What I’m Trying To See

 

Beautiful poverty.

Beautiful poverty.


I am a pretty confident storyteller. I know how to find a beginning, wend my way toward the middle, do some memorable flourishes, and then wind up to either an operatic or an understated end, landing softly on a pillow of words arranged just so.

But I can’t make sense of India. I have so many ideas and feelings and reckonings I want to share, but almost all of them look and sound not quite right when I commit them to these little characters, parsed with commas and m-dashes and separated politely with endpoints.

India is a car crash and a symphony. It’s chaotic and calming in equal measure. Nothing makes sense there, except, then, suddenly, everything.

Because the no-sense of it—and I’ll get to specifics eventually, I promise—is the IS, is the India. And, in a larger way, is the reality of most of the world. We, in America, with our proud attitudes and thirst for enchanting diversions and our indulgent luxury for pointless ideological conflict and and and….

I felt a lot of shame in India. Shame in the insane luxury of my house—a home I weirdly convinced myself is just an average home, because there are so many estates around me. Shame that I long for things, objects, treasures, even though I know that for me the love of design objects for me is almost a faith, the way they express the imagination, skill and humanity of those who made it.

But the shame wasn’t humiliating, self-abnegating. It was more like a constant thrum of:

oh.

And then:

huh.

And then:

wow.

A moment of reflection, and then I would be instantly swept back up in looking and seeing and greeting and smiling and pressing my nose up against the window of the bus and watching motorcycle after motorcycle, with two, three, four, I swear to you five, passengers zoom by. And the crazy tuk-tuks, which are basically three-wheel motorcycles with little cabs on them so they look like an amusement park ride more than a highway-safe vehicle, painted all manner of colors, with people constantly hopping on and off them, without waiting for the tuk-tuk to slow. In fact, the thing you see the least on the roads in India are cars. Tractors, yes, pulling flatbeds filled with logs or bricks or people, or all of the above. Bicycles, yes. Bicycles with crazy coop contraptions tied onto the back, carrying dozens of filthy dun-colored chickens with red caps to who the hell knows where. And an endless parade of construction trucks, painted salmon or aqua or red or green, and bedecked with long black tassels on the rear-view mirrors, and shining aluminum trim and hand-painted letters and decorations, and some of them even had silver bells hanging below the back bumper, or had painted patterns arrayed like eyelashes on the edges of the windshield.

In India, pink is just a color.

In India, trash is part of the landscape, inescapable.

In India, everything is so EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.

I want this post to make sense. I want it to say something coherent. But for now all I can say is I am enraptured. The gorgeous and the ugly; the beautiful and the terrible… could there be another place on earth that so clearly captures the everything of the world in one fell swoop? That shows the undirected accidents of fate so plainly and clearly? That mixes up the impossible and the transcendent in one big fucking unbelievable soup?

I felt like I was out on the very edge of seeing what the world is, seeing something I know and recognize from within my heart —– but seeing it in person was so much deeper and wider than I could have known.

India is everything you’ve ever heard, except, for me, I found that it all added up differently in person. I wanted to freeze frame every single second and hold it in my hand and stare at the photo of it and take it all in and notice each little detail. But there’s too much to see.

I don’t know when it will organize itself in my head in a way that will allow me to bring you along on the journey with me. But I know I will be going back.

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India: The First Post Is the Hardest

A big, adorable welcome at a public school in Bangalore.

A big, adorable welcome at a public school in Bangalore.

Finally. I finally gave birth to my overview post of what we saw on our trip to India, we being the eight social media influencers Coca-Cola invited to come see the community work they are doing to support sustainability and the advancement of women and girls and education and career development and and and….

There are a lot of things to support and develop in India, we can start with that.

But there are also so many incredibly lovely things, first and foremost, naturally, the people.

PEOPLE. People are amazing. Humanity is amazing. Man, the incredible luxury of being dropped into another culture, as special guests, with tour guides, and invitations into the most rural parts of society, places one would never see as a tourist…. Incredible.

I’ll write more about all of that, soon. Because I did finally finish the “official” piece, the overview piece, that delves into the history and role of Coca-Cola in India.

That post is live on BlogHer right now, so please, hop on over and read it.

And now I will be free to start throwing out memories and comments and photos and asides and all manner of chaotic, unorganized thoughts about India…. So watch this space.

And thank you, as ever, for being interested in the first place.

