Maya Angelou’s Most Memorable Lessons

Some days life can knock you down and sending your hiding under the duvet. On these occasions I find myself before the bookshelf. The pages contain past wisdom, with the power to perk me up and send me back into the struggle. From Camus I learned to keep pushing the eternal boulder with a smile like Sisyphus.  Whilst the Stoics and Buddha teach how to accept the inevitable. When times seem especially tough I turn back to one of my favourite teachers: Maya Angelou. It is simply Dr Angelou’s positivity that picks me up again, preparing my return to the wider world. I’d like to share some of her most enriching expressions. Hopefully, I don’t infringe too many copyright laws along the way.

 

Love Liberates

This is a simple lesson and it’s probably one you’re already aware of, “if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.” Even though concept is common knowledge it’s hard to exercise. Like most things Love liberates is easier said than done. After all, complex emotions and bonds are easily muddled by every day existence. Our intentions can be perfectly pure in wanting the upmost for another but how we express these intentions can be binding. If you are blessed enough be loved and have people that you love then it’s worth loving a little like Dr Angelou.

 

Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto

If you’re anything like me then your Latin language skills are none existent. Thankfully there are a number of slightly different  translations of the sentence. Angelou offers, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” Although she was multifaceted person Angelou wasn’t a time traveler from Ancient Rome. The phrase originates from the playwright Terence. A slave who penned himself to freedom during the heights of the Roman Empire.

Dr Angelou emphasised the importance of these words and internalising their lesson. Doing so allows you enjoy  the great achievements of our species. All the components for ingenuity, compassion and creation rest within you. Conversely, any destructive act a human can commit is within capabilities. This makes you empathise and stops you from imparting a moral judgement on another.

Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto is a hard lesson to live. I must fail about a hundred times a day. But it’s always worth trying again. Offering understanding to yourself and others can only bring people closer.

 

And Still I Rise

There’s only so long you can lounge in your melancholy. If I need something to kick me into the shower and out into the sunshine then I remember And Still I Rise. When I hear the poem I am reminded of the effort that came before this day: A thousand hunter gatherers who scrapped through harsh winters for our survival; the immeasurable love and support that pushed me to this point in time; every drop of rain water and every rotation of the earth has projected me here. The lesson I learn from Dr Angelou’s poem is that the battle of life must be loved. It’s going to knock you down but eventually you will stand up again.

Doing Battle with the ‘D’ Key

I’ve had my laptop for about five years. It was a gift for when I went to university. The machine has survived my clumsy care surprisingly well. I’ve smashed the screen once, split tea, water and pizza on it as well. The right hand corner is now murky from a coco cola attack. Despite the neglect the device functions well and doesn’t want to retire to the dustbin just yet. I’m uncertain if this computer or the last McDonalds burger meal in Iceland will last longer. However, although the technology is than the Greek economy it does have a single flaw: The D key is jammed.

The problem started about a year ago, after I last spilled a drink onto it. In an effort at recovery I removed as many detachable parts as possible. During this attempt something became lodged in the keyboard and that has become impossible to shift. Typing now induces the same pain as beginner guitar lessons. I’m waiting on the day my fingers adjust to the required shape and pressure of the letter. This evolution appears to be taking the usual time it takes species to adapt. By the time my digits have accustom themselves to the new environment global warming will have destroyed most of the habitable planet.

There are a few things I’ve tried in order to rectify the issue. Firstly, I endeavored to copy and paste every d I used. This technique inhibited the flow of writing too much. The time taken to reach down the keyboard and click paste felt longer than the extra pressure required. Next, I pretended that the key didn’t exist. I typed as usual, skipping the letter and ignoring the its place in the English language. At the end of the paragraph I went back and auto-corrected every misspelled word. This is harder to accomplish than it would appear. You have to teach yourself how to spell fundamental words incorrectly. I wouldn’t recommend this method because at best it is vexing and at worse you may regress to toddler level spelling.

