Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dancing to the Music of the Madness


The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
          – Viola Davis

My baby just graduated from high school.

Miranda's first and last days of school.

As she prepares to step out into the world, I've been thinking a lot about my own momentous transition into pre-adulthood. What advice can I give her, especially given the world she is entering into—a world that I hardly even recognize anymore?

The class of 2020 is going to need more flexibility, more resiliency, and more self-confidence than I ever had at that age. And these are just a few of the characteristics necessary to pull this generation through. I do believe they have what it takes, though—Miranda and her older brother certainly do. I'm counting on them and their peers to help the rest of us find our way.

In honor of her graduation, I thought about sharing this poem by Langston Hughes.


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

                    Read the rest here.

Dreams are vital, as is holding tight to a vision of the future we want for ourselves. But what sticks with me are the images of the "broken-winged bird" and the "barren field frozen with snow." This poem is more of a warning than a celebration, no? I sense that Miranda is tired of me protecting her. She wants to be set free. I need to trust that her wings are strong.

Tim Herrick

So what about this poem by Jen Bryant?


I take my kaleidoscope off the shelf,
look through the little hole at the end
of the cardboard tube;

I turn       and turn       and turn       and turn,

                    Read the rest here.

I love that this poem speaks to who Miranda is as an artist. That vital creative force that seems like serendipity, but is so much more. Without a doubt, Miranda's ability to tap into those "strange and beautiful patterns" will take her far.

Lance Shields

And yet, beyond the message to trust herself and be open to whatever comes (which is an important one), it still doesn't feel like it encompasses everything I want to say.

There was a plaque that hung in my 1970's bedroom. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I read it so often as a child, it became an affirmation of sorts that's stayed with me over the decades. I was lucky enough to find an image online:

Yes. This is the advice I'd like Miranda to take to heart. In fact, I probably had this plaque in mind back in September 2017 when I wrote "A Mother's Advice" for Carol Boston Weatherford's abecedarian challenge. It seems fitting to revisit it on this occasion:


Along the way…

     Be yourself.

     Collect wonder.

     Do good deeds
     Every day.

     Find a reason to be

     Help when you are able.

In life…

     Joy, Kindness, and Love
     Matter most.

     Needing Others
     Pulls us together.

     Require listening,

     Speaking requires
     Thought, and

     Understanding, not Violence,
     Weathers the storms.

eXplore your horizons—         
     Your time has come.

                                    and zoom….

© 2017 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. All rights reserved.

I also wanted to find a commencement speech that would speak to Miranda—words of advice by a strong woman, like herself, with a creative sensibility. I spent a good long time searching, but eventually came up with just the right one—Viola Davis speaking to the 2012 graduating class of Providence College. (Her speech begins about three minutes in.)

She uses an interesting metaphor, comparing life to a pivotal scene from The Exorcist. Surprisingly, it not only works, it's timely—some of the demons she mentions are ones we, as a society, are facing today more than ever. More important, however, is her overriding message to find and stay true to your authentic self no matter what life throws your way. She closes with Topsy Washington's party monologue from George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum, and these defiant lines:
... whereas I used to jump into a rage anytime anybody tried to deny who I was, now all I got to do is give attitude, quicker than light, and I’m dancing to the music of the madness in me. And here I was, all this time I been thinking we gave up our drums. But, naw, we still got ‘em. I know I got mine. They’re here, in my speech, my walk, my hair, my God, my style, my smile, and my eyes. And everything I need to get over in this world, is inside here, connecting me to everybody and everything that’s ever been. 

So, hunny, don’t waste your time trying to label or define me. ... ‘cause I’m not what I was ten years ago or ten minutes ago. I’m all of that and then some.

Congratulations, Miranda, and keep dancing to the music of the madness in you. We're so proud.

8-year-old Miranda in front of the Carina Nebula (Kennedy Space Center)

Truth be told, I wish I felt more defiant these days. It's not that I'm complicit or apathetic, just tired. Exhausted really. Which means it's time for me to take a break for a while and tend to my home fires.

While I'm gone, please feel free to peruse the TLD archives. You'll find plenty to keep you busy writing all summer long. You'll find an alphabetical listing of spotlight interviews HERE and links to all 50 (!) of our ditty challenges HERE. You'll also find The Best of Today's Little Ditty (2014-2015, 2016, and 2017-2018) available in paperback and ebook versions on

Stay safe and well, my friends. I'll see you in the fall.

