Maya Angelou, Goosebumps & Phenomenal Wisdom
Maya Angelou’s work and words have had a powerful influence on my life and my own work. Writing that goes straight to the heart is what I love to read and what I endeavor to write.
I had the good fortune to hear Maya Angelou speak in 1999. My skin tingled with gooseflesh and my heart beat in my throat as she gave a commencement address. She told the graduating class “Each of us has the possibility of being a composer, to compose the climate in which one lives…To indeed compose the neighborhood, to compose the melody of life, to compose the richness of it. To decide, ‘I will have a climate in which all men and women must be treated equal. I will compose that.’” Her voice was strong, otherworldly, powerful. Her eyes shone. The audience held its breath. Courage is key, she said, to be able to compose. “Courage, and more courage.”
In my own life and in my writing, I try to be as courageous as I can be. I know I need to do more. But I lay claim to this composition of justice and fairness. I move characters from situations of inequality to positions of power. In my dealings with others, I offer kindness and respect. I am imperfect, but trying to be better every day.
These 15 years later, the world we are living in is still a work in progress toward Angelou’s dream of courageous composition. And though we have made great strides, there is so much more to do. I look to her words again for solace.
I want a better, more equal, less violent world for everyone. I want to make stories that project the possibility of positive change. I want to offer hope.
Maya is definitely the rainbow in my frequently overcast disposition. This poem from And Still I Rise, which gives every woman permission to proclaim herself as a phenomenal being, will always be my favorite of hers:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
I gave up on being normal a long time ago. I’m working on amazing and phenomenal.
I am deeply indebted to you, Maya Angelou, for all your wisdom and inspiration.
A great big thank you to author Michelle R. Lane for featuring a poem of mine
in her thoughtful discussion of love and monsters on her fabulous blog.
Check out her blog here:
Jason Jack Miller tagged me in a ten question blog hop known as the LIEBSTER AWARD.
1. Where did the idea for your current Work-in-Progress (WIP) come from?
I’ve been obsessed with time-travel stories for as long as I can remember. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was the first time travel story I fell in love with. There have been many since. Plus I’ve watched Back to the Future at least 37 times. My first attempt at a novel had to feature time travel.
2. Quote a favorite line from one of your favorite books.
3. Now quote your favorite line from your current WIP.
4. What unique challenges has your current WIP had that your previous ones did not?
My current WIP is my first fiction WIP. Being the first, there are lots of challenges. Like, can I even create a story worth a reader’s time? Can I create characters that readers will care about? Can my story matter to anyone but me?
The jury is still out.
5. If you saw your main character at a party, how would you react?
I’m not really a party person. But if I saw Sara García at a party, I would probably admire her from afar. She’d be more likely to start a conversation with me than the other way around.
6. Who would play your main protagonist/antagonist if your current WIP were made into a movie?
For Sara, somebody like Salma Hayek, only rounder. Here’s Salma pregnant:
7. What are your biggest inspirations for writing?
What George said. My inner demons make me do it. But seriously, stories help us understand who we are, help us to learn, to become our best selves.
My WIP is dedicated to my brother Alan who died in 2010. Being older, he controlled the TV in our house when we were kids and turned me into a Science Fiction geek. Time Flash: Another Me would not exist if not for Alan.
8. Summarize your WIP as a haiku.
Can a woman on a diet
foil an evil corporation?
9. What role does music play in your writing?
The music that you listen to gets encoded into your experiences of different points in time. Songs remind you who you were and what you felt and thought and wanted—recalls to you all your past selves. Songs become our personal anthems. I often use music as a way of getting into my writing.
In Time Flash: Another Me, songs Sara hears on the radio when she time travels into the past, tell her who she was, who she hoped to become, and help her recognize what matters. Music helps her navigate through her past and make her way toward her heroic destiny.
10. What’s one thing you’ve learned about the craft that you wish you had learned earlier?
I was frustrated early on with my attempts at writing fiction, because everything I wrote was terrible.
No one told me it would always be that way. I’m not saying my poetry arrives full blown onto the page, but it sure requires less blotting out.
My first attempts at story are crap. They always will be. No matter how many words I’ve written before. The good words elude me.
If I had known that it was normal, and I would never get better at first drafts, I might not have given up.