Maya Angelou: A Personal Memory

Maya Angelou

 When I was a grad student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Maya Angelou came to town one wintry evening in February to read at Macky Auditorium. I was dirt poor at the time, raising a son on a shoestring, working two jobs aside from that of mom and student, and trying my little heart out to merely survive, while I headed for a degree in Comparative Literature. I was so tired and stressed out that day, but I wouldn’t have missed that reading if someone had paid me a million bucks. Besides, all of us grad students, and everyone else for that matter, were in awe of Maya Angelou and not to see her and hear her would have been downright tragic—even if Macky was crowded to bursting, even if everyone was packed in there like sardines, and folks spilled out of the building, hoping to get a glimpse of her. As for us grads, we weren’t satisfied with only a glimpse of her. We were determined to get a really close look at her after the reading.

Unfortunately, the Bigwigs at the University wanted her all to themselves, and they were about to usher her to the Koenig Alumni Center after the reading, where a reception and dinner waited for her. But we were smarter. We raced to Koenig and congregated in the lobby before they got there. The room was soon filled to bursting.

When Maya Angelou walked in, surrounded by her protective entourage, one of the Bigwigs was about to lead her through the crowd of us to a back room, where a long table had been festively set.

“This way, Miss Angelou,” he said, taking her arm to help her through the crowd of us (vermins, I guess) to the reception room.

She came to a dead stop, looked straight at me for some time, smiled, and said to one of the entourage:

“Bring me a table.”

“Oh, no, Miss Angelou, the reception is in the back room.”

“That might be,” she said, “but all these folks here have been waiting for me to autograph their books or their papers, and that is what I will do.”

Did we adore her that moment, even more than we had before?

Understatement.

The Bigwigs were at a loss. Their exquisite plans had just gone up in smoke, and dinner was getting cold. But there was nothing they could do. She was determined to make us grad students happy. Someone pushed in a table and brought a chair, and she sat right down there in that drafty lobby, and she began signing.

What a wonderful human being! She absolutely made our day!

A friend of mine handed me an events flyer, because I had nothing for Maya Angelou to autograph, and I certainly couldn’t afford to buy her book. She took the flyer, and I said that it was wonderful to meet her. She looked at me for a while, shook my hand, and said:

“You have a wonderful face.”

I couldn’t believe it, didn’t know what to say and stammered something about having seen her interview with Bill Moyers that had mentioned her grandmother.

“She must have been a wonderful human being,” I said.

“She was,” Maya Angelou said, smiling, and handed the signed flyer back to me, (phenomenally beautiful handwriting!), shook my hand once again, and said:

“I wish you joy.”

I didn’t walk out of that lobby, I floated on air. Every time I thought of this experience afterwards, I felt like jumping up and kicking my heels.

I’ve thought of her kindness since too many times to count. I still get goose bumps every time I think of it. I had felt so frazzled and stressed and tired all that day in February. Being a student, a mother, and working two jobs just to make ends meet will do this to you. But that night, I felt like a million bucks. I thought: Maya Angelou sees something in me that I don’t see, and I best start looking for it.

But I didn’t. Yet. I worked on that PhD, and I got it, and then I taught for a good many years. Finally, however, thanks in no small measure to Maya Angelou and her having been so kind to me, I began looking within myself to find what she saw in me. And I found writing, which I had buried long ago and dismissed every time the passion and the desire for it came up, because there was no time, and I had to make a living.

A couple of my short stories and essays on Franz Kafka were published in time,

and then:

The Good American, a novel, in 2001.

Memories of VMI, a collection of humorous cadet stories, in 2003.

Diary of a Naïve, a novel, in 2010.

The Tenant, a novel, in 2013.

Twelve Quiet Tales, a collection of short stories, in 2013.

Bo on the Fence Post, a children’s story, in 2014.

Not that the books are million dollar bestsellers, but they keep hanging in there. Most importantly, however, I wrote them, and I love them. And, amazingly, so do the people who have read them.

If ever Maya Angelou were to read this, I would like her to know that the Joy she wished me that evening came with the writing.

Sadly, she will not read this now. But maybe she knows, somehow, somewhere, how very grateful I am.

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Spring

I am so tired of this weather. Yesterday, we had another seven inches of snow with drifts up to two feet high. Icicles are hanging off the roof, and the temperature last night before I went to bed was 4F. I don’t want to know what it was toward morning. The little Snowdrops that started to bloom so hopefully at the end of January have now been buried four times by snow. Can’t wait to see if they are still alive once all this stuff melts.

So I looked around the computer to see if I could find something that would pick me up. I knew I had some signs of spring somewhere in my picture files. What I found was stunning, and so I want to share it with you. Maybe it’ll pick you up as well.

[To enlarge a picture, click on it, and then use the back arrow to return to the blog.)

 

 

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Daily Dose of Beautiful #3

IMG_1450Today, I felt a bit down myself. Massive writer’s block, I think. Or indecision. So here’s picking myself up–and you–with this little tune.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pGaz_qN0cw

Then I came across another tune.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46k7Gp5L0v4

I feel much better now!!!!!!!

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Daily Dose of Beautiful 2

IMG_5366If you feel a bit down today, see if a tiny dragonfly (called Libelle in German) won’t pick you up. Turn up the volume.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QFAOkiqbts

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How long did it take you to write this?

