“S and I was snap-chatting all weekend about how Professor Chester’s knows soooo much about us.” –Student
I made my students write biomythographies. We read Audre Lorde’s Zami, since she is the prototype. Students were resistant, they always are when they have to talk about themselves. Be vulnerable. We did free writes in the days leading up to the assignment. Overall, I was pleased with the work they put in. The student was right, I know a lot about them now.
When you can’t do teach.
Reading their words made me reflect on the honesty of my writing. My ability to be vulnerable. Reading Zami always pushes me to interrogate my identity, the feeling was even stronger coupled with these 18-22-year-olds grappling with who they are and who they want to be.
This week we are reading another favorite of mine, The Summer We Got Free (one of the perks of my job I get to force people to read my favorite books with me).
The opening lines…
“Ava did not remember the taste of butter. It had been seventeen years since she had last moaned at the melt of hot-buttered cornbread on her tongue. She was not bothered in the least about it, because she did not know that she did not remember. At breakfast, when she dropped a square of butter on grits, or on yams at dinner, and laid a spoonful of either on her tongue, she believed what she tasted was butter. She did not know that she was only tasting milkfat and salt, the things that make up butter, which, of course, is not the same thing. She certainly did not know that the taste of butter was a thing that had once made her moan. Ava did not remember what it was to moan” – Mia McKenzie, The Summer We Got Free
I love the beginning. Its sets the book up beautifully. Beyond that, it resonated with me. I mean it has been almost 5 years since I tasted “real” butter. The funny thing about taking certain things out of your diet you tend to forget the taste. I remember the feeling I got eating things like pork chops (I wrote poetry about it) or macaroni and cheese…but I don’t remember the taste. I eat “vegan” pizza and enjoy it. It is my normal, now it is what pizza should taste like to me. I don’t really remember how cheese taste, yet in the back of my mind I know I am missing something.
Watching other people eat pizza, they seem almost orgasmic. I enjoy pizza but it in no way borders on a erotic experience.
I remember rolling on my bathroom floor after stuffed crust pizza first came out, moaning “My tummy gonna explode.” Moments before I stuffed slice after slice in my mouth. Unable to control myself from the buttery cheesy crust.
I enjoy pizza now in nice moderation. Stopping before I am even fully full.
In The Summer We Got Free, Ava’s awakening in the book exemplifies the erotic that Lorde speaks of in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”
“During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.
I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience.” -Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic
I am teaching my students to see and understand the erotic as empowering, as a life force, as affirmation, as power.
Theoretically I understand the intense power of the erotic. Someone once told me, that I am good in theory but not so good in practice. I am a preacher who can preach beautifully about the pitfalls of sin and the power of deliverance, yet am unable to find that deliverance in my life.
When you can’t do teach.
When I am honest about myself, I know that the power of the erotic that Lorde speak of is absent from my life. The creative life-force that color one’s life…that empowers one to change is barely visible.
I get glimpses of it and its power. Those glimpses have inspired me to write over the few last week’s more than I have in months. It inspired me to create a practice. To open myself up and embrace vulnerabilities. I feel it. I can see it changing me.
However, the pellet that is the erotic is constrained. Only really moving or coloring certain aspects of my life. The key to accomplish the change needed to demand more from myself and those around me is to let those aspects of color paint my whole life. But rather than “evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives” I am here unable to find the words to return two emails and one voicemail. To try something new and claim my happiness in a different way.
When you can’t do teach.
As a child growing up in the church often pastors would say that the “word” they were giving was for themselves.
As a professor sometimes the lessons I craft are for myself. So I am hoping that my pedagogy can help both me and my students get a bit freer and embrace our erotic as power.
But until I can do it, I will teach the good news of Lorde and Black Feminism.
When was the last time butter (or anything) made you moan?