Words, The Creative Process, and Maya Angelou


Humor is how I deal with things.  The first thing that popped in my head when I heard about Maya Angelou’s passing away this morning was a bit on the Chris Rock Show were he played clips of poems she had done to honor Marion Barry and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.  Someone imitating her slow baritone voice saying “Good morning, Crack Man.  Mr. Mayor Crack Rock” rang in my ears.  I laughed to myself thinking that the way my mind works is scientific evidence that God has a sense of humor.  

As I was checking the newspaper (read: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) quotes about love, truth, the poem Caged Bird and Phenomenal Woman literally appeared dozens of times.  Most of my familiarity with Angelou’s work revolves around being in school.  Today I read Caged Bird for the first time in maybe twenty years.  With my own farily unique life experiences I related to it–it was no longer just a white early twenty something’s attempt at a black history lesson in February.  I observed the different way that her words had affected many others of all races and religions.  Whenever I read or hear the words from Phenomenal Woman (mostly in Poetic Justice) I think of my middle school’s black history pageants we’d have every year and my friend Dana reciting the words like a grown ass woman while her cousin Damien played the violin behind her (That violin thing turned out pretty well for him).  The image in my mind is as clear as if it happened yesterday.

Reading how Maya Angelou influenced many people that I know personally, acquaintances, strangers, etc. made me think about what made her just that in their minds: her words.  Her poems aren’t particularly verbose.  She used prose and everything you’d read sounded very conversational; as if one was just having a talk with a wise woman who can tell you about life because she’d lived a rough one.  In fact every quote I have read today I have heard her voice reciting it just as casually as she spoke during her role in Madea’s Family Reunion.

Almost every time I think about Maya Angelo it is in regard to her creative process.  She has said that she kept a hotel in her hometown where she would go to from 5:30 am-2 pm where she’d keep a bible, ballpoint pens, paper, a thesaurus, a King James Version of the bible, crossword puzzles and a bottle of sherry.  She also said that when she wrote she kept her her tied as if it would keep the thoughts into her head.  She’d toil away at ideas that generally started off as simple as “cat, hat, and bat.”  

Angelou had her other objects by her side that would help serve as her muses other than her thoughts.  This was on my mind as recent as last week.  I was having a conversation with my friend who is a writer who told me that they want to write.  They said I wouldn’t understand because I haven’t dedicated my life to writing.  I told them that was false.  Halfway offended I almost said “You know there’s a treble clef and a pen in hand inked on me arm for life, right?”  I just told them that I’d been writing in some capacity in my life since I was six even if it was mostly music.  I said the process is still the same and I pictured Maya, her tied head, and that bottle of sherry next to her as she wrote.  I have different things that I do depending on if I am writing music or essays and think pieces.  The same way my friend has told me that they play games on their phone when they get stuck I’ll play Free Cell or Minesweeper while listening to music I have composed to write to.  When I am writing thoughtful and loving things about the joys of parenting I use ignorant rap music as my form of sensory deprivation to be creative *pauses to yell “Similac!” because we’re ridin’ ’round and gettin’ it right now.*  When I’m in a pretty creative place I don’t shave or get haircuts unless I know I’m making a public appearance.  I’ve been writing my ass off in 2014-close to 2,000 words a day, completed one album and working on a second-right now I look like a scruffy mess and have got my haircut maybe five times this year.

I say all of this to say that Maya Angelou has influenced many of us in different ways over the last fifty years.  For some it may be a quote on TV, her experiences, being a family member, her words, or in my case a reminder of facilitating the creative process.  Rest in love, Maya Angelou and your influence in any capacity will never be forgotten.  Thank You. 

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