FrontCoverforTheTenant-1My new novel, The Tenant: A Love Story, was published in February. It’s not your usual fare of rampant violence, blood-thirsty vampires, and unbridled sex. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s not your book. It’s just a simple, heartwarming story about a beautiful man, who feels self-conscious about having to walk with a cane after an accident. Having long given up on love, he constantly sabotages his own happiness, because he can’t imagine that any woman in her right mind would think him a good catch. But when he rents a cottage to a young woman, who struggles to survive with her ten year old boy, he is in for an emotional roller coaster. 

You can check out the book at Amazon, The Tenant: A Love Story,  or at your favorite bookseller. 

Once I had published the book, a good many of my readers asked me how long it took me to write it. The question always surprises me, because why should it matter. Would it be less of a great read it if I had written it in a week? Or if I had labored over it for twenty years?

But once I thought about it, I wondered myself just how long it took me to write it. It certainly wasn’t the five months I actually spent sitting in front of the computer, stealing time to write among the hundred other things there were going on at the same time such as the plumber, the computer crash, the laundry, the cooking, the company, the days I felt out of sorts, the paying the bills, the phone calls, insomnia, running errands, and a good many other things that come with living life.

The book actually began about sixteen years ago, only I didn’t know it. I don’t consciously keep track of a scene I’ve witnessed, a revelation that’s come to me, or an image that stands out. I don’t think: Oh, one day I will write a book about this. But I am in the habit of writing down things that intrigue me, because—well—they intrigue me. Sometimes, not always, I think that one day, I might work this moment into a book. I might. But I might not.

Trying to follow The Tenant back to its beginnings, I can see that it began with an observation—the interaction of two brothers I know who don’t like one another very much. The underlying enmity in their otherwise very civil encounter intrigued me enough that I wrote the scene down and even wrote a couple of chapters about the possible root of their rivalry. Then I put these musings side, because they didn’t really go anywhere in terms of a story. I just found them interesting. Once in a while, in my dearth and desert moments of writing, I’d pick them up and work on them a little, and let them go again. What’s interesting to me is that the name ‘Sam,’ though fictitious, offered itself quite naturally as that of one of the brothers in my little draft piece.

A couple of years later, I met a man who had to give up flying, because his eye sight had begun to fail him. I wrote that encounter down, and some months later, I met a man who had a construction accident. The fates of these two men almost immediately connected themselves to Sam. I have no idea how and why my mind determinedly makes these connections that, later on, prove to be dead-on in something I write.

A couple of years later, I happened to look out at a cabin that is way up near the top of a mountain that I can see from my window. It may well be a house, because that mountain is so far away, I can barely make out the house. And it’s not as if I hadn’t looked out at that cabin/house for years. But that day, it caught my fancy, and I thought how lovely it must be to live there with the phenomenal view of nearly the whole of the Shenandoah Valley in one’s lap. Instantly, I remembered a friend of mine, who had rented a cabin, because she had no money. The cabin had no electricity, and she and her young son had to bring in water from a well even in the dead of winter and haul in wood to keep warm. Just how this cabin instantly became Sam’s, I will never know.

But some months after I was done with my novel, Diary of a Naïve, I played around on my computer, looking for what I could write next. That’s when I found these seemingly disconnected pieces: a cabin (which suddenly struck me as awfully romantic), a young woman and a boy, and two brothers, who didn’t like one another very much. How all these pieces connected themselves, I will never know. But connect they did, as if it all was meant to be.

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Daily Dose of Beautiful 1

IMG_5365Just in case you’re involved in something utterly mediocre, trivial, and frustrating, here’s something that might pick you up. Turn up the volume:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F4G5H_TTvU&feature=related

 

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Mini Mundus

1. Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma

So you’ve had ‘Trip Around the World’ on your bucket list forever, right? Only, you’re not within the two percent demographics that have money to burn. But not to worry. If you have a little cash to spare, you could travel to Germany, make your way to a phenomenally beautiful lake called Lake Constance (Bodensee) and visit Mini Mundus, a miniature world of nearly all the amazing monuments all over the globe. The scale is 1:25 and care has been taken to build the monuments, whenever possible, with the materials used in the original architecture. Wherever called for, they also function like the original, such as the Tower Bridge and Niagara Falls.

When you go, pick a sunny day, and take the whole day to see these marvels. When you get tired, there is a great restaurant with a beautiful terrace, where you can take a break and nourish body and spirit. Then, keep going—it’s a pretty amazing place. During the winter months, mid-October to end of April, the monuments are covered by protective structures, built exclusively for them every year, to protect them from the elements.

Here are a few pictures—a very few in comparison to all that is there, but they will give you an idea of what’s there.

Sorry to have cut off the top of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh and the face of the Sphinx, but I’ve published the photo anyway, because it gives you a sense of the height of the structures vs. the tiny human beings modeling in the foreground.

Unfortunately, the website is in German, but I’ve attached some links. As for how to get there, google-earth or mapquest the address. (I guess I just turned these into verbs.)

http://www.minimundus-bodensee.de/

info@mini-mundus-bodensee.de

or Google as minimundus bodensee

Enjoy!

 

 

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