The solution to the problem is to either dislodge the key and remove the blockage or completely replace the keyboard. I have a replacement already. In fact, I’ve had a new set of keys for nearly twelve months. Unfortunately, I don’t trust myself with a delicate procedure after the accidents I’ve already inflicted on the machine. The alternative is to let somebody else do the operation but that requires sacrificing my favourite piece of technology for a few hours. Instead, I’ll keep the tricky key, take extra care and be grateful for something as mundane as the letter D.

 

London, Hot Leaf Juice and Twinings Tea Shop

My love for tea is unparalleled. As much as I enjoy a bottle of good red wine or a strong morning coffee, it is tea that I turn to throughout the day. On average, I will consume eight to ten cups during a twenty four hour period. This is probably because I am British, and our affection for the beverage is renowned world wide. However, unlike the majority  of my country folk, my preference is always for green tea. Some people find the choice a little odd. They’re more accustomed to a stronger brew, often diluted with milk and sugar. Occasionally, I’ll join in a cup the country’s favourite but I know the best cup is always green. That being said, in tea, as with most things in life,  if it makes you happy then you’ll hear no objection from me.

This weekend I journeyed to London. I realised it was unusual I have visited five other capital cities but not my own. It’s difficult to pin point what it is about London that has always deterred me. Perhaps it is because I am already familiar with the tourist sites. The attractions are possibly so well assimilated into  our culture that there  appears to be no adventure in visiting them. Either way, it was my partner’s birthday and he chose to visit London to celebrate the event. I went to the capital regardless of my apprehension.

We did some of the typical tourist activities: strolled the national gallery; marveled at the British Museum’s stolen Elgin Marbles; and took in an afternoon West End Show. By the final day, as we wandered through Hyde Park, I found I had warmed to the city. Eventually, we reached the Albert Memorial- an effigy to the Victorian Empire. The subject of the structure made me uncomfortable but the monument was none the less awe inspiring. Looking at the corner that represented India I remembered I was in a pivotal tea drinking city and hadn’t thought to look for a tea shop. A quick online search revealed that the Twinings Flagship store was located on The Strand. With just over an hour before we had to catch the train home we headed for the subway and the tea haven.

The shop is approximately three hundred years old and a testament to the variety and development of tea. Walking the narrow aisle you’re greeted by a hoard of boxes all filled with different leaves. It’s difficult to know which to choose when all the smell samples are strange perfumes enticing you to purchase. Towards the back of the shop is a small exhibit exploring some of the history of tea drinking. Across from the lesson was a lady brewing three pots, each vessel with a different potion to sample. In the end, I settled on a charming wooden box and filled it with new and my favourite teas.

If you appreciate tea then I would recommend a browse of the shop. If you aren’t then there are tea pots and cups available for purchase. I’m sure the staff can direct you towards an exciting taste test. Just don’t make the mistake of purchasing loose leaves because they don’t sell tea strainers. In honour of the shop and the great beverage I shall leave you with a poem and implore you to visit the store if you’re ever in London.

Green Tea

When it’s too cool to be tepid

or to warm to drink with ease,

the honey has sucked the side

to form a gel altogether sweet,

If you can drive your digit to

the center, flail and feel no pain,

It’s time to throw the cup away

and braise the leaves again.

 

Happy Ending

Occasionally, I have an insatiable craving for orange flavour chocolate. Last Friday night,  as the sun began to sleep, I went tracking the citrus tasting confectionery. Two minutes into my trek I realised I had forgotten my headphones. The journey to the supermarket is nearly thirty minuets- far too long to wander without music. I had no choice but to double back.

Eager to make up the lost time I stampeded through the streets, left my gate wide open and slipped. Regaining my balance I looked down to see what had tripped me. A small, green frog was stretched across the flags. Bending down I accessed the injuries I inflicted on the amphibian. It’s eyes still blinked, chest heaved with future croaks, but one leg stretched out at an acute angle. The limb had been crushed in my haste. It pulsed with pain as if the attack relocated its heart.

