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.