May 28, 2014

Magic Maya Angelou

The legendary Maya Angelou has passed away at the age of 86.

A gift to the written word, Angelou is best remembered for her acute philosophies and unflinching autobiographies, including the literary masterpiece that is 1969's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Angelou's life was peaks and valleys, and really all you have to do is pick up her books, read her poems, and listen to her speeches to understand the travels and trials this woman has experienced, and how she healed through allowing her voice to tremble and quake like the earth.  

Maya Angelou is someone who made me love words, the ebb and flow of them, the organization of them, the magic of them. She is one of the few authors who could tell of harsh realities, but say it with a tender hand. Poetic crystal clear honesty is how she did it, and she sliced the air with her prose, churning out seven autobiographies and numerous collections of poems and essays for over 50 years.

My first experiences with Angelou's words were in high school, when I read and learned to recite two of Angelou's most well-known poems, "And Still I Rise" and "Phenomenal Woman" for the theater class I was in. Those words never left me, and continue to bring me comfort whenever I recall snatches of lines, especially "Phenomenal Woman", which overflows with feminine pride that it's sweet symphony. At the time I didn't know I was supposed to be aware of my femininity on that kind of level, it took me aback really these bold words of "look at me! I am W-O-M-A-N!", and I felt sort of juvenile when I did read it aloud for the first time because honestly, that was a lot of femme pride to handle as an awkward and braced-faced teen who wasn't keen on the body given to me because it was doing some wacky stuff, nor was I aware of my 'inner mystery' or the 'grace of my style'. Yet like most great works you can grow with them, and well, homegirl was right all along. Angelou had that gift of cultivation --- she plants the seed, time sprinkles down as water, and then you, the reader are the bud and you grow on from there.

For a lot of Black girls like myself, Angelou spoke of all of our gleaming dimensions candidly, informing us in clear code that we owed ourselves the right to roar and be fearless, but that we also shouldn't be ashamed shed a tear and show vulnerability. Reading her prose, hearing her thought processes was as if we were talking to a mother, grandmother, aunt, friend that went on the same trip, only that she took that trip the week before and was telling us all about her findings. To hear someone smash stereotypes and be so bold like that was important to me as a young girl wrestling in my adolescent and trying to find my place as a young outlier.

While rattling off the page, the supreme power of Angelou's words aren't truly felt unless you hear them in live time, and I had the privilege to hear Angelou speak when I was a sophomore at University of North Texas. It's one of the more warmer memories of my time there, and I admit I don't remember everything that she said that night, because I was in awe, dumbstruck to the fact (and let me get creepy for a second) that I breathing the same air as her. But I collected myself mid-way into her speech and settled into that steady honeyed voice (seriously, that woman's voice is a damn lullaby) and became further inspired to pursue my writing aspirations so I could pave my own road with my own unique voice, as did she. As much as I struggle with self-doubt while I write, I should, and need to remember that Angelou went the extra mile to bring sincerity to the craft of storytelling, and that she didn't hesitate to tell another tale, and another one, and another... We should all be fortunate that we were able to bask and connect with her infallible virtue and will be able to continue to do so as her voice, her spirit will continue to live on the page and in the heart.

She was a phenomenal woman in every sense of the word.

Some favored Maya Angelou quotes....
  • “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain.”
  • “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
  • “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
  • "Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."
  • "Nothing can dim the light which shines from within."
  • “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
  • “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass.”
  • “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
  • “To those who have given up on love: I say, "Trust life a little bit.”

May 27, 2014

Muse: #YesAllWomen Is The Rage Against The Patriarchy That We All Need

I will admit when I heard the news about the shooting rampage near UC Santa Barbara this past weekend that claimed the lives of six women, I just sighed, shook my head, and thought, "We need better gun laws..." and went about my business.

Yep. That's how numb, no immune, I've become to mass killings as they happen far too frequently and nothing, absolutely nothing gets done about them. We just all collectively shrug our shoulders, and that's it. How 'bout them Cowboys?

Usually we never get the "why" in situations like this, but for this tragedy we have received it as the killer left a 137-page manifesto explaining that he planned to wage a "war against women" as they "have starved me of sex for my entire youth and gave that pleasure to other men".

I'm reminded of something the author Margaret Atwood experienced. When she asked a male friend why men can become afraid of women (note the "can become") the response was simply, "Men are afraid women will laugh at them". When she mentioned this quote to a group of women, the response was opposite as they stated: "Women are afraid men will kill them." Blunt, yes, but my gosh is it true, especially in concerns with this recent tragedy.

Impressions: The Importance Of The Black & Brown Girl Friendship Narrative In 'Our Song'

Now here is something I wish we had more of.

In the search of something different on Netflix I came across the 2000 film Our Song the other night. It's initial drawing point was that it starred a then unknown Olivia Pope  Kerry Washington in what was her film debut, but there is so much more to it than having a mini-Madame Gladiator in it. Our Song is one of those films that doesn't sugar coat its themes and characters along with giving you a nostalgic sense of those carefree but complex years of youth. But it also does the one thing that seems lost on mainstream filmmakers. It shows people of color, especially teenage girls, as what they are --- ordinary people capable of good and bad times.

The film follows the lives of three high school friends --- Lanisha (Washington), Maria (Melissa Martinez), and Jocelyn (Anna Simpson) --- from Crown Heights, Brooklyn during one eventful summer as members of their community's marching band, the Jackie Robinson Steppers. Filmed documentary style by writer/director Jim McKay (who also explored the hidden lives of teen girls in 1996's Girls Town), Our Song is an excellent look at the power of female friendships, and how much of an influence our friends have at that age. It's also a telling snapshot of the myriad and timeless struggles teenage girls go through on a daily basis, and for these three girls they are all coming of age faster than their age allows thanks to their surroundings. Single parent households. Racial identity. Teen pregnancy. Difficulty finding proper schooling after an asbestos attack. Suicide. Financial struggles. Friendships crumbling. A lot is packed tight into this little film, but the acting, dialogue, and storyline carries it all off well, even sometimes too well.

May 22, 2014

Lady Who Rocks: Lady Pink

Pinterest is a gateway (drug) for inspiration. Note that. So one night I'm with my insomnia and scrolling through yet another pinning wormhole and I come across this wonderful shot of a woman wearing a tank top that read: Abuse of power comes at no surprise. The photo, the woman, the saying, all of it fascinated me to investigate where it all came from and after a quick stroke of the keys I became aware of the bad assery that is the godmother of graffiti art, Lady Pink.

May 21, 2014

Daring Myself To Write

Sylvia Plath pushing doubt aside to write
"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." - Sylvia Plath

Some time ago I came across this great (and somewhat dated) piece from the site BlogHer and it touched on something bothersome called "insecure writing". I bookmarked it in order to save it for a day when I would need it. Well, today is that day.

Here's a stand-out portion:
"I want to write words. But I'm afraid. I'm a wimp. I'm plagued with insecurities. [...] I want to write. But I hold back. I hold back so much, so many times. I've written and deleted post after post after post. Too chickenshit to hit publish. I want to stop worrying and just start writing again."

I could have written this myself. Let me explain...