Why Is It So Hard to Keep Making Art When I’m Falling in Love?

Photo of a leafless tree in a park taken at dusk, with glowing yellow streetlights, other trees, and a pale blue sky behind it.

Why is it so hard to keep making art when I’m falling in love?

I release a zine called How to Keep Making Art at a time when I’ve fallen in love and am struggling to make art. I strain to finish the zine and postpone its release date by over a month as I scrape it together. I am exhausted by this process and awash with irony.

The line disconnects. I fall out of love and back in again. The period of reprieve is quite short, but that’s what I wanted, isn’t it? To be in love again?

Instead of writing, I take the metro to my new lover’s house. I stay over later than I intend to, always.

I am distracted and unfocused. I am never getting enough sleep. I am falling in love with another human being. I am flooded with happiness, and I am also very anxious. My therapist and I talk about how excitement and anxiety are the same feeling wearing different lenses.

I always lose my mind a little when I fall in love. I have to tell my lover that I am not usually this unstable, I promise. It’s just that this is new and intense, and I am terrified.

Reactions to this disclosure tend to vary. I can tell you, however, that this person knows how to hold me.

I run home late at night before turning into a pumpkin when I stop to check on how my tree has fared in the recent ice storm. I need her to be okay. She’s lost some branches, but she’s stood the test of time. She’s all right. I lean my head against her trunk and write a poem. It’s the first poem I’ve written in weeks. I tap it out on my phone, kiss her, and then make my way to bed. I turn into a pumpkin.

I am tired all of the time but never stop long enough to let the fatigue catch up. I am not writing, and that makes me sad. I am allowing myself to be swept up, taken in, and absorbed. I don’t know how to love any other way. I’ve tried.

This is neither good nor bad. I am riding the waves of a new intensity, is all. I will come back down to earth. Trust me, I always do.

I wanted to sleep in later but kept thinking about the rice they gave me and how much I wanted to sweeten and have it for breakfast. Sweet rice is the next best thing to cereal, and it’s all gone now.

I can’t keep moving at this pace. I need to slow down before I have to stop. That’s the key, you know—slow before you are forced to stop.

I am a writer who is barely writing. Everything else takes precedence. I am not protecting my time like I used to, but neither am I wrapping myself in a cocoon and hiding away from the world. I am running through the city streets in the afternoon and late into the evening. I am visiting my love. I am bringing us pie. We are wrapping each other up.

I believe I can have both love and writing, that these two essentials can co-exist. They just have to make room for each other.

I just have to slow down long enough to check on my tree and type out a poem—to make note of what is happening. Because what is happening is scary, brilliant, and beautiful. It will not consume me whole because it never has before, and I will come out the other side and find the words again.

We joke about how you won’t die alone if you die on your stairs while wearing my shoes all wrong. I thought I would die at thirty. I can’t say I’m ready, but I am grateful. Grateful for all the love and poems I’ve given myself to over the years.

I run home late at night before turning into a pumpkin, and the city around me is radiant with life, and I am radiant with life, and so, of course, out comes a poem.

I spend yet another day at the computer
While the world outside freezes over
A lovely Montréal ice storm in April
Is it ’98 all over again? The internet asks
Icicles form on my bicycle
Tree branches pierce windshields
And sheets fall off skyscrapers
Evening comes, and I want cereal
My lover says, don’t go out, no
Not unless you really have to
So I stay in and look out the window
At our newly frozen April

It isn’t until I go out the next day
And see the extent of the devastation
All the trees that split and fell
My neighbourhood parka battleground
That I know I must make time to see you
For you were there in ’98, and before
And you’ll be here forevermore
And I will love you
In no time at all

High at the Border

Close-up photo of bits of vegetable and various food garbage falling between iron bars in the snow. Part of a bag and a labelled plastic wrapping are visible at the top.

I ride a bus across the border,
Into the U.S. of A.,
And they confiscate my clementine.
The flashback from last night’s edible hits
Right as the guard starts in with her questions.
Where do you live? She asks.
I stumble over my response.
I have lived in so many places.
I have had so many little lives this side of the border.
The names of various past-life cities roll through my brain like the reels of a slot machine.
Wait, does she want my street name?
I still haven’t memorized my postal code.
As always, it’s embarrassing.
I hesitate, but thankfully, my survival instincts kick in,
And the right place name comes out of my mouth.
She calls me sweetie.
I look at her like a deer would,
Frozen in front of her Prius on a dark country road.
I hope it’s not suspicious.
She asks more questions, the usual ones about the J-1,
And then she hands me a green strip of paper
That says I have passed this round.
Sage 1, drugs 0.
I sit down and wait for the rest of the coach bus to pass
And try my best not to look high at the border.

