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: random thoughts
I’m not a linguist but I sometimes wish I was. I often feel like the word police and really must restrain myself from correcting people, lest I be ostracized and ignored by those around me. I hear a siren in my head when I hear certain words used and abused. I’m not saying I know all the rules of grammar however some faux pas just really irritate me. I am fascinated by etymology and where clichés and phrases come from as well and try to broaden my vocabulary if I can.
There is so much confusion about the English language. It would have been much easier if it remained the English language during and after its voyage to the new world. I can only assume that the introduction of other languages and vernacular caused the problems we have today. Sometimes it’s a matter of education but how does that explain George Bush, who despite being surrounded by other very educated people and having had a stellar education himself, continues to say nucular instead of nuclear-which drives me crazy every time I hear it. His use of language is beyond the scope of this post.
Were we to travel to the birthplace of the English language, yes, England, we would not be at home as one would expect as our languages are very different indeed. I lived in England for a time and found that when I needed to speak more English-English, I used my mouth and tongue more. We Americans have lazy mouths! Who knew? It actually takes work to pronounce words correctly. Here is an example of the words that caused me confusion and embarrassment at times:
Garter belt is suspenders, suspenders are called braces, pants are trousers and underwear is pants. A vest is a waistcoat, an undershirt is a vest! Vagina is fanny and a fanny is your butt. Your butt is a bum there (I’m not being crude, this needs to be known because when you go around England with your “fanny pack” you will know why Brits break out in laughter-you’re welcome!). See what I mean? Very confusing. I have actually logged hundreds of words that differed from the ones that I used as I needed to understand it to be able to function in society. There were several times I was very embarrassed (see my blog Have I Got News For You). I used the word toss at work and everyone started laughing. I was finally told it means that someone is pleasuring themselves. If I went into a store to buy something and said to the cashier, “I have a tweny”, the response would be “Sorry? I didn’t understand.” That’s because we Americans do not use our Ts. Why don’t we say twenTy? No idea. I also told someone I was self-sufficient which brought tears and laughter to my husband who told me later that I had announced that I grow my own vegetables and live off the land!
Then there are abused words that time and oceans can not be blamed for. Take the humble coupon (Koo-pon). People seem able to say coupe as in a car with 2 doors, so why the confusion? One need only drop an e and add the o n. They don’t say cyoup do they? Where on earth did Qupon/Queuepon/Q-pon come from? It sounds like half Q-Tip and half tampon to me. Other words begin similarly such as couple and couplet so one would reason that the mispronunciation would take the form of cup-on but this is not the case.
My personal favorite is the misuse of the word caramel. As there is an a in the middle of the word, I would think this would be quite easy to pronounce. Did people eat so many car-a-mels that that they felt one more syllable was just too much to take? “My mouth is just too tired, can I have a car-mel please?”
Any word that has a silent letter in it and is pronounced drives me crazy as well. Almonds are Ahmonds and calm, for goodness sake, is cahm. What about height? Why do people say heighth? It’s as if they got a running start with length and width and just kept on going!
Roof? Seems the simplest of words right? No. Ruff. Ruff? There are two Os people!!
The question that causes my skin to crawl is “Where are you at?” This one has become an epidemic! If “where are you?” asks the question, why would one add at which is a preposition? And, although rules have softened on the preposition at the end of sentence, this is just plain wrong. I have no words for “where you at,” no words.
I’ve gotten into trouble for being too “flowery” by using actual words such as innocuous and telephonic as some people didn’t think a) they were real words and b) that if they were I should actually use them. One of the biggest annoyances when it comes to language and communicating is when someone doesn’t know a word and won’t just ask what it means so we can move on with the conversation. I’ve had the bizarre experience though of people questioning me and even having the gall to make fun of me when I use a large word (there you go again using your $5 words!). It’s really all I can do to keep from laughing and it makes me feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Mind you I don’t even think I have a large vocabulary. I often feel like Marilyn in the Munsters tv show if anyone remembers that. Try to gain knowledge and use it and others see you as a freak!
Funnier still is when people email or text asking me what a certain word meant. If you can email you can look it up online people. Parting advice for anyone too lazy to crack open a dictionary, take 3 seconds to type it into Google. Geesh!
Which words drive you crazy? I know we all have them.
