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December 23, 2008

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I can't sleep, was on Facebook and decided to look up an old friend - Sydney. Today is February 11, 2012 and it's been 4 years since Sydney passed away, so, needless to say, I am shocked to discover a Facebook page that informed me of the bad news.

I met Sydney in late December 2004/early January 2005 in, of all places, a psychiatric hospital. I was in for a nervous breakdown/anxiety/depression and Sydney was forced to go there when she couldn’t get ahold of her psychiatrist to refill her antidepressant and the rest of the details are fuzzy.

They placed us in the same room together and instantly I knew that this woman who became my instant roommate was a highly intelligent, sweet, caring, sensitive and loving spirit. She was so bright and so knowledgeable! She and I instantly became friends.

After a few days of being an inpatient, Sydney was released from the hospital before me but promised to give me a place to stay since the live-in job I had just previously come from was now no longer available to me.

With Sydney, this wasn't just talk or an empty offer - I knew she meant it.

I took her up on her offer and stayed in a spare bedroom in her Mom's home where Sydney was living at the time. Her Mom wasn't thrilled, but Sydney's unconditional generosity wouldn’t let me go anywhere else and she defended me to be able to stay there until I could figure out what I would now do about a place to live.

This was the kind of person Sydney was - she was open, honest, deeply caring about others and their feelings - she was a true friend.

I ended up having to go to my Mom's home in another part of the state and I never saw Sydney after that, but we spoke on the phone and tried to keep in touch.

What a tremendous blessing she was to me - and still is.

Sydney, I’ve thought of you and prayed for you often since our meeting. I looked for you tonight. I'm so sorry I fell out of touch with you - will you please forgive me? I miss you dear, sweet, glorious girl. God bless you always.

David Frankel

Sydney at Artforum

I met Sydney way back when, at Artforum, where we both worked. The office had these semihomemade cubicles: the desks were pushed together facing each other in pairs, and sandwiched between each desk was a single sheet of varnished plywood, standing vertically up to around chest height. Sydney and I sat at two of these twinned desks for a bunch of years. If we wanted to talk, all either of us had to do was get up and we’d be looking at each other, but we were just the widths of the desks and this plywood partition apart; even sitting down, if I was talking, she’d hear really everything I said, and vice versa. So in effect we were talking all the time—even when we were talking to ourselves, we were talking to each other. If I was working on something I didn’t understand, and I muttered about it to myself, Sydney would hear me. If the phone rang on either of the two desks, unless we made an effort to talk really quietly, each of us would hear what the other one said—business or personal, working with a writer or talking to a friend or getting mad at the cable TV people. And if either of us had anything to contribute to whatever the other person was talking about, and just started talking about it aloud too, we’d be having a conversation.

As Sydney and I got to know each other that way, we wound up talking pretty much all the time. We talked as part of our work, but we also talked as we worked about anything and everything, without stopping working. Sydney amazed me and does to this day. I always wanted her opinion, I thought she was brilliant—she always knew more than I did, in fact she was one of the most well-read, knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. And it wasn’t just that she’d read and remembered libraries of art history and theory; she knew about rock bands and Barbie dolls and politics and where to eat fish and chips. She was deeply intelligent. The variety of information she’d absorbed, and the way she kept renewing it—but meanwhile I didn’t get to know so much about her life; somehow, although in some ways I feel like we got to know each other intimately in all those years, in other ways she managed to stay private. We were talking in public, in an open-plan office, with other people around us joining in. I got to know something about who she was, the way her amazing mind worked, the scope of her curiosity and knowledge, her sense of humor—we laughed a lot when we talked to each other—her impulses and instincts, how kind-hearted she was while also too smart to be sentimental. I knew the names of the friends she talked to on the phone, and how she talked to them. I knew bits and pieces she told me about herself. But I didn’t get a bigger picture, the details of her life, her personal history.

At work, I don’t think I’ve ever known someone both as talented as Sydney and as skilled at hiding her light. As far as I was concerned she could have been running the place, but she seemed to want to avoid calling attention to herself, as if she didn’t want people to know how smart she was and how much she knew. In that context anyway; I knew she had a whole rich other life outside the office, where she was outspoken, active, activist. I asked her about this division sometimes but I never got any insight. I was glad, talking about her once with Tony Korner, the publisher of Artforum, to hear him call her a brilliant woman—I was glad he’d been able to see that. I know she felt Artforum had treated her badly, and I know why she felt that, but there were people there who recognized who she was.

Outside work we rarely saw each other. I do remember us going to see a Drew Barrymore movie together—Guncrazy, it was—and occasional things like that, but in some way maybe the office was our opportunity to get to know each other and gave us a way to relate. Later, when neither of us was at Artforum anymore, we stayed in touch mainly by email; we’d write long emails—Sydney particularly, booklike emails—but when we tried to make plans to get together, it often didn’t happen, there’d be some reason to cancel or postpone. I remember she once drove out to visit me on the North Fork of Long Island. The house was easy to find—it’s like, stay on the L.I.E. until the very end, then turn right—but she got lost, hours went by, there was a string of phone calls describing where she was and asking for directions from wherever that might be, if I could figure it out—and when she finally got there, we sat in the garden for not so very long and then she had to turn around and go back. (She loved to garden, that was one thing we emailed about a lot. I still have growing in my garden a dwarf willow she gave me.) It was almost as if she was less comfortable talking with me in person than by email, or from the other side of a partition and within the public community of an office. And that was fine; we knew we liked each other, we had a truly affectionate relationship. From what I did know about her, it wasn’t even so hard to understand—I was just lucky to get to know her as well as I did. She was complicated, remarkable, and lovely, and I think about her and miss her.

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