I'm sure it was too stuffy--the thing that I actually said. It was nervous, the first question of the class. "So you were in this complicated relationship, and you were this young, religious, rural black girl going to Stanford, and you expressed difficulty fitting in with the academic establishment--difficulty writing about things you had no interest in. . . and you talk about how this was a time of finding your voice. . . did you ever resolve that, feel like you found a place in academia? What advice would you have for a student now who was having struggles finding a place in the academic world?"
What I meant was different. What I meant was: You understand, I know you understand, it was in this book and I couldn't stop reading. . . You know what it's like; he was important to you, and for the first time you were with someone who loved what you loved, loved the work you knew you were for. He was the man who you could write with, who you could try to be free with, this rare and precious thing. He was strong and kind, and the gateway who ultimately restrained you. It was complicated. You understand.
You understand because you stayed after he left you bleeding. You understand because you stood in the kitchen and listened to him fuck with your reality, claiming one thing when he'd said the opposite right before. You understand because, for all the help he gave, he also held you back; in the twelve years you were together you didn't publish, but after, after there was a flood.
After, was there freedom and loneliness and peace? Is it worth it, being alone, but making something? And must that be the choice, only to have one?
And how do you make that change? How do you stand up to the establishment--this establishment that hated you--enough to work for it, how did you come to respect yourself after investing so deeply in someone who would not respect you?