The Poetry That No One Ever Sees

Poetry is everywhere.

If you’ve ever lovingly described something, then as far as I’m concerned, you are a poet. Granted, some people are better poets than others. We can’t all be Amanda Gorman, after all.

There is poetry everywhere. Poetry is in the stories that we tell that are unique to each one of us. It is in the way we choose to dress, the flowers we plant, the colors we paint our walls, and the love and care we give our family, friends, and pets. Quite often, there is even poetry in silence.

The poetry in silence is vastly different than the poetry that is silenced. The first is voluntary, and the second is an unacknowledged loss that we all are complicit in perpetuating, consciously or unconsciously, every single day.

If there is a woman in your life, then chances are you are missing out on a lot of poetry. We women are often not heard, not acknowledged, or utterly discounted. I can’t speak for everyone, but after a while, it seems like too much effort to even try to express myself. And if I do put my foot down, if I do raise my voice or insist that the conversation continue, I’m aggressive, crazy, hysterical, and/or loud.

Those who have the great misfortune to live under an oppressive regime, and those whose countries are being invaded by oppressive outsiders, have poetry so beautiful in its unbloomed truth and horror that the rest of us could never come close to composing it. There is no time for words when you are fighting for your freedom, and even fewer words get spoken if you’ve resigned yourself to your fate. Your voice has a right to be heard. No one has the right to cut it short.

If there is a child in your life, that child is brimming with poetry of one kind or another. Children should be both seen and heard. This isn’t Victorian England. Sadly, in this fast-paced world, we often don’t take the time to listen. Children can be wise, but they’re rarely taken seriously.  Every time they’re impatiently silenced, they are taught that it’s better to keep their poetry inside.

If there is an older person or an overweight person in your life, it’s a fairly safe bet that that person feels practically invisible. I happen to tick both boxes, and I can tell you that my sentences often go half spoken. What, after all, is the point, if one isn’t even being seen? By rendering people invisible in this way, we are missing out on a lot of poetry that is teeming with life experience and survival skills. These things matter.

If there is a person of color in your life, or a member of the LGBTQ community, or a disabled individual, then that person has a lot of poetic insight and perspective to impart, but that poetry is ripped up by society. It is burned, twisted into a threat, and oftentimes used against them, to the point where they find it safer to remain silent. This is a tragic loss, because they have beautiful, loving, unique, and intelligent things to say, and we would all benefit from that poetic diversity, if ever we allowed it into our world.

If there is a man in your life who is supposed to be a leader, supposed to be in charge, supposed to have it all figured out, and is never, ever supposed to cry, then rest assured he is holding quite a lot of stuff back. If only he hadn’t been taught that he must be the strong, silent type.

Every worker who is exploited by an employer and prevented from forming a union, every voter who is prevented from voting, every person who has been so politically manipulated that they cannot think for themselves, and every person who bubbles with rage has poetry within that is desperate to get out. I sometimes walk down the street and look at the people walking past me. I wonder what poetry they are holding deep inside themselves that no one has ever seen. It’s like there’s a secret garden within everyone’s mind, and each garden hides aromatic golden flowers that are longing to see the light of day.

There is profound poetry in the outrage, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and sometimes even joy that is expressed by tears. I’ve never understood why so many (men in particular) view crying as a weakness or a form of manipulation. In most cases, it’s actually a release of extremely deep emotion that has most likely been long suppressed. There’s strength in that. There’s poetry in it.

It is important to be mindful of heretofore unseen or unacknowledged poetry. It’s rewarding to take the time to listen to, and learn from, those around you. It’s as beautiful to see as it is to be seen. There is poetry, too, in that.

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The Silent Treatment is Child Abuse

The damage may not be physical, but it’s there.

As an adult, when another adult gives me the silent treatment, I have to laugh inside. Clearly, the two of us have issues, so does that person really think their silence is a punishment to me? A recent coworker used to do that to me, coupled with a glare that was dripping with contempt. Actually, I viewed her silence as a nice respite, because, let’s face it: please shut up. Please.

I know that eventually these misguided adults will figure out that this lack of communication isn’t going to further their agenda very much, and they’ll either speak to me or they won’t. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to speak to them when the need arises, but small talk will cease. Works for me. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading.

