I was in college and standing in the Student Life office when another student came in to say that they had extra tickets to hear Maya Angelou speak at a local business lunch. This person waved an envelope around carelessly and asked if anyone wanted to go. I gasped inside and tried to quell the rising excitement inside me. Kids walked around busily and no one seemed to know who Maya Angelou was or what this lunch was about.
Is that for anyone?” I asked.
“Yeah” came the reply. “You want a ticket?”
I looked around and wondered why people weren’t knocking each other over to grab one for themselves. Just a couple of years before Maya Angelou had been one of only two poets to have spoken at an Inauguration and the only African-American woman to do it. She was an accomplished and highly respected author, Pulitzer Prize winner, civil rights activist, friend of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King! She was Oprah’s friend and mentor, for heaven sake. I thought it was only a matter of time before these tickets disappeared and so I grabbed one for myself.
The lunch was that same day and I did not have time to go home and change. As I walked into the hotel lobby, I felt intimidated walking into the ballroom filled primarily with businessmen in suits. I increasing believed I really didn’t belong there in my shorts and t-shirt. I also knew I could not pass up this once in a lifetime chance to meet an icon who inspired my life. I wondered if the message of this poet would be lost on a room full of businessmen who thought in dollars and cents. After some preliminary speeches, Dr Angelou was introduced. She stood taller than many and spoke with a deeper voice than I had heard a woman speak with before; a voice filled with the conviction of the truth she spoke. She assembled her words differently than I was used to, and I had to adjust my ears to receive her message. In no time, the room was as one. We sat before this sorceress who wove words in an alchemy that cast its spell spectacularly. Ideas swirled and danced and with each rhythmic phrase, she pulled down walls and facades.
As this event occurred in 1994, I do not recall the details of her speech, however I do remember that the room was transformed and transfixed. There we sat, fellow humans, in awe of the greatness that was before us. Dr Angelou had an ability to speak to the soul, not the ego and we were humbled. For a brief time, we sat as children watching magic as her words came to life in hearts and minds.
After her speech ended and the applause and standing ovations subsided, Dr Angelou stood at a long table and graciously signed autographs. I brought along my paperback copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, feeling unworthy and wondering if she would sign my little book. Dr Angelou took my hand, which was at once dwarfed by hers. Her long fingers coming to rest above my wrist as we shook. I honestly thought I would pass out. Although I was raised to see people as people and no better or worse than me, this was different. She was a force. I remember too, the single gold ring she wore which appeared to have been sculpted in the shape of an elegant crane. An appropriate symbol, I thought, for this most regal of women. Cranes represent good fortune and I could not think of anything more auspicious than having this gift of listening to the thoughts of Maya Angelou over lunch. Lunch! In sunny Ft Lauderdale, Florida and for only a roomful of people, as the rest of the world went about its business as if nothing extraordinary was happening! She signed my book in swirls of black pen and thanked me as I gushed and fumbled my way through a rushed introduction. I remember walking back out into the radiant sunshine not believing my luck and just wanting to be a better person. Such was the power of Maya Angelou.
I’ve not spoken of this event much throughout the years and until today I was not sure why. I think it was so special and her words so beautiful that anything I could have said would not have touched the depth and breadth of it. It goes without saying that meeting Maya Angelou was an experience I will treasure always.
Tag Archives: life
Frustratingly, my cat meows loudly when I am on the phone. She jumps up on the chair or sofa where I sit and attempts to climb up on me, meowing all the time. She can sleep all day and half the time I don’t even know where she is. But as soon as I start a conversation on the phone there she is “MEOOOOOWWW, MEOW, MEOOOWWW.”
I have to push her off of the furniture to get her to stop. It is very annoying. Everyone can hear her. “Wow, she’s loud” they say, “She must want attention.”
Thought number one: “What is the matter with her? Can’t she see I’m on the phone!”
