Lessons Learned from Poetry

I took a bath the other day, dropping a fizzing bath bomb into the water, redolent of cucumber and green tea, and just soaked, thinking. Sometimes moments like these make all the difference.

I thought about a lot of things, but poetry, more than anything, lingered on my brain. Poems are such a beautiful art form, and like any art, the deeper you dive, the more ways there are to learn and grow.

Poetry taught me about the power of telling a story in a handful of words, and how doing so can bring people closer. It was forming connections between seemingly unrelated topics in poems that that taught me how to forge connections between myself and those very different from me.

Poetry also taught me even deeper lessons. When I first heard some of Guante's poems on consent and rape culture, I finally had words for sexual trauma I endured, and was able to start to heal. Listening to Emi Mahmoud taught me about genocide in a much more visceral way than I'd ever experienced. Poetry allowed me glimpses into lives very different than my own, and in doing so, gave me new lenses to re-examine my own life and connect with others in healthier ways.

I credit poetry, and writing in general, with a large part of my survival.

What poems or poets changed your life and yourself for the better?

Learning to Say No, Part 2: Start Small

But reframing only goes so far. "No" is still a hard sentence to say, and like any skill, it needs practice. So how do you start?

Start small.

"Do you need a glass of water?"

"No. Thank you, though."

"I love this book! I think you'd like it too. Do you want to borrow it?"

"I appreciate the offer, but no."

Once you're used to saying "No" to smaller things, try with something a little bigger.

"Can you give me a ride to work today?"

"No, got a doctor appointment. Sorry."

Practice saying "No" when you feel it, and it'll get easier to give your "Yes" meaning.

Enthusiastically choose your life.

Learning to Say No, Part 1: Reframing

In a world dominated by expectations and external pressures, saying no can be as terrifying as it is important. This can be especially true for women or feminine appearing folks, whose "No" is often used as justification for violence by others. While safety is important, the skill of saying no in the face of pressure is vital, even if it's only utilized in safer situations.

But how do you learn to assert your "No" when the world around you wants you to do the opposite? Aren't you letting folks down?

The first step is to reframe how you view the act of saying "Yes." When you answer "Yes" to something you dread, aren't you less enthusiastic? Do you speed through the task and wonder where time went? Or do you dread it, drag your feet and complain while doing it, and feel miserable and grumpy, rather than engaged with the task and the people you are doing it with?

Now think about the last time you said a "Yes" you meant with all of your heart. How did it feel to say?

How much does your "Yes" mean if it's said when you really want to say "No" instead? The more you say "No" when feeling it, the more honest and meaningful your "yes" becomes.

Love Letter to the Reader: #13

Hey you. I know life can be difficult and overwhelming sometimes. Today, remember that everything has seasons.

Stress is not forever. Struggle is not forever. Overwhelm is not forever. Sometimes it feels like everything is going wrong all at once and there's no hope, but remember: it's a season. It doesn't have to be a life.

So take that season minute by minute. Remember the cyclical nature of time and experiences, but also that every time you face the harder seasons you do so a little older and wiser, and that every hard season has an end.

Minute by minute, continue to grow.

I love you.

Spot of Wonder

As the car rumbled across the highway, I noticed leaves flaming with fall. It's the beginning of August, and there's already omens of my favorite season. Staring at the brilliant reds and oranges, I drew in my breath at the wonder of nature. Maybe the hot days are fading.

The progression of seasons is still a new thing for me. Coming from central Arizona, I'm used to varying shades of too hot and little else. I'm grateful for seasons, though. Without the rest of the seasons, I might not know how wonderous fall truly is.

First, there's the temperature. Cooler, certainly, sometimes even chilly. It's cool enough to walk through even for my poor heat tolerance, but rarely snowy. Perfect walking weather.

Then there's the leaves. Besides the temperature, seeing leaves change colors is my favorite part of Autumn. The brilliant colors the trees light up with remind me of flames and the importance of change and letting the past go.

Fall is coming. What changes are you welcoming with it?

Wants vs. Actions

One of the most important things I've learned from my boyfriend is the importance of acting with the long-term in mind. In the past, this is something I've struggled with. Sometimes it's easy to fall into the "want" trap and get things that bring me joy in the moment, but don't sustain that or further my goals. Instead, I want to build my future deliberately. While I don't deprive myself of joy as a whole, I try to pick the joys that further me, and to put aside what little I can toward those. I remind myself of this goal with a mantra: "Wants are temporary. Actions are not."

