It seems to me that I’ve been on a very long journey to arrive at a point where I could comfortably call myself a “poet” or a “writer”, but in reality it’s only been within the last 2-3 years that I’ve put much thought into the matter. For as long as I can remember I’ve dabbled in it as a fun little hobby, but never really thought of it as anything more than that.
In the fall of 2011 I met someone that changed my thinking- a writer. Not one of those people who sulk and brag and love to tell people they’re writers for the glory of it, but a person who actually wrote, and loved it. He had a way of analyzing life, of taking it in and examining it, of finding the beauty and the logic and the chaos in the world around him, that I was immediately drawn to.
And so our friendship began, with an admission that wasn’t really a lie but also wasn’t all the way yet true: “I’m a writer, too.” My admiration for him, like all love starts, grew from both the need to win his approval and the intense desire to defeat him. He was a rock star, and I wanted him to see that I was one, too. I wanted him to appreciate my intellect, my talents, and I wanted to be his equal, so I began to write like never before. But I also wanted to be better than him, so badly.
Our antics led us to eventually become regular participants at an open mic poetry night at the coffee shop where we’d first met and could never seem to pull away from. He ached out his frustrations with the world at large while I was content to wax about its funny little everyday mysteries, secretly holding to the conviction that therein lay the real complexities of life- that while he was busy pondering those huge questions, I was finding the tiny answers. In my own mind at least, I bested him over and over.
When he left, I kept going to that poetry night. Before me each week was now a new challenge, waiting to be beaten- an audience, a strange breed of critics that seemed to have a vast amount of interest, at least, if not talent or experience with poetry as a lifestyle. They showed up every week and shared their work and supplied their snaps and claps in the appropriate measures, and they became my next conquest- a group of strangers I had to figure out how to impress.
I strove diligently but never quite achieved the response I was looking for. The polite claps weren’t enough for me as I struggled to tear down an ever-present barrier I felt between them and myself. I couldn’t make them appreciate the things I had to say and I couldn’t understand the praise they heaped on each other, on poets whose work I steadfastly didn’t like. As a result I began to grow bitter, blaming it on a circle-jerk mentality of favoritism and close-mindedness, exclaiming up and down the block that they couldn’t see true genius if it smacked them in the face. And eventually, I quit.
That’s not to say I quit writing poetry- only that I’d elected to fade into obscurity, licking my wounds and wrapping them in the delicious notion that from now on my work would be solely for my own enjoyment. Idiot bastards didn’t deserve it anyways. Yet some small part of me must’ve been aware of my own self-coddling because I began my 365 Poetry Project with the intent to push myself to greater skill, to torture myself into figuring it all out. If I couldn’t get really good at it then I’d die trying.
Because the truth of it was that I didn’t have the skill to elicit anything near the response I wanted. I had some technical know-how, some good ideas, and way too many dreams of glory. I’d never have admitted it explicitly, but I knew my writing wasn’t where it should’ve been, where I so very much wanted it to be.
And so months went by, during which I practiced daily and felt my thinking slowly changing, my skill slowly improving, my outlook slowly brightening. I wasn’t trying to earn anyone’s approval but my own anymore, and I was doing just that. I giggled like mad at my own silly ramblings, impressed myself with my own cleverness, and had many tear-filled sessions at the keyboard, processing my world one poem at a time. And for the first time, I found love without the pressure of having to win it, and I found it in myself. I found it in poetry.
I don’t know exactly when it happened (I mean, obviously some time last week, but besides that) and it was as much of a surprise to me as to anyone who knows me, but at some point I knew I was ready to go back. At that point I had 136 never-performed poems in a new style that I was proud of, but even then I had no intention of reading that night. I only wanted to listen and pay my respects.
Within two minutes of walking in the door and ordering my coffee, I met a stranger who changed my mind. She was a girl a few years younger than me, and she just sort of started talking to me, and I didn’t mind. She was so excited, telling me all about how the night before had been her very first reading at the teahouse down the road. She wanted to know if I was reading tonight because she’d never been here and was nervous. For some reason, she said it would make her feel better if someone she knew signed up with her. Without hesitation I assured her that she’d convinced me.
That night I noticed something about myself that had changed since the last time I’d been there, months and months ago: I didn’t want to beat her. I agreed to read not to show off my skill, but genuinely to show support for a fellow poet, especially one who was new and nervous, and one to whom I didn’t want to impart the same bitter, dissatisfied feelings about poetry that I’d had.
As I looked around at familiar faces, people I’d previously mocked in my mind for always bringing cheesy background music or reciting poems about cats or wearing dumb fedoras, I realized that I didn’t want to beat any of them anymore. I was actually just pretty grateful to be around people who respected poetry to any degree, and had any desire to write and to share.
And it struck me- to the best of my knowledge, they’d never stopped coming. They were the same people I’d seen week after week and secretly laughed at, but the difference between them and me was that they’d never thrown a tantrum and decided to quit sharing what they loved. Some of them remembered me, and welcomed me back.
I chose three poems from this blog which were some of my personal favorites: Day 28 – Pukers, Day 64 – Do Not Wander Back Into That Dark Night, and Day 101 – Solomon’s Kids. They were very well-received. Finally, after all that bitterness and forced seclusion, here were the shocked faces, snaps, claps, “mmm’s” and “damn’s” I was waiting for. It’s a wonderful feeling to realize that what you’re saying, what you’ve tried so hard to put forth clearly and effectively, is soaking in.
I never wanted their patronizing approval; I wanted to be understood. Since that first stranger in the coffee shop to the crowd of poetry night to the blog world, that’s what I’ve always striven to do. I needed to know that I was capable of leading others to see my point of view, the beauty and hilarity and irony I pick out of the monotony of everyday life.
The point of it all is not to wait for those like-minded people to come along who understand you because they are you; it’s not to gather them up and revel in one particular “right” way of being. The goal for me will always be to reach out to those who I may have nothing in common with, people who are nothing like me, and prove that at our cores we feel, we live, we love the same.
Any artist will tell you that- we all want to further peace and understanding among the human race. Most of us never get that far, except in the small ripples we make in our own pools. I don’t expect that my small contributions should make any lasting impact beyond the context of my life. But they are my contributions to make, and that’s all any of us ever has.
So for anyone who wants to know, for anyone who wants to join the excursion, I continue my journey to unity and understanding, one poem at a time. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but I’m going.