What If I Don’t Want to Be Perceived?

Photo of a tall stop sign shot at night, from below, that says "Arrêt". Buildings, parked cars, trees, and snow-covered streets in the background. Grey sky above.

What I am struggling with the most about social media these days is that it feels as though we have to make ourselves the centre of whatever we post, and most of the time, I don’t want to be perceived.

I want to share my art, but I often don’t want to be seen. I don’t want to be at the centre, but there’s this pressure to be. It feels as though no one will be interested in my art on its own, that it has to come with an image and personality people will be drawn to.

I’m not trying to cultivate a mysterious image. I just don’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.

A handful of years ago, I made myself the centre of a YouTube channel. I got in front of the camera all the time, and after some practice, I became comfortable with that. Yes, I’d often cringe at the way I looked while editing, but eventually, I became inured to the experience of my face not looking how I think it should.

I now have little desire to get in front of the camera, but I feel like that’s what today’s internet demands. With the massive rise in popularity of the micro-video, it’s like we’re all expected to be in front of the lens, making ourselves the centre of whatever we create. The algorithms reward this specific format while every other type of content doesn’t measure up.

I think blogs are dying, or are already dead, and that makes me sad. Images aren’t as relevant anymore unless you’re making them move. The written word must be spoken now, and you, the speaker, must be on screen.

What you make doesn’t matter as much as how you appear.

Am I “Old Man Yells at Cloud“? Am I dating myself? Am I aging out of the internet, disconnecting from its pulse? It all moves so fast. I’m becoming a relic of the past. Wait, is this how boomers feel?

I feel this attachment to the older internet, to the way things used to be. I want to keep writing on my silly little blog even though no one reads blogs anymore. I want to keep posting on Instagram even though apparently Instagram is dying. I still don’t really “get” TikTok. I’ve tried! It’s weird because I used to love making YouTube videos, but the micro-video format doesn’t resonate with me in the same way. It doesn’t feel long enough for me to get into the meat of my ideas. I also don’t like how the videos happen at you so fast. I get overwhelmed! I want to slow down. I just want it all to slow down.

Maybe this is simply what getting older is—gradually becoming less connected to what is cool and hip and happening. If we are not already Old Man Yells at Cloud, then Old Man Yells at Cloud is our future. That’s where we’re all headed. We got comfortable with the way things were when we were young, and we want to hold onto that as we get older.

I also find it wild that what it means to be a writer has evolved so radically throughout my lifetime. The internet has been a real game-changer, and the game won’t stop changing. Maybe this is why I still don’t understand what kind of writer I am. The definition of what a writer is keeps evolving. I can’t pin it down. The options for sharing my work shift every year, every month. How am I supposed to stay on top of it all?

After my stint as a YouTuber, I realized that I wanted to focus on my writing, stop getting in front of the camera and start hiding behind walls of words. This feels more natural to me, but it’s as though there’s this call to step forward and show my face again. I don’t want to answer, but I wonder if this might be sabotaging my work.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting in front of the camera. There’s nothing wrong with putting your face or personality at the centre of what you create. I’m not writing this essay to shame the people who do that. What I am frustrated with is how this currently feels like the requirement for being online. I know it won’t forever. I expect it will shift again, maybe back to the way things were in the blogging days of the internet or to something else entirely,

but I feel like where we are right now is incompatible with who I am.

I think what I’m really getting at here is that it’s scary and frustrating to be confronted with the fact that you’re getting older. You’re getting older, and the things that once made sense, like how people use social media, don’t make sense anymore. You’re getting older, and the youths are making fun of people like you, and you don’t even understand enough of the context to know what they’re making fun of you for. You’re getting older, and the world you grew up in ten years ago is vastly different from the world today. You’re getting older, you’re a struggling artist, and you’re not sure you want to be perceived because that means giving the world a front seat to you getting older. You can’t keep up. What you do is becoming less and less relevant, but you stick with it because it’s what you know. You start to have some compassion for the generations above that you and your friends used to make fun of because it’s starting to happen to you too.

I don’t think I can tie this essay together with a reassuring ending that perfectly addresses these overlapping issues. Frankly, aging is scary, and we live in a culture that is very anti-aging. Much of the internet is run by capitalists who sell our time, attention, and mental health to the highest bidder without concern for the damage they cause. We’ll never go back to how the internet was. We’re probably overly nostalgic for that anyway, seeing it through rose-tinted glasses. We’re all going to keep getting older. As individuals, we cannot control the larger culture online, only how we respond to it. This could mean leaving social media, dialling back our use, or being more intentional about how we use it. Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it won’t stop evolving, and it’s unlikely to become any less ruthlessly capitalist. I cannot control this beast of a machine, only when and whether I choose to ride it.

