Last week I dusted off my beater guitar and pulled out a moleskin with the intention of seeing if I still had any spark in my old songwriting hobby at this stage in my life. After a few chords, and trying to match a few more lines with those, what I found was that my predilection for precise language really made me a shit poet.
I suppose I wanted to write the most accurate words I could. I wanted them to be true and beautiful. What came out were preachy, jagged phrases that seemed to be written by a 60-year-old parking garage engineer.
It was while improvising the second verse on the fly, the line “My heart will be a graveyard for your ghost” came out of my mouth. I recorded it, but it bothered me to no end. Heart? Graveyard? Ghost?! What the hell? And the language is not even all that woo, and just a bit cliche, but still!
I was irritated, but the reason wasn’t obvious to me, so I sat on it for a few days. First of all, I noticed that I have this driving desire to be right. I’ve found that the more accurate my words are, the more I can cover my ass if I get called out for a potential misunderstanding of an idea.
There’s something so satisfying about being right. It’s not satisfying on the deepest level, but on the level of ego, it’s a metaphorical pint of cookie dough ice cream. Few things in my daily routine match the dopamine release and self-satisfaction of rightness, but that dopamine release isn’t because my answers are accurate. It’s a smug disposition toward the vast mysteries of the world and the wonderful complexities of other people.
This disposition of “knowing the answer”, keeps the most childish parts of me alive. I become the 8-year-old who is just learning the elusive concepts of right and wrong and who have not yet grasped the difficult complexities of life and the plethora of motives that drive our behavior.
I would rather something else, though. I think it would work better for me if my disposition toward questions was more of a journey. That journey presents itself as something akin to poetry. The poetic way affords me the liberty to raise more questions and not feel so pressured to force myself upon the most direct route. The poetic way can waste some time. It can be confusing as hell and vulnerable to misinterpretations. It for certain will alienate the black and white thinkers around you.
Most of us, by virtue of using social media, have already self-selected into our chosen news outlets, world-views, social circles, and taste preferences. We receive ads targeted toward people who like our favorite books and movies. We have hidden (or blocked) obnoxiously disagreeable Facebook friends. We are now in more control than ever of the world we want to see. We can choose how concrete we want it to be and we can choose how much mystery we can accommodate.
There’s an energy that moves the heart of the artist. One is more interested in documenting their thoughts and feelings than being crucified for making a mistake in reflecting the absolute truth of a concept.
As my tolerance for poetry expands, so my ego’s grip loosens around being right. Ultimately it makes me a little bit softer, maybe a little easier to handle and a little more fun to play with.