For most people, the period between 2020 and 2021 was a fragile time. Having been forced inside for a mandatory quarantine in 2020, to enjoy a brief freedom in 2021, only to be moved back into a three, almost four-month lockdown, I found myself, well, stuck with myself. With an abundance of time and a career crisis (as most of us in our early 20s find ourselves in) I told myself, maybe, it’s time to start writing.
The 2020 quarantine made me realise that time moves differently when you’re restricted to staying indoors, and perhaps, the furthest you can move is the periphery of your neighbourhood. I dreaded the sunrise because it meant a new day, and I looked forward to the sunset because it meant this one was over. The days dragged on, and no matter what I did to manipulate myself into believing it wouldn’t – time does not stop, and it certainly doesn’t stop for the sad.
Throughout 2020, we saw people become increasingly creative, going back to their hobbies, reconnecting with things they had long-since neglected due to work, university and other arduous commitments, some of which we didn’t want to dedicate ourselves to. With an abundance of time on my hands I decided, why not start small? Why not rejuvenate my poetry Instagram, start a following, and have fun taking photos and matching them with poetry captions? Why not try something new and see where that takes me? As someone who heavily dislikes the social media interface, it was a learning curve to realise that perhaps, social media was a tool I could use to build a following and start putting my work out there.
And so, as we continued through 2020, I began writing more. A poem here, a poem there. Snippets from unfinished stories spun into something new. Attempting and succeeding (for a short period of time) in delivering mostly regular content for my poetry Instagram, spreading my creativity where I could online, as that was one of the only platforms for communication, especially being stuck inside.
It was a change from what I used to do. Whether this brings up memories we’d rather suppress – the Wattpad era would be one for the books (ha). I was used to creating full-length stories, going through the whole process of editing thousands upon thousands of words, scrutinising the smaller picture so I could create a better, bigger picture. But poetry? Writing a few lines here and there and calling it a day? It was new to me; it still is new to me.
Throughout high school and my first to second year of university, it was well-known that I was a writer. I had actually printed two of my first novels and tried selling them when I was a teenager (that’s a story for another time). I’ve written many novels, lots of novellas and plenty of stories, and I’m still continuing to do so. Hell, I have a stack of finished, unfinished, and abandoned novels and manuscripts decorating the depths of my drawers, filling in the gaps of my bookshelf. They taunt me with their unopened covers and uncreased spines, asking me when I am going to pick them back up again. I was always creating characters, fixing plotholes and writing novels.
So why, then, did I publish a poetry book instead of a novel? Like all the stories I’d been writing for most of my life?
I wish the answer was simple, but I can distil it down to this: it had been my dream since I was a child to be published. Whatever that definition meant. The mere idea that I could be holding a book of my own, that I’d written, designed, edited and published was surreal to me, and I wanted to make it happen. And, like some of us either entering our 20s or venturing into our early 20s, I can admit, I felt as though I was running out of time.
Thanks to the woes of capitalism and the hellscape that is social media (documenting mostly all the sparkly, wonderful aspects of people’s lives), it felt like I was falling behind on something. Falling short on something. Be it employment, university, my social life or a lack of motivation. I didn’t know how to go about it. Something was missing. But I didn’t know what.
All of this is to say, my 2020 to 2021 was messy. I’d dropped out of law school halfway through 2020. I’d lost a part of my career I thought was going to be the end game. I transferred into another degree, one I ended up changing towards the end of 2021. Towards the tail-end of 2020, I unfortunately had to put my dog down. I lost a best friend, a family member (more on this later). And after, I struggled to find any kind of employment and moved between two, three jobs before settling on (somewhat) stable employment (for now).
Then I enter 2021. From the outside, everything seems set. I have a new degree, a new job, I’ve set some new goals for myself.
Which begs the question I have yet to answer: Why did I publish when I did? Why choose the 20th of June, 2021, as the date to self-publish my debut poetry book? Why choose this collection of poetry to publish and not something else I already had?
The skeleton was already there. I was collating my poems, printing out manuscripts, starting the editing process, thinking of book titles, thinking of a cover design and wondering how I could protect my work with copyright. I was doing everything that leads into publishing a book. How can I sell? Advertise? Who can I outsource to? Will I need to outsource? How much money will I have to spend on printing and shipping? I was already in the process of making the book. The next step was to actually do it.
I already had lots of poetry, most of which was finished. Personally, the most gruelling part of finishing a novel is editing it. You have to go back through all these chapters, and your word-count can be anything between 10,000 and 70,000 words (at least, in my experience it was). Aside from the pending quarter-life crisis and the idea that I was ‘falling behind’, I didn’t have the patience for it. I was restless in my writing career, and while I can’t say I was entirely ready to share my writing with so many people, I knew I was ready to do something about my writing career and thus began the process of drafting I Have Something to Say.
And so came the decision on a Wednesday afternoon at a bar across from the UTS campus, with my phone on something like less than 20%, to study part-time and focus on working (so I could pay for all the stuff I had no idea I had to pay for, like barcodes and ISBNs) and writing (so, you know, I could actually make the book). The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it, the more I pushed myself to change my thinking from:
One day, I’ll be a published author.
I’m going to be published on the 20th of June, 2021.
Which brings me to the 20th of June, 2021. This was (is) my dog’s birthday. While I could’ve published on any other date during 2021, I didn’t feel like I’d be giving him justice, or myself the space to grieve properly, unless I could honour him on that day.
I like to believe part of the reason why I published the pieces I did was to honour my inner child (or, in this case, who I was as a teen). That being said, I think my younger self would be in awe about the fact that I’m self-published. And I think she’d be really, really, really happy to know that she made it. To know that I tried and succeeded in doing what I’ve wanted since I could remember. While I know I’m still young, there was a lot of hurt and healing between the years of 2015–2020. Some of the poetry in IHSTS is from as far back as 2015 and some of it was written as early as 2020.
The poems you see in IHSTS are representative of the things that I’ve now moved on from. In a way, choosing the poems to publish in IHSTS was a way of telling myself: these experiences do not define you, but they’ve brought you to where you are today. They do not define you, but you can be proud of yourself and the art that they’ve created because now, instead of looking at my writing and being upset about what has happened to me, I can look at my writing and be proud of where it’s taken me.