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.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!


Invisibility and Voicelessness

I would love to tell him how much he has impacted my life.

Dear Husband and I go to the local YMCA about 4 days a week and have come up with an athletic, albeit joint-preserving workout that we do in the pool. It’s a wonderful experience. This is the first time in my life that I’ve had an exercise routine that I actually look forward to, and have managed to keep up beyond a week or two.

In fact, we have been pretty faithful to the routine since before the pandemic. I’m rather proud of us. (I doubt it’s a coincidence that my willingness to exercise came along right about the time I started to actually love my life. Thanks, DH!)

Naturally, we enter the YMCA and check in at the front desk in the lobby. We love the staff at the Y. They always make us feel welcome.

Some days it’s rather crowded, and we don’t stick around to chat. I’ve never been a fan of crowds. I suspect I’ll never be able to drop the pandemically-inspired social distancing habit, because I have thoroughly enjoyed not catching a single cold in two years. That’s a record for me.

But on the day that inspired this blog, something peculiar happened. As we opened the front door, an electronic voice said, “Welcome to the YMCA!”

The voice sounded like it was coming from a speaker in the ceiling, so I faltered a bit. Since the lobby was relatively busy, I looked over at the staff and said something in passing like, “Okay. New disembodied voice. That’s creepy.”

They were too busy to respond. I assumed it was the opening of the door that triggered the recording. I felt kind of sorry for the staff, who would probably have to listen to it 1000 times a day.

As we walked past, I noticed that there was a new employee, and I made a mental note to say hello on the way out. We were kind of in a hurry to get into the pool, because it would be closing in 45 minutes. But before we got out of the lobby, a woman that I’ve never seen before said to me, “Thank you for talking to my student. He needs the practice.”

Huh? We hadn’t talked to that new staff member. (I assumed he was the student in question at the time.) But like I said, we were in a hurry, so I just nodded and smiled and headed for the locker room.

I mulled over the strange situation as I changed into my suit, and the mulling continued as I did my stretching exercises. I mean, there must be something I was missing. What was going on?

As the exercise routine progressed past the initial warm up, it hit me. Like a brick. And I was mortified.

The electronic voice kind of reminded me of Stephen Hawking. Electronic voices are sometimes used by people with neurological disorders such as ALS (like Stephen) or cerebral palsy. Amongst all the families crowding the lobby, clamoring to get memberships and ask questions, there was a young man in a wheelchair, kind of off to the side, looking toward the front entrance. I had seen him in the lobby a few times recently. He was always just sitting there. Every time I saw him, I assumed he was waiting to talk to the staff, or waiting for a ride. Beyond that, I had never given it much thought.

He was the one who welcomed us. His speaker must have been aimed upward and it bounced off the acoustical tile, making it sound like it was coming from the ceiling. And I hadn’t even looked at him. In fact, I arrogantly criticized the voice as being creepy within earshot of him.

Omigod, I felt horrible. I should be the poster child for tactlessness. It must have been such a big deal for him, getting this job, only to have someone mock his voice. I wanted to crawl under a rock, and take my stupid, insensitive, big mouth with me.

I had to do something. I had to apologize. Additional mulling ensued as I did my laps and tried to figure out what the heck to say to the young man. Clearly he had been working there for several days, and I just breezed right past him without even looking at him every single time. (In my defense, though, today was the first day he was using the electronic voice.) I couldn’t wait to get back out to the lobby and make amends.

Since the pool was about to close, when I came out the lobby was deserted, except for the staff, including this young man. I walked over to him and asked if it was him who had greeted me earlier. He said yes. I explained that I had been confused, but that I had absolutely no excuse for my rudeness. I told him I was mortified that I had behaved so badly. I told him that the next time he greeted me so warmly, I would definitely greet him right back (whatever that means).

His eyes were so expressive. He seemed so happy. His assistant told me that his name was Rich, and that he was volunteering at the YMCA, and would only be there for a few weeks. She assured me that he hadn’t been offended. I told Rich that I was really glad he was there, and I thanked him for talking to me.

As I walked away, I heard his assistant whisper to him, “See? That’s what we like to see.”

I haven’t seen Rich since. I hoped I would, but two days later I headed off on a two week vacation. He’s probably off to his next volunteering venue by now.

That’s truly a pity. I would love to tell him how much he has impacted my life. (I may have to ask the staff to send him a message, or a copy of this blog post, or both.)

After walking out of the YMCA that day, I began to think about how many invisible and/or voiceless people there are in this world. I have often complained that I have become more invisible as I have gained weight and aged, and I truly hate it.

It’s frustrating to want to be heard, to want to contribute, and instead you’re overlooked. I genuinely believe that everyone has a story. I believe everyone has a right to be seen. They have a right to tell their story.

