Dec 6
6:45 pm
10/21 from barbara
Dear Every,

I am so excited to have worked with these invigorating questions this morning. Please, in exchange, tell me about your grandmother’s death. Love always and what’s next? And is it OK if I put some of this—my answers—into the booklet I am writing?
See attached

EOH: What in your artistic life prepared you to have a conscious death?

BH: My artistic life has prepared me to want a conscious death due to my longstanding practice of wanting to know everything, face the unknown, discover the hidden and reveal disguise. From the beginning I never accepted that my lifestyle should be an anomaly or something to hide. It was a breakthrough for me to come out as a lesbian in 1970 and I thank the feminist movement at that time for making lesbian visibility a “thing.” I feel similarly about giving back. If I can reveal or if not that, walk a reader, a viewer through the processes of dying then I am laying the possibility for a door to be open by those who read and might consider a conscious death to be incorporated into their lives.

EOH: What in your queer life prepared you to have a conscious death?

BH: As my life and artwork have so closely followed one another, so too does my response. It isn’t an everyday common articulation of death and our thoughts around this final happening that color our discourse. Until recently death is a subject to “not talk about,” to ignore, or worse, to deny. As queer folk have made headways into uncovering numerous previously hidden topics, we have prepared ourselves to also run hand in hand with death talking truth to power and speaking hidden voices. I think those of the AIDS generation began this discourse and one so quickly goes to the powerful writing and installations of David Wojnarowicz for leading the way.

EOH: Do you have an aesthetic vision for your final days? What you’d like to be hearing, smelling, seeing?

BH: I might have a vision but it is total fantasy I believe for the true discourse happens in the pain and suffering that I have not yet discussed fully. I have the feeling that creating a vision will have nothing to do with what I expect to be the hard reality of lying in bed being so drug addled that I’m scarcely aware of the music playing the color of the sky through the distant window, nor the visiting friends. Having said that I will dip into complete fantasy with warm summer air on my skin as I repose in nature looking across the yard to the whinnying horse in her corral as my dog lay by my side. I am embraced by my lover of forty years who has encircled my shoulders with her strong arm all the while giving me a tender kiss from time to time. The sound of nature entertains me as the crickets in the garden, the new peepers in the pond, and the scurry of little creatures underfoot divert and suffice. I take in one last full and deep breath if I’m able and expire surrounded.

EOH: How have your senses changed as you are approaching and accepting death?

BH: There are dramatic changes in my senses as I continue into the thirteenth year of living with cancer. The dimensioned appetite jumps out as in the past I loved about everything and would eat so much and with gusto that I could be considered chubby. It is a challenge now to find a food that interests me and furthermore that interest can change in a second and it no longer appeals.

My hearing seems more acute as loud sounds such as the television being too high for me irritate and become a focus that I can’t ignore. Walking down the street a slam of a car door can make me jump a little. I hear or used to hear a month ago the sweet sparrows from the expansive planted deck across the street.

I think my sense of smell is intimately connected with my desire or lack of desire for food. I have just begun to work with medical marijuana and I remember yesterday when I heated some rugelach in the oven to remind them that they were still fresh and I so enjoyed the smell of warm wheat that filled my studio.

EOH: During your recent lecture at the Whitney Museum you spoke about the primacy of pleasure as motivation in art making and relationships–have you found any pleasure in preparing for death, living with dying?

BH: I have found pleasure during various moments of living recently in palliative care with cancer. Just yesterday morning after taking the drugs (time release Tylenol and low dose morphine) and waiting an hour or so I felt genuinely happy. I was sitting on the couch near the window where I hang out every morning and I just felt good. I remarked on this to Florrie as it isn’t often the case. I think this feeling of well being lasted a few hours. Even now, spending over an hour at the computer thinking about my responses to your questions I feel “good enough” but I wouldn’t call that “pleasure.”

I ask for small favors now and when I can answer a question with lucidity I call that pleasure.

EOH: What could the idea “queer death” mean to you?

BH: What makes a death “queer”?

Queer death is defined by the people around me both physically and virtually. It is defined by the people who have made my life “worthwhile” through their expression of the meaning my work has made in their lives.

A queer death is a community death. As one leaves, one leaves with more clarity of the unknown, a sharing of the process, a little bit more revealed. The following queer deaths of others yet to come are made more rich from this sharing as they enlarge the beginning efforts are making towards definition and exchange.