The scariest thing I’ve ever done is write poems on the Internet.
I started a poem project called feels like reign after immersing myself in many open communities supported by local organizations committed to making change. Here, I’ve connected with artists who share stories of heartbreak, grief, loss, self-hate, self-love and rejection in safe, but public spaces and through independent publishing. I’ve noticed that when attending events and reading beautiful content, I am faced with overwhelming support and understanding from artists and audiences alike. We’re a big group of humans who are finally owning what it means to be and feel. It’s this a-ha moment of, “Oh. I guess I can also be limitless.”
Creators are taking risks and sharing stories from their lives that have formed after digesting and analyzing that scary space in the backs of their minds – the one we all have but tend to ignore for fear of loosening an already rickety floorboard that might send us spiralling out of control into chaotic self-doubt and uncooperative nausea. This rickety floorboard of self-destruction certainly exists.
Still, there are artists and writers owning each part of their human selves, even parts that the world will not often welcome over for Sunday lunch, like their vulnerability, for fear of imperfection. Through their creativity, these people are brave and courageous. They amplify and they recognize the not so Insta-worthy parts of them and then they share these secrets, ones we’ve been told for too long to hold back. Somehow, they seem to love it all.
We all have stories we would never let out from behind our lips, as if saying the words makes having to deal with the impact of the pain and suffering we’ve already experienced real. Like we can’t let others know about our deeply insecure relationship with the one person we’re supposed to love unconditionally – ourselves.
There are stories I’ve never written publicly about before because of the trauma I faced after playing the victim in the young adult romance novel version of my life. Until now, these stories have been hidden in a red journal I kept for so long in the middle drawer of my bedside table, each line drenched with blue ink and literal tear drops.
I knew I wanted to start a blog where I would log all my poems, each representing experiences with bullying, sexism, harassment, disillusion, self-destruction and being totally crushed. I am awed by people who are so confident in even their weakest qualities, that I have become empowered to share for the betterment of my own well being. It’s also a bit exciting (and quite strange) to think that others might read along.
I wrote one poem, fingers shaking with each press of the keyboard, then two, then four, then 10 and at the time of writing this piece, I’ve published over 90. At first, I only shared the project with select friends, which sparked special conversations about the creative process, intersectional feminism and emotion. It’s like we’ve reached a new level of friendship, even though these are people I’ve known since childhood.
Then, I shared a link to the blog on Twitter, a place where I’m connected with followers, but not in such a way that they’d know the answers to who, what, when, where and why, when reading my work.
Next, I created a mental list of all the people I wanted to read along with me – writers I admired, creators I had interviewed, photographers I befriended and old colleagues I always trusted. As much as I craved validation that what I was doing would be appreciated by the audiences that mattered to me most, I shivered while drafting a note with the link. This felt like writing an email with the subject line, “Hello, Click to Read About My Insecurities and Stories I’ve Only Written to my Diary.”
There is fear in vulnerability. So much fear.
After weeks of waking up earlier than normal to spill out my insides on blank WordPress pages, I tried to build up my strength to share the link on Facebook and Instagram, places where people who follow and befriend me know more details about my life and the person I am.
I drafted two posts and deleted each of them quickly. Only after a long shower in warm water that made my skin turn pruney did I feel it would be okay, and also that it was about time for me to not care what other people think (my toughest battle).
Like Rupi Kaur says in her TED Talk called “I’m Taking my Body Back,” I envisioned the water falling from the shower head washing away the previous day, along with any anxious thoughts that seeped through the pores of my skin, preventing me from hitting “share.” After combing through my knotted hair and putting moisturizer on my face, I shared with my world the most terrifying project that I’ve ever worked on: a project about me.
I’ve always had a positive relationship with sharing on the internet and I’ve been intrigued by how easy it can be to connect with inspirational people all over the world just by hitting “Follow.” Yet, since I launched feels like reign in October 2017, I’ve had to deal with a new factor: the relationship between vulnerability and the creative process. It makes social networking seem scary and it has tested everything I thought I knew about self-care.
It’s true that we need to open up in order to let others in, but in one on one relationships, that seems more feasible, and even then, there are challenges. Opening up to the world, even if only a few people will play witness, with minimal curation, raw emotion and pure intuitive creativity is life-altering compared to selecting the Valencia filter and decreasing the brightness a little bit on a photo of a gluten free, meatless burrito bowl topped with organic heirloom tomatoes and freshly chopped cilantro from the garden in your backyard. Hashtag self-love.
The thought that goes into a curated photo on a social media feed can be both fun and time consuming, but it’s being made to fit the chapters in a story previously written by older photos and thoughts. Keeping Up With the ‘Gram certainly has its own levels of exhaustion, though trends quickly lose steam.
A creative project that involves analyzing feelings and experiences deep in that rarely explored space and then sharing these memories with an unlimited audience is the most intense, challenging, sometimes ugly, but also rejuvenating feeling of self-expression and self-care that I’ve ever experienced. It’s not perfect and it’s so flawed at times, but it’s honest and true and gut-wrenching and lovely.
Sometimes the words in my poems connect to previous pieces I’ve shared and other times, they’re a reaction to a memory I forgot about that has resurfaced from my subconscious. Instead of blinking away the thought, as I normally would, I try to write out the cause and effect of that experience and the impact of the lingering memory I’ve tried so hard to eternally repress.
It’s not easy to explain what the creative process or even what self-love is, especially since much like the words “success” and “failure,” “creativity” and “self-love” are subjective. Understanding a person’s definition of vulnerability is nearly impossible, as with time, what used to make someone feel unsure and scared may become rich with callouses – protective walls built to deal with thoughts of uncertainty, so that what was once the cause of vulnerability turns into strength, courage, bravery and the power to share.
We are so quick to generalize what it means to be creative and how to get there. Surrounding myself in the creative and feminist entrepreneurial community as much as I can, through organizations like Shecosystem, a coworking space in Toronto, Herday, a series of events in that city, Feels Zine, a locally produced Canadian zine about feelings and With/out Pretend, an independent publisher that produces books and anthologies by people who identify as women, have taught me how important it is to refrain from comparing myself and my definition of creative to others in a vaguely similar pair of shoes. When reality steps in, I will continuously learn that no pair of feet are the same, no matter how hard I try to rationalize.
At its worst, social media becomes the pawn in a game of chess that creates a veil over how we live and how we want others to assume we do. We glorify the highs and the lows and sharpen even the most perfect photos, in part because being totally truthful takes all the strong stomach a person has. Trusting that we’re sturdy enough to make it through is half the battle. Filters protect us from the fear of the unknown viewer, also known as that person I despise with all my being who I hope comes across my profile to see how well I’m doing.
We’re equally confused and unsure about the next move and the next step in the process because creativity and self-love change constantly and are dependent on personal experience, expectation and environment.
I’m attempting to shift my perspective so I find lessons and motivation in other creators’ work, as opposed to only seeking out limits in my own creative journey when I look at a piece produced by somebody else.
I met Erin Klassen, the founder of With/out Pretend, for a quick cup of something warm in the fall of 2017 and during our chat, she said: “What’s the point of being the coolest, smartest person in the room?” I took this as: what is there to gain if we aren’t willing to learn from those around us? And, instead of perceiving every viewer as a competitor, look at them as someone to collaborate with, gain from and grow alongside.
Indeed, there is fear in vulnerability, but only until there is strength.
The feature photo is by Mike Fiore.