Walking towards work yesterday, feeling a bit fragile (I’d responded to grief at the memorial service for Lisa Jardine by hitting the wine with aplomb and the canapes not at all, and then crashed a Finnegans Wake reading group in a nearby pub, something that I suspect Lisa would have found hilarious), I wondered a bit why I was trudging down a cold Bancroft Road and not, eg, at home on a sofa with a cat on me. I had a hangover, and I was sad, and January stretched in cold puffs of breath all around me, frozen and uninviting.
I had reasons to go in, of course. Good ones. Ones that made me think of Lisa. She didn’t meet the brilliant first year student I was due to talk to about Beowulf, whose sheer intellectual curiosity astounds me on a regular basis. She never knew – though I’m convinced she’d have adored – the guest speaker for our graduate seminar, a young digital humanist who is transforming scholarship while wearing brightly-coloured DMs, making jokes, and being outspokenly, excellently feminist. I don’t think she ever met the MA students I saw there, but I think she’d have liked them and their proposed PhD projects a lot, and offered up her expertise and her scholarly network the way she always did: generously, good-humouredly, and with great glee at the prospect of new and exciting scholarship. She didn’t get to attend the wonderful salon at the V&A last night, organised by the brilliant Lisa Skogh, but she’d have loved it – loved the international focus, loved the voices of young scholars raised in democratic discussion with the great and the good. I wasn’t even teaching yesterday, and still I have this long list of people and projects I’d have loved to share with her.
I forgot to take the programme for Lisa’s memorial service out of my handbag before I left yesterday morning. I’d quite like to prop it on my office shelf, next to the magazine cover with Alan Cumming’s face on it (he watches benevolently over my scholarship), but I’m not sure I can: seeing her wide smile in the picture on the cover would always be a reminder that I don’t get to see that smile in person any more. It still has the effect on me it always did: I smile back, infected by her joy, but the difference is that now I start to cry, too.
We’ve talked, a bunch, about how we go on without her – without her clout, yes, her ability to make things happen, but above all her personality, her warmth, her kindness. I guess we do what people always do when they lose someone: we work with the resources we have, we make virtues out of what we have to give and to share ourselves. I met some of the best people I know through Lisa, and I learnt not just skills (although the skills are invaluable) but an attitude to life, to my teaching, to my research, that shapes everything I do. Tuesday night reminded me not just of the brilliance of the people who gathered around Lisa, but of their infinite variety. She encouraged us not, necessarily, to be like her – unless the occasion called for it – but to be ourselves, to revel in our individuality and the individuality of others: and to treat these things as virtues, as drivers of good teaching and good scholarship, good living, and (when necessary) bad behaviour. I wish beyond words that she was still here, but I know that the resources that we have, encouraged and shaped by her, are wonderful.