Elizabeth McClung 1970-2013

elizabeth_squirrel

This is how I always think of Elizabeth: skulls all over, wings, corset, and, most importantly, pushy adoring squirrel. She was serious squirrel bait!

My friend Elizabeth McClung died Monday morning. Normally this isn’t something I would talk about online, but Elizabeth was the first person who I met online, never met in person, and considered a real friend. She lived her life publicly and openly, sharing with the world her wry wit, sharp analysis, generous spirit, and raw unfiltered experience, holding nothing back. So it seems appropriate to say something about her here.

Beth hated the word “inspirational” when applied to people with disabilities, so I’ll say instead that she was a brilliant badass superstar who changed my life. I met her through her blog, Screw Bronze, which started out as a blog about her just-published novel, Zed, her life as a champion fencer, and her musings on queer culture and rights. (A sidenote to say, unlike a lot of queer cisgender writers who discuss LGBTQI issues, with Elizabeth the “T” and “I” were a real and present part of the conversation.) By the time I found her blog, in 2007, she had begun her long journey with a terminal disease and the blog had become “An archive of posts regarding disability, lesbian life and culture, wheelchairs, mobility, goth and goth crip fashion, manga, anime, epee fencing, women and LGBT issues”. After some particularly crap stuff happened with her family of origin, she put out a call for family-of-choice; I requested the role of “flakey cousin” and had the honor of being accepted into the fold. Over the years we sent each other many care packages and postcards – Beth was the most inventive, elaborate postcard creator, and kept a spreadsheet of each recipient’s interests so she could tailor the card specifically to them.

The last time I corresponded with her, a couple of weeks ago, I told her, “You and the blog were once one of my few bright spots in a world that had narrowed to the few feet around my bed. Your words and your stories and your strength and your humor and your brilliant, clever, vast mind. You connected me to the disability community online and you were the first person I ever thought of as a friend who I’d never met in “real life.” Knowing you changed my idea of what “real life” is.” I literally learned how to live as a person with a disability from Elizabeth. I discovered through her that there was a community out there I could connect with without ever having to leave the house, and that this experience I was having was not just a quiet, shameful, personal one, but instead part of something greater, something with history and advocacy, allies and people standing in solidarity with one another.

Beth’s wife of nearly 20 years, Linda, put a final post up on Screw Bronze that talks about some of Elizabeth’s many accomplishments, if anyone is interested in reading further about the life of my extraordinary friend. Elizabeth was candid with her friends and readers throughout the years about her desire for affection and appreciation, and about her fears that as she grew sicker, as her memory and eloquence and many of the things that made her “her” started to change or disappear, people would leave her and she would be alone. I feel like her sincerity and honesty in this regard blew a hole clean through the fog of shame that sometimes surrounds admissions of vulnerability and needing other people. I tried to let her know often how much she meant to me, but I wish I’d done this sooner, while she was still alive – stood up and shouted, “Elizabeth McClung is an amazing person! I love her and want everyone to know about her!”

I can’t actually conceive of a world without Elizabeth in it. She’s been dying the whole time I’ve known her, but that means I’ve spent the last six years watching her evade death through, as far as I can tell, sheer force of will. Almost all of my postcards and gifts from her were in my living room, and constituted the bulk of the irreplacable things lost in the fire. We hadn’t been in touch as much since I started graduate school, but, like in many of my friendships with PWDs, we had a general understanding that sometimes you don’t have enough spoons to make contact but that doesn’t mean you don’t care. I can’t believe there will never be an “after I finish school” chapter of our friendship, or any more Elizabeth postcards to replace the ones that were destroyed. I’m guessing this is something I’ll be processing for a long time to come – Elizabeth affected my life in so many different ways that reminders of her and my gratitude to her are everywhere I turn.

The last thing she wrote was “I am a fraction of a fraction – 20% of me at 75% – still enough to regret that everything I was, everything I would be, everything I did unknown all fall into dust; swept by the angel of history.” The world’s time with Elizabeth was far too short, but I know her impact will continue to reverberate onward. Elizabeth, my friend, my cousin-of-choice, my mentor, my guide: you are loved, and you will be remembered.

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10 thoughts on “Elizabeth McClung 1970-2013

  1. I posted my respsonse on the wrong thread! So hear I am again………..very sorry to hear of you loss, I too have an internet friend, we haven’t known each other quite as long but I know how close you can be living worlds apart. It was a beautiful story and I wanted you to know that it was read. It nearly made me cry as I once thought my friend who had surgery, I thought I had lost her, she has a disability as well.

  2. I remember reading her blog years ago and wasn’t aware she was sick. I try looking up her blog again and find this…this makes me so incredibly sad.

  3. I found your post after looking for Beth’s blog today to show a friend… I now see Screw Bronze has been taken down, understandably. Like you, I was a long term online friend of Beth’s, introduced by a mutual friend, but a few years ago was lucky to be visiting relatives on Vancouver Island (I live in Britain) and to have the chance to spend an hour or so with her and Linda, feeding the squirrels in the park just like in the photo. I am not affected by serious illness myself, but people very close to me are, and I do feel more able to support them, thanks to Beth’s very personal listings and thoughts about her own situation. She made things a lot clearer for me, and was unsparing in her caustic wit and disdain for sentimentality. She was someone I valued greatly as a friend, and – like you – a virtual cousin.
    As a fellow-friend of Beth’s I wish you well.

  4. So sad to read this. I’m heartbroken. I started reading Elizabeth when raising my twin boys after they were born in 2009. I loved her postings. The dry wit made me laugh on so many occassions, at a time when I had a lot on my plate. My deepest condolences to her family and partner. Does anyone have contact information for her partner? I see that she took the blog down. I wish she would reconsider that given how incredible the content was. Very hard to replicate.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jon. Linda’s blog is still up, though it hasn’t been updated since a few months after Elizabeth died. If you click on her user profile there, you will find an option for emailing. I don’t know if it’s a current address. Let me know if you reach her. http://lindamcclung.blogspot.com/ I was also sad to see Screw Bronze disappear, it was an incredible and unique collection of writing.

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