Purple: Connecting Fiction, and Personal Trauma

Purple is not my favorite color (black is, but that’s another story), but it is a significant color for me, for complicated reasons I shall try to explain here. In some regards, this blog-post can be seen as a review of Netflix’s new series, Jessica Jones. My opinion of the series, in brief: five stars — watch it!

Do not expect watching this show to be easy, though. Like Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, it plumbs the depth of human depravity, through the character of Killgrave, also known as The Purple Man, a character who has existed in comic books since 1964, when he appeared in issue #4 of Daredevil.

Purple_Man

[Art by Tom Grummett; image found here, and from a comic book cover other than Daredevil #4.]

Killgrave’s skin is not purple in the new TV series, but he’s every bit as horrible a person as in comic book stories. He has one superpower, but it’s a nearly-impossible one to overcome: when he tells people to do things, they immediately do what he says, even to the point of killing themselves or others.

I was interested in Killgrave (and Jessica Jones) from the first time I saw either of them in a comic book, long before this TV series was planned. However, about halfway through the first season, I suddenly realized why Killgrave held such personal fascination for me as a truly horrible character — and why I hated him so intensely. It’s the fact that he controls the minds of other people, using his voice.

My father did the same thing, although he certainly did not have purple skin, and never, to my knowledge, killed anyone (but he did leave a string of damaged people in his wake). His voice had a hypnotic quality. There are people, to this day, who will claim to have seen him float straight up into the air — because they were told to see him levitate. I never saw that, but I do have faint memories, from a very early age, of seeing other unreal things, at his verbal suggestion, such as four or five finger-to-finger “ribbons of energy” called “orgone” connecting my hands, held in front of me, at night. Other children my age were with me; they saw these “orgone energy ribbons,” and more. I got away from this insanity as quickly, and as often, as I was able to do. Avoiding my father became my habit early, and often.

Many people have had horrible things done to them, due to abuse of this ability. In fiction, Killgrave, The Purple Man, is the best example of such a monster using his voice as a mind-control weapon. In reality, my father (and others with a similar ability, such as leaders of religious cults, a role my father did play, more than once) is another example.

When I realized the similarity between Killgrave and my now-deceased father, I had to stop watching Jessica Jones for about 24 hours. Having been a survivor of mind control left me (in real life) and Jessica Jones (in fiction) with PTSD, and I had to have a break from watching the show for this reason.

During this 24 hours, I remembered something about my father (who died in 2010) and my mother (who died less than two weeks ago): a story my mother told me, many years later.

Apparently my father hated the color purple, although I have no idea why. She was under his voice-control for years. So was I. We broke completely free of this manipulative monster at about the same time, in the mid-1980s. She left, and then divorced, him. I came up with my own way to “divorce” him as a parent, myself: I legally changed my last name to my mother’s maiden name. These things I knew already; the new thing Mom told me was what she did to celebrate her breaking free of his influence: buying a purple dress, and going out, wearing it, to celebrate her freedom.

After remembering this, I was able to watch the rest of the first season of Jessica Jones. I will not leave specific spoilers here, but I will say this: watching the rest of it helped with the ongoing process of recovering from my own “purple trauma.”

On your nth birthday, you turn n – 1 years old.

birthday cake

As a teacher, I have had variants of this conversation many times. The specific details, however, are fictional, for this changes, somewhat, each time it happens.

  • Student: Guess what? It’s my birthday!
  • Me: Congratulations! How old are you?
  • Student: I’m seventeen!
  • Me: Well, happy 18th birthday, then!
  • Student: Huh?
  • Me: Look, on that one day, 17 years ago, when you were born, that was your birthday. That day has a better claim on being your birthday than any other day, because it’s the day you were born. That was your first birthday. But you weren’t one year old yet. You turned one year old a year later, on your next birthday . . . your second birthday. A year later, on your third birthday, you turned two years old. Do I need to continue?
  • Student: So I’m 18? I can buy cigarettes without a fake ID, and vote, and stuff?
  • Me: No, not for another year, because you’re only 17 years old — but you have had 18 birthdays. Say, here come some of your friends. Use this bit yourself, if you want to, and have fun with it.
  • Student, to other students: Hey, guys, it’s my birthday! I’m 18 today!

…At least I try. Also, sometimes, the educational outcome is better than in this fictionalized example.

 

[Image source: http://www.decorationnako.tk/birthday-cake/]

Janis Joplin: The Meaning of “Freedom”

janis on freedom

The quotation is from the Janis Joplin’s song “Me and Bobby McGee.” You can hear it right here, in this video I embedded from YouTube:

 

A Poem Written by My Cousin Sara, in Honor of My Mother

[This poem was written by Sara Bray McClain, after the recent funeral of my mother, Mina Jo Marsh, who was her aunt. I am grateful to Sara for writing it, and for giving me permission to post it here. I am also grateful that reading it helped me feel better, in light of recent events.]

I love the change in seasons,
when the night takes on the work
of a world that’s worn of summer,
lying down to rest its head
only when the sunrise lights…

I crave the peace at dawn
of a town whose jobs awaken
making good on the toil that for months
rolled on in the hope of a rich, ripe harvest.

I breathe in the crisp fall air
along with the scent of labor,
the fresh, sweet smell of firewood
and the smoke of my neighbor’s stove;
the birds all abuzz with the knowledge
that winter is coming soon, taking flight to their homes more southern
as we look to the star in the north.