What joys can you bring to your life that benefit you in the long-term? What actions can you take today toward your goals?

Love Letter to the Reader: #12

When I was a child, I thought of every sunrise as a new beginning. Today, remember that it can be. With every breath of dawn, you can find another chance.

There is so much beauty in the world, and people can be just as kind as they can be cruel. Remember the last time someone held a door from you when your hands were full. Remember the first time you heard reassurance that pain wasn't forever. I remember clearly the first time someone told me it was going to be okay with genuine care in their voice. I was fifteen, crying on a bed in a boarding school. I will never forget how it felt to know someone cared. Reassure someone else today, and know: as long as you are alive, there is hope.

I love you.

Grow and Release

No one is perfect, and neither are our circumstances, but as humans, there is a very real tendency to find shame or blame in mistakes and perceived failures. Neither of these are productive. Blame is an attempt to control that which is out of our control: the actions of others. This infringes upon the autonomy of others. Shame is holding yourself to unrealistic standards of performance and reframing problems with your behavior as problems within your fundamental identity, therefore removing them from your control.

There are other options in response to mistakes and failures, however, and perhaps the most useful is that of growing and releasing. Instead of shaming yourself for your mistakes, learn from them and thank them for what they taught you, then let them go. If someone else makes a mistake that affects you, learn from it. Take the new things you've learned and change or stop your own interactions accordingly, and as you move past the instance, know that you are stronger and more aware for what you have learned.

What is a mistake or failure you have grown from and past? What is one you want to grow and release from?

Joy as Active Practice

What's wrong is always available, but so is what's right.

When the day-to-day problems get overwhelming, I try to remember the day-to-day successes. Sometimes getting out of bed is a success. Other days it's cleaning the entire house, or writing a chapter of a book, or a blog post like this one. From the small to the huge, though, each success reminds me I am capable.

Along with successes, I spend a little time each day on gratitude. I think about the connections that enrich my life, the pets that cross my path, and the wonder of living somewhere with natural water sources and green growing things. I remember what it was like without those things, and breathe a deep sigh of relief that they are there now.

I think about my favorite meal I ate recently, and about the most interesting thing I learned that day. I think about music, and about the way the light dapples through trees, and the dreams I'm working toward.

Suddenly, once again, I love my life.

What is going right in your life today?

Love Letter to the Reader: #11

Hey you. I want you to know it's okay to hurt. I know sometimes grief and pain feel like they can swallow you whole, but remember every feeling is transient, good or bad. Allow yourself to feel your emotions while realizing they won't always be there in the same form.

Allow yourself to cry if you need to. Ask for hugs when you want them. Speak to friends. Seek the distractingly beautiful.

Give yourself a sense of purpose through a goal you want to achieve. Maybe it's a dream you've had for a while you've delayed for others. Maybe it's just to breathe through the next ten minutes. Whatever the goal, let it motivate your survival.

More than anything, remember this: You are not alone.

I love you.

Thankful for Dysphoria

I've been thinking a lot lately about being thankful for unpleasant emotions because they can often teach and transform us so much more than moments of joy. I've spent a while this past week or so specifically thinking about gender dysphoria, and how it transformed my own life and ultimately led to my moments of greatest fulfillment and to the people with whom I am closest. Looking back, many of my moments of most transfixing joy were brought about because of the deepest grief or pain.

So today, I'm going to thank my dysphoria for what it has taught me about what my body needs in those moments.

Dysphoria is like any other unpleasant emotion in that when I try to escape or ignore it, it worsens, but if I have the courage to sit with it, it can ease. Just like how jealousy can point out to me when I am feeling neglected or insecure, dysphoria serves a purpose and tries to create an awareness of a need.

Sometimes needs are temporary. Sometimes they are not. So I'll sit with the feelings when they arise. Converse with them, even, if I can. Ask them what they wish to teach me, and think on it. Most of all, I will breathe deep and know that all emotions are temporary, even if needs may not be. This pain will ease, even if just for a moment.

I'll breathe in and breathe out, knowing I do not battle alone.

---

What are some unpleasant emotions that have helped you grow recently? What moment of struggle are you most grateful for?

Spot of Wonder

I've spent the morning curled up on the couch with my partner and my metamour, showing each other music and eating together. The flowers I bought for Nikki are blooming bright and beautiful, bringing spring to the winter in a flash of daisies and yellows. Earlier I sipped blueberry tea with honey to soothe my sick throat, and now I'm about to start my day of errands, homework, and spending time with friends.

