On Listening To Myself

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Peony #13, ©1994

Peony #13, ©1994

I’m in the middle of nowhere on my way to some spectacular site that numerous roadsigns keep telling me I must visit. I’ve never been in New Mexico before. It’s been a wonderful week of wandering this desert landscape by myself in my rental car. I have visited phenomenal landmarks, old adobe missions and cemeteries. I’ve toured art galleries in Santa Fe and Taos and hiked around lugging my camera and tripod through the countryside. This trip started in Texas where I opened a show of my photographs in Abilene last week. In the morning I’ll be boarding a plane in Albuquerque to make my way home.

As I travel along I notice there are no houses out here. The tarred road has suddenly become a gravelHelenMacCloskeyFilec (2) road with a surface similar to a washboard. I slow my pace to avoid skidding off to the side. There are no other cars in sight. My stomach begins to grumble, but not in hunger. Just an hour earlier I had consumed a huge breakfast at the B&B where I spent the night. I left stuffed with fresh melon, berries and a yummy casserole of eggs, cheese, mushrooms and onions with a hint of heat.

As I continue to drive, both the road and my stomach become more unstable. There are large rocks appearing in the road and I’m creeping along trying to avoid them. Something is telling me to turn around and go back to the main highway and forget this foolishness. But I’m stubborn and berate myself for being a chicken. Sometimes I can be a brave adventurer but my body also houses a scaredy-cat. I continue in spite of my fear.

I’ve been in predicaments like this in the past. And yes, sometimes I’ve pushed myself beyond my fright, and found nothing but joy and safety on the other side of my unease. But there have also been other times, when my trepidation has turned out to be spot-on.

I was about 12 years old and walking home from the bus stop one day, when a strange pick-up truck pulled to the side of the road next to me. The driver, a man, opened his window and started asking me questions. Like where do I live, what is my favorite color, if I have a dog, and what is my favorite candy. I felt very uneasy and fled the scene, running as fast as I could. When I told my mother what had happened she called the police. We were told that the man fit the description of someone who had been stopping other kids on the sides of area roads and trying to get them into his truck. I had reacted to my building anxiety and gotten myself out of harms way.

At nineteen, working in Queens, New York, I rode buses and trains back and forth between home and work everyday. One evening when I was late leaving work, I got on a train that was packed full of other commuters. As they got off at the various stops, the crowd thinned out until I found myself alone in the car with a man sitting several seats in front of me on the other side of the aisle. He turned around and stared at me. Again I felt a bit of anxiety, but feeling very tired and not wanting to change cars, I ignored him and stayed in my seat. A few minutes later, he got up and walked up the aisle toward me. He unzipped his pants and facing me, started masturbating. I didn’t know what to do. He was standing in the aisle next to my seat, blocking my escape route. Fortunately the train came to a stop and more people started boarding the train. The man zipped up his pants and went back to his seat.

I quickly reported the incident to the conductor. He and another conductor escorted the man off the train. They came back to me and asked if I wanted to report the incident to the Police. When I said yes, they started telling me that the type of behavior I just witnessed happened on the train all the time and that no harm had ever been done by the perpetrators. And since they had already made him get off the train, it would be difficult to find him and could cause all kinds of difficulty, especially for me. Though I wanted to report it, I felt my hands were tied. To this day I regret that I hadn’t insisted on reporting the incident, giving the police the best description I could manage. I had not listened to my intuitive voice that had told me to move to another car, and to report the incident so that other girls could be spared the jolting experience I just had.

Now I’m again listening to what my inner voice is trying to tell me. I rethink what I’m doing, find a place to turn around and head back the way I came. As the road becomes smooth again, my stomach settles down and I’m at ease. I will never know what would have happened if I’d gone on. But it doesn’t matter.


Here I am, years later, still listening to that voice that helps me get through the thick and thin of life. It not only keeps me safe, it helps me in my visual art as well as in my writing. The series of abstract photographs of plants and flowers I exhibited in Abilene in 1996 wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t listened to that voice telling me when to move in closer to capture the image I saw before me. Nor would I now be getting ready to publish a memoir. It’s also what stops me when I’m overwhelmed and so tired I can’t think straight. I have found that there is no better authority when it comes to what I should do next. It’s a matter of trusting myself and listening to what my mind and body are telling me.

