When I was young I learned what it means to fall in love. This, as I would soon come to understand, is largely regarded as a bad move amongst other citizens of the universe. Later, when I was older & less wise than ever before, I learned that if one is ever to find one’s way in this wild, windy, wobbly world – one must forget the way of falling & learn the definition of climbing from the quicksand, kissing the soft blue above.
Alas, I am disappointed to report I have not found this yet. I am still searching.
So there’s this: I’m an artist, which is by far my worst trait. I have a habit, you see, of searching for art in everything: sleepless train-bound faces, another glowing sunset, the laugh of a child at absolutely nothing at all.
I am flighty in the way of those who drink pretentiously-named coffee in small cafés & use creative license as a valid excuse for grammar errors. Which is to say: I am a student of the universe. Which is to say: I am a poet,
& everywhere I turn I search for the poetry.
Some days I feel as if whenever I attempt to say I love you, I am interrupted mid-sentence. I’m always frustrated with the unsymmetrical, the off-centred, this perfect rose with one wilting leaf. I am always trying to rearrange the universe into something I can trace on a map, soft as new wallpaper or trying to understand.
(This, as you may know, is what psychiatrists would define as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But all the same: I have reason to believe that my fascination with the pristine extends far beyond an obsession, some compulsion to decimate uncertainty. It is, instead: a sort of searching. A whisper of: give me a world I know by heart & I swear I will be satisfied. I squeeze chaos tight in my fist, softer than velvet & just as dark.)
What do you want? To stay & to leave. To conjure, in some version of remembering, a perfect round number. (& think of how, not so very long ago, I vowed to exercise every day until I could bring my weight down to exactly 100 pounds – the way I cried myself to sleep for weeks afterward, ashamed at not having the willpower to follow through with it. How curious, this monster of my own conjuring. Like willing an old favourite book to have a different ending, desperate in the way a tree will slowly disfigure itself if only to grow to sunlight.)
What do you want? I want a revelation. I want poetic irony. I want to stop being hungry. I want to stop starving for art. I want empty
or full, whole or untouched, I want every word to align, I want it all to make sense. I want a universe
that breathes in time with every song I have ever died for. I want the median of infinity, positive or negative but never both. I want love in the way that space is bluer than heaven & God the only astronaut. I want symmetry, & it is never so unattainable as in the moments I reach out for it, grasp in the darkness for this sweet thing with a name I can never pronounce.
The trouble with the universe, you see, is its realness. In poetry, every word is monochrome. One writes blood in metaphor &, eventually, one forgets how to pronounce red.
I have never been particularly skilled at finding beauty in cataclysm. I can’t understand art in a realm where panic is beyond my control, a looming enormity, chaos & one more false start. Perhaps I have always considered myself a searcher of the truth, only here is a caveat –
I adore the truth, but only in its softly-lit form. Only when it has been cropped, the scene picturesque, a beggar in the background edited out. I crave gorgeousness, truth only in deliberacy.
The tangled paradox. That hitch in your breath when you call me darling. I am in love with the truth when it is beautiful. I search for it only until it barrels towards me, & then all I know is escape.
I am trying, then, to look violence straight in its eyes, a strangling or a remembering, & to say:
I will not be afraid of you.
Could I venture that there is courage in this? I crave some memory of comfort & instead I step away from it. I am making a home of an elephant graveyard with someone else’s family photographs hanging on the walls. & this, I think, is the best & hardest thing I will ever learn to do:
to look at everything too tarnished to be art, & to find the art in it anyway.
So often I have been the ugly, too far from any definition of beautiful. & this, too, is a knowing: as I search for the art in the darkness, in the unfinished symphony, perhaps I will find it in myself.
I’m always drawn to the beautiful, the fluttering, the rose-gold dawn. I am always another syllable of love(ly), of love(less), but only in a perfect square.
(& a memory, how I know this flickering only as large as my own fist: a panic attack in math class when my teacher wrote 500 digits of pi on the whiteboard, like my obsessive-compulsive brain could barely comprehend the idea of randomness in infinity, some bird-boned terror, a creature drowning in the bigness of its own littleness.)
See, I’m always breaking my own heart over the waves of words, rolling across my tongue. It’s music, in a sense, gone as softly as it arrived.
So is there romanticism in the unlovely?
I have no idea. But – for the first time since the first love – I am willing to search for it in the darkness. To acknowledge it. To choose it back.
So there is this:
I am learning of art as a strategy in survival. To force myself into the romance of realness, eyes wide & searching however much I long to look away.
I am trying to look at beauty & think:
there must be more than light in the tender. there must be something realer than this.
I am learning to embrace this quiet realness, strain it through my teeth. To listen for more.
If I must fall for something, I am learning to fall for this sort of merciless, this joyful rebellion. It’s a revolution without a war, a beginning or a middle or one beginning more, but never an end (& think 500 digits of pi, think exactly 100 pounds, & look it in the eye, & do not run, do not be afraid).
It is not easy, but perhaps it is all I need. A world sharp & real enough to kiss me back, say it like this –
take this love burning a hole through your chest & forget about surrendering to beauty.
Instead (a curious mission, a manifesto of the oddest kind):
I will, as best I can, seek out the ugly. Find the unsentimental. Learn three-in-the-morning desperate crying. Lights too bright. Breakup songs. Riptides. A devastating diagnosis. Unrequited love. Unholiness. Another morning, another mourning. & I keep telling myself: it’s all art. It is all art.
I am trying to embrace this new definition of loveliness. In a sense, it is what poets are too afraid to write about, humming with ineffable poetry despite & because of that.
After all these years of steadily unlearning, I am finding another thunder, a different door to lock behind me. It’s all here. This is art. & I will say it until I believe it, a battle cry or a lullaby: this is real, it is messy & unbeautiful, & it is art, it is art, it is all art.
& still I swing. & still I fall.
Think of this:
sobbing in the bathroom after class when my favourite teacher neglected to cross one T on the whiteboard. Think of skipping over cracks on the sidewalk, think of wiping the bathroom sink dry after I brush my teeth. & think of the wrong side of hopeless. Falling out of love. Think of the bottom of the ocean, a jammed parachute, some kind of reappearance – think of fish hooks & false starts, tender & awful, all your fault, think of art as these wonderings, these wanderings, all things at once –
except for afraid.
p.s. tell me of your own artistic journey. do you see poetry in the unlovely? &: what are the things that make you afraid? perhaps i may trace light into your wounds, name them something closer to grace.