Grit Is the Word

10 Feb

(Dedicated to KLT)

Do you know what I’ve discovered?  I should be writing about Valentine’s Day but I just can’t do it!  I’ve got nothing against Valentine’s Day and less against romance.  (If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I think I’ve made it pretty clear what type of relationship I have with my husband [“White and Wonderful,” a.k.a. “WW”] , and that our reoccurring theme song—even after thirty-two years of marriage—is “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye.)  It’s just that this once a year shot at force-feeding romance down our throats sort of leaves me cold.  I’m much more of a “show your love to me all year long through random acts of kindness routinely administered” kind of gal. 

So I’ll leave V-Day in the capable hands of more accomplished bloggers than I and move onto something near and dear to my heart:  TRUE GRIT!

“Research shows it’s not enough to be smart.  To get where you want to go in life, you’ll need determination, stamina, and grit.”—Lisa van Gemert (MENSA Bulletin)

The remake of “True Grit” by the Coen brothers is one of my all-time favorite movies because it deals with the fortitude and perseverance—the grit—that it takes to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal.  Grit becomes a character, in and of itself, in the movie, and it pulls the viewer into an intense journey that is both perilous and triumphant, and not without cost.

I am not a stranger to “grit” myself.  It has been my companion all my life and rode on the train that I took out of the Cleveland ghetto through the hallowed halls of my higher education and prosperous life.  I understand true grit, but I’ve never liked itIt is way too hard to acquire, and if one lives long enough, it always returns and beckons one to revisit it at another time, in another place, during another journey.


Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about grit because I’m trying to become a writer at sixty three years old, and I’m hitting some hurdles in the callous dog-eat-dog world of literary agents and publishers.  Nothing worth having comes easily—I know that—but haven’t I already paid my dues to the god of true grit in my hard-knock life?  As I pondered the definition of “grit” over and over in my mind (“perseverance and passion for long-term goals”), I thought of what it would be like to form a panel of two or three women who seem to be oozing with “grit” and ask them questions that would help me stay the course in my new adventure.

So I put about fifty names of “women with true grit who have authored at least one book” in a bowl and promised myself I’d have an imaginary discussion with the first three names that I pulled out—dead or alive—no matter how disparate.

Harriet Tubman/Google Image (public domain)

Ellen DeGeneres/Google Image

Maya Angelou/Google Image/AP Photo

ELT:  Good evening ladies.  It was so good of you to accept my invitation—especially you Mrs. Tubman. It is such an honor to meet you, and I hope heaven is treating you well.  Ellen, so good to see you—can I tell you that I love, love, love your talk show, and I think you were the bomb in Finding Nemo.   You made that movie! Dr. Angelou, you have been one of my idols for years.  I was so jealous that Oprah asked you to be her mentor before I could get a word in edgewise.  But I’m over that now because I learned from you not to be a hater.  I know you wouldn’t want me to hold a grudge against my girl Oprah.

Ladies, I’d like to present my readers with a short bio about each of you before we start our question and answer session, if that’s okay with you.

Harriet Tubman was a slave from Dorchester, Maryland who escaped the brutality of her masters by fleeing to the North as a young woman but not before being routinely beaten and hit by a heavy metal weight in the head which caused disabling seizures and headaches all of her life.  Upon arriving in Philadelphia, she hired herself out as a domestic and with the money she saved made twenty rescue trips to the South—freeing hundreds of slaves without losing one of them.   Known as “Moses” to slaves near and far, she became a prominent conductor of the Underground Railroad, an outspoken abolitionist, an advocate of women’s rights, and a scout and spy for the Union army.  Mrs. Tubman wrote her autobiography with Sarah Hopkins Bradford in 1868 which was entitled Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman.

Ellen DeGeneres is an Emmy-winning talk show host, comedienne, author, host of the Grammy, primetime Emmy, and Oscar awards.  Ms. DeGeneres has written three books entitled The Funny Thing Is, My Point and I do Have One, Seriously. . .I’m Kidding.

