I am a little pink pillow with a tiger on it. One of my feet is a circle. It’s the foot that’s raised. It was sewn from memory. I posted this tiger illustration on DeviantArt in high school, and you commented to say, “I want this as a poster to hang on my wall”. For your birthday, I printed it out and gave it to you. You hung it up in your hallway and looked at it every day. Then you moved out, and it continued to hang in the hallway of your mother’s house. For years, your mother had the tiger poster. Then she moved somewhere else, and it was taken down and packed away. You haven’t been able to find it since. You wanted to use it as a reference, but you remembered it pretty well, particularly the foot that was a circle.
“Aw, I was learning to draw,” I say after receiving the pink tiger pillow for my twenty-eighth birthday. I was fifteen? Sixteen? A teen who dedicated a year of their life to learning how to draw. I drew every day, and on one of those days, I drew a tiger in my sketchbook and coloured it in on Photoshop. Or maybe it was Paint. Either way, I used block colours: orange, white, black, and pink.
Of the front feet, which is its right and which is its left? Nobody knows!
This tiger was my commitment. This tiger was my enthusiasm. This tiger was my dedication. This tiger was my anxiety, my neurosis. You cannot see its face. It never turns around. The original file was lost. The poster was displaced. Only the pillow remains, created from memory. Memory made from years and years of hanging in a hallway. This tiger was my adolescence. Its raised foot is a circle. We’re not sure how its front legs work. We’re not sure if that’s what its stripes looked like. There’s no shading. It’s in block colours. I made it on a trial version of Photoshop I had on a CD back before it was subscription-only. Or maybe it was Paint. Either way, I made it. This tiger was me.
I don’t draw anymore. I got that out of my system. I focus on writing now. I write in Google Docs, and I do my best to shade in my words. I try to use references. My backgrounds are more than simple block colours. I attempt accuracy with my proportions. I’m not afraid to write faces. I examine the tiger from all angles. I have a lot of learning to do still and a long way to go yet. I did not start here. I started with enthusiasm. I started with dedication. I started with a tiger, drawn in a sketchbook and coloured in with bright digital blocks.
Content note: this piece contains references to death and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I pour myself a cup of coffee in a red mug from the place they started taking me when I was a baby. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the place with the hill where I ran, tumbled, and lost my ice-cream cone. I pour myself a cup of coffee from the place where I sobbed hysterically and they gave me a new one. I pour myself a cup of coffee in a red mug with a white outline of an opened-mouthed fish jumping out of the water. This is my mother’s mug. She hates fish, but she loves where it’s from.
My grandparents loved it too, and now they’re gone. It’s just my mother, my brother, and me. We also lost my dad, but I don’t know how to talk about that succinctly. Sometimes, I feel like he was never really with us. His body came to that place, but I’m not sure if he ever did. Except, perhaps, for that time when I fell, but the memory is foggy. I think he helped me up and took me back for more ice-cream, so maybe he was there after all.
I’m not here to write about my dad. I’ve done enough of that.
The coffee is hot, so I have to keep my sips small. It’s rain-snowing outside, and there’s a pandemic, so that place is currently closed. I think it will survive though. The owner has money to burn. I trust they’ll keep it running and warm.
It was near there that I found a purple book in an outdoor lending library, part four of a mystery series that got me reading again. I left my mother and grandmother early that evening to read a hundred pages while rocking gently on a patio swing. I didn’t stop until I lost the light. The next morning, I told my grandmother about the story because she always liked to share what she was reading. She used to give us stories of faraway places and times and people in rich detail.
I haven’t seen my extended family since she died. That was the last time she brought us all together. That was the last time we were allowed to be together.
I was given a tarot reading over a year ago that told me I will find what I’m looking for eventually, but it will take a long time. I’m on the right path, but it twists and winds. I accept this. I have to. My grandmother was interested in my path. Her life was coming to an end, she said, but mine was just beginning, and she was curious about where it would lead. What will I make of this life? Where will it take me?
I can’t answer that yet, but I’ll share the story with her one day.
For now, I sit typing at my computer with a red mug half-full of cooling coffee. I write about the past and the future. I write about my family. I watch the rain fall, and I let the music play. It’s February. It’s been a hard year. I have a little hope growing inside of me, but I can’t place where it’s coming from. Maybe the coffee.
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
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.
Content note: this piece contains casual mentions of apocalypse, death, and a lack of overall meaning.
I did a reading the other night. I was sandwiched between authors who spun stories and poetry full of metaphor, who spoke words layered with meaning, who filled the room with depth and imagery. I got up and read my plain language piece: here is something that happened to me and how I felt about it. I sat back down.
Self-consciousness arose with the question: am I even a writer?
Hello, imposter syndrome, old buddy, old pal. How have you been?
The webs I weave with my words aren’t complex or layered. I am direct. I say what I mean. I’ve always struggled to get into writing that has more substance than that. I don’t read between the lines and so I don’t write between the lines either. It’s not that I think my way is better or worse, it’s just what comes naturally.
