Ninth period, Friday afternoon as the clock ticked closer to the start of the three day Martin Luther King weekend. I stood at the window separating the frozen world from the steamy classroom. It’s been one those winters in NYC where the mayor declares a weather emergency but keeps schools open, where exiting or entering the bus means scaling blacked iced snow pile. The eleventh grade had just finished reading The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.
Ms. Eleventh Grade teacher lectured on. We had finished the Bluest Eye, we were on to Macbeth, we were preparing for the Regents, we were reading literature.
“But did you like it?” I interrupted. Errol didn’t. He said no, he wouldn’t read anything else by Toni Morrison. Errol hadn’t read the Bluest Eye. He had been back in Jamaica for a few weeks, and had missed the last third or the book, I wouldn’t entertain him, wouldn’t entertain his opinion, “talk to me when you actually read the book”
But most of the class liked it. Two months of carefully sieving through Morrison’s poetic prose (oh an oxymorn!), a tree worth of charts including the Black-O-White a meter – Shirley Temple swung the meter hard to the white, while Pecola, the hapless heroine, pushed the meter all the way to the black. Packets, of marigold seed pasted to the board , the Dick and Jane books lined up on the chalk board ledge – all the main characters condemned to their sorry fates, only Claudia the intermittently appearing narrator surviving the torments of 1941 Lorraine Ohio to tell us the story. And we were through.
Ms. Eleventh grade teacher, back on after my interruption- paraphrasing the afterword . Toni Morrison explains why she wrote the book in 1971 because she remembered a dark skinned classmate who always wanted blue eyes. And then without missing a beat, Miss E. was explaining why we unfortunately we would be writing a Regents-like essay about the book. Groans all around.
Buzz killer alert- party pooper. 1971? 1971 I sat in the student’s desk at a high school a couple of miles to east-I, the only authentic possessor of a blue eye in the room. All of a sudden I was possessed by a sense of the dramatic. I interrupted again.
It was an honor to read the Bluest Eye with this class. I got a glimpse of a world more than a half century away through the eyes of modern African American teenagers. Day after day, people made astute noticings, asked amazing questions, plowed through the twists and turns of the plot with only occasional yawns and sighs. I was privileged to make that journey with them. I was honored to have shared their thoughts- from a bunch or gangly “I can barely fold myself into the chair, I don’t read anything that isn’t produced from a series of thumb strokes,” teenagers, I had the joy of living in their thoughts. It’s a cold cruel world out their, I continued and the only way you can make the world realize your thoughts are as profound and important as I learned them to be is to write. Don’t keep your greatness a secret-write.
And my spiel was over.
Something that never happened to me before happened.
Appreciatation for being appreciated.
I passed retirement age I can go now- anytime.
The new IEP computer system, the principal I can’t reach, the overall morass of testing and more testing aside.
Sometimes it all bearable.