Creative Non-Fiction, Poetry, Semi-Fiction, and Zines
Author: Sage Pantony
Sage Pantony is a queer and non-binary writer and zinester. They primarily write creative non-fiction, poetry, and semi-fiction. Their work covers a variety of topics such as gender, sexuality, mental health, trauma, spirituality, and creativity. They are the author of a zine trilogy about transitioning and a couple of chapbooks. Their work has appeared in several small publications over the years and they self-publish to their blog.
Content note: this piece contains gory imagery symbolizing heartbreak.
It’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to start consuming. It’s easy for everything to become confusing. It’s easy to mistake typing for writing. It’s easy to forget how to write, but it’s just as easy to remember (in theory). I’m easy, some would say, yet my heart is locked away. I say I’ll date again when the pandemic ends and my date says if. I say I’ll lock my heart in an icy cold container for the winter and, if it feels right, let it out in the spring.
None of my recent romances have worked out. Last year, I wrote a poem about how we would keep each other warm for the winter. Aside from moving into an overheated house with no access to the thermostat, we absolutely did not do that.
I tried to fall in love twice last summer. I succeeded once and then had my heart cracked open over concrete. I ran inside just in time for my blood to spray across the walls and leak from the rapidly beating organ onto a floor that desperately needed retiling. I tried. I gave it my best. I really did.
For the past little while, I’ve been jumping into bed with whoever spares me some attention. I jumped into bed with a boy who was not supposed to be a boyfriend. We made an agreement. Then a few months passed and he became a boyfriend. A few more and we moved in together. He hated going outside. My mother said that was a warning sign.
Like everyone else, I pay too much rent. I watch the world unravel out the window. I become a hyperventilating, vibrating creature. My heart continues beating, but it beats in the wrong ways. I am no longer human. Instead, I am fear, I am anxiety. I scroll through timelines and feel my guts churn. The world is burning, literally in some places. I cannot do anything. I cannot move. I share stories on Instagram, for all the good that will do. I follow the government’s orders and continue to stay inside. My heart breaks open and I bake its juices into a cherry pie. No one will know what’s inside.
Wow, it’s so sweet! They’ll say. And there’s something else…
Content note: the following piece contains descriptions of drinking and intoxication.
We arrive at the hostel, unpack our things, and head to the bar. We’ve been travelling all day and have steam to blow off. My companion and I open the menus and are met with a variety of overpriced cocktails. We each order something pink and settle into our booth. Time passes in a haze of sickly sweet drinks and strong beer because for some unholy reason, we’re going between the two each round. I keep pace with my friend. Not a great decision.
We lose our seats, and the bar becomes standing room only. We end up in a corner with a man whose breath I can smell from three feet away. He’s interested in my friend and mostly ignores me. I’m pretty into tea at this point in my life, working for a tea shop back home. The topic of conversation turns to tea and my boredom lifts for a moment. I begin talking about the magical powers of certain brews. The man cuts me off by saying, “I don’t get tea. It’s just barely-flavoured warm water”. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom.
I return to the bar, but I don’t go back to my friend and the man. The man is irritating, and I don’t want to spend the rest of the night standing to the side while I watch them flirt. At this point, I’ve had way too much to drink. Two of our roommates, who we’d met earlier that day, arrive at the bar and say hello. One asks why I’m crying.
“Oh,” I touch my face and find the tears, “…I don’t know”.
“It’s okay,” my roommate says, “sometimes I drink too much wine and start crying for no reason”.
I excuse myself. I’m feeling the tears now. I leave the bar and climb the stairs that lead back to our shared room. I get to the door and can hear voices inside. Wanting to be alone, I walk back down the hallway and find an open door. I enter an unused laundry room and sit down on one of the benches. I’m at the far end of the rectangular room and can see all of the unused washers and dryers sitting in shadow. I do what any drunk eighteen-year-old far from home for the first time who has just had their passion rejected by some tea-hating man would do: I begin sobbing. Heaving, gut-wrenching sobs. In my mind, I’m all alone in this laundry room without a door and am able to privately express how I feel. I’m also not cognizant of the volume of my feelings.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a man fills the doorway, his arms raised and hanging onto the top of the frame. I go silent. He looks terrified.