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What I Will Remember, Part I

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This photo for me — of a beautiful mandala, made of flowers, which was laid out for us at one of our hotels — captures an essence of India that I will never forget: The incredible welcoming spirit of this country. We were greeted at every destination with handmade gardens of fresh flowers and the traditional blessing of applying the tilak, a ritual mark of vermilion placed between the brows of the visitor. But the welcome was so much deeper than the ritual: the level of engagement and sharing was astonishing, humbling and uplifting. The pride that came through in every single interaction, whether the speaker was shy or gregarious, was truly memorable. It was galvanizing to see how clearly people’s lives have been impacted and uplifted by simple ideas, well applied, and supported by a unique combination of private-government-community. India has long been on a threshold, lurching toward modernity despite its many severe infrastructural issues; after these visits, it was impossible not to feel anything but hope and expectation that the country, and in particular its women, are coming into their own. On our last day, we visited the Coca-Cola supported Career Development Center in Dasna, and met young people who were bursting with pride at all they now knew they could accomplish, a very short bridge having been built for them by the center between their traditional village lives and modern world happening all around them. “What I learned here nobody had taught me before,” said one girl, “which was to have confidence in myself.” A woman who took part in the village Self-Help Clubs for micro-saving and micro-lending said it more starkly, and more beautifully: “What I found here was a second chance at life.”

I am deeply grateful to Coca-Cola and the International Bottling Investments Group for bringing me to India to see not only their work at partnering with India and its people to make sustainable progress on numerous fronts, but also the incredible majesty of a massive country and its people coming to terms with itself and its future.

#5by20 @CocaColaCo

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And So An Adventure Begins…

[Updated with links on Sept 8, 1pm India time.]

I am sitting in an, ahem, business-class lounge at JFK, waiting for my flight to India.

India is on my agenda because India is on The Coca-Cola Company’s agenda, and their International Bottling Division is bringing me and a handful of other women bloggers to see the various works they are doing to support women and girls and other sustainable development in this massive country as they build their own beverage business there.

Quite an invitation. Quite a destination. And the notion of getting to see such a huge global consumer products company in action at such a granular level was too amazing to pass up.

It will be whirlwind, to say the least. Our agenda is brief, and packed. We all arrive in the wee hours of Monday morning, kick off with a greeting-each-other dinner and then will fly to four cities, see seven destinations, learn about a dozen or so projects and meet who knows how many people in the following four days.

As if the jet lag weren’t already challenge enough!

But I’m up for the challenge. And truly excited and grateful for this opportunity. I did a lot of international advocacy work for women and children in the years I worked at Marie Claire magazine, which was an amazing learning experience, to say the least. Time and again, research and history shows that investing in women and giving them the power and tools to create local microbusiness creates more stable communities that thrive.

So why does Coca-Cola care that I know this and you know this? That I will learn more about over the next six days. Well, not the next day and a half. I’ll be traveling for that chunk of time, doing the weird time and space travel of crossing numerous time zones. (Alternately, it will take me six hours to fly home.)

But just think about this: currently, India is home to the largest number of impoverished people on earth, and therefore, cannot afford to buy themselves a Coca-Cola. Crass to point out, perhaps, but I don’t think Coca-Cola brought me to India just because it’s been a life’s dream of mine to visit here. So, yes, it’s only good business sense for The Coca-Cola company to be helping women start their own businesses… selling small drafts of Coca-Cola, served up from portable coolers. Good for women, good for India, good for Coca-Cola.

But there’s much, much more to #5by20 than that. Check it out here, to read about some of the hundreds of programs Coca-Cola has launched around the world, community-development projects that aren’t always about selling soda. Sometimes it’s about doing what will strengthen that community—yes, that customer base—for both a greater good and a business gain.

All of this is quite striking to me, as at BlogHer, I recently launched and am now kicking into high gear on a project called “Make Life Work,” in partnership with The Huffington Post and the Center for American Progress. The main thrust of that program is to start a national dialogue about how businesses and government have not adjusted to the shifting population, changing family shape and changing workforce that is America today—and, more than pointing fingers, instead point toward solutions that are being developed and launched around the country that work for business and for employees, families, people, citizens.

India may be a developing nation, but the question of how businesses support their employees and their citizenry applies no matter how mature an economy may be. Right, America?

I expect to be overwhelmed, intrigued, and enlightened by India, as well as very, very tired. And I look forward to bringing home whatever lessons I may learn.

In the meantime, watch my Instagram and my Facebook page for photos as we make our way around India. I’ll post as often as a jam-packed schedule and jet leg will allow.

