Saturday, April 15, 2006

Thoughts on Toni Morrison

Lately I've been ingesting large doses of language. Not reading, but drinking--words, thoughts, ideas, poetry, prose.... Last night I sat alone in the coffee shop with my legs curled under me in a chair that looked toward the lake. The coffee tasted good, but other than that, there was nothing but words--wrapped around me like a comfortable old blanket. The place was nearly empty and from somewhere deep inside me I felt the rearranging of molecules and the sensation of a tidal wave swelling, rolling, breaking...swelling nearly into tears because I feel the magic of words coming back like when blood returns to an appendage that's fallen asleep--a sensation of pins and needles on the inside of my skin--it tingles.

Yesterday afternoon I started work on a proposal and outline that I need to turn in for my next essay. While looking for information on my topic, I surprised myself with a connection I hadn't originally been looking for. You know that sensation that goes "click" when something starts to make sense? Yes, that was the feeling. I am surprised over and over again when scholarly writing is able to throw me into an emotional extreme. But my topic includes Toni Morrison--and her words, to me, are like honey. Since this essay is for a Literary Criticism and Theory class, my goal is to find connections between Langston Hughes "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" and Toni Morrisons Nobel Prize lecture, "A Bird in the Hand"

While in the coffee shop I read an essay by Cheryl Lester from The Aesthetics of Toni Morrison: Speaking the Unspeakable. And this is one of the things that had me nearly in tears--her writing was so incredibly heartfelt. She was writing about Morrison, but she was also writing about herself. Her words were real--and that is something you just can't fake.

I think it's safe to say that grad school has been just as hard on me as an adult as Catholic school was for me as a kid. Grad school messed me up--hard. What happened? I haven't exactly figured it out yet, but now that I'm almost done, I feel life returning to my mind, my heart, my fingertips. Words are enough to turn me inside out. And I am, once again, glad that I have found them, that I've made words my path in life. It is a strange and wonderful feeling, this coming back to life.

There is a quote by Toni Morrison that especially caught my attention last night. In it, she is referring to the old woman in her speech. She says:

Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference--the way in which we are like no other life.
We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

She later writes of the old lady's young visitors:

. . . Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong?. . . Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being creatied. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your worlds that they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. . . For our sake and yours forget your name in the street, tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief's wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul.

Read it slow. Savor it. There is a bird in our hands called language--and what we do with it is up to us. I am beginning to remember how powerful that little bird is--and, at times, it is staggering.


Hanna said...

Just read your post on Grover and the montster at the end of the book - I love that post and will come back to read more here now that you've finshed that blog!? Keep writing, you do it well.

I love Toni Morrison!

Amber said...

One of the things I envy most in you is your passion. I wish, at this early stage in this critical essay, that I could be FEELING Erdrich's writing like you are Morrison's, instead of just THINKING about it.

Elizabeth said...

" I am beginning to remember how powerful that little bird is--and, at times, it is staggering."

Jessie, you write beautifully. This is one of my favorite pieces of writing, ever - you captured Morrison's sentiment beautifully!

I finished an English degree a year ago (I already had one in painting) and I am only now starting to write again. Burned out, tired of words, empty from writing so much...just pick a reason, 'bout any would apply.

Thank you for the inspiration, you've fired my hunger for words!

Anonymous said...

I want to live inside that quote. Thank you...what a gorgeous post!