Words cannot do justice to the magnitude of Maya Angelou’s life. This woman overcame poverty, racism and sexual abuse to become a celebrated author, poet, dancer, actress playwright, educator, and historian. An artist and a Renaissance woman of great success, she always spread a message of love, hope, and truth. By truth I mean she always kept it real.
As an impoverished young woman, Angelou worked briefly as a prostitute. This is a fact she has never tried to hide. In fact, she writes about it in her book “Gather Together in My Name”, which is one of her autobiographies. If ever an interviewer tried to shame her about this fact, she was known to say, “there are many ways to prostitute oneself.”
She won the National Book Award for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, and an Emmy Award. The list of accolades goes on.
Among her many talents, Maya Angelou is a performer. Articulation is something I am always working towards, and something this woman exercised with grace. When she speaks, you listen. I encourage each and every one of you to go out and buy her books or at the very least, type “Maya Angelou” into YouTube or Google and absorb the wisdom. The charisma. The positivity. Take it in and breath it back.
There is something so unimaginably exciting about the human being. Each one, each of you, has gone to bed, one night or the other, with fear, or disappointment, or loss, or grief, discontent, pain, and yet each one of us has awakened, arisen. Seen another human being and said “morning how are you?” “Fine, thanks, and you? And that’s amazing. Wherever that abides in the human being, there is the nobleness of the human spirit. Despite it all, we rise.
This is an introduction Angelou occasionally spoke before reciting her poem, “Still I Rise.” Watch the entirety of this poem here, with the introduction at the beginning. Memorize it. Sing it in an operatic fashion from rooftops. “Does my sassiness upset you?”
If this winter turns out to be as long and desperately cold as folks at the The Old Farmer’s Almanac portend, come February I might take to reciting this on various Subway trains. (I will never do that. But hey, there’s an idea for your outgoing, performance-prone readers!)
I have a friend whose father died earlier this year. I ran into her a few weeks ago, and we attempted to catch up on each other’s lives on a twenty-minute subway ride uptown. She spoke of her grieving process. “At the moment”, she said, “all I can manage is getting up, going to work, getting home, showering and eating somewhere in there, and then doing it all again. And again.”
This introduction and poem is a gorgeous reminder that the fact that humans rise every morning to greet the day in the face of hardship, shame, embarrassment, pain and sadness, is enough. That’s enough. Humans rallying to face each new day (or night, depending on your work schedule) with courage and resilience, is so fucking beautiful. Goddamn. Maya Angelou. I can’t. You are so inspirational. All hail.
Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.
Too many times have I fallen prey to this assumption that age equals maturity. I tend to trust people too quickly, and take for granted what they tell me, especially if they are older than myself and assume confidence.
Have respect for others and their point of view. Have the humility to determine when you are in a position to learn something rather than teach it. Yet always, always think for yourself, because one does not automatically get wiser each year they live.
Check the people around you. Check yourself. Be honest.
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
Definitions and images of success permeate my life. They come from the media, people I encounter in real life, they come from social media. While I am obviously a fan of looking up to people I deem successful (see post above) the reason I love this definition of success is because it’s so open-ended. There is no comparing yourself to other people. It keeps it simple and leaves you to fill in the blanks.