“Are you okay?” He asks.
I nod my head, in shock. I had left the hostel behind and ridden the waves of intoxicated emotional despair, and this man’s arrival has unceremoniously snapped me back to reality.
He disappears, clearly unequipped to deal with the mess that is me. I descend back into tears, expecting to be left alone for good, but before I can get in too deep, my saviour appears.
She floats in on a cloud of glitter and light. Long arms wrap around me, and I am struck by a vision of blonde hair and perfect makeup. She looks like the kind of girl who would have bullied me in high school, but here and now, she is my guardian angel. She murmurs words of comfort such as sweet and baby and it’ll be okay. Transfixed, I go quiet and compliant. She asks for my name, and I give it. She asks what’s wrong. I tell her I don’t know.
“You know what you need? A little mascara. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just put on some mascara, and it makes me feel so much better.”
She takes me by the hand and leads me back downstairs to the bathroom by the bar.
At this point, the bathroom is full of women in various states of intoxication, and all of them are friends. The angel unleashes compliments on them and her mascara brush on me. I silently take in my surroundings. She applies the mascara and rubs something on my face. I trust her completely.
“What do you think?” She asks.
She turns me towards a mirror. My face has been transformed. I’d expected to see blotchy redness from the crying, but the concealer has taken care of that. My eyes look big and beautiful, not bloodshot. She is a magician, doing with makeup in five minutes something I’d never managed with far more time. I look fucking pretty.
I thank her and we reenter the bar. She buys me a drink because I clearly need another. She introduces me to her boyfriend, and it turns out she’s friends with my two roommates from earlier as well as the man I’d seen in the laundry room doorway.
“We’re gonna go dancing. Do you want to go dancing?”
“Yes!” I say, “But I have to find my friend first”.
I go back to the corner of the bar where my travel companion is still talking to the man who just doesn’t get tea.
“Oh, there you are!” She exclaims.
I reach for her hand. “I made friends, and we’re going dancing”.
She bids the man a quick goodbye and follows me.
Our group bursts onto the street. The angel, her boyfriend, our two roommates, the man from the doorway, my friend, and a short man I haven’t been introduced to. It’s a chilly night in Munich, and the air is enlivening. The angel leads us to a club. On the way there, we come across a fountain shooting water out of the ground in several places. Despite the temperature, I run through its icy jet sprays. The short man joins me, and we leap about and laugh together.
We arrive at the club and wait in line for a long time, only to be turned away for having too many men and not being attractive enough. The angel and her boyfriend are the only ones allowed in. The rest of us make our return to the hostel, but not before a quick diversion into the subway to look for a bathroom. We roam through the twisting tunnels with our riotous voices echoing off the walls. There are no bathrooms in sight. Eventually, one of my roommates finds a seemingly abandoned, narrow hallway and pops a squat while I stand guard. I have to pee too but don’t want to risk arrest in a foreign country.
We arrive back at the bar and luckily for us, the party is still going strong. Our group, multiplying upon arrival with friends of friends, fills up a large table. Pitchers of beer are ordered. The short man sits next to me, and I ask him where he’s from. He says Toronto, which isn’t particularly exciting as it’s only a few hours from where I grew up. My friend disappears with a tall Australian man who is exactly her type. I notice I’ve put my hand on the short man’s leg and before I know it, we’re making out. My friend comes back after her brief interlude. The tea-hating man from earlier sits down at our table and starts hitting on her aggressively, but this time she tells him he has bad breath. I consider saying that tea could help with that but decide to leave him alone. We continue to drink too much beer until the bar closes and then we’re off to bed. We don’t bring any men with us, being too tired and too drunk. We collapse onto our bunks, foregoing the necessary water drinking after such a bender. I’m not thinking about it yet (I’m not thinking about anything), but the next morning is going to be rough when the cleaner arrives, throws the curtain open, and yells at us for lying in.
