My dad recently dipped his toe into the time-drowning ocean of social media, and the thing that seems to surprise him most is what some people share online. During our visit last month, as we talked about the things that get posted on Facebook, he asked, more than once, “Why would anyone want to put that out there about themselves?”
In a world where our electronic communiqués serve as the soap operas keeping NSA agents riveted to their screens, where even top secret super secure websites are routinely hacked, where the skeletons in everyone’s closets are just one mis-click away from worldwide publication, the idea of always only putting your best foot forward seems a bit obsolete. I tried to explain to him that if you are That Person who never posts anything even remotely negative, it can come across as braggy and fake.
But our conversation made me realize that perhaps I am guilty of undersharing. After all, not one of you knows what I ate for dinner or how many calories I burned today or who I’m voting for.
To remedy this shortcoming, today I am going to make a confession, right here, right now. I’m going to put something out there that is shocking, embarrassing, and that will probably make you think less of me.
I do this in order to earn my merit badge in oversharing.
You see, I have a secret habit that almost no one knows about. It’s not something I can afford to indulge in very often, and when I do, I try to hide the evidence. I have used encrypted files and false names, but in my heart, I know it’s only a matter of time till my practice—like all dirty little secrets—eventually gets found out. It’s not even something I particularly enjoy anymore. It’s more of a shameful compulsion.
[Dad, if you’re reading, you might want to go ahead and x out of that browser window now, before it’s too late.]
It pains me greatly to even type this sentence, but the shameful truth is: I write poetry.
I know, I know, it’s something we all experiment with during our unruly teenaged years, when we are full of angst, self-importance, and world weariness. But most people grow out of poetry writing and move on to respectable hobbies that are more beneficial to society, like fantasy football or prancercize.
Like most addicts, I got my first taste early on, before I was mature enough to understand what I was getting myself into.
At the age of nine, I learned my maternal grandmother was a widely published short story writer. She lived almost a thousand miles away and I had rarely ever spoken to her, but I became preoccupied with the idea of taking creative writing lessons. We started a correspondence course, and I devoured her explanations of imagery and metaphor and iambic pentameter in exchange for my freshly minted, horrifically executed poems.
These brazen transactions all took place right under the nose of the US Postal system.
By the time I was eleven, she had me writing a frenzied five to seven poems a week. But later that same year, I lost my poetry pusher to cancer. For a time, I took her death as a cautionary tale about the dangers of the pen, and I was able to abstain.
But then puberty hit and the poems came back with a vengeance, a seemingly harmless means of escaping a harsh reality.
We lived blocks from the ocean. All the normal teenage girls spent their summers frolicking in the sun and splashing in the surf, but not me. I holed up with my journals, fountain pens, and second-hand electric typewriter, took up night owl hours, and only ventured out to swim at dusk when everyone else was out all-u-can-eating.
I had the tell tale red flags: the pale skin, the continually ink-stained hands, the hours spent in self-imposed isolation, the unwholesome obsession with The Cure. But my friends and family ignored these signs, perhaps subconsciously afraid to face the terrible reality that I might, in fact, be a poet.
There were periods of time when I managed to free myself from this unhealthy fixation. Years went by when I didn’t indulge in so much as a single haiku. But eventually I always fell off the wagon, and before I knew it, I’d wake up full of shame and remorse with a half-written pantoum sticking out of my head or a sonnet spilled all over the floor.
I ignored my body’s natural antibuse reaction to poetry writing—the hand cramps, thumb calluses, blurred vision. I pushed past the pain in my blind thirst for words words words. No matter how many I had, it was never good enough, I always needed more.
Poetry writing is a bad habit that causes far too much thinking of thoughts and feeling of feelings, too much coffee drinking, and too much sitting (which everyone knows is the new smoking). Poetry has cost me so much: expensive pens and journals (because I may be a common addict, but I am connoisseur when it comes to my paraphernalia), a paid subscription to Pandora (because poetry writing requires music without ads). Above all, poetry has cost me precious, irretrievable time and energy that I could’ve spent saving the world or at least doing something more likely to have an impact on humanity, for example, learning how to properly fold a fitted sheet or how to whip and nae nae.
It’s an ugly thing, but we all have our demons. I wish mine at least made me fun at parties.
But it could be much worse. In my defense, I have never once worn a beret or participated in an open-mike poetry slam.
In an attempt to be a little healthier and cut carbs, I have recently taken up Paleo poetry writing* and feel that this is a compromise I can live with for now, until the happy day comes when I can at last pry the poem monkey off my back for good and be completely free to live a blissful, unexamined life.
*Poems written from a Paleolithic POV.