Every year at some point, when I'm dying for inspiration, I think of this Toni Morrison interview excerpt. I pulled it out recently and as usual, found it relevant and energizing. So even though I originally posted this in 2008, I think it's worth revisiting in 2010...
Blog Re-run: Toni Morrison, What Color Would You Paint Your Walls
(Originally posted May 12, 2008)
Photo by John Morgan
That Yael Naim video reminded me of a piece of a Toni Morrison interview that I heard over ten years ago. I came across it on some audiobook series that I can't remember for the life of me, so if this rings a bell and you know where it came from, I'd love to hear from you.
I remembered putting this clip on a mix tape for my friend Amy and liking it so much that I made a copy for myself (ah, remember mix tapes?). So this morning I dug through all my cassettes and actually found it! I figure it must have been around either the 1988 or 1992 election because later in the Q&A, they talk about Beloved, which was published in 1987. Here's the question from an audience member and Toni Morrison's answer, transcribed to the best of my ability:
Question: Times are becoming more and more depressing, um, especially with this election coming up. Do you have…what do you do to, like, maintain hope? (laughter from crowd)
Toni Morrison: Well, I’ll tell you something. You’re right. It’s very dangerous, it’s extremely depressing, and it’s really not funny. On the other hand, you really have to…it’s like you know a few years ago when there was such a build up of nuclear weapons and it was just getting like everybody was armed to the teeth and it was, like, awful…one realized that they had, somebody had imagined that. And it lived. So the problem then seemed to be to unimagine it. Unimagine it. What would it be like if it didn’t exist? What would it be like? In all of its details. In every way. What would it be like if you had it like you wanted it? What would it be?
Can you really imagine living in a world without nuclear weapons? It’s very difficult to do. What would you do differently? Where would you live? How would your life change? Or without all sorts of things. Well, that has got to be imagined in order to prevent the paralysis. Because if we’re paralyzed because it’s unworkable, unthinkable, non-political, we won’t move. That’s one thing.
The second thing is, there are things to do. There are not…if we think in huge numbers about how to save the continent, we’re already whipped. But if you think in terms of one…you know, small things. Six people. One person. One room. One backyard. Not the beach. The highway. You know, “What are you doin?”
And then it works. And you know that you have imagined a world in which you can live. It may be small, as small as your room, but you have imagined it. And then you are in control. That’s not hope, that’s real work. And that’s what’s important.
It doesn’t matter about those other little people. They’ll all sort of come and go, all these little junky people. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that people realize how valuable life is and simply exercise the one thing that human beings have, which is the ability to imagine what it would be like if you had it the way it was supposed to be.
Then what would you do? What color would you paint your walls? And then paint ‘em!