This took place almost ten years ago when I was just eighteen. I still think about that rollercoaster of a night and the magic imbued within it. There’s something beautiful about making friends with a bunch of strangers for a single night of adventure. As someone who’s pretty introverted, these nights are rare occasions for me, which makes them feel even more special. I’m not currently living in a world where doing something like this is even possible, but when it is again, I hope to ride the magic of another night like this, with angels, mascara, fountains, friends, and all.
We dropped—released the movie. We didn’t drop the movie. It’s not an album. Sorry, I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. I know it’s ridiculous, but you’re cutting out again. Sorry, what? I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. Oh, it’s probably my internet. My internet sucks. Is it my mic? It could be my mic. Is that louder? Is that softer? Is that muffled? Sometimes it sounds muffled. Yeah, so, we released the movie and it went well, but we have a lot to learn for next time. What will you do next time? Well—
Sorry, you’re cutting out.
…I realized they didn’t want to be my friends because I had to try so hard, and you shouldn’t have to try that hard with friends. Sorry, what? You’re cutting out again.
Over the last year, I learned who my friends really are.
Over the last year, I found my heart in a dumpster.
Over the last year, I—
What? Sorry, you’re cutting out.
Okay, let me whisper something in your ear. There’s a trick to that in noisy places, you know. We’ll have to request they turn the music down though because your ear isn’t anywhere near me. You can message the host about that in the chat.
But…you cannot whisper.
Because, and this is absurd, you’re cutting out again.
Content note: this piece contains references to death and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I pour myself a cup of coffee in a red mug from the place they started taking me when I was a baby. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the place with the hill where I ran, tumbled, and lost my ice-cream cone. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the place where I sobbed hysterically and they gave me a new one. I pour myself a cup of coffee in a red mug with a white outline of an opened-mouthed fish jumping out of the water. This is my mother’s mug. She hates fish, but she loves where it’s from.
My grandparents loved it too, and now they’re gone. It’s just my mother, my brother, and me. We also lost my dad, but I don’t know how to talk about that succinctly. Sometimes, I feel like he was never really with us. His body came to that place, but I’m not sure if he ever did. Except, perhaps, for that time when I fell, but the memory is foggy. I think he helped me up and took me back for more ice-cream, so maybe he was there after all.
I’m not here to write about my dad. I’ve done enough of that.
The coffee is hot, so I have to keep my sips small. It’s rain-snowing outside, and there’s a pandemic, so that place is currently closed. I think it will survive though. The owner has money to burn. I trust they’ll keep it running and warm.
It was near there that I found a purple book in an outdoor lending library, part four of a mystery series that got me reading again. I left my mother and grandmother early that evening to read a hundred pages while rocking gently on a patio swing. I didn’t stop until I lost the light. The next morning, I told my grandmother about the story because she always liked to share what she was reading. She used to give us stories of faraway places and times and people in rich detail.
I haven’t seen my extended family since she died. That was the last time she brought us all together. That was the last time we were allowed to be together.
I was given a tarot reading over a year ago that told me I will find what I’m looking for eventually, but it will take a long time. I’m on the right path, but it twists and winds. I accept this. I have to. My grandmother was interested in my path. Her life was coming to an end, she said, but mine was just beginning, and she was curious about where it would lead. What will I make of this life? Where will it take me?
I can’t answer that yet, but I’ll share the story with her one day.
For now, I sit typing at my computer with a red mug half-full of cooling coffee. I write about the past and the future. I write about my family. I watch the rain fall, and I let the music play. It’s February. It’s been a hard year. I have a little hope growing inside of me, but I can’t place where it’s coming from. Maybe the coffee.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions. Asking questions is how we learn about ourselves, others, and our world.
