Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Weight of Loving Me

A couple of months ago I agreed to do a service at church on poetry. I agreed before I knew the topic, because I tend to say yes and then fake my way through having signed a contract without reading it I'm a professional. Turns out I had to write new poetry--two new poems-- specifically for this service because nothing I've written before was appropriate, for this topic or for church.

I admit I procrastinated on this poem and the other one. I made notes over a couple of weeks, but I didn't start putting the poems together until the afternoon before the service. It took longer than I expected for many reasons:
1. The topic made me cringe.
2. The minister didn't really want me to say "masturbation" from the pulpit.
3. That's none of your business.
4. I thought the entire poem was banal.
5. I was pretty sure I was going to fail...hard.
6. I took a break for several hours and went downtown to party with friends.
I finally went to bed at 4:00am, knowing I'd have to be up at 8:00 to put the final polish on my jumbled up pieces of word shit poems.

Imagine my surprise when my kind and supportive congregation said my poems made them cry and laugh. They asked for copies. One woman wants to send them to her daughter in California. So I thought I might as well post them here. The first one explains my difficulty with the topic. I'll post the second one in a couple of days. Keep in mind, I wrote these poems to be spoken. My fear is that they won't read the same on the page, so pretend you're hearing this on Def Poetry. And, yes, I could upload a podcast, but I'm too fucking lazy busy educating the youth of America.

Loving Me

Rev. Amy says, “Let’s do a poetry service. Will you read yours?”
I say, “Yes, I write poems.”
She says, “The topic is loving oneself.”
I think, Surely she doesn’t mean masturbation!
I say, “I haven’t written any poems about loving myself.”
I think, Because it sounds like either a Hallmark card or an OWL* lesson.
We have a meeting,
Amy, Laura and I, and we say,
“It’s hard to write a poem about loving oneself. We’ll start with how hard it is to say those words
and then we’ll write the ‘I’m super-fantastic’ poem.”
I say, “I’ll write new poems for the service. Don’t worry. I’ll be ready.”

I start…
I tap my pen on my desk
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I love me
You should too.

This is not the topic of my poems.
My poems screech around twisting curves at 78 miles per hour.
My poems walk barefoot on hot, gritty sidewalks littered with broken wine bottles, spent bubble gum, and cigarette butts,
or accidentally stumble into minefields of broken promises.
My poems need to be navigated carefully,
not appreciated for their floral scent,
pink bubbles,
rainbow ponies.
And yet the idea of writing about loving myself…
loving me…
feels more dangerous than any bad-ass, angsty, black-leather poem I’ve ever written.

Because back where I come from
loving yourself…loving myself…
looked like showing off
and the punishment for children who showed off could be severe.
Compliments were as rare as type AB blood
and were to be received with denial and shame.
The mantras of my childhood go something like this:
“Little girls should be seen and not heard.”
“You’re not cute.”
“God doesn’t like show offs.”
“Sit down and shut up.”
“You don’t need to go to college. You’ll end up back here married to a farmer anyway.”
 “Stop trying to be better than you are. You’re not better than anybody else.”
Don’t get me wrong. I knew I was loved.
The message was that loving other people and Jesus is OK,
especially in the long run…like eternity.
Acting like you love yourself is obnoxious, and if you persist,
other people won’t like you very much.
God won’t love you.
I learned to equate loving myself with bragging,
showing off,
Loving myself was wrong.
And so was masturbation.

This is the place in the poem where you expect me to tell you
how I overcame those word wounds and learned to love me
just for who I am, but I told you
my poems aren’t the teacup ride at Disney World.
I have lots of advice for other people about how they
should be kind to themselves,
be gentle with themselves,
love themselves….
What’s harder is knowing how to do it myself.
It has taken a lifetime to deconstruct the girl inside me,
after her bones fused, her muscles grew solid,
her red heart barbed wire-wrapped like the fields of Iowa….
the girl who didn’t dare love herself, but stubbornly wanted to.
And just as long to rebuild a woman who believes…
it’s OK to love myself as I love others.
Maybe it’s OK to stand up at the front of this congregation and sing a song,
and accept compliments afterward with neither denial nor shame…
or to stand up in Joys and Concerns and share a joy
that might sound like I’m bragging.
Maybe it’s OK smile at myself in the mirror and say,
“Hey, doll, lookin’ pretty good today.”
And it’s more than OK that I went to college
and later I went to college again,
and I married a farmer’s son, but I never went back to live on the farm.
Maybe…maybe I’m OK…
or even worth my own love.

As I wrestled with the topic of this poem
I looked in the mirror and said to my reflection,
“I’m supposed to write a poem about loving you
and I don’t know what to say…”
And as I looked into the blue eyes of someone I’ve known all my life,
“I’m not the one who said those things to you,
so why do you keep repeating them?
I wasn’t worried about being seen or heard.
I was a little girl and I just wanted to have fun—
to sing loudly and dance and spin in circles until I was dizzy.
They lied about Santa and the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny;
they lied about God;
they probably lied about you too.
You would have loved me when I was a little red-haired girl.
Why can’t you love me now?”
I looked back at my reflection, and I saw the
blue-eyed toddler who loved to sit on her grandma’s lap and rock,
the shy ten-year-old who hated being teased about her red hair and freckles,
the anorexic teen smoking a Virginia Slims,
and the too-young Air Force officer’s wife, struggling to fit in.
I saw the new mom who swore those words would never come out of her mouth
and they didn’t.
And I saw the older mom who cringed with pride when her daughter,
after a break-up with her boyfriend said,
“I’m hot. I’m gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want me? His loss.”
I wondered if I could go back and tell those other me’s how hard it is
to write a simple poem about loving myself,
or if I could explain to my 90-year-old self how hard it has been to write a poem about loving myself….
And I knew it was time to stop writing this poem,
and move on to the “I’m superfantastic” poem.
See, it’s not easy to deconstruct a child who learned that loving herself was wrong.
It took writing this poem to finally realize,
there was never a reason not to love her in the first place.

*Our Whole Lives, the UU church porn lifespan sexuality curriculum.

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