The generations in my family overlap in a strange way. I have aunts and uncles who are roughly my age. One of them married a woman who was also only a year older than I. I never really got to know her, but there was this one summer over a decade ago when I visited them in Szczecin, Poland, and stayed for a while, nursing a broken heart.
Even back then, my aunt Magda was already a recognised photographer, make-up artist and stylist, owned a successful model agency, exhibited the most astonishing drawings which reflected her boundless imagination, and contributed wise and edgy articles to local publications. She had a Master’s degree in philosophy, read Tarot cards in her free time, and designed her flat to look like something out of a style magazine. Magda loved Henry Miller and wrote her blog under the pseudonym June Miller. She was a mother, too.
Mis w swetrze (Teddy in pullover) by Magda Lipiejko
The first two drawings I ever bought from an artist were hers. They travelled with me to Cape Town and hang opposite my desk where they inspire me every day. After I met her, Magda and I corresponded for a while, but then we lost touch. The last time I wrote to her was for her birthday a few years ago. She did not reply. But there were no hard feelings. On the contrary: ever since that summer in Szczecin, I thought about her nearly every time I drew, wrote, saw a Tarot card, bought a new furniture piece, put up my hair, or took photographs. She and her work were a constant source of inspiration. Lace reminds me of her. And a certain type of drinking glasses. And old-fashioned scissors. Sepia photographs and old postcards. Alice in Wonderland. She shared a birthday with my Grandma and a dear cousin, so I always remembered her then as well. Full of admiration, I often looked at her websites and was happy to see that she was prospering, following her visions and making them come true. I dreamt of having my author’s photograph taken by her one day.
Through the family grapevine I found out that my uncle and Magda separated some years ago. At some stage someone in the family mentioned that she was not well. I might have written that last letter for her birthday because of those rumours. I don’t know. Nobody else mentioned anything about her for several years until this February.
Photo by Magda Lipiejko
The message came late at night. Magda died of cancer just after her 38th birthday. A cousin told me that until the very end she believed that she would recover. She was strong, beautiful, fiercely intelligent and multi-talented. In her short life, she achieved more than most others do given twice the time.
After the news of her death reached me, I visited her websites and her blog. I spent days looking at her photographs and reading her texts. In the same week, I received the first copies of Invisible Others
. Holding them in my hands, I thought again of Magda (I know I would have even if she had still been alive). There I was, so proud and happy, so full of hope for the future and the many other novels I was going to write. And I thought that this is also how it must have been for Magda before her death. She must have also had these dreams. And she should have had an entire lifetime to fulfil them. It pains me deeply to know that she did not get that chance. But I am grateful for the words and images she has left behind. In them, she lives on, continues to inspire. It was her blog
that made me overcome my reluctance to have one of my own again (unfortunate experiences in the past made me weary of the medium). And here I am, thanks to her.
I am glad that I told her how much her work means to me before it was too late, and I am infinitely grateful for everything she has given me.
I miss her.
Photo by Magda Lipiejko