You Can Sit Here With Us – A Presentation at Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp 2014

Speaking during ‘You Can Sit Here With Me”. Photo by Gale Oliphant

You Can Sit Here With Us is an arts-based project on bullying. And stepping up. And offering hope. And being kind. You Can Sit Here With Us transforms the negative energy of bullying into the positive energy of inclusion and respect through story, art, and community involvement. It’s about the bullies. The bullied. The bystanders. And, the heroes. This performance presentation on bullying, You Can Sit Here With Us, is a collection of stories, a series of monologues.

Kim Joris (see her You Can Sit Here With Us website) moderated the presentation during Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp 2014 in early November. Five women told their stories about bullying – stories about friends and families and co-workers. The stories were sometimes difficult to hear, sometimes heartwarming, always memorable.

I wrote a personal story of bullying and submitted it to the project earlier this year. Then Kim asked if I would tell my story.

Own my story. A chance to speak and be heard.

And so I did. And now I share it here, in hopes that by sharing the negative impact of bullying, people will consider its impact, and practice inclusion and respect.

“Speaking my Truth” Photo by Lynn Walsh

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Plato

I survived my childhood. But just barely.

It wasn’t the frequent threat of physical and emotional abuse that nearly caused me to take my life just past my thirteenth birthday.

It was an act of taunting and teasing, and a small act of cruelty nearly beyond my endurance, that pushed me close to the black edge of despair and giving up.

That was all? Teasing? Unkind words? Being shamed by girls I thought were my friends?  A cruel gag gift disguised as a birthday present? Yes. That was all. But it was enough for me to want to end my life.

It is impossible to know when an act of unkindness, or teasing or bullying, will be the kerosene that finally ignites the hidden kindling and flares it into a life threatening inferno.

In this case, the spark was a package of extra-large rubber pants for infants, the kind once commonly worn to cover baby diapers.

That’s all? A package of rubber baby pants?


I was in the eighth grade, two weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday. I attended a Catholic grade school. The nun taught a combined seventh/eighth grade class and was also school principal. She had over 50 students. She was overworked and I suspect, often overwhelmed.

Sister C. spent much of her day acting as disciplinarian or administrator, not as an involved or hands-on teacher. Copying from the blackboard, rote memorization and test taking were her most used educational tools.

But even under these less than ideal learning conditions, I was happy in school. I was a good student. Obedient. I seldom drew attention to myself. And I had a few friends.

There was little that could keep me from attending school and so on a sunny October morning, even though I didn’t feel well, I never considered staying home from school. But during class, I had the urge to use the bathroom repeatedly, and by 11 am, I’d asked for a bathroom pass a half-dozen times.

I raised my hand again an hour before the lunch break, but this time Sister C. reprimanded me for “being disruptive” and denied me permission to leave the room. After an another half hour of discomfort and agonizing fear, I wet my clothes.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been wearing a dark green cotton uniform, I could have hidden my embarrassment. But the lunch hour bell rang and so we assembled in line for lunch. My shame easily became evident.

I was teased through out lunch, during recess, and after school. Chants of “Betsy Wetsy” and worse echoed in my ears as I walked home from school that afternoon, alone and ignored by my peers.

I dreaded going to school the next day, but surprisingly, nothing was said, and so I believed that my friends had forgiven me. I was overcome with relief and gratitude.

“Join Me? You are Welcome! says Ellie” Photo by Basia Kruszewska

Two weeks later, I turned thirteen. I brought the traditional cupcakes to school, everyone sang Happy Birthday at the end of the day, and I left the building with a smile on my face.

Typically when the school bell rang for dismissal there was an overall state of frenzy as the eighth grade girls split off to walk home. Questions lingered until the last moment. Who would walk home together? Would I walk home with a friend or walk home alone?

If I was lucky, I walked home with Laura or Ann. We lived only a few blocks from each other. Or perhaps I would walk half way home with Kathy or Mary. And sometimes I walked alone.

But on my birthday, I was incredibly delighted. Not only did both Laura and Ann ask me to walk with them, but Kathy and Mary said they were heading my way. We walked as a group of five.

Even more unbelievable, Kathy carried a small shopping bag and I glimpsed a wrapped box inside.

We walked the thirteen blocks to the corner where we split to go in different directions to our homes. I was laughing, talking animatedly, nearly skipping with delight. When we got to the corner, the other girls made a circle around me.

