Posted by Dan Pugh, Poetry reader for issue 4.2
You know that distinct feeling of saying something you immediately regret? The present act of speaking becomes a present tense emergency. Your own fumbled phrase floats forward in garish block letters; you fruitlessly grasp for their serifs. There’s this massive, obnoxious speech bubble hovering adjacent to your own errant mouth and grinning from within it, is a statement you don’t believe in. How did this happen? Things were fine a moment ago! Everyone was chatting and laughing and effortlessly improvising a moment ago! Yet, this moment you’re in a fragile stasis of self-realization: it’s too late to bite your tongue, and your foot’s blocking access anyway. Might as well put on your most endearing shame-face and brace yourself as the room gets a chance to notice you said that.
Hopefully you know that feeling—assuming a commanding tone, misspeaking and then the emotional flurry that follows. Not because it’s a ball to experience, but because it’s a crucial lesson: You are capable of broadcasting messages you do not wish to. This experience is a low-stakes version of a larger facet of artistic creation. Here in the low-stakes example, you are presumably amongst friends or peers who may very well rib you for your transgression, but likely won’t hold it against you. Plus, this particular sensation of immediate regret also proves that you aren’t so headstrong that you can’t notice when you fall below the standard you set for yourself.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the high-stakes version of misspeaking: reconsidering an artistic statement. Personally, I felt that deeply familiar regret when rereading some old published works of mine. All the elements were there: alienation from my own production, shame for having sent that message out, and an urge to purge said piece from the world entirely. It cut deeper though, knowing that I felt this same pang of regret and failure to honestly display myself, not on a tasteless joke or a spiteful retort, but on something I had deliberately designed and edited and perfected for global consumption. The reason I wish to regale these feelings, is an attempt to utilize some emotional landmark and leverage that to make a point.
Do not feel shame when reading your own ameteur published work. It might feel paralyzing, to want to make that one last edit on a poem’s format, but only realizing that edit was needed after it’s too late. Or years later. Do not get red when your imagination outpaces your filter. What may seem like a shocking manifestation of a worse self, is just a stepping stone towards a more masterful control of human language. Your advanced state, your matured self is rightfully looking on your legacy of creations as sub-par because your taste is perpetually blooming. You now see how a better you would approach this subject in the new present and that should inspire, not discourage. Imagine if you read your previous works and shed a tear at their perfection, longed for the days when your skill was as honed. Consider embarrassments checkmarks, stack them high and keep embarrassing yourself for unlimited resources.