May 7, 2024

Andrea Gibson – Befriending Mortality

Thomas is joined by Andrea Gibson – one of the most celebrated and influential spoken word poets of our time. They discuss how Andrea’s cancer diagnosis resulted in a profound spiritual transformation stemming from a liberating feeling of acceptance. She also explains how this shift radically changed her writing and performances.

Andrea shares stories and poetry that illuminate their unique perspective on death and grief, imploring us to face the unknown with curiosity and courage, and stop fighting against the circumstances of life. They and Thomas explore how welcoming feelings of grief and embracing mortality can enable us to truly cherish our lives and relationships, and imagine a world filled with wonder and awe.

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“We don’t have to learn how to love ourselves. We just have to learn to shuck off everything that’s in the way of us knowing that we love ourselves.”

- Andrea Gibson

Guest Information

Andrea Gibson

Andrea Gibson is one of the most celebrated and influential spoken word poets of our time. Best known for their live performances, Gibson has changed the landscape of what it means to attend a “poetry show.” Gibson’s poems center around LGBTQ issues, spirituality, feminism, mental health, and social justice. The winner of the first Women’s World Poetry Slam, Gibson is the author of seven award-winning books and seven full-length albums. Their live shows have become loving and supportive ecosystems for audiences to feel seen, heard, and held through Gibson’s art.

Learn more at andreagibson.com.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • The benefit of welcoming feelings of grief and how that leads to acceptance
  • How lovely the world can become when you stop fighting the circumstances of life
  • The deep spiritual value in understanding that everyone is a mystery
  • How accepting what is without resistance is a portal to self-love.
  • The deep spiritual practice of “unknowing” your loved ones

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome back to the Collective Trauma Summit. My name is Thomas Hübl. I’m the convener of the summit, and I have the honor and the deep joy to be sitting here with you, Andrea, Andrea Gibson. So warm welcome to the summit.

Andrea Gibson: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Thomas: So I love… I deeply love poetry. I mean, deeply love arts, poetry, and music, obviously, and I always get the feeling that unspeakable things in regular words are being voiced through poetry and music of the soul in a ways speaking. But also, poetry is like a stream, and I’m wondering how did you find out that poetry is something that calls you, or that speaks through you, that comes to you? Tell us a little bit how this… I mean, poetry is not the classical career path. How did you find out that poetry you were dancing?

Andrea: Well, I think it came in waves. When I was younger, I wasn’t a big writer in my youth. I spent a lot of my youth just outside running through the woods playing in the trees running through the blueberry fields. And I didn’t want to ever spend much time with books. I thought of it as… When I was reading a book, I felt like I was looking down, and when I wasn’t reading a book, I was looking up at the world. But I loved to write, and I had a short attention span, so I started writing little poems when I was young. And then, I studied creative writing in college and I started to fall in love with poetry there.

But I didn’t really fall in love with it until I discovered spoken word when I was in my very early 20s. And as soon as I attended a spoken word poetry event where I was watching people on stage read poems with so much passion and so much energy, and something I loved about spoken word was, oftentimes, people were memorizing their poems. And so I was watching the artist make eye contact with the audience, and I could feel how the audience was almost pulling the poem out of the poet.

And though I had a terror, I didn’t… I had no terror at the time that was greater than public speaking. I couldn’t imagine ever getting on stage. I loved the art form too much not to do it. And so I started doing it, and every time I got on stage, my hands were trembling and trembling. And I had heard this thing that said when an animal escapes a predator in the wild, it stays in one place and it just shakes for 10 or 15 minutes, and releases the trauma of the chase out of the animal’s body.

And whenever I was shaking on stage like that, a lot of it was fear. But I also related to it as if I was shaking off the trauma of my entire life. And I never stopped shaking on stage. I never stopped scaring me until just a couple of years ago. I would have panic attacks on stage. I would have anxiety attacks. I would be trembling. And I just loved it too much to stop doing it. And I loved that you said that it’s like music because I think one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, said that she thinks poetry is closer to music than it is to prose. And I agree.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. It’s also pretty impressive. And I listened to you, and you say, okay, you had such a strong fear, but your passion was stronger than the fear-

Andrea: Yes.