“We have a present for you,” one of them sang out. They laughed and cheered.

I was so happy, thrilled by their unexpected generosity.

Eagerly, I untied the ribbon, tore off the wrapping paper, opened the box.

Inside was a three pair package of baby-sized rubber pants.

They all laughed. I joined in the laughter, too, hiding my horror. It was better than crying like a baby, and further proving that I deserved their shaming. I walked home the last blocks, barely able to breathe.

Perhaps this was something most thirteen-year-olds could have brushed off or ignored. Just a gag gift. Teasing done in the spirit of a joke.

But it wasn’t something I could ignore.

I was already living on the throes of depression.

I couldn’t bear to think that school would no longer be my safe haven.

I stopped talking to my friends and family. When I came home from school, I sat for hours at a time on the back porch, rocking in an old rocker. Lost and feeling alone, I started thinking obsessively about suicide.

But I was one of the lucky ones.

“Patti Digh and Kim Joris, You Can Sit with Me” Photo by Laura Magane Goyer

I lived with my extended family and my grandmother noticed the changes in my behavior. She asked if there was anything I wanted to talk about. When I refused with vehemence, she still offered her presence and her acceptance.

My grandma didn’t ask again if there was a problem, but every afternoon she watched for me to come home. When I headed to the porch, she offered to join me. I loved my grandmother dearly. I nodded, barely.

Then she’d gather a sewing project to work on or the afternoon newspaper, and come out to sit with me. She’d offer me a slice of bread with strawberry jam, even though I usually refused to taste it. Occasionally she would reach out and rest her hand on my arm, or brush my long hair from my eyes. Her way of saying, I see you, I know you are troubled, I am here.

Eventually, after much silence and much porch swinging, the shame lessened. I chose living.

Do you think this sounds like melodrama? A girl just crossing the threshold to teenager, suicidal because of a joke gift, because of teasing?

Think again.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Plato


Life is a Verb Camp 2014 – C*a*mpanionship at its Finest


Morning is Dancing © 2014 Bo Mackison

I had the great honor and privilege to attend Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp 2014 last week. There, a hundred wonderful people gathered for the second annual camp near Asheville, North Carolina.

We danced by the lake at the sun rose over the tree line and the fog hovered upon Lake Kanuga, crying and laughing and hugging and offering deep support and love.We struggled though yoga moves before coffee(!!!) and breakfast while the kindest of kind instructors gently, so gently, encouraged.

We sang, some of us off key but with great exuberance, as a group of 100 vivacious, expressive, loving campers sang songs ranging from In My Wildest Dreams to Stars to Amazing Grace. The musicians were out of this world.


Camp Kanuga, Home of Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp 2014 © 2014 Bo Mackison

I slept in a Kanuga Cabin built in 1909 and on the National Register of Historic Places (for architectural history geeks like me who love that sort of detail).

Cabin 13, by the way, was one of the luckiest cabins with the kindest of cabin mates and social hour visitors, my way of thinking! Love you guys!


Rocking Chairs Provided © 2014 Bo Mackison

I rocked on the porch with other happy campers as we took in the view of the autumn trees and the lake beyond, and felt so alive in the midst of campanionship and nature’s beauty.


Geography of Loss Workshop – Found Poetry ©2014 Bo Mackison

I attended a pre-camp workshop presented By Patti Digh and Kim Joris on The Geography of Loss, based on Patti’s book by the same name. Oh what a day that was as a camp warm-up experience…self-awareness, discovery, opening to our stories, creating and sharing with the kindest of communities.

Tears and hugs and compassion, oh my!


You Can Sit Here With Us © 2014 Bo Mackison

I listened to the key note presentations of two of my poet heroes – Amy Shihab Nye and Ellen Bass. And decided I could call myself a poet again!

I was mesmerized by the stories of fellow campers during the morning Focus Sessions – and I even told my own story in a presentation on bullying called You Can Sit Here With Us. (I’ll post my speech in an upcoming blog post — our stories, especially on the issue of bullying, so deserve to be heard.)


Tandem Typewriter Poets – Maya Stein and Amy Tingle © 2014 Bo Mackison

I attended Creative Spark workshops, one on Creating my Own Adventure (by the above creative beings), another on Being Stabby (felt making) by Deb Reynolds.