I still can't get over how full my life feels these days, and nearly all of it good. A room away, Nikki is starting to cook for a potluck later, and walking up the street through the park to my best friend's house flashes through my mind. Just then, Nikki takes a break from cooking and kisses my shoulder as she walks into the next room. As I smile at her, I've never felt more home in a person's eyes.

A year ago, my life would seem unimagineable: too good to exist. It still does, but I'm living it. My metamour walks in to the kitchen where I'm standing now, catching her breath from a jaunt through the cold outside, and I realize again that I have a family among my friends and loved ones as she smiles in my direction.

My five years on testosterone was less than two weeks ago. My twenty-ninth birthday is in four days. I smile as I glance around my home. I love my life.

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Spot of Wonder

Wonderful memories from a wonderful 5 days with my amazing partner. I feel like I'm floating.

A journal found wandering a 3 story Barnes and Noble by the Chesapeake Bay

A journal found wandering a 3 story Barnes and Noble by the Chesapeake Bay

Petting jellyfish at the National Aquarium

Petting jellyfish at the National Aquarium

Dressing up just because

Dressing up just because

Cooking together

Cooking together

Flowers

Flowers

The kitchen herbs I'm growing for her sprouting

The kitchen herbs I'm growing for her sprouting

Love Letter to the Reader: #10

Whenever I notice a friend having a rough time, or they just wander through my mind, I like to send reminders of their importance to me.

So here's a friendly reminder for you:

You are worth more than the scars on your skin and the pain behind your eyes. They would have you believe you are nothing, but the atoms that form the people you love think they're nothing too, even as you see the galaxies spiraling in every smile. You are matter and light, and that matter has a place in this universe.

I love you.

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Love Letter to the Reader: #9

Hey you. I want you to know you matter. Whether you believe this is one in a series of lives, or, like me, believe this is all we've got, we're alive in this moment so let's own it.

Today, eat foods that fill you with joy and leave you glowing with health. Take a walk. Stare at the beauty of nature. Find joy in being here and being alive. No matter how tough things are right now, you've survived to this moment, and that's something worth being proud of.

Honor your body. Take a moment to sit in it and find things you love about it. Find gratitude and wonder in its unceasing fight for life.

What is your happiest memory? What aspect of it can you recreate in your life in this moment?

We are but a flicker in time, so shine your brightest and outdazzle the stars.

I love you.

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Spot of Wonder

Life has been a lot lately. What with the political nightmare in the US, I've been pretty drained and overwhelmed. Yesterday was even more of a slice of hell, though, so I'm taking this moment to be grateful for the people in my life.

When I got harassed and frightened at uni yesterday, my friends rallied around and messaged me support and encouragement. My bestie pushed me to report the jerk, who worked at the school, and when I was crying in the hallway before class, my physics professor went with me to the dean's office to report the person at a higher level. My boyfriend, unfortunately far away in Florida, listened to me vent and offered e-hugs, support, and anger on my behalf.

I feel lucky to have such a wonderful, supportive group of people around me, and grateful to know that when the going gets hard, I'm not alone like I used to be. So for the friends reading this, I love you all, and for the future friends, I love you too. I feel so lucky, even amidst the stress.

~<3

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Love Letter to the Reader: #8

This fall, become more you. Let the cooling weather strip away the parts of yourself you no longer need. Let the shorter days take all your doubts and limiting beliefs. And as the leaves flame and then fall, let too your passions flame and your goals tumble before you. Focus, and do more than be. Become.

I love you.

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Love Letter to the Reader: #7

Hey you. Even in the moments where it feels like light and life has left you, remember you are not alone. When the sun only serves to highlight the emptiness, remember it just makes room for new things to fill and heal you. Reach out your hand, and reach out your voice.

Compliment a stranger’s clothes. Hold open a door for someone in a hurry. Little gestures can save a day, both for you and the one you are offering them to.

Dress to impress, even if the one you’re trying to impress is yourself. You are worth the effort.

Take yourself on a date. Do all the things that you most love and that most heal you. Eat your favorite foods. Draw, or watch a movie, or listen to that song you love that you’ve had stuck in your head for weeks. Find a quote that moves you. Put it on your wall.

Think of all the once-impossible things that have been achieved. Flight. The internet. Even the printing press. Set your own “impossible” goal, and start turning it into reality.

Page through a magazine and find a picture of something beautiful. Take a picture of yourself and find something beautiful in it. Make something beautiful, whether it’s a drawing or a bracelet or a movement.

Breathe. You are not alone.

I love you.

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