Sirenita Lake

Sirenita Lake
San Francisco, California,
November 04
I am married in a committed, open relationship that is the anchor of my life. I'm a former high school English teacher, former software technical writer, and graduate of the late, great public interest law school, New College of California School of Law. I'm now on permanent disability from conditions that have finally eased up enough for me to begin exploring the world, at least that part which I can access emotionally, with the recklessness of a teenager. An important part of my life remains my work as a counselor for tenants with legal problems. The rest of the time, I indulge in outrageous adventures in sex and love, which I occasionally write about.


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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 4, 2013 2:37PM

Cris Gutierrez, 1951-2013

Rate: 114 Flag


Cris Gutierrez, 61, a San Francisco writer and activist, died August 4, 2013 from complications of pancreatic cancer.

A native of the city, Cris graduated from and taught in its public schools, helped countless people through her volunteer work, and entertained and inspired many with her writing.

Marie Christine "Cris" Gutierrez, the eldest daughter of Jorge Edmundo Gutierrez, a native of Nicaragua, and Eva Leiva, a native of El Salvador, was born Nov. 4, 1951 in San Francisco. She grew up in San Francisco and in Colma. A member of Lowell High School's class of 1970, she was expelled in 1969 for, as she put it, "enjoying the Sixties too much." She went on to San Francisco City College and transferred to UC Berkeley, where she majored in Linguistics and graduated with honors in 1978.

During her twenties and early thirties, Cris was an aerobics instructor and athlete, competing in regional women's powerlifting competitions. She volunteered at San Francisco Sex Information and was a member of the Bi Center. She also volunteered as an intake person and translator for Central American immigrants seeking asylum for the Lawyers Committee for Urban Affairs (now Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights). Cris worked as a secretary at San Francisco's Grey Advertising, as an assistant manager at a Firestone Tire dealer, as a bartender at the Navy's non-commissioned officer's club on Treasure Island, and in landscape architecture in Prescott, Ariz, where she lived for two years.

Returning to San Francisco, she obtained a teaching credential at San Francisco State University in 1985 and taught at several high schools in San Francisco, including Philip Burton High School and Mission High School, where she met a fellow teacher who became her partner and eventual husband, Mark Pritchard. They became registered domestic partners in 1992 and were married in 2003.

With Pritchard she taught English in Niigata, Japan in 1987 and 1988, then returned to San Francisco to care for her mother, who died of Alzheimer's disease in 2002. During the years of her mother's illness, Cris appeared in performance art events, co-edited and published a magazine, Frighten the Horses, and was a member of samba group Scola Nova de Samba, dancing in Carnaval and Cinco de Mayo parades. She worked as a technical writer at Sybase for 13 years.

After her mother's death, Cris pursued her dream of studying the law, obtaining a JD from New College of California School of Law in 2007. Following graduation, health problems prevented her from taking the bar exam, but she worked for several years as a volunteer tenant counselor for Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. In this role she answered questions on evictions, leases, and the rights of tenants inside and outside of the city, advocating for renters in the city's cutthroat housing environment.

During her last decade, she began writing prolifically, first on the Catster website under the guise of her pet Milagrito, and from 2009 until her death on the Open Salon website under the pen name Sirenita Lake. Often featured among the site's most popular posts, her essays tended toward comic anecdotes which revealed her fundamentally nonconformist character. Her most popular post was titled "Why I Hate Monogamy."

When Cris was diagnosed with the same illness that claimed the life of her father over fifty years before, she reacted with characteristic courage and stoicism. Writing on Open Salon, she said:

I'm satisfied with my life ... I was the person I was meant to be, I chose the right values (for me), I was far from perfect but I was never intentionally cruel or mercenary, and miraculously, admirable folks found something to like in my choices. The approval or admiration of those I respect has come to mean much more to me than how close I fit any of the templates by which our culture judges a successful life. I never expected what you gave me, I guess because I never thought to be noticed by anyone. It's a miracle and a gift.

Long windedness has always been one of my flaws, but then, I'm gonna be quiet for a very long time, so I'll mention something else. I'm Latina. We don't, in the traditional culture, write about ourselves. That's for exhibitionistic Americans. But it occurred to me that telling the truth is a worthwhile goal, and that I was fed up with living a double life, pretending to be just like the other girls at the office while being drawn by my own dark and unsanctioned currents away from the mainstream. So I took a risk that proved worth it. If you like me, it's for things that are true. Lose pretense, and dying holds no terrors.