I also presented my own workshop on Desert Wisdom and the Gifts of the Desert – what a thrill for this introvert.  I pushed my anxiety aside and so loved sitting in our circle and connecting with each other through our precious gifts of self!  (Though I find it almost impossible to comprehend that I did not remember to take a single photograph during either of my workshops. I’ll just have to hold them tightly in my memory — easily done!)

I had a poem composed for me by the talented typewriter poet duo of Maya Stein and Amy Tingle. (Such wise, wise poems, delivered on the spot, nine lines on an index card.) I now cherish my two poem cards. Amazing! Thank you, Maya and Amy.


Camp Badges, Camp Memories © 2014 Bo Mackison

We collected camp badges for doing things like showing up (which can be amazingly hard), speaking out, being ourselves, making strong offers (another way of showing up, big time), for claiming our birthright as poets.


Patti Digh, Offering Hugs and Hope and Happiness and Humor © 2014 Bo Mackison

Of course, Camp is a Verb would not exist if it were not for Patti Digh, who had a dream, and worked incredibly to make it come true. Every time Patti appeared on stage she offered… Hugs. Hope. Happiness. Honesty. Honor. Humor. Love. Love. Love.

Patti Digh – camp director, friend, confidante, mama, organizer, creative, courageous, promoter of social justice, and human being extra-ordinaire. Patti and her troupe of volunteers turned Camp Kanuga into the brilliant Camp is a Verb 2014 with magic, synchronicity, and damn hard work.

Oh the Autumn Colors © 2014 Bo Macksion

Oh the Autumn Colors © 2014 Bo Mackison

Life is a Verb Camp 2015 will be held in California at Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula.  Serving up loaded scoops of…Community. Courage. Creativity. and (self) Compassion. Wouldn’t it be a fine thing if you were there?

Opening to the Sacred – in Holy Rebellion

Wupatki - Finding the Open Spaces

Opening to the Sacred © 2014 Bo Mackison

A poem is . . . an act of devotion and holy rebellion; a source of healing and a journey of risk. ~ Edveeje Fairchild

I enter here, emboldened.

I come in holy rebellion.

Enough groveling at the feet of stone struck statues
incapable of emotions, or a welcoming nod,
refusing to utter soothing words as balm to my aching heart,
or offer an angelic flutter of celestial embrace.

Safe behind barred doors,
chain link fences,
security-guards on watch.

Guarded from whom?

The penitent, the silenced one, the hesitant seeker.

I come in holy rebellion.
I will not be demure. I will not bow, cover my face
with a black mantilla and your rules.

Wait. I do not come in holy rebellion.

I am Holy Rebellion!

Traveling with Tree Walkers – Through a Photograph, Into a Poem

Reflection in Sugar River

Tree Walkers © 2010 Bo Mackison

There is a photograph tacked upon my wall.
A photograph of the Sugar River.

If, by magical means, you could reach your hands through the print,
you could dip your hands in cool, running river-water, cold from autumn’s breath.

Then you’d pull your hands from the river through the frame, and be back in my room,
shaking droplets from your fingers, wiping dampness on your jeans.

I look at the photograph through creator’s eyes.
The reflection of two trees in the foreground, their trunks slender, their upside down branches split,
and I name them Tree Walkers.

Slipping through the photo paper, I stride along the river’s circuitous route
Tree Walkers at my side, my companions.

All is never what it seems and
what I need shows up in odd, inexplicable ways.

Today I have no need of clean hands, but I do need to travel with Tree Walkers.

Calling Forth Courage while Contemplating Lessons from Nature

Bridge over Starkweather Creek

Bridge over Starkweather Creek © 2014 Bo Mackison

“If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused…

If I did surrender to the earth’s intelligence?
Surrender to the earth itself, like a seed dispersed in autumns’ winds.

And drop upon the earth – dark, dank, ripe. Drop upon the earth
and settle in, as layers of leaves and autumn litter cover me, intact, protected.


Crossing the Footbridge © 2014 Bo Mackison

So like children, we begin again…

to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

This seed of me, it embraces the darkness
and in the waning light, holding my stories of decay and decline,
enters a period where the only light source is that of inner reflection.

Embraces shadow as darkness makes ready the parts hungering for new life.
Waiting, waiting
in anticipation of unlimited possibilities.

A Country Road Meander — In the Midst of Wilderness, In the Presence of Divine

Door County in Autumn

Tree Line ©2014 Bo Mackison

In the midst of the wilderness, in the presence of the divine.
Perhaps there is nothing astonishing about this meadow with its spattering of seeded sumac
Or a dense tree line that separates the land from the cloudy skies.