Some people tell me that they like that. They say it’s easy to digest, accessible. Simple, direct language that allows them to dive into the content of what is being said. My writing does the job of delivery quickly.
It’s also not for everyone. I know there are some who see my work as novice, childish, indulgent, or one-dimensional. Maybe they’re right. That’s okay with me, actually. I’m writing to express, not writing to please.
Occasionally, something I’m working on develops depth without my conscious intent and I think, “Oh, look, I’ve done it! There are multiple ways to read this. It has L a Y e R s”. It’s exciting when that happens, but I can’t force it. Forcing makes it come out sounding hollow and pretentious. I may create something “wrapped in meaning,” but there’s no meat in the center, the center remains empty. It’s better, I believe, to write the meat first and see if any layers follow. Sometimes they don’t and that’s okay too.
Whenever imposter syndrome rears its head, I try to answer with, “So what?”
“Am I even a writer?”
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, but so what?”
“Am I a bad writer?”
“Maybe, but so what?”
“Is my writing overly simplistic, straightforward, and lacking in depth?”
“Maybe it is, but again, so fucking what?”
As far as I know, I have just this one life. I don’t know what will happen after I die and I also don’t know whether everything I create will be destroyed in an apocalypse in the near future. In the grand scheme of the universe, everything is temporary and nothing really matters. I know I am alive now and I like to write, so I write. It feels good. It’s therapeutic. It helps me to express what I otherwise find difficulty expressing. It helps me to articulate my own existence. It helps me to connect with others. So what if it isn’t worthy of awards, honorariums, or acclaimed publication? So fucking what? That’s not the point.
Anyone writing for the sole purpose of accruing money or fame is in the wrong line of work. Chances are good that writing won’t pay your bills, and people are more likely to make fun of you than hand you accolades. Trying to write the next great novel? Try writing a novel first. It’s hard.
Writing makes you vulnerable. You don’t necessarily need to be writing the way that I do, either, where I intentionally lay myself bare to the world. Creating is a vulnerable process, one that involves speaking to experiences and feelings we often keep hidden from the wider world. It can result in rejection, misunderstanding, or a lack of recognition (i.e. enthusiastically putting your creations out into a world full of people who couldn’t care less about it). It can also result in connection and that can be really powerful. One of the best pieces of feedback you can receive as a writer, I have found, is “I’ve felt that way too”. I measure the “success” of my work in relation to that sense of connection more than anything else.
For me, writing is a process of learning how to articulate my lower-case “t” truths. Who am I today? What am I experiencing? What do I think? What do I feel? How am I navigating this broken, bizarre, beautiful world? How am I like you? How am I unlike you?
My truths tend to come out in plain, straightforward, just-read-the-actual-lines-themselves-not-between-them language. This is not the case for everyone and that’s also fine. There are many powerful writers out there who find ways of expressing their truths through layers of symbolism, double meanings, vivid imagery, and otherwise evocative language. What they create is beautiful.
What I create is also beautiful.
Our capitalistic society will have us believe we are all in competition with each other. Whose writing is bad, whose is better? Who deserves this or that prize? Who is otherwise unworthy? Who should be ashamed of daring to express themselves without having a degree, perfect grammar, or an extensive knowledge of the literary canon of old/dead white men.
It can be argued that writing is a skill, yes. Effective communication is a skill. Weaving words and making meanings are skills. But we should interrogate how we measure these skills because, often, our methods of measurement are rooted in colonial white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, classism, and other forms of power imbalance and oppression.
It can be argued that writing is a skill, yes, but you do not have to be skilled at writing in order to be a writer. In fact, you will never become skilled if you never practice, if you never write. You must give yourself permission to be an unskilled writer, to be bad, and to be embarrassed. You must give yourself permission to go through the awkward and uncomfortable process of getting better. You must remember not to take it all so seriously. We will all die, existence might be a dream, and the world may be ending sometime soon. Allow yourself to write if you are so inclined and allow yourself to write badly. You will always be able to find other people in the room who are more skilled than you. You will likely always be faced with imposter syndrome.
Sure, okay, you’re an imposter. I’m an imposter. We’re all imposters pretending not to be imposters.
Really, we’re all creators. Capitalism tells us to compete, but we don’t have to listen. Other writers are not your competition, they are your friends, your inspiration, your support, and your community.
I can get up in a room to read my work sandwiched between authors who spin stories and poetry full of metaphor, who speak words layered with meaning, who fill that room with depth and imagery. I can get up and read my plain language piece to my community of writers without shame. Whether I am worse or better does not matter. What matters is that we write and share that writing, that we support and encourage each other wherever we are in our learning.
Maybe you don’t like my writing, don’t think it’s any good. Maybe you’re outraged that some novice, unknown writer is breaking an unspoken rule by writing about writing. Maybe I am an unskilled writer. Maybe I am an imposter.
Content note: this piece explores medical issues and death.
