If you think about art, you think about what the artist needs. For me, it has always been a computer. I was ten years old when I got my first computer, a bulky HP silver-blue machine. In the sixth grade, we had to create our own poetry books and I drafted the entire thing on Microsoft Word. I printed out the sheets of paper and cut everything, little squares of poems. I glued them down on cardstock. I sewed the pages together.
That was thirteen years ago. I don’t print my poems out anymore. I type up a poem. If I want to share it, I upload it on Tumblr. I wait to see how people react. I can write anywhere, in a library, at home, on a plane. I just need my favorite medium: an electronic device. Just a few months ago, when I jet-setting from continent to continent, all I had was my cell phone and a pocket-sized notebook. I scribbled vague ideas in the latter. I hurriedly tapped my fingers across the former.
For years people have been asking about my discipline as a writer, how I managed to “keep at it” while I was balancing my high school and undergraduate education. School was hard, sure, but I was underprepared for what it would be like to enter the working world of adulthood. Suddenly, my computer and cell phone didn’t offer that same artistic getaway.
When you’re working full-time in an office, you’re looking at a computer screen all day. Instead of speed-writing poems, you’re speed-typing emails and reports. When people are complimenting your good ideas, they aren’t talking about wild imagery. They mean how you envision a curriculum, how you offer solutions to logistical problems.
Recently, I was at work brunch, meeting with alumni from our educational program. I’m an alumna of that same program. Some of the people I serve are friends of mine. They knew me long before I started wearing blazers and corduroy pants. That day, we went around and introduced ourselves to the group. I said I was a poet with my usual self-deprecation, rolling my eyes and shrugging my shoulders. My supervisor cut me off. She asked me to talk about my book. It felt like a kick to my system, a sudden shift in perspective. Later on, three women asked for my information. They wanted to read what I write. They didn’t know me as a writer, but they were willing to read me anyway.
Two months ago, I said I would be done writing a series of poems. I told the guy I’m dating. I asked him to hold me responsible. Today, I texted him to say that I won’t be able to meet this arbitrary deadline. I want the poems to be really good. And they aren’t yet. He was patient, the way everyone is patient, which feels like a great kindness.
My writer friends, Fortesa Latifi and Trista Mateer, are not about kindness. When we text, they tell me they’re waiting for my next big thing. I feel sometimes like a child star entering puberty. My writing that took off in 2013 and moved a few paces ahead and stayed there. The trajectory of my work, my writing work, is not as smooth as my day job. I don’t clock in. I have no supervisor. When I write something I’m proud of, I save it in my documents. When I write something I am not proud of, I still save it in my documents.
Sometimes when I come home, I have no patience for a computer. I don’t type poems on my phone. Instead, I watch television. I dance. I pet my dog. Sometimes I create projects that are easier to finish. For a week, I was helping my mother construct her resume. I typed up her lengthy publication list, more than half a page single-spaced. But her job history grated at me. I yelled at her: You need to write down the years you worked here. When did you work at the publishing company?
My mother who has hand-written all her drafts just shook her head. I don’t remember, she said. For a long time.
Yena Sharma Purmasir is a 22 year old poet and author from New York City. Her first book of poetry, Until I Learned What It Meant, was published by Where Are You Press in 2013. A recent graduate from Swarthmore College, Yena has spent her first year of “real adulthood” doing a year’s worth of service at Hour Children, a non-profit supporting formerly incarcerated women and their children. Yena was the Queens Teen Poet Laureate for 2010-2011 academic year. In 2014, she was the recipient of the Chuck James Literary Prize from the Black Cultural Center at Swarthmore College. Most recently, she learned that she is one of Coffee Meets Bagel’s “top 10% most LIKED members.” She owes all of her success to her family and friends, who not only read her poems, but also continue to help her choose the perfect profile picture.