"Hanging softly over the black Singer sewing machine, it looked like magic, and when people saw me wearing it they were going to run up to me and say, "Marguerite, forgive us, please, we didn't know who you were," and I would answer generously, "No, you couldn't have known. Of course I forgive you."
Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Last Wednesday teacher, activist, and artist Maya Angelou died. The news reached me via Twitter, as I happened to posting when a flood of beautiful sentiments filled my home news feed. Profoundly moved by tributes and comments, I read post after post. Her own words rang out and were shared by people of all ages, colors, creeds, and genders. It was deeply touching, and as an artist myself, several of the quotes people added to the conversation struck me in the heartspace. And not just because Maya's words are always succinctly powerful.
For me, part of the impact came in seeing just how many others had been touched by the same sentences or lines from a book or one of her poems. I knew she was popular, of course. She's a best-seller. But I didn't know know. And seeing the proof of how far one woman's words can travel, I had to pause and give thanks for her will to use her voice and pursue her life.
Then, in that midst of that pause, something new occurred to me. In the act of living her life with an expressive and willful nature, she's provided a great lesson for writers, artists, and...well...creatives of every kind. I mean, consider this: Maya was San Francisco's first African-American streetcar conductor...at the age of sixteen! She wanted that job, so she got that job, ringing that trolley bell with confidence. It's so wonderful and simple. And a great inspiration!
For many of us, the inspiration doesn't end with her writing. She also demonstrated her commitment to her own courage by actively perfuming the world with real ideas about equality and peace. How? By showing up and telling the truth about herself. By speaking from the gut and gracefully refusing to apologize for having something to say. In the end, this is what most of us want...to tell our story in our own unique way, with poise and clarity. Watching Maya do it, revealed how alike we all are in spirit.
"Don't reinforce its power by listening to empty words. If the voice says, 'You are boring,' and you listen to it and stop your hand from writing, that reinforces and give credence to your editor.That voice knows that the term boring will stop you dead in your tracks, so you'll hear yourself saying that a lot about your writing. Hear 'Youare boring' as distant white laundry flapping in the breeze. Eventually it will dry up and someone miles away will fold it and take it in. Meanwhile you will continue to write."