Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paddle Toward the Sun: Toughts on Dr. Maya Angelou

It's been awhile, folks. Sorry. I've wanted to post this for several weeks now . . .
In May, the world lost the celebrated African-American author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou. As a way of confession, I’ll admit I was not too familiar with her life or her work. Sadly, such is the way of someone like me, someone so narrowly focused on their own genre, their own tiny niche, that they miss the shining stars in the writing universe.        

With Dr. Angelou’s passing, I saw the vast public outpouring across the media outlets and wanted to learn more about this Pulitzer Prize-nominated woman who had touched so many lives.   

Dr. Angelou had a difficult childhood. Initially abandoned by her mother, she and her brother, Bailey Jr., were shuffled between their paternal grandmother, mother, and father. When Dr. Angelou was eight years old, her mother’s boyfriend sexually abused her. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. The man was eventually murdered, probably by Angelou's uncles. Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing, as she stated, "I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name.”

Dr. Angelou went to live with her grandmother during the silent years. It was her grandmother who showed her unconditional love and instilled in her a strong faith and confidence in herself.  It was during these silent years that Dr. Angelou’s grandmother sat next to her and said, “Sister, Momma don’t care what these people say, that you must be an idiot, a moron, ’cause you can’t talk. Momma don’t care. Momma know that when you and the good Lord get ready, you gon’ be a teacher.”

And Dr. Angelou did rise from the ashes of her silent years to become a teacher  . . . and an author, poet, dancer, actress, and singer. That’s what is so inspiring to me. She rose from the Depression, a single mother, a cook, a waitress, and a streetcar conductor to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. As I stumble through many times of self-doubt with my own writing, I hear confidence in her words-- “A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Two of Dr. Angelou’s quotes have struck a very strong chord within me:

   “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”

   “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never 
   forget how you made them feel.”

That’s what I want to accomplish with my writing. I want to touch people’s hearts. I want readers to feel the power behind the words, the beauty. If I write just for the money, I write for nothing. I want someone to put down one of my stories and say “Wow.”

Just as Dr. Angelou rose throughout her life and her influence continues to rise even after her passing, I am here with my dreams and I’m paddling toward the sun which is always before me. 

 Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
--Excerpt from Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

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