Thomas: … and that kept you going. And also, it’s beautiful. I mean, you know I work with a lot of trauma, and what you said about the shaking. I mean, I see this every day when bodies release fear and stress, and I don’t know, trauma. And it’s beautiful how you spoke about how the body gets rid of that kind of strong tension. And maybe you can speak… Maybe can you describe a little bit when you read poetry or when you write poetry what’s your internal process? How do you experience the creative act and also the speaking? What’s that experience like?

Andrea: When I write, I think it’s probably quite different than how other people write because I write moving around. I pace the room I’m in, or if I’m outdoors, I just pace, and I’m hardly ever sitting down, and I’m making sounds. So I know the sound of the poem before I know the words. And I’ve often said that I think the words, when it comes to spoken word, are kind of irrelevant compared to the energy of the piece.

I’ve always loved the idea that if somebody was in the audience who didn’t speak English, they would have a sense of what the poem was about just from sound. And so I’ll pace the room, and I’ll be making these sounds that are matching the emotion of what I’m trying to convey. And then, once I find the sound, I fill in the words later. But it is so… There is never a time in my life where I feel more connected to everything and everyone.

It’s just this deep connection I feel connected to everyone who… My ancestors, who have left their bodies. I feel connected to my so-called enemies, all of it. It just feels like this deeply connective emotional experience. And then when I get to the word parts of it, that’s also fun, but it’s not the most potent part of writing for me.

Thomas: I can feel that. It almost feels to me shamanic when you started talking.

Andrea: Yeah.

Thomas: It feels like it’s a shamanic act. It’s like a ritual your writing. It’s beautiful. And so maybe speak a bit more because I think it’s wonderful to participate in somebody’s creative process. And when you speak about you feel connected, you feel your ancestors, you feel… Maybe you can speak a little bit more about how do your ancestors come in and how does… Because, to me, it feels when you write, you start moving something. I mean, you become part of a movement that starts moving something, whatever it is.

Andrea: Yeah.

Thomas: And maybe you can speak a little bit more to that.

Andrea: Yeah. Well, in regards to my ancestors, my grandma Faye when she… she was a seamstress and she raised all of her children alone, just sewing other people’s clothes. And when she passed, I inherited her thimble collection, and I remember getting them in the mail, and I would put a thimble on each finger, and I would start to type the words with the thimbles on my fingers. It was as if we were… I was making art with my grandma.

And I still do it. I have the thimbles on my writing desk, and whenever I sit down to write, sometimes, every few days, I’ll just type with her. We’re making art together. But when I got diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with my partner, who was also a writer and has a fear of dying without having written everything that she wants to write. And at that time, I started feeling into that, and I recognized that I don’t believe I can leave this world… I don’t believe that I could die and take anything this world needs with me to the other side.

I feel like energy works in that way where it will just sort of scatter like seeds and bloom elsewhere and bloom. And the people who knew me or maybe just a stranger on the other side of the world who read a poem of mine once and knows a better ending, I don’t know. So I often think about a lot of the art that we make is being made by just connection with the dead.

Thomas: And how did your diagnosis and the relationship to this time, I’m sure that there’s a big impact in your life. How did that inform you, inform your experience, inform your art? What was that like for you, or is that like for you?

Andrea: Yeah, so a couple of years ago, I got diagnosed with a very aggressive kind of ovarian cancer that has, on average, a two-year life expectancy. I’m at two years right now. I’m still in treatment. And its impact was the exact opposite of what I expected would happen because I had spent my life as an extreme hypochondriac. I mean, it ruled every single moment of every day since I was a child. And then this was a really big fear of mine because my aunt had died of ovarian cancer. And then my grandma, Faye, who I just spoke about, died of a broken heart soon after. But I had an experience in the moment of my diagnosis where I immediately felt this sense of peace that I didn’t know was possible for a human being.