Perhaps the secret is embrace. Perhaps I must accept what is happening to me, fully and in its entirety. Perhaps I must lean into being irrelevant and unknown. Continue to type away on my blog long after blogs have largely vanished from existence. Continue to post what I want. Ignore the numbers. Make what brings me pleasure, and say to hell with the rest.

Be this obscure, aging Millennial dweeb with a tiny platform that puts out weird art in perpetuity.

Continue to be a writer as the definition of what that means keeps changing. Figure out what being a writer means to me rather than try to keep up with what it means to the world. Only allow myself to be perceived when I actually want to be. Embrace my existence here on the margins, in obscurity, where I belong.

My New Approach to Labels

Photo of a signpost, missing its front cover, that is in front of brick apartment buildings with wrought-iron staircases. An icy sidewalk and busy street are visible to the right. Light blue sky above.

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with labels. I’ve had a hard time finding the right ones to capture my messy and fluid feelings and experiences. The only labels I’ve managed to stick with are the expansive ones, like queer, that operate as umbrella terms and can have a variety of meanings—giving me room to exist, to breathe. I’ve had a difficult time getting more specific than that. I might find a label that works for a little while but wears out or fails to capture all of me.

However, I’ve started to have an easier time with labels since changing my approach to them. I’ve moved away from viewing my identity as being solely about me as an individual. I’ve stopped requiring labels to capture all of the experiences, feelings, and ideas I have about myself. Instead of trying to use labels to sum up who I am, I’ve started to see them as terms for the communities I feel connected to.

This is how I’ve become more comfortable with using labels that seem to contradict. For example, I identify as sapphic but not as a woman. I’m sapphic because of the connection I feel to the sapphic community. I resonate with the issues, jokes, and experiences other sapphics share. Identifying as sapphic doesn’t mean that I also have to identify as a woman. Instead, it means I have a meaningful relationship with that community.

Labels, I’ve decided, are less about trying to sum myself up, less about trying to capture every nuance with a single word, and more about communicating which communities I am in or feel drawn to. I don’t necessarily have to be an active member of a community for a label to fit, but there has to be some connection there. Labels aren’t just about me, they also describe who I am in relation to other people. I can have multiple labels, and some of these labels can seemingly contradict, because I can be a part of multiple communities. I can be queer and non-binary and sapphic and gay and bisexual. I can drop some labels at times and pick up others. I can explore myself and the communities I feel at home in. These explorations, these labels, can be messy, imperfect, and fluid—just like my orientations, just like me.

disaster bisexual buys an iced-coffee

Photo of an open notebook with handwriting on its pages, a pen, and a plastic cup sitting on a table. The notebook is being held open by a hand in the bottom left corner. Pink filter over image. White text in the centre reads: "disaster bisexual buys an iced coffee".

disaster bisexual
buys an iced coffee in february
with the intention to discreetly
slip a straw under their mask
and sip it while riding the train
disaster bisexual
orders in english
to be considerate of subjecting the barista
to their pronunciation en français
so early in the morning
disaster bisexual
orders an iced coffee
et un wrap-matin du travailleur
sans la saucisse
sorry, with sausage? you said sausage
no sausage
eggs please, cheese please
ok, with the hashbrown?
yes
, please!
the wrap, the hashbrown
the iced coffee with caramel (we’re out of syrup)
is passed over the counter to the disaster bisexual
who looks at the funny lid
and remembers that straws are illegal
with their plan gone out the window
they find themselves consuming
their cold caffeinated drink
completely naked
in the face

rough red patches

Photo taken through store window with bars crisscrossing over it of a large red pocket knife on a stand with several blades and pieces coming out of it. The store contains many other miscellaneous items and boxes on tables and shelves. There is also an apartment building reflecting off of the glass window in blue light.

rough red patches on our hands
irritated dry skin
signs of pandemic wear on the body
doesn’t matter how much you moisturize
clean your hands clean your hands
clean your hands
wash them until they crack and bleed
stay healthy stay safe
while we run out of tests run out of vaccines
run out of doctors run out of time
while you run and slip on the sidewalk
fifteen feet from home
fifteen minutes after curfew
slip on the ice
land underground
close your curtains tight
not allowed to go outside
not allowed to be outside
not allowed to look outside
stay safe safe safe
clean
wash
crack
bleed
slip
safe

I’ve Never Allowed Myself to Only Be a Poet Because I’ve Always Felt That Wasn’t Enough

Photo shot from above of a pile of cigarette butts in a can filled with snow that is sitting on the ground in dirty snow.

I wonder if there’s a difference between a poet and a writer.
They speak of the poet’s heart, but what do they mean?
There are times when prose feels so stilted to me,
When I crave the fluidity of line breaks,
The freedom to not be understood fully,
The convention to break convention,
The magic of diving underwater
To retrieve a poem from within the weeds,
Rather than sitting at a desk,
Keyboard at the ready.

I’ve never allowed myself to only be a poet
Because I’ve always felt that wasn’t enough,
But I am starting to wonder if I’ve been wrong.