Anna/A.

Remarks made during the celebration of life of my youngest daughter, December 10, 2021.

This is one of the challenges of taking all that swirls around my head about Anna and making them coherent. I still remember the exchange on Twitter that we had over that short bio, and I’ve seen versions of that short bio pop up here and there. “People don’t need to know anything about me” looms over anything I might compose here. 

So know up-front that Anna would have been kind of uncomfortable about anything we might say or do in her memory today. I mean, she would have smiled through it, and she might have even thanked us for being kind. But I can’t shake the feeling that she would have, deep down, have continued to protest “people don’t need to know anything about me”. 

I honestly hope that she would have understood the basic tension that is at the core of this first rememberance, though, and why assembling a service of this sort is a balancing act. Those who studied or worked with A. Pearson already understand that tension, because I’ve already called her “Anna” twice. As Anna went through education, development of artistic identity, and life, the name of A. came to the fore, and would have been the way that Anna would have been known more broadly had she had her way. 

A memorial service shouldn’t be an introduction, but this one has to be. For those of you who have most recently known A., you need to be introduced to Anna Grace, the daughter and family member who was so loving and faithful. And for those of you who only knew Anna Grace, you need to be introduced to A., the film artist who was finding  a voice to talk about humanity in its fullness. 

Part of the reason that I feel like A. developed an attitude of “people don’t need to know anything about me” is that, ultimately, there was hope that the work done would speak for itself. One thing A. put into a video resume for a job application was the statement “seeing examples of strength in media can empower those who feel powerless”. A. wanted to see people of all kinds, especially minorities, were represented in media. A. wanted to tell stories, and wanted those stories to impact people. 

One thing that, much to my regret, I don’t have a lot of good examples to fill in are examples of stories that Anna wrote when she was young. I wish I understood why I didn’t seek those out. It may have been the desire to allow her private writing, things that she created that Dad didn’t see. It may have been a feeling that stories weren’t my responsibility in her education, that I was more equipped for the math and science and hard facts. Or it may have been this nagging feeling in me that the stories were just fanciful, that sooner or later there would be a moving away from stories and towards more practical ways of living. So little did I understand, so little did I know. 

I suppose part of my hope, and my eternal frustration, was that A. would decide to tell the story of herself at some point, and use that story to impact how others saw themselves. I don’t know if it was humility, or shyness, or just reticence to be the center of attention. But that story simply wasn’t forthcoming, and I should have known that it wouldn’t be forthcoming. 

So it is up to us to tell that story today. 

Anna would have wanted you to know that she is gay. “EXTREMELY gay”, she said to us once or twice. That wasn’t an identity she took on out of any sort of rebellion, and Anna could have kept that quiet from us if she had wanted. There was never a partner; I never met a girlfriend. 

But queerness was part of the core of who she was. Anna cared about queer lives; she was surrounded by art and popular culture informed by queer identity, and aspired to create some of that art of her own. 

Anna had nonbinary identity that detached herself from female gender. Anna used “they/them” pronouns alongside “she/her” pronouns. Again; this was without demonstrative insistence; you’ll notice that I’m using female pronouns here, and Anna didn’t correct us on our use of pronouns or name once, despite the fact that it became obvious later that she really did prefer the minimalist “A.” Anna clearly identified with the trans community, and that identity should be celebrated as her life is celebrated. 

So many of you know A. from her student work in film at ETSU, and from her leadership of Buc Films. That was the turn in identity that was most surprising to me. We knew a shy, homeschooled child who had ambitions but very little in the way of flesh and bones to apply to those ambitions. Attending the local regional university was a small surprise to me there; I was expecting her to choose someplace smaller. Getting as deeply involved so quickly in a student organization was a bigger surprise still. But caring so much for the organization that she took on the mantle of leadership? I’m still amazed at that growth, and I still have the greatest admiration of it. 

I say this to take nothing away from the many talented artists and media professionals who educated Anna. But Anna’s greatest education came from Buc Films itself, from the experiences working on the machinery of filmmaking outside of the classroom, from the engagement with other filmmakers and actors who made the creation of films possible, from the practice of leadership in good times and difficult times – and COVID provided the most difficult times. If you had even the smallest role in Buc Films over the last four years, thank you for everything you gave and thank you for the ways you fed into my child. So much of who she became as an artist is because of you.

Obviously work as a dedicated filmmaker is difficult to come by, and it turned out that Anna has good librarian genes. First in Bristol, then in Johnson City, Anna was able to help a library as that library had need, and was in short order able to help for pay. The job at Johnson City Public Library was a constant throughout Anna’s final years at school, and when the college years were done, the full-time job at JCPL was hard-won. 

