(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 it. It 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. (History.com)
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