Thought two: “I’ll Google and see how others have dealt with this and what they believe her behavior means. I felt there must be some biological or mysterious reason behind this specific behavior and more than a mere look at me, pay attention to meeeeee!
I began to type in why does my cat meow when I’m… and lo and behold the subsequent “on the phone” popped up. Aha! Others have had this same question and surely I will find my answer. I opened up the first website and the first thing I read was “she thinks you are talking to her.”
Thought three accompanied by uncontrollable laughter: My cat does not understand the concept of the phone and talking to another human being by way of telephone lines, modems, Bluetooth or routers. She hears my voice and assumes I’m talking to or summoning her! The simple answer “she thinks you are talking to her” was like the snapping up of a shade on a sunny day or as if someone threw cold water in my face.
Thought four: What an idiot! I just researched, RESEARCHED for an answer to a question I should have known! Correction. For an answer I already knew! I actually reminded myself to look it up. I typed in the question. Plenty of time to come to my senses! Surely I could have stretched the limits of my own mind to answer this myself!
I turned back to Google to find out how many results there were for this question. My ego scraping around for proof that I was not alone in this cerebral wasteland I found myself in. The answer was 18,500,000. I’m sure not all applied however I clicked on the 10th page of results which luckily still referred to cat behavior and the phone. Ego bruised but not broken, I scooped up my cat with better understanding and compassion for how confusing it must be to live with a human, especially when intelligence takes a vacation.
How does one write about not writing? I’m not referring to writer’s block. I’m talking about when a particular topic is off-limits. I’m talking about wanting to write about something so bad it hurts. It is right there in front of me, tempting me all the while. It’s like when someone tells the funniest joke you ever heard. You are about to burst with laughter when your boss walks in the room and you must reverse thrust to avoid being inappropriate. It is a lot of energy to hold back, like a sneeze. The kind of feeling that sort of implodes and you are left feeling somehow frustrated and unfulfilled. You knew it would have been such a good release but now the moment has gone and you are left alone waiting for it to kind of reabsorb. My writing is relegated to talking about things outside of my profession. If it wasn’t, I’d have an easy book to write, let me tell you.
I am ever the observer as sentences and images form in my head constantly. Images which have flown out and crashed to the ground as of late, grudgingly censored by me. So frustrating! My fingers have been twitching to bang out letters on the keyboard, illustrating idiosyncracies, inconsistencies, contradictions, kindnesses, heart wrenching tales which would make grown men cry and mind-blowing stories that have brought me to my knees. But I can’t! For this reason I have written fluff instead of substance. Why I can not compartmentalize and move ahead with other thoughts and projects I have no idea.
I have gone through a series of experiences recently which were overwhelming, exciting, scary, frustrating, stressful, invigorating and did I mention overwhelming? I am not permitted though to bring them into the public domain. I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I’ve jumped through hoops, I’ve been flexible and most of all, I’ve listened and learned. And, I hope my listening has helped.
Other ideas have paled in comparison and so I decided not to write about them. Writing about not writing and picking at the edges of this larger experience is helpful to a degree I suppose. Getting it out there to be able to move on is the goal.
What I can say is that doing something scary, that moves me out of my comfort zone, has in short order proven to be an invaluable experience. I have been honored to learn more about a group of people who have humbled me, to say the least. I so wish I could share the experience with you.
We rarely move out of our comfort zones and don’t realize that we have until we are shocked and horrified, usually with an accompanying “what was I thinking?” I think that making major changes in life will always be a rewarding experience, no matter what the experience turns out to be and I recommend it highly. As for this dramatic Italian though, the silence is killing me!
There was a plump, rose-cheeked man named Claus
He was jolly and cute but had flaws
He wore women’s shoes
When the reindeer would snooze
And a glimpse gave the Mrs to pause
This surprise though it wasn’t enough.
All sorts came from this man in red fluff!
He wasn’t opposed
To some knickers and hose
“And my best Christmas apron” she huffed!