But it’s very different when the silent treatment is directed at a child. I had one relative who would do that to me for months on end unless my mother stepped in and forced her to stop. Until the next time. It was worse than toxic. According to a psychotherapist interviewed for this article, the silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, and disempowerment.

You don’t have to physically or verbally abuse a child to damage them. The silent treatment is emotional abuse at its most insidious. According to the article, it is “manipulation, a twisted way of regaining authority over someone, making the victim feel powerless, intimidated, guilty and insignificant.”

The messages I received when this relative hit me with her stone-cold silences were, “I care more about hurting you than communicating with you.” “You are unwanted.” “You do not matter.” “You are insignificant.” “If you don’t want to be ignored and rejected, you have to give in to all my demands, beliefs, and opinions, and squash any of your own.” “If you want to avoid conflict, just shut up and do as I say, no matter how irrational it may seem.” “You have no right to question anything.” “I don’t take you seriously.” “To get along in this world, you should allow yourself to be manipulated by others.” “Anticipate my needs to the point of having anxiety attacks if you want to be loved.” “Doubt yourself.” “Nobody has your back.” “Nobody will stand by you.” “You are completely and utterly alone in this world.” “The best way to communicate is by not communicating at all.”

These are horrible messages to send to a child. Children who are stripped of their self-esteem in this manner are definitely not being set up for success. In fact, quite the opposite. To this day, my gut reaction when someone gets angry at me is that they’re going to stop loving me. I have to remind myself constantly that that’s not true. I should know it. I deserve to be confident about love in times of strife. That was taken from me.

I never thought about this behavior as actual abuse until the subject came up recently with a friend. Then I started reading more about it. Then I got really angry. Then I gained some insight about the person I have become.

My mother was not the best communicator either. When she’d get mad at me, she’d write on her day planner, “You are mad at Barb.” That way she could emotionally color all our interactions with that fact. So I’d sneak in her room when she wasn’t there and erase that note. (Thank goodness she always wrote in pencil.) But even at her very worst, she didn’t hold a candle to this other relative.

For several years during my childhood, I truly believed that if I wasn’t right in someone’s line of sight, I no longer existed for them. That’s why, to this day, when someone does something that shows they’ve thought of me when I wasn’t present, it means so much to me that it often brings tears to my eyes. In a way, I’m glad I have this heightened level of appreciation for thoughtful gestures. It’s the silver lining to this messed up cloud. But the cloud remains.

A healthier lesson to teach a child is that there is a rational way to get through conflict. Talk problems out. Listen to both sides. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Kids should learn that everyone deserves respect. Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone’s opinion has value, whether you agree with it or not.

Healthy communication is the very bedrock of love, and it provides children with the tools to function well in society. So if you’re supposed to be the adult in a relationship, please act like it. Your ability to do damage is greater than you think.

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The Things I Block Out

Life, filtered.

Every time a car drives over my drawbridge, its tires make a thu-thunk sound as they hit the expansion joint. I must hear it 20,000 times a day. But I don’t, really. Not anymore. It’s as routine to me as the sound of my own breathing, or the squealing of the mini-fridge.

It makes me wonder what else I block out. I sure wish I could block out the sound of my dogs barking when I’m trying to take a nap. And to block out the sound of Trump’s voice, I have to turn off the television or the radio entirely. Otherwise it’s like nails down a chalkboard to me.

I just sat here for a few minutes and tried to listen, really listen, to everything going on around me. It’s not as easy as you’d think. It requires focus, and that’s not something I’m particularly skilled at. It’s sort of like meditation in reverse. Letting everything in.

And jeez, it’s a noisy world we live in! All manner of mechanical humming. Engine noises. Snippets of conversation. The wind and rain. Sirens in the distance. The sounds emanating from my own body. The impatient tapping of my foot. Music. Televisions. Airplanes. Distant train whistles. Joggers’ feet. Seagulls crying.

It occurs to me that much of what we block out is generated by humanity. That’s kind of ironic. The world would be a much quieter place without us.

I think it would be extremely cleansing to take a vow of silence. Cleansing, but impractical. Which is probably why I block so much out in the first place.

It’s all about preserving one’s sanity. Life, only filtered. We may have to live with the impurities, but we don’t have to dwell upon them.

http _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_2_26_Old_brick_wall

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Buzz On, Buddy

Science nerd that I am, I was fascinated by this recent article in The Atlantic.