Namaste!

For all those who inquired, here’s the itinerary. We will be in the following cities and areas: Bangalore, Jaipur, Tonk district (about 60km from Jaipur), Ahmedebad, Ghoblej village, Kheda district in Gujarat, New Delhi and Dasna, all to see specifics works of The Coca-Cola Company. And I am going to travel to Agra in Uttar Pradesh to see the Taj Mahal (but of course) before flying home.

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Thinking Out Loud

I was recently asked by a new friend and longtime distant colleague (took us four years to meet in person though we’ve been at the same conferences over and over and over again), Andrea Zimmerman, to take part in a new series she launched on her lovely blog, AngieCat. 

The series is called “Regular People Answering Hard Questions.” Before I even saw the questions, I was all “ooooooo! coooool!” Because as you all know, I love the hard questions, even though Rilke advises that they are best lived in the quote that consider the epigram for my life.

“Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

So here’s the post, in which I talk about living some of the questions. Go have a read and come back here and tell me: Which question captures your imagination, soul or heart the most? How would you answer it?

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I Just Can’t

I just can’t make sense of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. I have spent hours being angry, sad, heartbroken, pissed, despairing, raging, digging for answers, looking for pathways where I can place all this frenetic energy, calling churches, trying to find local community leaders to say “I give a shit, what can I do?”

It’s all just me spinning. Spinning so hard and fast with nowhere to go.

Christ, I even looked at plane tickets to Missouri. I just want to be in the front lines, a white face, standing with the rest. Saying “This is a WE. We are a WE. Me-them-US. Who the hell are YOU?” police officers with your wartime gear and your disgusting commentary, your certainty and vile clarity on your supposed superiority.

I’m sick.

It’s hard to be an empath sometimes. I try to find the right ways to have distance. I have to constantly look at my decisions and say, “Is this appropriate? Is this appropriate? Is this appropriate?” Because I can take on the pain of a child having a bad dinner with her father whom she clearly only sees twice a month at stilted dinners just like this one. It can take me weeks, months — longer, I swear — to put down her frustration and loss and practiced detachment she is exhibiting, until finally, tears start pouring out from under her sunglasses and she refuses to dab at them, to pretend they aren’t happening.

I can take on the pain of a woman I walk past on the street, her hand out for change, a child in her lap, her shame the biggest thing you see. I can take on the pain of a community full of people in Missouri who know, really know, that no one gives a shit about them at the end of the day, and that the media will make up whatever stories it pleases, no matter how many good journalists may be down there fighting the fight.

Damn. But it is HARD to know what to do.

I barely slept last night. Out of my mind with the panic of looking back at myself in a year or four and being disgusted with myself for Not Doing Enough. I’m exhausted and electric with fatigue right now, which feels self-indulgent and foolish. I am not the hunted. The hated.

But I have no idea where to go with all this.

So I go where I know to go: to the voices and the stories and the many amazing women I know, and many amazing men and women I don’t, who have been writing the truth of their lives in a way that is simple and clear as clarion: This is truly what our life is like. No, we do not think about it every day. How could we and still go on? But this is what we live, even when we allow ourselves to believe it is not what we are living.

I am so, so sorry that this is part of what humanity is. But I can’t give up. I won’t give up. I am too certain that love and a universal trust that we are all doing the goddamned best we can, even when we falter, simply has to be the truth we are out here living and recording and fighting for.

I won’t give up. I won’t. I will keep finding my ways to scream into the void and call out all the darkness for what is is: the absence of faith, of trust, of a belief that we get what we get and we can’t get upset and that no one NO ONE is ever the reason our life has lacks. Not him or her or Them or You or the President or a circumstance.

What we get, my friend, is chance, brutal terrible chance. And right now, the brutal terrible truth is that the chance of being Black in America is a hideous and unjust sentence. And to pretend otherwise, no matter how casual and well-intentioned your disinterest, is a crime against dignity, humanity and sense.

Call it out wherever you see it. Call it out like the emergency it is.

We must do better. We must. We simply must.

 

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Proud and Happy

Five Star

Hey, y’all! I’ve been Five-Starred!!! I can’t explain how super thrilling it was to see my blog post on the oh-so-awesome Five-Star-Used-to-be-Friday site (which is run by the also-so-awesome-and-lovely Schmutzie). Go and look at it! It’s so pretty! And I’m under a fabulous quote by Anne Tyler. And it’s just cool to see your words leave their own private home and meander about and make friends.