Cris is survived by her spouse Mark Pritchard, her partners Lee Smith and Jeff Barber, her sisters Sonia Maya of Oakland, Vicki Beland of Oakland, and Shirley Gutierrez of Walnut Creek, her aunt Dora Gomez of San Francisco, and many relatives in the United States and El Salvador.

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One last OS rate, for a life well lived Cris. You will be well missed, forever, but never ever forgotten. Thank you.
Rest in Peace dear Sirenita.
Cris, you were authentic, honest, caring, intelligent, it was an honor to meet and know you

Mark, my deepest sympathies
This is the last thing I wanted to read today. A light has gone out....but, here, she will remain, as long this place remains, which makes it sacred, in a way. Rest in peace, friend.
Thank you for your dance, beautiful Sirenita.
And, yes, one last rating for a lady who really rated.
Peace, beautiful girl.
You will be missed.
Sleep well precious soul...till we meet again
Cris, so many you have touched, a life well-lived.
My deepest sympathy to you, Mark, Jeff, Lee, Cris's sister, Steve, Jenny - and all who love her.
RIP, the lovely sirenita. Condolences to all those who knew and loved her, both in person and here on OS.
Heartfelt condolences to all who loved her. The photo of Cris above reminds me of a poem by Sydney Carter:

Swung by the rhythm of
a yes and no
between the living and
the dead I go.
The dance is in my bones
and though I see
that every dancing bone
will cease to be
I will believe my bones and learn to trust
my living and my dying,
for I must.
Coming and going by
this dance, I see
that what I am not is
a part of me.
Dancing is all that I
can ever trust,
and dance is all I am,
the rest is dust.
I will believe my bones
and live by what
will go on dancing when
my bones are not.
I am cranking up the salsa dance music, Cris ~ first dance is for you ~
A light gone.

Lea's poem sums it up so beautifully.

Rest and then dance, lovely lady.
~hug~ Too many people online have passed away!! ~:( She will be missed!! My post to her stands as my tribute!! ~huge hug~
Such an amazing life, such an amazing person, and what an honor, what great good fortune, to have known her and to carry her always within my heart.
A last rate for one who rates happiness forever
Nana, I sent you a PM. You know what I've gone through, and I know what you'll go through, including her hubby!! She shall be be with you and her hubby, even when she makes it to Heaven! Pam still is with me, even when she passes to Heaven!! :( ~hug~
What a remarkable life. She really sucked the juice out of it, didn't she?
Goodbye, Sirenita. I don't know whether to say Rest in Peace, or Give 'em Hell. Either are too ordinary to contain you. Thank you for showing us all how to live fiercely.
cris was so rare, a woman self-constructed and free, kind and curious, smart and open, who accepted who and what she was. an original, no copies struck. i will miss her terribly.

my heart is breaking for mark, jeff, lee and the others in her closest circle, but i'm glad her struggle is over. namaste, my friend.
I only met Cris twice, for a couple of too brief afternoon visits and I left so very impressed by her grace and strength that I doubt that I will forget her. Condolences are not enough; but aside from memories of the brilliant smile of a powerful woman, they are all I have to offer. Please keep us informed for any plans for her memorial service.
Cris, you will always be remembered by me because you are unforgettable in your uniqueness and wonderful inspiration in your example of courageous authenticity, expressed with humor, intelligence, kindness, generosity. Wishing you a very good onward journey.
My dearest sympathies to those that mourn this woman of substance that was full of love.
My dearest sympathies to those that mourn this woman of substance that was full of love.
My deepest condolences to all of you. Peace to you.
Rating this post seems woefully inadequate for a summary of such a full, loving life. Condolences to all who loved her, including the many who did so virtually.
Every time I see a mermaid...
The night sky is one very big star brighter tonight, I hope the rest of your travels suit you as much as those down here.
Deeply saddened. R
This is the "top rated" post over the past four hours - and if not tribute enough, all of the top four "top rated" are about Sirenita - clearly she touched many on this site and, no doubt, in all other facets of her life. RIP Cris.
Such a strong, gentle spirit -- my deepest condolences to all those who loved her. She will be missed.
One fearless woman -- long may she wave!
listening to Nina and thinking of you. Safe journeys.
Blessed and in peace ~
I said good bye,
didn't I?
I know that
I will see you again.
I didn't leave really;
I am still
with you.
Though I piece together time
and fly
in white mist;
I wait upon the shore
a mermaid
who dives for pearls.
I grant you
many my beloved.
I string together
all my pearls and wear
them around my neck
I keep all of you with me
and someday you will see.
Peace to you
and now peace to me.