My mother sent out an email saying we had to come to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebration at her house with a story or poem that she wants us to recite. Of course the email drew groans…but, I’m finding I need find humor wherever I can find it these days so this is what sprung to mind!
Wishing all my friends, old and new, a very Merry Christmas and Holiday season and all the best for a Happy New Year!
OK. Not all Italians are easily excitable, dramatic, exaggerate and gesture enthusiastically but it is not uncommon and I’m afraid to say I got the gene! I do not speak for all Italians. I speak for me and those I know. I can also tell you honestly that the times I’ve visited Italy it was heartening and satisfying to see all the characteristics mentioned above, playing out in lively scenes that are deemed “too much” or too dramatic here.
Outsiders can mistakenly think Italians are upset, angry or yelling but we are just showing interest in a somewhat loud way. Every man who joined our family asked the same question, “what’s wrong?” What do you mean one of us would say quizzically. “Why are you all talking and yelling at the same time?” Yelling!?! We aren’t yelling, we would say, looking at time as if they were crazy. My interpretation is that we care about whatever it is that has caught our attention. I would think people would appreciate this fact! I am always suspicious of people who don’t show any emotion…what are they hiding? What are they not saying? Eh, must be the Sicilian in me. I just don’t understand this I’m-too-cool-to-release-an-emotion, thing. We all have them people, let them out!
Drama. One person’s drama is another persons way of life. When an Italian says things like: You’re killing me here, Madonna Mia! (as in virgin mother not the stroppy singer), Va fancula (don’t use this one), A Fa Napoli (go to hell or get the hell outta here), I can’t take it! (In Brooklyn “I caaaan’t”)….It’s language meant to express the feeling they are having. They don’t necessarily mean what they say. It is the same reason I exaggerate. If I say it’s 100 degrees in here. I don’t really think it’s 100 degrees but that’s what it feels like. When there were two dogs in the house I would say things like , oh God, I can’t walk with 27 dogs in my way! Again, capturing the feeeling, nothing more nothing less. I crack up when someone tries to explain the realities to me. “Dana it’s only 72 degrees in here.” You’re killing me!
A typical conversation between my husband and myself:
Me: “When are you going to mow the lawn?”
Me: “But it’s 7:00pm now”
Him: “I know”
Me: “So you’re going to mow the lawn at 12 o’clock at night?
Again, simply underscoring the late hour. The come back is always an explanation of the actual time and how he didn’t say he would mow the lawn at 12 o’ clock. Sighhhh…message lost.
When I’m upset or excited about something, it will be expressed in hand gestures or my speech or both. One way or another it is coming out! It doesn’t matter what the reality is. So one will hear: I’ve had 100 calls today at work (20), I had to pay like $1,000 to get the car fixed ($350), There were 57 people ahead of me in the supermarket line….you get the picture. And, when I hear something upsetting for myself or someone else, I’ll gasp or say WHAT?!!! I think being Italian and apatheic is impossible! Contrast this with my husband, a Brit, who would respond to the same information with “riiight” as he calmly took in the information.
I could write a post on the phrase Oh My God alone. It is used liberally and in many different situations. It is not reserved for a calamity. There is “Oh my God!” meaning, I don’t believe it, I’m shocked or got bad news. Then there is oh-my-God which means, he or she is an idiot or something is ridiculous. Let’s not forget OhmyGod! which means I forgot something or someone or something is in danger and action needs to be taken. And lastly, Oh my Gaaaawd which is said as a cry (not a whine) which means I’m being stressed to the max . Usually because someone is doing my head in and/or annoying me. When this is used the receiver of the phrase will have a short amount of time to correct their offending behavior because the sender is about to blow up! Each version is said with its own inflection and different words are stressed. Of course Italians don’t own these three words and other nationalities have their own versions.
