Non-Fiction

Queer4Queer

Photo of Sage, a white non-binary person with short red hair, smiling slightly and wearing a blue baseball cap, jean jacket, and necklace with a quartz crystal. There is a bi pride flag hanging on the wall behind them.

I am Queer4Queer.

I’m a queer person. I identify as queer. If you want to get technical about it, I’m bisexual. I am attracted to people of all genders.

At this point in my life, I am prioritizing sexual and romantic connections with women and non-binary people.

Though I am attracted to them, I have complicated feelings about dating men. There have been periods in my life where I’ve stopped dating men entirely in order to explore my queerness, prioritize relationships with non-men, and not feel like such a “bad” queer for consorting with them (though I recognize this last one comes from internalized biphobia).

I often go back and forth on whether or not I should keep dating men. Do I actually want to? Am I really attracted to them? I’m pretty sure that I am, but something as simple as going on a dating app causes me to question my sexuality. As I swipe through prospective male matches, I wonder, am I even attracted to men? I frequently look at their photos with disinterest, jokingly thinking to myself, all of these men are just so . . . men. I don’t think that’s what I mean though. I think what I mean is: all of these men are just so straight.

I think that might be the issue. Most of the time, I’m not attracted to your typical cishet dude. I don’t often find myself drawn to straight women either. I’m a queer person. I resonate with queerness. I’m attracted to queer energy.

What I’ve been coming to realize over the past few years is that I have no interest in pursuing sexual or romantic connections with people who aren’t a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community. I’m attracted to people of all genders, yes, but the majority of the people I find myself attracted to are some flavour of queer—whether they be lesbians, enbies, bi dudes, etcetera. I’m Queer4Queer. That’s it. That’s my sexual orientation.

It’s not that I’m not attracted to men at all, it’s that the vast majority of cishet guys just don’t do it for me.

I also just want to be with other queer people, other people who carry queer energy and experiences. In general, I’ve had a better time dating queer folks than I have dating straight cis guys. I won’t list all of the reasons why in this piece, but suffice it to say that queer dating has felt more comfortable, intimate, and safe for me.

Is this it then? Has the ever-questioning bisexual finally figured out their sexuality? Probably not, but I feel like I’m closer to understanding it now than I’ve ever been.


Note: I’m using “queer” in this piece as an umbrella term for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. I recognize that not everyone vibes with or uses this word, and that’s totally fine. I wouldn’t refer to a specific member of the community as queer unless they identified that way. However, I believe in all of the reclamation work that’s gone into it and see it as an acceptable umbrella. It’s also a useful shorthand to use when referring to the community rather than awkwardly writing out LGBTQ2S+ each time.

Non-Fiction

The Vaccine

Photo of three unmarked vials with clear liquid inside them arranged around each other on a white table. One is laying down with another rested on it.
Image Source

Content note: this piece is about the COVID-19 pandemic.


I walk up to the hospital. There’s a line with a sign that says “COVID VACCINES”. I get in it. A woman lines up behind me and starts coughing. I inch forward. A nurse hands me a medical mask. “You can take off your mask and put this on or put this on over yours”. I put it on over. The mask I wore already has two layers and a filter, so now I have four layers of mask. It slides into my eyes. I fix it. It slides into my eyes again. I am ushered into a foyer, and a nurse with a mask and face shield screens me for the first time. I have to ask her to repeat herself. It’s loud with all the people milling about, and I can seldom hear anyone who wears a mask. “Has anyone in your household been ordered to self-isolate?” I lean my ear towards her, unable to maintain social distancing and our conversation. After a bit of repetition, we settle that my answers to all her questions are no. I am ushered forward again and told to follow the pink dots.

I am grateful for the pink dots because it’s overwhelming inside with nurses, doctors, admin staff, and patients everywhere. I am no longer used to being in places so full of people. I’m thankful for the double masks. I follow the pink dots and am told to stand on a circle. “No, not that circle, stand on the circle at the end”. I walk towards the circle at the end when someone with a tablet beckons me over. Sorry, circle, not today. I hold out my health card, and they do not take it. They don’t take anything from you these days. My details are read off the card and typed into the tablet, and I am screened once again. Then they ask, “Why are you getting the vaccine?” I wasn’t expecting this question. Why are any of us getting the vaccine? Not sure of the appropriate response, I just say “Work”. I give them the name of my agency.

I am told which door to go through. I have no autonomy. I’ve become compliant, turned into putty. Another nurse asks me to stand on another circle. Someone else is told off for standing on the wrong circle. I enter the doctor room. Their names are posted on each tiny cubicle. Dr. This, Dr. That. I see an older woman getting vaccinated. A doctor is explaining to her that the vaccine is not a substitute for social distancing. I follow the line and move to a new circle because it seems to make sense, hoping I’m not doing it wrong. Everyone is terribly close together, but there are screens everywhere to prevent virus particles from floating into mouths and eyeballs. I am sent to cubicle six. My doctor’s name is John. I feel a sense of familiarity, like I’m always encountering doctors named John, though I don’t think this is actually the case.

