From July 16, 2016: My inspiration comes from many people and places, but one that is quite memorable is the poet, Nikki Giovanni. I am fired up right now, because I got to hear her read at a luncheon today!
I love her smile here, and her lack of make-up or artifice. She is herself, at home and comfortable in her own skin. The first day I heard of her, I was not any of those things. I was 20 years old, unsure of myself, finding myself the only one of my peer group in college, and how I got in I wasn’t always sure; I certainly assumed for several years I would not be going. My self-esteem was hinging on some “boy” I was having some “sort of” relationship with while in college. I thought about it, and him, entirely too much. Should I keep it going? Should I forget it, tell him it wasn’t what I wanted or fulfilling me spiritually? Geesh. What a waste of time, mulling over such a wishy-washy situation. Had he wanted more, I probably wouldn’t have, so why wasn’t it that simple for me?
Fact is, I was in college, being challenged, and enjoying that greatly. I was working part-time, not always enjoying it, but I was paying bills, albeit barely. I was going home to an apartment that was partly mine and a roommate who, it turns out, was not as great a friend as I thought. I didn’t even always want to hang out with her. I was not a drunk or a partier, (maybe twice a month), but I was somehow just at an emotional low. Maybe I was short-changing myself? I wanted more emotional fulfillment. So, I had read something by Giovanni and then saw this quote from her, that somehow just really clicked with me; I even copied it down and put it somewhere safe to look at again and again. Here it is:
“There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.”
― Nikki Giovanni
I was wasting all this time with some college boy who didn’t even care if I thought about him, living in an apartment with a friend that was no longer a friend, and feeling unfulfilled. The only thing that fulfilled me at that time was diving into the Literature and texts I was assigned. Oh, and some of them really saddened me. There was Gothic Literature such as Mary Shelley. Existentialism. I really felt it all. But I survived. I moved back home with Mom for the remainder of college, continued working, and paid for a lot of my own college. I made time for other friends, and my college relationship pretty much ended when he went away to an out of town school. But Nikki’s words stuck with me. There is a world out there in need, why should I stay in here in my own head worrying about things, when I can go out there and make my world better? And look at all the energy we sometimes spend on an unhealthy or one-sided relationship, or even friendships that no longer serve us, when there is so much more to do?
You could say I live her advice. I suppose the last part of her quote is what I put to use back then, regarding who you should engage among you, and who you should remove. Lord knows, I had to practice it many times repeatedly over the course of my life. I also took a good amount of advice from the Bible, but how confusing that can be to a young person. Nikki’s quote on sick people, hungry people, those needing clothes, is also a reminder to someone like me who had all that I needed. I was getting an education, but it wasn’t making me happy and I felt so alone. I can say that got better. It is also true that I struggled with depression at times. I had to sometimes just do something good for another person in need. Sometimes I had to just get busy and get out of my head. Analyzing existentialism or the deeper meaning of Gothic Literature can be a gloomy subject. But it was very deeply satisfying when I could take a break and do a good thing, or have fun in the sunshine for a while. One day, I would like to be able to consider myself a successful writer. There is no amount of money or number of books I will assign to that. Giovanni herself said something like that today, about how money won’t fulfill you. You just need to have some of it to stay alive. It thrills me to say that Nikki Giovanni has influenced me. I’d like to put that on the back of a book one day!
And as for teaching, yes, like Nikki said, we need more black children to grow up, get educated, and go into space! We need them to become scientists, like Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Who, by the way, is really cool!) It is much needed for the equality of the races. Imagine, if I could turn the right student on to a book about space or time travel, and in turn, encourage him to explore space! Such an honor it would be. It gives me something to remember when I look at that sea of faces every August. They all have the potential.
Nikki also mentioned how our language is changing. (Look at the definition of marriage. Just recently it was decided by the Supreme Court that two women or two men can now marry). Think of the definition of equality; she mentioned how a black man and white woman could not have married 60 years ago. The world is changing and so is our language. We need to observe and we need to write about it. So I am writing right now. She said, “Everyone go out and buy a notebook to write in today.” I already have one. I thought it was lost, but it has turned up again! And I also have this space here for writing. So I am inspired again! Indeed, there is so much to do. Life is good!