The Color Purple

I read Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple when I was about fourteen, probably too young to understand its full complexity. All I understood was that the world conspired against Celie–and at fourteen, that’s sort of how the world felt to me, too.

With each re-reading of the novel, I saw more: the way that the form–an epistolary novel–drew on centuries of (white, European) literary tradition and challenged it at the same time; the fact that love between women challenged (and eventually dismantled) structures of male power; the joy and power that comes from finding work that matters, whether that work is singing jazz or making pants that fit women.

I’ve taught this novel a few times, and I love listening to students talk about what they discover in the novel, which still resonates, even now, more than thirty years after it was first published.

I was reminded about the novel’s power today, when I watched Jennifer Hudson and the cast of “The Color Purple” pay tribute to Prince, whose album “Purple Rain” came out two years after Walker’s novel.

I’m not alone–I’m one of millions, I suppose–when I say that Prince’s songs were the soundtrack of my youth. At the time, of course, I thought I was very, very adult, singing along to “I Would Die 4U,” or “Raspberry Beret…”  There was childlike joy in the music–the sheer ecstatic pleasure of making something–married to the very adult pleasures of the flesh.

His music floated out of dorm rooms and dance parties when I was at college in the early 1980s. College, for me, was a small women’s college outside of Boston, where The Color Purple was on lots of reading lists: all that female empowerment! On the weekends, the school held “mixers” — ghastly dances that drew men from surrounding colleges. Sometimes men from specific schools would be invited, sometimes men just showed up, but all of the men (okay, most) seemed certain that as inhabitants of a female-only world, we must be starving–nay, near unto death–for the lack of male company.  The standard conversation at a mixer often went something like “hey, how are you, my name is Jeff/Pete/Charlie/Biff…” and then after a few pleasantries, the question: “Is your roommate home?”  And that meant: would you please take me to your dorm room and let me see your little red love machine?

Much to the chagrin of Biff, Charlie, and Pete, we were frequently quite fine, thanks, without the pleasure of their company. Which is not to say that sometimes we didn’t make like darling Nikki and get ourselves a lil’bit of fun, but just as frequently–and often jump-started by Prince–my friends and I would dance towards each other, ignoring Biff’s entreaties. We danced, god did we dance; the boys couldn’t keep up and we didn’t want them to. Prince gave us permission to dance without worrying about what we looked like or who was watching; he gave us permission to move for the sweet pleasure of moving.

I haven’t remembered those dances in a long time. It took Prince’s death to remind me of the freedom we felt as we danced; the music made me feel like I could do anything.

Somewhere in The Color Purple, Celie writes “Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.” Maybe that’s what Prince wanted to do in his music–be loved–but maybe, and more likely, I think he wanted us to remember to love each other–whenever, whomever, and however we wanted, in whatever fleshly and passionate fashion we could find.

Celie also tells us “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  We couldn’t not notice Prince–not just his purple, of course, but the marvel of the creativity that streamed out of him, an amazing gift that I, at least, thought might never end.

Goodnight, sweet Prince. Nothing compares 2U.

 

Continue Reading · on April 22, 2016 in aging, Feminism, pop culture, sex

Trying to talk to a Teenager…

I write for a great blog called WorldMomsBlog, which brings together writers from around the globe to talk about life in their part of the world. Sometimes, as you might imagine, events and issues are culturally specific but more often than not, there are shared connections, sometimes in unexpected places.

My post for WMB last week is one of those universal things, I think, at least for parents in relatively developed societies: the moment when your adorable baby becomes an adolescent with a gadget of some sort apparently surgically attached to his or her ear. Weirdly, that device–used for communication–seems to be making it harder and harder to communicate with each other: Forget Esperanto, Does Anyone Speak Teenager?

Continue Reading · on February 15, 2016 in Children, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting, tech life, World Moms Blog

Crowned

rootcanalSo my front tooth broke off about a month ago. That tooth is a crown that I have had for more than a decade, and perhaps it was due for a break, but the timing was terrible. (Question: is there ever a good time to break a tooth?)  The tooth–a front tooth–broke off about three hours before I was supposed to leave for the airport for our fifteen-hour flight to New York from Abu Dhabi, which meant that I spent my traveling time tight-lipped, answering questions pretty much in closed-mouth monosyllables to avoid frightening people with my crone-like mouth.

Got to New York, got myself to the dentist, got myself a temporary crown and spent the next month sort of feeling that different tooth the way you do when there’s something not quite right in your mouth. A tongue fidget, really.

For those of you with uncrowned teeth, the process of being crowned is not as pleasant as, say, the phrase “coronation” might imply. Far better to become the ruler of a small country than to find yourself in the dentist’s chair with approximately six people plunging their hands into your mouth.

Why do dentists and their assistants insist on talking to you while you’re splayed out in their chair, your mouth full of assorted non-mouth objects and next to you a tray of gadgets that in another context would be outlawed by the Geneva Convention?

