Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Six Things to Learn from Maya Angelou

A week ago last Sunday, I went to the Royal Festival Hall to attend an event put on as part of the London Literature Festival; Maya Angelou: A Celebration. It was a beautiful evening with actors, speakers and notable guests reading parts of her autobiographies and poems, as well as talented musicians performing some of the hymns and songs that she did.

For an English Literature graduate, with a minor in history including a lot of the American Civil Rights movement, I came very late to the gifts of Maya Angelou. I first discovered her through my incessant love of other peoples soundbites - namely quotes- about two years ago and just loved everything that had been attributed to her, so I read up and I read her and it's safe to say she was a word and mentality guru.

Her biography reads pretty stark and also shows incredible resourcefulness and talent.... Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, she was raped aged eight by her mother's boyfriend, was then mute for almost seven years and went on to work as a cook, madam and sometimes prostitute, nightclub dancer and performer, opera singer, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programmes. Today we talk of multi-tasking, but she was a pragmatic polymath, a Renaissance Woman of the highest degree. Here is what we can learn from her life, work and treatment of others

1) Thrive

We have one life to live, it is a cliche but true. It may be easy to say when our biggest worry in life is whether we like our job or not, should be settling down, getting fitter, reading more - delete as appropriate. However Maya did not have an easy life and yet she lived by this truth as we can see, hear and feel when we read about her life.

Passion, compassion, humour and style sum up what make us as humans different from all the other animals on earth. Live by these rules and you will live a full human life.

2) We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike

This is a line from a beautiful poem called Human Family written by Maya. I'd not heard it before and I love it. I've written by own poem called, Don't, a little inspired by it here. (I hate to put my paltry offerings in the same paragraph as Maya's but there it is.)

Human Family expresses one of the greatest life truths that we regularly forget in our day-to-day, egoist, frightened lives. We are all human and underneath the money, the power and the intellectualising, we all want and care about the same things. Underneath the surface differences and interests that makes us the wonderful individuals we can be, we function under the same parameters of desire, love and everyday need. If you remember that always you will buzz through life heeding consideration and kindness and listening, always listening.
Human Family
I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

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3) Be a Phenomenal Woman

All women need this poem in their lives. Just hearing it makes one feel strong and feminine and feminist and  sexy and clever and proud all at once. Hearing Maya read it in a video projected on a huge screen, I felt warm with female solidarity and pride. We are equal to, but not the same as men. And we should be inspired by that. And we should fight for all women who don't feel it or experience it, for whatever that reason is.

   Phenomenal Woman
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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,  
That’s me.
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.  
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
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.  
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
4) People will never forget how you made them feel

This is another lesson on kindness and treating people right. In the long term people forget the little things you do or say. What they will not forget is how they felt around you. If you want to leave a real mark, practise honesty, truth and consideration. Listen to those you care for and do not spend time chastising those you don't respect or don't wish to have in your life. We all have the power to leave a good imprint upon others whether they like you or not. Be your best self.

5) A butterfly journey

Sometimes in life we feel as if some people are so lucky or some situations are so amazing and we question why we don;t have it. 

In other situations we do have "the beauty of the butterfly", but we forget how long it has taken us to get there and the work we have put in.

Neither of those ideas are sensible. Don't envy others, you are on your own butterfly journey. Don't feel to smug and satisfied either, remember your roots and be proud of what you have achieved in an honest way whilst helping others on their journey.

6) Don't complain

This I believe to be of the highest importance. We are responsible for our own fates and our own positions in life much of the time and if we are not, we are responsible for how we look upon our situations. I am not saying that some people do not go through horrible things away from their own human choice, but complaint by its very definition hints at something which is not so serious.

One thing I wish that everyone would learn and know is that when you complain endlessly you cause others distress as they cannot help you. Help yourself or shut up.

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