It’s just delicious, really, as someone who spends a lot of time recognizing other people’s work to have my own writing recognized in this way. Maybe I am a real blogger, after all!!

(Haha, a lot of bloggers wonder if they are a real writer; I’m a writer who wonders if I am a real blogger. Can’t win for trying!)

 

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The Give and Take

 

So four or so days ago, I dared to write about What I Did Right in the years of getting my son and me to the safe, good place we are now. And I paused for an ordinary moment of peace.

So, of course, the next day I had a recurrence of an infection that I had just two weeks before. It’s a pretty serious infection, in my colon, diverticulitis for those who will be tortured by not knowing the exactitudes. (I would be so tortured myself. Specifics make me feel better-armed for all the uncertainties.) And the closeness of the two infections is decidedly concerning. So yeah, just in case I was feeling too good, something swooped in to remind me how fragile this all is.

I’ve had this kind of shazaaaam before. Many times before, actually. So I wasn’t surprised. I’m not so egotistical as to think that the universe has it in for me, but I am enough of a believer in allegory to take it at face value: Cherish the days you feel connected to everything around you, for it is fleeting, all of it. I mean, I think I don’t necessarily need to keep reliving this beautiful piece of truth over and over and fecking over again, but chance disagrees, and finds me a perfect messenger.

I remember being in the hospital with my mother, unconscious, almost every day for a month, waiting for her to wake up so we could say goodbye before she died. (She did come to and live several more months, but oh, the agony of thinking we’d never even get the chance to say goodbye.) This was mere weeks before my book came out—my book about finding beauty in hardships, about finding my way back to good. I got the first hard-bound, published copy when my mother was unconscious, and I cried that she would never see it.

My book was called Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce. About what I thought had been the hardest period of my life: my divorce, my falling-apart house, the water leaking in everywhere, my infant son, all happening right as I took over Redbook magazine. Well, ha, said the universe to my book’s core premise. HA TO ALL THAT.

My book was published March 10. My dad went into the same hospital where my mother had been in ICU the night of my official book party, March 12. He was instantly gone, but still alive (my mother dying at home), a freak brain infection having felled him and made him unreachable except in the most tragic, incidental twinges of brain electricity, during which he would say, “Hi, Stacy,” as if he were fine, and I would have to walk out of the hospital room, my fist stuffed in my mouth to keep the wail within me.

The day I resigned from Redbook—my heart in my throat for leaving the only job I’d ever wanted to have, ever since I was a little girl, a job I’d done and done well at four different magazines, since I was 29—I joked with my team that the subtitle of my next book was going to be called “One Reformed Optimist Says ‘Fuck That Shit.’ ”

So yes, I know irony. 

Hello again, you fickle creature.

Okay, fine, so diverticulitis is no death sentence, but it’s also incurable. And I am forty-fucking-five, thank you very much, and was diagnosed with this (largely genetic) disease when I was 34, right after my husband had unilaterally ended our marriage, and I had an infant son, and was running a national magazine and…. Well, whatever. It seems to show up at dramatic moments, as if to make a point, to bring me to my knees when I am already on my knees. No, really. Listen:

First bout: 2004, three months after husband moved out

Second bout: 2010, after my mother and father died four weeks apart

Third bout: 2012, when my boyfriend and I broke up at last, after destroying our relationship slowly across two heartbreaking years

Fourth bout: 2013, right after I managed the huge transition of moving out of New York City and into our new home, a double move (into storage first) because the deal didn’t go down smoothly and I had a huge work conference in between

Fifth bout: Two weeks ago. Are you experiencing a lot of stress? asks the doctor. Well, no, not any more than usual, I say. I mean, I have spent the last eight months feeling like I’ve landed, that I did a really good, really hard thing, that I am finally able to leave the series of traumas behind (yes, the sudden deaths of my parents, but let’s not forget my son’s crisis, me losing my job, the financial insecurity of being unemployed and being a breadwinning single mom). Work is busy, as it always is, but doesn’t feel unusually stressful, even though it’s definitely pedal to the metal right now. I am gardening, spending time outside close to the largeness of the world which comforts me deeply nearly every day. I have a sweet, insane puppy dog who makes me laugh and makes me want to kill him in equal, charming measure. My son is thriving, turning into this beautiful, fascinating, sweet, loving, inquisitive, confident person before my very eyes, his legs stretching ever longer beneath him.