Maya Angelou, who was mute for eight years after a brutal childhood rape and living under systemic racism, grew up to become a celebrated poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist,  producer, and director.  Dr. Angelou has received over 30 honorary degrees and written over 20 books.  She has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.  Dr. Angelou is best known for the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her Pulitzer Prize nomination of her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie.

ELT:  Well, on that note ladies, let us begin!

How would you tell someone how to find their “calling” or their “path” in life—what they were meant to be?

Ellen:  Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul was put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth and everything else will come.  Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path; then, by all means, you should follow that path.

ELT:  All of you broke new ground as women and human beings when there were no road signs to direct you.  When did you find out that you were special?

Ellen:  I was doing stand-up at a restaurant and there was a chalkboard on the street out front. It said, ”Soup of the Day: Cream of Asparagus. Ellen DeGeneres.”

Harriet Tubman:  I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death.  If I could not have one, I would have the other—for no man should take me alive.

ELT:  What was your greatest accomplishment?

Harriet Tubman:  I freed thousands of slaves, and could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.

ELT:  How would you define success?

Maya Angelou:  Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. . . . You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.  Don’t make money your goal.  Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

ELT:  Did you ever fail and how did you deal with rejection?

Ellen:  I’m on the patch right now. Where it releases small dosages of approval until I no longer crave it, and then I’m gonna rip it off.

Maya Angelou:  You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise!

ELT:  What advice can you give my readers about not giving up no matter how difficult the journey?

Harriet Tubman:  If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

ELT:  Did you ever get angry with yourself about your choices or your life in general?

Ellen:  Sometimes when I am driving I get so angry at inconsiderate drivers that I want to scream at them.  But then I remember how insignificant that is, and I thank God that I have a car, and my health, and gas.  (That was phrased wrong—normally you wouldn’t say, thank God I have gas.)

Maya Angelou:  I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself.  But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself.  It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes—it is inevitable.  But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all.  So you say to people who you think you may have injured, “I’m sorry,” and then you say to yourself, “I’m sorry.”

ELT:  Has anything about your life ever really frightened you?

Ellen:  My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.

ELT:  Ellen, recently, a defamation group, calling themselves a “family values group” by the name of One Million Moms, tried to bully JC Penney into dropping you as a spokesperson because you’re a lesbian.   Didn’t that frighten you?  Would you explain what happened and how you dealt with that type of hate?

Ellen:  They wanted to get me fired, and I’m proud and happy to say that JC Penney stuck by their decision to make me their spokesperson, which is great news for me because I also need some new crew socks.

I usually don’t talk about stuff like this . . . but I really want to thank everyone who is supporting me.  And if you don’t know me very well. . . I want to be clear.  Here are the values that I stand for. I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.

ELT:  Crew socks?  Ellen, you’re too funny—even in the midst of haters trying to sabotage what you’ve rightly earned.

Ellen:  I’m glad I’m funny. I’m glad I make people happy, because that’s very important. But I’m most proud to be known as a kind person…Because kindness spreads, and the world is a little nicer out there.

(All words uttered from the mouths of my panel are exact quotes said by them at some point in time and utilized in this imaginary discussion for the illustration of “true grit.”)


I am discovering that there are human beacons in the past and present that illuminate our encumbered pathways to the fulfillment of our dreams.  They show us by example how to “get over.”  We just need to stop, listen, learn, and never, ever, ever, ever give up!


Fred Astaire/Google Image

At Fred Astaire’s first screen test, he received this verdict from studio executives: “Can’t act, can’t sing. Balding.  Can dance a little.”

Fred Astaire was an “American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer, and actor.  His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films.  He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.  (Wikipedia)

Astaire’s immensely popular dancing style appeared relaxed, light, effortless, and largely improvised.  In reality, he was a hard-working perfectionist who tirelessly rehearsed routines for hours on end. (


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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31 responses to “Grit Is the Word

  1. aFrankAngle

    February 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Great tribute to Grit … but the Cream of Asparagus soup line cracked me up the most. Well done E-Tom … and here’s a my valentine to you.

