What’s in Your Hand?

What’s In Your Hand?

Yesterday, out the blue, Adam Clayton Powell’s famous, “What’s in Your Hand Speech” came to mind. I remembered happening upon his speech about 15 years ago, during one of what would become a series of my mini-retirements (more on that another time).

I had been in line at a library when I noticed a documentary on him on a shelf nearby. I grabbed it, and when I watched it, I was so blown away by the clip of his speech at the end, I rewound it over and over again. I jotted it down verbatim in my diary and memorized it. I loved it so much. It was a call to political action, an attempt to jolt people from apathy.  But I imagined it could be an inspiring call to personal and professional action, as well as a call to celebrate the gifts that we have.

I imagined using it in a speech I would give someday, encouraging beauticians to realize they held in their hands the gift of making others beautiful, calling teachers to realize they have the gift of guidance and instruction. Everybody’s got a gift and often we don’t fully appreciate what we are giving right where we are.

I once envied a friend who made six figures as a personnel specialist. He lamented that he had no special gift. Money isn’t everything, he said. He prayed for God to show him his special gift.

“Are you kidding?”I asked. “Not only are you making money, adding value to your own life and by extension the lives of others you give presents to, causes you donate cash to, your church, which is sustained partly by your tithes and offerings. You have the gift of modeling a level of success that is possible. Plus, in your job you help match people with the right opportunities. That’s a gift!”

Of course, he was thinking of an artistic gift. He admired my gift of – and passion for – writing. He said he envied that I could be content in a corner anywhere with a pen and a notepad or journal. Of course, I did not see what I had as a gift because as much as I love journaling – and now blogging – there’s no money attached to it – yet.  

It can’t be a gift without monetary value, right? Never mind the peace of mind, and what we now call “psychological income.” That doesn’t pay the mortgage, right? At some point it will.  (I have complied trunks full of journals, that I am now considering a gold mine of material for novels.) That’s a gift to be shared, right? 

This morning I tuned in to hear Steve Harvey’s morning testimony, something I’ve enjoyed off and on for at least two years now. I like “witnessing” him share his love of God with his audience of millions. At the end of his 12-minutes of testifying this morning, he talked about gifts God gives us all.

“He gives a lot of people a gift. Some are not using it, now they’re life ain’t what they want. But, guess what? You made that call,” he said in all his sassiness. “You know how to cook, but you won’t bake a pie. You’re funny, but you ain’t on stage. You can sing, but you ain’t got a record deal. You can counsel, but you ain’t took up social work. What you want God to do? You the best painter, but you ain’t got your art displayed no where…That’s crazy.”

I considered the coincidence of recalling Adam Clayton Powell’s speech on using God’s gifts last night and hearing a similar message from Steve Harvey this morning an interesting enough coincidence to follow it somewhere. I googled Adam Clayton Powell and found a clip of him giving his speech on YouTube. I listened and not only felt inspired all over again, I felt compelled to share the inspiration.

Here is the text of Powell’s famous “What’s In Your Hand” speech:  

“As far as I know, here, you’re in trouble. It says you’ve got about 30 percent unemployment. That’s why I’m working hard to get this surplus food here. Some of you say to me, ‘well, I’m not like you. I’m not a congressman. I haven’t got education. I haven’t got work. But you’re a human being. And you know what you’ve got? You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those few cents you get from welfare to spend them only where you want to spend them.” The crowd applauded and cheered. “A young slave boy stood one day before the greatest ruler of his day. And God said to Moses, what’s in your hand? And Moses said, ‘I’ve got this stick, that’s all.’ He said, well let me use what’s in your hand. And God used that slave boy with a stick in his hand to divide the Red Seas, march through a wilderness, bring water out of rocks, manna from heaven, and bring his people to freedom land. What’s in your hand?”

“What’s in your hand! George Washington Carver, who was so frail that he was traded for a broken down horse as a slave boy, and George Washington Carver sitting in the science laboratory at Tuskegee told me, he said, ‘Dr. Powell, I just go out into the fields each morning at 5 o’clock, and I let God guide me, and I bring back these little things and I work them over in my laboratory.’ And that man did more to revolutionize the agricultural science of peanuts, and of cotton, and of sweet potatoes than any other human being in the field of agricultural science.”

“What’s in your hand? Just let God use you that’s all. What’s in your hand!!!!!!!” he boomed. “I’ve got a string in my hand, that’s all, and I’m flying a kite, and way up in the heaven’s lightening strikes, and I Benjamin Franklin, discover for the first time, the possibilities of electricity – with a string in my hand. What’s in your hand!!!!! Little hunch-back sitting in a Roman jail. ‘I haven’t got anything in my hand but an old quill pen. But God says, ‘Write what I tell ya to write!’ And Paul wrote, I have run my race with patience. I’ve finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. What’s in your hand little boy!!!!” ‘All I’ve got is this slingshot, but the enemies of my people are great and big and more numerous than we are.’ Well Little David, go down to the brook and pick out a few stones and bring them back, and put them in the sling shot and close your eyes if you want to and let them go. And David killed the enemies of his people, and his people became free, just letting God guide a stone in his hand. And a few years pass, and David is King. And God says, ‘What’s in your hand?’ And David says I’ve got a harp. And God said then play on your harp. And he played, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. What’s in your hand!!!!!”

