Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Poem I Love to Hate

After I posted my last poem, along with the disclaimer that it is not a poem I "like," I had several people comment and tell me in person that they like the poem.  Lots of people, even.  Which is cool, but a little weird, considering I always think that there are about 2 people total who read what I post.  It's a rewarding, slightly freaky sort of experience.

I think about this poem a lot -- which is why I have worked, and reworked, and reworked it.  I've worked it so much, in fact, that I have the thing memorized.  I'm not kidding.  I have worked that poem to death.

So it's not, really, that I dislike it.  I mean, I kind of hate it, but it's not a "bad poem." From a pure writing/technical perspective, I've written some terrible poems.  I've written some bad poems.  I've written some good poems.  I've written some kick-ass poems.  This poem -- from the writing/technical standpoint -- it's not a bad poem.  It's not awesome...but it's not bad.  I don't post the bad ones, and this one is, absolutely, one that I feel will not embarrass me as a writer if I let others see it.

I thought for a long time that the issue was that the poem just didn't say what I wanted it to say.  That is, usually, my biggest reason for disliking my work.  It will come right up close to -- within a centimeter, even -- of what I'm trying to say, and just as it is about to touch the very center of the issue, it misses, narrowly, and veers off.  Ooooooh, I get so frustrated when this happens.  It's typically a matter of one word, or one phrase that needs to be turned ever so slightly.  Sometimes I can make this happen...and sometimes I can't.  Sometimes I can't at the moment, but can the next day, or a month, or a year later.  I've learned to be patient with my words: sometimes, they need time to find their way to the surface. 

That wasn't the issue with this poem, though.  The issue with this poem was that, when I read it, there was nothing I wanted to change.  There was no word that stuck out to me as "wrong," no metaphor that was a little off, no line break that needed fixing.  The issue with this poem was that it was whole, it was complete, it was finished -- and I still hated it.  The issue was not with the words, or the form, or the line breaks.  It was not even fixable, actually, without just abandoning the whole thing (which clearly could not be done).  The issue was that I hated the content.  Or rather, the content of this thing that I wrote made me uncomfortable. 

I don't understand how it's possible to surprise yourself with the things you write, but it happens, because I do it all the time.  That's what happened with this poem.  The words fell onto the page, and then I was left to make meaning of them.  And that's where it falls apart for me.  I don't disagree with the content of the poem.  In fact, it's exactly the opposite.  I do agree with the content, which is what makes me hate it.  I wrote it, and I agree with it, and I also hate that I agree with it.  Does that make sense?

First of all, it's incredibly personal.  More personal than I might typically share, really.  This poem contains information that I don't like to talk about, or think about, or even acknowledge.  When I was thinking about writing this, I thought about the really wonderful TED talk I watched recently by Ash Beckham on how we all have "closets" from which we need to come out.  Sharing this poem feels a bit like peeking out of the closet. 

When I told a person close to me about the experience I allude to in this poem -- and particularly about the experience of being told I am "unlovable" -- the response I received was this: "Well, I feel good that at least I know you have the good sense not to believe it."  She looked at my face.  "You don't believe it...right?"
"No," I lied.  "No.  Of course not."  Because what else do you say?  How do you admit to the shame of being called "unlovable" -- and also admit to the shame that you do not have the "good sense" not to believe it?

And it's not that I believe it, per se.  It's that something like this -- once it's been done, it infiltrates your being.  You may not believe it, but it doesn't leave you.  It soaks into your pores so you don't understand, but will do anything to "make sense of the insanity."  So you make up reasons.  You make up excuses.  You find a million things to tell yourself so you can fit this evil inside the body you have to live in.  You want answers you'll never receive to questions you can't necessarily name.  You try to reject it, and you remember that you're still beautiful in that fuchsia dress...and then you forget.  You try to find that one thing to hold on to, and yet also know that you are hanging so dangerously in the balance between moving forward and losing everything.

Second, when I wrote this poem, I was incredibly angry.  I wanted to write an "in your face" poem, rejecting things I had been told in a way that said not only, "I have overcome this," but also added, "and f-you for saying it!"  As I was writing, I thought that was what I was saying.  And then, when I read it -- it wasn't.  When I read it, I heard the voice of someone who was trying to get to that place, but wasn't there.  I heard the voice of someone who is struggling and grappling with those issues, and catches glimpses of the woman who knows Truth and Healing and Wholeness, but is not yet that woman.  And I was disappointed.  I am disappointed.  It feels shameful, that even when I think that kick-ass woman is coming out from inside of me, she's still shrouded in words tinged with insecurity.  It's not a beautiful reality, but it is true.

However, there is an element of the poem that says, "I'm awesome.  I have a vibrant and beautiful soul, and I am uniquely and imperfectly me" -- and this is also true.  I love the image this conjures for me, and it feels right.  This metaphor fits me, which is why I love to hate this poem so relentlessly.  I am that green-eyed, spider-carrying, poem-constructing, too-sensitive, blushing spirit.  I am that fuchsia-wearing, worm-saving, mascara-running soul.  And strangely -- in spite of everything I wrote above -- this is also hard to own.  It is a similar shame-like feeling that arises when I try to embrace this: we are not socialized to embrace our awesome. 

It's hard to hold these two completely dichotomous realities in just one body, and what I hear in this poem is that struggle.  I want it to end entirely differently.  I want it to end with a "hell yeah my soul wears fuchsia dresses, because I'm AWESOME!" feel.  I want you to read it and come away feeling empowered.  I want you to feel that this struggle that so many of us know is going to be victorious.  That we will all don our fuchsia or magenta or lilac or maroon or royal blue dresses and we will go forth and be our unique and imperfect selves with conviction.  I hate the punch in the stomach I feel with those last words -- because I do feel it, strongly.  The fear, and shame, and possibility of "losing everything" both is and is not a metaphorical abstraction.  It is something I feel in my gut -- the fear of losing that fuchsia dress, of never coming out of that closet -- it's real.  It's not beautiful, but it's true.

Lastly, I hate the beginning of this poem.  I have tried so many ways of re-doing it/re-wording it/changing it entirely, cutting out the beginning...and none of it works.  The only thing I can live with is the beginning you see here --- those two simple questions that make up the first stanza are some of the hardest I have ever had to write, and certainly among the hardest I have ever had to share. 

"When you told me I'm unlovable
did you mean I lack the qualities you can love?
Or did you mean
I'm just not worthy?"

I hate those questions.  I hate that they are the first stanza.  I hate that I wrote them.  I hate that they need to be there.

But they do.  They need to be there.  Because, that's the question, isn't it?  Did you mean I am unlovable to you?  Or did you mean I am unworthy of love?  There is shame in those questions, and there is bravery in those questions, and there is rejection of the sentiment in those questions.  I hear all of those things, absolutely.  And I also feel the very uncomfortable stirrings in my heart, telling me that those questions cannot be asked.  But there they are -- I am asking them -- and that feels radical, and frightening, and uncomfortable, and new.  They are not beautiful questions, but they are true. 

And truth is beautiful, just because it's truth, isn't it?  That's why this poem "works," even if I hate it.  It works because it's true.  It works because that arc from unlovable, to kick-ass, to uncertainty is real.  I know it.  You know it.  Naming it, though, and saying it -- pushing past the shame -- that's real.  

May you always be seen and loved in your beautiful fuchsia, or magenta, or lilac, or royal blue souls.  May you find the places where you need to be real, and may you have the courage to live into those places.  May you find the bravery to love to hate the thing that scares and shames you, and may you find what you need to bring that thing to the light.  Blessed be.

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