Some cool quotations

When I was in graduate school, I walked into my mentor’s office for the first time and was overwhelmed by the quotes he had on his walls. Every wall had postcards, slips of paper, yellow-lined paper, hand-written and typed quotes. It was a bit like a scene from A Beautiful Mind, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

Now I’m about at the same age my mentor was then, and I, too, am obsessed with quotes. I love coming across words written by someone else that resonate with something important inside me, words and ideas that support, clarify, or amplify things I, too, have been thinking. I spend whole days ruminating on quotes. Through my years as a teacher, I have taught the same poems enough times that lines float through my mind.

I am not, like some people, able to recall relevant quotes when I need them. I can’t even remember authors’ names half the time. But right now, I feel like reading is taking a walk through a gorgeous landscape, and the quotes are the things I simply must take a picture of to remember and think about later.

So having said that, here are a few quotes I’ve really enjoyed recently.

from Ranier Maria Rilke:

All tenderness you may feel for your childhood is good.


There are the hurts. And, always, the hardships.
And there’s the long knowing of love–all of it
unsayable. Later, amidst the stars, we will see:
these are better unsaid.


How delicious it is to wake up in a place where no one, no one in the world, guesses where you are. Sometimes I have stopped spontaneously in towns along my way only to taste the delight that no living being can imagine me there. How much that added to the lightness of my soul!

from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The good news is that the moment you decide that what you know is more important than what you have been taught to believe, you will have shifted gears in your quest for abundance. Success comes from within, not from without.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It is easy to live for others, everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” 
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Quick Word on Gaslighting

(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you.)
–Walt Whitman

I was talking with a friend the other day–a smart friend who has been through therapy more than once and has thought a lot about psychological issues–and I used the term “gaslighting.” This friend gave me a blank look, so I tried to explain it.

A brief explanation isn’t easy, trust me. If you want a fuller explanation, I highly recommend you read this short blog post. Basically, “gaslighting” has come to mean when you substitute your own reality for someone else’s. It most frequently happens when one person says, “That hurt” and the other person says, “No it didn’t.”

That’s a simplification, of course. Variations on this include someone saying, “You hurt my feelings” and another person saying, “You’re just too sensitive.” So…instead of recognizing that someone feels hurt, we take away that person’s permission to feel hurt. We tell her/him that s/he SHOULDN’T feel hurt. We try to fit FEELINGS into a right/wrong scenario.

We start this with children: Susie hits Bobby and he cries outrageously, dramatically, pouring it on. A parent says, “Oh come on, it didn’t hurt that bad.” And the parent is probably right: the reaction is outsized compared to the actual pain.

But guess what? We’re not kids anymore. And that strategy of dealing with other people’s pain is very unhelpful when we’re trying to be psychologically astute, mindful grown-ups in relationships with other grown-ups.

So I propose the following:

1. You are ALWAYS allowed to feel whatever you feel–hurt, sad, happy, relieved, scared, whatever.
2. When someone tells you s/he feels ANYTHING negative, DON’T respond by implying the feeling is somehow unearned. I’m not saying you have to take full responsibility when you didn’t intend to hurt the other person. Just say this: “I’m sorry you feel hurt.” If you’re especially courageous, try, “I’m sorry I hurt you” or “I’m sorry what I said or did hurt you.” This situation is NOT about right and wrong. It’s not about who has the moral high ground. It’s simply about someone having feelings.
3. When you feel hurt (or anything else), recognize that FEELINGS are NOT the same as ACTIONS. You are absolutely allowed to feel anything at all, to whatever degree you feel it. But feeling angry DOES NOT justify you yelling at or punching someone else. And those kinds of behaviors don’t lead to any kind of understanding, nor to any cessation in the feeling you’re having.
3b. I would also add that often, anger is related to hurt; that what makes us angry is, in fact, feeling hurt.

In other words, don’t gaslight. If someone else is hurt by something you said or did, be courageous enough to face that hurt with compassion. You didn’t intend to be hurtful, and you know it. If you don’t understand why the person is feeling hurt, gently ask for an explanation. Apologize not because you did anything “wrong,” but because you genuinely feel sad that the other person is hurt. (Incidentally, one reason people gaslight is because they feel guilty for having hurt someone else; more of that poisonous judgment, only this time directed inward instead of outwards.)

And if you’re feeling hurt, try to communicate that feeling without blame. This is why therapists suggest “I” language to couples: “I feel hurt” is a very different statement from “You hurt me.” It is easier to move away from offense and defense–and towards nonjudgmental connection–when each person is responsible for clearly articulating how s/he feels.

There is, of course, more to say on this subject, including the fact that our language doesn’t help when we’re trying to express that someone else’s pain also makes us feel pain. “I’m sorry” is woefully inadequate, when what you really want to say is something like, “I suffer because you are suffering.”

We will all screw up and hurt someone else. It’s inevitable, and we can’t lead our lives trying to be “perfect” so that never happens. But when it does, we can let others and ourselves off the hook by simply saying, “I’m sorry you feel hurt.”

The wonderful corollary to that is: “I’m joyful you feel happy.” Here’s to more of those comments for all of us.

"Theme for Form & Technique of Poetry"

First, if you don’t know the amazing Langston Hughes poem, “Theme for English B,” go read it now. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

Now I’ll just provide a short introduction, and then you can read an imitation of this poem written by one of my students in Form & Technique of Poetry this past semester. This is our beginning poetry writing class at USF, and yes, one of my assignments is for them to write an imitation poem. It’s not only a great way to learn techniques; it’s also a long-standing literary tradition, and many publishing poets still use it as a way to get a poem started. Also, it often produces terrific student poems, as the original poem both frees them from their worries about being profound and challenges them to think in ways they hadn’t before.

So this is one of many wonderful student poems I got to read this semester. Like so much of my students’ work, it showcases issues we still must face in America in 2013–for example, the issue of race and higher education. And of course it gets me thinking about the links between (to steal Taylor Mali’s phrase), “stage” poetry and “page” poetry. But mostly this poem just makes me sit back and recognize the unique wisdom each one of our (often very young) students brings into the world, and reminds me that my job involves me being a part of that. How very lucky I am.

Theme for Form/Technique of Poetry
 by D’von Edwards
The professor said,
                  Go home and imitate
                  one of the great poets that inspires you
                  and let yourself run through the words–
                  in this way, anything that comes out will be yours.

As if it’s ever that simple.
I am eighteen, black, born in Miramar, Florida.
I lived there. I loved there. I thrived there.
I survive here. 
I am the only colored student in my class.
After lesson I prefer to take the route home I know best
on pothole ridden back roads
past unscrupulous characters,
through empty parking lots
and up into the bowels of Castor Hall
where I sit at my desk and go back to Miramar to write this:
As if it’s ever that simple.
Some of the very lines I write
I used in rhymes in a life past.
It’s not the same though.
If they’re confined to a page they aren’t free to be me.
They don’t crack with excitement at the thought of a challenge
or burn with righteous indignation
nor do they bleed with enough sarcasm to exsanguinate my insecurities.
They don’t eat, sleep, drink, smoke, or know of being in love
or tell you they are plagued with the paradox of being home sick and sick of home.
If they aren’t me who can they be?
Maybe they belong to the person that credits their worth
with credits and comments and numbers and A’s and B’s and C’s .
And for the hell of it, I’ll add a line about bad bitches with double D breasts,
and it will belong to the same person who will put a third to complete the trilogy
of misogyny, lewdness, and failure.
That is me, but the words on the page are yours,
do with them as you wish.
This is my imitation poem for Form/Technique of poetry.