Unwatched, The Garden Bough Shall Sway

For most of my life, I have been a poet. Partly because of the fact that I have a natural ear for music, and partly because my early education emphasized poetry, it was a natural way for me to write even from childhood. Whether one is looking at song lyrics (of which I am greatly fond of analyzing as well as writing) or other types of poetry, I often find myself moved to express myself in poetry as well as to appreciate the poetry that is all around. It is my hope, whether it is reasonable or not, that even my complicated prose will at least be recognized for the occasional poetic elements of internal rhyme or alliteration that find themselves naturally within my writings, or for the evocative and expressive language that flows from my mouth or keyboard. Having been a poet for so long, and having been interested in the poetry of others [1] for longer, I have often wondered if being a poet has somewhat conditioned the way that I view life and situations, painting in words the way a skilled artist (which I am not) would do in shadow and light, in pencil or brush, in colors or grays.

I consider the way I write, especially with my blogs or poems, to be an impressionistic sketch of fleeting moments of thought or experience, combining these sketches together and seeking to make a unified whole out of such snapshots. Reading a book will often lead one to a quote that has personal significance, which will prompt memories unbidden (and sometimes unwanted) or a cascade of reflections that lead to certain well-worn destinations. As Gerry Rafferty [2] once sang in his moving (and more than a little gloomy) song “Night Owl,” “I get a little lonely when the sun gets low, and I end up looking for somewhere to go. Oh, I should know better but I can’t say no.” His experience is not an unusual one. Artistic sensitivity, with its greater awareness of the life around us and within us, often leads to destructive behaviors of self-medication in order to deaden the suffering that results from being so sensitive to what is all around us. It is not an easy thing to recognize one’s vulnerability and not to behave destructively as a result, nor is it to recognize the vulnerability of others and not to take advantage. We are not called to easy or straightforward tasks, though.

When I listen to the radio, I am constantly reminded of people and situations by the songs I listen to. The mood of a song or its beat or its lyrics will all lead very easily to responses and thoughts and reflections on my part, given the context of the song within my day, or what I am doing at the time. For example, a few years ago a friend and I would often drive together to watch movies (which we would then critique) or out to eat to talk about games and other things, and one of the favorite songs we would play is a slightly off-color song by Ludacris that was our ode to encouraging people to get out of our way. It was striking how simply listening to the song would wind us up to the point where we would not only shout the lyrics out loud (which must have been greatly entertaining, and perhaps a bit threatening, to other motorists) but it would also lead us to drive much faster than we otherwise would because the song was so aggressive in nature. Recognizing my own sensitivity to such things, I make sure to listen to somewhat peaceful and subdued music while driving, because driving tends to be stressful and I greatly dislike traffic (it tends to make me feel more panicky and anxious than usual to be hemmed in by other cars), and quite honestly I need to be calmed down far more often than hyped up.

In the 20th century, physicists found something to be true in physics what has always been true with regards to people, and that is the truth that observation has an effect on behavior. We gain an understanding of how others are by observing them behave, but by observing them, we influence that behavior and make it less honest and less natural. We are therefore caught in a tension between a desire to know how others are in reality, beneath all of the layers of self-protective actions, and our desire to influence people to behave in ways that we would prefer. To the extent that people are unaware of or concerned about our observation, they will behave in ways that are often shocking to us. To the extent, though, that we wish to shape that behavior (whether consciously or not), we will behave in ways that increase the stress and strain that others feel under, and often increase their resentment towards us for not accepting them as they are. Even if we are not people with critical intent (although, given the nearly universal scope of my own critical tendencies, I am not sure that such a thing could ever be said of me), the simple fact that we are observant people will shape how others behave, in ways that are both enjoyable as well as intensely frustrating. I have experienced more than a little of both in my life.