Disclaimer: Consult your Linguist if you experience headaches, annoyances, exasperation or total outrage from others incorrect use of language. Side effects of actually looking words up to understand their correct definitions in order to use them correctly includes but is not limited to the following: personal growth, better grammar, better vocabulary and a general sense of confidence and wellbeing.
Is it me or do men seem to get very grouchy if they are not permitted to eat at expected times? While we love them dearly and think that they are generally interesting to be around, I must say, they do not seem able to tolerate wild changes in eating habits. I learned this when I was newly married and still used to my single days and ways.
Knowing that I had a million chores to do on a Saturday, or in preparation for a houseful of guests, I would jump out of bed, into the shower and then into the car to be able to get things done. My husband would say, “what! and not eat?” Sighhhhhh. Now I’m no stranger to food believe me, but sometimes you just have to get moving and if you don’t you find that the day has gone. Whenever I acquiesced to his need to stop everything and have a full breakfast, I’d find that we were delayed by hours-you know, it takes time to sip coffee and mop up egg yolks with toast! I would have preferred to hit the mall, get what I had to get then stop at a diner, comfortable in the knowledge that my mission was accomplished.
I notice that if a meal is postponed for whatever reason, men get irritable and almost panicky. It’s as if they worry they will never eat again; despite having cabinets and pantries full of food, not to mention supermarkets and restaurants down the street. This is a man who is actually a good cook and likes to cook, mind you. I wonder if this is a throwback to the primative brain. Does an alarm go off signaling impending starvation or something?” Men help me out here.
If we were at a family gathering and I made the mistake of saying that we’d be eating “soon” that word would start an invisible stopwatch in his head. Tick tock tick tock…I would continue to chit chat and not long after the conversation would begin:
“I thought you said we were going to eat”
um, I don’t know, soon
“Well no one’s cooking”
We’re going to order from someplace
“How long is that going to be?”
I’d get a menu for him to peruse which would settle him down for the time being but the dye had been cast and dinner had better be coming soon before his stomach rumblings got the better of him.
The suggestion of food can stave them off for a bit. “I’m just going to stop at my mother’s house for like a half hour, then I’m making a nice Baked Ziti for dinner when I get home.” Oh! Ok! comes the response. But don’t wait too long or you will be faced with a crestfallen look and the pout of a 5 year old boy, with a temper to match!
It’s always when I’m fully engrossed in a book or movie that I’ll hear, “what are we going to eat.” Sighhhhh. One “trick” that has worked wonders is to put a pot on the stove and place some food on the counter when I’ve been delayed in getting to dinner that he is now expecting. Even though I haven’t chopped or sauteed a thing, seeing the pot brings hope and reassurance and me some time.
By now I’m sounding horrible aren’t I? It’s not that I don’t like to cook or that I don’t like to make him happy. It’s just that if I’m busy, I don’t care if I eat at 5pm or 7pm. I know it’s going to happen!
I learned quickly that I could not eschew my husband’s need to eat promptly because like a puppy that refuses to walk one more little padded step, he would balk at going shopping or helping out in the house before breakfast. It’s all in the delivery. If I say, “can we go to Home Depot now?” or “can you put your dirty clothes in the hamper?” The answer will invariably be no. If I say “can we get a few things done then go to a restaurant for a nice brunch, you know that place where you like the sausages?” (Never underestimate the power of pork ladies) What a transformation! He would then move heaven and earth, taking out the garbage, putting tools away, gladly driving me to several shops that he hates to go to…you get the picture. And like that same puppy, he would look at me with all the eagerness and trust his eyes could hold when he knew that our jobs were done and the time had come. When I got back in the car and said yes when he asked if we could get something to eat now, the tension could just be felt slipping away. The aforementioned irritability dissolved with each forkful of food he took and after his belly was nice and full he would be much more cheerful. I could almost make out the movement of a contentedly wagging tail.
I was reminded of my year in a cubicle this week as I’m moving from an office back to cubicle life again. I was less than fortunate to work in a tiny cubicle in 2005, for over a year. Provence it was not. I’m not sure if people realize it but cubicle life has a subversive subculture all its own. Ok that may be extreme but it does have strange quirks that are funny and beg to be written about. My personal definition of cubicle:/kyoobikel. n. The vealization of previously free range human beings. Vealize: v. To stuff or cram into a small space, to ensure efficiency and or tenderness. The cubicle is a small space that, like torture implements of days gone by, can be made smaller and smaller and smaller as cheap companies try to squeeze more bodies into an existing space instead of obtaining larger offices.
