O little peanut! You were so small and uncertain. You don’t know it yet, but many good things will happen to you. Your understanding of the world will expand with each poem you craft. Your life will still not be void of questions but neither will it be void of meaning like you feared.
And then you’ll get hot and get a good haircut. But in the meantime please stop hunching so much. It doesn’t suit you.
Inner Yuugen: A Poem Blog has an origin story.
I was in 7th grade, goofing off in one of the back rooms with my friends during morning time’s Easter church service. The whiteboard had a poem written by one of our mutual acquaintances, Sofia Guseva, who visited earlier. It was a cute little poem stanza about Easter. “Christ is risen” and something like that. I don’t remember the exact words, but Sofia made them rhyme, and I thought it turned out pretty cleverly. I too wanted to replicate Sofia’s art form.
Usually when I have to think up of ideas, I take a long time. This time, though — everything clicked.
Within the next ten minutes, I wrote down my own version, a three stanza poem, about Easter. Presumptuously, I incorporated my crush Thomas into one of the stanzas just so that I could spark some conversation and reactions from my other buddies. Ksenia, my childhood friend and self-ascribed Thomas-hater, squawked and erased Thomas’s name from the board. But when she wasn’t looking, I wrote it back again with even greater vigor. I didn’t admit it — no girl in the Russian Orthodox parish wanted to admit they loved that bad boy — but writing his name was my subtle way of confessing newfound preadolescent love towards him.
Shortly after my neighbor friends and I worked on a play in our backyard. The play involved reading some poems about animals. So my friends compose theirs, and I jotted mine down, about a wolf. My friends read my poem and remarked, “Your poem is really good!”
I actually liked it, too. Imagine — it was my adolescent years, and the identity crises hit hard, so I rarely liked anything. I was talentless, shy, insecure, confused, neurotic and a little sheltered. So it was a little bit of a relief to hear my friends and family say, after they read my poem, “I think she’s actually got talent!” A far cry of my dad previously telling one of his clients, during a conversation with her, that while my sister had mathematical and artistic inclinations, he had no idea what I, the elder daughter, was good at.
I got a little pamphlet and wrote down more poetry ideas until I decided to make my mark on the world and founded Inner Yuugen at 17. Now that I’m turning 22, that means I will have written for 10 years already.
At my 8th grade graduation, I had to recite a poem about graduation (duh) in front of my peers and the parents in the big auditorium. I was such a shy little peanut, scared to death of everything including boys and love and sex and math and teenagers and God and my own intrusive thoughts and my mother when she proselytized about politics and life.
“H-Hi everyone, my name is Tiffany. I will be reciting a- a poem.” Pause. “I made it up.”
Some chuckles from the audience.
I recited the poem, for sure. Even though I never had a bona fide case of stage fright, I was incurably shy, and I hated that shyness and I hated that I blushed so hard on stage after I was done even when the whole auditorium exploded with cheers and whistles. Even when some of the teachers and parents themselves came over to congratulate me.
I had a complex growing up: that I was a painfully average kid who will never be good at anything.
They call it being a “square” today, actually. But I digress.
When I saw the other kids doing sports or extracurriculars and working on their talents, I wanted the same thing. My family had neither the time nor the money to put my sister and me into extracurriculars long-term.
Ksenia was involved in 5 extracurriculars at the same time at one point. “Hey, your friend’s having a soccer match tomorrow, wanna go visit her?” my dad once said. I replied no, but if I was in better in touch with my feelings, you could’ve heard the resentment in my voice, that my dad cared about some friend’s soccer match when I could’ve been the one exerting my energy onto the playing field. Just typical old “why can’t I have what my friend’s having” drama. You get the point.
When I was nine, I dreamed of learning the violin. Mum said, “Forget it,” she said. True, I was tone deaf.
Dad, who used to be a Russian dancer, tried to put my sister and me into a ballet class for the summer. I, a 12 year old, ended up in a beginner level class with 5 year olds for classmates. Don’t even ask me how that happened.