I often hear a complaint from women that the men in their lives are seldom attentive to the way that they have done their hair or dressed a particular way or worn a particular type (or amount) of perfume, not noticing what has been done to clearly draw their attention. For me, I am quite sensitive to such matters in others, but I do not tend to know for whom the effort is being made. Am I to hope (or fear) that someone is acting in order to show off to me, or is the effort being made for another? Or is the effort to show off to the world and impress whoever happens to notice? To the extent that I feel such an effort is being made for my benefit, then I must carefully weigh my feelings not only about the person or the situation, but also about the observations and criticisms of others. Knowing the extent to which I watch and reflect upon what is around me, I am aware (often painfully so) of the extent to which others will over-analyze my own behavior. Will they treat me with the same level of graciousness that I treat others? I would wish that to be the case, but it has not often been my experience.

The observation of an artist is not particularly discriminating in general, although different people will find different matters that catch their interest. For some, their observation may be focused on a narrow element of interest, whether that is the drum work on a song or history or beauty. For others, their observation will be so broad in scope that it will defy any ability to make sense of what is going on in someone’s mind, since it will be so difficult to understand what exactly provoked a thought in the first place. Without knowing the content that came to one’s attention, or the process by which that instantaneous reflection or observation became a full-fledged analysis, it is difficult to really know where someone is or where they are coming from. The more articulate someone is, the more their discussions will spring forth fully armed from our heads, and the less straightforward the process will be of uncovering what is really going on, because they are so automatic that even the person responsible for saying or writing is not aware of what is going on inside of them, or the reason for their particular sensitivities or the content of their messages.

Even knowing the reasons, though, does not necessarily help matters. I may know why I do certain things, or think a certain way, or have certain sensitivities, and not be able to shape my life through experiences to think or act differently. I may know why someone else behaves a certain way, with a fair degree of certainty, and not be able to influence that behavior or to communicate effectively my own complicated thoughts and feelings about that behavior. When we observe both externally as well as internally, we are often caught by the deep gulf between appearances and reality. At times that gulf is the source of great frustration, in that we cannot get an external reality to sink in internally, where it might do us some good, and that we cannot express internal reality to others in such a way that they recognize it. At times, though, the gulf between external and internal reality is something planned and designed, whether consciously or cunningly. We may seek to defend ourselves from others through building up walls, which hinder our ability to understand or communicate reality with others, or we may put up a false front to shield others from observing our behaviors or feelings. Because we aim to deceive, we are so frequently deceived by others, since behavior may be tactical in nature, and since we have expectations or fears that we tend to wish to confirm.

Are people so afraid that being honest would make it impossible for them to gain what they seek? To be sure, people who are honest and open are not particularly common in this world. Given the sort of acute embarrassment that is suffered when others know our thoughts and feelings and intentions and issues, and given the fact that people may not trust what they see from an honest person because others are dishonest so often and so deeply, honesty (especially when combined with kindness) is not something that tends to pay in the short term until one has built up enough trust and enough experience with others. Of course, a wise person plans for the long-term and deals with the short-term. I have more than my fair share of frustrating situations, and most of them are frustrating because of the lack of communication. Given that I am a person of more than a few insecurities myself, I am certainly very tolerant as to the insecurities of those around me. Do you long for (or fear) certain kinds of attention for reasons that are outside of the specific person you are dealing with? Do you have a complicated personal context that strongly influences your behavior? Are you afraid that if you told someone what you wanted, and when you wanted it, and what you did not want, that they would be unkind and harsh? If so, I’m right there with you. Likely, so is everyone else. Why we do not notice that more often, or more kindly, given our own self-knowledge, is something that I wonder often, without any sense of resolution. If we wished to observe ourselves and others, we lack no opportunity to learn and to grow, to be more understanding and more considerate. All we lack is the will and desire to do so.

[1] See, for example:













[2] See, for example:




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Unwatched, The Garden Bough Shall Sway

  1. Pingback: Unconscious Coupling | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Rejected Posts | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Ado Annie | Edge Induced Cohesion

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