When I lived in England, exclamations were frowned upon. Though Brits do know how to curse and do so very well I might add, Brits do not appear to be comfortable with general outbursts as a rule, rather it seems to be a source of pride that one can keep it together in any situation. Keep Calm Carry On was a war slogan meant to remind people that they were not to freak out once bombs started dropping remember! I once called (called mind you. I didn’t shout or scream) to my husband who was further down the supermarket aisle than I was and everyone turned around. His face went pale and I thought he was going to pass out. He looked at me as if I’d jumped into the refrigerated section and was throwing thing around like an ape. I’m not uncouth and am appreciative of manners and etiquette. I was innocently holding a package of fresh mozzarella but when I saw that it had come from Italy, I had to share it and thought he’d be as happy as I was.
Ever see someone you hadn’t seen in a long time? Do you quietly approach them or call to them in whispering tones? Or do you act Italian and squeal “oh my God! I can’t believe it! Hiiiii! How are youuuu??? Complete with delight and lots of hugs and kisses? Again, demonstrating care and interest!
I don’t know if it’s an Italian thing or a New York thing but when I get angry, I curse. I don’t know many New Yorkers who have a problem with this. Cursing is not seen as coarse or crude, rather it is a creative way of expressing one’s self. Cursing and degree of anger are positively correlated. Spouses take heed! Again, it was nice to hear people exclaiming, cursing, and generally expressing themselves in Italy without it being seen as a character flaw!
Italians talk. They talk with their mouths, their hands, their facial muscles, their shoulders, their whole bodies really. You will always know what we think, how we feel and where you stand. If we love you, you will be showered with affection and if we are angry you will know it, the offending situation will be addressed and it will be done with. We are an expressive people and don’t usually hold things in. What’s the point of having emotions and feelings if you can’t express them? Viva Italiano!
Here are the 13 craziest things I’ve noticed
other drivers doing on the road lately, all whilst in motion:
1) Woman using an eyelash curler then putting on mascara. Not lipstick. Mascara, that entails putting a very pointy wand near the eye, not to mention the need to stare closely into a mirror. Not the road. A mirror!
2) Men, speeding up, then slowing down, speeding up, slowing down….oh! they are on the phone and unable to take in information, process it and respond while maintaining the same speed. Cut to me, accelerating, slamming on my brakes, accelerating, slamming on brakes, cursing, slamming on my brakes. Gotta love the narrow corpus collosum and inability to multi-task.
3) You knew texting would be on this list-I see people looking down, looking up, looking down longer than looking up and getting the full effect of my horn which beeps more than bellows when they regularly cross the double yellow line and are heading right toward me. Daily occurence this.
4) People holding a cigarette in one hand, and phone in the other. Others hold coffee cup in one hand and ciggie in the other. What is driving the car? And, you’re “driving” behind me! That’s comforting.
5) Man driving glacially slow in front of me. Why? Well I found out as I passed him at the earliest convenience, dirty look at the ready. He was patting down and trying to brush his very messy bedhead with his little stubby fingers. He then proceeded to whip out his electric shaver. Sigh.
6) A maddening 30 minute drive behind a woman who put on a full face of makeup-from foundation to mascara. Her car was slowly drifting off to the shoulder and I prepared myself to have to maneuver around her when she finally went off the road. So, should I make out my will because she’s running late?
7) Woman driving slowly because she’s talking to her kids in the car- reaching behind her to get “things”, pulling “things” out of a bag, hoisting bag from the back to the front seat, passing “things to said kids in backseat. I never understand why these parents don’t have a problem putting their kids lives at risk.
8) Older gentleman driving ridiculously slow. Why you ask? Because, he was thoroughly enjoying watching his lap dog enjoy the wind in its hair. At 8am in the morning? Are you trying to give me a stroke?
9) I was driving behind a man who was there one minute and gone the next as his head popped down and then stayed down! Where did he go? Uh, hello? Who is driving the car!?! Did he check into an alternate reality? Was he hungrily fishing around for old french fries? Sending a fax? Let me guess, he dropped the cell phone while texting and putting all of our lives at risk while he attempted to retrieve it! I’m sorry, that gets an automatic beep from me.
