About Tom Atkins

Part poet, part broadcast engineer, part marketing expert, part professional creative, photographer, mentor and entrepreneur - I've never been able to tell people what I do in 25 words or less. Raised in Virginia, I now live in Vermont where the New England countrysides and towns sing to me each day, while technology lets me work with clients anywhere and everywhere.

Poem: The Yellow Leaves of October

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The Yellow Leaves of October

After the rain, leaves fall in the wind.
Spots of color on the forest floor.
beneath them are the older corpses,
dull and still crackly under your feet.

The air is clear and impossibly blue.
Birch leaves rustle like tiny tambourines.

You are finally far enough that there are no sounds.
There are no things to do, no people who need you,
no one to hold together for.
not even yourself.

You can die here. Cry here. Rise here. Dance an old man’s dance.
You can give your darkness full rein. Release it all.
Love. Lust. Lostness. You release it to the wind
and like the yellow leaves of October,

they fly away.

About this poem. 

There are few places and times you can let down every wall and barrier and be exactly and completely what you are. Those times are precious and powerful.

As an aside, this is the first poem ever that my spell check did not scold me once. First time ever. I am (he said proudly) one of the world’s worst spellers.

Tom

Where I Live

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Yesterday as I came out of a meeting in Pawlet, I ran into two men, one old, the other younger man obviously his grandson. The older gentleman was from New York City. The younger man hailed from Boston.

“We’ve come to see the real America.” the older man told me.

We talked a while. I love where I live, but it is no more and no less the real America as any other place I have lived and worked. That’s the thing about America – this vast crazy mix of places and people that somehow, for generations, has managed to live and at times even celebrate our togetherness in the midst of our differences. I’ve always considered America a miracle. When we cared for each other more than our little niche, we were the most amazing place in the world. A superpower whose strength came from more than guns and armies.

But for this old gentleman, my little corner of Vermont, and the people who live here were “the real America.”   He noticed my accent and said the phrase I’ve heard so long since I moved up here nearly a decade ago:  “You’re not from here, are you?”

No, I am not. I chose here.

I came for love. That love did not work out as I had thought it might. But I found another love, a healthier love. But it was love that brought me.

Looking back, I also have come to understand that I needed a change of geography. I came here a couple years after a divorce. It was messy and my ex was a constant presence and pressure. It got weird. You don’t need to know the details of the weird. It just was. I had no idea the pain of it all until I moved up here and from my very first day here, felt this great release of tension.

But I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t realize I probably could have gone almost anywhere and it would have helped my healing.  I just happened to land here.

I have had opportunities to leave. But I never have. Vermont has become the place I have chosen. The first place I chose, and continue to choose.

That alone was, I realize, new to me. We tend to gravitate to places because of outside reasons – our family, a job, that sort of thing. Choosing to be in a place, for no other reason than it sings to you, is not the norm. But it is glorious when we do.

This is where I love. It is beautiful. It is rural as rural can be. Old time America rural with small family farms, small towns, mountains and valleys. There is a sense of real community here. Rush hour is about 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening when people are going to work. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way scattered across the sky like diamonds. If you don’t scratch too deep, it feels like 1955. Bucolic and peaceful.

It’s not as perfect as it seems. It’s 2018 and my beautiful little corner of the world has all the problems any town or city has. Unemployment or underemployment is rampant. Over fifty percent of the children here live under the poverty level. There are drugs, domestic violence, abuse. All the plagues of the modern world are here in the same percentages, maybe worse, of America everywhere, hidden sometimes in the beauty and the distance we all live from each other.

Mostly, it’s an incredibly tolerant place, my little corner of the world. It’s very white, but my experience as I have seen other races settle in is that people don’t really seem to care what you are, if you are tolerant yourself. This place has been something of a safe haven for gays, iconoclasts, eccentrics, hermits and whatever left turn in your personality shines brightest. I have the most diverse, interesting, kind group of friends you can imagine.

Vermont is the least churched state in the union. We have lots of church buildings. Every town has a few. But go there on a Sunday and you will see congregations with 10-15 people in the pews. Most are over 70. When I began at my own little church, there were eight of us. (five of them in the choir!).  For someone like me who came from a part of the South where the Bible Belt thrives.

Churches are not perfect, mind you. Most of them, including mine, are flawed because they are made of people. But there is no better way to get to know God, to build a loving faith community, and band together for good. Yes, we can worship God just fine by ourselves, but we can do and be so much more together. And here, churches are small and isolated, This took some getting used to, the idea of going from being mainstream, to being a gentle missionary.

People talk to you here. Not at first maybe. When I first came here the few people I got to know all told me the same thing – it will take three years for people to start talking to you. And it pretty much worked out that way – if I waited for others to talk. If I pushed past my natural shyness and started conversations, people are about as friendly and nice as you will find anywhere. A chance encounter can turn into a thirty-minute conversation.

You can make a difference here. You don’t need to be powerful or rich. It’s a small place and people help each other. You can see the differences you make. You can’t change the world, but changing one person’s world makes a big difference and you learn again the power of one person caring.

You can walk here. The seasons are defined by farm life and nature, not a calendar. There are trails and creeks and nature preserves everywhere. This is not a place for power walking, but a place for meandering, wandering, pondering kinds of walks.

