REMEMBERING JANE ANNE MORRIS
Jane Anne described the photo at the top of this page, taken at Pewitt’s Nest by her friend Matthew Miller in 2015, as her “Hearts of Palm Lecture.” A visit from a friend was always a good excuse to hop on bicycles and head out for a picnic, and a can of hearts of palm was, in recent years, a staple for such excursions.
If you would like to share a memory of Jane Anne, I invite you to email it to me for inclusion on this page:
ejg (at) democracythemepark.org
September 16, 2019
Jane Anne Morris crackled with life. She thrived on encounter and in purposeful work. She seemed born to upend comfortable assumptions and convenient propositions. Her “unpopular ideas” cut to the quick of our socio-ecological mispractices, and her anthropological discipline taught her an open perspective and an eye for cultural patterns. Her thinking aimed at strategic practices rather than shifting paradigms.
Our friendship was launched when we met in the nineties as speakers at a Backyard Eco Conference. Having family in Michigan, she also visited me several times, and I was able to visit her once in Madison.
Jane Anne was a whirlwind, a genius with such intellectual range. She had passion, latent ferocity, integrity, comprehension, and fealty to the facts. Her mind was so quick. She was so acutely observant and rigorously analytical that sometimes her light was almost too bright.
Professor Morris’ visits included impromptu tutorials. While I cooked in the kitchen, she’d discourse on the anatomy of the accordion and then play a few tunes. While I puttered out on my porch, she’d demonstrate tying a score of different knots, explaining the provenance and function of each.
After a day or so of her brilliant conversation, mordant humor, and wonderful storytelling, I would be somewhat relieved to lapse into my own tranquil company, soon to chew over all she’d said. Her standards of conduct were high. Her frugality and resourcefulness made her one of the most ecologically conscientious people I’ve ever known. Still, she understood that “This is a hard world in which to make informed choices.”
Our friendship lived mainly by mail and sometimes telephone. My disheveled files contain the treasure of at least twelve years of our correspondence. In her long, mostly handwritten-with-a-fountain-pen-on-salvaged-paper letters, Jane Anne’s mezzo voice resounds thus: “Yesterday at the Children’s Museum rooftop garden,” she wrote in September of 2010, “my biggest thrill was holding chickens for children to pet,” Her epistles often came in envelopes handmade from colorful magazine pages. They would contain reports of morel foraging, community garden plot harvests in which cukes and okra bulked large, and mentions of “indulging” herself with bicycling, including one birthday’s “full day bike ride equal in miles to my age.”
She wrote of dancing, playing music, hearing loons, seeing vees of canada geese, and wishing her environs could let her see meteor showers.
Rereading Jane Anne’s perceptive, funny and kind letters, and realizing that their author is no more broke my heart all over again.
She was a rager. As a public intellectual chivvying do-gooders to wise up, course correct, do things more for consequence and less for show, Jane Anne would suffer a lot of frustration.
She wrote me that she was frustrated to see “so much busy activity about good issues—but hardly the focused, long-term, big picture planning that the right carries on as a matter of course.” She was dubious about “touchie-feelie happythink approaches” to constitutional, systemic problems. The alternative, for serious progressives, would be to do the homework, study the legal and juridical bases of our democratic institutions—learn the rules and how to rewrite them; show up well-prepared to speak in public meetings, and do the kind of face-to-face listening and organizing that might actually empower community action. Democracy could regain its sinews through a lot of study and long-haul engagement, through speaking incontrovertible truths to power from the microcosm on up the scale.
Her rhetorical talent was stunning. Jane Anne’s writing was uncommonly good. No mere stylist, her every sentence was crafted, substantiated, and edged with wit. Not in My Back Yard and Gaveling Down the Rabble are books that will endure along with her diamond-bright, definitive essays.
It’s appalling that, finally, she had to scrape by on odd jobs, that her years were truncated, and that such a terrible affliction took her down. During that struggle to find work to support herself at or around the poverty level, she wrote of having gone a couple of years without having written, finished, or published anything: “I’m not spending much time in mourning, however, just the occasional wistful mental retrospective.”
Her letter to her friends and colleagues about the nature and trajectory of her illness was a masterpiece of valor, and impossible humor utterly devoid of self-pity.
As ALS overtook her, we had a few phone conversations. She’d muster the energy to speak of her condition and surroundings. Despite her mounting pain and eroding capability, while she tackled the “project of her life,” researching therapies, appliances, and alternatives, she reported on all the dealings with all the parties and the sometimes absurd institutions involved. She managed to be remarkably objective, compassionate, and stoic.
Reverence to those friends and kin who witnessed her suffering and helped her directly, who chopped the garlic and sorted the papers and scouted the wheelchairs and accommodations. Such devotion and generosity are the most eloquent testimony to Jane Anne’s virtues as a colleague, mentor, friend, and relation.
What a life and what a loss to our moment!
July 19, 2019
Like most people who know her name, I had read Jane Anne long before meeting her in person. I was fortunate to also briefly spend some time with her. I learned that her humble dedication to fighting the corporate state wasn’t just her rhetoric. She not only spoke truth to power, but also lived that truth.
July 17, 2019
You always made time,
we drank homemade wine.
You really loved to dine
beets were treats
Hiking and biking,
gardening and merry music making,
You knew your dragonflies.
No mushroom was unturned.
invasive or not – you knew ‘em.
Gonna miss your dry sarcasm and wit,
the unmatched intellect.
I can still hear your voice,
always educating in an unpretentious,
yet profound way.
