In blending Cassie’s childlike fantasy with altruism and justice, Ringgold highlights not only one child’s ability to use play to prepare for the stresses of the adult world, but also the power fantasy maintains even for adults when it comes to seeking justice and defining freedom. Flight may be a typical childhood dream, but it’s also a deep motif of resistance in African-American folklore. (In 1985, author Virginia Hamilton packaged that motif expressly for young readers in her gorgeous collection The People Could Fly.) While Cassie’s dress changes color above the George Washington Bridge, the page is bordered with pieces of Ringgold’s story quilt–in which Cassie’s story originally appeared–a testament to the idea that the dream/memory is not only Cassie’s, but that of an entire community.
As writers we have all toured dream homes we’re too poor to afford. Maybe Katherine Anne Porter’s “Noon Wine,” for me, or Tobias Wolff’s “Desert Breakdown, 1968,” or Danielle Evans’s “Virgins.” Yes, I tour these stories and compile my greedy wish-list: a mysterious stranger, I like that; a road trip gone wrong, of course; a heartbreaking decision both right and wrong at the same time, I wouldn’t want my story to go without one of those. I put down the book and open the computer. There’s my draft, all at once in various states of disrepair. I read back over it and wonder with distaste when and how, like floral wallpaper, these sentences had ever seemed a good idea to anyone. I hold my own story against my dream stories, I hold my vision for my story against its ruinous half-state. I moan: I just can’t see it.
Once upon a time a boy named Bobby Watson drowned at my summer camp. This was in 1968. Thirteen-year-old Bobby had been playing an all-camp game of hide-n-seek when he spotted an old Kenmore refrigerator stationed on the far side of the docks. Indeed, it was a peculiar place for a fridge, but Bobby never questioned it; after all, where others saw a fridge he saw a perfect place to hide. He pulled the door wide (caree-eeek), and then pulled it closed behind him (click).
Perhaps I am lacking in imagination, but I simply can’t think of a clearer signal of white male privilege than an instance in which an adult white male receives a highly competitive fellowship and uses his time on that fellowship to join a frat and gets so inebriated he ends up in the hospital, but instead of reprimand from the law or university, he gets to turn the ridiculous tale into a cover story for the country’s second largest circulating paper.
In the spirit of finding inspiration in the interdisciplinary, we’re giving away two tickets to Danish String Quartet to one lucky fan of Michigan Quarterly Review.