Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Story of Authenticity and Abuse

Late last night I was messing around with my new toy (i.e. this blog) when I noticed that Kathryn Petro-Harper had linked her blog to mine. Perhaps you can imagine my delight: For a brand new blogger, every link is a vote of confidence and encouragement. So, I headed over to Kathryn's blog, A Mindful Life, feeling very happy with this amazingly generous world, all who live in it, and especially Kathryn, who I admire anyway.

When I got there, I was not prepared to have my heart wrenched, but that's exactly what happened: My heart got wrenched.

Maybe I felt the wrenching so acutely because it was late at night and I was tired. When we're tired, we are usually more open to emotional shocks than when we're rested. But whatever the case, on Kathryn's blog I immediately came across a saddening, troubling story from her life that struck me poignantly.

I should caution you that it might not strike you quite as poignantly as it did me. A little while back, Kathryn posted her spiritual biography. I read it. Found some life similarities between us, and to some extent I can now empathize with her. Besides which, she strikes me as artistic, intelligent, spiritual and compassionate: Really, all useless qualities in today's world, but nonetheless charming. So, I wasn't prepared late last night when I showed up on her blog to read of how she had been violated and abused in an admittedly common -- but still outrageous -- way.

To really understand some kinds of common, trivial ways people are abused, we must step back and forget our familiarity with them. Familiarity can kill insight. So can the thought the abuse doesn't matter because it's so trivial. Life is more often about the trivial than the grand, and unless we understand the trivial, we cannot hope to understand life.

What happened to Kathryn was pretty simple. You can read about it here. A year ago she joined, in initial good faith, a poetry forum on which it turned out her work was continually subjected to hyper-criticism from other forum members and even from moderators.

Unfortunately for Kathryn, she seems to have made the mistake of respecting the expertise of those people, and of trying very hard to learn from them. Predictably, she could never satisfy the bastards --- for they were playing bastard games with her --- but her good faith effort to learn from them made her vulnerable to internalizing their hyper-critical view of her work.

If you have ever yourself written much poetry, you know what happened next. In Kathryn's own words, "When I write a poem now, I choke. I hear the critic before I even capture an image and taste the words. I can’t hear the music in them now." This comes from a very strong woman who has endured much and survived much in her life.

Poetry is something most of us write a bit of as teenagers and then give up when we become too self-conscious of what we're writing. The words and music have to flow from "the muses". The best poetry never comes from consciousness alone. Everyone knows that. The people who abused Kathryn knew it too. They were not playing their bastard games with her in deep ignorance of the harm they were causing by making her self-conscious and hyper-critical of her own gift. They knew, on some level, they were stifling her. And they didn't care.

Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that most of us know it's commonplace for petty people to "show their superiority" by vigorously criticizing others, but we don't always see such abusive behavior for the evil it is. It is too familiar to us. So familiar it has almost lost the power to offend, and so we are not outraged by the outrageous behavior of the petty bastards among us.

Yet, abuse is abuse is abuse. All abuse is at heart the same: An unnecessary oppression of someone. If we are going to fight abuse --- including much worse abuse than Kathryn suffered --- then we cannot allow ourselves to see any abuse of people as acceptable. For us to say that some abuse is acceptable because it is so common, or because it is so trivial, or because it only stifles the creation of a few poems here and there is akin to saying we should tolerate a sewer backing up into our living room so long as it doesn't get more than an inch deep.

Those were my thoughts and feelings late last night when I ran across Kathryn's post on her blog. Yet, there happens to be a twist to this story --- and it's a very good one.

Happily, the very next post I read on her blog last night was a beautiful poem. That is to say, Kathryn has risen above the petty jerks at the poetry forum and has started writing again (You can't keep a good woman down). She went to the beach yesterday and wrote the following, which is called, "A Visit With Mother", and I hope she doesn't mind my reproducing it in full here:

The ocean is a high contact sport. Expect to wrestle a wave.
Expect to be tackled, lifted up, tossed aside.
Waves sprint and jockey each other to the shore.
Cresting, they swap twelve-foot high fives.

Boys play tag with icy waves. Their cries of surprise
compete with seagulls. A toddler in pink totters toward
starlings holding their convention on the sand.
Her face beams as she waves to each bird.

You scuffle across dry sand and it pedicures your toes.
The wind is a penetrating caress.
It scrubs your face as its chill bleaches your mind.
Your eyes sting and weep in the salt air.

You do not come to the beach for tranquility and silence.
You do not come here for shelter.
You come to absorb ancient energy.
You come to feel the rhythm of waves in your blood.

You come to swing on the tidal pendulum.
You come to submit to the scrutiny of the baldly shining sun.
You come to gaze at the horizon melting into thousands
of miles of nothingness and possibility.

You come to release your illusions.

Anyone who can write verse like that has my admiration. I hope she continues to create beautiful poems.

The thought occurs to me --- a bit late --- that I don't actually know Kathryn, except from her blog, and that she might think me presumptuous to write so much about her. I certainly hope that is not the case if and when she reads this, but if it is, I shall willingly apologize and then delete this entry. So, if you read this one day and then find it gone the next, you'll know what happened and that it's my fault for having been intrusive.


Anonymous said...

Poetry is astounding to me. I applaud you people with a talent for words.

jacquie4000 said...

I love to read people's writtings or Poetry. I am just happy that people share their inner most workings on paper for me to read and enjoy. I myself have written all my life. I would not say it is Poetry by any means. When I can not sleep and random things come into my head I reach for my writting book and pen beside my bed and write down what is chewing away at my body and soul or what might be inspiring me at that particular moment. It helps me to recall all the moments in my life and someday my son will be able to read them and always be able to keep me close by.

Paul said...

What a wonderful thing to say, Patty!

Will you be putting any of your late night poetry up on your new blog for us to enjoy, Jacquie?

jacquie4000 said...

Paul I am debating the idea yes. I would not know where to start. I have been keeping all my personal journies and writtings on my life since I was ten years old. I guess I will have to read through them and see what I think might be of interest.

Kathryn said...

Paul, I'm honored that you've featured me so prominently and that I made such an impression on you. You make an excellent point on how the petty cruelties humans inflict on each other can be more damaging than we realize.

One thing to mention is that, while I submitted a few poems to the forum, I was not raked over the coals as badly as you might guess. What got to me was the way they treated newcomers in general. The tone was mean-spirited, and I saw it over and over again. It's not an atmosphere I find conducive to creativity.

Then there's my tendency toward perfectionism; I immersed myself in all the resources on writing and critiquing poetry (much of it excellent). The more I read, the more constrained I became. I often get caught up in the process of learning about something and forget about the joy of playing.

And lastly, there was one jerk who sought me out, and we exchanged some emails. He tried to psychoanalyze me and it was clear his ego ruled him. Because I wanted to learn, I allowed myself to be more open to his "advice" at first than was wise for me. I turned out not to be the sychophant he sought, though; he thought I whined too much. Good riddance.

In the end, it's unfortunate for people this forum is so toxic. I'm sure the treatment people receive has put some of them off of writing or appreciating poetry forever. For me, it simply hobbled me awhile. Over time I will be able to free myself.

eolake said...

For getting over the emotional residue of any kind of abuse, big or small, I recommend methods like EFT or The Sedona Method.

Paul said...

Kathryn,thank you so much for dropping by to clarify what was going on with that poetry forum. I much appreciate it.