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 8:37 am

      Frank, you made my day! I am such a huge fan of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. When I didn’t have “a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of,” as my mother used to say, I would watch their movies over and over and over again, and just get lost in their loveliness. They were a healing balm to the soul. Thank you for such a wonderful treat! ET

      • aFrankAngle

        February 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        Alright … mark one up for me. 🙂 …. have a good weekend.

  2. Tina

    February 10, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I needed this today E. Thanks. Climbing out of my February doldrums. Carry on!

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 9:11 am

      Hi Tina. . .glad to be of help. Cheers!

  3. Hudson Howl

    February 10, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Speaking of my self, GRIT I have. The problems seems to come when I put it in the back pocket an sit on it. When it should have been pinned on my shirt or duct taped on my fore head. I find myself reaching for it now just like you.

    All those years ago I too sat on the sandy shore of Lake Erie looking across towards Cleveland as a kid; feeling, sensing ‘good’ had to be out there’. You have the best GRIT, and you wear it well.

    Mattie Ross: Trust you to buy another tall horse.
    Rooster Cogburn: Yeah. He’s not as game as Beau, but Stonehill says he can jump a four rail fence.
    Mattie Ross: You are too old and fat to be jumping horses.
    Rooster Cogburn: Well, come see a fat old man some time!
    [jumps the fence and rides away]

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Hudson: Your comments are like poetry and I am always so happy when they show up. Thank you kind sir. Did you not love the Coen brothers remake of True Grit? I must see it again. It’s right up there with “O Brother Where Art Thou?” which is my #1 favorite movie.

      Yeah, I hear you about not sitting on my “grit.” Sometimes I look back on the lives of the people who went through so much to assure that I could vote, live where I wanted, marry who I wanted, get an education, etc., and sometimes I think that I am such a wuss! So I’m just trying to end my life with courage and dignity, and do the right thing by all. All the best!

      • Hudson Howl

        February 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm

        The Cohen brothers version was ‘gritty’ as should be; from the use of the language of day (closer to the original book), the cinematography combined with location. Yes a fav for me as well. Lost In The Wild is my #1 pick.

        You took what others fought for, and attained and carried it forward. The fight is never over, there still exists that little issue of world peace and taking care of the planet. And for those who look for Utopia or Shangri-La missed the memo, ‘FIK-SHUHN’.

      • etomczyk

        February 10, 2012 at 8:26 pm

        Hudson, my man, how true it is; how true it is.

        By the way, I stopped by your site to catch up but it looks like you haven’t posted anything since the arrival of your beautiful dog. I’m still trying to figure out the “overlay” of the site (love the music), but I’m not the most technically savvy. Cheers!

  4. Sondra

    February 10, 2012 at 10:21 am

    There are some days waking up requires true grit! I can hear my Father’s voice…telling me “stop whining, there is someone else out there that has it a lot worse than you, find them and go help them”
    Thank you for a another story that puts everything in perspective…I think about the people in Syria and pray for them…I have nothing to complain about

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 10:46 am

      Sondra, so true, so true. . .it seems as if we’ve lost “true grit” as a nation, for sure.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Cheers!

  5. Kimberly

    February 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Brilliant. I’m sitting here a little teary eyed now.

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      That’s cause I had you in mind when I wrote it, babe!


  6. Lisa

    February 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Love, love, love this post. If you want to get inspired to march to your own writing & publishing drummer, search out the NPR interview with author BARRY EISLER. And there are more inspiring stories out there, too. Email me if you’re interested in a few additional links and/or conversation. Most importantly, keep writing!

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Lisa. Thanks so much for your very supportive comment. I am in the midst of trying the traditional route of agent/publisher. Not yet ready to go the BOD route yet, although I haven’t ruled it completely out for the memoir that I’ve written. Distribution beyond one’s family and friends, along with wide-spread marketing still remain a problem with BODs. I perused your blog site and will keep it bookmarked in case I travel that route in the future. Did you see the article in The Washington Post about Stephanie McAfee’s “Diary of a Mad Fat Girl”? She went the eBook route, became an underground sensation and all the agents who rejected her before she had a platform have now come calling. NAL offered her a 3-book deal for an undisclosed amount. Interesting. I still have a few more telephones to ring and doors to knock on, however, before I give up the “human touch.” Thanks again and all the best with your writing projects.