And especially not in that situation, like lying in the hospital bed, having just been told that I had this… a diagnosis. And I felt like, in that moment, it wasn’t anything I did. I can’t take credit for it. But I just felt like I was graced with this deep sense of peace and this deep sense of knowing that I was cherished and loved by the universe that we all were. And I could feel how that was almost undoing a lot of my trauma almost immediately because I think trauma, for me, my experience with it was that it left me with this sense of having to prove myself, of not believing in my lovability, having a lot of core shame within myself.

And then it almost… I started to feel it begin to fall off of me. It’s changed my art quite significantly because prior to that I was writing. I spent a lot of time writing about what was wrong with the world, and, “This is wrong. We have to change this. We have to change this.” And there is so much, so much that we have to change. And then, I had a different feeling about what would leave an impact. I had a sense of imagining a beautiful world, imagining or putting my attention on what was here and stunning and making that beauty even bigger. And so my writing has changed in the process where I want my writing to imagine wonder and awe and gratitude. And I’ve been leaning that way creatively ever since.

Thomas: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I read from you that… I’m paraphrasing this now. But if you write about animal farming, if you’re vegan, and you write about how terrible animal farming is that the cows have friends, and it struck me. I said, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And maybe you can speak a little bit to that. What’s the change-

Andrea: Yeah. And I don’t know, and I’m not to negate one. I don’t know which one is better. I just know which one is better for my spirit right now. I am very curious about what will leave a bigger impact. And so what you’re talking about, the easiest question that I’ve posed to people is if, “Okay, so if you’re a vegan and you want folks to go vegan and understand the horrors of factory farming, do you write about the horrors of factory farming and will that shift people’s views?

Or would it be more impactful to say something like, ‘Cows have best friends,’ which they do. That’s a fact.” And I don’t know, but I know that right now, where I am in my life that for nurturing my own wellness, I’ve been writing about cows having best friends and similar stuff too, with the same end in mind, with the same goal in mind. And so probably all of it needs to be happening because the truth is vital, and sometimes the truth is painful.

Thomas: That’s right. Is there maybe anything you would love to read right now?

Andrea: Oh, yeah. Do you have a topic you would like to hear something on?

Thomas: Either, I don’t know, relationship to the divine spirit, relationship to death, relationship to-

Andrea: Okay.

Thomas: … the beauty, whatever. All of what you said sounds interesting.

Andrea: Here, let me read a couple. I’ll do a couple short ones right now because my poems tend to be four or five minutes long. And so let me read a little short one. This is called What Can’t Be Taken. “Trauma was not being able to get the hands of the clock off of me. Healing was learning no one has ever laid a fingerprint on the part of me that’s infinite.” And then I’ll read this little one because this little tiny poem, which people tell me all the time isn’t a poem which has changed my life, and this is called Wellness Check. And it goes, “In any moment, on any given day, I can measure my wellness by this question: Is my attention on loving, or is my attention on who isn’t loving me?”

And I credit that idea with having shifted with so much of my joy these past two years because I used to have… as a queer person, as a non-binary person, I think I often had my attention on the ways that maybe the world wasn’t loving me or maybe family members that were struggling with my queerness weren’t loving me. Or even in a moment, my partner, I would come up with an idea that she wasn’t loving me and how much it transformed my life to, in those moments, put my attention on just loving myself. It just brightened everything inside of me. Yeah, it was… It made such a difference in my world.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. And how much did the journey that you had through your health crisis, how much… what do you feel that shifted in you in your life, like the way you relate to life? Maybe also your spiritual dimension, the relationship to death?

Andrea: Yeah. It’s hard for me to talk about without getting teary because there’s… I could talk for 20 hours, and it wouldn’t be enough because so much changed. I think one of the main things was I had always… I live outside of Boulder, Colorado, so I’d always been exposed to Buddhism in different spiritual practices, and I was seeking those out and my youth often because I wanted a way out of my suffering, and that was it. I was like, “Just get me to a place where I can tolerate my own trauma, my own suffering.”

But what I didn’t understand was that in this place of surrender or allowing or just saying yes to what came my way, and I know that can be a hard thing for people to want to do, but I can’t… to not be in resistance to the circumstances of my life, it became this portal almost to this sense of bliss. I mean, for 11 months after my diagnosis, I was in a state of bliss almost all of the time. It was really hard for people to understand, but a lot of it was that I just put my guard down. I stopped trying to protect myself. I accepted the circumstances of my life, and it immediately, without trying to fight with the circumstances of my life, it almost immediately rooted me in the present moment.

