'What Else We Could Be Doing' Explores Growing pains and the Struggle to Stay Present

This article originally appeared on The Strand and was written by  Molly Kay  

This article originally appeared on The Strand and was written by Molly Kay 

Dan Darrah is a third-year Political Science and History student at Ryerson University. When not playing guitar for local hardcore band, Mil-Spec, or putting out solo music under the moniker Funeral Blues, Darrah takes to creative writing and producing zines. Earlier this month, he released a poetry collection entitled What Else We Could Be Doing through Permanent Sleep Press. The book—which tackles themes of childhood, relationships, and life in the suburbs—contains 28 of Darrah’s most intimate poems, edited by Caroline White. The Strand sat down with Darrah to discuss the process of getting a book published, the hardcore scene, and the struggle to establish oneself within the arts community.

In What Else We Could Be Doing, Darrah draws on his experiences growing up in Ajax and in Whitby, where he still lives. “I wanted to write about stuff that was personal,” he says. “I guess it’s like a sin in fiction to write about what you know because then you approach it in a guarded sense—you don’t want to talk about the things that you’ve experienced. For some people, I guess, you don’t want to render them in a way that doesn’t do them justice, or you wanna protect the people that you try to talk about. But I found the opposite with poetry is that the only thing I want to talk about is experiences that I’ve had and I can’t really talk about anything else.”

“It’s nice to be able to get to a place where you can say: I wasn’t thinking about the other things I could be doing while I was in this moment,” continues Darrah in reference to the title of his collection. “If I’m out somewhere, or with a friend, or even doing something mundane or unimportant, it’s nice to just sort of be there and to be doing that, instead of thinking: okay, there are a hundred other things that would be better for me, or that I could be doing.”

He explains that it was through his connections in the hardcore community, a subgenre of punk music, that he was able to get the book published. “I’ve always been a part of [the hardcore community] since I was really young. It’s sort of the binding logic for a lot of the people I hang around with. It branches out into film, books, or whatever other hobbies people have outside of hardcore. Anyway, there’s a subsection of people into alternative music that are also enormously into reading, so that was, for me, a comfortable thing to tap into.”

He adds, “I don’t think this book would have been published in any other situation than with me being friends with Matt Finner, founder of Permanent Sleep.”

For Darrah, finding time for creative projects is a difficult balancing act. “Making time just had to be a necessity,” he begins. “That’s probably why I started writing poems as opposed to longer stuff—poems are more digestible. I’d be like: okay, I have an hour to write out an idea I had. It kind of helps to see it come together and to see an ending. When I was writing poems, I suddenly felt like I was completing something. And in turn, that let me develop a faculty for patience […] which got me to a point where I was able to balance my obligations through school, while still engaging to some degree with writing.”

Never having done a reading of his poetry, or taken any formal creative writing classes, Darrah expresses his uncertainty about his position in the art community. “I don’t know if I’m in the Toronto arts scene at all,” he says nervously. “I guess I am by definition, now that I’ve written or produced something.”

“This is actually something that I’m trying to figure out. I don’t feel like an author, or a poet […] I’m disconnected from the culture that surrounds writing. I’ve never really been a part of it. I just kind of read and write in my own sort of world, I guess. I would feel wrong trying to say that I’m a part of the arts scene, when I don’t really have a real stake in it.”

When it comes to finding the confidence to share his work with a larger audience, Darrah explains his approach to opening himself up for criticism: “I just close my eyes and go. That’s all you can do.”

“If I think about it too much, I’ll just talk myself out of it,” he laughs. “Like, more than fifteen minutes—I will just opt out. You just gotta get it out! If you get to a point where you can say like, I think this is a good poem—send it off. Don’t think about it, just close your eyes and do it.”

Darrah concluded the interview by mentioning that the only way to get better at writing is to keep working at it, and especially to keep exposing yourself to new forms of literature. “Read a lot. Figure out what is impactful and analyze it. Don’t copy it, but let it sort of carry you. Figure out your own work habits, figure out which environment you thrive the most in, and write every day. Even if it’s just like a sentence, write every single day.”