This piece was constructed with many others who knew and loved Karen. Some talked directly with me and some shared comments on her Facebook page which I’ve borrowed here, to read at her memorial service today, Saturday, November 19, 2011, in Johnson City, Tennessee. Thank you for being part of her service and this tribute through the sharing of your words. If you’d like to share other words or sentiments with her family, you can post them at Morris Baker here: http://Bit.ly/uL0390
There are times when we are eloquent with sentences, poignant with images, clever with turns of phrase. Times when the eloquent potential of words pull us out of the darkness, mourning, confusion, pain. And there are other times when we are stripped of elegance and eloquence, when the simplest of words and phrases are all that we can deliver, when the most simple or even the most base ARE the most poignant.
My mother said to me not ten years ago, “Amber? Honestly. I would think that anyone with as much education as you’ve got could think of something else to say besides f**k.” “Well mom,” I said, “one of the things that all that education taught me is that certain words, spoken at certain times, and in certain ways, are sometimes the only way to get the job done.” Now, luckily for me, it turns out the f**k is the right word for a host of situations. And though it could certainly be argued this isn’t one of them, I bring it up today at your memorial service, Karen, for THREE reasons.
First, although you didn’t drop the f-bomb nearly as often as I did, you had a wry humor that added insight and flair to your clever use of words and your appreciation of them. I am reasonably sure that right now you value some mention of the profane in your memorial service. You were a big fan of irreverence. You liked doing your part to stir up people’s comfort a bit as a way to get them unsettled enough to think in new ways.
The second reason I bring it up today, Karen, is that you had the kind of connection to people that would invoke in them a desire to use their education to find the words that would most sharply get the job done. So your fellow academics, many of whom were her Literature and Language colleagues, have responded to our loss of you with lofty words such as “What?” “Shit!” “Dammit! I’m pissed!” and “This Sucks!” Sometimes the most simple, the most base, are all we can deliver. But you already know that.
But the THIRD and main reason I bring up this emphasis on words is that for you as an English, or literature, or Literature & Language professor, words are everything. And while you certainly had deep appreciation for the cleverest turns of phrase, the round about eloquence of this woman author’s writing or that one, you also could zero in on a single word or phrase in a paragraph and hold that the whole paragraph, even the page, maybe even the whole story, made sense because of it, was remembered long after the story. A memory of a whole scene from a novel could be invoked by the recollection and utterance of a key word or phrase. And the author could be zoomed forward in time and given place in our lives in the current moment. We hope to zoom you forward, Karen, into our current moments, when we utter words of yours like:
“Greetings!” “Greeting Scholars!” “Excellent!” “I know!”
“Think of all things on a continuum rather than in black and white.”
“You don’t have to be an apologist all the time.”
“…”the ways in which…”
“I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you.”
and “Drinking life to the lees.”
Also, in consultation with some of your colleagues, students, and friends, one-on-one and by stalking your Facebook page, I offer up some simple words, as a way of invoking your spirit and as a way of calling forth your presence in, and contributions to, our lives. We are reminded of you by words and phrases like:
Sunny. Quirky. Gracious. Coffee snob. Soft-hearted (yet) Stalwart. Supportive. Able to distill. Fearless. Funny. An inspiration. Deliciously sarcastic. Clever. Irreverent. Sassy. Not a morning person. Transformative. Fierce . Engaged. Friend to the vegan & vegetarian community. Formidable. Sardonic. Generous. Freakin’ brilliant. Fair. Confident . Patient. Beautiful. Passionate. Compassionate. Tactful. Encouraging.
And your many friends invoke your spirit with sentiments like:
The student in me fell in love with the professor in her.
You chose us, you chose here—I’m grateful for that.
You are one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.
We are the lucky ones who were positively transformed by you.
The party, the conversation, the debate, the whatever was always more fun when you were there.
You’re a wisecracking, uplifting, joy-giving friend.
You definitely cracked wise, but you never cracked mean, you know?
You rocked the black turtleneck long before, and far better, than Steve Jobs.
You chased your dreams, and you caught them.
I never remember a moment when I wasn’t happy, even thrilled, to see you, to joke around with you, to tip a beer with you, to be the subject of your biting wit. I’m sure you would have something hilariously sardonic to say about all this.
Dang, you knew your way around the hair coloring aisle!
You made being the insanely brilliant crazy cat lady so cool.
You left witticisms and sardonicisms unslung.
and from person after person: You changed my life, you changed my life, you changed my life.
Thank you for choosing us, Karen. Thank you for changing us.