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I was thinking about Maya Angelou today

In honor of National Poetry Day (which is today, in case you all missed the memo), please take 5 minutes out and listen to Maya Angelou, one of the most profound poets to come out of this country, if not the world, read her poem “The Mask”. It is words like these which remind us all of what a monumental feat it has been for so many just to hang on to their humanity in this world.

It’s not the best recording, but the combination of watching Angelou’s face and listening to her voice dig deep into this profound subject is well worth the video glitches.

Here are the words:

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

For any of you who want to dig deeper, this poem is actually an adaptation of an earlier poem by Paul Lawrence called “We Wear The Mask.” There is a very thoughtful post by Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin which compares the two works that is well worth reading.

Monday, Monday or more links about Leonard Nimoy who I’m really going to miss, even though I never met him

Mr Spock plays guitar

One of my all time favorite photos of Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock. Just casually sitting on a couch playing guitar. Genius.

Here are a few interesting things I came across while trolling the web (as one does in these situations) for more stories about the venerable Leonard Nimoy.

The hometown obituary of Leonard Simon Nimoy (1931 – 2015) in The LA Times.

Nimoy explains the Jewish origins of the Vulcan hand salute.

So Nimoy made an album (see photo above) which may not have been a critical success, but it sure sold a lot of copies. Here’s his version of If I Had A Hammer which kind of makes me love him all the more.

Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhuru) actually had a legitimate singing career before embarking on her five year mission to explore strange new worlds.

But perhaps everyone’s favorite Star Trek performance artist is William Shattner, whose rendition of Rocket Man will go down in history as one of the greatest stage performances of all time.

DeForest Kelley (Dr McCoy) begs to differ.

Not to be outdone, Mr Sulu (George Takei) has blessed us with this incredible cover version of Let It Go. That’s right. Let It Go. From Frozen.

Watching all of these videos really makes me sad that I missed the Star Trek cast parties…

Mr Nimoy, you will live long and prosper in all of our hearts. Thanks for everything. Have fun out there.

Monday, Monday, or Many rivers to cross

Martin Luther King day is a time to celebrate the legacy of an incredible human being, for sure. But it is also a time to consider not only how far we have come, but how many miles we need to travel before The Dream comes true.

Here are a few ways that might nudge us all in the right direction…

The first thing to do, if you haven’t already, is to go out and see Selma. If you’re in 7th, 8th or 9th grade in one of 24 participating cities, you can go see the film free of charge. Check out the selmastudenttickets.com website for details.

Go join the army of volunteers helping others today.

Go be inspired by art, film, performances at BAM‘s 4 day tribute to MLK.

National Geographic Kids has this photographic bio to help the next generation better know Martin Luther King, Jr.

Watch the I have a dream speech.

Read this article in Mother Jones about how the current Black Lives Matter movement is aspiring to reclaim MLK’s legacy. And then check out blacklivesmatter.com and get involved.

Test your knowledge of civil rights and freedoms by doing this NY Times crossword puzzle.

And the winner is…

Evelyn Cunningham

Evelyn Cunningham, civil rights reporter, special advisor to Nelson Rockefeller, women’s rights advocate and incredible dresser.

So I recently set out in search of my own personal style icon. Mostly, I just find myself inspired by my friends, but I knew there much be some more public figures out there for me to look up to, even at my ripe old age.

And then I found her. Or rather, I re-found her. I’ve been an admirer for years without ever knowing much beyond the photos in the Style section of the New York Times. My search is over.

In terms of personal style, Evelyn Cunningham is the woman that I most want to be when I grow up. She covered hard news about civil rights in the 60′s for the Pittsburgh Currier, a nationally distributed African American paper, she was a special adviser to Governor and then VP Nelson Rockefeller, she fought for women’s rights her entire life, and she looked incredible the entire time.

What I most love about her is that while she was out there in the world, fighting the good fight and clearly making a difference by helping to make the world a better place for so many people, she still had the energy and the sense of fun to dress with true flair. In a sea of black tuxedos, she rocked a hot pink floor length gown like nobody’s business.

The ability to see and understand all of the complexities and difficulties in the political and social universe, while also being able to acknowledge some of the beauty and fun that can be found through dressing up is the mark of a truly well rounded individual. We can all be forces for good whilst wearing bold prints and big earrings, damn it.

Shortly after Evelyn Cunningham died, in 2010, the iconic photographer Bill Cunningham made a little video tribute which is lovely to watch. A little inspiration for a spring weekend.

The real fashion show

Yesterday I live streamed the Michael Kors show. Which means, in English, that I sat at home, all comfortable at my own desk, and saw all that there was to see as far as that particular fashion show goes. More, probably, than I would have seen had I actually been there, as my certain standing room status would have most likely had me staring at the back of someone else’s well coiffed head.

And yet I got all caught up in it for a minute, craning to catch a glimpse of celebrities (how much Michael Kors does Michael Douglass really wear?) checking out the models, remembering somewhat wistfully a distant past when I walked the catwalks, wondering what it takes to be a DJ at one of these things (because I would of course have better transitions between songs, or so I tell myself) etc etc.

And then I start to hate myself for allowing the inevitable descent into the world of the fashion show scenesters and all it entails. Why do I care about any of this at all? It’s just a bunch of silly (albeit quite attractive) people prancing around (not even to the beat!) in costumes in front of a bunch of slightly older but equally well put together folks with digital cameras and notebooks.

Fashion is totally inconsequential, right?

And then I watch a video like the (short) documentary above, about a group of men who have taken the whole concept of dress-up, made it their own, made it political, made it into a uplifting expression of joy that flaunts all of the hardships they face in their everyday lives. And I see fashion for what it can be: a vehicle for the expression of our higher selves.

These men are living the most authentic fashion show there is. They are the captains of their own souls.

May we all take a bit of their spirit with us when we get dressed up, too.