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Tag Archives: Quotes

Conversations with Maya Angelou Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot

8 Jun

mayaWhat an incredible woman. My associations with Maya Angelou where formulated in high school when, like so many others of my generation, I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I remember liking it, but like so many books forced upon me in high school, I don’t remember too much about it, or her, other than the basics. She was raised in the South during segregation, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and she had her son at the age of 16. She went on to become a symbol of Black female strength and was even named Poet Laureate during the Clinton Administration, becoming the first poet since Robert Frost to read at the presidential inauguration.

A+ for that book report. But reading these interviews about Maya Angelou made me want to re-read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and perhaps to go back and read all those other books I rushed through in high school so I could finish my Calculus homework.

I knew she was a poet and an author. I did not know that she was a playwright, a screenwriter, a director, an actress, and a dancer. That she had been nominated for Tonys and was the first black woman to write and direct her own film. She worked along Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement. Fluent in seven languages, she also was a master at cooking regional African cuisines that she learned while teaching in Ghana. All this from a woman who never went to college, who worked as a madam and a stripper. She seemed to always push forward, pick herself up and accept any challenge presented to her.

These interviews with her felt like How to Live Life 101. So much zest for living, always striving to write better, and looking for ways to influence and improve the world around her. So many gems to quote, like…

“What do you mean, do I consider myself a feminist? I am a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side.”

or

“I want to know more- not intellectually- to know more so I can be a better human being, to be an honest, courageous, funny and loving human being. That’s what I want to be – and I blow it 86 times a day. My hope is to cut it down to 70.”

This book spans her thoughts on racism in America, the plight of white women vs. the plight of black women, motherhood, creativity, how to write, travel, and how to be happy. From page 1 to page 240, I was gripped by her unwavering love of life.

“Living life fully, fiercely, devotedly, makes you much more able to accept other people who are doing the same. All we’re trying to do is to get from birth to death. And you can’t fail. Even if you only live five minutes, you have succeeded…But it seems to me that life loves the liver.”

Phenomenal woman, indeed.

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Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

22 Apr

evencowgirlsgettheblues1stedThis is a post previously published by myself on a short-lived book blog.

I think it’s important for everyone to go through a Tom Robbins phase in their life. I read six of his novels in a row and totally burnt out on the philosophically bizzarre/sexual scenarios that also try to propagandize the free-love way of life. But this was the first book of his that I read, and I still keep a beat up copy of it on my bookshelf. All I had to do was read the ridiculous opening dedication to the amoeba, and I was hooked.

The plots in Robbins’ books are nonsensical and hokey and have limited structure. This book is about Sissy Hankshaw who is born with exceptionally large thumbs. What else can she do but become a hitch hiker and cowgirl to boot?

One of my favorite lines comes from our heroine Sissy when the Countess asks her what she is proving by hitch hiking her life away. She replies, “I’ve proven that people aren’t trees, so it is false when they speak of roots.” I’m waiting for the day when I can say that to someone.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

7 Sep

I get a weekly email from a website called brainpickings.org. I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the site, but every Sunday an email with the best articles of the week arrives in my inbox. I like to sip coffee on my Sunday mornings and peruse it. The woman who curates it is always fascinated by learning, creating, the universe, science, literature, life. It’s a weekly email I’d recommend to anyone.

I’ve taken a lot of her book recommendations, and this one is by far and away my favorite that I’ve read. “Dear Sugar” was an advice column on the website “The Rumpus.” But it isn’t your average advice column. Mainly because instead of giving advice in some cheesy, overdone way, she usually tells a story from her life that relates, how it changed her, what she learned, what her advicee should take away.

So many times when reading this book, she took my breath away at the simplicity of her logic. One early advice letter basically just asked her “What the fuck?” over and over again. To which she wrote a very eloquent letter about the abuse she experienced as a child and how she spent her adulthood asking that very same question to herself on repeat. She concludes the letter.

“Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.”

I devoured this book. I’ve lately taken to writing in my books: starring favorite passages, underlining fun turns of phrases, adding my thoughts in the margin. In college, they called this “active reading.” Thanks Bachelor’s Degree! But I didn’t write in this book at all. Why? Because I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to take the time to find a pen. I wanted to get to the next page. This book is pure beauty.

The book concludes with one of my favorite letters. A 22-year-old fan asks Sugar what she would go back in time and tell the 20-something Sugar about life. My favorite quote:

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether or not you should shave your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”

It’s eerie when you read something, and it’s like the writer’s all of a sudden looking out at you from between the lines and seeing a part of you and not just seeing a part of you, but telling you what that part is, what it could be, what you should let it become.