CUTS ON ME, poetry

I finally did it! Well, let me first set your mind at ease and say that this title is not about self-mutilation. Ok, I finally did it! I published an approximately 115 page collection of poems that I am so very proud of.

I keep telling this same story, but I will say it again: The title, as well as the title poem, were inspired by a question I heard as I flipped the television stations one evening and caught what seemed to me to be a girlfriend chat between Michelle Obama and Shonda Rhimes. The subject matter, of course, was girls in society since this was a speaking engagement at the Philadelphia Women’s Conference around November 2017.

“Can’t you see these cuts on me?” It grabbed hold of my senses and flurried around, taking me back to my own past hurts – some I didn’t even realize had made impressions on me. We are charged with reproducing human society with all its anxieties and pain and pressure and stress. Then, we have to care for the needs of these beings for about two decades. Meanwhile, we most often have to work and struggle in society to make our own way. We may or may not have mates, but there are always relationship issues. We are all in different stages of progression. Some are still on the path to finding themselves – regardless of their age. Others are in the midst of rediscovering who they are. Still others are completely lost. All of these women experience different degrees of the same challenge: how they are treated; how they are represented; how they feel about themselves.

Mrs. Obama spoke of her own childhood experiences with her father and that she was raised in a household that never shut down her voice. She was not shooed away because her parents were too busy to be bothered with her childish chat. So she learned that her voice, her opinion, was respected. That certainly would carry into adulthood and it was a signature of how she presented herself in public. She was ‘comfortable in her own space.’ She was not afraid of her own voice or to speak up in a crowd or to walk into a room full of strangers and wonder how she measured up against others, especially men.

I respect that because it took some self-evaluation at a young age to give me that awareness. Mine occurred working for corporations in and around downtown Detroit in the 90s and early 2000s. I worked across the hall from the governor’s office for a short time. I won’t tell all the crazy antics I did in that State building, but once I saw men in dark suits racing down the hall and checking corners, it was all I needed to stay at my desk and not throw my gigantic rubber band ball against the wall to see if it would bounce.

I remember working at Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University, Leaseline Financial (Ford Motor Co.), Blue Cross and Blue Shield, American Heart Association and some major international organizations. In these crowds, there are always executives, board members, international delegates and those holding prestigious political offices. Who was I amongst them? A girl of barely twenty-something still just realizing I was free to travel without my mother’s signed permission.

I worked out my nerves by having conversations with them, acting as liaison and self-assigned tour guide to foreign interns; and realizing that I have knowledge of things that they knew nothing about. This is not even to mention spiritual understanding, but simple things. I figured this out when observing one executive (name withheld) of a multi-billion dollar company who had no clue how to use a fax machine or printer. I watched him fidget with buttons, rub his head, lift the scanner flap up and down, then finally pass the documents to me. It wasn’t that doing something as trivial as sending a fax was beneath him. It was in fact beyond him. I thought, ‘Wow, this big guy can’t press a few buttons? How can he run this corporation?’ Because he had book knowledge, some letters and was a fast talker.

As I advanced in my employment and skills, I absorbed so much. I learned I could talk the talk just as well. I learned I could be informative, engaging and at the center of conversations too. My co-workers loved to be around me because my ‘conversationalism’ sets everyone else at ease. I could smile and laugh with the best of them. I recall being on a private elevator with two German executives who were conversing in their native tongue and apparently making jokes. At one point, one of the men looked at me briefly and then out the window. I understood nothing of what they were saying, but I did get the idea that it was inappropriate. So as I stepped off the elevator at my floor, I shook my head and said:

“I am just shocked!” Both their faces flushed immediately and the apologizing began.

“Oh, I am so sorry. We did not know you understood. We were joking. Don’t tell her please!”

“Well,” I said, still not having a clue, “just don’t let it happen again. I expected better from you.” I had worked for the German-owned company for 10 years at that point, but could count all of my gained knowledge of the language on my fingers – very limited. But, the point was that I could have felt so small and clumsy and uncomfortable on that elevator. I could have fidgeted or bit my nails and watched impatiently as the numbers of the floors slowly moved up. I could have allowed myself to feel insignificant IF I did not have a handle on who I was already. It may have still been in development, but my self-confidence was there. For me, it was a matter of knowing my own inner worth amid a crowd of folks that most often measured theirs by financial statements, college degrees and zip codes.

I used my extracurricular activities of teaching and speaking in front of my peers as extra training in direct eye-contact & engagement, poise, as well as self-esteem. When my nerves got the best of me, I would tell myself, ‘These are the same people who you laugh and chat with all other times. Why are you so nervous to speak in front of them now? Especially when what I spoke on was something in which I truly believed.’ Having a measure of nerves is a good sign of humility, but having an over-abundance can lead others to falsely believe that you don’t measure up. So I helped build up my own confidence by telling myself that I had value. I identified it, evaluated it and worked on it until I accepted it. It allowed me to not turn my head away in nervousness when I felt put on the spot, as in Italy when I always got the once-over by Italian women. I studied them up and down as long as they did to me. I learned not to break a glare.

So no matter who I came in contact with, my confidence matured as I did. I’ve spoken to priests and scholars and celebrities alike with a calm, casual voice. The takeaway is that no one is better than you are, they just have different jobs. One of my favorite saying is: “Never give away your dignity.” Clearly, we live in a society geared towards taking it from women. I even wrote a poem or two (or three) about how women are presented as no more than sexual objects and then conditioned to believe that they like it. Clothes, makeup, hair, shoes, cars, foods… Is there anything that a woman’s body is not used to sell – including even the woman herself?

We all have cuts on us, but I am speaking only from the vantage point of the female gender. Just as prophecy spoke, we live in a male-dominated society and though not all men behave equally, quite a large majority are ok with that dominant attitude, even to the point of considering women their property.

CUTS ON ME addresses my perspective as a woman with emotional cuts. Spoiler alert: I believe that the book ends positively, having purged the hurts and progressing forward in life with a brighter outlook and a brilliant hope for the future.

It would be my greatest hope that many people would buy the book and give me feedback – both personally and through reviews. Looking forward to engaging with you more on the subject in the future. Thanks for letting me hold your attention this long. Have a great day!


aka Jess Vaughn


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