I sit down and neither of us speak. He is looking at his tablet. He asks for my name, and I tell him it’s spelled with an I. I’m screened for the third time. I still don’t have any COVID symptoms. I am told that this is not a substitute for social distancing and wearing masks. I tell him I understand. I get the evil eye because I am a young person. I swear, Doctor, I’ve been good! Doctor, doctor, I have an anxiety disorder. I’m a hypochondriac. Trust me, I’ve been good! I am given a choice of arms and sacrifice the left one. “Do you consent to the vaccine?” “Yes”. God, yes. It’s quick, painless. “Well, that’s it, you’ve been vaccinated.” “Thank you!” “Go over there. You will have to wait for fifteen minutes to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction.”

I am directed to a hallway where people are lined up and waiting on chairs between screens. They print out my ticket and tell me I am allowed to leave at 12:21. I hear the nurses tell others that they can validate their parking at the welcome desk. I left my ticket in the car. Damn.

When allowed, I exit the hospital with a little more autonomy (though not a lot). I use sanitizer before I leave. I’m not protected just yet. I get in my car and begin the hardest part of my journey. I don’t go back in to validate my parking because I believe that would disrupt the order of things. Just a few people out of place in there could throw everything into chaos, and then I may end up on the news: Local vaccinations stalled by careless redhead over parking dispute. The person in the car in front of me struggles with the parking meter, but eventually, the bar rises and they are free.

I drive into place. The person ahead of me left their ticket in the machine. For some reason, I pull it out and try to put it back in. Then I try with my ticket. Then I try with theirs again. Then mine. There’s a car behind me. I realize then that the machine is telling me to stop putting the tickets in upside down. I put in their ticket again. It tells me it’s already been used. Duh. I put mine in again. It says I owe six dollars. We’re getting somewhere. I pull out my credit card and tap to pay on the contactless “tap to pay” spot. It beeps. Nothing happens. The car behind me pulls into the other lane, pays, and leaves, which I am grateful for. I don’t need a sustained witness. I tap my card about six more times. I begin tapping my card all over the meter. Sometimes it beeps, sometimes it doesn’t, but otherwise, nothing happens. I will die here.

I have to call for help. I press the green “call for help” button. A voice answers.

“Hello?”

“Hi, um, I’m trying to pay with my credit card, and it isn’t working”.

“Have you tried putting it inside the machine?”

“Like where the ticket goes?”

“Yes”

OH”.

Thank goodness there were no other witnesses.

“Thank you!” I say. They hang up.

It accepts my payment, and I leave. As I roll out of the parking lot, I say to myself, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. Not the vaccination, just the parking.

I was impressed with how well-organized and efficient they were, like a well-oiled machine, easily able to handle my chaos. If the hardest thing about getting vaccinated is leaving the parking lot, that means they’re doing something right. Thank you to all the frontline workers, the nurses, doctors, screeners, and admin staff, for working long and hard all year to protect fools like me. Your services are essential and greatly appreciated.

Non-Fiction

A Strained Relationship

Photo of the top half of a blue glass bottle. In the background and out of focus is a yard with green grass, trees, part of a shed, and two wooden Adirondack chairs.

Content note: this piece discusses alcohol consumption, binge drinking, intoxication, and trauma. It also briefly describes sexual assault.


I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink except when I do. Throughout my twenties, drinking gradually evolved from an enjoyable activity to one I’m rather afraid of. There have been too many nights where I lost control, too many days lost to hangovers, and so many apologies that I’ve lost track. When a night went well, people told me I was fun and funny and crazy, the life of the party. I miss being able to be that person. When a night didn’t go well, people told me I was crying and yelling and crazy, that I’d killed the party. I don’t miss that and am afraid of becoming that person again.

I was drunk when I yelled at my friend about her girlfriend who sat listening in the other room.

I was drunk when I threw myself out of a cab and into a snowbank.

I was drunk when I hurled nonsensical accusations at my boyfriend. I was drunk when he carried me home.

I was drunk after sneaking shots of Irish whiskey away from my friends in-between the shots of vodka we were doing together. I was drunk when they carried me crying through the streets with my strapless dress hanging around my waist. I was still drunk hours later when I woke up in my bed after blacking out and asked if they still wanted to party. I was drunk when they told me I had killed the party.

I was drunk when I tried to leave and he pulled me onto the floor, ran his hands over my body, and whispered his repulsive desires into my ear. I was drunk when I went still and silent, when I needed to spring into action, to fight and to run. I was drunk when I shoved my elbow into his gut, releasing his hold on me, and fucking ran, ran, ran.

I was drunk when I broke my best friend’s laundry basket and puked on his dorm’s bathroom floor. I was drunk when I tried to clean it up with my socks, and he told me the biohazard people would have to come. I was drunk as I imagined that scene from E.T. with horror: people in head-to-toe gear storming in, taking over.

I was drunk when an angel found me crying alone in a laundry room. I was drunk when she introduced me to her friends and took me out for the night.

I was drunk on prosecco on my champagne birthday when I stood up on a chair and made announcements to the surprising number of people who liked me enough to attend.

I was drunk on red wine in your bathtub when we poured it into the water and watched it turn a cloudy grey.

I was drunk on hard liquor on New Year’s Eve when I calmly and carefully made myself throw up in the toilet and then came back downstairs for snacks…and more liquor.

I was drunk and standing by myself in a bar while tears crept silently down my face. I was drunk when you asked me what was wrong and told me it’s okay, wine makes you cry for no reason too.

