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Cathy Seipp – free as she can be

March 22, 2007

The wonderfully iconoclastic Catherine Seipp has passed away today. I am amazed at how much sadness I feel for losing a person I have never actually met, except through her writing. I suppose it is partly because of the nature of blogging to be more personal and full of “everydayness” than like an ongoing conversation than an academic exercise or information exchange, but even her articles were full of gleefully strong opinions and personal asides that were so engaging. She also had real class, even as she sported that outrageous hair. To me she was really one of the rock-stars of the blogosphere, one of those people that is truly unique. I will really miss her.

Cathy lived in Silver Lake, where the Duke and I lived for many years post-college, and I think that also made her seem closer to me. Silver Lake, ahem, is not a real conservative area, and to be so out with her conservatism while still retaining friendships with those she disagreed with and maintaining that post-punk sensibility even into motherhood was just a total blast to watch. She sounded like a great mother- free-spirited, funky yet unafraid to say “no” when needed and to expect great things from her daughter.

For some reason this column of hers has stayed with me:

My sister has a new project that involves buying me various t-shirts shethinks express my bossy inner personality. Recently she got me one that says, “Stupidity Is Not a Crime, So You’re Free to Go.”

Now I don’t normally wear t-shirts with slogans on them outside the house. Too corny, like putting emoticons or “LOL” in email. But thisshirt is nicely cut and since I hate shopping, lately I’ve been running out of clothes. So not long ago I threw it on when I dashed out for a quick lunch and a movie.

There I was, eating a hotdog in the sunshine at an outdoor L.A. mall, when a mother passing by with a small child smiled, hesitated for a moment, and then volunteered: “I’d like to send that shirt to our president!”

“Well,” I said pleasantly, “I wouldn’t, I guess, since I voted for him.” (I wish I’d thought to add perkily, “I’d like to send it to Cindy Sheehan, though!” but my mind was in a hotdog-induced funk.)

“Oh…” she said, flabbergasted.

“That’s OK,” I added. “But you should know that not everyone is on the same side politically.”

At this point, her son, about four years old, began a pantomime of stomping on ants as he yelled, “Stomp Bush! Stomp Bush! Stomp Bush!” Evidently he’d been trained to do this, like an organ grinder’s monkey, whenever the word “president” is mentioned.

“No, no,” the woman told her son, rather helplessly, “she likes him.” The boy, however, continued his stomping and shouting.

“Gosh,” I observed, “isn’t he just adorable?”

Actually, of course, I thought the boy was yet another wretched example of contemporary parenting. Because I don’t care what your politics are or who you voted for, no small child should be taught to disrespect the presidency like that.

Strong, funny, and in your face – but polite. Mostly. I also remember this riff on party manners:

I do wonder sometimes, though, about people’s manners these days, because an awful lot of them seem completely unaware that running into someone at a party isn’t an invitation to a political debate. For instance,shortly before the last presidential election I went to a barbecue at an old friend’s house, and happened to mention a funny John “Do You Know Who I Am?” Kerry story I’d been told earlier that day. Another guest at the barbecue happened to overhear me telling that story, and so felt justified in demanding huffily, “Have you ever met Kerry personally?”


“Well, then you don’t even know him, so you shouldn’t talk.”

I smiled pleasantly. “That’s funny,” I said. “You sound just like a teenage girl arguing with her dad about why she should be allowed to date the leader of the local biker gang.”

Ladies, I’m passing on this tip free of charge: If you want a man to back away from you pronto at a party, use some variation of the above line. It worked like a charm for me.

From an interview she gave:

Interviewer: What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Cathy: I’ve always been a big believer in the importance of kicking your own ass. That is, forcing yourself to do what you don’t necessarily feel like doing at the time.

Interviewer: What do you consider the most important personal quality?

Cathy: A certain large-mindedness, or generosity of spirit – because this encompasses not only extending yourself for others, but other qualities like courage, and having friends who disagree with you politically, and not constantly worrying about what other people think.

In a very real and meaningful way, Cathy Seipp has been, and will be, and inspiration to me to live life to the full. I would do well to remember the gusto with which she engaged her friends and enemies in disagreement, and in good fun.

Sandra Tsing Loh (who I also adore) had this to say about her in the LA Times:

“Never afraid of a firestorm, Catherine Seipp afflicted the comfortable and even, occasionally, the uncomfortable, but she always did so with precision, wit and moments of surprising compassion.”

Surprising compassion returns to her now in this remembrance by Susan Estrich, who was a target of Cathy’s savage wit:

(W)e had to agree to disagree. But I was always interested in how Cathy put it, where she came down and how she got there, because I knew she’d be as tough on herself as any critic would be. So I checked in every day to see what she was thinking, until the end. Ours was an old-fashioned relationship, the kind people used to have with people they disagree with, the kind that is too often under attack these days.

It’s too bad we’ll never meet, Cathy wrote to me not long ago, and my heart skipped a beat, but of course I knew what she meant. We e-mailed. She posted. We lived in a new world, by the old rules. It may be the best of both.

Matt Welch remembers her here, and Luke Ford interviewd her here. Welch reminds me that a) she rooted for news papers, mostly criticizing them for being “too boring, boring, mediocre or undeservedly self-impressed” and b) was “not in the lest bit cynical”. To be popular in a culture that values cynicism and despair, she would have none of it. For that “this community
of unlike-minded weirdos” adore her. Rest in peace.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tim C. permalink
    March 23, 2007 11:48 am

    Well written, Grec…

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