Vermont has its own version of time, and it’s slower than most of the world. “Soon” generally means “eventually.” That took some getting used to, but I have learned that it’s healthy and less stressful.

That may be what I love best about living here.  It’s an incredibly low-stress place to live, as long as you have work enough to pay the bills. My first fifty-four years of life were full of stress. Too much of the stuff. I had come to think of it as normal, all that stress. I don’t anymore. Stress is optional.  It’s a choice.

And unknowingly, I chose here. A less stressful place. A place where I can think, ponder, create, rest and grow at my own speed and mostly, people adjust and are OK with it. The lessons I have learned here I could take anywhere. But I had to come here and choose to stay here to learn them in my bones.

What have I learned? That flawed as I am, I have value. That God lives in us if we allow him. That kindness works in the real world. That we can be whatever we want to be, if we have the courage. That waiting for love is fine. That tolerance makes a great place to live for everyone. That the place we choose changes us, so we need to choose them carefully. That even old like me, we can and need to grow. That making a choice of where and how we live is power. The best kind of power.

These are lessons we mostly know in our heads and hearts. But I know these things in my bones. May you find a place that seeps into your bones as well. It’s worth the leap of faith. More than my puny words can say.

Be well. Travel wisely.

Tom

PS – the picture is of my little village, West Pawlet, Vermont. It was taken yesterday from the top of an abandoned slate quarry across the street from my home.

Poem: Traveling Time

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Traveling Time

Early in the morning, the station is empty.
The air is grey with the pretense of rain.
The air smells of November cold and wood smoke.

It is traveling time, your restless soul
itching, less for the destination than the in-between,
the empty hours that move you,

the passing of places by your window,
factories, towns, empty fields.
A blur. Hours of blur.

It is traveling time. The somewheres call you.
You have a need, less a hunger than an instinct
to move. Even standing still, you do it.

Like now, standing on the wooden platform.
It is a small journey, hardly worth mentioning,
a few days, no more,

and yet, like a dog on a leash, you pull.
You will be happy to return. You always are.
But there are places to explore. Some of them are within.

Your heart needs the infusion of empty time and change,
and despite your roots, which run deep in this place,
you are in your element, not the place, but the journey.

It is traveling time.

About this poem. 

Every so often the woman I love tells me I need to take a trip. Somewhere. Anywhere. As close as I can tell she is not trying to get rid of me. She simply recognizes that there is something healthy for me to travel. Even if neither of us can explain it fully, we both know it’s so.

Next week, I head to PA for a few days.

Tom

Poem: A Million Shards of Grace

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A Million Shards of Grace

You wake slow and dark.
No matter.

You fight the daily battle just to get moving.
No matter.

You have pushed back the dark.
You (almost) always do.
Knowing you can is half the battle.
But the battle itself?
No matter.

It says nothing about your character,
nothing about your strength.
You were born to a long line of survivors
and the gene runs deep.

There is beauty to find.
Sunlight in the kitchen.
Mist around the mountain creeks.
The bare shoulder of the woman you love as she sleeps next to you.
Air, clean and brisk.
Every moment making a lie of your inner darkness.

You have learned.
In the morning, your mind lies.
The world tells the truth.
And you know who to believe
as your put feet to the ground.

It is cold outside,
Not quite frost. A heavy dew coats the cars.
A cat’s pawprints mark the porch boards.
The October air stirs you.
In the distance, you can smell a wood stove or two
keeping up with the season.

The coffee cup in your hand steams
and you smile.
It is, it seems, an easy day.
The darkness surrendered with nary a whimper this morning,
defeated by simple reality.

A god who would surround you with a million shards of grace
even in the midst of war,
is a God worth believing.

Poem: Raw

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Raw. 

The plaster, once smooth and finished, has worn away.
The lathe is exposed. Raw strips of cypress
strap the wall.

Somehow, it holds together.
Somehow, it has its own beauty,
a fragile one, closer to death
than it ought to be.

This is you. Living halfway
between restoration and ruin,
a beautiful, fragile thing.

Those who visit are unsure
whether the wall is a statement,
a reason for admiration or concern.
They say nothing. But they look.
They wonder.

There is no statement here.
No artistic declaration.
It is simply where you live,
in this place of constant repair,
content, none the less.

About this poem.

I write a joyful poem, people rejoice with me. I write a broken poem, people worry. No need. It is life and like all of us, I live in it. It’s a beautiful thing. Even broken.

Tom

Poem: We Forget

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We Forget

We forget.
To pause.
To pray.
To forgive
ourselves.
To breath, and savor, and rejoice.
To actually taste.
To feel the weather.
To feel the cloth of our shirt against our skin.
To believe
a God who loves us
instead of those who do not.
That words have meanings,
rich and evolved.
That we can choose
whether they are weapons or balm
and how to wear them.

We forget our power.
That it is real,
and strong,
and that there are choices in how we use it
or not.
Even not
is a choice
We forget.

We forget that the noise is just that.
That life is simple.
That most of us, if we peel away the onion,
we need so little it is laughable.
that we worry about the rest.

We forget that we are worthy.
Just as we are.
Loveable.
Just as we are.
Beautiful.
Just as we are.

We forget that where we are
is no more than a starting point
and that the next step
matters.

About this poem

I have been thinking about grace all week.

Tom