Growing up as a young, black girl in the racist, early 20th century – during the Great Depression era would’ve been tough. Getting raped by your mother’s husband is obviously devastating. Getting pregnant as a teen as a result of questioning yourself and trying to prove something to yourself is traumatic.
“Without willing it, I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. And the worst part of my awareness was that I didn’t know what I was aware of.”
These are some of the major events shaped Maya Angelou’s childhood, but her story emphasized the good in her life as much as the bad. She had her brother Bailey, who she seemed to have a great relationship with as children. They watched after one another and took of each other throughout their whole childhood.
She had her Momma (grandmother) who was a successful, black, entrepreneur. Momma was innovative when necessary – when customers didn’t have enough money to shop at her store, she allowed customers to trade their welfare provisions for store credit. She then used the welfare provisions to feed her family.
There were also other people who inspired her – Mrs Flowers who gave her cookies, books to read aloud, and poems to recite. She met a good friend, Louise, a girl the same age as her – who allowed Maya learn to be a girl, after years of being a “woman”. A high school teacher at a mostly white school named Miss Kirwin who treated Maya the same as everyone else.
Maya Angelou did have a rough childhood – but it’s an interesting read especially knowing that she came out of it a successful poet, author, and civil rights activist. From everything she went through, she seemed to grow from – even if it took time; sometimes years.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. Because it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last month.
“You reach a certain age and you’re not waiting for the man you’re going to become; you better start being the man you want to be.”
– Bruce Springsteen
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
My Rating: 4/5
This book was a little different than I was expecting, but all-in-all it was good. It had a LOT of different topics from evolution to religion to empires to economics to the future and beyond. So many different topics that it’s really hard to sum up and summarize and honestly, it might take awhile to process this book and I may need to revisit it at some point.
I took a LOT of notes while reading this, so I will just jot them down here. Most of them are direct quotes, some are modified quotes, and just a few are my own thoughts:
Part One: The Cognitive Revolution
Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
Part Three: The Unification of Humankind
Part Four: The Scientific Revolution
Regarding the story of Chris McCandless as told in Into The Wild – I can relate to some degree and I think we all can probably relate a little bit. I think Krakauer says it best when he’s comparing Chris’s story to his own – “I suspect we had a similar intensity, a similar heedlessness, a similar agitation of the soul”. An agitation of the soul. This kid wanted more than the “successful life” of getting a good job and making some decent money. He escaped the American formula that most of us follow and that seems popular for some advice givers to disagree with – to graduate with a degree, get a good job, get married, have kids.
This story, for some reason, reminds me of the Springsteen song Born to Run. Chris needed to take off, experience life to it’s fullest, and take it all in like the guy and the girl in the song. Springsteen wrote Born to Run when he was 24 years old, the same age Chris was during his Alaskan adventure. But by the time Springsteen was in his late 30’s, when he played the song live, he would mention “When I wrote this song I thought I was writing about a guy and a girl who wanted to run and keep on running. But as I got older I asked myself ‘where were they running?’… I guess I realized that you could get out there and get away, but your own individual freedom ends up feeling pretty meaningless when it’s not connected to some sort of community or friends or the world outside. So, I guess that guy and that girl, they were out there looking for connection.”
Chris seemed to come to the same conclusion since one of the last things he wrote in his journal was
“Happiness only real when shared”
I think when we’re younger we have that deep “agitation of the soul” to figure out who we are what it all means – to decide what we care about and what we’re willing to fight for. Age seems to usually provide some clarity on things and now as I’m getting close to my late 30’s I seem to agree with this Tolstoy quote from Family Happiness that is referenced in the book
“… I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quaint secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps — what more can the heart of a man desire?”
And what’s kind of funny – is a lot of that follows the American formula.
A few other quotes I liked from the book – many are excerpts from other works that were referenced:
Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last month.
“Happiness only real when shared”
– Christopher McCandless
Before reading this book I knew that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. I also knew that they ran a bicycle shop before that. I had probably heard of Kitty Hawk, but I don’t think I could’ve answered whether that was the name of their plane or what exactly it was. Otherwise, I was pretty clueless as to what these two brothers were about… and this was one of the reasons I started reading a lot more a few years back.
These two brothers were pretty weird, but they also had quite some drive about them from the get-go – setting up a printing press in their shed and then after that, starting and growing their bicycle business. So they weren’t dumb and it’s mentioned more than once that they were very hard workers who worked 6 days a week routinely. But they were weird in that they stayed bachelors, lived together, had a joint checking account, and weren’t too interested in other people.