And what I didn’t know was living in the present moment would open me up to this sort of connection with the divine, which I had years ago… I grew up in the Baptist church, and I left in a sort of angry way when I came out as queer in my late teens. But I had always longed for some sort of relationship with something larger than myself. But I did not expect that that was what I was going to find when I was present. When I was in the moment that I was in, I didn’t know that I would have this sudden urge to say the word God. And I don’t, when I say God, I’m not thinking about a little man sitting on the cloud. I mean the God within us all. I mean consciousness.

I mean the divine energy of creation. And to just have this constant sense of being so held and safe in a way that isn’t how we define safety. Safety in just, “The universe is going to do what it’s going to do, and I am here to surf that wave.” And so it became fun. Life became fun. I was just like, “Wow, everything that it was bringing my way.” There’s so much to say about it, but I had this, I think, at the core of it, this sense of self-love, which I have since been trying to figure out a way to articulate, because what I’ve wanted my friends to know who are really struggling is this, we are consciousness, we are divinity itself.

And so we love ourselves. We deeply, deeply love ourselves. We don’t have to learn how to love ourselves. We just have to learn to shuck off everything that’s in the way of us, knowing that we love ourselves. And so I think that was at the core of everything. Once I started understanding I was loved and loving myself, then loving everything else felt so simple. I mean, I would look at the people in my life, and they seemed brand new to me. I think that’s… I don’t think there’s anything that you can do to love somebody better than to unknow them in every moment, to relate to them as if they’re a mystery, and to understand they are a mystery.

Thomas: That’s very powerful. I think that’s also a deep spiritual practice to unknow people.

Andrea: Yeah, it is.

Thomas: And we can really look at each other the way we are here, not the way we carry each other’s filters and memories and biases.

Andrea: Yeah.

Thomas: [inaudible 00:19:39].

Andrea: Yeah, absolutely. And that filter word is so powerful because I think that was another thing that I was doing. I was almost always looking at the world like I would look out, and then I would look back in at my psyche, at my wounds, at my past, and I would see the world through the filter of my own pain. And then I got to have this experience of just seeing the world without the filter of my pain. And then, all of a sudden, I felt like I was seeing the world as if it were a new planet as if I’d never seen it before.

Thomas: I think that’s a very powerful description. I think also because it reflects us all, we’re listening now to you. It reflects us all back to even begin to notice how many filters we might be looking through. And just to ask ourselves the question starts already an awareness process that it’s not given that the world is the way we see it, but actually, it’s filtered. And then I can… My past has a lot of things to say to whisper to me the way I look at the world. Yeah.

Andrea: Oh, yeah. And I keep… I mean, I catch myself all the time, and at this point, it’s fun to catch myself because I recognize that in the past, I wouldn’t have been able to catch myself. So it’s not that I’m just like all the time, everything… I still can get bothered by something, or somebody yells at me in traffic, and then I get to work with it. I get to work with it again.

Thomas: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s powerful. And I’m sure some of it is also in the kind of relationship to death, to our mortality. And I think that one… I mean, our summit here is about collective trauma, obviously. But in my work, I’m often saying that I think that the fear of death is actually not the fear of death. It’s many other fears that compose fear of death, all the transgressions, all the pain, all the torture.

Many things that we did to each other over thousands of years compose a deep fear. But I think that deeper inside, actually when we look at that, that there’s… that life is different. And I’m curious, I mean, I’m sure you also contemplated or dealt with this in the last two years, and maybe you can share a little bit. What’s your experience?

Andrea: Yeah, so I had a fear of death that, I mean, it was so chronic and all the time, I mean, I was… When I was a child, my mother had to make a list on the fridge. She put a list on the fridge of everything. I would say, during a day that, I would say, “I feel like I’m developing asthma around the barbecue grill. My toe feels weird. My tongue swells when drinking juice.” She made a list so that she could show me, “Andrea, there can’t be this many things in a day that could possibly kill you.” She was trying to help me. But that fear stayed with me, and it stayed with me in a really intense way until my diagnosis.

