Filling in the Blanks

Photo by Phillip Estes.

Filling in the Blanks

(From Brainstorms and Artwise Poetry Roulette Cards)

Studies show that most people,

when looking at a familiar word

that is missing a letter,

interpret that missing letter

and don’t notice that it’s not there.

Most of our universe is empty space

and yet I see and perceive things to be




My mind fills in the blanks.

Is that how it is between you and me,

that we can share an experience

and then go on to tell

such different stories about it?

Are we filling in the blanks

with our biases and expectations,

letting our perceptions

color our interpretations,

without stepping back to recognize

the lens through which we are judging?

What will it take to notice the missing letters?


For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with the brain and nervous system. In 2015, I took a course called Foundations of Neuroleadership to learn more about role of the nervous system in decision making, collaboration, and facilitating change. Not only did the course impact my work in public health program development and evaluation, but the sensemaking sessions in the class sparked many of the poems in Brainstorms, including this one.

If you take a look at the version of this poem published in Brainstorms (or listen to the audio recording below), you might notice that the poemhas a different ending. In that version, instead of asking, "What will it take to notice the missing letters?" the poem pleads, "Why is it so hard to notice the missing letters?"

Shortly after I published the book, I was preparing to present survey results to a large group of people, each of whom I knew would have a slightly different interpretation of the findings. I wanted to invite the listeners to notice their perspective and be open to that of others. I asked my colleague KKaye what she thought about me reading this poem. "I love it!" she responded. "But perhaps you could change the last question."

I could feel myself cringe. Change it? But it's already published. In print. In a book. I wanted to shout, "No!" But KKaye is one of the people in my life who has taught me the most about living with an open heart, a curious mind, and a connected spirit. If she was challenging me to reconsider this question, it felt foolish to ignore her. I told her I'd think about it.

It took some time for me to let down my resistance and realize that my original question was only reinforcing judgment. KKaye's question created space for the openness I was longing for. What will it take to notice the missing letters? feels like an invitation into expanded awareness. I've grown to love this question and how it evokes a greater sense of possibility for me. I'm curious what this shift of perspective evokes for you.

Wishing you a week of openness, curiosity, and connection.

With love,