So, fine. It’s just a bout of diverticulitis. No big deal. Very painful, very scary. My temperature rises, I’m in excruciating pain, I think I might end up going to the hospital (if a diverticula ruptures, you have to go to hospital pronto so you don’t go into septic shock and, uh, die), so I get my dearest friends in Garrison prepped and ready for that middle-of-the-night call I hope I don’t have to make, my babysitter packs a “go” bag for my son, and I fall dead asleep praying my temperature comes down. Awaken at 11pm, temperature has dropped a degree. Awaken at 3am, soaked in sweat; the fever has broken. Oh thank holy god. And then a few more days of antibiotics and resting up and I’m fine and fit as a fiddle. Back to life!!!

Until two weeks later, and it hits again. And rapid recurrences are Not Good.

And so here I am. I am happy, I am whole (excepting the colon, of course). And I am nervous and trying not to live too far into the future. The tests I have to take next will tell the (new) doctors (I have to find, because now I live here, in Garrison) what they need to know to tell me what I need to do. And if surgery to remove part of the diseased organ is what they recommend so be it.

But dammit. I was just getting to Good.

So I won’t take this personally. But I will take it as a lesson. Another lesson. In the endless string of lessons life tosses on our strands in a row, like so many pearls: things of glistening beauty borne of a painful irritating setback, pushed deep in the flesh.

It’s what we make of these setbacks that sticks around and lasts.

And I’m going for the glisten, friends.

Root for me, please. It matters, you know.

xo

 

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What I Did Right

Today my son left his lunch on the kitchen counter, sad little sandwich and peanut butter crackers sitting there, waiting to be remembered. I grabbed a paper bag, wrote his name and his teacher’s name on it in black metallic pen, and rolled it over just so, then headed out to the car to drive the 1.6 miles to his school.

His sandwich was going to get there before he did, on the bus, after it made its lazy loop along Avery Road, down to the train station, and then back up to 9D and taking its wide turn into the school, one of six buses that collect students, and are greeted every morning by the principal and the school superintendent.

I parked the car in the back lot, and began walking toward the school’s office. Buses had yet to start arriving, teachers were still pulling into the lot. One teacher saw my bag and said, “Someone forgot his lunch, huh?” And we chatted amiably about the weird chaos of mornings, of no matter how early you get up, you still run late, forget things, end up in two minutes of panic before the bus hits the end of your driveway.

It’s all nothing, this chatter, this familiarity, this sense of sameness to days and weeks and years. That kids will keep forgetting their lunches; that moms will still drive them to school. And outside, summer is blooming, calling us to the rolling mountains and the wide river that embrace and define our neighborhood.

My task complete, I climbed the steps to the parking lot, and the first bus pulled into the school’s long driveway, the principal in place. And I started to cry. A second bus, then the third, their colored flags denoting their routes on their sides, the bus drivers in sunglasses, sitting behind a dashboard decorated with stuffed animals or sports team flags. My son is in one of those buses, having been ferried safely toward a school where everyone knows his name, where he made friends, where the teacher truly understands him and pushes him hard, through his challenges. Where the principal is charmed by his precocity, where he was a minor celebrity for going to the White House to meet Michelle Obama. Where his poetry was recognized and is being filmed for a Hudson Valley Arts project. Where he made friends. Where he feels at home.

And me, too, I feel at home. And at a certain kind of peace. But more than anything right now I feel awe and gratitude. In those four years where I was so lost, and trying to stay afloat in all the hurt and grief, and trying to right my ship while water poured in and threatened to pull me under, I listened. I did the hardest thing of all: I pushed away the fear, the fear, the fear and wrote on this blog and kept pointing myself toward my instincts and away from my habits.

I filled in the blanks.

And I filled them with silence, not noise. With peace not adrenalin. Life is still stressful and chaotic, this is a much harder thing to change. But what has changed for me changed from within.

I am fine. I am fine. I am safe. I am well. I am good. Learning to be gentle with myself will take years more, but I did make all these tremendous changes from a loving place, not from a place of iron will and force, the way I did so many other things in my life.

It is so strange and marvelous to feel myself move into a place of becoming more sure of who I am. I have always known, have had more self-awareness than most people, I know, so that statement must seem crazy. But the fact is there’s always been a big giant question mark in the middle of me: Really? Really? Am I really smart and good and nice and worthy? Am I generous or am I selfish? Am I too full of ego? Am I deluded? Do I not have the ability to see who I really am, in the same way my mother could not, would not, see herself? 