Well, right before my diagnosis, I was with a friend who was dying, and I watched her engage her death, and she grew up Buddhist. And I watched her engage her death in a way that I actually didn’t know was possible. Like three days before she was dying, she was super excited to go to this event, and she knew she was going to be dead in two days, and I didn’t know that somebody could get excited for something when they were that close to a death. But then, when I got diagnosed, I immediately felt like I was meeting the eternal part of myself and also was meeting the eternal part of everybody that I encountered in some way.

And I started just sort of actively talking and thinking about what would it be to form a loving relationship with my mortality. At that point, it was very… it was almost obnoxiously easy for me because I was so aware that anything that came my way… I was relating to it as if everything that came my way came on behalf of my spirit’s evolution, and that meant cancer, and that also meant death, like I no longer could think of death as an enemy. And I started to think of death as I wrote a poem about it, of like a daughter I was raising, and the name of the poem is To Raise What Will End Me With Love.

And it just became a beautiful process, and it’s something that I’m… I think the biggest fear for me was a fear of separation, a fear of just being separated from everyone I loved, which I no longer believed. I felt like if I were to die. I would be closer to everyone that I loved. And I had also had a fear of losing myself because I knew that I wouldn’t have my mind. And I thought, “Who am I without my mind?” But as soon as I started to have a more meditative life, I got to know who I was without my mind. And I like that me a lot more. I like that me a lot more. It doesn’t mean I’m not afraid.

I mean, it doesn’t mean I don’t have grief. It doesn’t mean I don’t have nights where I wake up and am like, “Oh my goodness.” Not necessarily about death itself but the dying process. And so, in the process of this, I’ve just learned to really open myself up to any of those feelings. And at this point, they’d never hang out for very long because I know how to welcome them. And so I think that it’s our sort of pushing away of emotions that makes them stick to us longer. And so the more I welcome that grief, the less it sticks around.

Thomas: That’s right. It’s beautifully said. I deeply believe what you said is true that when we resist emotions, they stick. When we let them flow, it’s like waves. They come, and they go. It’s beautiful. And I really love, it’s very touching to listen to you. The purity with which you speak about your situation, life and death, and the divine. There’s something very pure or naked to the way you express it that’s really touching.

Andrea: I imagine anybody probably would speak about it this way. When I first started having these experiences, I thought I was so unique, and I gratefully learned that that just wasn’t the case. So many people with a diagnosis like this are having very similar experiences. I was talking to a woman in a cancer group who just… There is a magic to this experience, but I think it’s a magic that is our birthright for all of us. And I wish that from a very young age, we were building this just really flowing relationship with our mortality because it makes life so much richer. And my therapist had told me for years that the fact that she was going to die, the fact that we were all going to die, was the seed of her building an ecstatic life. And I thought she was bonkers.

I’m like, “What? Oh, the fact that we’re all going to die is why I’m miserable.” That’s what I would say to her for years. But I get it now. I get it. It’s that the brevity, it wakes you up. You can’t help but just be woken up by the simple fact of the brevity of this life. This is called Time Peace. “I’ve never known who Nick is. I show up just in the stranger of time, sift every grain of sand from the Pacific coast into an hourglass that fits in my palm. I turn the hourglass upside down, and Vancouver trades places with San Diego. When they ask how I covered the wildfires in snow. I say, ‘I had time on my hands.’ My grandfather was a clock who stopped before I met him. I’ve heard he was so kind.

You could look into his face and know you’d never been late for anything. My mother is still a little girl riding on his shoulders. Time flies, and she reaches up to pluck feather pens from its wings so I can write this life down. I try to like write this life down, but it doesn’t stay down. It keeps flying so fast I count my wrinkles the way I used to count sheep. When the number gets high enough, I’m told I’ll fall asleep forever but… I once watched a woman skip her gravestone across a lake like a smooth pebble. Death hops if you let go at the right time. The Buddhist says, ‘The right time is always now.’ My father calls me on the phone, and before I can say hello, asks, ‘Do you know what Steve Jobs says the instant before he died?’ He said, ‘Wow, time is money, but the end of money is wow.’