I was drunk when a little voice inside my head whispered that it wanted more, more, more. It never wanted this to stop. It wanted to feel powerful and brave and invincible forever.

I was drunk when I told you I loved you and made you cry.

I was drunk when I ran out of your house in socks and a t-shirt in the middle of February, and you had to chase me down the street.

I was drunk when you found me hiding in a stairwell, when I was a scared and needy puddle. I was drunk, and I wanted you to look for me.

I was drunk when I splattered glow stick goo all over your basement, ripped down your curtain rod, and then smoked a cigarette while sitting on your floor. I was drunk when I held my friend’s hand and took her to the bathroom to clean the blood off of her feet. I was drunk when I ran the three of us a bath, and you threw up in the toilet. We were drunk when we put you to bed soaking wet in the freezing cold glowstick room after laying an unopened sleeping bag on top of you.

I was drunk on the half-empty bottle of vodka and orange juice I held in my hand as we sat on the swings and flew. I was drunk and full of the future.

I was drunk when I stripped naked next to the fire, when you laughed and said my name before we all dove into the lake. I was still drunk when I joined the others hotboxing in a tent even though weed fucks me up, and I don’t like it. I was drunk, and then I was crossfaded, sick, disoriented.

I was drunk and full of possibility when I ran out of the house, called your name, and then held your hand and said goodbye.

I have a strained relationship with alcohol. It’s not all good nor bad. It’s not cut and dry (heh). I go through periods of sobriety. I go through periods where I drink cautiously. Occasionally, I lose control, the alcohol imp in me waking after a few drinks and driving me to have more, more, more…

When I drink, I awaken my fun side. I awaken my wild side. I awaken my no fucks given side. I awaken my destructive side.

Over the years, I’ve learned that vodka and trauma make a terrible mixed drink.

I guess you could say I practice harm reduction when it comes to alcohol. I mostly avoid it, and when I drink, I tend to do so cautiously. So cautiously that I rarely let myself get drunk, as that’s usually when I lose control of my behaviour and how much I consume. I also get wicked hangovers after just a couple of drinks these days, which makes it feel not particularly worth it anymore. I don’t miss the hangovers. I don’t miss drinking most of the time. I do miss the person it allowed me to become sometimes: fun, bold, adventurous, wild, and free. I don’t miss the person it brought out at others: angry, sad, destructive, tactless, and self-loathing.

I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink except when I do. That glass of wine you put in my hand? It makes me nervous. It can also make me fearless, spontaneous, reckless…

Drinking enhances and exaggerates whoever I am, whatever I’m carrying inside. There are days when I have a beer and all it does is make me feel sad and hopeless and vaguely nauseous. There are days when I have a beer and it makes me feel lighter, looser, and more carefree. I can’t predict what the next drink will bring out. I can’t predict who I will be.

It’s not all bad, so I don’t cut off all contact. It’s not all good either, so I’m wary of our interactions. I’m not sober, but I don’t really drink either. I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I wish I didn’t. I wish it was simpler. I wish I could go back to when drinking was fun and exciting instead of fraught and disconcerting. I wish I hadn’t inherited this perilous relationship with alcohol that goes back generations in my family. I wish it was simpler, but it’s not.

I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink anymore. Oh, except when I do.

Non-Fiction

A Magical Rollercoaster of a Night

Photo of a fountain at night, lit up by several lights within it. To the left, there is a green statue of a human figure and several fish with water coming out of their mouths. To the right, there is a raised part of the fountain with water coming out of it. City buildings with lights in the background. All of the lights have a hazy, glowing effect.
Photo by roastedamoeba.

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.

Non-Fiction

We Are Allowed to Ask Questions

Photo of three electrical poles shot from below, with the one in the centre looking like the largest due to the perspective. The three are attached at the top by two pieces of wood and have wires going in all directions from them. A cloudy sky with patches of blue is above.

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.

Aren’t we?

Non-Fiction

Dissolve Into Memory

Slightly blurry photo taken at night of bare trees, snow covering a lake, a dark and cloudy sky, and some buildings in the background with several lights on.

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.

Non-Fiction

What to Cry Over: A Letter to Myself

Curved road, traffic barrier, power lines, and dark naked trees against a foggy sky.

Content note: this piece contains discussion of heteronormativity and references to trauma.


Sometimes people come into your life when you need them and then leave when you don’t.

You might feel like you still need them. Perhaps they created the illusion of need. But you don’t. If they left, it’s because the lesson has been given, and you don’t need them anymore.

I don’t need you, I never did, and my ancestors told me that. Told me as I lay crying on the bathroom floor, heart split open, body suspended over a cold void. NO, they said from deep within, causing me to sit up and listen. You don’t need this one, you never did, and he will not break you. This will not break you.

Cry for yourself, for the part of you that was hurt, for the wounded child. Cry over your broken heart. Cry over the broken promises, the broken trust, the lies, and the duplicity. But don’t cry over the man. The man isn’t worth crying over. The man isn’t worth a second thought. Let him go. Let him recede into the fog.

Cry for your broken-hearted self. Cry for your betrayed child self. Cry for your survivor self. But don’t cry for the man. The man doesn’t care about your tears. The man was never here, not really. The man was never real, not really. The man was a figment of your & his imagination, nothing more than the illusion of presentation. Cry to heal yourself, but don’t shed a tear for someone who wasn’t ever really here, ever really real. The pain is real, but it’s the only thing that’s real. Everything else was an illusion.

