An exercise in (finding and) keeping yourself

My first Fig Tree Project was a series of poems on a blog that I started in high school and invited some friends to submit to. I felt like I needed a whole separate place to write down the lines that came into my head, and I wanted it to be something I could share.

The lines were short and effortless, usually, and not very good. I have never been trained in poetry — haven’t even really read much of it since I was a child. I have no patience for it. I read poetry the way I look at visual art: appreciative but aloof, and fully aware of my complete ignorance to everything it has to offer as an art form. I’m convinced that this is because I’ve never studied it, and because I’ve never studied it I don’t truly understand it, and because I don’t understand it I could never produce what I’d consider true poetry.

This is the last poem I submitted to that blog, over half a year ago now:

lines to no one

i am fascinated by intimate places

ones where the walls are thick, and speak to you, and listen
where the grass has grown wild and stings you as you hurry
where the whispers in your mind are quieted, yes,
places where your heartbreak guards the door
and guides your hands

like a blind woman, i feel my way through smoke
in intimate places
in dimly lit places
in secretive places
until i solve the problem of Time
my teeth have been clenched for too long
the tension unbearable, like ropes across my chest
i am fascinated by intimate places
where morning light stretches, stretches, never breaking
where we, laughing, melt the walls between us
where i can summon you and taste you with
my shaking fingers, my heartbreak hands
and we stretch, and we stretch, and we stretch.
i can’t find them anymore, the intimate places
i can’t find them anymore.

I might sound like I’m being harsh on my own work. But that would only be because I’ve read and re-read my “poems” so many times over the years that my own voice sounds cliche and I’ve become a parody of myself. Even as a Fake Poet, I haven’t improved much. And anyway, what writer is out there who doesn’t feel like everything they write is absolute trash?

My lines were short, effortless, and not very good, but they served a purpose. I wrote them to preserve moments the same way most people take pictures. Sometimes a particular, small moment in life would pass by that would either be so pure or overwhelming — and mostly it was never so much an event as it was a feeling — that I’d feel the urge to document it in the best way I know how.

Sometimes, there was a break-up —

You thought he had been swept away like dust after a sickness,
but he still fills spaces in your poetry where
he no longer belongs

— or an anxiety attack at a coffeeshop —

i’ve spent afternoons with Mrs. Dalloway and all i wanted was some
calm and quiet but my hair is matted and my thighs are
trembling, as they do sometimes, they twitch as is their habit, the way
my knuckles twitch sometimes, and i am
wondering, as i eat, as i chip away at the small mountain of
cream cheese, if my lipstick will stay or fade.

— or just nostalgia —

i once loved keeping secrets
and i once loved being one

or sometimes, like in the first one, I just felt like throwing words together. Whatever the case may be, it was always prompted by a feeling, and some words and phrases would just bubble up to the surface and beg to be written down.

But I haven’t written any lines in a very long time. I don’t romanticize much of anything anymore, and while this has done a lot to clear my head and make way for some of the life changes I’ve had going on, I’m also afraid it means that I’ve stopped feeling. I mean, I’ve stopped letting my feelings reach deep down enough for those lines to come bubbling up again. I even wrote a poem for this fear, back when I noticed myself slowing down in my writing:

i used to write poetry
now i only spend mornings hating myself
for not doing things that i wish i could do

i used to write poetry
when i still had the courage
to look myself in the eye
when i could write my misgivings and hide from them; still,
i could write poems
with eyes closed, perhaps
i could go on not confronting a thing

(I won’t share the rest because really, it’s no good.)

And so I think I took my poetry for granted, not realizing that I’d be missing that particular creative outlet. Nowadays, I have no creative outlet. I work all day and then alternate my free time between play and hiding myself away from everyone. The free space in my mind is used up by the sheer amount of energy it takes to maintain my health and wellbeing — mentally, physically, spiritually — as a full, adult human. I’ve been making plans and doing more, just like I’ve always wished I could, but I haven’t slowed down to write lines, and it almost feels like I’m missing something but can’t place what it is.

Everyone needs a Fig Tree Project. Most people can think of it as an escape or a creative outlet, but I think of mine as a way of slowing down. Letting myself feel—really feel. Confronting myself.

As a writer, it is through words that I express my truth. Without words and the physical act of writing them, my truth is not real. It just swims around in my head like everyone else’s, non-writers included. And if I don’t express my truth, who am I at all?

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