were just right, or that the moment had come. She never got to read this letter, which stands as a nearly unbearable regret.

But this letter is in some senses not a letter at all, but rather a metaphor. A metaphor for the simple act that we all seem unable to do: the act of telling someone what they mean to us and how, why and in what ways we love them.

Since we met, Jodi has been a constant companion, an instigator of all kinds of excursions and adventures, and a daily presence in my life. The intensity of these interactions, of our conversations, debates, and activities, along with her quick wit, was something that I enjoyed immensely.

She made all sorts of faces. The ‘many looks of Jodi Tilton’ I would call them, and it didn’t take me long to figure out what each one meant. I could almost read her thoughts by the look she would give me. She would squint her eyes whenever she found something amusing, and twist her nose to one side when she was annoyed. But there was this one, a quick one, where she was almost questioning you, before she laughed and for the past year that one has been my favorite. She knew that would say anything to see it.

There was this way her head rested on my shoulder — it was very distinct — as she almost wanted it not to be at rest. She was always restless, always unable to sit at home and not go out into the day, or not be involved in some project, activity, or outing (potlucks with her friends being among her favorite).

One would be challenged to find someone who cared for or thought more about her friends than Jodi. She was an immensely emotional person and she developed strong emotional ties to those around her. The esteem she held for those in her life, the thought she put into everything from conversations to gifts, and the love she had for all her friends could never be returned in full.

Our friendship grew because we were old souls, as Jodi would say. We even dressed as old versions of ourselves one Halloween, she was ‘old Ma’ Tilton’ and I can still imagine her years from now sitting in a rocking chair looking very much the same.

This letter is a ‘weapon against forgetting’ (even though I know that I will never forget her); against forgetting those nights when she was sick and we would lay in bed and hold my arm until she fell asleep; against forgetting those short phone calls we would have every morning (and periodically continue late into the night) at times laughing, at others bickering on some silly point. This is a ‘weapon against forgetting’, as simple as it sounds, how much our friendship was part of my everyday life and how I don’t know how I will live without it.

If she could hear me now all I would say is this: I love you dearly, and I will never say goodbye.

As a Life in the World

This sketch, story, and letter are not examples for their own right, but rather elements of a life – a life that needs to be carried out into the world. Each of us carries these elements of Jodi with us: some of us as a character, others a partner, all of us as friends. The task before us is to figure out how the moments we have shared with Jodi and the elements of her sketched here exist in our own lives. How do they change us? How do we continue to live with her during the course of our lives? How do we challenge ourselves, and each other, around these elements and give a life to them? How do these moments we share with Jodi become part of our ‘forever’? How do we live like Jodi did; how do we come to the world to challenge it and change it?

We often wonder how to construct a better world; one more just, beautiful, and whole than the one we now inhabit. I have but one suggestion to address this: to construct a better world we simply need more ‘lives’ like Jodi’s to overflow into and thru it.