I’m the Hot Potato

Photo of muted blue sky shot from below. There are yellow flowers out of focus in the foreground, and many little branches behind these flowers. Beyond this is the underside of a lit streetlamp with a no parking sign attached to its post.

I am not proud of how I behave in public. I don’t ever feel like myself. I am the star of the world’s least sexy peep show. I fumble. I try and fail to speak to you in French. There are about a billion eyes on me, and I DON’T KNOW HOW TO ACT. This isn’t cute and endearing. It’s just concerning. I look around and think, how does everyone else do it? Other people seem so confident.

Though I continue to learn and grow every day, I will always be the same little goblin. It’s me! I’m the hot potato! And I’m going to end up in the corner coated in city grit next to the dust bunnies. I can’t do anything but drop me. I step out of bed in the morning and into the world, and sometimes, I just CANNOT handle it.

I Move to a New City

Photo of a field with dirt, dead grass, and some shipping containers stacked on top of each other, with one sitting up vertically. Some warehouse buildings are in the background with a taller apartment building to the right. Dark clouds in the sky above. Wooden pole and part of a deck in the foreground.

I move to a new city,
Ask it to read me poetry.
The city obliges,
But do I listen?
Not always.

I move to a new city,
Where there’s a lot more graffiti,
Fewer trees,
And construction that goes on all year.
My date whispers there’s a conspiracy,
Doesn’t want them to overhear.

The date I know I’ll never see again.
I haven’t loved anyone since him,
But I’ve come too far to feel bitter about that here.
So instead, I walk around the city,
Take in all the graffiti
And watch as the trains pass by.
The ones that always seem five or six cars
Too short.

I climb to the top of a man-made mountain,
Cuts of wood arranged over damp earth,
And I sit down to write
My angsty little poetry about being lonely.
When really, anyone I could ever need to know
Is somewhere in this city,
Just a phone call or a few taps away.
But I don’t make any calls.
I don’t send any messages.
I put my earbuds in and block out the sound of the train.
I walk around by myself in the rain,
Looking for what I think only I’ll appreciate
On this Friday night, this night in the city,
This night of so many.

I pass people by and dare not
Look up or look for too long.
I let sparks fade into nothing.
So many missed connections,
I couldn’t possibly write a personal for them all.

Construction, torn-up streets,
Graffiti, rain, and spring.
A new album by an old band.
The same habits I always carry with me.
Struggling to connect, to find my steps.
Wandering around, trying to get lost but knowing where I am.
Wanting wanting wanting to not be so alone,
But craving my aloneness all the same.
Seeking connection, not seeking it enough.
Seeking adventure, seeking it too much.

When I come to a new place, I look different for a little while,
But the fog always clears, and I always come out the same.
I am the person I can never leave behind.
Doesn’t matter how many times I move
Or how many steps I take,
Who I am will always remain
Through fall, winter, and another spring.

This city is melting, grey and wet.
Only half-built, yet well lived in,
Which hits me where I need it to.
So I continue to walk, to take it all in,
Knowing at some point, I’ll have to begin.

It is so easy to love a place,
It takes no time at all.
Like loving a person, really,
Though less dangerous.
To love a place, a city,
Is to love its mess, its train tracks, its ugly parts,
Is to love its clouds, its rain, its construction,
Is to love a little but never enough,
Is to wander around alone,
Meeting meeting meeting,
Never quite connecting in the right way.

early adolescence in the mid-2000s

Photo of Sage as a teenager standing on the grass in front of some trees. They are wearing a pink baseball hat sideways, a black tank top, jean shorts, and blue flip-flops with a white sweater tied around their waist. They're smiling at the camera, with one arm crossed over their midsection holding the other.

Content Note: this piece includes mention of abuse, disordered eating, and self-harm.

early adolescence in the mid-2000s
gloss that gives my lips bee stings
identity reduced to the nail polish relatives buy me every birthday
holding on to stuffed animals
until a big bag of them gets thrown away
mean girls, misogynistic boys, mini skirts
learning what calories are and counting them
marking every bad thing I eat on a calendar with a frowny face
diet books that aren’t like other diet books, they swear
being thin but needing to be skinny
like the magazines we still read want us to be
being told I’m not to go out dressed like that by a dad
pretending to be a father for five minutes
being called fat
that weird homeschooled kid
the freak, the loser
needing to prove them wrong
with yoga pants, crop top hoodies, silver eye glitter
asking for too much back-to-school money
trying to cover up my acne
ending up with orange spots on my face and snickering classmates
plastic bracelets with colour-coded meanings
worn all the way up our forearms
finding a snapped black bracelet behind the school
a flurry of rumours resulting
kissing girls to prepare for “the real thing”
kissing girls but in a straight way
whispers on the schoolyard about who is having sex
perfume and eyeshadow overwhelming
breasts too small, butt too big, skin too weird
teacher saying I used to be one of the good ones
parents disappointed in the turn I’m taking
dad so fucking scary
knowing there’s something wrong with the way he treats me
but not knowing what to say
asking my friends what they think is wrong with me
and being mocked ruthlessly
wanting to cut myself
to be like everyone else
not being able to, feeling ashamed of my weakness
and deciding to eat less
surviving adolescence
applying mascara every morning, can’t leave the house without it
needing to look like anyone, anyone else
bleeding through my underwear and acid-washed jeans
no help from the gym teacher who likes to scream
leaving puddles of blood on green plastic seats
until another kid comes along to rescue me
dropping out of school to escape all the crazy
ex-friends on msn threatening to hurt me
saying they hate my whole family
spreading rumours that will follow me
asking who I had become
to have friends such as these
finally getting away from the bullies
except for the one that lived with me
learning that weird isn’t the worst thing a person can be
that early adolescence and the mid-2000s wouldn’t kill me
that I’d come out the other side
still kicking
and a lot more free

Not Even a Goodbye

Photo of concrete stairs with melting snow on them leading down to a metal door with a small vertical window in it, which has a red light on above it and a window with a white frame to its right. The window and door are set into a brick building with grey bricks at the bottom and red bricks above. The door, window, and bricks are also covered in graffiti and tags. Additionally, there are two black handrails on either side of the stairs.

No one owes you anything,
Yet you can’t help that feeling
Of resentment from bubbling up
As you watch & witness
Someone’s interest in you
Gradually begin to wane.
It happens to all of us.
It’s happened to me this way and the other,
But it still hurts to see, to feel,
Someone slowly slip away,
Stop messaging back,
Cancel your dates,
Become too busy,
Too busy for you anyway.
And all you can do
As you’re sitting there,
Observing and aching,
Is gracefully accept what is happening.
Any other reaction could be humiliating.
Any other reaction could be turned back on you.
Any other reaction could impede upon their boundaries,
And you must respect their boundaries.
You must respect how they feel.
You must respect that they no longer want you.
You must remember that no one,
No one ever,
No one ever owes you anything.

Not even a goodbye?

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.