Every account of A’s work at JCPL is uniform: dedicated, passionate about the work done the right way, reliable, willing to do whatever was needed. It was never Anna’s intention for JCPL to be a permanent job; there were still goals and filmmaking ambitions that spanned the country, the type of ambitions a simple library job could not support. But if it had been necessary, there’s no doubt A could have stayed at JCPL for as long as she wanted, and eventually have led. 

I do need to make sure that I emphasize one more aspect of identity, one defined not by the name Anna or A., but the name “Dubba” – double-A, Aunt Anna. We have agreed as a family that as much as she might have loved all of us, she loved no-one as much as she loved niece Wendy. When you looked at the slide show, you saw the greatest joy in the time spent with that precious granddaughter of ours. 

(I’m sorry if I’m being a stereotypical father about this, but I have to mention the baking sometime, and this is as good a time as any! Anna was so good with creativity and inventiveness – I have a crocheted quiz bowl buzzer set, for crying out loud! – and nowhere did this express itself more vividly for me than with what Anna created in the kitchen. So many of you know A for the sauces she created. I selfishly appreciated Anna’s invention of the buckeye pie – peanut butter pie with chocolate topping around the edges, so the product resembled the top of a buckeye. And the cinnamon rolls! As big as your head! Anna took such pride in those cinnamon rolls.)

Dubba was the most stabilizing force in our family. Even from the youngest of ages, the child had an even temper and a measured response to every situation. Very slow to anger, very quick to hug. The conversations on the loveseat between Dubba and Kristin were too many to mention, especially after Anna started working at the library. Dubba’s presence in Johnson City made sibling Catherine’s life easier in so many ways, especially when an extra pair of hands was needed for Wendy. And Wendy had just started to figure out how to call Dubba by name. 

This is what we’re missing the most right now. This moment calls for stability, steadiness in the face of the ultimate grief. There was one in our family who we could count upon to be a rock, a steady and sure friend to rely upon. For that to be the hole in our family now is unspeakably cruel. 

—-

There are words of comfort that are usually spoken at the end of these services. Those of us who claim the faith that is so common in this part of the world will talk about the hope they have in this moment. I hold on to that hope. I’ll talk to you about it if you want. 

But I also know that talking about hope in a time like this is incredibly hollow for many. This death was the most senseless, the circumstances the most horrific. And I can feel the tension in between my daughter and me even now as I try to put words of hope into place. 

I believe firmly it’s important to recognize who A had become as an adult and try to order our world to be better, as A was striving to make the world better. I think that’s the best way to remember A and carry A along with us. 

Do good work, first and foremost. Whatever you do, even if it’s not at the station of life you aspire to for the long haul, do your best and make the greatest impact you can. 

Care about the art in your world. Find talented people and support them, both with words and with money, and empower them to make the art that is most fully themselves. 

If you have any motivation, any at all, create. Make your own art, on your own terms. It doesn’t have to be something big or grandiose, although if you have the desire and the means, you should. But as big as a film or as small as a cinnamon roll, make a thing. 

Give to the A. Pearson Fund at ETSU in any event (by mail at ETSU Foundation, PO Box 70721, Johnson City, TN 37614; on-line at etsu.edu/give; select College of Arts & Sciences and note A. Pearson Fund). That will support local creators as they move forward with their education in radio, TV and film – especially film.

Love your people – fiercely, and without compromise. Be steady for them. Be someone who is reliable and trustworthy in good times and bad. 

I will take this one additional point of privilege. No matter the circumstances of this death, it has driven home for me anew how short the life expectancy of queer people is compared to the general population. Funerals for the LGBTQ community happen too often at this age, and too many of those deaths are deaths of despair. Too many people who hold my Christian faith hold queer people at arm’s length, worried about sexual practice or changing personal identities rather than simple welcome. I have been guilty of that arm’s length treatment before myself. I’m recommitting myself to welcome of all people, especially queer people, without judgement or condemnation. I hope you will too. Love should be extended in every direction, without condition, without reserve. 

I pray you’ll leave this place empowered to do your best work, your most creative work, and to support others to the best of your capability. 

Let it be so.

2 thoughts on “Anna/A.”

  1. If I ever set my eyes on your crocheted quiz bowl buzzer set I know I will break out in tears immediately. I am so very sorry for your loss, Chuck. A. sounds absolutely amazing.

  2. My friend, your words richly evoke a grace-filled picture of Anna Grace, of A., and especially of Dubba. You show us her creativity, her heart for the human condition, but you especially show me her joy in aunthood (I can identify!) and her deep love of family. Many were blessed to know her. You were blessed to hold her dear.

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