And it was paralyzing to share it with everyone.
The German countryside emulsified into a blur as my train sped past giant trees and burblings streams. The glow of my laptop flooded my face as I added a new poem to what would be my first book, My Heart of Rice: A Poetic Filipino American Experience. I pulled moments, senses, and thoughts from my memories and onto the keyboard. My fingers flew— writing has always been second nature to me. I was never hesitant in the pages I can complete given an hour, or in this case, the several hours between The Hague to Berlin. This was in the fall of 2019, right before the Pandemic.
My Heart of Rice was a testimony to everything I had absorbed (so far) regarding my Filipino American identity. In short, it compiled my understanding with the Filipino food my Lolo (grandfather) cooked every night when I lived with my family. That, Filipino soap operas, and my limited understanding of Tagalog were my sole access to culture. This identity interacted, and came into crisis, as I was surrounded by predominantly Hispanic communities both at school and through my former stepfather’s family. I ignored who I was as a Filipino because it didn’t fit anywhere but home. I eventually attended UCLA, got involved with the premiere Filipino org on campus (Samahang Pilipino), and began to embrace my cultural identity further from food. It got into Fil-Am history, “community conditions,” and a sense of unity and kinship I found with my peers. I conclude in the book that I am still learning, but I’ve finally come to a place of acceptance with my mix of common and unique experiences.
My first book was published in February of 2020— yes, exactly right before The Pandemic. In the weeks leading up to Los Angeles County’s mandatory quarantine, I was lining up speaking events with my alma mater and university, prepared myself to attend live poetry readings, and planned to throw parties in celebration. Like the pre-planned events for many, my celebrations were all canceled as everyone huddled into their homes, uncertainty filling the next few months.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it felt ridiculous to promote my book, especially one as specific as cultural identity. People were fearing an invisible enemy— hospitals overfilling, deaths accumulating, uncertainty lurking at every corner.
I had to reprioritize.
In my final quarter at UCLA, I took five classes, which is a heavy load in the quarter system. In the middle of it, I had to also move out of my university apartment and into a new place across town. Then there was a job search, trying out new career paths, and moving around the world with caution, masked and gloved, and praying every night my family gets through this with zero casualties. Promoting my book fell to the bottom of the list.
I know I wasn’t alone in my thoughts, that many of my peers felt the exact same way, which made self-promotion even more difficult to stomach. I did a few virtual events here and there, but I couldn’t bring myself to do giveaways, virtual parties, or anything else that I created. I gave 45% of my effort to say I did it, but a solid 55% and a personal “I want to do it” was lacking. The social conversation wasn’t there and my imposter syndrome got the best of me. I was paralyzed in fear of what I thought people would say:
Is she serious? … In the middle of The Pandemic?
Imposter syndrome is the feeling that an individual doesn’t belong in a certain place, especially one with extraordinary people surrounding them. The ‘imposter’ believes it is only through extraordinary circumstances, and not their own capabilities, that got them to where they are. This feeling radiated during my time at UCLA. For those four years, I’ve never been so unsure of my abilities, my efforts, and myself. I thought the book, out of the many things I hoped it would do, would alleviate this feeling. But it didn’t. In fact, the feeling grew as I came back from Europe, ready to publish my first book, and found the conversation around me was moving away from identity.
Cultural identity has, and always will be, a complex and touchy subject for many, especially first-generation and second-generation immigrant children. This isn’t to invalidate anyone still figuring that part out (quite honestly, we’re all learning and appreciating), but the conversations around me, because my circle was maturing and exploring, went beyond.
The conversations talked more than representation and providing reparations for indigenous groups in the Philippines, going above “boba liberalism”, and addressing the proximity and position of Asian Americans in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement. Though there are poems in my book that addressed some of these issues in a broad way, the work’s overall message was still on exploring identity, and trying to connect it to the present felt like a reach.
TL;DR: it felt weird and my anxiety simply flew off the rails.
What if my information is wrong? What if no one relates anymore, or cares? What if it just sucks?
and most importantly:
Maybe there’s a better time, maybe when I’m more confident or when the conversation is relevant, for me to share my story.
A full year later since my first book published and there’s a lot I’ve learned about publishing, marketing, writing, and situating a conversation in the digital sphere. I’ve been fortunate to receive a role as editor and strategist for my publishing company, allowing me to guide authors through their own journey and marketing strategies. Back in March, it wasn’t that the marketing was difficult, but the feeling right to do so was the barrier. My authors are all publishing during quarantine, with both timely and untimely topics, which made me think that there’s never a good time to promote something and to just do it knowing how much love and blood you put into it.
I’ve also come to find that I simply have grown up. I’ve grown from the person who wrote those poems two years ago— I’ve come to peace with personal, internal conflict and am no longer immersed in the community as I once was. The book is a time-capsule of someone who made me who I am today, but she doesn’t speak for my entirety. A part of the hesitation to give my best effort came from the fact that I am simply not the same person. And that’s okay.
But even so, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t in their own exploration of identity and culture. Or there isn’t another writer out there understanding themselves through poetry. And that pushed me to write this reflection today.
It isn’t about when is the right time, but rather, when is it the right time for the right person to come across you? And how can those times overlap if you, the creative maker, stifle your voice?
It still feels weird to situate a conversation on identity because the world becomes more and more restless each day. But I feel restless not trying to at least cast the line, in hopes that the right person who needs to hear my story or my words gets the chance to on their own time.
As I grow confident as a writer (currently an editor, ghostwriter, and visual media freelancer), I’ve learned that whatever I create, whatever I want to create, will find its people if it is meant to. I’m still trying to believe this because anxieties are real, but what good is making anything if they stay hidden in the drafts?
And for all my creatives reading this: if the thought nags you at the beginning of the day to its end, then make it.
The world will become blurrier if you don’t.