This week's Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Inspired by Kindness, she shares an inspiring farewell letter poem to her students.


  1. Thanks for your gorgeous, feel good, send off post to Miranda, Michelle. It's inspiring from top to bottom, as is your abecedarian poem, Viola Davis' commencement speech, and all your TLD posts from this last year! Wishing you breath of summer, meandering moments, and hopeful change to come. Enjoy, and stay well my friend, xo

  2. I love those photos of Miranda dancing at the Kennedy Space Center! It makes me happy just to see them. Your poem and commencement speech picks are spot-on. 50 challenges -- wow! Enjoy your break.

  3. Your post to Miranda is beautiful, Michelle. I love how you shared so much of your thought process as you worked to find and write the perfect advice. The "stand here" with wings image moved me so much as did Jen Bryant's poem and your own Abcedarian. So many worries and hopes for this young generation. Tend to those home fires and enjoy your summer. Thank you so much for all that you do!

  4. Your Abecedarian is a masterpiece, Michelle. And I especially love your pics of 8yo Miranda dancing. It is no wonder that you are feeling tired. This year has been enough to sap the life, joy and creativity out of anyone. Take your time. Nurture your heart and your family. xx

  5. Thank you, Michelle for all your hard work, and this post with so much inspiration, including A Mother's Advice and Viola Davis' words. Have a great summer.

  6. What a beautiful, inspiring, heartfelt post -- was so moved by your words to Miranda, and really to all are wondering how to navigate the future. Your abecedarian is brilliant!! Thanks, too, for Viola's speech as well as the Bryant and Hughes poems. Congratulations to Miranda (LOVE the photos!). Thanks for all you do, and have a good summer.

  7. Love this! Congratulations to Miranda and to you! I love your poem, especially the end.

  8. Many congratulations to Miranda on her graduation. And, congratulations to you for making to to a finishing line and a much needed rest. Have you seen Brene Brown's commencement speech for the University of Texas class of 2020? It's incredible. I look forward to the art that comes from your rest. I understand your exhaustion. I'm tired too. This speech by Viola Davis is great. I'm listening now.

    1. We will be sure to check out the Brene Brown speech, Linda. Thanks!

  9. Happy Graduation to Miranda! Your Mother's Advice poem is for all of us...always. Enjoy your summer hiatus and I look forward to your return/spotlights/challenges. All the best to you and yours, Michelle. :)

  10. I know Miranda must appreciate all the things you put into this gift of a post. But I imagine her wings are well-prepared to do what she wants to do. And believe me, as a mom who's been through it, those wings always find a way to fly back to you.

  11. Here's to Miranda's dreams, flight, and turning.... and to yours, too!

  12. I adore that young photo of Miranda, Michelle, as I'm sure you do. All those years crush together at this time, this ledge where children fly. Your post made me a little teary remembering my own children, then my grandson last year, taking charge of his life in this oh so different world that has arrived. Your words for Miranda are ones to guide her, perhaps even help connect her in a way to others with the need to 'dance to the madness'. Thank you, too for the poems and your own 'growing up' plaque and for Viola Davis' words. Enjoy your time this summer with Miranda, with the family!

  13. Michelle, I add my congratulations to Miranda among all the others. Once can never have enough praise and good wishes to carry then from college to the world. Unfortunately, the world is in a fragile place. Graduates need to be strong so your post is a great send off. "Understanding, not Violence,/Weathers the storms." Little did you know when you wrote your poem that these lines would be reflective of today's happenings.

  14. Thank you for this beautiful, love-filled post. How could Miranda's wings not be strong when you have nurtured them with your love and wisdom? Congratulations, Miranda! And hugs to you, Michelle. I know how bittersweet this time can be. Wishing you a summer filled with rest and peace and love.

  15. Wow. This could be a commencement ceremony in itself, Michelle! I love the abecedarian you pulled out and reshared. It is perfect--absolutely perfect--for this moment. Hugs to Miranda and all the graduates!

  16. This is a beautiful post. I can't imagine what it must be like entering the world at this juncture. All the rules are changing. But what a great opportunity to make the rules our own. Congratulation to your daughter on this exciting new chapter.

  17. What a powerful and inspiring post. An amazing gift for your amazing daughter!

  18. THANK YOU ALL!!! Your kind words and congratulations are a gift to both me and Miranda.