My friend wakes up at noon. Goes to bed at eight. Wants less time, because she wants less pain. I understand. I’ve been there too. I can spot a scar beneath a wristwatch from a hundred yards away. And no, it’s not the weak who try to clock out early. It’s people who are desperate to go home. Einstein says, ‘Time is relative.’ Says, ‘The higher you get above sea level, the faster time goes.’ I live in Colorado. My house is over a mile into the sky. All day, I hear the wheels of time burning rubber on the clouds. My life in a getaway car, racing toward the border, which is just an invisible line. I only call death when I forget how to speak Eternity’s language. Forget that to run out of time is to run into the truth that none of us have ever been our bodies.

If we were, how would we fit into each other’s hearts? To make up for lost time, you did not need to know why time went missing, or what kidnapped it, or if its face was on the back of a milk carton every day for 15 years. To make up for lost time, you need only to put down the grudge you are holding. So you can pick up the phone and say, ‘How many days did we need each other at the same time, without knowing it?’ Bitterness is the easiest way to leave this world. Having had only a near-life experience. My partner and I have had hard days, hard months, but time stops when you’re in love. So I am the same age as I was when we met five years ago. She makes time for me with her own hands, builds me a watch from the silver that hasn’t yet grown in my hair.

Beside her, I’ve learned the only real way to waste time to drag the seconds to the curb to fill the landfill with minutes is to let my body be a time capsule I forget to put my heart in. Don’t forget to put your heart in. Regret is a time machine to the past. Worry is a time machine to the future. Gratitude is a time machine to the present. No one books my travel for me. I decide where I want to go. I decide if I will be a sculptor carving out time the way that Michelangelo carved the statue of David after two other artists gave up on that same block of marble, citing its poor quality, its impossible brittleness. All time is quality time. Don’t abandon your chisel believing it’s not. No matter how it looks, you and everyone you know have our glass figures. Each breath a falling grain of sand. To truly live is to see right through the skin to the avalanche.

If we never deny the inevitable end of the story, we will write it more beautiful while we’re alive.” And the interesting thing about that is this is a book I wrote right before I was diagnosed, and I had a strong sense that I was going to get sick soon. And I had this feeling like I was at the end of my life when I was writing this book. And so, so many of the poems in them are just… it’s wild to read them now because I’m a writer who I don’t always write where I am. I write sort of where I want to be in my consciousness and try to follow the poem in that direction. And so there’s a lot in this book that was an aspiration for me. And I wasn’t quite there. I was just writing where I aspired to be. And so it feels lovely to be closer to that place now.

Thomas: It’s very beautiful. [inaudible 00:33:30] how you do not let anybody make travel plans for you. I love it because, in our trauma work, we look at a lot how trauma creates past and how integration is presence. And so, when I listen to your poem it reminds me very much of how we create those split times in past, present, and future.

But actually healing trauma is also integrating the past into the present moment and how powerful that is. And I have the feeling that poetry, so when I listen to your poem or to your poems that you read, poetry has a way to invite us into that kind of present-moment experience. And maybe you can speak a little bit also your experience when you write poetry and presence. Maybe you can speak to that, or maybe, presence, creativity, and poetry, how they dance with each other.

Andrea: I think it was the one place in my life where I was always present when I was writing. And I think that was why it was the most joyful place. I love watching sports, and I think even if I don’t know the sport at all, because you can feel the people just being right where they are. And so I think that a lot of writers, I’m sure, have that experience of I’ll go into my writing room to write, and then it will be seven hours later, and I will have thought it was only two hours. Time doesn’t exist in presence here. And I guess that’s how I know. I remember when I used to play basketball as well. I would think, “The game’s over? We just started.” But it was because I so there.