When high school freshman year came around, I finally had enough time to try something new. So I went for volleyball. Didn’t make the team.
I switched to cross country instead. I was …semi-good, if you can call it that. Out of most races that I ran with my sparse team, I would usually end up smack down in the middle of the competition.
But I wanted more. I wanted to be better than the status quo. That brought my pride down a notch when track and field season came and due to sickness I ended up virtually last in one of the races. My poor parents, having to endure my subsequent sobs about not being “good enough.”
Then sophomore year came, and so did Pre Cal and Trig, and I didn’t have any time to do sports. I slugged through an identity crisis throughout high school and the beginning of college until I read, “Self Compassion” by Kristin Neff and stopped hating myself just for not knowing who I was and not knowing what my life’s meaning was.
But the book also reminded me that as far as I’d come, one thing didn’t abdandon me.
Poetry didn’t judge me when I felt talentless, because I didn’t need to feel talented in order to enjoy what I did.
Poetry didn’t hold me up to any standards because I already liked what I wrote. I could express myself exactly how I wanted. And best of all, my audience liked it too.
When I figured that out, suddenly it didn’t matter that I sucked at everything else because discovering poetry was like discovering myself.
One more anecdote. I was at a local track and field team. Everyone there was an award-winning champion who got into nationals and first place and blah blah blah. I.e everyone left me on the dust in 100 degree heat in the warm-weathered East Bay. And I cried to my mother on the way home that I wasn’t good at anything, not even the sport I loved.
“But these kids will never have one thing you have,” mom insisted as she drove me home. “And that is your ability to write poetry.”
Of course, I didn’t believe poetry meant a damn thing when you could be winning championships and scholarships as a runner. However, my need for self-expression and beauty always, inevitably, brought me back to the pamphlet. Almost like a prayer to a higher power. I wish I knew not to neglect this part of me that felt so second nature. So interesting, considering that I left the faith I while ago.
Besides, self compassion taught me that I don’t have to be great at everything. You can just be good enough, even if you’re not talented. For example, something happened to test my mental strength. I’d just recorded a video of myself performing an intermediate tap dance routine. When I saw it I almost wanted to cry.
It took me months, goddamn frickin’ months to actually learn the routine. And I came out of it stiff, stilted, and more out of sync with the music than I realized. And the taps weren’t the cleanest.
I practiced so hard. Why couldn’t I be good enough?
After much introspection, I realized why.
Maybe I wasn’t good enough for myself. But for my sister, and my dad, and other fellow tap dancers out there, maybe I am good enough.
So how does that differ from my poetry? After all, ask the many poet societies and organizations who rejected my poetry submissions — why do I not feel as insecure with my poetry as I do with tap dancing?
Oh sure, I’m not a professional, and I have a lot to learn and more poetry to read and be inspired by. But I compare my poetry with my own development. It never mattered to me what the poet organizations were looking for. I went my own direction. I wrote whatever I wanted and I was satisfied with it.
And believe me, since I willingly practiced without overthinking my creativity, I got better.
Within time, I started out from writing corny little glurges to the more mature topics, to the nuanced and benign, and the simplest of things. I don’t try to make my poetry toooo complex. I want my readers to understand my poetry.
Also, poetry does not and should not hinge on heavily tangible, rhetorical, and controversial topics like politics. Okay, yeah, politics is fine, as long as it isn’t a PR for activism, in which case, it’s not poetry but propaganda. But my poetry is a prayer, a meditation, a focus on the essential, as the fox from The Little Prince says.
Inner Yuugen is the story of how I see the world as an aesthete and a poet, like a dog that hears the dog whistle when others can’t. But its backstory is built on the back of an insecure girl who has found at least some expedient meaning in her life thanks to…poetry.
I think I can live now, thanks.
Stay tuned for my next poem.