On my first day of work I was brought into the office and there before me, stretched out like a sea of grey on a rainy day, were dozens and dozens of nondescript cubicles. To quote Eddie Izzard, they were interesting in an extraordinarily boring way. I wondered how I would make it back to my own cubicle after lunch and wished I’d brought a sandwich from which I could at least make a bread trail.
The funny thing about cubes as they are affectionately referred to is that although one is mere feet or inches from their co-worker, people block out or pretend not to see or hear what their co-workers say and do. This is good form and good cubie etiquette. So, you can have a situation where a colleague is fighting with her boyfriend for an hour, neglecting her work all the while; cursing, tears streaming down her face complete with hushed hysterics. She gets off the phone and turns to you saying “can you believe that!?!” And, the correct answer is, “Oh sorry, what? Sorry I wasn’t paying attention.” The hysterical one, also knowing cubicle etiquette, yet knowing there is no way on earth you hadn’t heard, relates the episode in its entirety so as to maintain delicate cubie balance.
On the other hand, it is not uncommon for cube-mates, again inches away from each other, to call each other or email things they don’t want overheard. The walls do have ears my friends.
Adjusting to cubicle life was very difficult indeed. Difficult and dangerous! During my first few weeks I nearly killed my co-workers. Once when crossing my legs, my foot hit a metal bar, which capped off the end of the cubicle lovely I might add, which flew down and almost decapitated someone. Another time I opened my overhead file cabinet only to knock another colleague in the head! To avoid injury, I quickly learned that I could only move my chair up and down, not backwards and forwards, as rolling about could be hazardous. To be fair, I must explain that the cubicle I had consisted of the following: cubicle wall, about 10 inches to the back of my chair, about 10 inches to the edge of the desk and the desk backed up to the other cubicle wall.
How do people cope with such small, drab surroundings devoid of any sunlight, nature or interest of any kind? I’m thinking of draping my new cubicle in fabric and putting down a rug. Some bring in candles, pictures, pretty lamps or a plant to simulate a homey atmosphere. Others attach wedding photos and children’s arts and craft projects to fuzzy cubicle walls. Still others light up a joint and who could blame them.
My very first cubie experience happened years ago. I was doing temp work for a large, reputable publishing company in Manhattan. My co-worker rose from her seat, came round to my cubie opening-there are no doors-knocked on the thin metal frame and asked if I minded if she smoked. As this incident occurred in the late 1980s and there were no restrictions on smoking at that time (God I’m old), I said no. Of course I didn’t like it but didn’t feel I really had a choice. So there I sat, typing away in my little cube as the smoke rose and gently fell on my side of the “wall”. I noticed that it wasn’t cigarette smoke I was smelling but marijuana. I believe I mouthed the words oh-my-God! As cubicles also do not have their own ceilings the smoke made its way out of the area and down the hall. It was not long after that a manager visiting from Texas confronted my neighbor and promptly had her fired.
There is this weird schematic thing that happens in the cuber’s brain as it constructs walls, ceilings and doors where there are none. Cubicles more than 10 feet away are like separate continents. Your group, your cubie family as it were, consists of those who work on the same account or project and whom you can hit with a paperclip with minimal exertion. Paperclips are the cubie equivalent of emoticons with their tongues out or :P. So, the comment “nice shoes, guess someone hopes to get lucky tonight” is met with paperclip fire over the wall.
Then there is the interesting behavior that is created by the cubicle environment. Some are as territorial as junk yard dogs. God help the cuber (cubite, cubiphile, cubilite, cubinilean?) who does not have a partition to delineate their space because there will always be someone to come around to challenge it and take it away. These hyenas of the working world are those passive aggressive among us who push the legal sized proverbial envelope when it comes to boundaries. They are the ones who wear enough perfume to choke those within 100 foot radius (equivalent to approx 980 cubicles), play music LOUD, sing hymns to themselves, LOUDLY and open their folders and binders to ensure that at least a corner comes to rest on your countertop. I had one person ask if she could “store” things in my overhead file (that’s when I bopped her! KIDDING!…or am I). I had another person, who had the same amount of drawers and wall space, ask if she could hang flyers on my bulletin board! WHY?? Oh they are slick my friends.