And I think that is the healing aspect of it. There are so many healing aspects to writing. For me, it was the idea that shame can’t live in the light. So things that I was ashamed of I would bring to the page. And then, in an even more vulnerable way, it felt vulnerable to speak it out loud on stage. But just the act itself of just being in that moment and not being anywhere else, and you’re just noticing, you’re just paying attention. That’s the beauty of being a poet, I think. Whenever I’m hanging out with poets, I notice there is an attentiveness to life that I don’t always feel around everyone because you’re just paying attention.

And I think the key to being an artist of any sort is probably the most vital moments are the ones where we’re not making art at all, where we’re just noticing. And yeah, just noticing. I think of the world is so stunning, and there’s so much beauty everywhere. And I think, especially if we can find beauty in our own pain, which I never ask anybody else to do. I know that doesn’t go well. But I ask myself to do it. And it’s almost like we’re just… almost like poetry feels like plagiarism at all times because the world is so beautiful. You’re just writing it down. You’re just writing plagiarizing the natural beauty of the world.

Thomas: Mm-hmm. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. And also, I love what you said about present. That was the time in your life and you felt truly present. And you also said something powerful. Whenever we see people, it doesn’t matter if it’s sports or arts or anything else where people are really present. It’s attractive. And it’s attractive.

Andrea: It’s so attractive.

Thomas: Yeah.

Andrea: It really is, isn’t it? Sometimes things will pop up online about, “This is how you attract a man or a woman.” And I just want to say, just be there.

Thomas: [inaudible 00:37:35].

Andrea: That’s [inaudible 00:37:35]. Really, the sexiest thing you can do is just be there.

Thomas: No, truly. It is [inaudible 00:37:42].

Andrea: Yeah. Yeah.

Thomas: Yeah, I think so too. Right. Right. That’s beautiful. And so, speaking of presence, because you said something powerful too, at least for me. You said that when you’re in that present moment, you’re actually not writing poetry. You’re just noticing, and it turns into words, and it turns into your art. Let’s talk a little bit how you see poetry being a voice for things that cannot be said in different ways. Like how life creates a language, maybe through artists and through poets or artists to make the unspeakable speakable. And when you hear me say that, I’m wondering how you relate to that.

Andrea: When you say it, I go immediately back to Mary Oliver, who’s one of my favorite poets, which surprised me when I was young, because in my late teens and in my early 20s, I was angsty. I was angry, and I was gravitating towards this poetry. And Mary Oliver’s poetry is about the natural world. It’s about… She could write for pages about a lily pad, and I was just hypnotized by it. But where she would go with it was almost, I remember feeling like I was there. I was suddenly laying in a… laying on a fallen redwood tree in the forest, and I just loved that kind of poetry.

But there was also the poetry that I tended to gravitate towards later in life was very political poetry, which you would think would be a much different thing. But the thing that I learned about it and that I loved about it was I was wanting to change the world. I mean, don’t we all? I was wanting to change the world, and I thought that I could change the world by changing people’s minds. And I realized that what art was doing and what political art was doing when done well and done from the heart, it wasn’t changing people’s minds, but it was changing people’s hearts, and people’s hearts can change in an instant. I remember listening to poems and being one person, and then three minutes later, I was a different person. I was a different person three minutes later.

And I mean, my values changed, my beliefs changed. What I felt about myself changed. And I think that is just the beauty of it. And sometimes you can’t even point to the thing that did it. It just, you know something reached deep, deep inside of you. And I mean the spiritual heart that just… the one where just you are undone and then you are made new. You were inside a cocoon through the poem, and then you flew. And yeah, so I love all kinds of poetry, but that’s what I love about them. And I think their impact on the world is enormous because people’s minds don’t change, but people’s hearts can change very, very quickly.

Thomas: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I deeply feel that also when I listen to poetry, and it speaks to a different part of us, as you said. It doesn’t go through the irrational filters. It goes much deeper and much faster. That’s beautiful.

Andrea: Yeah. One of my favorite poets early on I remember I would always go to listen to him, and I would bring friends, and they’d say, “I don’t understand what he’s saying or what he means.” And I’d say, “I don’t either with my mind, but I feel myself being undone by this.” It was beautiful. And I preferred to listen to this poet, who I actually didn’t understand in the ways that we would define understanding, but I knew some other part of me understood.

