Beloved poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the words below in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters were first published in 1929 and later, in 1984, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell. Published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, they are among the most beloved letters of all time.
On this International Women’s Day, and in light of my novel’s themes of female empowerment at a time, the late 1960s, when modern-day “Women’s Lib” was first hitting its stride, it seems fitting to share Rilke’s early twentieth century perspective on women’s potential:
Today, Election Day 2016, Americans are voting for a woman who is running for president of these United States. Many years ago, a courageous woman, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, fought for the right for women to vote, paving the way for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. While there have been other women who have run for president, she is the only one who has been nominated to be the candidate of a major political party.
Susan B. Anthony was never able to vote in her lifetime, but her spirit is voting in the hearts of millions today, and she is rightly being remembered. Then and now, she has been an inspiration, empowering girls and women to achieve equal rights and success on every level.
At her grave site in Rochester, New York, thousands are waiting in a long line snaking through the Mount Hope Cemetery to pay their respects, leaving “I voted” stickers on the headstone, flowers, and other tokens of remembrance, as well as taking photos. Once again, this election season shines a bright light on a woman worthy of being called a flying girl.
And since I’m going political . . . On this election eve, 2016, I would be seriously remiss–even if not voting for her–if I did not take notice of and applaud Hillary Clinton for being the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency of the United States of America. That is an example of a woman flying high!
Postscript, November 9, 2016: While Hillary Clinton has lost the election, nothing can take away the amazing accumulation of successful achievements she has been able to manifest in her life. Despite all the obstacles she has faced–starting with being a woman pursuing a law degree at a time when the Women’s Liberation movement was barely awakened, then practicing law when there were relatively few women attorneys, and most recently finishing with her service to this country as Secretary of State and her candidacy for president–she has forged on. Even Donald Trump has acknowledged: Hillary Clinton never gives up.
Postscript, February 22, 2017: We are now one month into the new administration. I can’t help but think that America could, and perhaps should, have this dignified, experienced woman as president. But that is not the case, so . . . . Since this is not a political blog, and I more fully express my concerns and opinions elsewhere, suffice it to say here that I believe we, the people of America, have much to look closely at, revitalize, and fortify, if we are to truly move on and be the great nation and community of people that we are capable of being. To this end, I believe priorities range from the importance of education in civics and learning how our government and participatory democracy works, to an insistence on journalistic integrity and support of a free press as a vital cornerstone of democracy, to a cleansing of the electoral process, ridding it of all efforts to interfere in fair elections, whether by gerrymandering, hacking computer systems, tampering with voting machines or shenanigans at the ballot box, as well as all the many shameful ways some have used to suppress the vote in communities across the nation. If these things are not attended to, now, none of the rest will matter. It’s time to be awake. Be watchful. Act.
It seems it’s true that wonders never cease, and in this case it is the United Nations naming Wonder Woman as the Honorary UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls around the world. I have no doubt she has and will continue to inspire flying girls to be all that they can be for many years to come. Wherever you women and girls may be and whatever your hopes, dreams, and pursuits, fly high!
POW! BAM! WHAM! KAPOW!
A woman’s life isn’t all sugar and sweetness. It’s full of challenges, losses, and, yes, heartache. It’s the journey that strengthens, and the survivor that wins.
Amazing women accomplish amazing feats–particularly when they come in the embodied spirit of Diana Nyad, who four times attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage and finally, at age 64, succeeded on her fifth try! I find her words upon finishing her fourth failed attempt inspiring. She tells us to persevere in our dreams, to never give up. So on this International Woman’s Day and ever after, keep flapping those wings, women of the world, and let’s rise up together!
Some of us choose to tell (or read) the stories between the lines, where the truth lives, without pretense and uncensored. Maya Angelou was such a writer. She was such a woman. For Angelou, there was no shame in having been a victim, no weakness in having to struggle to survive and find her way to a quality of womanhood perhaps only arrived at when the dues of wounding and injustice are paid. She didn’t hesitate to say the journey wasn’t easy, but with singular grace and courage, she rose above the abuse and humiliation she suffered to affirm her dignity as a woman. And did she ever! Continue reading