And yet, Rich made me realize that I’ve spent my life overlooking certain segments of the population. People in wheelchairs. People with the same body type as my abusive stepfather. Beggars on the street. The elderly. Why do I do that?

My overlooking people doesn’t come from a place of malice. Truly, it doesn’t. It’s just that I’m a very introverted person, and I don’t cope well with large amounts of stimulation, so in order to cope, I block quite a bit out.

And, may God help me, those groups are usually easy to block out. They aren’t usually loud or aggressive or pushy. Like me, they are often resigned to their invisibility. So I suppose I hopped on the bandwagon, which rolls merrily along through life, gazing over the heads of most people. Shame on me.

I intend to make more of an effort to see people. I mean, really see them and hear them. I want to delight in the diversity of this world. That might take my introverted self way out of her comfort zone, but I think it will be worthwhile.

And it was Rich who taught me that. I’m grateful for him. But that’s not the only way he has changed my life. And I’m very excited about this next bit.

While doing research for this post, I discovered an organization called VOCALiD. According to the website, it began in 2014 when the head of the company went to an assistive technology conference, and noticed that the bulk of the people there who were relying on electronic voices were using the SAME voice. That’s not right. Everyone should have their own voice.

Granted, voice technology has come a long way since the voice that Stephen Hawking used, but still, there still weren’t a wide variety of choices in 2014. Imagine a little girl with cerebral palsy having to use the voice of a man. That would be, dare I say it? Creepy. Imagine her having to use the voice of an old woman. That would be wrong, too. Everyone who needs a prosthetic voice should be able to have one that fits their age, gender identity, nationality, and personality.

That’s how VOCALiD was born. They wanted to collect a database of as many voices as possible. (Currently 91,000 voices and counting.) Once they did so, people could have a unique voice, not a one size fits all voice. With this ever-growing database, they can use one voice or blend the sound of several to create your own special voice.

The way they zero in on the perfect voice for you is quite interesting. Apparently, many people with neurological challenges can at least vocalize their vowels. It seems that those vocalizations constitute a unique voice “DNA”. Once they have that, they can filter their database to find a variety of voices for you to choose from that have a similar DNA.

But here’s the cool thing. If you speak with no impediments, you can donate your voice to their voicebank. And it’s really easy to do. You record your voice remotely, even from the comfort of your own home. They give you a series of voice prompts to read at your own pace. It does take a couple of hours, but once you’ve read all the prompts, you’ve created every necessary sound to allow people to have a full vocabulary and be able to communicate with the wider world.

Check out this delightful video for more details.

I am signed up to do this soon. I can’t wait to give someone a voice! I love the idea of someone finally being able to feel like she’s speaking the way she’d expect herself to speak. The idea just makes me really happy. (I’m sure I’ll blog about the experience when I’m done, so watch this space.)

I hope you’ll hop on over to VOCALiD and donate your voice as well. Allow a voiceless person to have choices. Let them finally be seen and heard. We need you!

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

Why I Air My Dirty Laundry

The worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation.

Sometimes, perhaps too often, what I write in this blog makes relatives and friends squirm. I discuss my sexual abuse at the hands of my stepfather. I talk about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced on more than one occasion. I describe my struggles with depression and my weight. I talk about my childhood. I rant about politics and other disappointments. I share the many ways I feel misunderstood. I expose my soft underbelly.

There are some out there who wish I wouldn’t do this. They find it embarrassing. They can’t even bring themselves to read my book all the way through, even though it’s an anthology of mostly quite positive posts. (I’ve found that the more someone knows me personally, the less apt they are to actually read my book or my blog. I suspect this will hurt my feelings less and less as time goes by. Time will tell.)

But I have good reason for airing my dirty laundry. I believe that most of us have experienced trauma of one kind or another. It’s a big part of the human condition. Personally, I have always felt that the worst part of trauma is the feeling of isolation. It’s easy to feel as if you’re the only one going through stuff if nobody else is talking about it.

And here’s something I can’t stress enough: None of these things were my fault. The trauma visited upon you by others is NOT. YOUR. FAULT. I say this because very few people will tell you this. Nobody told me this. It took me decades to figure it out on my own.

So I talk about it. I talk not only for myself (writing is excellent therapy), but also for those out there who feel like they don’t have a voice. If just one person feels a tiny bit less alone for having read my blog, then I’ve accomplished what I have set out to do.

Perhaps, too, it has something to do with my lack of filter, and my utter indifference to the standard levels of mortification. Or maybe it is more about the fact that I have complete confidence in your self-determination. If something I write makes you uncomfortable, I am quite sure that you will exercise your right not to read it.


Not alone

“This is Marketplace”

Three words that make me melt.

