Frivolity, or necessary self-expression?

This morning I woke up wanting to write. POETRY, of all things.

This morning I woke up NEEDING to homeschool and parent four children, three of whom have colds (as do I).

The contrast between those two things felt enormous, even insurmountable.

A few days ago I received a birthday gift in the mail: a poem I wrote in March, printed on glass and framed, with a note from my best friend that reads: “Happy birthday, Kristin!!! I wanted you to have a visual reminder of how gifted you are with words.” Best part: she ordered it BEFORE I published that whole Am I a writer? post. Talk about being thoughtful!

The Gift

So, when I woke up feeling ridiculous for wanting to write poetry in the face of all of my daily responsibilities, I remembered this gift. More than reminding me that I am gifted with words (which I’m not yet convinced of), it reminded me that I have people who believe in me, who support me in this new writing endeavor – that the endeavor itself is worthy. I’ve been trying to be more expressive, so I tried to explain to her what the gift means to me, and referred to writing poetry as impractical. What I actually said was: “poetry, of all the random impractical things.”

Of all the random, impractical things.

She shut that down right away, with these beautiful words:

“Poetry is not impractical. Self expression is freeing and comforting and good.”

It’s a total paradigm shift. What I saw as frivolous, she framed as freeing, comforting, and good. Which, really, means it’s necessary. Now, I’m not saying poetry itself is necessary – but just like all forms of art, it is a vehicle for self-expression and that is necessary. Often supremely uncomfortable, but necessary. It reminded me of the few times I’ve done art therapy – the process of putting my feelings into the art allowed me to explore and understand those feelings in a tangible way, and was definitely more important than the finished product. Could I look at poetry the same way? Some Twitter friends had similar things to say – embrace the desire to write, write without worrying about whether it’s good or not, give myself the space. I’ve just never before sought to understand and express myself through writing poems. Just like with a paintbrush, I feel awkward, uncomfortable, like an amateur. But sometimes amateurs are quite good actually, and even if what I write now is garbage I’ll undoubtedly get better the more I do it. I’ll get more comfortable with the process, and inevitable be happier with the product.

So is writing poems the newest addition to my self-care repertoire? Is it frivolous to write poetry while my husband plays Risk with the kids downstairs, or is it a necessary form of self-exploration and self-expression that will enable me to be more in tune with myself and therefore a healthier, happier person, wife, and mother? I think it might be the latter, though the idea might take some getting used to.

Revisiting that poetic genius…

My coauthor tells me I shared an incorrect version of our poem, so I’m here to set the record straight. The shining example of my poetic genius was actually written as follows:

Bub the Baby

If you ever meet a baby

who cries really loud

then, just maybe,

you’ll be allowed

to pick him up high,

right up to the sky,

then drop him in the tub

and name him Bub.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the accolades I am about to receive.

PS – I am adding this because it came up with a reader: I wrote this poem when I was ten or eleven, NOT in any way postpartum. I am not exploring taboo subjects, and no actual babies were dropped. Eek.

Am I a writer?

When I was a little kid I wrote ALL THE TIME. We had this old electric typewriter that used to be my Grandpa’s, and I’d lug it to my room, plug it in, and type away. I mostly remember writing plays, or screenplays that I planned to videotape (yes, I said videoTAPE) on my parents’ camcorder, starring my sisters, cousins, and me. I distinctly remember there was one screenplay I intended to film in my Grandma’s kitchen, and another in which I was an innkeeper with a modern kitchen disguised as an old-fashioned kitchen. I think there are probably some really awful videos, if anyone can access them, of us as kids filming our plays outside in the backyard. I KNOW there’s an awful one of me screaming at everyone in my parents’ basement that they ruined everything; I was a bit of a control freak and difficult to deal with.

I also wrote poems – not very good ones, and I only remember this gem, coauthored by my sister, Kayla:

If you ever meet a baby

who cries really loud

Then pick him up high

right up to the sky,

then drop him in the tub

and named him Bub.

C’mon, you all recognize real poetic genius here, right?

I turned all of my school paper assignments into creative writing stories. I don’t remember them, but I DO remember when I stopped: high school freshman English class, when we learned to write in MLA format. I remember crying about it (what do you mean I can’t use the word “I”?) and thinking my teacher was just the most awful teacher EVER; I’d even convinced my mom of it. Really, she taught me an incredibly important skill. But I very rarely had the opportunity to write creatively in school again, and I stopped doing it on my own time, too. Why? I don’t really remember.

I’ve known for a long time that I can write, and well (I’m so humble, aren’t I?). I wrote well in college, and in grad school one of my papers was used as part of the school’s reaccreditation process. I wrote analytic pieces for my job before I left to have kids. But I almost never enjoyed it. I did it because I had to. Then, in 2015 I started this blog on a whim. I still didn’t consider myself a writer. A book blogger, sure; but that was talking about others’ writing, not “actually writing” (whatever that’s supposed to mean).

A couple of months ago I saw a call for submissions to a new online literary magazine called Kindred Spirit, and for the first time I felt the urge to write – and I did it. I sat down and wrote to the prompt, a piece that I am pretty proud of but ultimately decided I’m not ready to share and didn’t submit. But the itch to write hasn’t gone away, it’s only gotten stronger. It’s perplexing, really – it feels a little uncomfortable and I’m pretty shy about it. So, I’m starting small. There’s a Twitter hashtag, #VSS365, that has a daily one-word prompt – you write a tweet-sized story using the word for the day and post it. I probably do it less than half the time, but it’s been so FUN. It’s like I feel a long-unused part of my brain slowly shaking off its cobwebs and sputtering to life. And the more I do it, the more I want to write — though I don’t know what or why, exactly. Maybe I’ll pop back in here and share some of my little #VSS365s…

I know to be a writer you don’t need to write every day. You don’t need to publish. You don’t even have to share anything you write with another person. And yet I feel hesitant to label myself “a writer.” It sounds so big and important, so much more than an unpublished piece from the heart and a few tweet-length stories or poems. But I’m feeling it out, trying to figure it out… Am I a writer?