Not that it is a Christmas tradition, but I read a few books almost every winter break in the way that a lot of people have books saved up for summer. Nowadays, titles that I read are not popular. I recall a time when I read and re-read Dr. Maya Angelou’s paperback books, and recited several of her poems, even winning a school award for recitation of Phenomenal Woman. I found honest pain and impossible joy in her words. As I grew older, wanting to grow beyond taunting about my appearance, her self-made language blew my mind. Hello!, the first two lines are,
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.”
For women of all beauties and sizes, the poem is a gift. Maya’s deft instruction to declare who we are and can be—phenomenal women—is the kind of present too big to go under a Christmas tree and too weightless to wear during Kwanzaa. In fact, it’s the kind of gift that a woman must give to herself. Not buy for her consumption, but give for her renewal. If I had to tease out chiefly what I think the poem gives us I’d said a message that what we often have no words for, our “inner mystery,” is what makes us phenomenal.
My connection with the phenomenal female persona in the poem at this time of year yields a few self-gift ideas:
Keep a journal of something you do well for each week. Brush your shoulders off when you think about it.
Write a letter (by hand…your computer won’t know) expressing emotion about what your last anger episode was really about. Address the letter to someone or thing, but don’t mail it.
Watch Waiting to Exhale. Remember Whitney at her best. Remember Angela Bassett all over again.
Watch Coming to America for a laugh and a half. Then, watch The Five Heartbeats to laugh, cry and laugh again.
Read about Black Girls Rock! On their website and find their nearest meet-up.
Buy The Black Candle. A documentary about the black experience, centered around the celebration of Kwanzaa, The Black Candle, unites several generations of black people using the stony, charismatic voice of Maya Angelou as the narrator. At $9.99 on iTunes, this is the one gift that must be purchased, with that little money burning a hole in your pocket.
During this season and beyond, your feelings and self esteem will fluctuate. When you’re feeling a little low, read Phenomenal Woman from time to time to remember how high the bar is set.