Now here was my favorite part.

“A man hanging on a cross with two nails in his hands said ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw thy hand from me, whither will I go. And that man with two nails in his hands split history in half, B.C. and A.D. What’s in your hand tonight? You’ve got God in your hand, and with God in your hand, He’ll let you win because he’s on your side, and one with God is always in the majority. So, walk with Him and talk with Him. And work with Him and fight with Him. And with God’s hand in your hand, the victory will be accomplished, sooner than you dreamed, sooner than you hoped for, sooner than you prayed for, sooner than you imagined. Good night and God bless.”

 Click here for link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuZjcd7t-sE&feature=related

I Believe I Can Fly – Just Not Today

I was power-walking again for exercise a couple of days ago when I decided to exercise my imagination for inspiration. 

Bundled in a red ski coat, sweat pants and tennis shoes I walked through our neighborhood where Cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom even as some trees remain naked. Purple, pink, and yellow flowers in my neighbors’ front yards already are promising spring. I noticed birds flying high or perched on trees.

“Self?” I said in my mind. “The next bird you see is you. Watch its patterns.  Note what it does. Imagine the bird is a reflection of you. The very next bird that catches your attention.”

“O.k.,” I agreed.

“You can’t look for a bird. The trick is the bird has to catch your attention.”

“Ok!” I said, emphatically.

It seemed odd that I was noticing birds until I started the internal conversation. Now I was only hearing them, none were flying in my view.

“O.k. I hear them. I don’t see them, but I know they’re all around me because I hear them,” I said to myself.

“Then just listen and realize the birds are singing even on this cold and dreary day. They’re not waiting for spring to break. Can you sing in the rain like Gene Kelly suggested?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I absolutely can. Is this little exercise over? I was just supposed to be reminded to sing in the rain?”

“No. Keep your eyes open. The next bird you see is a reflection of you.”

I noticed a tiny bird bouncing around on the ground. It was a red-breasted bird.

“Oh no!” I thought. “Get up from there! Get up! You’ve got wings. You can fly!”

The bird bounced around on the evergreen grass in an opening beyond a clump of trees.

“Fly birdie! Fly!” I thought, standing still to observe.

“There’s your bird. Now what do you think?” my invisible friend asked.

“Well, even though it is small and on the ground instead of in the air, it caught my attention. Maybe I will catch the attention of somebody – a manager  who will hire me or a publisher who will sign my book for publication and a movie.”  

A chilly wind whipped at my legs. I noticed a large bird flying above my little bird, but I remained focused on the small bird, since this was my assignment.

“O.k., So once I get their attention, I’ll keep it even though they may have bigger birds in sight. They may have high-profile authors on board, but I will keep their attention.”

Just then a flock of birds swooped down near my little bird, but quickly took flight again.

“Oh, those are all the self-published authors, touching ground (working their day jobs), but immediately taking flight again (going home to work on their dream job of self-publishing books).” They will not keep the people assigned to work with me from focusing on me and our project.”

Streaks of sunlight broke through the clouds. A smile rose from my heart.

“Little birdie, fly. Are you content to stay on the ground? You can’t be. We were made to fly,” I thought, hoping the bird could hear my thoughts.

I was reminded of a time when I was about 14-years-old and one of my favorite uncles, my greatest inspiration at the time, handed me a copy of the then-popular book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”  It was a very small hard-cover book, only 150 pages or so. I accepted the book as if he was handing me money.

“You are Jonathan,” he said. “We both are. This is our story.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“Don’t ask me. Read it for yourself,” he said. 

I read it quickly. It was the story of a bird that dared to leave the flock of birds pecking around on the sea shores for leftover scraps of food. The bird, named Jonathan, decided that since he had wings he must have been made to fly, not waddle around on the sand for crumbs. He decided he would fly simply for the joy of flying. He would fly simply because he could.

The other birds, of course, laughed at him and swore he would starve if he did not work as they did. But Jonathan’s hunger was more than belly-deep. He hungered to do what he felt he was designed to do.

Jonathan flew high until he met other birds of like-mind. They taught him new flying skills and encouraged him to fly even higher. He did, and at each new level, he met other teachers who taught him the miraculous things they could do with their wings.

This story came back to me as I watched my little bird bouncing around on the ground. I also remembered a conversation I had with my recently departed aunt, who also had been my best friend.