“The Wrights were ‘two of the workingest boys’ ever seen. And when they worked, they worked… they had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.”
I liked that their dad, Bishop, preferred informal education over the formal education of school. He was a “lifelong lover of books” and “ranked reading as worthy”. As I’ve gotten older and as the world of Google and YouTube has come up – I believe that self teaching far outweighs school already and things will continue that way. Those that can and will put in the effort to teach themselves with the tools available will succeed.
I also liked that their father, a man devoted to God, encouraged his children to read “The Great Agnostic” and wanted his kids to “investigate and conclude for their ownself”. That’s good and probably got the brothers thinking about other things as well.
I thought it was interesting that bicycles, at one point, were proclaimed morally hazardous and voices were raised in protest. It was said that children could be far away from home and not spending enough time with their books. It’s funny how time changes some things.
There were several people at the time trying to figure out flight – including Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison – but these two young brothers thought they could figure it out better. That’s a pretty cool attitude to have.
“In no way did any of this discourage or deter Wilbur and Orville Wright, any more than the fact that they had had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own. Or the entirely real possibility that at some point… they could be killed.”
They figured out flight methodically – through studying, through experiments, through trying and failing, and getting just a little bit better, incrementally, over many years. They had accidents, boiling water spraying at Wilbur’s body – and they wrecked the airplane – Orville’s wreck in 1908 almost killed him.
“It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and all their energy into an idea and they had the faith.”
I think they were also very smart businessmen. They knew what they had and what it was worth and weren’t willing to settle for less and also made smart partnerships with other smart people. They always seemed to take their time in everything they did. This paid off for them in the long run. They didn’t seem to “celebrate” or let up at all until they knew they had accomplished what they set out to accomplish.
I also thought it was interesting how much “fake news” was back in 1900’s as well – it was mentioned multiple times that newspapers had fabricated stories about the Wright Brothers – both good and bad. It’s funny how some things don’t change.
Wilbur died shortly after the success from typhoid fever, but Orville got to grow old and see the good and bad of their invention. It’s pretty cool that at the time they started thinking about flight, automobiles were not even common – why would they think they could build an airplane? But they did.
Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last month.
“The middle of every successful project looks like a disaster.”
– Rosabeth Moss Kanter
While watching The Last Dance, it was easy to see that the most interesting character from The 1990’s Bulls team was Phil Jackson. How did he keep all of these superstars in check and working together as a team? In Hoop Dreams, which was written after the 1st 3-peat and before the 2nd, Phil describes some of his philosophies on coaching and on life.
“Creating a successful team… is essentially a spiritual act. It requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.”
Phil’s philosophies were basically a conglomeration of 5 sources –
Phil takes pieces from each of those sources and talks a lot about team over individual, selflessness, clearing your mind and “not thinking”. He also describes how hard that is to do in a “society that places such a high premium on individual achievement” especially in the NBA which has a skewed financial reward system. “Few players comes to the NBA dreaming of becoming good team players.”
Here are a few quotes and pieces from the book I found interesting:
I also liked this Chinese fable that John Paxson brought to Phil once and told him he thought it represented his leadership style…
“The story was about Emporor Liu Bang, who, in the third century BC, became the first ruler to consolidate China into a unified empire. To celebrate his victory, Liu Bang held a great banquet in the palace, inviting many important government officials, miltiary leaders, poets, and teachers, including Chen Cen, a master who had given him guidance during the campaign. Chen Cen’s disciples who accompanied him to the banquet were impressed by the proceeding were baffled by an enigma at the heart of the celebration.
Seated at the central table with Liu Bang was his illustrious high command. First there was Xiao He, an eminent general whose knowledge of military logistics was second to none. Next to him was Han Xin, a legendary tactician who’d won every battle he’d ever fought. Last was Chang Yang, a shrewd diplomat who was gifted at convincing heads of state to form alliances and surrender without fighting. These men the disciples could understand. What puzzled them was how Liu Bang, who didn’t have a noble birth or knowledge comparable to that of his chief advisers fit into the picture. “Why is he the emperor?” they asked.