She’s gone? She’s gone? Outrageous lie!
I feel her close; I feel her near….
Her golden skin; her happy face.
I see her in my heart, so clear.

How can it be that she is gone?
Her laughter touches still, my ears.
It’s true! It’s true! I fear it’s true;
Still I see her through my tears.

I feel her touch. Deep. In my soul.
She plays and whispers. In my dreams,
I see her walk a path of stars;
I see her dancing on moonbeams!

She’s gone? She’s gone? Outrageous lie!
She lives within us, through and through.
Her memory lives; it will not die.
Her memory lives! It lives in you.

I will raise my pen to you, every time I see a mermaid.
She lived life to the fullest and was her own person. A lesson for us all.
Om shanti shanti shanti Cris. All love and light...
I wonder ... have you always ...
been so easily able to ...
draw forth ...
the best
the deepest
the truest
essence of self
from those
who hear your words
who feel your touch
for that is what
has been happening
is still happening
will always be happening
perhaps it is the only way
one is able to respond to
your best
your deepest
your truest essence of self
may all the stars be gathering
welcoming you now
as you take your place
in all our skies ...
My deepest sympathies to Cris' family and loved ones. I am very sad.

This is a beautifully written obituary that captured all that was Cris and explained quite eloquently what a fine human being the world lost today. Cris was a true beacon for all who struggle with individuality and the courage to just be who we are.
Ah, dammit. Even though I knew this was coming, it is still just so damn wrong.

To our Sirenita, lady of the lake, we are forever grateful to have had the opportunity to celebrate your life while you still lived it. Do me a favor and give Josie a hug when you see her.

Forever in our hearts.
Sigues bailando mujer. Paz.
Sigh. No big words from me . . . just know that I'm thinking of you all, sending wishes for peace and love to surround . . .
That so many have come back here to honor and celebrate your life, mourn your loss and pay their respects is a testament to the vibrant light you continue to cast on those whose lives you touched. Mine was one of the many. You were one in a million.
I had a dream
I had a dream last night. A dream of Sirenita, in her home in the Mission district. It was filled with people who loved her and spent their days making her comfortable. I felt like an intruder, but only briefly. For she smiled at me and welcomed me into her home, even as it was obvious that she would be leaving us soon.
I woke, still thinking of Sirenita. How I sent her a message through Open Salon on hearing of her diagnosis. From her writing, I could tell that she appreciated making connections. And it’s important to let others know that you have noticed them. I didn’t expect anything in return. After all, we did not know each other, and she was dying. But I received a response several days later, in which she apologized for not responding sooner. How gracious she was. Apologizing to a stranger for not responding, because her illness had robbed her of her sight! That was Sirenita.
My dream reminded me that I hadn’t written back in a while. I still felt like an intruder. We still didn’t know each other. I still wanted to write to her, to tell her that I had dreamed of her. It’s silly, I told myself. Telling someone you dreamed about them? And how hard it is to write down a dream, anyway. They’re more about the emotions rather than what actually happens in them. Plot-wise, they don’t make any sense. But I told myself again, that people appreciate knowing that you have noticed them, that you are thinking of them. So I told myself I’d write to her today.
But it’s too late.
Now I’m thinking of all of you – Mark, Jeff and Lee, and everyone else at Open Salon. I notice you.
Your authenticity was staggering. I learned from that, both as a writer and as a person.

Fare thee well, Sirenita, fare thee well.
What an incredible life she has lived, full steam ahead in every way. Sending peaceful thoughts for those left behind....
Fly now and dance on the stars, Sirenita.
on to another shore, mermaid
a life well lived
a spirit forever on our mind
rest in peace sweet lady
thank you for allowing us into your world...
I know that stairwell. So fierce and powerful this image of you
Dear Lady--What an extraordinary life you led and thank you for sharing it with us. R! Forever.
And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. ~Khalil Gibran

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Sirenita.
Your voice was strong and direct, your words well chosen, your honesty clear and beautiful. May you echo through the universe for a long time to come.

