In the wake of all of the horrific cat-fights I’ve witnessed on social media, divisive language and actions of various political figures, and a general feeling of unrest from a lot of people in my life lately, it’s been a little difficult to remain positive. But I realize that all I can do is try to keep my head above water and continue focusing on my mission: spread joy, hone in on what makes me happy, and live mindfully.
Oh, and Happy February!
I’m glad to be starting a new month. January was kind of weird; the first couple of weeks of the year started out wonderfully- I was on track with my new diet, reading a ton, keeping up with blogging…then I got sick! I’ve spent a total of almost three weeks battling a sinus infection from Hades (for which I finally broke down and called in anti-biotics). As soon as I got over the sinus infection, BAM! Food poisoning. I’m chalking it up to bad luck, and am hoping to stay healthy for the remainder of the year. Being sick has made me completely abandon my healthier diet, though, so I have gone back to square one, which is super upsetting. I’m really angry at myself for reverting back to the bad habits, which isn’t doing a lot for my morale and motivation to get back on track.
Rehearsals have been going super well for the cabaret I’ve been a part of, entitled “Lively Ladies…Dead Composers.” I’m enjoying working with the other Lively Ladies, and to share in the experience with performers I admire. And it’s a dream come true…I get to sing “Singin’ in the Rain”! I’m over the moon and can’t wait to perform next weekend.
I’m also holding auditions for my very first play, a one-act called “A Murdered Mystery”! It calls for a cast of 3 women and 3 men, and runs about 20 minutes. I figure it’ll be the perfect way to get my feet wet before I tackle “The Great Gatsby” this summer. We have a really interesting mix for this year’s “A Night of One-Acts” at Dalton Little Theatre. I’m directing the only comedy and the only play not written by a local playwright; the other three are dramas written by very talented gentlemen from this area. My plan is to work on writing a one-act for next year and submit when “A Night of One-Acts 2018” rolls around.
So there’s an update about my recent goings-on…now, onto this week’s theme:
Being born into a family that is predominantly made up of women, I was taught from the very beginning that women can do anything. I have witnessed first-hand women being born into less-than-ideal circumstances, being dealt a difficult hand, or falling prey to woeful events, and then fighting to make it work. Even with all of the odds against them, they have persevered.
So I believe it’s only fitting that I write a blog post about strong women throughout history who have fascinated and inspired me. These women’s stories have stuck with me as I’ve become an independent woman, myself, and I have borrowed pieces of their courage while making difficult decisions, standing up for what I believe in, and making my way through life as best as I can.
Helen Keller, born blind and deaf in Alabama in 1880, embodies the word “perseverance.” Though her body had stacked the odds against her, her mind was sharp and inquisitive, and her drive to understand the world around her trumped her disabilities. She went on to become an author, a political activist, and a lecturer, touring the world and acting as an inspiration to people of all backgrounds and abilities. She was also greatly admired by Mark Twain and was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. I also just recently realized that she lived to be 87, and passed away in 1968. She was alive for a very large portion of first-wave feminism in the U.S., and lived to see the very beginnings of the second wave.
Another writer. But so much more than that…Ms. Angelou was also a civil rights activist. She was born in 1928 in St. Louis, and lived an extremely interesting and inspirational life. She was the victim of sexual abuse and rape as a little girl, and as a result, was mute for five years. Out of the horrific trauma, though, she developed an incredible memory, memorizing dozens of books and plays by Dickens, Shakespeare, and Poe, among others. In foregoing speech, she learned to listen intently and understand the world in a completely new way…and from then on, strove to “tell the human truth.” In her multiple autobiographies, poems, and stories which closely mirrored her experiences, she delved into the painful and difficult times of her life to create art that spoke the truth of the human condition.
Another fascinating thing about Ms. Angelou was what she called her “writing ritual.” ‘She would wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the Bible, and would leave by the early afternoon. She would average 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she edited down to three or four pages in the evening. Angelou went through this process to “enchant” herself, and as she said in a 1989 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, “relive the agony, the anguish, the Sturm und Drang.” She placed herself back in the time she wrote about, even traumatic experiences like her rape in Caged Bird, in order to “tell the human truth” about her life. Angelou stated that she played cards in order to get to that place of enchantment and in order to access her memories more effectively. She stated, “It may take an hour to get into it, but once I’m in it—ha! It’s so delicious!”She did not find the process cathartic; rather, she found relief in “telling the truth”. [Source]
Beyond her work as a poet and autobiographer, she was a civil rights activist, an actress, a singer and dancer, a polyglot (she was proficient in multiple languages), and a journalist. She wrote stage plays and screenplays, produced documentaries, composed movie scores, taught college classes, and directed feature films. And she was also given dozens of honorary degrees from colleges and universities all around the world. Maya truly channeled the hardship and adversity thrust upon her into creativity the likes of which can never be duplicated. She was, in a few words, uniquely gifted and driven to make the most of life. She passed away in 2014.
Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate in history and is an staunch advocate for worldwide access to education. Starting at age 11, Malala started writing blog posts for the BBC about attending school in her town in Pakistan, which was under Taliban rule. She bravely wrote about her experiences as bans on girls attending school were implemented and then lifted, later speaking out against the Taliban’s rules on a local current affairs show. She and her father were later featured in a documentary by a New York Times reporter, and subsequently appeared on other television shows advocating for girls’ education. As she became more and more well-known and recognized, the danger grew.
In 2012, an assassination attempt was carried out on Malala as she rode the bus home from taking exams. Though three bullets were fired at her and one went through her face and neck, ending up in her shoulder, she survived the attack. Protests against the shooting were held in several Pakistani cities the day after the attack, and over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign’s petition, which led to ratification of the first Right to Education Bill in Pakistan.
In 2014, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. On 12 July 2015, her 18th birthday, Yousafzai opened a school in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, near the Syrian border, for Syrian refugees. The school, funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund, offers education and training to girls aged 14 to 18 years. Yousafzai called on world leaders to invest in “books, not bullets.”
What’s not to love about Ellen? She got her start as a stand-up comedian, later breaking into television, where she publicly came out as gay on national television in 1997 (huge for the time). After some push-back from ABC, her sitcom was canceled, but she rallied and restarted her stand-up career. She went on to try another sitcom, but ended up finding her greatest success with her talk show, The Ellen Degeneres Show.
What I love most about Ellen (besides the fact that she is Dory) is the way she uses her fame to uplift, inspire, and help others. Her show is not sensationalist; she invites guests of all backgrounds and types, from celebrities to child prodigies to people with positive or heartwarming stories. She entertains without tearing people down or harping on negative stories in the media. In addition, she is an animal rights activist, a humanitarian, and a philanthropist. I was overjoyed to hear that she was awarded the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Before awarding the medal, he said, “… today, every day in every way Ellen counters what too often divides us with the countless things that bind us together and inspires us to be better, one joke, one dance at a time…Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place, so long as we just keep swimming.”
I miss our former First Lady already. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I was 15 years old. Too young at the time to know much about politics and the impact the Obamas would have on our country and the world at large. What I knew was that a young, beautiful black family had moved into the White House, and that was an enormous deal. And so my research began.
I learned that Michelle was born in Chicago, and though she lived in her older brother’s shadow for most of her life, decided that she would follow in his footsteps and try to go to Princeton. She earned straight A’s throughout high school and graduated Salutatorian of her class, yet she was still advised not to “aim too high” when she applied to Princeton. Determined to prove her own worth, she studied hard and became involved on campus. She became involved with the Third World Center, an academic and cultural group that supported minority students, running their day care center, which also included after school tutoring. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in sociology with a minor in African American studies. After that, she earned her law degree from Harvard, making her the third First Lady to have a postgraduate degree, after Laura Bush and Hilary Clinton.
Michelle met Barack Obama while they both worked at Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago. It was an “opposites attract” situation, according to Barack (aww!). Her career has consisted of working as the assistant to the Mayor of Chicago, Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development for Chicago, Executive Director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, where she developed the University’s Community Service Center, and Vice President for Community and External Affairs for University of Chicago hospitals.
While she was First Lady, Michelle visited homeless shelters and soup kitchens, hosted receptions for women’s rights, advocated on behalf of military families, and founded “Let’s Move!” an initiative to encourage exercise and eating healthy to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity. Michelle is also an enormous supporter of LGBT rights.
What’s more, throughout her tenure as First Lady, Michelle was the epitome of grace, class and style. Though fashion does not matter with regard to being a “She-ro” in my book, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Michelle always looks fabulous. There was a bit of controversy (for some reason) about the fact that she wore brands like J. Crew and Talbot’s, but it’s extremely endearing to me that she didn’t pay as much mind to the prices or fame of the labels she was wearing, just that she liked the way she looked (and felt). In addition to her fashion sense, our former First Lady was first and foremost a wife and mother who cultivated a healthy relationship with her husband and her two girls. She is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring women of all: she cares about families (others’ and her own), poverty, public health and safety, education, and human rights. I will so miss her being in the White House, and can’t wait to see what she does next!
These were just a few of the ladies I look up to and draw inspiration from. Though some may disagree with some of their political leanings, the basic principles they upheld and the way they all battled adversity with grace and fortitude is something to be admired. I will most certainly be posting another edition of “My She-roes,” because there are so many more ladies throughout history that I admire and would love to research further.
Thanks for reading! Who are your “She-roes”? Comment below!