On Internet Vulnerability: A Discussion Between Lora Mathis and Fortesa Latifi

L: I post my work online. What does this mean? Literally: I write poetry and create visual art and put it on Tumblr to be consumed. But on a deeper level, it means that I consistently feel naked. Like my experiences are not moments I live, but relatable writing material waiting to be churned out.

It can be exhausting to pluck at your skin until it’s bare. When you are your own medium, you wring yourself out until there is nothing to say.

On top of the typical fear that come with creating art from personal experiences, there is a unique terror to putting your work online: you can no longer hide from the people around you.

Employers only have to do a quick Google search of my name in-order to learn about what hurts me. My mom can check my blog after we fight to know how I respond to her criticism. Previous partners can have pocketfuls of poems to remind themselves just how much they messed me up. And my friends can learn that some days are really hard for me, that sometimes I have conversations with them and battle thoughts of depression at the same time.

Fortesa Latifi, who is the author of “This Is How We Find Each Other” (Where Are You Press) and runs the poetry blog madgirlf.tumblr.com said,

There is a sense of anonymity because even though my name is attached to my poetry, most people who follow me online don’t know me in real life. On the other hand, if an employer googles me or someone that I knew from high school stumbles upon my Instagram or blog, they’re suddenly privy to the most private details of my life. I made this choice not entirely knowing what it would mean. I don’t think I foresaw my blog becoming popular and I definitely didn’t think about what would happen when people who know me personally log online find poems about them on my blog.

L: On top of people having quick access to your thoughts, putting work online also creates a strange sort of celebrity status and brings on a slew of readers asking for advice. While I assume this happens often with writers, the Internet gives readers easier communication, and thus fuels this.

F: …when I get messages like “you changed my life” or “you saved my life” and that kind of stuff, I feel flattered and glad but in a very superficial way like I can’t truly conceptualize the idea that I wrote something and put it on a random website and it had an impact on the course of someone’s life. I still can’t understand that.

L: Putting pieces of yourself into a public space forces you to own them. Which is as terrifying as it is positive. It is difficult to swallow my self-hate. My depression. The pain I would rather not have lived. The role I play in creating my own pain. It hurts to relive what you have trouble speaking about.

F: Last year, I had coffee with my English teacher from high school who is a novelist. It was right before my first book came out and I was telling her that there were some things I had gone through that were so awful but had produced work I loved and that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put them in my book because it would almost be like justifying their happening and solidifying their place in my life and I didn’t want to do that. I also didn’t want the people who hurt me to be able to look at my book and think they deserved a place in my story and such a permanent one at that. And my teacher said something that has guided me through my writing ever since. She said, “it’s funny because once you put those things in a book it’s sort of like releasing them from yourself. They’re out in the world then and they don’t really belong to you anymore.”

That’s what I have to remind myself when I’m detaching from my writing or when I’m trying to. These words and stories don’t belong to me anymore. They’re out in the world now and hopefully they can help someone else.

L: Gutting yourself is cathartic. To create art which is so honest that it hurts to get out. It allows you to breathe and gives you an irreplaceable sense of power. Getting rid of creative ideas allows you to give birth to new ideas and projects. That’s how you grow.

Putting things online feels like a radical tactic against silencing. It is a way for me to combat misogyny as well as my depression. Society tells women: stay quiet. Don’t speak. It is unfeminine and unattractive to be bold in your words. Depression tells me: Shut up. No one cares about what you have to say anyway.

To put my work online and to learn that actually, people do care about what I say, is daring. There have been too many times when I could not articulate what I was feeling, even to myself. Times staring straight ahead in a group of friends, my tongue a dead-weight nothing.  Having a place to put these thoughts has allowed me to churn them out readily. To understand myself. To listen to myself. Yes, I have the shield of a screen to hide behind, but this is because telling the truth is hard, especially when it is a truth you never want to admit to yourself.

F: Sometimes I feel incredibly vulnerable like I’m standing naked on a stage with a spotlight on the parts of me I would rather hide, but there is also this absolute freedom that I’ve found in this place. It’s sort of like now that anyone can look online and read about my intimate thoughts and experiences, I have nothing to hide anymore and that feels good. It feels so, so good to be frank and honest about who I am. I feel like I’ve spent too many years doing otherwise and now I’m tired of it. I remember the night that I started my blog and I remember thinking that I didn’t care anymore who knew what about me and that the catharsis I found in being honest outweighed any negative effects like ex-boyfriends finding my blog and wanting to know which poems were about them.

It still shocks me that I’ve found a way to be brave with who I am. I’m proud of that. I love tumblr for giving me that space.

Fortesa Latifi is a 21-year old poet/writer/bibliophile. She is trying her best. Her book This Is How We Find Each Other was published through Where Are You Press in December 2014. Her work has also been published in Persona and Words Dance. She couldn’t stop writing if she tried. For bookings/interview requests, you can contact her at fortesa.latifi@gmail.com

Lora Mathis is a poet and photographer from San Diego. Author of the poetry collections “bigger bolder less pathetic” and “i forgive everyone,” she also co-runs the zine press ink/paper press. Her photography and poetry has been feature in The Fem Lit Mag, Words Dance, and Vagabond City Lit. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works for Where Are You Press. Where Are You Press published her latest book,The Women Widowed to Themselves, in Summer 2015.

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