I always felt valued, thank you.
You will be missed.
July 17, 2019
I got to know Jane as an undergraduate at Cornell. It began with her inviting me to go home for Thanksgiving with her since she felt bad that I couldn’t go home like everyone else – New Mexico was too far away.
After leaving Cornell, I went to grad school in physics at UMaryland and she went to Austin to eventually study anthropology at UT. We managed to spend several summers together at her SMU archeological digs in East Texas. I remember her coming back east for a visit and enjoying hiking and camping for a week along the Appalachian trail. Back in the days when it was more common, we then hitchhiked back to the Midwest – she went to see relatives in Madison and I ended up flying from Detroit back to see my parents in New Mexico. I guess I was already in ‘practice’ having hitchhiked the summer after Cornell to hike in some national parks (Bryce Canyon, Zion, Yosemite) and to see a Cornell physics friend who was at Stanford for the summer and then back across the country to East Texas to visit Jane.
At Cornell, I remember her taking all these philosophy courses for instance, Kant (Critique of Pure Reason was especially difficult for anyone who dared take the course) and Wittgenstein, which I think helped her develop her future anthropological investigations.
I remember crazy things like her transcribing one of the Brandenburg concertos into something she could play on the mandolin. I had been trying to ‘teach’ myself how to play piano, but our ill-fated mandolin piano duet did not go well.
In our grad school years, we both were trying to figure out where we were trying to go. In many ways, she helped me ask questions about where I was headed. She was involved in so many areas: anthropology, philosophy, critical theory, phenomenology, community activism as well as trying to understand her own being. It was hard to keep up with her.
When she first got to Austin, she wanted to see what it was like to work in low-paying boring jobs (to see how employees were treated), for example, Dunkin’ Donuts and the IRS. Of course, much of this was to pay for grad school. Soon she was getting involved in environmental work and strip mining of lignite in Texas.
You always had the sense that she was pushing her envelope. It makes me sad to know that Jane has left us and also that I lost track of her. But I am happy to see how much she wrote for others to learn from.
July 9, 2019
Years ago, I heard that the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes a definition of “a person” as a corporation. Six weeks before she died, I called Jane Anne to ask if this is true, and if the 1934 Broadcasting Act also gives personhood to corporations.
She didn’t know the answer, but quickly explained that I needed to go to the USCA (US code annotated) in a given Act, then to the end of the section for “legislative history,” then to the terminology.
She couldn’t really breathe and talk at the same time, but she made sure I let her know whatever I learned. (Yup, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1934 Broadcasting Act say that the term “person” includes one or more individuals, labor unions, partnerships, associations, corporations, legal representatives, mutual companies, joint-stock companies, trusts, unincorporated organizations, trustees, trustees in bankruptcy or receivers.)
I will miss Jane Anne and her know-how very, very much.
July 8, 2019
I first met Jane Anne Morris soon after moving back to Madison in 2004 (she had moved here from Texas some years earlier).
She was a friend, teacher, and comrade for 15 years until her untimely passing.
She spent several years during that time campaigning vigorously but ultimately unsuccessfully for a community garden to be installed on the roof of the to-be-renovated Madison Central Library.
It was apparently too innovative an idea for our progressive City managers.
But they at least put a green roof up there.
Maybe they should also put a plaque up there honoring her.
July 8, 2019
Jane and I were roommates for a year as undergrads at Cornell University. We grew to be great friends during the time of the Watergate hearings and I remember when she strung a banner from our apartment balcony facing the street: “Bye bye Spiro – one down one left to go.” She campaigned for Gene McCarthy and I remember laughing together about her ‘pilgrim’ shoes but felt so proud of her for her activism. We played music and sang lots – Country Cookin’ Songs were some – and decided that we would take our instruments on the road and call ourselves “The Traveling Troubadours.” I met up with Jane after she completed an archeological dig in Cooper, Texas and we traveled with friends into Colorado and camped out along a mountain trail up to 14,000 feet altitude where we met up with a government sheep herder asking for a light for his cigarette. We had a blast – even when the cheap tent she bought was shredded in a high altitude thunderstorm. Later on, she visited me in Oxford, Mississippi.
To me, Jane was a uniquely intelligent, politically inquisitive, creative, and hilarious friend and I am gratified to know that her ideas live on.
MARIA BEATRIZ ROCHA FERREIRA
July 7, 2019
I met Jane in 1982 in Austin, Texas. We were colleagues in the Anthropology department. I was her housemate from August 1982 to 1983/4. Although I moved to another house, we became friends. She taught me a lot about American politics, anthropology, lignite projects, women’s empowerment, and gardening. She helped me a lot by reading my texts from the discipline of social anthropology, which were very difficult for me.
She came to visit me in Brazil after the birth of my second daughter. And her dream was to go to the Amazon. I told her to try to eat cheese bread during the trip because she was vegetarian. But she forgot the name and asked for cassava flour (another Brazilian specialty I used to take to the United States). She did not understand why cassava flour did not look like cheese bread. Anyway, we laughed a lot later. But I think she must have had a good trip.
I lost contact with her for a few years, but in this last year we managed to recuperate the lost time. She had already been diagnosed with ALS. I did everything to indicate some kind of alternative medicine. She knew I liked this kind of medicine, but it really was in vain. I really wanted to be with her in this difficult time, but living in Brazil made it difficult. My heart will always be with her and I know that someday we will meet in heaven. I am very grateful for everything she taught me and our friendship.