Thank you for all you gave us.
Yo, lovely lady. Sail on.
Sympathy for those who were closest.
To a life lived well and full..........
I stand amazed at the gems of wisdom in the section quoting her: 'If you like me, it's for things that are true. Lose pretense and death holds no terrors." I suspect much of the fear of death is really the fear of not having lived. "I am the person I was meant to be..." What else can any human hope to be? Rest well, mighty mermaid. You gave us many gifts.
All words fail me. Condolences and peace, poor as they are, will have to do.
Very sad- but what a life! You did things that really mattered.
So much life in those years, beautifully summated. To those who are friends and family, I am so very sorry.
RIP. Your distinct and powerful voice will be missed.
I'm so sorry to read of this. -.-
Oh have been a blessing to so many of us. I'm sending you dazzling, sparkling love and laughter to encircle your spirit. Your soul is unbridled and fully free, as it should be.
thx to family for the courtesy of this announcement above.
hoping that a funeral or memorial service will be announced here on open salon at some point.

the bird has flown this coop.
Comfort to those who loved and adored her, "...weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" for surely the adventure she has gone on to pursue is every bit as magnificent as the one she has left behind. I have no doubt she would agree with Mr. Thompson on this one thing...

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

― Hunter S. Thompson
Safe passage, Cris. Well done.

You extraordinary woman...the ground still rumbles underneath us all...

Pasaran más de mil años, muchos más
Yo no sé si tenga amor -la eternidad
Pero allá, tal como aquí, en la boca llevarás
Sabor a mi

A thousand years will pass, many more
I don't know if love exists in eternity
But there, just like here [On your lips] you will carry
A taste of me - Álvaro Carrillo - Sabor a mi
Farewell, Sirenita. Pancreatic Cancer--you deserved a better fate. But while you were with us, we were blessed.
I felt kinship with you in life because you spoke truths which many would hide. You leave an indelible print. My sincere condolences for your friends and family who must learn to live without you.
I'm Lee, Cris' partner mentioned in this lovely obituary that Mark wrote. I've existed here on Open Salon mostly as a handful of comments on Sirenita's writings. That won't likely change - I write mostly elsewhere, and I suspect that it'll be a while before the pain of her absence, which I''m just beginning to feel, will allow me to write much.

I want to acknowledge this, all of you. You've all seen two clear truths about Cris. When she chose to reveal herself to someone, what she showed was true. She never once in the time I was blessed to be with her, ever did one thing to try to make herself look better than she is... was. And when she chose to love someone, she loved completely. When Cris gave me her love, she gave me everything there is of her. I'll never stop hurting at the loss of it.

Thank you, all, for having seen and known some of the extraordinary person she was.

I'm Lee, Cris' partner mentioned in this lovely obituary that Mark wrote. I've existed here on Open Salon mostly as a handful of comments on Sirenita's writings. That won't likely change - I write mostly elsewhere, and I suspect that it'll be a while before the pain of her absence, which I''m just beginning to feel, will allow me to write much.

I want to acknowledge this, all of you. You've all seen two clear truths about Cris. When she chose to reveal herself to someone, what she showed was true. She never once in the time I was blessed to be with her, ever did one thing to try to make herself look better than she is... was. And when she chose to love someone, she loved completely. When Cris gave me her love, she gave me everything there is of her. I'll never stop hurting at the loss of it.

Thank you, all, for having seen and known some of the extraordinary person she was.

Hi Lee, I have only gotten to know Sirenita in these last few months and feel as though I missed out on a treasure, so I can only imagine how those of you who love her feel. Thank you for sharing your perspective with us and for giving us the opportunity to extend condolences to you as well as Mark and Nana. The most evolved beings can love without limits.
Lee.. I can only imagine. It was my extreme pleasure to meet you. Can't think of any words that would help..
Is that you, Cris?, this big fisty feeling in my heart?
Dance in peace, Sirenita Lake. Wishing comfort for all of your family and loved ones here on earth.
RIP to a beautiful person~
catnmus: Your story echoes mine. I had sent an FB friend request to Sirenita some weeks ago. I had forgotten all about it, so imagine my surprise when she responded last week with a similar apology. I am sure we are not alone. Her actions speak volumes about the kind of person she was.
I have never seen anyone unite this site like she did. That she will be missed here is as universal a truth as this place has.
To Mark, Jeff and Lee,
I was only a witness near the end. I only had a few moments with her. I wish I'd met her much earlier in my life and known her as you have, but I'm glad I got to meet Mark and Jeff and see them do what they could to make Cris's last weeks in the garden glow with color and light. She had such a great smile and a wonderful laugh that I won't forget. I can only imagine loving her as you did. I can only imagine how you must feel without her. As I keep telling Jason, "Be better, be well."
A light dimmed, but not lost - she clearly shines on through the many souls she touched so deeply. RIP Cris.
Really glad to see this on the cover -- Sirenita, you somehow even got the editors in sync with the community here. Kudos.
Rest in peace Sirenita.
Vaya con Dios. best, libby
Hey Sirenita, you got an EP!! Woo! Tell God to give me one too! ;) Miss you like crazy!!
Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire uirthi. I will miss her voice here.
Rest in peace, sweet lady and thank you for helping me over a rough spot. You are one of a kind.
I knew Sirenita as a presence here on OS, but nothing more. We may have exchanged a few comments a few years ago. Reading this, I realize more than ever what an amazing woman I missed out on reading and perhaps getting to know better. What a life! I'm glad she got to experience her time on earth to the fullest. May she rest in peace. My thoughts go out to her loved ones and to those who were lucky enough to know her here on OS.
sirenita, a goundbreaker, and a pioneer, had a sort of agelessness. from her pictures, and this new info, I couldnt believe she was in her early 60s.
fyi a link to her post, one that she posted not long after I joined, and which inspired me to stick around in this colorful place, which she added significant color.
why I hate monogamy