I believe in the right to question.
I think you should question the ideologies you are presented with. I think you should question your belief systems. I think you should question how much you really know.
When presented with a claim about another person’s character, I think you should question it. I think it’s okay to not automatically accept it as the Truth about that person. There are multiple truths about every person. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asks us to be wary of the danger of a single story. All of us contain so much more than a single story. You can be supportive of the person making the claim by accepting that what they’re saying may be true for them or that it may be one story, but that doesn’t make it the ultimate truth or the only story. All of us are complex beings that contain multitudes who cannot be defined by a single story. Reducing a person to a single story is dehumanizing.
I think it’s okay to ask questions if you are trying to learn more about or understand an issue. It’s important to be respectful about the ways that you ask them. Obtaining consent before asking personal questions is always a good idea. If someone says they’re uncomfortable with answering your questions then you need to find someone else to ask or other ways of doing your research. The Internet is a mixed bag full of misinformation and contradiction, but there are good resources out there. You could ask to be directed to some.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with questioning an ideology. If questioning is not allowed, you’re probably dealing with dogma. Be wary of this. Why are you expected to believe and buy-in without asking questions? Why are your questions a threat to this belief system?
I have never been able to refrain from asking questions. I have allowed certain ideologies to push my questions underground, to make them private and make me quiet. I have been left alone with my questions, asking myself the same ones over and over. I have found a few trusted people I can share them with. We have passed our questions back and forth in low voices. I have been too afraid to write about them, to say them out loud, to make them public. I’ve seen what happens to the people who do.
I’ve often avoided explicitly writing about my questions, choosing to hint at or dance around them instead. As a writer, it feels bizarre for me to hold back in this way. It’s like I’m stifling an aspect of my creativity.
I’ve been seeing more people over the past few years who I share community or ideology with bring their questions out into the open. There’s still a lot of backlash and it’s still scary, but it’s made me feel a little bolder, a little braver. Maybe I don’t need to keep so quiet. Maybe I don’t need to avoid writing about it. Maybe my perspective and voice have value even though I have more questions than answers.
For me, questioning looks like seeking out and listening to different perspectives, to people who disagree with each other. It means following people on social media who have been deemed “problematic” or “cancelled”. It means risking the transfer of those labels onto me. It means I don’t have to totally agree or buy-in to any single ideology (or story) I’m presented with. It means I trust my gut, which warns me when something doesn’t feel right. It means I trust my heart, which is driven by my love for people and the planet. It means I trust my brain, my ability to think critically and carefully.
I don’t have all the answers. My beliefs shift and evolve as I learn and experience more. My belief system is currently in transition, a shift partially resulting from years of suppressing my questions and being unable to do so anymore. I will always grow and change. That is to be expected. One thing that won’t ever change, one thing that remains with me at my core, is my need to question. I may have felt like I had to hide that but it never went away.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking questions. It is the suppressing of questions that I find … questionable.
We are allowed to be uncertain. We are allowed to have more to learn. We are allowed to not have all the answers. We are allowed to challenge ideology. We are allowed to be imperfect. We are allowed to change our minds. We are allowed to trust our guts, our hearts, and our brains. We are allowed to ask questions.
Memories flash before me. Memories flash within me. I am made of memory. Memories fading. Memories distorting. Memories interpreting. Interpreting memory. I am made of interpreted memories. There’s little truth to be found here. There’s little to go on. It’s disparate. It’s in pieces. Identity is memory. Identity is in pieces. Identity is meaningless. Memory is fiction. Memory is nothing. Memory is everything. While forming, memories are informed by perception. While held, memories fade, distort, and are informed by perception again. And again. And again. With each remembering, a memory changes. With each remembering, an identity changes. Memory is identity. Identity is memory. Memory is interpretation. Interpretation is identity. My and your memories define me, but neither define me thoroughly.