Meandering on a country road in the middle of this northern county,
two miles west of Lake Michigan, an endless expanse of water to my eyes
and two miles east of Green Bay, again, with no distant shore in sight,
only a few bay islands splashed by frothing waves, inhabited by seagulls.

Door County in Autumn

Door County in Autumn © 2014 Bo Mackison

Who thought, many decades ago, to say no to billboards, to shopping malls,
to franchises of any kind – no hotel or restaurants, fast food or not,
that represent giant corporations instead of families and local businesses.
Some one did.
You can’t recognize this part of America by familiarity. Only by its neighborliness
and small town pride and heritage.

In the midst of wilderness, in the presence of the divine.

A Time of Fruition, Celebration and Letting Go – Rituals for the Changing Seasons

Bench with a View

Bench with a View © 2013 Bo Mackison

“Ritual practice is the activity of cultivating extraordinary ordinariness.” ~ Ronald L. Grimes

This is the bench where I sat while I contemplated the day, the seasons, nature, my life, the world, even the boundlessness of the universe. I was restless. Untethered. Once again I was facing changes – changing seasons, changes in responsibilities, changes in my business.

It was a time of fruition and celebration, and it also was a time of saying goodbye, letting go, even a bit of grieving.

Realizing this is a common reaction to change — joy coupled with letting go — I sat in solitude and let my mind wander. I decided to create a ritual to recognize both celebration and closure.

I paid close attention to my surroundings.

The prairie grasses were browning, flowers had set seed. The apple trees were over laden with ripened fruit, and many of the apples had dropped onto the earth and begun to rot. Cracked walnuts were along the paths. And still there was evidence of bustling life all around me. Geese were flying in formation, back and forth from their feeding grounds, the harvested cornfields.  The late autumn flowers of the prairie spared from the last frost — showy goldenrod, purple asters, daisy fleabane — still blossomed in protected areas,

That All May Be One

That All May Be One ©2013 Bo Mackison

I searched for a ritual, one that offered a feeling of comfort and acceptance, one that said goodbye while also looking forward.

What could I use as a guide? What would be in a transitioning ritual,  in a healing place?

  • the night sky, dark, abundant with stars
  • open spaces, open minds
  • spiritual spaces, resting spaces, thinking places
  • a container that contained my curiosities, my questions, my collections
  • quiet, slow, peaceful
  • folk art, expressive art, art that tells a story, art that has heart
  • kindnesses and little gifts (When traveling it is customary to bring tiny gifts in exchange for kindnesses received along the path and to those who share their stories.)
  • a place in nature, ecological, in balance
  • a place my great-grandmother would have loved

The last thought — a place my great-grandmother would have loved — helped provide the answer to my longings.

I thought of the many things I’d learned from my great-grandmother when I was a child, of the many things she’d loved. I thought of the changing seasons, of the routines we had made extraordinary in their repetition, chores we did with love and respect and companionship.

We gathered the last of the harvest from the vegetable garden, cleaned and cut the vegetables, and made huge pots of vegetable soup with my grandfather’s help.

We made dough, rolled it out, and cut the dough into long noodles. We dried herbs on racks in the pantry. We raked the garden and added to our compost pile. We pulled the quilts and blankets out of storage, and draped them over several back yard clothes lines to air in the breeze.


Pears, Ripe on the Branch © 2013 Bo Mackison

We adapted our evening rituals to the sun’s earlier setting.

Instead of sitting on the porch after supper and chatting with passing neighbors, we set up a table in the kitchen for puzzles and games. We fell into a simple routine of cleaning the kitchen, then playing games of Parcheesi or Pokeno. We took an evening walk around the outside of the house just before bedtime, making sure all was tidy while admiring the starlit skies.

So much love and care and honor went into these simple actions. Home and hearth. Routines and rituals – all good for the soul.

Do you long for a way to honor the changing seasons, for the ordinary turned extraordinary by the practice of ritual?

Today I jotted down a few reminders – ways to prepare for the changing season, routines to ease the change from busy day to rejuvenating evening, rituals to remind me of the sacredness in the ordinary. Simple actions – gardening, cooking, preparation for winter.

What might you add or subtract from your day in honor of the ordinary, the sacred?


This post was adapted from one published on another autumn day just over a year ago.