also, for those interested in further inquiry into this subject she felt quite "passionately" about, included her in this compendium of posts
best writing on open relationships/polyamory on open salon

she reminds me of an old/favorite saying, "the pioneers are the ones with all the arrows in their back". I suspect in her contrarian ways & personality she faced much pushback, which she documents somewhat in her blog, but also which I suspect she underrepresented in her blog. brave, a very thick skin, she could shrug off just about anything. but brave in a casual, almost buddhist way, as if her remarkable bravery was not anything remarkable.
ps I dont know if this has been stated elsewhere. I think it was a PM from yrs ago sirenita told me how her literary journal "frighten the horses" got its name. it comes from a quote by Mrs Patrick Campbell.
"Does it really matter what these affectionate people do — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!"
in other words the title of her literary journal she chose is linked also to her "polyamorosity"...
& just found this, a link to the online archive for frighten the horses
vzn, I went wandering through your link to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, whose quote inspired Sirenita's magazine title, 'Frighten the Horses' - and found a quote by George Bernard Shaw about Mrs. Patrick Campbell that I thought appropriate to quote here among all this love for Sirenita:
I want my dark lady.
I want my angel.
I want my tempter, I want my Freia with her apples.
I want the lighter of my seven lamps of beauty, honour, laughter, music, love, life and immortality.
I want my inspiration, my folly, my happiness, my divinity, my madness, my selfishness, my final sanity and sanctification, my transfiguration, my purification, my light across the sea, my palm across the desert, my garden of lovely flowers, my million nameless joys, my day's wage, my night's dream, my darling and my star.
With absolutely no irony and with tremendous love I say this, at last: It's been real.
I am so sorry and so very sad. She helped me through much. She offered True grace and caring.

To Mark, Lee, and Jeff, I offer my sincere condolences.
a star
through the universe
through the heart

a good woman
on fire
a comet
fierce and alive!

I wish we had been neighbors
maybe slugged back a good whiskey
on a hot summer night
crickets cackling with us
but this was good enough
I would love to know the story behind the picture
What an incredible person... so tragic to lose someone as wonderful as her...
So she is dead.
I hardly knew her.
I keep thinking that people from the outcome of their journey live life to the fullest as if they know that life is short.I'm reminded of Mozart.
She has had a tremendous amount of strength and courage.Her authenticity is much to be honoured.

Transcript from a letter to JMac.
Condolences to her family, to her friends and to all who loved her.
Dianne asked for the story behind the picture. Someone sent Cris this dress. You can't really see in the picture, but it has gold threads woven through it. Cris put it on and said "This dress makes me look like a superhero!" So I asked her to strike a pose suitable for a superhero.

She didn't like this resulting picture very much, but everyone who knows her loves the picture, and I think it captures her indomitable spirit.
My God this breaks my heart. She was the real deal. I feel so bad that I didn't get out there to meet her in person. I take it she wrote this prior to her passing and then had Mark press "send."

Such courage fills me with awe and humility--traits I sorely lack. May her myth be greater than her reality as it deserves to be, and may all those so filled with their own arrogance they do not see this at least for a moment put down their swords and pay homage when it is due.

"What we love well remains, the rest is dross."

No one I have ever met in this "cyber" world has effected me like Sirenita. I don't expect to ever be her equal or to have anything to say that matches her truth and honesty.
There are some people in your life you feel deja vu with, Sirenita is one of mine. She will be missed by many...such things happen when you are indelible.
I loved her for her friendship and candor. She recognized in me a kindred spirit as I saw the same in her. Bless her memory. And ease the sense of loss we all have felt.
I come back to look at the picture every once and awhile. How are you doing?