Tag Archives | college

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

Can You Change My Grade?

I was not a perfect student.  I skipped the occasional class, coasted through a few others (hello Sociology 101), and barely passed my first-year biology class, mostly because I was distracted equally by the professor’s lisp (not a good thing for a man whose first name was Sidney) and by the huge studded leather watchband he wore, which made me wonder if in hith off hourth he didn’t cruithe around on a Harley-Davidthon.

Truth be told, mostly I coasted through college, as if to live up to what a very dear professor told me: that because it was so easy for me to get a B+ it would be very hard for me to get an A.  True ‘dat.  Of course, for that particular professor, I did in fact bust my ass, but mostly? I cruithed through.

Despite my bad habits and not precisely stellar grades, however, I never ever asked a professor to change my grade. I never asked for extra credit to make up for work I hadn’t done (or had done poorly).  It wasn’t that I had any interest in taking responsibility for my actions: I was just too afraid to ask.

I’m here to say that college students—or at least my college students—have gotten over their fear, if in fact they ever had it.  I guess we should applaud the fact that these students are able to “ask for what they need,” but sometimes what they “need” sounds startlingly similar to my own kids whining about how desperately they need more legos. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on June 14, 2011 in Education, growing up, teaching

Choice

Along time ago, the late 1980s, to be exact, I went with my college friends to Washington DC. We’d graduated a few years earlier, from college in Boston, and weren’t roommates any more, but we gathered at S.’s house for a mini-reunion weekend just around Halloween.

The reason for our pilgrimage?  A pro-choice rally. We were instructed to wear white, as the suffragists did in their marches for equality–our white t-shirts say “Choice!” on them.

We thought this march would be the final march. It was 1989 and we were optimistic twenty-somethings in high tops and a lot of hair.

Now all of us are moms and I’m not sure any of us still have high-tops, but today in New York (and elsewhere in the country) was another march for choice, in support of Planned Parenthood. Seems there are some Republicans in Congress who think that the $75 million dollars allotted to Planned Parenthood in the federal budget will be the salvation of the country’s economic woes. I think that’s what my old therapist used to call “magical thinking.”

I wanted to go to the rally today but I had to stay home and help Liam with a big social studies project that’s due on Tuesday (hasn’t he had all the previous vacation week to work on that, you might ask? Why yes, in fact, he has. But that’s a post for another day).  I sat and listened to him talk about his project, offered some help with scissors and glue, and actually we had sort of a nice time.

It would be funny–if it weren’t so tragic–that those who would strip funding from Planned Parenthood don’t have any alternatives for the babies produced from unwanted pregnancies. Will there be funding to feed, clothe, and educate those children? Will there be a parent or care-giver waiting for those children, someone who will give up a Saturday afternoon to help cut out pictures about the Sahara Desert?  Seems like still more magical (okay, nightmarish) thinking, frankly: we’ll make women bear children they don’t want, can’t care for, or have life-destroying illnesses…and then not fund schools, hospitals, day care centers, or health care.

Parents unable to care for children, children with few or no options, the social safety net in tatters. Is that how we’re defining “family values” now?

(Hey! I’ve got a post up on technorati.com, too.)

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Continue Reading · on February 27, 2011 in Feminism, NYC, Politics

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