10) Woman, um, teacher? Marking papers on her steering wheel while driving to work during rush hour. What a sterling example of those setting examples for your children. Just thought you should know.
11) As I approached a left turning lane and proceeded to steer through the intersection, I noticed that the woman to my right was holding a china dish in one hand and flatware in the other, eating what appeared to be an enjoyable meal with not a care in the world. Again, what was driving the car? The all-seeing knee?
12) A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed a woman driving as she took a picture of herself. She was drifting all over the road, then decided the first pic wasn’t good enough so gave it a good smile and took another, at speed. Surely you can finish off your online dating profile when you get home…if you get home, I should say.
13) I was waiting at a light to make a left hand turn. The light turned yellow (amber for my Brits) and something told me not to go. Sure enough, a man ran the light that had turned red, as his head and neck were facing the back seat. That bears repeating. The man drove through a busy intersection, through a red light facing the opposite way! Gobsmacked!
I find myself beeping at people to help them from hurting themselves. I’m more afraid for them than I am for myself in most of these scenarios. To paraphrase the captain in Hill Street Blues, for the love of all that’s holy, let’s be careful out there!
Crystal blue in its brilliance
The air breezy, light and warm
A beautiful day but not perfect
We remarked that there were no clouds
And wonder now, were they frightened away by impending
Horrors to come?
The bliss of our ignorance a comfort still.
A glorious backdrop
For a summer day thrown into sharp contrast
A decent into darkness, confusion and doom.
From ferries, bridges, building windows and street corners…
We came to identify, were slapped hard by, the worst within us
We came to know and taste the hate
We shook from the violation
We cried from the pain, the loss, the fear.
We saw what we should not see
We smelled what no one should smell
We felt, though we could not feel
Our senses blurred and betrayed
Our minds unable to conceive or believe.
A sleepless city silenced and stunned.
From near, explosions ripped through buildings and hearts
Fire and noise and glass and panic
Plummeting potential lost to despair
Then, billowing clouds of smoke and death
From far, the stillness remained for a time. For a time.
As news traveled, streets emptied
No traffic. No people. No noise and, no planes.
Unrelenting rays of sunshine attempted to warm blood run cold
An endless sea of blue sky our only shroud for man-made hell
Heaven a far away witness
As we reached out for desperate consolation.
Crystal blue in its brilliance.
It took me 3 years, after witnessing the explosions on September 11th, from a Staten Island ferry set to take off for Wall Street, to write this poem. What could not be conveyed on the Evening News was the smell of death that hung over the city for weeks as the fire continued to burn from within. That the National Guard stopped us in cars and buses to sweep for bombs before we drove over bridges and into tunnels or patrolled commuter buses, staring us down, to ensure there weren’t terrorists in our midst. That the only sound that we heard at first, and what persisted for weeks and months were sirens from police and fire department vehicles. That no matter where you went, from supermarket to library, there were pictures of those who perished, plastered everywhere. And so many funerals that whole streets were blocked off and traffic diverted, for them to take place. Funerals that went on for years. That FDNY firehouses lost large numbers of men, my fire department having lost 11 (11 in Heaven). That people were panicking-in subways when hysteria set in and in underwater tunnels when traffic was stopped on the FDR highway for the huge metal beams from the WTC to be transported to barges. That in a city with 3 major airports and constant air traffic, the resulting silence was deafening when that traffic came to a halt. And when planes took to the skies again, people held their breath or panicked when planes went overhead or seemed to fly too close. Not to mention that only two months after the attacks on September 11th, there was a major plane crash in Queens, NY, where another 260 people died and which sent us all over the edge again. And that if there was a possible threat, the city would shut down essential bridges and tunnels leaving people stranded or unable to return to their homes for hours. The effects of this day lasted years and for those who lost loved ones, a lifetime.
We Will Never Forget all who lost their lives and all who worked “the pile” to reclaim the World Trade Center and our city, piece by piece.