Thomas: Mm-hmm. Maybe I also see our time. Is there another poem you would like to read? I love listening to you. It’s like music to my soul.

Andrea: Yeah. Let me read this poem. This is the last poem in my book, and it’s called The Last Hours. It’s more of a prose poem. It’s more of a little story. “We’ve been dating only two weeks…” And just so you know, I think that this speaks to how sometimes there are no words, but you’ll hear. “We’ve been dating only two weeks when the phone rings in the middle of the night. I beg every light green on my way to her house and the grief God’s answer. When I reach her, she is curled up in the garden. The earth is under her nails as if she’s just discovered something that could have fed the whole world wasn’t harvested in time.

She says nothing for almost half an hour then whispers, ‘My grandpa died.’ The moon flickers out like a candle. Our second date was a walk through a neighborhood where the porches were bigger than both of our homes combined. Does it thrill you or crush you to know no one inside is more grateful than us I would’ve asked if I hadn’t known the answer if the answer wasn’t the reason I loved her already, because that night was the first time my eyes weren’t too shy to look directly at her face. I finally noticed the gap in her teeth on Mapleton Street beside a house shaped like a wedding cake. ‘My grandparents have been married for 63 years,’ she told me, and a door in the center of her smile opened to a tiny Midwest church in 1944.

At the end of the aisle, two kids too young to know anything were promising each other everything. Now tonight, this simple garden is its own church, as she tells me about the last hours of her grandfather’s life. ‘He was in bed,’ she says. ‘My grandpa… My grandma was sitting beside him, holding his hand. He said the word love. Then a few minutes later, he said it again, and then he kept saying it. Love, love, love, love over and over for hours. He said it for hours, then kissed my grandma goodbye.’ There are enough tears between us to pull a redwood tree out of a nettle seed or to water the garden beneath us for a century. Six years from now, we will kiss for the last time. Seven years from now, we will take our first walk together as friends.

Eight years from now, a bicycle accident will shatter her two front teeth, and help beg her not to let the dentist fill the gap. She won’t listen, but the door to the church will stay open anyway. Each time she smiles, a bouquet of wildflowers will fly from her grandmother’s 22-year-old hand and move through the air and slow motion, trying to find a way to land in the arms of the whole world. I’ve written so many poems in my life, and every single one of them was just trying to find a better way to say what one soul said to another soul with one word. Isn’t it amazing that I came up so short? Isn’t it everything that I tried so hard and failed to write a single thing more beautiful than love?”

Thomas: That’s beautiful. Yeah. For me, it’s like a fragrance in the room that needs some space to unfold inside my body and inside my sensing. It’s beautiful.

Andrea: Yeah.

Thomas: It’s touching, very touching. Andreas, it’s so lovely to sit here with you. It’s kind of enchanting and…

Andrea: You as well. You as well. You’re very enchanting, which is my new favorite word. So I love that you said it. Yeah. I’m starting a podcast with my friend, and we just did a whole episode on enchantment, and it was wonderful.

Thomas: Oh lovely. So is there anything maybe to leave our listeners with before we finish here? I feel deeply nourished, and I feel a bit enchanted by your words, but maybe there is something that you want to… Anything to leave our listeners with that hasn’t been said so far?

Andrea: I mean, nothing comes to mind except I guess the thing that I keep saying to all of my friends is that I spent my whole life thinking that I was having all of my feelings. I prided myself on it. I identified as a feeler, and I didn’t realize the ways that I had been pushing away joy. And so now I just notice it. And the noticing of when I’m doing it has made so much more… joy is so much more accessible to me, and so I keep asking my best friends to notice when they’re doing it. So it’s a helpful tip, so I’m sharing it.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. I think that’s also a lovely way to close our conversation here and let everybody be with the joy or whatever the process is around showing us. So thank you, Andrea. This was really lovely. I felt you deeply, and I could deeply resonate with what you share.

Andrea: Thank you.

Thomas: I wish you a beautiful time and be blessed and enrich us with more and more poems.

Andrea: I will. Thank you so much. Thank you. This was wonderful.

Thomas: Wonderful. Thank you.

Andrea: Thank you.