Without the ability to jump I knew the frog wouldn’t survive long. I went inside to retrieve my headphones and a cardboard box. The frog was going to be taken to a calm corner of the garden to live out its last days in peace. When I returned the creature had gone. I searched in the garden light for the wounded animal and found it squatting several meters away. I laughed as it jumped, both legs simultaneously propelling it forward and symmetrically supporting it on landing.

With a few more leaps the frog was taken away by the grass and darkness. The little fellow lived on. I smiled all the way to the supermarket. When I returned I left a square of chocolate for the survivor and made sure to watch my step on my way inside.

WordPress Anniversary

Today I logged onto WordPress ready to write a post about the development of the Pokemon game franchise. I’m anxiously anticipating the November release of Ultra Sun/ Ultra Moon and intended to honour the games’ development throughout the series. However, a notification has altered my plans. The alarm bell icon informed me that I have been writing this blog for just over one year.

Originally, I began blogging to demonstrate my writing abilities to employers. My first posts were reviews of theater productions my friends organised. After after a few months I realised, that despite their work being great, there wasn’t enough material to maintain a weekly update. This forced me to change direction. I had to stop observing what others were doing and focus on things that interested me.

Since my switch to an internal focus I’ve been allowed to explore a lot more topics and reach a much broader audience. Now, I comment on and review my favourite video games and books; political issues that engage and disappoint me;  as well as my travels and other developments that challenge my horizons. The change has only been positive. New subjects strengthen my writing skills by encouraging me to adapt my style. I can hear how my sentences sound less like a piano plummeting down the stairs. Overall, I’ve been allowed to grow within a supportive website of creators.

When I started the blog was a means to acquiring a better job. Even if I find my dream employment I couldn’t give up WordPress. There’s a feeling of accomplishment with every post. No matter how bad your week has been if you can type out a few paragraphs then you have achieved. The only struggle I would change would be my D key. It has been stuck for about six months and using the letter feels like I’m shattering phalanges. For our next anniversary, I shall treat us to a bottle of Champagne, a weekend in southern France and a fully functioning keyboard.

Reading List

Through the mystery, whim and mercy of our great universe I have been gifted with the rare three day weekend. I have no doubt that my fortunes will shortly run out. Tuesday will be rife with torrential rains, cancelled public transport and home invasions. In spite of the horrors next week has in store I shall whittle away my days of rest reading as much as possible and placing a book order. I thought I’d share my long weekend reads with you. Hopefully you’ll get one yourself or leave a suggestion.

Amélie Nothomb– Hygeine and the Assasain

My Canadian friend recommended this next book by the Japanese born, Flemish author. Written in French it was Nothomb’s first novel and for all the searching in the world I cannot find an English language version of the text apart from on Amazon. I’ve tried two e-readers, four book shops-I can’t even download it onto my Kindle. The plot is a mystery but I’m going to have to place an Amazon order just to get hold of it. I confess dear reader, I am only writing this blog post because I want more book suggestions to pad out my online basket.  Free shipping is essential.

Plato- The Symposium

I started my journey into philosophical texts in random places. Firstly, I dove into Simone de Beauvoir and Camus. Then I  stepped back into as much Nietzsche as possible. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated their lessons I had the feeling I started in the wrong place. To fix this I went to Youtube and found a series of lectures that intended to be a rough syllabus to a first year undergraduate course.

The videos sent me back to Plato and over the past year I’ve been making my way through many of his writings. I’d recommend Plato as an accessible introduction to Philosophy. His Socratic dialogues are easy to follow with their conversational structure but still contain fresh ideas to ease open your thinking. Finally, I have reached the symposium. I’ve saved it for last because it sounds the most entertaining: slightly liquored people making speeches about love- an ancient Greek gay wedding reception.