And the biggest question: Will I ever, ever, ever have enough love to silence those questions?

It’s an old trope that we have to “love ourselves” before we can receive good love. I always rankled at that simple statement because it misses the point, as so many tropes do. It misses the hidden question marks, it brushes over these gaping holes with decorative wallpaper. (And don’t even get me started on the new passion to tell teenaged girls that they are “awesome” and “beautiful” no matter what, instead of arming them with the knowledge that insecurity and shifting alliances are the stuff of life and that they’d best learn how to manage those issues instead of be told that they are gorgeous no matter what.)

I have always “loved myself.” I have always thought I was brilliant and interesting. (I know, lucky me, and nice proof that my parents, despite their many failures, did a lot right.) But for years, decades, I couldn’t even see the aching need in the center of my being.

And it didn’t take me loving myself to get to that ache. It took years of careful introspection, years of failures and successes, years of catching myself in irrational reactions and carefully walking the thread backwards until I could see what core fear, anxiety or grief it was attached to.

We poor humans. We spend so much time chasing our butts, spinning in circles trying to know what will make us happy. But what I needed to do was shift gears, and get focused on how to feed and soothe my soul. Then the rest takes care of itself.

The mountains and the river to me mean everything: They are permanent and grand and silent, lording over our brief human existences with majestic grandeur. They aren’t dispassionate, the earth and the water; they are merely what they must be, as are we. We get one very long, slowly unfolding chance to walk ourselves home in this life. And I feel so wildly grateful to have done that for myself, and for my son.

I am good. We are good. The world is good. I always wanted these things to be true, and now I have a life where they are.

And I can feel the rightness of the universe in something as small as a sandwich left on my kitchen counter. It’s just another day. Another magical, worthwhile, soul-affirming day.

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What Maya Knew

It is a grey and misty day, hovering somewhere between lovely and lonely. I am sitting on my train, riding into the city, as to my right the Hudson river looms, placid and colorless, doing its best imitation of a lake.

The edges of a river are one of my favorite places to dwell upon, the mix of industrial rot and fecund growth coming together to create what is, to me, a most fitting analogy of the human condition. We cannot separate the death from the life, the waste from the blessing, the joy from the pain; these things are forever intertwined, and how we grapple with, deny or accept this truth, defines the shape of our lives.

No one knew this as much as Maya Angelou, whose work and words in her lifetime carved glacial paths in our collective consciousness that would have, could have taken centuries for us to come to know. She wrote of the ugliness of sexual abuse, rape, racism, poverty, with an open candor and dignity that is still breathtaking and new. Even the title of her first important work, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” embraces the full arc of her beliefs: that the human spirit must prevail, through whatever pain, horrors, evil, and neglect is heaped upon it.

And I just learned of her passing, while on this train ride, through this landscape of juxtaposition and glory. I am awestruck by how deeply I feel this loss, of how indebted I know I am to her voice and personal power. She was a rare and stunning combination of pain and strength, of sense and emotion. I was and will forever be comforted by how she managed to live all sides of herself, and show them freely.

I still feel the bifurcation of my self, though the work I do in my writing is slowly erasing this artificial division, the division between “success” and ache, between fear and confidence, the gap between knowing what I must do and yet failing to do it. Dr. Angelou’s word encompassed these eternal tensions, and she made me understand they were as natural as verdant springtime, as inevitable as empty, dark winter.

She helped me see — and accept — my humanity. Which has made me a better writer, person, mother, friend, leader, daughter, sister, healer. And it is work that is never, ever done, if you are doing it right.

It would be easy to quote Dr. Angelou’s gorgeous words and challenging statements about standing up and taking life at face value. There will be many, many quotes to read and love and like and favorite on social media and in the news today.

But please, please, please, honor her work and her memory and her bravery by diving into her work, to let her douse you in the river of being, to light your soul with the fire of indignation, to soothe your ache with the eternal truth of justice and dignity. Her writing was a critical beginning in paving the way for the power of story, before “story” became a buzzword.

For Maya Angelou story was always, and obviously, the simplest way to tell the truth, the mighty truth of all we cannot know, and all we must continue to strive to understand, accept, and be. The greatest art of all.

Thank you, Dr. Angelou. May hundreds of voices rise in the absence of yours, and continue to sing your song. I will be proud to keep carrying my voice as far and wide as I can in your honor.

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