True confession: I have a voice fetish. A charming accent, a well-placed glottal stop, a deep and smoky whisper… these things undo me. The right voice could almost make me vote Republican. Almost.

Fortunately, when I’m in the throes of voice withdrawal for whatever reason, I know that help is on the way in the form of NPR’s Kai Ryssdal, the host of their weekday program called Marketplace.

Incidentally, is it a job requirement that you have to have an unusual name to work for NPR? Just wondering. I mean, Ira Flatow, John Hockenberry, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, Andrei Codrescu, Joe Bevilacqua, Jad Abumrad, Hyunh Burritoso, Mandalit del Barco, Corey Flintoff, David Folkenflik, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Yuki Noguchi, Sylvia Poggioli, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Shankar Vedantam, Doualy Xaykaothao, Lakshmi Singh, and whatever happened to Snigdha Prakash?

But I digress. Where were we? Oh, yeah. Voice fetish. In the opener, just before the music swells, Kai says “This is Marketplace” and you can just hear the sexy smile in his voice. It makes me want to pull off the road and take a cold shower. That’s all I need. After that, I’m good for at least 24 hours.

I’ve comforted myself with the assumption that this guy probably has a face for radio. Surely he can’t be as gorgeous as his voice. No way. Impossible. The gods do not rain that much favor down upon one individual. But in looking for a picture for this blog post I see that, no, yowza… the voice definitely fits the face. Why he’s not on TV is beyond me.

Hoo. I need to go home and kiss my husband. Like… immediately. (And his voice and good looks are nothing to sneeze at, either. How lucky am I?)

Now, don’t even get me started on Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliott…

Kai Ryssdal
Kai Ryssdal

Like this quirky little blog? Then You’ll love my book!

Let Reality Be Beautiful

Things are good. Almost too good. So good, in fact, that sometimes I panic. That annoying little voice in my head whispers, “This is too good to be true. It can’t be real. You’re overlooking something. Or all the great people around you will finally see you for the inherently flawed individual that you are and disappear. Or a meteor is about to crush you dead. Or something. Because you can’t have the good things.”

If a pep talk like that doesn’t send me into a panic attack, surely it will cause me to dive headlong into a pint of Häagen-Dazs. Neither outcome is optimal to my health. But if I get to choose (“You never get to choose.”) (“Shut up, annoying little voice!”) I’ll take the ice cream.

I was talking about this to my dear friend Anju, whose blog I highly recommend. Of everyone I know, Anju is one of the ones I’d be most likely to consider an authority on this subject, because from what I can tell, she leads an amazing life. She takes risks. She sits down at the world’s table and she feasts of life like a fat kid in an ice cream parlor. No apologies. No prisoners. Her life isn’t always a bed of roses, but it is uniquely and undoubtedly hers. I admire her. I’d love to be her.

After listening to me grouse, she simply said, “Let reality be beautiful.”

Wow. If that doesn’t strike a chord in you, then you are tone deaf.

And you know, why the hell not? If things are good, then I should enjoy them. I need to live in the now, because the now, right now, is awesome!

I may not have any control over the meteors heading my way, but I certainly don’t have to poop all over my own party. I deserve as much beautiful reality as the next person. And so do you, dear reader.

Thanks Anju!


A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!

My Voice

I had a fascinating conversation with some old friends recently. I’ve known them for 10 years in the virtual world of Second Life. We hang out a couple times a week, but in all that time I’ve never heard their actual voices. All our communication is via text.

Am I alone in this? When I read something, I “hear” what I’m reading inside my head. I’ve always done that.

But the other day, for the first time, it occurred to me that when I read what these two friends type, I have different inner voices for each of them. Based on their personalities, my mind has created a kind and gentle voice for one, and a straightforward, practical, no-nonsense voice for the other. Fascinating.

So naturally, I asked what my “voice” sounds like to them. I was really surprised by the answer. They said it doesn’t sound like my blog.

That’s intriguing. I think of this blog as me on a screen. I’ve taken pride in laying myself bare and being honest and vulnerable here. But my friends say that in my blog I sound like a strong positive woman, and when I talk to them, I’m more fragile.

Hmm… Yeah, I can see that. Since I write my entries several days in advance, I have plenty of time for multiple revisions. That means by the time my posts reach you, I’ve edited out a lot of the craziness, impulsiveness, negativity, and basic hysteria. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) I think that makes the blog infinitely more readable, but perhaps it also makes it less “me”.

But when all is said and done, that’s the definition of true friendship, isn’t it? Someone who sees the unedited version of you, warts and all, and loves you anyway.

I’m a very lucky person.


Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

Revel in This Privilege




privilege; plural noun: privileges

synonyms:advantage, benefit

  • a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to a special place. We stood in line. Then we went into this booth and drew a curtain. There was a wall with many levers on it. I remember holding onto her skirt for balance and  looking up as my mother pulled some of the levers, and ignored others. Then we left.

I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time, although I’m sure she tried to explain it to me. I could tell that whatever it was, it was very important. I was proud of my mother for pulling those levers. And with that curtain drawn, I knew I had been let in on a big secret. It was exciting.

That was my first voting experience, and clearly it made a big impression on me, because as soon as I was old enough to vote, I did. And I always have. And I always will (despite the fact that the levers are gone, so it doesn’t seem nearly as cool).

It astounds me that more people don’t take advantage of this privilege. That’s what it is, you know. Not a chore. Not an inconvenience. A lot of people on this planet don’t have this right. They don’t get to voice their opinion about who should be running their country, and by extension, their lives. They don’t get to say, “This is how I want things to be done.” If you can do this, why on earth wouldn’t you?

Yes, we can talk about corrupt politicians, whether or not this or that race is rigged, how the rich have unfair influence and on and on, but imagine how much worse it would be if none of us voted at all. How quickly the virtual shackles would click on our wrists.

And as a woman, every time I vote I think of all the women who fought and died and protested and were jailed and went on hunger strikes and were force fed just so that this privilege could be mine. Any woman who does not vote may as well be slapping those women across the face.

This election may be the most important one this country has ever faced. Please don’t sit it out. Be grateful that your voice can be heard. Vote!


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

My Fry

There has been much ado about vocal fry of late. If you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere and don’t know what that is, it’s the quaver or creaky/growly sound some people have in their voices. It’s usually attributed to college-aged females, but I hear it in plenty of males, too.

It seems that a lot of people find it annoying. I never have. It’s just another voice quality to me. Some languages have a click sound. Some accents have a glottal stop (which I just love). Some people have vocal fry. Big deal. Sometimes it even sounds sexy, in my opinion, depending on the situation. But once you focus on it, you hear it everywhere.

I genuinely believe that no one employs vocal fry on purpose. I suspect most people don’t even realize they sound this way. I can attest to that. Recently, I was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the first time I listened to the interview I realized that I have vocal fry. It comes, it goes, but it’s definitely there.

You have to understand what a revelation this was for me. I’m 51 years old, and this fact had escaped me all these years. Imagine that. Needless to say, I’ve been hearing myself natter on about things for decades. How could I have missed this? It’s like suddenly discovering you’re a Martian after walking the earth for your whole life.

So, hi, I’m Barb, and I’m a fry-aholic.

Now, if you really want to be irritating, do that baby talk thing. That, you can control.


The Ultimate Interview

I will never know what my mother’s favorite color was. I’ll never know where she was when Kennedy was assassinated, or during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I’ll never know if she ever considered being a model. She certainly had the looks for it. Did she know anyone affected by the 1944 big top fire that happened near her home? I will never know these things because she died when I was 26 and it never occurred to me to ask those types of questions. I also can’t remember her voice, other than one particularly bad note she used to hit when singing one particular song. (She was beautiful, but she couldn’t carry a tune.)

When someone you love is dying, you’ve obviously got a lot on your mind. But if it’s your first major loss in particular, it’s quite possible that you don’t fully comprehend, or won’t allow yourself to completely accept, the fact that this is one change that’s going to be permanent. An enormous amount of history dies every time a person does.

If I had t to do over again, I’d ask questions, and lots of them. Think of it as a final interview. I’d even record it, so I’d have her voice as well. Here are some of the questions I would have asked my mother if given the chance.

  • What was your dream for your life?
  • How many times were you in love?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • Tell me where you were and what you were doing and thinking during various major historical events in your life. (VE Day, VJ Day, Kennedy Assassination, Martin Luther King’s Assassination, etc.)
  • What was the best day of your life aside from the birth of children?
  • What was the worst day of your life?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What were your dreams for my life?
  • If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What is the best trip you’ve ever taken?
  • What was your biggest achievement?
  • What was your biggest disappointment?
  • Describe a perfect day.
  • What would you change about your life?
  • If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learned?
  • What is your favorite joke?
  • What is the most fun you’ve ever had?
  • Who is the best friend you’ve ever had?
  • Tell me something about yourself that would surprise me.
  • Tell me about your first kiss.
  • Is there anything you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t said?
  • What do you believe will happen when you die?
  • Are you proud of me?
  • Was there anything you always wanted to learn but never got around to learning?
  • Do you know how much you are loved?
  • What would you like people to say about you after you’re gone?

Some of these questions will be harder to ask than others. But if you don’t ask them, you will never have the answers. And believe me, there’s nothing worse than that.

Ma at 15

My beautiful mother at age 15.