To muse about Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison is to revel in the beginnings of my feminist study and creative writing. No feminist would be where they are today without their sagacity and sensualism. We remember our first experience reading Sister Outsider or Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power; the first time we wept for Pecola Breedlove or trembled at Sethe's tragic dilemma and her bravery. Every single word and every single sentence from both of these of these writers is an evocation of colonial history, power, womanhood, family, Black life and love. It is the writing that is rooted in specificity, but it resonates as universal. I've marveled that what they write is true. We feel the truth. We nod, shake our heads and turn the words over and over again in our minds and tongues. Patriarchy would have us believe otherwise.
"The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire." - Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic
We ponder where the world is headed, just like our parents and ancestors pondered before us. Tiptoeing on the edge of The End keeps us working toward something. When I was a younger woman in my early twenties, I explored my sensuality and erotic power through writing, burlesque, theater and sex. Audre Lorde's words remind us that "the erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire." Today, sex is available in one-click, and it is the easiest thing to commodify.
The erotic has little to do with it.
Toni Morrison's novels all explore sensualism and the erotic, but my favorite is still Paradise. Two utopias co-existing side-by-side, The Convent, a house of wayward, unwanted and powerful women; the other, an all-Black town, Ruby, Oklahoma. Experiencing the layers and movement in time is an experience of unfurling this story. The lust and fear elicited by the women at The Convent is what drives the men of Ruby to attempt to destroy them. Toni Morrison brings us to this place, where patriarchy and female liberation are brought to a head. I remember Morrison's words about water, memory and flooding--it is the way our imagination brings us to tell the stories of our origins.
"All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, that valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory--what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our "flooding.” -Toni Morrison
Both Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison mapped sovereign territory in the worlds of philosophy, poetry and literature. They cannot be touched for their raw ability to mend psychic dissonance with words. We still reach for them as guides, as solace, as truth. Nearly twenty years ago, Toni Morrison signed my hardcover copy of Song of Solomon. My mother's client at the bank was Toni Morrison's house painter--it was a beautiful gift from my mother to stoke my writer's fire. I've always gravitated toward words, but reading Song of Solomon took words to a new level. When I learned that she writes in the morning, with the dawn, I told myself that I would one day develop such discipline. Yogis say that 4 to 6 in the morning and evening are the holiest of hours. I like to think that she is at one with the quietude of the universe as she writes. There is a lot to listen to when the world sleeps.
Every time I sit down to write, I seek out their words, even if I am not conscious of it. They have made their impressions on me, like a string I've tied on my finger to remind me of my imagination and erotic power. This heartstring reminds me of love or blues, writing and revising. When it slips off, I still remember what it feels like.