Maya Angelou, Writer, Activist, Streetcar Conductor, 1928-2014

maya-angelou-headerEvery writer with a blog is going to go into high gear today and over the next news cycle churning out fond reminiscences of a great American lady of letters, Maya Angelou, who passed away this morning at the age of 86. I wish I had more to offer than this.

I don’t know why but back when I was in high school certain English classes (well, we called it “Language Arts” in those trippy ’70s days) read certain books and other classes read different books. I was not in the group that read Maya Angelou’s break out memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and I’ve always kind of resented that. (I was in the group that read “Catcher in the Rye”, but that’s another blog post.) Because of this oversight which I thought was imagined until today, and now realize it was very real, I’ve been deprived of reading one of the great books of the 20th century (in lieu of getting to read another). Both books, from what I understand, having only read one, are supposed to be ways of uplifting and tuning in teenage readers through some dark and cynical stuff. I imagine the best adults are those who read both of these books in high school. The next best (today at least) are those who read Angelou’s story of triumph over adversity. And then there are those who can only identify with Holden Caulfield as they slither through middle age (but I digress).

Having not read Angelou’s seminal work at a time when it might have meant the most to me, I move onto the first of the first Clinton inaugurations in January 1993. For those who think the election of Barack Obama ended an awful era and ushered in hope and change, you were either too young or have forgotten how hopeful we all were when Clinton-Gore took back the White House from the first Bush and eight years of Reaganomics before that. Bill Clinton even widely used the word “Hope” (as in, he still believed in a place called that – his hometown, Hope, Arkansas). To prove that America was going to be different going forward, he called on Maya Angelou (who also grew up in rural Arkansas) to read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning“.

This time I did not miss out. A fairly new arrival in San Francisco, I sat on the edge of my futon, coffee in hand, in front of the TV, watching as Angelou so eloquently did her best to pull our diverse nation together. It is hard to watch that video today and know that while there are many more believers among us, the hate still rages on, laughably at times, until its ugliness spews forth in new and more violent or destructive ways. Witness “Maya Angelou, Racist, US-Hating, Anti-Semitic Nutjob, Most Overrated Crappy Writer, RIH” just cranked out a few hours ago on some rightwing wacko website. As more Angelou facts come forward – she was the first black woman street car conductor in San Francisco. She supported Malcolm X, Fidel Castro and marriage equality – certainly she’ll be denounced as harshly as she is being uplifted in praise. (USA Today has put together a handy-dandy one-pager fit for a saint – a reading list, inspiring quotes and top R.I.P. tweets by stars like Marlo Thomas and Ricki Lake.)

In writing this blog post I learned more about Maya Angelou than I knew yesterday. She was so much more than a woman who wrote a book I never read and delivered a poem at a time I’ve never forgotten. She danced, she lived in Cairo, she married a Greek and she delivered her last tweet just four days before she died. And she’s left behind a healthy legacy of written words someone like me, who hasn’t really read any of them, can savor for as long as I like.

Source: New York Times, “Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86.”

Merriam-Webster’s Latest Additions

turduckenMerriam-Webster has added a slew of new words to its latest dictionary – most of which you have been hearing for some time: fracking, spoiler alert, and that Thanksgiving poultry blow out treat turducken. Selfie and hashtag were also added, but for some reason, we thought they’d been added a while ago.

Other additions (there were 150 words added in total) include: steampunk (a literary genre with dress-up followers that mashes up 19th-century societies with steam-powered technology), poutine (a French-Canadian snack of french fries covered with brown gravy and cheese curds), and freegan (one who scavenges for free food in store and restaurant trash bins as a way to reduce consumption of resources).

The most controversial word to be added, however, is “Yoopers”, which is the moniker for native or longtime residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula/Lake Superior region known for a distinctive manner of speaking and its Scandinavian roots. Sample usage, “Da “Yoopers” up dere in da U.P.” While many wordsmiths, linguists and English professors could abide by “shelfie” joining our lexicon (a shelfie is a photo of your bookshelf), Yoopers required ten years of lobbying by a local prosecutor from Michigan’s Delta County to finally get its place in the dictionary. Can’t wait for that next game of Scrabble or Words with Friends!

Source: Associated Press.

How Twitter Is Killing Your Blog

Admit it. Ever since you started playing with that bright new shiny toy called Twitter – whether you were an early adopter or just joined last week – you’ve found it way more exciting to “tweet” your thoughts than write a blog post.

Sure, it took some time (a few hours or so) to learn to downsize your thoughts into 140 characters (less if you were going to include a link), but you already had experience in shortening things, right? Remember when you were going to write that novel, or really long thoughtful essays, but traded those dreams in for ideas that could be compartmentalized into 350 to 600 words? Seems like yesterday doesn’t it?

There’s a very good piece on how so many of us think we’re accomplishing more with less (Twitter vs. the blog post) on CoSchedule.com. At the very least it made me think twice, if not re-commit to doing more blogging. The way we read, how we get our news and, of course, our thought process has changed dramatically in the last five years. Twitter has been at the forefront of those changes. The bottom line is, while we may not ever go back to blogging as prolifically as we did before the advent of social media, we can at least consider the noise we’re making with our tweets and, make sure that when we make said noise, there is something back on the blog to substantiate it. Nothing says we’re tweeting too much as a potential reader or client who follows us back to a blog that hasn’t had fresh content added in the past few weeks.

Monica Lewinsky, First Internet Victim

Monica_lewinskyIt’s a title someone had to claim (we’re only surprised it took this long). But Monica Lewinsky (“that woman” who nearly derailed Bill Clinton and spawned 10 million bad blow job jokes) has roared back into the news this week some 15 years since we last saw/heard her name every day. In preparation for a tell-all piece that will appear in Vanity Fair, press releases are clue-ing us in to the fact that Lewinsky was given a bum steer last time her 15 minutes of fame came around and she’s back to reclaim it in the guise of claiming to be the Internet’s “first victim.”

According to Mashable, one only need to scroll down this roll call of celebs and pseudo-celebs who have been ridiculed online to see that she has a point. Before “James Franco, Paula Dean, Anthony Weiner, Amanda Bynes, Shia LaBeouf, Rebecca Black, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Courtney Love, [and] Rob Ford” there was Monica Lewinsky. She should be thankful her heyday was totally Web 1.0 and limited mostly to sketchy blogs, early day online gossip sites and snarky comments and conspiracy theories on listservs. Those that have come since, especially in the social media era, have had much more extreme public floggings, albeit for shorter durations, since someone else is usually quick to make a fool of themselves and the never-ending online babble will shift with the creation of a hashtag.

All jokes aside, Lewinsky writes that “We have created a culture of humiliation that not only encourages and revels in Schadenfreude but also rewards those who humiliate others, from the ranks of the paparazzi to the gossip bloggers, the late-night comedians, and the Web ‘entrepreneurs’ who profit from clandestine videos.”

She claims she’s come forward now due to some recent cyber-bullying episodes that resulted in suicides of young people. A noble cause.

Conspiracy theorists, of course, believe Hillary henchmen and women have put her up to this, hoping for an early recycle of her story that will be long forgotten in a year or so should Hillary Clinton make that much anticipated run for the White House.

Source: Mashable.