Don’t cry for an illusion, cry for the violation. That was the word that came into your mind soon after: violation. When someone lies to you about everything, about who they are, it’s a violation. Cry for the violation. Heal the violation. Don’t cry for the violator.

Heal your broken heart, your frightened child, your survivor. Heal all parts of yourself. Cry over the pain and then transform the pain. Transform it into something else. Growth. Healing. Lessons. Learning. Beauty. Community. Love. Compassion. And then see the pain for what it was: a necessity, a catalyst, something to get you moving, something to get you up and out, something to get you thinking differently, living differently. See the pain as a gift, a gift to get you going, a gift to get you seeking something better, something more, something different.

You are meant to be building community. You are meant to be living in friendship. You are meant to be loving platonically with all your heart. You are meant to be living differently. You are meant to be redefining family. You are meant to be living queerly.

The problem is that you are a queer person who keeps trying to build a heteronormative life, and that just isn’t going to work. You wanted to build a family with a man and a dog, but there were already some men and a dog who are your family right over here. You didn’t have to go out and find that. It was already here.

I want to prioritize and centre platonic love. I want to prioritize and centre community. I want to prioritize and centre romantic love with women and non-binary people. I want to redefine the meaning of family to mean whatever I need it to be. I need to do things differently because I am different, so the heteronormative script isn’t going to work for me. That was the lesson and now I’m here. I’m here where I’m meant to be.

The music is beating and I am typing and I am reading and this place is being. Here and now, now and here. And it’ll all be, it’ll all be, it’ll all be what it’s meant to be. I’ve been given another chance to lift off the shackles of heteronormativity, and I’m going to take it, and I’m not going to look back this time.

Non-Fiction

Criticism and Trauma, Responsibility and Worth

[Image: illustration of a brain on a white background that is coloured in brown and has words in yellow, orange, and red that read things like: fear, anger, shame, fight, escape, threat, opposition, conflict, criticism, etc.].

Content note: this piece contains ableist language, discussion of childhood trauma, self-worth, and verbal abuse.


A question that I constantly grapple with is:

How can I be a responsible writer?

I create a lot of work that is raw and personal. I open up. I express myself. I also get nervous about the ways I express myself. I frequently question my self-expression.

How do I express myself openly and honestly while also remaining responsible and aware of how my words can affect other people? How do I strike that balance between realness and consideration for others? How do I remain considerate while simultaneously not overly censoring myself?

I feel sometimes that I lean towards self-censorship too heavily.

Let me explain. I want to be a responsible creator. I want to express myself while also being considerate of other people’s experiences, not causing harm, and not perpetuating ignorance or oppression. I want to speak to the ways in which I experience oppression and privilege, and all other things. I want to explore the complicated tangle of everything. I want to be honest and raw and real without crossing a line into being ignorant or harmful. But the reality is, I’m a flawed human being. I don’t know everything. There are many ways in which I experience privilege. I strive to be aware of all of them, to understand the perspectives of those who don’t experience the same privileges as I, and to check these privileges at the door. To paraphrase sociologist Michael Kimmel, the insidious nature of privilege is that you often aren’t aware that you have it, or of the extent to which you have it. Unless someone points it out or we go out of our way to learn, our privileges can often remain invisible to us. The dynamics of power and oppression are built into the foundations of society and internalized by us in deep, unconscious ways and it takes ongoing effort to root all of that out.

This work is something I am committed to. It is also always ongoing, which means there will always be more to learn and ways in which I am ignorant. I’m learning and people who are learning screw up. People who are learning miss things, make mistakes, stumble, go slow, doubt themselves, have revelations, get confused, feel overwhelmed, forget, but ultimately keep going. People who are learning can be wrong and can cause harm. People who are learning must remain humble, take their egos out of play, and be open to having their perspectives challenged.

I remind myself of this often as I create. I will screw up. I must remain humble. I have to keep learning.

Fucking up is human. It is inevitable. I know this and yet I am absolutely terrified of it.

A lot has come out recently about “call out” or “cancel” culture in leftist communities. I won’t dive into this messy conversation in this piece because I think there’s plenty better suited to the task and I’m actually looking to explore an adjacent issue here. If you’re interested in critiques of callout/cancel culture, Kai Cheng Thom has written some fantastic stuff on this topic that I would recommend.

I have never been “cancelled”. I’ve never had the following for that. I have been called out, often rightly so, and sometimes… questionably so. As someone who has shared their creations online for several years, I have seen people read things into what I’ve made that I did not put there. I have been accused of making arguments I’ve never made and of believing things I’ve never believed. There have been instances where I’ve felt like my work has been examined under a microscope in the worst possible light, like people have scanned it looking for flaws, imperfections, and potentially problematic aspects without taking it in as a whole, without recognizing that I am a whole, that the person whose work they are about to tear to shreds is a human being capable of feeling things. When this happens, it can be scary. This is in part because my work is often very honest and raw and I already feel vulnerable putting it out there. It’s scary to watch someone pick up that vulnerability and use it as a weapon, aiming it back at me. It’s scary because with that vulnerability, I’ve given them the tools to hurt me. This is especially true when the jump is made from “you’ve said something problematic or ignorant here” to “you are a problematic, ignorant, or bad person”. People can look at my work, which reflects who I am as a person, say that something about it is bad and therefore I am bad.