Agatha Christie- To Be Confirmed

There’s no need for panic my confused Agatha fan. To Be Confirmed is not the secret Christie title you never read. I just haven’t decided the exact book to settle down with yet. I’m open to suggestions except The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Everyone knows the policeman was the killer all along and if you didn’t it has been spoil for you just as it was for me. But I can hear you dear reader querying through your screen, “Why Agatha Christie?” The reasons are numerous and complex: I’m English, she’s apparently pretty good and my favourite episode of Dr Who centers around her.

 

Last Exit to Brooklyn

In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems

I was fifteen when I read my first poem by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s poetry wasn’t something I stumbled into in the library or online but was studied in an Literature class. Before reading Woman Work we were introduced to the poet. Our teacher cut out facts about the poet and the varied life she had led on slips of paper. The class then had to go around collecting and sharing the snippets of information that compiled a rough biography of the author. Then we read the poem and compared it with an old English text, which I can no longer remember. Woman Work is a beautiful piece that kindled my appreciation for Maya Angelou and strengthened my adoration of poetry. I would have liked to leave a copy of the poem in this post but I’m uncertain of the legality of doing this. Instead, I’ve included a link at the bottom to poemhunter.com.

After my first exposure to Angelou’s work I read a lot of her poems online. Her collective works are vast and due to publishing rights a large proportion of the poetry isn’t available on the internet. I read what was accessible in the early 2000s and moved towards other writers. About three years later I became curious about Angelou again and in order to satisfy my craving for the author’s words I purchased all of her memoirs that had been published until that date. Unfortunately, these books weren’t to my taste. Perhaps the non-fiction nature of the stories deterred me, or the introduction to new writers at university pulled me away. In either case, it shames me Maya’s collect memoirs are gathering dust on my book shelf and to this day remain unread. I’m drawn to the every time I pick new text but for some unknown reason they’ve yet to be chosen.

Despite neglecting Angelou’s prose for several years I have always remained a bit of an admirer. I’ve devoured all interviews that I can find online and have internalised the lesson Angelou repeats from Roman playwright Terence:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”

“I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.”

Last week I purchased Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems onto my kindle. The book has become part of my morning routine. Every day I have awoken, made my coffee, and before heading for the shower I read several poems in the book. Several mornings I have been a little late for work because I wanted to finish another page. The poetry ranges across several themes, however several topics such as love, poverty and the African American experience uphold the collection. Angelou writers these subjects with passion that is infectious to the reader, making it as electric as the caffeine in my cup. Between the coffee and the poetry collection the day is more inviting to dive into. What surprises me is how effortless her world is to connect to. Despite our generational difference, ethnic experience, gender  and geographical divide Angelou’s poems are refreshingly accessible and important to me. In the shower this morning I asked myself,

“Why should a white working class man be captivated by Harlem Hopscotch?”…

“Because it’s all human.” I replied.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/woman-work/#content

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

For New Year’s Eve I attended a dinner party in Stockholm. I donned a new suit, (from the H&M boxing day sale) and not to sound too immodest looked particularly handsome. Whilst we had coffee and dessert conversation turned to books. I mentioned my recent obsession with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his most highly regarded novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Only one other person at the table had read the book but she immediately replied, “it’s rare that a book lives up to the hype”. This review (by the most esteemed reader Lina) is exceptionally accurate.

Initially I had bought the text from a second hand book store for £1 and was apprehensive about opening it. There were other books I bought that day I wanted to read first and One Hundred Years of Solitude filtered its way to the bottom of the pile. This was a mistake. I should have devoured Marquez’s words fresh upon purchase because it quickly became the most captivating story I read in 2016.

In 1982 Marquez was correctly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the directions of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, writers may be awarded the prize for producing, “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. It seems verbose to describe my favourite book of the year with Nobel’s words but Marquez managed to do just that. He weaved a story unbound by the normal passage of time and follows a whole family, with their interweaving life and relationships, over the span of a century. So much detail is compacted into a small space. It’s an achievement to fully explore the history of the whole family through the generations. A testament to the number of characters and various relations is the family tree that is printed in my edition.

