I woke up in the afternoon naked and in a decently sized pool of my own blood. My head was pounding. I didn’t want to move. My only reaction in the moment was well, fuck. I had drank so much vodka in the bathtub the night before that I didn’t even remember getting in bed.
This was the moment that ended my 4-month bender. Four months of go to school, go to work, come home, cry a lot, drink a lot, feel a little bit happier, go to bed whenever I was finally able to stand up, repeat. When I finally realized binge drinking wasn’t something I could maintain, I was searching for some other coping mechanism – preferably something healthier.
I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. I wrote mostly short stories as a kid. I started writing poetry in high school, but started writing more when the drinking failed. The only problem was, I was too afraid to write what I really needed to get out of me. I was always trying to say something but never quite getting there. It would be years of only grazing what I meant to say before I became explicit in my poetry. I took a workshop my last semester in college with Maria Mazziotti Gillan. I credit her completely for my writing transformation. We had to read our poems aloud in workshop and I humiliated myself every class by sobbing uncontrollably to the point that no one could understand what I was saying. Maria would say, “Honey, your voice sounds like a dog whistle when you cry.” Sounding like a dog whistle probably saved my life. That workshop was pivotal. I wouldn’t trade all those embarrassing classes for anything.
After that workshop, I continued to write manically and constantly. I can’t imagine living without writing. Trauma is like an industrial sink full of dirty water and writing is the drain. I have so much gratitude for the ability. But eventually I had piles of poems, and it didn’t feel like enough to just get words onto paper anymore. I wanted to do something with all those poems; I wanted to share them. I started working on a book.
I released Not For Your Convenience six months ago. Publishing the book was a long process. I stopped working on it for a year. I had written poems about people that would not want to be written about. I thought I should wait to publish until they were dead. And I knew my first readers would be people that knew me. Would they think I was crazy? What did I know about publishing a book anyway? Not a thing.
I had two people in my life who were pushing me to publish. They read most of my poetry and made me feel like it was my story to tell and I didn’t owe silence to anyone. Slowly, I started working on the book again. It felt empowering and exciting, but still so scary. I decided I would self-publish through CreateSpace, a company owned by Amazon.
The decision to self-publish instead of hiring an agent and getting a publisher was based on two things. First, I wanted to keep the book small. I was afraid of exposure, afraid of certain people seeing the book because I had written about them in it. Second, and more importantly, I wanted something that didn’t need approval from anyone else. Think about life – think about school and work and how everything we create is overseen and dictated by someone else. I wanted just one thing that was really mine, not morphed in any way by anyone else. My poems in my order with my choice of cover and title. Self-publishing allowed for this. I didn’t need someone else to like my poems in order to put out a book. I just needed to do the work.
When I had all the poems compiled, I sent it out to two people I knew for editing. I was obsessively editing it myself too, trying to get the poems in the right order and constantly reworking lines. I spent months editing. I finally told myself it had to stop. I had to be finished. I had the poems in the final stages on CreateSpace and at the last moment, pulled the book back to remove all brand names. I had been reading about the legal ramifications of using brand names, song lyrics, etc. in writing and went into a panic about possibly being sued by SpaghettiOs. Looking back, it’s comical.
I searched the internet for an artist to do my cover design. I haven’t got a lick of artistic talent so I couldn’t do it myself. After scouring websites like Fiverr, I finally found someone on Instagram whose work I liked. I emailed them and we agreed on a price. I wanted an open mouth with shattered glass spewing out on the cover. I’ll let your mind wander on the symbolism, but it took me a long time to come up with a cover idea and I was instantly hooked to this one. The artist brought my vision alive beautifully. When I got my proof copy of the book with the final cover design, I cried. It felt surreal to be holding a book with my name on it.
Even at this stage, I couldn’t help myself from pulling the book back to edit again. Four proofs later, I finally approved the book for sale and it was on Amazon the next morning. And guess what? It had a few typos! I’ve since fixed them, but it was a little unbelievable after how I agonized over every line. It’s so true that the eye goes blind to your own work.
It felt good to see the book selling. One person in Vietnam informed me that my book was the first package they ever received from another country. I thought that was so cool. I never expected many people to buy the book. When I write my poems, I am the only person I have in mind. I don’t think about an audience, so I feel lucky that people have taken an interest in what I have to say. Several people, both complete strangers and those I know, have reached out to tell me the book helped them. I love hearing the feedback. I have also gotten some negative comments and some flak for self-publishing. A little rain isn’t going to ruin my parade though (and many now famous authors started out self-publishing, just saying).
I always say let your heart be bigger than your fear. I did that with this book, and I am happy with all of it. To anyone who struggles with holding themselves back creatively or silencing themselves for the sake of others: don’t. Your work is about you. Do what you need to do for yourself, tell the stories you need to tell. Set yourself free, and know that someone out there will be thankful you did.