Thursday, November 12, 2015

More Chang

Kathy Chang (wearing black, seated), my ex-husband (standing in
the brown jacket) and one of the figures to the right is Sandy McCroskey,
now a copy editor for The Nation magazine.

Some years ago I wrote about my tenuous connection with Kathy Chang, who self-immolated in 1996. She's in the news again because she's the inspiration for a performance piece reviewed this week in the NYTimes:  ‘Chang(e)’ Explores a Woman’s Self-Immolation.

One of my Facebook friends, Anita King (who knew my ex-husband since high school), is described as Chang's best friend in Chang's 1996 obituary in the Times. Anita does not like how Chang is described in the review and wrote a comment in response. King created a  web site about Chang. There is also a Facebook page devoted to Chang, which is where I found the photo on the left.

It's interesting to note that Chang would be 65 now. When I knew her, I had no idea of her biography, and reading about her now, I discovered that our lives intersected more than I knew:

For many years, she seemed content dancing for her cause at Penn or at the art museum, spending a $30,000 inheritance to renovate and illegally live in an abandoned building in West Philadelphia, being named ''Freedom Fighter of the Month'' in November 1990 by High Times magazine, which advocates the legalization of marijuana. 
My ex-husband was living in that abandoned building for a time. We weren't officially divorced, but we were separated by then, and sharing custody of our daughter through informal arrangement. Which ended when I went to visit him in this building and found that they were staying on the second floor, which had big holes in the floor. Our daughter was two years old. I was still a kid myself, but I was shocked and horrified to see that my ex could put our daughter into such a dangerous situation, so I immediately took her home with me and didn't allow her to stay with her father again until she was old enough to look out for herself, and use the phone to call me if necessary.

I hadn't realized that Kathy Chang was the sponsor of this "squat." What a horrible waste of $30K (which would be more like $100K in today's dollars.) One more reason I find it hard to romanticize Kathy Chang and her friends from West Philadelphia.