Not only does the book cover an expanse of characters but manages to do so simultaneously. The chapters are long because whole family’s life is explored at the same time in a fluid manner. There’s no stopping to focus on a particular person for a chapter, despite how pivotal the drama is. This creates a different approach to the passing a time and saves excessive leaps in chronology to catch up on people’s lives, allowing for fuller characters. If you add to this the magical nature of the story, the remote location family reside and the tone of isolation, you’re quickly immersed into the lives of the clan.

The tragedies of the household and rare their joys are easily felt. It swiftly became a book I couldn’t stop reading on the commute, at lunch and before falling asleep. Unfortunately, disaster struck one lunch time after I returned the book to my bag along with an unopened bottle of cola. As I returned my bag to the storeroom, before sitting at the desk, I noticed it felt damp. The liquid had exploded over the book when I had less than twenty pages left. The paper was soaked and no radiator was working for a quick rescue. I started working under the sways of melancholy; the train home was in mourning with nothing to read.

I managed to rescue the text on the bathroom radiator. I paced the tiles all night hoping the words would be legible. Eventually I awoke, slumped against the bathroom sink. The book pages struggled to be separated but the words were fine. In fact, the book smells better than before. The heat curled and splayed the pages into a fan as large as the story they hold. It’s now the most beautiful book on the shelf and possibly the best story as well.

Poetry Reading

It’s an odd thing to confess you write poems. You hide them away in books, in old shoe boxes and under the bed. They’re treated like a large spot on the end of your nose. You walk with your head to the ground hoping nobody notices, or worse wants to take a good look. It’s a hard thing to let someone else read your poems because it makes you feel vulnerable. When you’re writing nonfiction it appears in your head as if you’re conversing a subject with another person: you’re just explaining what you think about the topic. But a poem doesn’t form at you fingers in the same way. It’s more automatic than the talking stroll of sentence. In truth, it feels more sensitive and there’s no guarantee the reader will understand it, let alone think it’s good.

I have been writing poems for a few years. They always stay in word documents, notebooks and on scraps of paper. Rarely I’ll share them with a trusted friend. However, in December I was brave (through much encouragement) and stood in front of over ten people and read five of my poems. Apparently, this is referred to as doing a set. Standing before so many people, reading what is normally clandestine was terrifying. The recording will show the shakes of my bones and at the time I was too caught up in the fear to enjoy the experience. Strangely, as soon as I’d finished and the adrenaline had ebbed away, I wanted to do it again. Only the second time I wanted to do it better, the way I’d practiced in front of the mirror. I now know that reading in front of others isn’t just exposing- it’s freeing as well.

That night there wasn’t chance for another try and I only had one other poem prepared. The other acts took the stage. There were a few guitar players/singers, other poets and a girl with a ukulele. They all were brave and brilliant, showing their talents for a good cause. The aim of the evening was to raise money and awareness for a mental health charity named CALM.(campaign against living miserably). Their focus is prevention of male suicide, a cause which initially confused me until I learned that 3 out of 4 suicides are male. The organisers of the event (at the Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester) are an art collective called Datura who produce original plays and are starting their first film later in the year.

I’m grateful to have people who challenge me and I’m inspired that there’s people reaching out to those who most need it. I hope to engage in such an important event again and next time I’ll aim to slow my words and shake less throughout the set.

The poem I didn’t read that night:

Alpha

In the beginning there was the word

lighting on tongue of Gods

but when it first cracked out his human skull

I misheard it as “hello”:

His eyes that saw Pangaea split, continents drift

apart on sheets of ocean foam,

Lost warmth when I turned the body over

into frost soft pillows of snow.

I pulled the spear from his sleeping head

thanked a God for battle well won

with lines that ran my face in blood

praying conflict, never war.

With one last breath of wind or luck

the dreamer shook out a jigsaw of bone,

I sat among the red, rearranging the hieroglyphs

until his mantra formed:

“Cool down the spear,

heat up the pot and

with open ears

pass my message on.”

https://www.thecalmzone.net/

https://www.facebook.com/daturaproductions.uk/?pnref=story