The courage to be interpreted. The courage to be misremembered. The courage to make your own memories. The courage to surrender your memories. The courage to relay myself through memory.
Maybe you’re not good and I’m not bad. Maybe you’re not bad and I’m not good. Maybe we’re misguided by our memories. Maybe we don’t remember our memories. Maybe there’s something to memory. Maybe there’s nothing to memory. Our subjectivity shapes everything and shapes us in return.
Return my memories. Leave them out in the light. Let them sit on the ground and gather dust. Let them grow stale. Let them grow cold. Let them out, let them out! Let them sit aside. Let them rise. Let them float away.
Memory, shaped by trauma. Memory, shaped by memory. Memory, shaped by perception. Memory, shaped by sharing. Memory, shaped within me. Memory, shaped without me. Memory, shaped by your mouth. Memory, shaped by my ear. Memory, shaping time. Memory, breaking from reality.
Memory, within me. Memory, without me. Memory, a part of me. Memory, not me. Separated from my memories. On a break from my memories. Remember me. Don’t remember me. Memory, sharp and faded. Memory, painful and pleasant. Memory, nourishing me. Memory, confusing me.
Memory, so needed. Memory, so distracting. Memory, so bewildering. Memory, extracting. Memory, extract from me. Extract from me what you need. Memory, what was it supposed to be? Memory, a word that loses meaning. A feature that fades. A pocket that gets tucked away. A file in a drawer. Labeled, not by time but by association. Memory forms, slips away, recedes, defines and doesn’t define.
Without memory, who would I be?
Babies are born without memory, aren’t they? Yet they have personalities. So, perhaps I would still be me without my memories. Unless babies are born with memory. We don’t know for certain that they aren’t. Memory can be stored within the body. Maybe memory can be transferred between bodies. In that case, perhaps who you are is shaped by memory.
I don’t have any memories from before the age of three. Three-year-old Sage could have been anybody. Maybe I was born with memories from a previous life and they faded away once I began to retain memories from this one. Baby Sage certainly had a personality. Baby Sage was certainly Sage. There is some kind of Sageness to Sage. Sage has always been Sage, just not always named Sage.
I don’t remember Baby Sage, yet I also do somehow. Some part of me remembers. Some part of me was shaped by Baby Sage and some part of Baby Sage was shaped by…
I don’t have the answer to that, but I know it must have been something. I don’t think I was created at birth. I don’t think that’s where I began. I think I have been shaped by this life, but I do not think my birth was the beginning and that my death will be the end.
This was one start and it will have one end. We’ll circle around. We’ll dissolve back into where we came from. We will dissolve into our memories. We will become one with our memories, we will diffuse, and we will return.
There’s a wandering man. Where does he go? There’s a wandering man out in the snow. There’s a wandering man. He walks slow. There’s a wandering man. He breathes smoke. There’s a wandering man. He looks cold. There’s a wandering man. He turns a corner. There’s a wandering man. I can see him no longer. There’s a wandering man. Is that my father?
I said goodbye to my home when I was fourteen. As I sat within its walls for the last time, I received a message. The magic of that place spoke up and told my scared and broken little heart that everything would be all right. I left my home and have carried its message with me ever since. I’ve often wondered what it means as things certainly don’t always feel all right. As I grow older, I seem to get closer to an answer. This poem is my attempt to unravel and examine this old message.
Not “everything will be all right” as in nothing bad will ever happen, but “Everything will be all right” as in your great-grandmother is watching.
As in you will have a roof over your head, even if that roof is always changing.
As in your support system will be small but strong.
As in the moon will provide for you.
As in the tarot will warn you.
As in the ground will lovingly hold you.
As in you always have your breath to come back to.
As in you will come further into the vastness of your queerness.
As in a stranger will find you crying alone in a laundry room.
As in you’ll be pushed far but somehow never past where your limits really are.