I’ve also watched this happen to creators I admire on a much larger scale, where thousands of people go from critiquing their ideas to calling for them to be de-platformed, cancelled, or disposed of. I’ve seen critiques of creations turn into attacks on the creators themselves. I’ve seen people’s work be willfully misrepresented, taken out of context, and examined in the worst possible ways. This makes me want to hide. It makes me want to get off social media. It makes me want to stop writing.

It makes me want to silence myself.

I believe that we need to hold each other accountable, but I think that needs to come from a place of helping each other to learn, grow, and do better rather than one-upping, attacking, and disposing of each other. There are exceptions to this. Sometimes, people are genuinely dangerous and not open to learning. I also don’t believe that marginalized people are responsible for gently educating the people who oppress them, but that’s where allies need to step in and step up. Anyway, this stuff has all been written about before. Like I said, this is not a piece specifically about call out or cancel culture, though these things do factor into how I feel, there’s stuff going on with me internally that I want to explore.

I’m traumatized and mentally ill. I’m in therapy, and this week, my homework is all about looking at “stuck points”. Stuck points are strong beliefs about self, others, or the world that develop as a result of trauma and are not particularly accurate. Part of the work I need to do to heal is to identify and unlearn my stuck points.

When I was four years old, I was joking around with my friends about their dog and called the dog “stupid”. They responded by yelling at me that he wasn’t stupid and that I shouldn’t have said that. I ran upstairs in a flurry of tears and panic. I found my mother and begged her to punish me. I told her that I had done something bad, that I was a horrible person, and that I deserved to be punished. She calmed me down enough to find out what had actually happened. I told her. She refused to punish me, just said I should apologize to my friends and that I wasn’t a bad person. I was surprised to learn this. In my head, having done something wrong and being a horrible person who deserved punishment were the same thing.

I want to say that I have grown beyond that little kid who ran to their mother claiming to be bad and asking to be punished, but that hurt and scared child still exists within me. One of my stuck points, a major one I’ve carried for most of my life, is that I am a bad person. I know, rationally, that this isn’t true, but there is a less rational part of me that holds this belief as though it’s a core aspect of my identity. Accepting criticism and navigating conflict can be very difficult for me. Hearing that I’ve done something wrong immediately makes me think that I am wrong, I am bad, and I deserve to be hurt, punished, or thrown away.

In therapy, I learned that criticism is so scary for me because of my trauma, because I was exposed to belittling, dehumanizing criticism at a very young age. My therapist said there are two types of criticism: 1) “here’s what’s wrong with this and how it could be improved” and 2) “this is a piece of shit”. As a child, I became intimately acquainted with the “this is a piece of shit” form of criticism, so that’s what I hear every time I’m criticized, that I am a piece of shit, and it’s scary. This is something I need to unlearn.

I have a hard time differentiating between constructive criticism and shit-talking criticism.

All criticism feels scary because it all calls my self-worth into question.

I can get really defensive because my brain thinks that accepting the (often valid) critiques of my behaviour means I must also accept that I am bad, worthless, and deserving of punishment. Sometimes, the people critiquing my work are also saying these things about me, which sucks. Often, however, people are not adding that cruel baggage onto their critiques. It’s me who does that.

I can’t control how other people respond to me. I can’t make people who are being cruel be kind. I can’t do much to change the broader culture around “shit-talking” criticism from my tiny platform, aside from refuse to engage in it and focus on constructive critiques of ideas instead. What I can do, however, is work on unlearning the stuck point that tells me that I am bad. If I do this, a few things will happen. One is that I will be able to stand my ground and stand up for myself in situations where people are hurting me. I will no longer gaslight myself, apologize profusely, and beg for forgiveness or punishment. The other is that I will become much better at accepting valid criticism. If accepting critiques of my behaviour or words does not mean having to accept that I am fundamentally bad, if it no longer leaves me feeling panic-stricken, I will be in a much better place to actually respond to valid criticism.

If I can heal from my traumatic childhood experiences with criticism, I can respond better when I cause harm. If I make the shift from “I am fundamentally bad” to “I am fundamentally good,” then fucking up and getting called out isn’t going to be the end of the world. Cause, right now, with the way I am, I don’t think I would survive being cancelled. And that’s going to become a problem if I keep creating and putting my work out there. I am going to be criticized. I need to be able to identify valid, constructive criticism from shit-talking criticism. I need to be able to protect myself and feel fundamentally secure in my basic goodness when people project their shit onto me. I am going to need to be able to hear, process, and accept valid criticism when I screw up, stumble, or act from a place of ignorance. I need to be the mother to the little kid who runs up the stairs claiming to be worthless and begging to be punished. I need to hold their hand, tell them they are not bad and deserving of punishment. I need to tell them to turn around, go back downstairs, listen to the people they’ve hurt, apologize, and try to do better, all without any self-flagellation, all while being secure in the knowledge that they have inherent worth and nothing will change that.

All of these things will help me to better respond to criticism and hold myself accountable, to be the responsible creator I want to be.

Being a responsible creator is not just about striving to do no harm, but correcting the harm you have caused without spiralling into shame and self-abuse, without making it all about you.

