I was watching the documentary, Toni Morrison: the Pieces I Am last night and was feeling incredibly inadequate. Now of course as a writer I would feel that way. I mean she’s Toni Morrison. And the way she writes, the way she approaches the same words we all have access to and then sets them on the page, like a Manet painting or a Bearden collage. Well, it is breath taking. I mean look at this opening to The Bluest Eye: “Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow.” Morrison said in her interview that she gave away the whole story right there on the first page and that people would either keep reading because they wanted to know how it happened, or they would keep reading because they liked the writing. People kept reading, that’s for sure.
While Morrison’s writing has spawned conferences, scholars, awards, and new language, what had me feeling the way I was feeling was her productivity. Meanwhile, I was reclining on my white leather chaise, drinking box Chardonnay, and snacking on granola clusters. Hmmm, which one of these women will rocket to stardom and leave a legacy that will last for all eternity? (Answer: the one being watched, not the watcher). I kept telling myself, in between sips of wine, that a documentary consolidates a life, makes it look like that person was always doing something, always walking on the road to greatness, and that they knew just where they were headed by the time they were three years old. After that I started blaming electronics, thinking that if only there were no computers, television, smart phones and the like that I, too, would have written a number of great novels, as well as some award winning history books, by now. But instead I spend my time going down rabbit holes of research, watching political videos on my laptop, and listening to public radio podcasts on my phone. No time for a legal pad and pencil anymore, Toni!
Of course we all see exactly what this is, a sad rationalizing of one’s choices that are not measuring up to the creation of what one thinks they should be. Now, of course, my spiritual self reminds me that we all have a path and that Toni and I just have different ones. But then I say to that self, “I get that but am I as far along as I am supposed to be?” Now, do you think Toni Morrison — or any other amazing human we make films and write books about — ever wondered if they were moving along towards their call with the efficiency required to actually answer it? Of course they did. And did any of the “greats” even head down the “wrong” (or at least very other-directional) path first only to find the one that made them so great much later? Obviously. Paul and that road to Damascus come quickly to mind. One moment he’s torturing Christians, next thing he’s their best ambassador. Oh and Gandhi. Did you know he was a supporter of the British government — India’s colonizers — early on? Yeah he figured if he and his fellow countrymen showed the Brits just how brave and loyal they were that Britain would hand them back their land. (Sounds way too American History familiar to me). But then Gandhi contracted the Spanish flu, had a come to Jesus moment — so to speak — and India’s independence became his raison d’etre!
So I guess what I’m saying to me is, “Me, chill out. You do stuff. Yes, you could do more. But would it be better? Would it be what you are called to do? Sure, you could increase your writing time in the evening by cutting down on the wine, but is that the plan for you? Toni Morrison said in an interview that she was so smart early in the morning and then got dumber as the day progressed. Me too! I say that all the time. So much so that by 4pm I am not trying to do anything that requires more than a handful of brain cells. (Actually, I have about 15 minutes until my brain turns into a pumpkin so I better finish this up). Thing is, we forget that others often see something different in us than we see in ourselves. It tends to be a much more flattering picture, too. And as long as you’re clear that the flattering picture is not a total misrepresentation of who you are — and what you do — then maybe just look at yourself through that someone else’s eyes once in a while. They may not be the bluest eyes looking back at you, but they could well be the “truest.”