Science nerd that I am, I was fascinated by this recent article in The Atlantic, entitled A Celestial Event Left Bees Speechless. It discussed an experiment that was conducted in the path of the totality of the last complete solar eclipse in the US, in August, 2017. 400 volunteers placed tiny microphones to record the sounds, or lack thereof, of insects during the event.

All the insects in the area were going about their business right before the eclipse, but during it, with the exception of one solitary bee, all the rest fell silent.

I want to know more about that solitary bee. What was up with that guy? Why didn’t he shut up like all his friends? What was he thinking? Was he blind? If so, he’d have heard everyone else get quiet. He’d have had to have been blind and deaf. But if so, I can’t imagine he’d survive for long. Maybe he was super focused on the task at hand. Or he was having too much fun. Maybe he had been pollinating poppies.

Or maybe he’s just the world’s dumbest bee. But what are the odds that the world’s dumbest bee would cross paths with a volunteer right at the moment of the eclipse? I mean, I hope that person bought a lottery ticket.

Unfortunately that bee will never get to tell his story, because the average drone only lives for about 6 weeks. So this bee, who clearly buzzed to the beat of a different drummer, is history. That kind of makes me sad.

Rest in peace, rebel bee.


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It’s not polite to rock the boat.

These are very triggering times, boys and girls. And they should be. They should be. Because Trump’s piss-poor attitude about Christine Blasey Ford is just a reflection of our general cultural ignorance regarding the subject of sexual assault and abuse.

One of the most outrageous things to come out of Trump’s pie-hole (and let’s admit that that bar is already set pretty freakin’ low) is, “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Um… because the FBI doesn’t deal with the abuse of traumatized teenagers? Because 36 years ago, nobody gave a shit about girls being sexually assaulted? Because to this day, it’s an uphill battle to get justice in these situations?

Gee, I dunno. Why on earth didn’t she report Kavanaugh 36 years ago?

Let me jump on the bandwagon with the thousands of others out there who are attempting to patiently explain #WhyIDidntReport.

Forty-Three years ago, when I was 11 years old, my stepfather began sexually abusing me. This went on for two years, until, at age 13, I broke a board across his knee and told him that if he ever touched me again, I’d kill him. And he knew I meant it. I knew I meant it. I’ve never been so certain of anything in my entire life. He never touched me again.

That was the closest I ever came to justice. Other than that, he got off scot-free. And he didn’t do me the courtesy of dying until I was 27, so I could have reported. But I didn’t. Here are some of the millions of reasons why:

  • I was a good girl, taught to respect my elders. He was the adult in the situation, so even though what he was doing felt awful, to my young mind, it must be right. Right?

  • I was 21 years old before it occurred to me that what he did wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me that. (It’s not your fault, either, by the way.)

  • I was afraid that if I spoke up, I’d be taken away from my mother and thrown into foster care, where the abuse would continue, this time by strangers.

  • I didn’t want to bother anyone. It’s not polite to rock the boat.

  • I was afraid that if my stepfather went to jail, we would become even poorer than we already were, and we were living in a tent at the time.

  • I didn’t want my mother to get into trouble.

  • Because I was just a kid, ill equipped to take on the whole world.

  • I didn’t want the world to know my humiliation.

  • I didn’t understand how the law worked.

  • I saw on TV how women who went to court about these things where treated like whores and emotionally abused by the defense lawyers.

  • I was shy.

  • I had such low self-esteem I didn’t think I deserved justice.

  • I didn’t want to think about it.

  • I wanted it all to go away.

  • When I told my mother, she said I was “making too much of it.”

  • When I told his adult son, he didn’t do anything.

  • When I told a counselor at school, he didn’t do anything.

  • I was all alone in this.

  • Most of my female friends had been abused at some point, too. They didn’t report, either.

  • Because as time wore on, I knew I was less and less credible.

  • Because it would be my word against his, and he was a white male.

  • Because attitudes like Trumps are the rule, not the exception, and because of that, we get Supreme Court Judges like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

I could go on and on. But if you are the kind of ignorant asshole who doesn’t feel that all of the above is enough, then there’s no convincing you. So I’m done.

Given the subject matter, I felt that only a self-portrait would do. But this was an extremely emotional photo to take.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.