I believe we need to have a two-pronged approach to address these issues. The first is to address the issues with how we treat each other in our communities, the social side of things. The second is to address our own baggage. What is your history with receiving criticism? How do you code and respond to it? What about that might need some work? If we do this internal work, that can also help us to navigate the work that needs to be done in our communities.

Does your trauma affect how you receive criticism? Does it impact how you dish our criticism? Have you ever projected your trauma onto someone else? What did that look like?  I think these are important questions for all of us, and they are questions I will continue to ask myself in my life and on my path to figuring out how to be a responsible creator.

Non-Fiction, Poetry

Feeling Stuck

[Image: black text aligned left over a white paper background that reads, "I don't think the answer is out there In the next town over, At the new job, In the new school, Coupled with the new lifestyle Or routine. I think it's right here, Staring me in the face. I think it's always been." Instagram handle in grey in bottom right corner].

Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck. I’ve grown tired of the repetitiveness of my routine. I’ve been asking myself what the point of it all is. Where is this leading? Why am I doing it? What’s the purpose?

When you’re a young person, you’re taught to structure your life around your future rather than your present. You’re meant to perform well in school so that you can apply to do more school. You’re meant to decide on potential careers to pursue. You’re meant to engage in clubs and extracurriculars to bolster your resume. You’re meant to work part-time to save money for future you, who’s gonna be really fucking broke. They don’t tell you most adults change careers several times in their lives. They don’t tell you it’s okay not to go to university, that college and trades are fine too. They don’t tell you the real world often isn’t as stressful as school can be. In your mind, the real world is a terrifying place that will take one taste and then spit you out, which is why you spend the entirety of your youth preparing for it.

When all was said and done, it was actually pretty anticlimactic. You finished your undergrad and declared that you were done with school forever. You wanted to do “something real” with your life and school didn’t feel real. You got a temp job two weeks after you wrote your last exam. Three weeks went by and they extended your contract. A few weeks after that, they hired you on permanently. You got an apartment alone—finally, no roommates—because you were making more than minimum wage for the first time. This would change, of course. Rents continued to rise and wages stagnated, making having your own place difficult to swing.

You stayed at that job for well over a year. A few months in, you started to ask yourself, “Is this it? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I’ve been preparing for my whole life?”

You felt dissatisfied, stuck. You were living in your hometown and that didn’t feel quite right. You had left to travel and for school and then returned without intending to stay. You decided to leave again and began making escape plans. You talked to a close friend who lived in a nice little town you had visited several times. You asked them about it. They said it was a great place to live. You needed to leave your town, you didn’t want to go too far, and you weren’t interested in living in a big city again. You decided on a date and handed in notice at your job. It felt good to have plans again, to pin your hopes on the future once more. It felt familiar.

You moved to the new town. You stayed with your friend until you found a job and your own place. You got a part-time job and a side gig. You explored the new town, connected with the communities there, and settled into your new life. Moving was the right call. For awhile, things felt good, better than good, actually. You revelled in contentment.

The clock kept ticking and another year passed by in a blink. They increased your hours at the job so you were no longer reliant on side gigs. You moved two more times within the town, struggling to find decent affordable housing, but eventually landed in a nice (though overpriced) two-bedroom apartment with your partner.

Week in, week out, you go to work. You pay rent. You cook dinner. You take out the garbage. You write in the mornings. You try to get published. You finish another zine. You see your friends. You go to events. You attend weekly meetings. You go for walks. You call your mom.

You feel those questions come creeping back up: “Is this it? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I’ve been preparing for my whole life?”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice life. It’s comfortable and relatively easy. It reeks of familiarity. Not too much has changed since you first arrived here, and yet, your contentment has waned away. You’re beginning to resent the things that once made you happy. You’re looking for meaning in it all and not sure if you can find any. It might actually be too easy. You’ve settled down into a routine and none of it is exciting or challenging. You think back to the plans younger you had: get a Ph.D., become a professor and a published author. You gave those dreams up during your undergrad when the big city you studied in made you feel like you were drowning and the school that was meant to support your development was apathetic about your dissolution. While in school, you felt alienated by the competitiveness, the institutionalization of education, and the pretentiousness of accreditation.

Maybe I don’t need to reach those heights, you thought. Maybe I can have a smaller, quieter life.

So that is what you built for yourself, and here we are: something isn’t quite right.

I resent the way I was set up to always think about the future as a young person because now I can’t stop focusing on the future. I seem incapable of being comfortable with the present. I am constantly looking elsewhere for satisfaction; looking to escape, explore, and go on adventures. I resent routine, repetition, and familiarity. I am happiest when I am learning, having my limits tested (within reason), and being challenged by life. I believe that part of this is just the way I am. I thrive on newness and change. I need to feel like I am growing, and if I am not being challenged by life, then I feel stuck.

I also think that part of this is learned and it isn’t healthy. I have a hard time being in the present and I am constantly searching for happiness elsewhere because it never feels attainable in the moment. I am always pinning my hopes on the next town, the next job, or the next school, as though a little change is all I need to be happy. Though change is an important part of the recipe, I don’t think I should just pursue it for its own sake. Sure, I might be happy for a little while if I get a new job, a new place, or a new routine, but that will eventually wear off and I’ll be back where I started.