“Stop worrying about some little job,” she would say. “You’re an eagle. God made you to fly high above the rest of us. Stop pecking around here like some little chicken!”

She had good-gubment job security, so she wasn’t exactly in the position to convince me I did not need the same. But her encouragement came back to me as I watched my little bird a couple of days ago.

“Fly little bird. Fly,” I mentally projected as I watched her from a distance.

I decided to stand there and watch to see how long it would take her to get off the ground, but I became impatient, and went home. Later that day I considered the bird may have been telling me it is ok to be content on the ground for a while. Even birds must rest, right?

The 23rd Psalm came to mind. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me to the paths of righteousness for His namesake.”

I considered that my little bird had been simply lying down in green pastures for a moment.  Of course she took flight again at some point. Birds fly because they can and they must. They know they can fly.  I know I can, too – when the time comes. Until then, I am becoming more grounded in many ways. Grounded, as in: being in touch with reality; gaining a secure feeling  my personal feelings.

Yes, I can, and will, fly again. Just not right this very moment – and that’s o.k.

The Difference Between a Writer and Author

What’s the difference between a writer and an author? 

I was delighted to consider myself a writer, having published hundreds of newspaper articles and two books with major publishers. Then I heard Zane’s opinion that the difference between a writer and an author is the personality quotient. An author has to have a marketable personality, she says. Now, coming from a woman who publishes books and has sold her own books to the tune of NY Times best seller status, that struck me as instructive.

There is a reason why so many great, well-researched, well-written books never even get published. A reason why many great books never make best seller lists. Half of the job is selling the book and, yes, it takes personality, charm, and a whole lot of other things to sell the book. I have picked up books from bargain bins, books I never saw reviewed, books I had not heard of on the internet, books that were great because they offered some novel perspective I had not considered, offered something that solved an internal conflict for me. 

Now I’m inclined to get a good old fashioned dictionary and compare the definitions of writer and author. Thinking of the definitions, I am considering that a writer is one who writes and an author is one who has gained a level of authority on a subject or an experience. In fact, speaking of authority, just this morning I was thinking about how important it is for me as a writer to seek more authority of my characters and their internal conflicts and high hopes. That would mean more research and interviews.

It occurred to me this morning that in my first memoir, when I wrote about losing my beloved granddad, and the impact that had on me, I had not explored the emotional impact it had on my grandmother, who had lost her husband of 20-plus years. That came to mind this morning as I considered how my current experience of loss and grief will help inform my writing in the future. As a writer, I wrote the basic details of the experience: who died, when, why, how it made me feel. As an author I can establish more authority of that experience by exploring – and sharing – the emotional and psychological ramifications of the experience. 

What do you think? 

The Transformative Powers of the Pen

We discussed social media best practices for authors during a conference call yesterday. It was one of the weekly calls Strebor authors have where we exchange information, encourage each others, and get a chance to ask the publisher and our publicist questions as a group. Something said during the conversation resonated long after I hung up. The publicist talked about the necessity for authors to self-promote. No, this was not news to me. I knew it. I tried it. I concluded after more than ten years that I simply was not good at it. Since this is what it takes to succeed as an author, I considered, I may as well die.

I write because I must. Writing for me is like breathing, like thinking. It has been a saving grace since I was eight-years-old writing plays where characters said and did all the things my religion deprived me of enjoying. Writing, as a young woman, saved my sanity.

All my life, all I’ve wanted to be was a writer. I’ve wanted to share my passion for literature, share my observations and analysis of common experiences, and share my unique experiences, but if self-promoting is essential to this, forget it.

I mulled this over as I went out for an afternoon power-walk. I was walking home from the bank when it suddenly occurred to me that the God had sent me to train with a master self-promoter. My last supervisor was a pain in the ass because she insisted on writing her own press releases while I insisted on doing the work I was allegedly paid to do. She knew what she wanted to say and found it quicker to write her promotions her way than to answer my questions and wait for me to pen a press release. I hated this. I had, after all, by then published hundreds of newspaper articles and two books. As much as possible I tried to beat her to the punch, anticipating news and drafting press releases before she could get started, but we often ended up with her doing her own thing.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that it was training for work I would need to do for myself until I can afford to hire a p.r. expert.

Penning my own press releases may even force me to break a life-long habit of self-deprecation. It will train my brain on what is best about me and the literary gifts I pen.

I recently completed my first novel, and felt transformed from bitter to neutral to soon-to-be-all-out-grateful for what had felt like two years of hell. Writing about the experience helped me detach and see incidents as just that – incidents. It helped me put the incidences in context. It helped me see the “enemy” as just a character, an antagonist. It helped me see myself as just a character, a protagonist, who had to mature by the end of the experience.

Figuring out how to promote this story promises to be rewarding, as well. Already market research has showed me my experiences, as challenging and tragic as they felt, are much more common that I knew. I am looking forward to the other many rewards from this process.