:: Norma Wikler Memorial ::

...:: temma kaplan : tribute to norma ::...
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Read at Norma’s Memorial, Alice’s Teacup, New York, June 30, 2002

Norma was a tall, beautiful, and powerful carotid, who supported many projects, organizations, and loved ones. Everyone in this room knows that she was a gifted strategist, graceful writer, generous editor, tender care-taker, and loving daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. She liked having plans and she liked reflecting on what had been accomplished and what still needed to be done. She had an eye for what was important in life, and what the world needed. She was sometimes zany, but never silly. Always well-dressed and charming, she had a style all her own.

Norma also had something of the Stachonovite in her, but she was determined to enjoy life. You might remember the Stachonovite as the model worker, able to turn out iron and steel of better quality and at a faster pace than anyone else. She was proud of performing at the highest levels and of getting us all to do the same. Many of us did our best work because of her guidance. Whether she was bird-watching or bungee jumping, she enjoyed acquiring new skills and, at the same time, she enjoyed the thrill of contending with nature and winning. A fierce competitor, Norma did not like to acknowledge her competitive streak, nor did she like any one else to claim more than she thought they warranted. As tender as she could be about friends whom she thought were not caring for themselves properlyúand that included almost every one in this room at one time or anotherú she could also trounce those who she thought were out of line.

No one could take you closer into her confidence or drive you further away. A powerful presence, she could disappear like the Cheshire cat if she thought you weren't being attentive. But when she knew you needed her, she stuck like lint, covering you with a soft coating that cushioned you from the world. Her feelingsúdeep, rich, and variedúwere intense whether she loved you or for the moment hated you. She knew right from wrong, and although she was not interested in your eternal soul, she was passionate about your conduct and about her own. She was the friend most likely to be there fixing your problems even before you realized you had them. Whether you liked it or not, she figured out the next step you should take and did all she could to get you to move in what she considered the right direction.

Although Norma could be a harsh critic, she was a devoted friend. Even though she found some people too willing to compromise, too willing to settle, too willing to make do, she never for a moment thought that any of those she loved would lower their standards. She adored her siblings and their families. She was proud of Margie's book on silk and on her determination to write it as she wished. Norma loved the fact that Jeanne was an artist and a provider of artistic space to other creative people. She was proud of Dan and his commitment to high ethical standards. She loved and admired her nieces and nephews, though it sometimes took all the self-discipline she could muster to keep from giving them advice she knew they would resent. She was brimming with information about places ranging from Sea Ranch to Costa Rica and Angor Wat. She loved her dogs, she loved exercise, and, most of all, she loved all of you.

She usually returned from her trips filled with excitement about what she had discovered and brimming with ideas for new projects. Of all branches of her creativity, she most loved having adventures and crafting them into stories. Many of you remember the one about how she posed as an undercover cop to get to dance with George Balanchine, who choreographed a performance called "Kids and Cops." The first years Norma was in Costa Rica, she regaled us with letters filled with detailed information about the organic farming and doll-making that constituted some of the adventures of the Gringas in Grecia. This year, when life seemed less filled with possibilities for adventure, she nevertheless developed her ideas about neo-liberalism.

Though she didn't write about the arts, Norma was also a passionate consumer of them. We've all shared evenings with her at the ballet, theater, or opera. She got tickets for Tony Kushner's new play, "Homebodies/Kabul," which provided us with the opportunity for long discussions about what forms political theater can assume in the contemporary period. Norma was a recent convert to opera-going. She frequently went alone and took a seat in the balcony. She was excited to have been up there at the premier of "War and Peace," when a member of the chorus jumped from the stage. Norma relished telling the story of how the audience first froze in fear of a terrorist attack and then began to grumble about ticket prices as they faced an empty stage for a half-hour until the performance resumed.

Just as Norma had the ability to turn any event into a story, she could turn any activity into art. The jewelry-soldering she learned as part of the Hanukkah gift Margy gave her to the Craft Museum became a metaphor for her life: she could melt metals, make them adhere, and form something beautiful. She liked making jewelry because she loved transforming things. Metal was more maleable than the rest of us, and it never disappointed her. I teased her that at least one of us had a useful skill, but of course she had many.

Her greatest accomplishment in a stellar career was in institutionalizing the idea for dealing with gender-bias in the courts. The National Judicial Education Project, which she developed for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, spawned various state task forces in response to the judicial education programs Norma designed. When Norma had to return to Santa Cruz after a two-year leave, Lynn Schafran succeeded her as director. They began a twenty-year collaboration on reforming the courts here and abroad in the direction of gender equity. This year, when Norma was trying to find a task equal to the National Judicial Education Project, something that tied her sociological skills to structural changes in the world, she thought about the new union movement and what could make it truly internationalist.

Norma was the bravest person and most fundamentally artistic person I knew. She was Karl Marx's ideal of the fisher woman in the morning and the philosopher in the afternoon. But if she had her way, she would also be a dancer in the evening. She was afraid of nothing except indolence and ill health. By a strange occurrence I wound up at niece Ruthy's play last weekend. Amid the walkers on stilts and the trapeze artists, the neo-expressionist music and the reflections on art and conflict, I saw Norma dancing on her toes, stretching out to the sky as she always did. I also feel her here among us.