I need to pursue a life where I feel challenged and invigorated, to some degree, by my surroundings and by what is expected of me. This is something I have to give some thought and attention to. I will never be happy just getting up and doing the same thing over and over until I die (because let’s face it, millennials don’t get to retire). I need to respect and attend to the part of me that thrives off of change, challenge, growth, and development.

But I also need to heal something within myself that is unable to fully engage with the way things are.

I have to learn to live in and appreciate the present, even as I make plans for the future. I wrote a short poem recently about this:

I don’t think the answer is out there
In the next town over,
At the new job,
In the new school,
Coupled with the new lifestyle
Or routine.
I think it’s right here,
Staring me in the face.
I think it’s always been.

I’m not going to find satisfaction by constantly running around like a chicken with its head cut off, running towards this or away from that. I need to figure out how to be in my life as I build my life. I need to hold space for the discontentment as I learn to live with the discontentment. I need to think about and plan for the future, but I can’t keep only ever living for the future, because eventually, I will run out of future.

I think I am going to try two things then: explore my options for the future and start meditating again. I have a love-hate relationship with meditation, but I need a practice that will help pull me into the present and that seems to work for some people. I’ll give it another go and see if it works out. I was reminded about meditation as something potentially useful while reading Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices edited by Kevin Manders and Elizabeth Marston. So many of its contributors cite meditation as a practice that, albeit difficult, enabled them to get in touch with themselves on a deeper level. There is something important about being still and I am missing stillness. I race from one thing to the next with little mindfulness and it’s having a negative effect on my overall life. So, fine, I’ll try it again. Thanks, I hate it, but I need to find a way to strike a balance between coming home to the present and respecting my need to plan for the future.

 


Note: I’m referring to myself with the use of “you” in this piece, not trying to generalize or dictate your experiences, which I recognize may be quite different from my own.

Non-Fiction, Poetry

What My Grandmother Taught Me

Two abstract paintings with black borders hanging on a yellow wall with an info card between them. The left one has black, grey, purple, and yellow splashes of colour on a white canvas. The right one has black, purple, pink, and yellow splashes of colour on a white canvas.
Paintings by H. Jou Lee.

Content note: this piece contains discussion of death, grief, and hospitals.


I don’t really know what to write. My usual way with words has gotten away from me. I’ve been left with a chaotic swirl of thoughts, images, and feelings that are difficult to articulate.

Thinking about death. Thinking about grief. Thinking about meaning, about birth, about loss, about change.

Your life can change in a moment, with one voicemail, text message, or email. One moment.


I was homeschooled for most of my childhood. My mother was the primary person in charge of my education. For a few years, she would drop me off at her parent’s house once a week to learn from them. My Poppa taught me math. My Nan taught me french and poetry. She had me memorize and recite The Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear to her, which I initially hated because it was hard, but eventually managed because she wouldn’t let me give up on it. She had it memorized herself and would correct me mid-recitation if needed. We went again, again, and again until I got it.


Everything changed with a voicemail. When I first heard the recording over the phone, I assumed it was for something else. I had last spoken to the caller a few years ago about arranging a surprise party for my Nan.

I heard her voice. She said her name. Confused, I thought, “Why is she calling about the party? The party already happened”. I was almost irritated. Who calls about a party that’s already happened?

Then she explained her reason for calling and it clicked. Ah, it’s one of these phone calls.

My partner was sitting in the room with me. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

Heart racing, I told him what I had just heard. I called the person back. No answer. She hadn’t been able to reach my mom, she’d said. I called my mom. No answer. I left my own voicemail.

While I’d been trying to call my mom, the person had called me back. I called her. She picked up.

She was with her, there. She explained what was happening, what they had found, and where the paramedics were going. She mistook me for my mother. I explained who I was and said I would keep trying to call my mother. She said she would keep us updated. We said goodbye.

I tried calling my mom again. No answer.

Wait, had anyone told my brother?

I called him and he picked up on the first ring. Later, he told me he’d been looking at his phone while walking home from work, just about to change the song he was listening to, when he’d received one of those kinds of phone calls from me.

I told him. A few minutes later, he walked into the house and told my mom. A few minutes after that, she responded to my messages.

Now they knew.


As I got older, lessons with my Nan became less formal but just as formative. We moved away from memorization and practice and towards discussion. After the day’s chores were done, we would sit together in the evening with tea and snacks and talk for hours. I would tell her all about my life, my plans, and my questions. She would listen openly and curiously. She would ask me to elaborate sometimes and share stories from her own life. She didn’t pretend to have all of the answers or try to make me see things in any particular way. She would just share what she knew and had experienced. She would also tell me stories from the books she read or movies she watched in great detail. She was a wonderful storyteller, and often, just listening to her take on a story was more interesting than the books or movies themselves.


I had to get there. I haphazardly packed a bag, forgetting socks and underwear. I arranged a ride with a friend. The conversation on the way down was surprisingly normal. When we neared the hospital, I realized what was about to happen, what I was going to walk into. I felt scared.

We got there and it all happened very fast.

I was in the bathroom shortly after, looking at myself in the mirror, drying my eyes and blowing my nose. I was still scared. I didn’t know if I could handle this. I was buzzed back into emerg and told they were moving here into a private room in the stroke wing.

The damage was too severe. They couldn’t operate. This was the end.