Becoming Part of the Silence

A friend of mine recently posted this quote on her Facebook page:

In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
~ Robert Lynd

What a lovely sentiment. But it’s harder to do than it seems at first glance. Most of us live in a world full of noise without even realizing it. I know I block out the traffic sounds when I’m at work, and I can’t even remember the last time I took note of the hum of my refrigerator.

I can only recall experiencing total silence once. It was at Mesa Verde National Park. That complete absence of sound was really brought home to me when I saw a raven fly past. I could hear the beating of his wings. I’ll never forget that feeling of awe.

This summer, I’ll be spending several days camping with a friend in the mountains of British Columbia. I’m really looking forward to it. I suspect we’ll not only be off the grid but also off the beaten path. I look forward to gazing at the stars with no light pollution, but more than anything else, I can’t wait to be immersed in the silence. It will be like entering a warm bath on a cold, raw day.

Some people are made uncomfortable by silence. I adore it. It embraces me like an old friend. I only wish it were a little less elusive.


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Peace and Quiet

As I write this, a construction crew is tearing up the pavement on my bridge. It’s long overdue, and I’m really looking forward to not having potholes in my parking space anymore, but still, they are making an ungodly racket. I’ve actually had to resort to wearing earplugs, which is making it quite a challenge to hear boats when they request a bridge opening.

Peace is closely linked to quiet for a very good reason. I’m finding it really hard to concentrate due to this hullabaloo, and even harder to write. I’ve noticed I’m shaking my leg again, just like I did throughout my teen years. That’s evidence of an unsettled spirit.

If you don’t have quiet, you can’t think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you make poor decisions. Poor decisions rarely lead to peaceful outcomes. At least that’s been my experience. If you ever want to see me contemplate violence, just let a neighborhood car alarm go off at 3 a.m., and let it continue to blare until the battery runs out. That’s pitchfork and torch time, as far as I’m concerned.

I always used to think that big cities were more crime-ridden than small towns because of the concentrated population. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it has more to do with the fact that in the country you can actually hear yourself think. Thinking people are less apt to break laws.

You’ll never see anyone meditating on a construction site. It’s not an ideal place to practice Tai Chi, either. Maybe if I calmly repeat, “Bye-bye, potholes,” as if it’s a mantra, while taking deep cleansing breaths, I’ll exit this experience with my sanity intact.


Boy Talk

As I walked up the bridge to work tonight I passed rows of silent fishermen. It occurred to me that that’s probably why guys like to go fishing so much. They’re encouraged to be quiet. It’s probably the same with golf, come to think of it.

I’ve always been rather bemused by male friendships. A boyfriend would come over after having spent time with his best friend and I’d say, “So, did Kenny get that job? “I don’t know. I didn’t ask.” What do you mean you didn’t ask? (See, with women, that would have been covered in the first 5 minutes.) “Well, did he decide if he was going to sign those divorce papers?” “He didn’t say.” Are you kidding me?

This type of behavior is utterly foreign to my nature. What is the point of hanging out with someone if you aren’t going to actually communicate? Have you no curiosity whatsoever? How does the time get filled? Do men just stand around and stare at the sky? Don’t they get bored? Apparently not. Fishing is perfect for them. They should also try quilting. Or knitting. Yeah. And you’d think they’d like to read, but not so much. Go figure.


“End of Discussion”

More than one man in my life has said that to me, and it always works. For a split second. Because I’m rendered speechless by the arrogance, the gall, the unbelievable nerve that it takes to even conceive of that sentence, let alone utter it out loud.

It seems to be part of the collective unconscious that allows certain men to think that they have the right to stop women from speaking, that it is they who get to determine when we are and are not allowed to express ourselves. At the very least they must have learned it at the knees of their fathers, and they failed to realize that some lessons are best ignored.

But when you think about it, it makes sense. Study after study suggests that women are much more capable of communicating than men. I read once that on an average day, women use 20,000 words, whereas men only use 7,000. So if you’re going to try to take away a woman’s superior strength, and you already know that you’re most likely picking on someone who is not your own size, then you would naturally go right for her ability to speak, wouldn’t you? That is, if you’re so insecure that you require that kind of a leg up in order to feel as if you’ve “won” a debate. “End of discussion” is the communication equivalent of hitting below the belt. It’s beating a woman down by trying to handicap her very essence.