Kangaroo Lake in Door County – The Magic of Studying Details, Then Turning Around

Kangaroo Lake

Kangaroo Lake – South View © 2014 Bo Mackison

The mid-October day was mercurial – one moment skies were blue, the next a wave of gray clouds pushed in from nearby Lake Michigan. Blustery winds buffeted me, causing me to lose my balance more than once. Then calm would descend for a brief respite for the wind and chill.

October in Door County, for sure, Wisconsin’s northeastern most point, a peninsula sticking out into tempestuous Lake Michigan.

Kangaroo Lake is one of the more protected places on the peninsula in fresh water lake in the center of Door County, and a wonderful place to go during the autumn festival days. Most of the crowd who comes to enjoy the views hug the shore of Door County, bay side and lake side. But there is much to be said for the wild beauty of the interior, too.

I loved studying the autumn changes of Kangaroo lake, standing on a narrow bridge of road that crosses the northern most bay. Fallen leaves were bobbing on the surface, the reeds were stripped of there green finery and their fuzzy seeds, and stood knee deep in the cold, stunningly blue water. Beyond, fir trees lined one side of the lake, and deciduous trees in this year’s last blaze of glory hugged the opposite side.

Then the sun disappeared in the scattered clouds.

Once I had taken in the scene with all my senses, as is my habit, I turn around to see what is behind me.

Kangaroo Lake

Kangaroo Lake – North View  © 2014 Bo Mackison

And the sun slid from the cloud cover, causing the lake ripples to shimmer in a sheet of dancing light.

A solitary island caught my attention. Birds were darting from the trees to the water and back again. Creatures were slipping in and out of the shadows and the shoreline brush.

Kangaroo Lake — its two faces. Both to be explored and adored.

Fierce Winds. Fierce Rains. Fierce Color. And an Awakening.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Aspen and Yellow © 2014 Bo Mackison

The winds were fierce, the rains were fierce. Deep in the forest, the rain turned misty. The bright leaves shimmered in yellows and oranges. I followed a muddy path through the forest, trees clumped tightly together, clinging high along the cliffs above Lake Michigan.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Middle Road, Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin © 2014 Bo Mackison

Traveling the Middle Road, nearly deserted because of the inclement weather, a bit like a ride through Middle Earth. Sights of bright trees, sounds of creaking branches, leaves twirling to the ground. An awakening of the senses.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Sanctuary in the Forest © 2014 Bo Mackison

Deep in the forest, the rains stop. Leaves drip, the path is soggy-slippery. And the quiet is held in a heavy tapestry of quaking yellow. Sacred.

Fall Foliage at Peninsula State Park, Door County Wisconsin

Gripping the Earth © 2014 Bo Mackison

Tree roots gripping the earth. I grip the earth. Fierce in determination. Fierce in the sacred. I find myself awakening deep in the forest, soaked with rain, feeling so aware, so alive.

Simplicity – A Desert Wisdom Card for Reflection, Art, and Practices


Simplicity – A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison

Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more. ~ Jon Kabat-Zin

A search of the desert floor reveals a simple flower, the Mexican Golden Poppy.

Only four petals on this flower. Simple, yes, but there is evidence of a sense of grounding, of balance, and the cycle of life, on this small bit of the earth.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Simplicity is not only about making space in your living space for living.

It is about making space in your life for work and play, solitude and relationship. It is about letting go of thoughts which rob you of valuable brain space and time. Simplicity encourages a re-thinking of commitments so that one has the time and energy to focus on the most essential of priorities.

It means cleaning up loose ends – old promises, unfinished business, a recycled to-do list – things that may be important, but linger in the circular file in your brain, stealing time and cluttering valuable space.

. . . choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life an element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more. ~ Jon Kabat-Zin

SIMPLICITY offers questions/reflections for journal writing, art, daily practices:

  • Journal reflection: What brain drains make it difficult to nurture the activities which support you, feed your soul and spirit, allow you to focus on the projects which serve while offering kindness to self and others?
  • Begin a simplicity practice. Schedule open spaces into your day, times blocked off for pauses, daydreaming, or creative thinking. These moments of quiet fill the well, re-charge your energy, give your brain a boost.


Bo Mackison is the creator of the Desert Wisdom Cards, a 56 card set in 3 series that feature a Sonoran Desert theme – its myths and stories, cultures and heritage, and the desert’s inspirational stark beauty. Each card has a desert photograph and a word for contemplation.