Friday, June 4, 2010

Lessons from Maya Angelou

Last night I attended a lecture by Maya Angelou.  She spoke at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem, Oregon.  State Senator, Jackie Winters, introduced Dr. Angelou with heartfelt words.

When the curtain rose to reveal Dr. Angelou sitting in a chair on the stage in a long cream colored dress and a beautiful necklace, I was struck by the energy that eminates from her.  She looked frailer than I expected, but at eighty-two she has the right to look a bit frail.  As soon as she began to speak, the strength of her character, her words, and her convictions displaced the initial fraility I noticed.

I’ve long wanted to hear Dr. Angelou speak in person.  I missed her years ago when she was in Boise because I was silly enough to think attending by myself would make me look like I didn’t have any friends.  This time, I guess I’ve matured because I really don’t care about that anymore.  I attended by myself though a friend who also attended met me for dinner before and a coffee after.  Plans we made after we found out we were both attending.

When Maya began to speak - or rather sing ”When it lookd like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, God made a rainbow in the clouds” a tear threatened the corner of my eye.  I blinked it back and concentrated on her words.  After the song, she spoke of her life experience and of accepting others.  She spoke of helping others and loving those unlike what we see in the mirror.  She spoke of the humanness of all of humanity.  She quoted others’ poetry and read/recited her own.  She encouraged the audience to read and memorize poetry that means something to us.  She injected funny moments, comments, and anecdotes at just the right moments to keep my tears from actually falling.  She never forgot her appearance was part of a fundrasier for the 50+ Center in Salem seamlessly working comments about the organization into her talk.  She told an audience full of people they matter in a way that made each individual feel she spoke directly to him/her.  She opened, reiterated, and closed with the idea that we all have the potential to be rainbows in other people’s lives.

I thought about people from my own life.  I thought about moments of acceptance and love I’ve witnessed.  I thought about moments of absolute rudeness and cruelty I’ve witnessed.  I thought about the excuses I’ve heard for people’s racism.  I thought about misconceptions I’ve held that have been disproven.  I thought about people I’ve admired and loved.  I thought about people who’ve influenced me throughout my life.  I listened to her honesty about events in her life and wondered when I’ll be able to be so honest about events from my past.  It’s not that I’m dishonest now, it’s more that I’m not comfortable to talk openly in a public setting about certain events from my life.  I understand those events have helped create the person I am today, but I hesitate to share them with strangers.  Perhaps I still fear judgment or pity though I’m loathe to admit that even to myself, so I fight even writing it as a possibility.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening sitting only a few feet away from the stage as Dr. Angelou spoke.  I walked away inspired to continue writing about issues that are important to me in a way that will both entertain and provoke conversation.  I feel encouraged to continue living the life I’ve chosen for myself - one based on love, understanding, and acceptance.  I am invigorated to tackle projects that require me to delve into that sense of honesty that makes me feel too vulnerable.

Dr. Angelou spoke the words I needed to hear.  Often when we open ourselves to listen we hear exactly what we need to hear even when the same words are spoken to a room full of people who will each come away with their own interpretation of the words based on their own individual needs.

The only thing that would have improved an already perfect evening is if she’d read her poem, Human Family.  It is my favorite poem.  To that end, I’m going to take her advice that poetry belongs to us all and quote the beginning and the end of the poem.  It begins “I note the obvious differences/in the human family./Some of us are serious,/some thrive on comedy” and ends “We are more alike, my friends,/than we are unalike.”

I request you find the poem and read the middle because it really is the best part.

Wishing to hear Human Family live is a selfish conceit after such an uplifting and beautiful talk.  I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to listen to Dr. Angelou speak in person.

And, don’t forget, you can be a rainbow in someone’s life because in the end we really are more alike than unalike.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Prosperous Writer - Commitment

This week Christina Katz discusses commitment in The Prosperous Writer.  She compares a writing career to the commitment necessary for a marriage to work.  I’ve been married 18 years, so I can relate to that quite well.

The definition of commitment has changed for me over years.  Commitment is knowing that when you doubt every aspect of the very thing to which you’re most devoted, the feeling will pass.  It’s knowing that on the other side of that doubt lies the love, acceptance, progress, and success that makes doubt irrelevant.

One day this week, I had a crisis of self-doubt. It didn’t come from any particular source.  I fought it at first.  Then I ignored it.  Then I explored it to see if there was a lesson I needed to learn.  Then I just accepted it.  As soon as I admitted its existence, it started to dissipate.  That’s when I knew it didn’t have any real source.  By acknowledging it, I was able to bring a recent commitment I made about being more honest about my feelings - especially when they make me vulnerable - to the forefront. At one time in my life, I would’ve spent days instead of hours berating myself  eventually obsessing about every mistake I’ve made in my entire life.  Believe me, with my fortieth birthday approaching, that list takes some time to get through!  Applying my commitment to be honest about my emotions stole my self-doubt’s power.  Wow!

Commitment to a marriage, a friendship, even a familial relationship, takes no effort when things are going well.  When things go askew, commitment provides the freedom to work through the problem.  Knowing a disagreement or a fight won’t end everything makes it easier to discuss the issues at hand.  Sometimes it even makes it easier to just say that it really doesn’t matter in the end and let the fight go altogether.  When the commitment is worth it, neither party feels drained all the time.  There will be draining moments in any relationship, but relationships that are a constant drain generally have a one-sided commitment.  One-sided commitments rarely work for very long. This applies to commitments to other things in life as well.

As a writer, I find that I must commit to any project I start.  If I’m not committed to it, the project will simply wither from neglect.  If I’m not careful, it may die.  Each project I encounter requires a different type of commitment, and often different levels of commitment.  I’ve discovered the more I care about a project, the more I will commit to it, the more excited I will be to work on it, and the better the end result will be.
When I commit too much time and effort to projects that drain me and give me little in return, I exhaust my mental, physical, and emotional resources.  I’ve learned to carefully choose the projects I’m to which I’m willing to commit my time and attention.  This way I work toward my overall career goals and don’t feel I compromise the essence of who I am.

When I talk about commitment, I mean more than agreeing to meet a requirement.  A commitment must come from the heart and soul in order to garner results.  Whenever I’ve agreed to do something that I wasn’t commited to, the results have never been satisifying to anyone involved.  If I feel myself saying “I have to do this.”, I know I’m in trouble.  My commitment level isn’t where it should be for the project.  I then must reassess to determine if I’m not committed to the project or if there’s interference that’s keeping me from giving it my best.
The importance of commitment to the success of any part life is monumental.  Without commitment, achieving any goal becomes impossible.  Commitment allows people to see beyond the hard work to the desired result and keep perservering even when every move seems to fail.

So, commit to your next project with your whole being, and you’ll see results that make you proud as well as fulfilled.