As in there’s a mix of chaos and reason in everything.
As in you will always have your writing.
As in you will unfailingly hold the sacred right to question.
As in you will get yourself away from him.
As in you will do whatever you set your mind to.
As in you will build the life your young brain dreamed up.
As in horrible things will absolutely happen and you will survive them.
As in you have been given this life for a reason.
As in you’ll live for as long as your meant to.
As in you’ll draw pentagrams on your body to protect you.
As in you’ll read books like your grandmother used to, like she wanted to.
As in you will certainly not get all that you want.
As in you will eventually have all that you need.
As in everything makes sense even if it’s not comprehensible.
Not “everything will be all right” as in nothing bad will ever happen, but “Everything will be all right” as in everything will be.
This house is breathing its warm breath. That’s why we live here. It’s symbiotic. We entertain it, provide it with life, and it breathes its warm breath in the winter and shelters us from thunderstorms in the summer. We laugh with this house. We love this house. It loves us back, as it’s done for decades. We won’t be here forever, however, but it does not know this. Like a dog, this house does not know time. Everything is always. Everything is all at once. Nothing starts and nothing stops. That means it has no trouble moving on from one guest to the next. It transitions well. It will be okay, this house. It will keep breathing its spell.
Content note: this piece contains several references to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On our pandemic date, we walk with masks around a snowy park. We run into an old teacher of yours and make polite conversation. Then we fall into the snow. It takes us on our separate paths. Our trains pull into different stations. We’re looking for something we won’t find here. Not at this time, not in this place. Not with each other.
I try to find easier ways of doing things, but nothing gets any easier. I am exhausted. I haven’t stopped working. My wrists ache from typing. My days off aren’t that at all. Sometimes, I think about giving up this way of living and pursuing what I love. I think about it in an abstract way because abstract is better for fantasy. When I try to pin down the details, they flutter away. These butterflies are alive. They can still fly.
I still don’t know what kind of writer or person I am. I want to read a book called The Courage to Be Disliked. I want to be courageous. I want to publish my book, but I’m terrified of putting my story out there. It’s painfully vulnerable and I don’t know if I could stand having it picked apart. I need to figure out how to separate myself from my story. Can that be done?
I watch another trans person come out and I almost cry several times. I think about voice training again. I think about binding. I think about growing my hair out. I think about cutting it off. It’s good I’m not trying to access healthcare right now. I can rarely get a hold of my doctor.
The routines I create save me and crush me simultaneously. The rules are necessary and I hate them (but also, not really).
My house has a big window and the man who builds my shower tells me I need curtains to keep warm. Blankets, even, if I can find them. I buy shower curtains at the grocery store. Nothing else is open.
I say when the pandemic ends and my date says if. I should text them, tell them I’m not cut out for this. I’ve tried. Trust me, I’ve tried.
I find meaning in everything and I am usually wrong about what things really mean.
Identity is troublesome and fleeting. Identity can be expansive or reductive. Identity can be as hard to pin down as a live butterfly, and as painful. Why are you trying to pin this poor creature? Why am I?
I talk to the gods almost every morning. It’s helping.
I play music in the background to make my writing feel more profound. I have never done mushrooms alone. I want to. I am curious and afraid. That would give me a way to go somewhere without having to travel.
I’m tired of going on dates, of glowing screens, video chats, and socially distant walks. Even if things were normal, however, I think I’d still be tired of them. There’s something notably unromantic about dating.
Time is a precious resource and it bleeds out of everything. I’m trying to hold time in a cheesecloth. I bought margarine because butter is hard and because butter runs out. Margarine is, apparently, not good for you. I don’t really care.
I’m tired of dichotomies. I’m tired of routines. I’m tired of typing.
I begin in pieces, in parts. I begin where my date ends. I begin in motel rooms. Cheap, seedy motel rooms that are surprisingly clean. I begin to write, to really write, and I begin to feel better.