Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Never Trust Anyone Who Doesn't Laugh

Monday's are my critique group night, but last night we did something different. Instead of taking the latest chapter of our work and reading it aloud for critique, my group and I got in our cars and headed south to Canyon, Texas and the campus of West Texas A&M University. There, along with a basketball arena full of other people, we sat and listened to Maya Angelou speak as part of WT's distinguished lecture series.

What an inspirations. Ms. Angelou's spirit, wit, and elegance held the crowd captive.

She spoke of honoring those who have provided all of us with the opportunities we now have. She talked about rainbows in the cloud and how we all had them in their past and it was just as important that we find way to be someone else's rainbows. She sang, she laughed, she cracked jokes as she told bits of her history. And all of it was wrapped inside a great personality and told with a smile that truly did light up the entire arena.

Then toward the end she spoke directly to me. Or so it seemed. Like a sinner sitting in the first row of pews I couldn't help but feel Ms. Angelou was addressing me when she started talking about humor and laughter.

First she said, "Never trust anyone who doesn't laugh."

I couldn't agree more.

Then she went on to add. "You see those people with the back of their hands pressed to their foreheads. They go around saying. 'I'm not laughing, because I'm serious.' " For that last part she adapted a falsetto to her voice to imitate those kind of people's speech pattern.

Then, in her own voice Maya, said, "I don't know how serious any of them are but they sure are boring as hell." The place erupted in laughter.

Then she gave us a bit of history on one of her more lighthearted poems. She prefaced it by saying. "I am not nor have I ever been a vegetarian." And suddenly I liked her all the more.

Then she shared a story about a visit some twenty odd years ago to a health diner where the waitress ridicule her for simply reaching for a package of cigarettes. I found that poem in the internet and I'm going to share it here.

The Health-Food Diner
No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I'm dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run


Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

-- Maya Angelou

I don't smoke, but I understand exactly how she feels and that is Maya's true gift, capturing the human spirit. Whether it be a poem, an oral story or classic prose on a page she speaks not to the brain but to the heart and soul of those fortunate enough to be her audience.

An interesting tidbit. The very same West Texas A&M university is soon hosting Karl Rove as their commencement speaker. I can't imagine any tow individuals having more dissimilar life philosophy's than Ms. Angelou and Mr. Rove so I'll give the university kudos for their diversified approach.


Corey Wilde said...

Great poem, and I may not want a cigarette but pork loin? Yowzah!

Maya Angelou is probably the only person who could get me to read a cookbook. In fact, I did read her cookbook last year. I haven't tried cooking any of the recipes but the stories she tells about the place in her life occupied by cooking and food are well worth reading. She should be our national poet laureate.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

She has struck a blow for meatatarians everywhere.

Annie said...

Wonderful post today. Inspiring and funny! What more could a reader ask for.

Crystal Phares said...

It was such a blessing to hear her speak last night. She is an amazing woman with talent that oozes out of her.

Being Beth said...

Ahhh, Thank you Travis for a most excellent post on my hero. I don't know how anyone could hear her speak and not feel at some point that she spoke to them alone as though she were your grandmother giving you an important life message.

Corey, I do believe she actually held the post of Poet Laureate. And I agree 100% about her cookbook. It's a terrific read.

Shionge said...

Trust me, I laugh all the time :D

have a nice day :D

Charles Gramlich said...

I think it's great for a university to offer a wide range of speakers. People should hear things that challenge them. Sounds like a good time was had.

Monnik said...

Maya Angelou is amazing. I'm so jealous you got to see her in person. In that poem, she sure puts a different perspective on the health food craze, doesn't she?

(Maybe I won't stress about the 15 extra pounds I can't shed...)

Anita said...

What a great post and how lucky you were to be able to hear her speak! I've always admired her work and am so glad you put the poem up today!

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

I was there, too. She was phenomenal.

Kristen Painter said...

Moderation in everything. I happen to love vegetables. And I laugh constantly, as do those around me.

Stacy said...

Sounds like an amazing experience.

Bubblewench said...

I LOVE that poem! Haven't read it in years.

She really is inspirational. Glad you got to see her.

Angie Ledbetter said...

What a great evening.

I double distrust those who don't drink coffee or laugh. :)

alex keto said...

Someone once remarked that Americans are the only people on earth who believe that if you eat right, exercise and avoid smoking, then you won't die.

Most scientists have concluded this is wishful thinking.

alex keto said...

By the way, if people who pose as serious bore you, then avoid Washington DC. We store surplus serious people in old, disused grain silos in case you need any in Texas.

mielikki said...

very very cool way to spend an evening. I am green with envy.

Jenn Jilks said...

How delightful you could hear her speak. Thank you for soaking in the experience and putting it on our radar!

ande said...

I am in wonderment of her. I mean I knew it would be cool, but wow I jsut didn't expect to be so moved. I blogged about my rainbows today. I just couldn't help being sappy. She was so eloquent but down to earth at the same time. My girls loved it too. Believe it or not, I don't think she has been a poet laureate-I looked on wikipedia because I too thought that she has been bestowed with that honor but I didn't see her name there. Such a shame.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I smoked for 20 years and I have to say smokers are more forgiving. I never met a self-righteous smoker.

Beth said...

I love the bit about being rainbows for one another.
And, of course, the wonder of laughter.

Davin Malasarn said...

Maya Angelou is one of my favorite people of all time. I got the chance to hear her speak at UC Davis over ten years ago, and it was an amazing experience. I'm glad you had the chance to see her and learn from her!

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Oh wow! That was awesome! And what an absolute treat!

I gotta say that Never trust anyone who doesn't laugh is my creed - although I would add "true laughter" to my phrase.

Lauren said...

I love it. It's too true. You shouldn't trust people who don't laugh. And I love her poem. It's unbelievably awesome. While I read it I was definitely a person who laughs :-P Especially because I know many "health nuts" :)

Marci said...

Amazing - what a precious opportunity to learn from her. I am going to keep her advice close at hand - and laugh all the while!!!

Cloudia said...

Great post, Travis!
I'm married to a vegan
and had a porkchop for lunch!!

Lana Gramlich said...

She sounds charming. I'm sure y'all had a great time. :)

the walking man said...

People need a sense of humor damn it!

ssas said...

First of all:

HI ALEX!! :waving frantically:

I like her ideas--especially about the not laughing. I'm a consummate shit-giver, and I tend to write people off who can't take it--or dish it out!

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Travis,

This is a truly inspiring post, and "Never trust anyone who doesn't laugh" is a truly inspiring maxim.


Melanie Hooyenga said...

That's so great you got to see her in person. Do you think she purposely told that story since she was in Texas -- the land of meat eaters?

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, Miss Maya came to the college where I worked. My job was to make a video recording of her appearance. At one point I was so entranced, I forgot to follow her, and she walked right out of frame! Now, if I were in Canyon, Texas, in the spring, it would take something outstanding to get me to spend the evening indoors. She could do it. I, too, wonder if she tailored her performance to the audience. Any good performer would do that.

Okay, Wordpress is being uncooperative tonight. Anonymous Dusty.

Anonymous said...

The IHOP in Keller is "No Smoking from 6AM to 10PM." So, smoking night owls, rejoice!

Cigarette smoke gives me migraines, though I don't mind the smell. Diesel exhaust, for some reason, makes me happy and energetic. Oh, I remember--that is the smell of the highway. Highways totally rock.