Monday, August 22, 2016

Guest Blog: Baxter, Waiting

Note: This is a guest blog written by Eliza McGraw, Alison's friend.  A shorter version of this essay was read on Eliza's behalf at Alison's funeral.  The reader was another friend of Alison's, Christy Burks.

I am heartbroken not to be with you all today, but wanted to share some of my thoughts about Alison.
Alison and I met in graduate school at Vanderbilt, when we were 21, and we stayed close all these years, so I have way too many stories I could tell. I can see her so easily: Alison laughing and holding her hair back, Alison reading with Baxter, her giant white shepherd, draped across her lap, Alison singing with Maybelle.

Maybelle with Baxter.  Baxter died in 2009.

I know that among so many other things Alison was an extraordinary activist, speaker, mother, and teacher. But here's what I want to say: she was an exceptional, inspired scholar. We are lucky to have what she gave us, but we are also going to miss the body of work that she would have produced, and be the less for it. She wasn't finished, and now there's going to be an empty space on the bookshelf. I just know she had a lot left to say, and to write. 

Alison's work always showed a certain kind of expansiveness, a willingness to reach for a more complex theory or idea. She didn't shy from elucidation but she wasn't didactic. While she wrote the first drafts she questioned everything, but in the final versions of her articles or books, her reasoning was sharp, assured. Her mind was everquesting, thoroughgoing. She had an enviable ability to hone ideas without overgeneralizing, fortify concepts without repetition.

Also: Alison was so generous. She sometimes credited others with what I would have to point out were actually pretty original conclusions. In her acknowledgements for Out In Public, she informed readers when my book was coming out. (For those of you who never read the acknowledgments: that's not typical.)

I visited Alison earlier this summer. We'd stopped talking about work by then. Instead, we leaned back on another shared constant: our animals. We took a walk to see some ducks she had grown fond of, and coming back from visiting the ducks, we started talking about our favorite animals. Many of them are gone, and we got onto the topic of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, which describes people who lose their animal companions as "severed." In one of the books, these people reunite with their animals after they die. (Right now, I am imagining Alison telling me I am veering too close to plot summary.)

Anyway, Alison said she liked that idea, and while I also liked the thought that she'd see Baxter again—that somehow, Baxter was waiting for her, chin on paws—it was all too much for me and I started to cry. Alison cried too, and we walked along like that, two crying people, for a little while. I said something else about the Dark Materials series. Alison listened. Then she said, slowly, "But, you know, there are some pretty serious problems with those books. The women in them, that mother. . ."

Alison was a scholar to the very end. She wouldn't simplify and she wouldn't boil down. She could love the quote—cry over it--and still see its problems, turn the text over in her mind, consider all the angles, refuse to commit to one. I laughed, standing in the hot street, holding onto her arm, my tears falling, and Alison laughed, too.

She's always been ahead of me.

I miss her so much.  


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  2. A beautiful tribute. Thanks for writing this, Eliza.

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  4. I wish I'd met her, her family and friends are so lucky to have had her in their lives. Truly one in a million, her light is not out.

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