  7. Sylvester James LeBlanc

    February 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Such a wonderful post. I am more inspired to keep going and never look back!!


    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Chris. I’m convinced that is the secret to a happy life. The past is over and out of reach, tomorrow is beyond our control; all we are guaranteed is this moment. All the best.

  8. composerinthegarden

    February 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Wonderful post! I too love the Coen Bros. remake of True Grit, even grittier than the original. I am such a fan of all 3 women in your post. A previous composer in residence at the Pgh. Symphony, Richard Danielpour, created a set of vocal pieces for soprano and orchestra called “A Woman’s Life” using (with her blessing) poems by Maya Angelou. It was beautifully premiered and sung by Angela Brown. Here’s a link to an interview about it with Danielpour:

    Now I’m inspired to up my “grit factor” 🙂

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      Hi Lynn. Thank you so much for that interview link with Danielpour. I would love to meet Dr. Angelou. Is there a recording of those poems that Danielpour put to music? I would love to hear them.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. I’m with you regarding the “grit factor.” I’m trying to up mine, as well. Cheers!

      • composerinthegarden

        February 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

        Eleanor, here’s a link to one of the songs with voice and piano:

        Danielpour also wrote an opera for Angela Brown on the life of escaped slave Margaret Garner with libretto by Toni Morrison; incredible piece. Here’s a Youtube link of the performance:

        Danielpour is a warm gracious person with enormous empathy for women, a former student of Leonard Bernstein. I’ve become a big fan of his work. Enjoy!

      • etomczyk

        February 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

        Lynn. Thanks so mcuh for sending me both the voice and piano piece with commentary and the Youtube piece. Angela Brown is incredible.

  9. Maggie

    February 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Brilliant!!! Loved this post! Ellen is my favorite TV host and has been for years!! What amazing Women you “interviewed”! Have read most of the books you mentioned but may have to re-read them. Learning lots of important life lessons as I get older! Hugs to you and WW, Maggie

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Maggie. So glad you liked the post. I tried to register my complaint on the One Million Moms FB page but they had removed it (all of Ellen’s fans–6.5 million of them–had the same idea). So I left a note on Ellen’s FB page along with 6.5 million fans 🙂 to tell her that not all Christians were haters and mean-spirited jerks and that I was celebrating her connection with JC Penney. Anyway, the topic of “grit” came in the 11th hour (as many of the stories do), but it was clear as a bell (which some of the stories are not). Sometimes I have to wrestle through the night with a story. As it is, I wrote all night on this one but I had these three women’s words to guide me.

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and leaving such an encouraging comment. All the best!

  10. eurobrat

    February 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Yeah, I was feeling stressed out about my week in the cubicle, and then I read about Harriet Tubman again…and now I just feel embarrassed. What *was* my excuse again?

    • etomczyk

      February 11, 2012 at 6:51 am

      Hi Eurobrat. I know what you mean. When I was doing the research on Harriet Tubman I could barely breath. She was so hated by the South that the bounty on her head was astronomical–wanted dead or alive. Yet she went back into enemy territory again, and again, and again for people she didn’t know and many of who were too afraid to follow her out of slavery, given the opportunity. Her own husband threathened to sell her to another plantation which was one of her motivators to run away in the first place. Today, we can’t even balance a budget and love our neighbors as ourselves. Sigh.

      • eurobrat

        February 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm

        Yep. And no matter how bad things get at work, I will not have bloodhounds following me through the woods 🙂

  11. Kirsten

    February 11, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Happy Valentine’s Day to the grittiest lady I know. Love this… especially the inclusion of Ellen. 😉

    • etomczyk

      February 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

      Kirsten: Thank you my dear, and thank you for the idea of doing a piece about Ellen. Cheers!

  12. notquiteold

    February 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks. “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

  13. Lindy Lee

    February 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Dear Mrs. WW,

    You cheer the soul with another of your great, entertaining posts…

    Your humble admirer,
    Lindy Lee

    • etomczyk

      February 17, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Thanks Lindy. I sure appreciate your support. Take care. ET


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