Other people, knowing full well that one need only whisper to be heard, TALK TO THEIR CLIENTS LIKE THIS AS IF THEY WERE HARD OF HEARING!!! I worked with one person who did this and she managed to evade me for weeks because when I encountered her at other places like the copier or the kitchen, she spoke, not only quietly but I had to lean in to catch what she said. I would hear her start in with “MRS JONES HOW ARE YOU TODAY??? and I would drop my pen and run around to the other side of the cubicles to find out who it was. I needed to know who was 1) annoying me but 2) breaking cardinal rule #1-to speak quietly at all times. Because cubicles are so close together, I had a fairly good idea where the sound was coming from but was foiled every time she put the phone down. I would attempt to catch her out by going to the printer intermittently, but somehow like the Scarlet Pimpernel she would elude me. I gave up trying altogether and then a cubie cousin saw me roll my eyes one day during a particularly piercing projection and said “that’s our Angie.” Angie! AHA! It was her? Big mouth by day, Little Voice by night. It was as if putting the phone to her ear activated an unseen force in her vocal cords. I wanted to scream over the cubicles LET THE ELECTRONICS WORK FOR YOU THAT IS WHAT THEY WERE MADE FOR! I later found out that Angie had been made to move from her previous locale as she sat near the Vice President’s office who had his head done in by her eruptions-did I mention that cubie gossip dies hard?
We haven’t even touched on the gossip grapevine which exists in cubie life and is faster than the DSL I have at home! When I decided to leave this job I walked about 30 feet to my supervisor’s office and by the time I walked back to my cubicle the entire office knew I was leaving. I could actually hear my co-workers in other aisles saying “did you hear? Dana is leaving.” But for those who have boyfriends in jail, pending foreclosures, recently suspended licenses and domestic disputes, life can be hell. No matter how much people say they won’t tell or try to suppress, word spreads like butter.
Butter reminds me of the two worst smells one can endure in cubieland, fish and popcorn! Lunch times were particularly taxing to the nostrils. It seemed that the only time people ate at their desks was when they had fish for lunch and it would hit me like a punch in the face. The smell of popcorn would commence about an hour after lunch and would hang over the cubes like a noxious cloud. If the cubicle was designed to ensure that people could focus on only that in front of them, it failed miserably because there were days when I just simply could not get any work done. Between the sounds of Angie the phone fanatic or the Jamaican hymns of save me Jesus Jessica and the combined smell of what I like to call fishcorn, my mind, like my crappy computer, would freeze! Ugh, they put you in a cube, then tell you to think outside the box!
It was always at these times that the office stalker would come around. You know the one, every office has one-that person ready to pounce on you at the coffee machine or printer. If you don’t know someone like this but notice that you lose the will to live around someone? That’s the one. You don’t know her but she somehow believes she is your good friend, or biggest fan-scary! She attempts to elicit information about your private life and does not or chooses not to pick up on subtle cues such as when you turn around and leave her talking to herself or when you start stapling your own fingers together to avoid the pain of her conversation, gossip and insult to injury, bad breath. She has an uncanny sixth sense and knows the perfectly worst time to come round and literally hangs off the side of your cubie like an office monkey. “Hey, Dana, what’s wrong? (she frowns for me)” Uh, nothing? ” Oh, I saw you just sitting there and I know you are always so busy.” Oh my God what the &#^% do you want now? I say in my head. Outwardly, blank stare. Blink. “Oh ok, well I’m going to lunch, talk to you later.” Slow nod, big sigh.
Back to food though. There is one word. One word that is magical in the cubicle world. One word that turns the grey to all the colors of a kaleidoscope. One thing that makes it all seem, habitable, manageable, at least for one brief shimmering moment………..cake. “Cake? Did someone say cake? Suzy, Joe, there’s cake in the conference room, hurry up!” And all round the office that little word is sprinkled over cubicles like fairy dust and one can see heads popping up faster than a whac-a-mole carnival game…ahh cubie cake, thank God, I can make it through another day.