I search for the words to comfort
those who grieve at this time of wonder
who, faced with life’s blessed turning,
can only look behind.

And, strangely, the winds of change
keep afloat my meandering mind,
rustling now through the branches of family
gone before to a winter their own.

My heart isn’t cold or lonely,
though the chill might have touched my skin,
for I know with the break of the first snow
comes the green of the spring just ahead.

Goodbye, Mom

Mom's Dodecahedron

Soon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will run my mother’s obituary. However, it would not be right for me to allow the obituary they print to be her only one.

Mom’s name when she was born, on January 4, 1942, was Mina Jo Austin. Later, she was known professionally as Mina Marsh. However, I chose to legally change my last name to her maiden name, in 1989, after my parents divorced. I did this so that I could have a last name I associated only with my good parent, for I only had one — the one now in this hospice room with me, as I write this, with little time remaining to her.

This is an old photograph of her, and her two younger sisters, taken when my mother was a teenager.

IMG_1188

Her father, whom I knew (all too briefly) as “Daddy Buck,” taught her many things, very early in life, just as Mom did, much later, for me. He taught her about justice, and its opposite, using as one example of injustice the internment camps for Japanese-Americans which were then operating, here in Arkansas, when my mother was a little girl. Even in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and in complete disagreement with the masses, my grandfather thought it an obscenity that people had been herded into these camps simply because of their ethnicity, and, in a world where evil does exist, he decided his daughter needed to know about it. Only with knowledge of evil can one stand up to it, oppose it, and speak truth to it, even when that evil is mixed with power, as happens all too often. He instilled in her a strong sense of justice, and taught her courage, at the same time.

Mom started college at Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas, and demonstrated her courage, and refusal to tolerate injustice, there, during the 1960 presidential election campaign. The assembled students of Harding were told, in chapel, that it was their duty, as Christians, to go forth on election day, and cast their votes for Richard Nixon, because allowing John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, to become president would be a horrible, sinful thing to do. She found this offensive, in much the same way that her father had found America’s treatment of Japanese-Americans offensive during World War II. On principle, therefore, she withdrew from Harding, and transferred to the University of Arkansas (in Fayetteville) to complete her college coursework. She also, later, left the denomination associated with Harding, eventually becoming a member of the Episcopal Church. I am grateful to her church here in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the many comforts they have given her over the years. They even went so far as to raise the funds needed, in 2010, for her emergency transportation, by air, to a Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where surgery was performed to save her from a rare adrenal-gland tumor called a pheochromocytoma. Without this help from them, her life would have been shortened by over five years.

Mom is survived by two children. I came along in 1968, and my sister (who had three children herself — my mother’s three grandchildren) was born the following year. Mom is also survived by three step-grandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren. Mom began to teach both my sister and myself, as early as she could, what her father had taught her, early in life. Strangely enough, one of my earliest memories of her doing this also involved Richard Nixon, for the first news event I clearly remember seeing on television was Nixon’s 1974 resignation speech. At that young age, and with my parents clearly disgusted with America’s most disgraced president to date, I blurted forth, “I wish he was dead!” Mom wasn’t about to let that pass without comment, and did not. I remember the lesson she taught me quite well: there was nothing wrong with wishing for him to lose his position of power, as he was doing — but to wish for the man to die was to cross a line that should not be crossed. One was right; the other was wrong. It is my mother who taught me how to distinguish right from wrong. From this point forward, I now have a new reason to try, in every situation, to do the right thing: anything less would dishonor my mother’s memory.

It was around this time that my sister and I started school, and to say Mom was deeply involved in our experiences at school would be to understate the issue. In a conservative state where many schools openly (and illegally) do such insane things as teach young-earth Creationism in “science” classes, and anti-intellectualism is sometimes actually seen as a virtue, our entry into the school system was not unlike entering a battleground. At this time, education specifically designed for gifted and talented students simply did not exist in Arkansas. Mom had already had some teaching experience herself, although she had since moved on to other work. She was often appalled by the inane things that happened in our schools, when we were students, such as this from the fifth grade, and this (also from elementary school), and this especially-awful example from the seventh grade. Never one to tolerate injustice, Mom was deeply involved, from the beginning, in the formation of an organization called AGATE (Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education), which fought a long, uphill, but ultimately successful battle to bring special programs for the education of gifted and talented students into the public schools of our state. She did this for her own two children, true — I consider forcing someone (who already understands it) to “practice” long division, year after year, to be a form of torture, and she was trying to save me from such torture — but she also did it for thousands of other Arkansas students, and tens of thousands have since benefited from her work in this area.

mom

Mom was never content to fight in just one struggle at a time, for there is too much important work to do for such an approach. She was also a dedicated naturalist, a Master Gardener, and served as the Deputy Director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission for 25 years, seeking ways to protect and preserve areas of natural beauty, and scientific significance, in our state. After retiring from that position, she later served on the board of directors of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, and also became the Development Director of the Ozark Natural Science Center.

My mother affected the lives of a great many people in her 73 years of life, including many who do not even know her name — but neither gaining credit, nor fame, was ever her goal. She will be deeply missed.

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[About the rotating image: the picture of the banded agate, a reference to AGATE, the organization, on the faces of Mom’s dodecahedron, at the top of this post, came from here. The rotating dodecahedron itself, which the ancient Greeks associated with the heavens, was created using Stella 4d, software available at this website.]