“How does this feel?”

“Unnhunh…”

“Doing okay?”

“Unnnhunnnh” (which means, roughly translated, are you effing serious am I doing okay as you plunge a needle into my gum so you can do the “build up” of the nubbin tooth under the temporary crown? Yep, yep, doing just fine, thanks, unnnghaggh).

I got my crown at the American Dental Center here in Abu Dhabi, which is not to be confused with the British, the German, the French, or the Dubai. Who knew that teeth were such a nationalist preoccupation? At the American Dental center, I was seen to by a crackerjack group of Filipina women, most of whom I think are trained as dentists in the Philippines but who cannot get the full licensing here, and by a cheerfully expert Argentinian dentist. Not one US citizen stuck their hands in my mouth.

The procedure didn’t really hurt (or not much), but the noises emerging from one’s mouth during these sorts of things can be difficult to bear. The whirrings and grindings and clippings and tappings (they literally hammered out the temporary crown) – all those sounds should happen in someone’s workroom, not my mouth. But the resultant permanent crown is a thing of beauty. Not a perfect thing of beauty because then it wouldn’t match my other teeth, but it’s a pretty perfect match. The specialist who builds teeth uses this handy dandy template:

teethIt’s like paint chips. But with teeth. The tooth artist held different tooth samples next to the teeth in my mouth while he and the dentist conferred, sounding a bit like they were playing “Battleship:” apparently my tooth is D2, A2, and a bit of B1.

I am now the proud owner of D2A2B1, which matches my other teeth so perfectly you’d never know it was a fake (or so I tell myself). It’s nice to have my teeth all back where they belong but I have some questions. Do the tooth sample trays look the same, regardless  of which nation’s dentist you see? Does the British dentist offer up big Prince Charles choppers and the French dentist proffer nicotine stains? And where, oh where, does one study to become a tooth artist?

Continue Reading · on February 5, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, health, UAE

Waiting for a train in Austria…without the Von Trapps

In October, I had the joyful experience of spending a few days in Vienna and Salzburg with my siblings and my mom. We laughed and drank, listened to music and walked through wonderful old streets exploring Austria’s history–real and imagined. There were the real spots–Mozart this and that, Beethoven here and there–and the imagined spots, most of which had to do with Maria-the-singing-nun and the Von Trapp family.  Did you know that all those landmarks from the movie are spread out all over the city of Salzburg? Movie magic at its best, along with the fact that the Von Trapps skipped merrily over the Alps to freedom, just ahead of the Anschluss.

While we were in Salzburg, we saw a very different picture of people escaping repression: trainloads of refugees from Syria being herded along the train platform and out to the Red Cross tents that had been set up in the parking lot. Where these people were going to go from there is anyone’s guess. But I don’t think they were going to be skipping and singing any time soon.

My article about the refugees, real and imagined, appeared here in The National.

 

photo credit

Continue Reading · on December 1, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Politics, The National, Travel

Elizabeth Warren, Planned Parenthood, and Me…Redux

Six years ago, I wrote a post about Dr George Tiller, who was murdered by someone who called himself “pro-life.”

I’ll leave you a minute to savor the horrific ironies in that statement.

And now, six years later, it’s not only the body of a doctor that is on the line but all of Planned Parenthood, as the wackadoodles in the US Senate attempt to defund the entire organization.

Elizabeth Warren, bless her, gave a fiery speech on the Senate floor in which she asked the Republican Senators “Did you fall down, hit your head and think you woke up in the 1950s or the 1890s? Should we call for a doctor?”

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.57.23 PM

By this point, I have to say that those don’t seem like rhetorical questions. It seems as if yes, in fact, a large segment of this country is living–or would like to live– in some putative golden age when the only people in the United States with rights are white people who can’t get pregnant, ever.

Welcome to the age of Not Mattering. Non-white bodies don’t seem to matter that much; bodies of people who can get pregnant don’t seem to matter that much; bodies of anyone outside a very narrow demographic swath don’t seem to matter that much.

When my friends and I joined marches for reproductive rights decades ago–decades–we never imagined that now, well into middle age (dear god, how did we get to middle age?),  we would be fighting the same fight, helping our (much wanted) sons and daughters fight the same fight, wondering why on earth people are still so afraid of women controlling their own reproductive choices.

The marvelous Katha Pollitt writes “the whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary,” and she’s right.

Six years ago, watching the vigil for Dr Tiller, I thought “surely things can’t get any worse.” And while for the Tiller family, that’s probably the truth, I’m wondering how much worse things are going to get for the rest of us.

 

 

 

My column about Dr. Tiller was collected in a volume edited by the marvelous Joanne Bamberger, called Mothers of Intention

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Continue Reading · on August 6, 2015 in Children, family, Feminism, Gender, Kids, Parenting, Politics, ranting

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