An Evening with Toni Morrison

I’m aware the world doesn’t revolve around me. I’m aware that just cause I have preferences that doesn’t make them other people’s priorities. I have no illusions of my value as it relates to other people. I learned long ago about holding people on a pedestal. And I’ve come to terms with it. While I still aspire to make an impression on the people who I admire and have influenced me I’ve also accepted that I don’t always get what I want. So going into this evening I already knew that Toni Morrison was more likely to slap me than to smile at me if I were to try to take a minute of her time. I’m not saying that in a critical way either. From her perspective I’m sure she’s weary of adulation and fans. I’m sure she just wants to get writing. Possibly she thrives off it and the sense of empowerment. Or maybe she holds us in contempt for being beneath her. Who knows? I’m not trying to hold her accountable for whatever feeling she might have about me as a fan. She’s brilliant and my favorite fiction author nontheless. And so to be slighted by her would have left no mark, even though to be greeted by her would have lifted me. But that’s the thing about life. If you think you have all the answers that just means you don’t have all the questions.

I walked into the reception hall where Tulane was hosting her, Song of Solomon in hand, not really knowing what the agenda was as far as her stay, but brimming with excitement to share space with her. I meandered around a bit waving at my dad’s colleagues, saying hi to people I know. By the time I realized she was sitting in the room already I had already said hi to everyon I cared to and was left basically idle. My mom left to go say hi to the woman, and I stood by waiting for an opportunity to tell her that Song of Solomon as well as her writing in other books had changed my life. Not so much anxious, as careful. I knew she was not so hot on the adoration of strangers, but I wanted her to know anyway. One of my dad’s friends suggested that I come along with her to take a picture. I was apprehensive but I wasn’t sure if the woman had already made friendly with Toni or not so I went along anyway. When I got over there my mother was already engaging Toni talking about how disappointed my sister was to not be here. She said Saia would have wanted to take a picture with her and then something else I couldn’t really make out because I already knew where she was going, which was to the effect of my son wants to take one, and I was already sizing up the physical response before her lips curled in a forced smile, and condescendingly moved to say.

“Ok, not while I’m eating.”

And it was simple and there was only a very subtle tone or attitude, and there was no disrespect intended, but it shook me.
My mom with a hard chin and tough skin brushed the comment away as if it never existed, or as if were she to move me from the situation quickly enough it would cease to exist.

And it hurt.

Not because I felt rejected, because she had never even turned to look at me. But because I felt like it might have hurt my mom to think I might have been hurt to be rejected. Which I don’t know because I suspect my mom has gotten so good at deflecting negativity, and rudeness she probably doesn’t even internalize things like that from sources that she doesn’t paticularly care for. Which isn’t to say that my mom is indifferent to, or dislikes Toni Morrison. But she’s a bigger Stephen King fan. I think her only real connection to Toni is that the rest of her family likes her so much. So I’m sure my mom couldn’t care less what the woman’s personal feelings are, but my interpretation of her trying to protect me or feeling like she had to burned. I’m strong. And I can handle being shunned aside. But what I didn’t realize I couldn’t handle was my mom being scared I might not be able to handle it. And I don’t care if Michael Jordan, and Toni Morrison have a baby who is the second coming of Christ, He needs to watch his tongue cause if I have a problem with the way someone talks to my mom then we have nothing to talk about. Like any man with baggage you only get to hurt him one time, be it directly or indirectly, but once he moves on, he’s a dog. And like I said earlier, She is who I thought she was, and I already knew that. So I’m certainly not trying to attribute blame, or say it was inappropriate in anyway for her to not want to refuse a request (even though she certainly took more than several pictures with others while she was eating). It’s not my place to villanize her for doing what she wants to do. And I’m sure there will be a time when I similarly am disinterested in someone’s feelings for the sake of my own. But I quickly made it my buisness to avoid being asked to be in a picture with her, and I walked downstairs to the car to put my book back because I didn’t want her autograph. I will forever be moved and motivated by her writing, but simultaneously will not long for her approval or affection. And the space on this blog where there would normaly be a photgraph will remain blank along with the space in my book where she won’t get to write “To: Gian From: Toni, Keep your pen to the paper.”

On the brighter side I did get to meet another personal hero of mine, Phyllis Montana Leblanc. Pictures to come soon.