Chen Cen smiled and asked them what determines the strength of a wheel. “Is it not the sturdiness of the spokes?” one responded. “Then why is it that two wheels made of identical spokes differ in strength?” asked Chen Cen. After a moment, he continued, “See beyond what is seen. Never forget that a wheel is made not only of spokes but also of the space between the spokes. Sturdy spokes poorly placed make a weak wheel. Whether their full potential is realized depends on the harmony between. The essence of wheelmaking lies in the craftsman’s ability to conceive and create the space that holds and balances the spokes within the wheel. Think now, who is the craftsman here?”
Author: David Freeman Hawke
My Rating: 4/5
When I picked this book up I thought it would be so dry it would be a struggle to get through – and I was prepared for that when I began to read it. As I got further into it, I realized that – maybe it was dry, but it was written in such a way that, at least to me, was palatable.
I’m interested in the topic for a couple of reasons – a) most history is written about wars and/or famous or infamous people and b) just like any history, it’s hard to see yourself living in that time period. The author quotes Fernand Braudel in the introduction, “the journey backward is a journey to another planet, another human universe.” That’s a good way to put it.
“Many settlers found an ‘early paradise’ in America. The abundance of flora and fauna was awesome. Persimmons, a fruit new to the colonists, grew like ropes of onions and ‘the branches very often break down by the mighty weight of the fruits.’ Wild strawberries carpeted many of the burned-over glades. In the spring ‘herrings come up in such abundance into their brooks and fords to spawn that it is almost impossible to ride through without treading on them.’ Huge turkeys ran in flocks of four and five hundred. Migrating ducks blotted out the sun when they rose from a pond and made ‘a rushing and vibration fo the air like a great storm coming through the trees.'”
In early America, it was very easy to see the benefits of diversity. One example is in early Pennsylvania – the Swede’s brought the log cabin and taught others how to use an ax. The Germans bred big horses that could pull large loads. German craftsman produced a new gun for America – the rifle. Germans and Swedes worked together – to help newcomers to Pennsylvania, when someone needed help clearing a field, to erect log cabins and raise barns. It seemed by bringing their own unique ideas and sharing with others contributed to the colony of Pennsylvania’s success.
It was also easy to see the drawbacks also – the Indians gave the Americans corn and showed them how to plant it and in return they got disease, guns, alcohol, and cotton shirts.
In regards to the “melting pot” or “salad bowl” – most of early America was a “salad bowl”. People generally married people of their same religion or ethnicity. However, the melting pot that America created overnight was with black slaves. Slaves were brought from all over the world and did not share a common language or culture. “Blacks were forced to meld their origins, traditions, and languages into a single American pot.”
“Common hardships put the different races, as well as separate sexes, upon a more equal footing than they would see in subsequent generations.”
Farming was hard. “Clearing the ground” either took or produced a certain work ethic. A farmer was able to clear about 1 to 2 acres per year and a farm in 50 years. Farmers were mostly cutoff from society and for the most part were self-sustaining, meaning they must become a jack-of-all-trades. Every farmer grew corn because it could be used for both humans and animals, was immune to most diseases, and was easy to grow. Farmers wives kept a “kitchen garden” with vegetables for use during cooking.
The early American houses were a little different than we have today. Except for “the hall”, or living room – there were no rooms – no bedrooms, no dining rooms, no bathroom. The hall was used for everything – cooking, eating, working, praying. For a dinner table the colonists used a board which they referred to as “the board”. This is where the term “room and board” comes from. Most colonial families did not have any chairs at the board, but if they did, it was reserved for the head of the family – the “chairman of the board”. Also, forks did not appear until the 18th century and instead of beds they used a “shake down”, a bedroll that could be put away during the day.
Women were important and their grind was grueling. They ran the house and reared the children, but they also became partners with their husbands on the farms – even out in the fields they helped.
Children moved straight to adulthood – no adolescence – the phase did not exist then.
Because the colonists were so spread out, the normal publication of marriages did not work to inform friends and family of a marriage. So local government stepped in to take that on and a marriage license now would be issued by the county clerk to spread the word.
In England, gentlemen (upper class) were only allowed to have guns. In America as the militias started getting setup so that plain people could protect their communities they broke this English tradition – and now, all men had the right to bear arms.
Regarding illnesses, the belief was “Nothing got well of itself, and somewhere in nature existed a remedy to cure every illness.”
One other quote I found interesting was in regards to the Salem Witch Trials in which some people feel that the people convicted did not get a fair trial. Hawke says the accused were tried and “What is and is not fair differs in time and with those that make the judgement.” That’s true and I often wonder what future people will look back on to our current time and think “they did that?” or “I can’t believe they lived that way”.