The Commonplace Book #4: “Scroll down / Scroll up”

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have seen some of my commonplace book posts, where I take a short piece of clever writing, try to understand how it works, and make my own version. Today’s piece of writing is this poem I saw making the rounds on social media, which has a very different message if you read the lines in reverse order:

“Pretty Ugly,” by Abdullah Shaoib

I’m very ugly
So don’t try to convince me that
I am a very beautiful person
Because at the end of the day
I hate myself in every single way
And I’m not going to lie to myself by saying
There is beauty inside of me that matters
So rest assured I will remind myself
That I am a worthless, terrible person
And nothing you say will make me believe
I still deserve love
Because no matter what
I am not good enough to be loved
And I am in no position to believe that
Beauty does exist within me
Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think
Am I as ugly as people say?
(now read bottom up).

At first I was mystified how this could work, but then I noticed that every other line is either a purely positive or a purely negative statement, and that they alternate in flavor: “I’m very ugly / … / I am a very beautiful person / … / I hate myself in every single way / … ” In fact, the overall structure of the poem repeats every four lines, which becomes easier to see if we collect the lines of each type:

Lines 4n+1: “I’m ugly and worthless”

[1] I’m very ugly
[5] I hate myself in every single way
[9] That I am a worthless, terrible person
[13] I am not good enough to be loved
[17] Am I as ugly as people say?

Lines 4n+2: “I can’t believe…”

[2] So don’t try to convince me that
[6] And I’m not going to lie to myself by saying
[10] And nothing you say will make me believe
[14] And I am in no position to believe that

Lines 4n+3: “I have beauty and worth”

[3] I am a very beautiful person
[7] There is beauty inside of me that matters
[11] I still deserve love
[15] Beauty does exist within me

Lines 4n: “What’s true is…”

[4] Because at the end of the day
[8] So rest assured I will remind myself
[12] Because no matter what
[16] Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think

So when we read the lines in order, we cycle through “I’m ugly and worthless. / I can’t believe / I have beauty and worth. / What’s true is / I’m ugly and worthless.” and so on. In the reverse direction, we read instead, “What’s true is / I have beauty and worth. / I can’t believe / I’m ugly and worthless. / What’s true is…” It seems a lot less mysterious now!

Now to make my own version. I chose for my topic the kind of messages we read into social media—do you feel torn down or built up by what your friends are posting? I chose the pattern “What I get from my friends is that / I don’t measure up. / I can’t accept that / I am enough” for the forward reading, which in reverse reads “What I get from my friends is that / I am enough. / I can’t accept that / I don’t measure up.” Here’s the result—enjoy!

“Scroll down / Scroll up” by Owen Biesel.

I’m inferior in every way.
No one really thinks
It’s okay to just be yourself, and
When my friends’ posts keep telling me
My own life doesn’t measure up
It’s hard to believe that
Everyone has both ups and downs.
As long as my friends are reminding me
That everyone’s life is better than mine
It’s really hard to tell myself
I am enough.


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