I am not a poet, but I write poetry. I am not an artist, but I do art.
Perfection was important in my home. Mediocrity in any form was shunned. We were raised with the right manners, able to hold the a knife ‘the proper way’ and keep our elbows off the table. We were never troublesome little children, we walk in a line, sat primly and never complained. Perfection. With a father who did it all and a family that worshiped his brilliance, his children carried the burden of proving themselves worthy of his surname.
Perfection was a bar that meant overcoming the challenges that hindered you from becoming the best. It meant trying. It meant falling. It meant failing. It meant barely ever becoming perfect. Sadly, I was the imperfect child in a perfect home. I held no promise. As a child, I was mediocre. My grades good enough for the second honors, but never for the 1st and I had a history of not getting any star in my nursery and kinder classes. I was the black star that never shined in our family sky. However, I was raised to be perfect. I knew what it meant to be perfect. Knowing perfection and not meeting that bar also meant knowing I was a failure.
The other side of perfection is a boatload of insecurity. And my insecurity was so great, I hid it in a shell of indifference and toughness. But each rejection of my work felt like another proof of my inability to be anything else than a failure. I would struggle through this for the next 20-so years of my life as I sought a kind of perfection that came with the ease of a genius. It didn’t help that the two things I pursued in my life with so much passion and heart were the two things I was often ridiculed or ignored for: Art and Writing.
It didn’t matter my short stories got good marks in class or my poetry was praised by people. I often felt whatever beauty that poured out of me was a result of luck or that I had inexperienced admirers. When my father told me that I had to step down from art and give it to my older sister, I couldn’t completely understand it. Only that maybe I was not worth an investment. The constant reminder of this pushed me to dispose all the art I ever made. Fueled by my teen-angst, I made a pact never to draw again. The same went with my writing. I was in 6th grade and had written a short story for my sister’s Sophomore year English class. Her submission got her a 28/30. I was proud. I showed my Father the story. He read it. Gave it back to me and said nothing. Rejected by the very person who I thought then modeled perfection, I was broken.
Expression, however, was an essential part of my being. I did not draw anymore, but I wrote. I became a closet writer. I would write stories and poems but showed it to no one. The only publicly viewed writing I had then was those I submitted in class. Eventually, I was able to submit a few poems to a literary magazine millions of miles away. I was happy, but I told no one. I gained confidence in my writing and found my work improved as I grew within online poetry communities. I joined poetry readings and had read my poetry on a radio show. Despite this, telling people I’m a poet felt disgusting to my mouth. Undeserved. A poet, I believed was perfection. I was, by no mean, there. I was merely someone who wrote poetry on a good day and on a bad day a mere vessel for the muses.
In 2014, my life was plagued with grief, sadness, and despair. I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It wasn’t a surprise, but the episodes were hard. It was here, that I found that perfection didn’t matter. Expression did. Writing became an insufficient way to chase away my despair. In desperation, I got myself a pack of cheap acrylic paint, a small canvas and started to paint. I paint to soothe me, mostly abstracts that capture the mood. As I worked through my depression with meds, therapy and art, I found my whole paradigm change. As I articulated to my therapist in my last session with her in 2015: Creativity/Art is important to me. I need it in my life. I am a creative person.
I may never be a Mary Oliver or a Whistler, but I am not any less of who I am because I am not published or famous. That is not the point, but to believe I was neither poet and artist because I fear my own self-perception of imperfection disabled me without me knowing. I deprived myself of expression because I feared my inadequacy.
I still struggle with calling myself a poet or an artist—I feel too juvenile in both fields to completely embrace the word, but now, slowly, I am growing into claiming these as part of who I am. Sometimes the need to be perfect creeps in and tries to strangle the imperfectly confident voice in me, telling me I can draw and I can write, but I’m no artist or poet. Then I scream back at it:
I write poetry. I’m a poet. I do art. I’m a damn artist!