Do you listen to yourself when it’s trying to tell you something?


  1. Joan, thank you for this important reminder to listen to and honor our inner voices. Your personal experiences are perfect examples of why listening is essential. Thank you!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Kathy. I appreciate you kind words. It is one of the most important things we ca do for ourselves.

  2. That same thing happened to me in the Painted Desert during a cross-country trip – the road eventually took me out of the park, but it was badly marked, and like you, there was no one around for miles – Muppet was my guard dog, and Intuition was map – Thanks, Joan, for an Intuition story of our Wiseness and Guidance – It’s always right at our fingertips – Love –

    • Joan Rough says:

      Yes, Patti, it is always at our fingertips. We just need to learn to trust it. xo

  3. Joan — ” Sometimes I can be a brave adventurer but my body also houses a scaredy-cat. I continue in spite of my fear.”

    You continued in spite of your fear. Yaaaaaay YOU!

    • Thanks, Laurie. Being able to determine which are the right moves is the trick. My inner voice usually tell me when I’m being silly or when to take the signs seriously!

  4. You speak great wisdom here Joan. To learn to listen to our inner voice, and to heed its call. My struggle for a long time has been when it’s MY inner voice or my grandmother’s that I hear. 🙂

    • Janet, I know that problem. For me it’s taken a lot of time and mistakes. I’m finally learning though when not to touch the hot stove or ride the upside-down roller coaster!

  5. I have an inner voice that never quiets when I try to tell it to. I learned at a very young age that no one else seemed to have the same inner voice and if I was to get along in the world I would have to try and keep mine under wraps. It needled me, but I persisted in turning away from it. The turmoil led me into chronic depression, anxiety and ultimately PTSD. I love this story. It’s an important reminder to all of us to tune in and stay tuned in. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even if we have to go it alone. I can’t wait to read your book!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Dorothy, That inner voice of yours sounds like your critic to me. I have one of those too and it’s voice is very different from my intuitive voice which is calm and loving, while my critic is the one who needles me. I believe that tuning in is the best thing we can do for ourselves. I’me excited to have you read my book! Soon!!

  6. What a great post! Congratulations on your exhibition and your journey, both physical and mental. I’m glad that listening to your inner voice has kept you safe, as well as inspired you. I think from what you’re saying and from what others have said here, it’s important not only to listen to your inner voice, but also to interpret it correctly. (Or perhaps listen more carefully.)

  7. Joan Rough says:

    Merril, Thank you for your kind words. Yes, the deal is to know the difference between your intuitive voice and the ones that haunt of with shoulds and other criticism. The intuitive part of me does not judge me for my actions. It simply gives me information that I must consider. It’s my inner critic that can be a pest, unless I take an upper hand and ignore it.

  8. Thank you for trusting your inner authority, Joan. You help me trust mine. Seems the inner critic has something nasty to say about anything we do. It’s beat to trust my rumbling gut and also my dreams. As a woman who travels alone, I’m glad you turned around.

  9. Joan Rough says:

    Thanks, Elaine. I appreciate your kind words and yes, I too am glad I turned around.

  10. Joan, these stories illustrate well how hard it is to know the types of fears we face. Some need to be confronted and challenged. Others need to be heeded. As we learn to listen to our bodies and as we reflect on past experience, we can improve the odds of accuracy. You seem to have “educated your gut.” And by telling the story of the regret you have about not reporting the sexual aggressor years ago, you are reporting him now. Every reader will know not to linger after the first stare.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Shirley, Thanks so much for your words and spin on feeling bad about not reporting that man. Yes I have now reported it and I do so hope it can help someone else who finds themselves in a difficult position. Simply living with my family of origin helped me ” educate my gut.” I learned when to stay out of the way and when to duck. The unfortunate part of that is that it’s sometimes difficult to relax in this difficult world.