Warm November Morning

Photo of a lake with patches of brown vegetation in it, a large coniferous tree in the foreground on the right, and a cloudy blue sky above. A forest of leafless trees with a few conifers is visible on the horizon on the other side of the lake.

I was standing still on a dock soaking in the sun. It was November. It was morning. I closed my eyes and felt my face be warmed by the November morning sun. The sky was blue and so bright it almost hurt. A slight wind made small waves on the water that sparkled. I exhaled. I felt my nervous system settle for the first time in months. All was quiet. There was no one around. I knew I couldn’t hold on to this moment of peace forever. I knew I’d have to leave this place, and life would continue to rock me around, but for the first time in a while, I also knew I would be all right.

That November morning was the last morning of a long weekend in the woods with my mother. It was the first time I felt rested in months. I’d gotten all caught up in my crazy life in the city. I’d been consumed by a stressful relationship that wasn’t working. I had stopped sleeping. So, I decided to spend the weekend in the woods with my mother. We sat around the fire. We roasted vegan sausages on a grate under the arbor. I slept in the loft. I walked up and down the long hill driveway, hauling objects in crates and carts. We played gin rummy and got silly, laughing the evening away before going to bed early. We discovered we were both on the same page of Braiding Sweetgrass (56).

One night, I drove my mother’s car back after a trip into town, bought a dozen multi-coloured eggs on the side of the road, and remembered I lived in Montreal. I lived in Montreal and could go dancing if I wanted to. I came back with a charged-up battery to find my mother sitting in a gradually darkening bunkie. She was relieved and happy that I returned with both light and eggs.

I was moving my body. I was letting the woods hold me. Everything out there takes longer. Boiling water for tea is a whole process. So is preparing dinner. You cannot rush in the woods. You have to move more slowly, which slows your mind down too.

That last morning, I went for a walk right after waking up. That warm November morning, I walked out on a dock and let the sun soak into my skin. I felt rested for the first time in a long time. I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time.

I knew I had to leave, that I couldn’t stand in the sun and silence forever. I knew I had to return to the city, to the stress and the heartbreak, where everything would move so quickly. I knew that life would continue to rock me. So, I turned away from the sun and walked back to the bunkie to begin the long process of making tea. I walked back, but I brought that moment with me.

A Poem About Perfectionism

Close-up photo of a spiky green plant with light pink flowers shot from the side with a field and cloudy blue sky visible behind it.

I don’t remember perfectionism as a child.
I think it began around twelve or thirteen.
I remember making lists. That got me young.
I remember trying to read every book in the YA section.
I was homeschooled, and I think I had something to prove.

I tried to grasp for control wherever I could.
It was with me before school, which became just another mechanism
For my perfectionism to latch onto.

I remember wanting to avoid their anger.
I remember her commenting on the trauma of perfect
As I swept a floor that would never get clean.

I remember being locked in a room until I finished every equation,
But did he actually lock the door? I can’t remember.
If I made a mistake, I would be told: You know this.
You can do better. You can always do more.

They had high expectations. They pushed me toward my potential.
I internalized those expectations, which turned into perfectionism.
I needed to people please, to be the person they saw.
Mistakes were allowed so long as I was giving it my all.

Today, I am often left with a lingering sense of,
I could have done more.

How to Keep Making Art: A Zine for Writers and Other Creative Types

I have just released a new zine! Details are below.

Photo of a cargo train on a set of tracks going off into the distance. There are trees with green and yellow leaves on either side, and a cloudy sky above. White text in the centre of the image reads: "HOW TO KEEP MAKING ART / A Zine for Writers and Other Creative Types."

How to Keep Making Art is a zine for writers and other creative types with advice and musings on the creative process, artistic identities, and the struggles of being a writer. This zine tackles questions many creatives have, like, “How do we keep making art in a world that doesn’t see art as valuable? How do we stay connected to ourselves and our work? How do we create even when we don’t want to create?” How to Keep Making Art is a collection of advice, ponderings, and reassurances I initially wrote for myself and thought others might find helpful as well.

I’m very excited to finally release this zine!! It’s been a long time in the making. For now, I am just selling digital, PDF copies because I will be travelling for a few weeks and unable to fulfill print orders. I’ll make another announcement when hard copies are available. For now, you can check out this 40-page e-zine here: https://sagepantony.gumroad.com/l/hbjnj. Enjoy! And keep making art, friends.