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5 responses to “An Evening with Toni Morrison

  1. Something else, these authors, eh? I recently got the chance to meet a Louisiana author. He gave a very personable reading and signed autographs. As he was signing my book I asked if he had any advice for young writers. He gave a short “Keep reading so you can write,” which I didn’t mind because you have to keep the line going. Then he gruffed, “That question should have been asked at the Q&A.” Hmm. Well, you don’t say. I didn’t take it personally, but it’s like: “Why you gotta have an attitude, bruh?”

  2. From fsj2222This is somewhat late in arriving, but still on time. I was at the event for Toni Morrison. I was in a position to see what was going on around her at the reception. So here are some thoughts:1) You’re angry at a 76 year old woman because she wanted to eat first before taking pictures! If this had been your grandparent, maybe you would have had a different response to the reasons behind the request. How do you know what her day was like before the event? She had just gotten off an airplane. Do you know if she ate? Do you know if she has some sort of condition that requiers her to eat? Did it occur to you that it may not have been her choice about eating at that moment? 2) Ever had hundreds of people want to take your picture, just as you are in the middle of doing something that doesn’t show you at your best? Toni Morrison pictures are the ones that people keep to show everybody they know. Think about that.3) As you yourself point out, you went there with an attitude about who’s important, etc. You assumed anything she said or did that was not warm and friendly was caused by self-importance. You created the context for the way you understood the event.However,4) I happen to know that there was another incident pretty much just like yours at the event. But there was one difference. This person already knew Toni Morrison. Knew her well enough that they talked for over ten minutes catching up. This person, like you, found herself being posed for a picture with Toni Morrison, without specifically requesting one.Guess what Toni Morrison said?”Not while I’m eating!” This is a true story, G. Time for you to look outside the box and see the big picture. It’s not always just a G thing.

  3. I have to wonder what it is you do for a living Felipe. Surely you can’t be the same Felipe Smith that so eloquently introduced her to Tulane. Obviously it can’t be anything that involves reading and understanding context clues. Or perhaps you just don’t realize the box doesn’t have a sky, which is why you can’t see me bruh. 1. I don’t believe angry is the right word. I don’t make room for for feelings like anger, frustration, sadness etc in my world. I wish no ill-will, I wouldn’t like to be there to see someone take her down a peg or two, nor would I want to. But more importantly, whatever it is that I felt in that moment wasn’t because she wanted to eat first, or cause she wasn’t ready to take a picture. It was her expression of wanting to eat first. I’m Not sure if you know anything about this but, Toni and I are Linguists. We know how to structure words to get across our feelings. She’s the finest linguist alive so I know she understands the difference between say…”let me eat first” and “Not while I’m eating.” One is a statement of purpose and the other, coupled with her subtle tone, is condescending. 3. That may be true. But it doesn’t matter whether or not I went there expecting her to be a jerk or shower me with roses, the curt, sharp response is it’s own entity and wasn’t misinterpreted. 4. I see not only are you sub par with reading, but your writing has something to be desired as well. Perhaps you should think of taking a job delivering wings or dealing at a casino, those things don’t require too much independent thinking. Your final point, which I hope everything was not culminating towards, was by far the weakest. It does not paint her in a better light to suggest she’s just as harsh and inappropriate with her associates as she is with strangers. If anything it lends validity to the whole self important argument. I’d like to stress again for the slower reading group, I have no problem whatsoever with her feelings of self importance as it relates to almost everyone in the world. She’s earned that. And while I’m in awe of her as a writer, and even a speaker, I won’t ever adore someone, with no relationship with my mother, who speaks to her as if she’s a child. Get your writing game up and then come see about me Phillip.

  4. The Gospel according to Philip (one “l”)I happen to know that your mother, whom you seem to be “protecting” in your version of the facts, has never considered herself in any way disrespected. Quite the contrary, she recognized very quickly that she had perhaps taken too much for granted by asking for the picture.As for your dismissal of my point that this same thing happened with someone whom Morrison knows, of course you don’t want to face the fact that you and your mom were not being singled out, because that goes against your theory. So let me spell it out: it has less to do with you, your mom, her celebrity, whatever, than it has to do with her mood at the moment, for whatever reason. A person her age has got to be given the benefit of the doubt, for no other reason that if it were your own grandmother, you would have been over it a minute later.As you very well know.All of which leaves us with you as the only person still upset about a 76 year old woman insisting on having a bit of privacy. I’m not sure what thought you were trying to convey in this blog, but what came through was that your feelings were hurt after your initial excitement about the event. That’s unfortunate. I had hoped that you would enjoy it. I really did.But, I’m saying, you need to cowboy the G up, little buckaroo, and move on.

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