Here’s the thing that always stuns me about this flawed logic: do you honestly think that pulling the “end of discussion” card won’t permanently damage your relationship with the woman in question in some fundamental way? It may not be evident on the surface, but deep down when a woman is disrespected like that, she doesn’t forget it. She knows that in your soul you think you are superior, and that you believe that you have the right to squelch all communication, and that you can pull that stupidity again whenever the mood strikes you. Every time she speaks from that point forward, the implication is that she has to have your permission. But unbeknownst to you, you have chopped yourself off at the balls, because once you have done this, you have cracked the very foundation of your relationship. On some level, your partner will have lost respect for you. And once that has happened, it is extremely hard to get it back.

And the irony is that ironing things out requires communication. Once you have thwarted that, you may get the momentary peace and quiet that you crave, but the problem not only does not go away, it increases by a factor of ten. Open and polite communication is the pedestal upon which every healthy relationship stands.

Before I get blasted for this particular blog entry, please understand that I do realize that the vast majority of men do not fall within this category. Most are more cultured and respectful than that. Most are capable of civilized conversation. Most know how to have a reasonable discussion without things accelerating to the point where “end of discussion” is the only “weapon” upon which they can draw. In fact, most men do not feel the need to draw weapons of any sort on someone they love.

Real men do not beat their women, either. End of discussion.


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The most profound silence I have ever experienced was in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Miles from civilization, the quiet takes on a character one does not usually experience, to the point where the flapping of a raven’s wings startles you.

The best thing I have ever eaten was a seafood pasta dish called “frutas del mar”, while sitting on the banks of the grand canal in Venice.

My biggest regret was transferring from Warren Wilson College instead of graduating there, just so I could be closer to a boyfriend whom I broke up with a month later. Warren Wilson is the most amazing place on earth in which to get an education. I’ve left my soul there, on Dogwood Ridge, and have been trying to relocate to the area ever since.

The loudest noise I ever heard was 1200 of my fellow middle-schoolers screaming at the top of their lungs at a pep rally, just before both of my eardrums burst.

The most beautiful thing I have ever seen was the view of the mountain range from Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway. That’s where I want my ashes scattered.


The coldest I’ve ever been was the time that I had to walk to my car in the pouring rain and 40 mile per hour winds because my employer refused to shut down the drawbridge during a hurricane, and I needed the money too much to get fired by taking a stand. When I got home, after driving past fallen trees and downed power lines, my lips were blue.

The ugliest thing I’ve ever seen was the look on a coworker’s face when he was delighting in another coworker’s loss of his livelihood.

The drunkest I’ve ever been was the time I woke up in the trunk of my car and couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. Which is why I haven’t had a drink in 28 years.

The happiest I have ever been is any time I’ve traveled and arrived at my destination safely, with all my luggage, and am about to concentrate on simply experiencing my new location. That “brink of adventure” feeling simply cannot be beaten.

The strongest I’ve ever been was the summer I was in the Youth Conservation Corps and had spent those months doing construction work. That experience also went a long way toward teaching me that I’m capable of anything. One of the stupidest things the government has ever done was to stop funding that program.

The proudest I’ve ever felt was when I went days without sleep to help a friend raise money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

The most darkness I’ve ever experienced was deep in the catacombs under the city of Paris, surrounded by miles of skulls, when the lights suddenly went out.

The brightest light I’ve ever seen was when I defied all advice and looked directly at a solar eclipse. That split second was also the most profound pain I’ve ever felt, and I was certain, as I fell to my knees, that my skull had been pierced clean through. They aren’t kidding. Don’t look directly at a solar eclipse.

The most awe I’ve ever felt was when I looked, for the first time, at the Grand Canyon.

The hottest I’ve ever been was in Nevada, but I didn’t know it. As a Florida girl, I’m used to gauging heat by how much I sweat, but this was a dry heat, so I didn’t realize it was 120 degrees out until I passed out.

The worst taste I’ve ever had in my mouth was the time I chugged some liquid Maalox which turned out to be several years old, and the ingredients had separated, leaving the medicine unmasked by flavoring. I think I vomited for about an hour.

The best smell I’ve ever experienced was smoked ham in a Virginia barn when I was already ravenously hungry.

The worst smell, by far, was Jacksonville, Florida before they closed the paper mills. I honestly don’t know how anyone could live here before that. It was sickening. Now it smells wonderful, thanks to the Maxwell House Coffee plant.