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.

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?

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?

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?