She squeezed my hand when I first arrived but never woke up. There was a substantial bleed in her left hemisphere from the blood thinners she was on.

Two days went by. I won’t go into detail about them. They were awful, beautiful, powerful, painful, bizarre, long, exhausting. They are private. At some point during those two days, I stopped being scared.

Then she was gone. Just like that. Gone but not really gone. Gone but still here, gone but everywhere. She left that room in the hospital and went everywhere.


My Nan told her grandchildren she was a witch. She would cast spells sometimes to be dealt a better hand of cards or win a draw prize. She told me one of our ancestors had been a witch, a powerful healer who shared my name. I asked her about this when I got older and she maintained that it was true. That magic is real, everywhere, and accessible to all of us was one of her lessons.


Look for me
when my spirit leaves this earth
look for me above,
I wish to join the eagle’s flight
and soar with them at dawn’s
first light.
Think of me each time you see
a pair of wings,
close your eyes & in your mind
see hummingbirds + dragon flies,
the gorgeous wings of butterflies,
when they alight then look for me,
a flash of light in a twilight sky
just know I’ll be close by.

– Wendy Pantony

I went for a walk on a trail the day after I got back home. I looked for her in the birds that flew above me. I looked for her in the light and the clouds. I felt her presence everywhere.

I still do.

Your life can change in a moment, with a voicemail. One minute, you’re going through your Saturday routine, and the next, everything is different.

At some point during those two days, I wrote a poem about grief sitting next to her. My brain was fried and scrambled, so it wasn’t very good, but in essence, I was trying to describe grief as being like a ball of energy. When it first forms, the ball is huge and takes up every part of you, beginning in your core and seeping into every limb, into the tips of your fingers and toes. Gradually, it shrinks down to a more manageable size, until eventually it can be tucked away and stored. Once acquired, that ball of grief will always be with you. Even if you manage to tuck it neatly away, it’s still there. It will always be there.

My Nan will always be everywhere now, and nowhere. She has gone to that expansive place where individuality, separation, definition, and lineality are not factors. She exists differently now. She is here and not here. We miss her and she is with us. She has moved on, gone elsewhere, but the love she gave us is still here, within us alongside the grief.

I wish I could write about this more articulately, beautifully. I wish I could find all of the right words. I wish I could express the depth of everything I’m feeling, but this is where I am and what I have. Maybe better words will come with time. Maybe words themselves are too limited to capture death, loss, or grief. Maybe all of these things are too big for words.


I think my Nan is at least partially responsible for my being a poet, which I’d never thought about before now. It didn’t come from nowhere. She introduced me to poetry at a young age. She was a closeted poet herself, a private one. She wrote a collection of poetry throughout the course of her life that she never published, but she let me read some when I was a child. When I started writing poetry, she was always keen to read it. She encouraged me to get my work out there and was proud when I would occasionally get published. A few years ago, she asked me why I hadn’t published a book yet. “I thought you would be like J.K. Rowling by now,” she said. At the time, it irritated me to hear this because it felt like a lot of pressure. She had high expectations. J.K. Rowling wasn’t even J.K. Rowling at twenty-four, but maybe it wasn’t high expectations so much as highly complimentary. She just assumed I would become a famous writer and was wondering when, exactly, that was going to happen.


I cry a little bit every day. I write a little bit every day. I go back to work. I act normal. Sometimes, I feel normal. Usually, I feel surreal. I’m exhausted, in body and brain. I keep crashing with fatigue. I keep thinking I’m getting sick, but I’m just tired. It hits me in waves and the waves contain all kinds of things. I keep thinking about how I’ll never talk to her again: never share anything with her, never ask for her advice, and never hear her stories. Occasionally, I’m hit with feelings of elation and surges of energy. Is that her? I wonder. Is that her telling me she’s happy now?

I don’t know. I have no way of knowing. I’m realizing I don’t really know anything.

Nothing matters and everything matters. We’re all going to the place she’s in now. I hope it’s a good place. I hope she’s happy there. I think, if she is, she’s trying to tell me that.

Before all of this, death had affected me, but I had never seen it, never touched it, never gotten that close. At first, I was scared. Terrified. I wanted to leave. I didn’t think I could do it. It was too much. And then, at some point, I just got comfortable there. I had to. It doesn’t scare me the way it did before. I was able to see the beauty in it. I was able to see it as natural, normal, just another part of life—the counterbalance.

She gave me so much all my life; so much love, so many lessons, so many adventures and questions. The last thing she ever gave to me was a close proximity to death. This was the last lesson she ever taught me.

Death is natural, normal. It is coming for me, for you, for all of us. Do not be afraid. Do not avoid it. Do not run away. Come into the room, sit down, get comfortable. Be with death. Hold space for death. Respect its power, its inevitability.

I watched my grandmother die and I learned about death. I also learned about life. She was fearless, dedicated, grounded, open, loving, generous, and always curious. She and my grandfather built a beautiful and enriching life for themselves and their family from very modest beginnings. I believe love was her guiding pillar, she pursued what she loved and centred the people she loved in her life. I can’t count all of the lessons she gave me. I am grateful she was in my life and I was in hers. I am grateful to have been with her at the end, to have held her hand during that final lesson. It was a hard one to learn, but it will be with me until my end, until the cycle repeats itself again.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

– Edward Lear