Breathless from answering a flurry of emails from across the world, I surreptitiously opened my Google doc at work.
The page opened, full of metaphors and poetry rather than the staid engineering drawings in other tabs.
My shoulders relaxed a couple of inches. I took a deep breath and allowed my fingers to run across the keyboard with abandon. The office behind me faded into the distance, and the words grew until they filled my aching heart.
The words that spewed from my keyboard told me that I had two selves: the one that I wore every day, and another—glowing from the depths of my soul. Poetry gave me words for each of them. One was a robot, stubborn, intransigent, made up of walls and iron, a web of rules. This one I knew well. The other was a strange, organic thing that I could only describe as life, green, growing, and free.
I had started penning poems again at the height of my career as an aerospace engineer. My goal had been achieved; I had the “perfect” job. But I craved the long stretches of the Pacific where the internet was not available, I could shut down my computer, and finally cave into my airplane seat, my Kindle full of Orson Scott Card clutched to my chest.
My poems became a mirror to reflect the reality that I refused to acknowledge in my everyday life—I was unhappy. I felt stuck. I felt insecure.
Freed of grammar and sensibility, poems are a more direct conduit to my emotional self than essays. They don’t have to make sense. It was a truth that I had to learn about life as well. Not all of my emotions made sense. I didn’t have to look at them with a microscope. All I had to was feel them.
Harder than it sounds, poetry gave me the distance of an observer. It named sadness as knives and prickling sensations, as I felt the emotion zinging through my body. It enumerated the physical manifestations of fear. Somehow, it was easier to describe than feel, but I had to feel it to describe it.
Poetry was the beginning of a long journey. It was the tool that cracked the shell that I had built around my true self. Through words, my anger and sadness at the life that I was living began to seep out. Pain wracked my body as I gingerly touched the emotions that had been buried deep inside for so long. I twitched and moped. I spent days reading books so that the feelings couldn’t slip past the breaks in my mental armor.
But the bridge was crossed, and there was no going back. Despite the pain, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to return to the self of rules, iron, and robotic movements.
I’ve spent the last three years trying to embrace the lively and green rather than the stubborn and rocky. I quit my perfect job and then another one. I scooped dog poop and answered calls at a dog daycare. I ran a temporary leggings store and tried to meditate as I folded thousands of leggings into perfect rectangles.
It was hard to figure out how to bring my true self to work. My authentic self always seemed to get lost in the constant anxiety of achieving and proving myself. My joking manner eventually vanished, and I withdrew into my darkness to hide. Finally, I would leave.
My true self might send me a stinging headache to remind me of what I was missing at work. Sometimes I would get a cough that lingered for weeks. I was sick without my center, but I didn’t know how to anchor within her.
Now I work from home, switching between my small black desk and the gray couch where I meditate. I alternate between my two selves as well. Staring at my two screens while working, I feel my living center drift further and further away.
When I start feeling lost and sick, I sign off and move to the couch. I sink into the spot on the couch where I’ve spent the last three years looking for my core. I call her back to me, more quickly each time. A smile lights up my face as my headache withdraws. I try to revel in the feeling, wrap it around my fingers, and lodge it deep within my bones.
As I flip open my laptop, the sense of contentment fades. But I sense small changes taking place. I’ve stopped counting each hour that I work and calculating how much money I make. I make jokes with my boss via Slack. The air in my lungs seems more full of oxygen. My muscles call out to be stretched and moved, which I do.
It’s a slow process, but I can feel my iron self slowly melt and something new and green lurking beneath my fingers.