I lie on my back with my head ear-muffed inside the MRI scanner, listening to bad club music, trying not to laugh, and thinking about death. The awkward redheaded technician is visible as a shapeshifting shadow through the glass. They’ve provided a mirror inside the machine so I can see them and not have a panic attack. They are (apparently) shifting my copper IUD around and taking a picture of the inside of my skull. The instructions said to put on pants but I couldn’t find any pants. I’m worried they can see up my gown and grateful I kept my underwear on. My grandfather died of brain cancer and I’ve been getting migraines. I searched for his obituary online and came up with nothing. He’s buried in Smiths Falls. We used to visit his grave once a year. I wonder if death is like dreaming, if when you die you go to a dreamscape. Maybe dreaming at night keeps us in touch with death, a little taste of the other side, reminders of what we will go back to. Is my grandfather dreaming? Did he ever lie on his back with his head ear-muffed inside an MRI scanner, listening to bad club music, trying not to laugh, and thinking about death?
Death seems less scary if it’s like a dream because I know what a dream is. I never really knew who my grandfather was. I’m scared I might have brain cancer.
Note: Nothing scary came up on the MRI, thankfully. I’m still trying to figure out what’s causing the migraines but I’m okay.
Content note: this piece contains discussion of illness and grief.
I’m waiting for the leaves to come back on the trees. I’m waiting for the New Year to really begin. I’m waiting for the spring air to roll over me, Chilled but full of moisture, Smelling of plants soon to be. I’m waiting for the grass on the hill to turn green.
I’m waiting for the opportunity to try again. My false start has come to an end, But the world will come back to life And I will be able to try again.
We’ve survived another winter, Apart and together. Now we have the chance To breathe again, To live again, To think again, To reimagine.
My false start has come to an end And I am getting ready to try again— When the leaves, the grass, and the fresh air Come rolling back in.
I turn twenty-six on Tuesday the twenty-sixth. I feel more like myself than I have for awhile. I am writing more like myself and I am writing more in general. Poetry has come back into my life and is taking up more space than ever before. Prose and ideas for prose are everywhere. I am compiling the past few years of my transition into a zine. It’s all been falling into place since I let go of the need for a refined product, success, or legitimacy and focused my energy on the process instead.
I love the process. That is the essential piece, you know, loving the process. The piece that can so easily go missing. You can become so focused on the end goal, on the need to be and to appear productive, that you lose sight of why you create in the first place. We create because we love and need to create. This doesn’t mean that creating should always be easy or simple or fun. Sometimes, especially when you are deeply invested, it can be incredibly difficult and confusing and frustrating, but if you love it, that drive will help you move through those challenges.
I was sick last night. I lay on the bathroom floor for hours, shaking. Something went wrong in my body and I felt it in every part of me. I could barely keep my eyes open. I was alone. I lay there and cycled through the following thoughts: I wish this wasn’t happening. What’s wrong? When is it going to stop? Why is this happening? I wish this wasn’t happening…
Then another thought came into my mind as if from elsewhere: this is what it means to have a body. This is what it means to be alive. Having a body means that sometimes that body gets sick. I felt lucky for a few moments just to have a body, even if that body was angry with me. Then I fell back into the cycle: I wish this wasn’t happening. When is it going to stop? Why is this happening?
I was cold and couldn’t stop shaking, so I ran a bath. I lay down in the warm water and felt just as unwell, just as alone, but didn’t shake anymore. I lay back and I let go: this is happening. I can’t stop this from happening.
I started to sing an old song, a song I learned from a community that would stand in two rings and sing two rounds into the night. I sang that old song in an old language and thought about how I didn’t know what the words meant but could feel what the song meant. I sang it to myself, over and over, and I stayed there with my hurting body in that bath and became okay with what was happening.
I was at a New Year’s party a few years ago when something traumatic was triggered and my vision took on a ring of black spots and I felt like I was going to be sick. I lay alone for hours on the cold tiles of a stranger’s bathroom floor, even though I hadn’t had a single drink that night, and rang in the New Year. I had just lived through one of the hardest years of my life and felt the weight of it in my body that final night. I didn’t sing then but I did ease into the pain, mind and body joined together on that cold tile floor. This is what it means to have a body. This is what it means to be alive. Sometimes, you will be sick and you will feel it in your body whether the cause is from your body or your mind. Sometimes, you will be sick, you won’t be able to make it stop, and you will have to get down on the floor with it.
My body is a beautiful alarm system that has always reliably sounded the bells whenever I’ve become too cerebral. Pay attention to me, it says. Take care of me.
That New Year’s Eve, my body took on all of my grief and pain and made me lay on a cold floor all night so I could move into the coming year with a clearer mind. Don’t take this with you, it said. I felt the fog of death, disappointment, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and fear rise like smoke off of my body and leave the room. I came back downstairs at one in the morning and smiled quietly at the party guests who were getting ready to head home. It was a new year and I was new. My family and I drove home in the car. It was dark and they were tired and I was awake and feeling better than I had in a long time.
Yesterday, I lay on another cold tile floor and then in a warm bath. I let all of the awful feelings wash over me. I sang an old song that I did/didn’t understand and thought about renewal and how I was turning twenty-six in three days. Pay attention to me, my body said. Remember to pay attention to me.
I can’t promise to always pay attention, body, but I will try. You will be twenty-six soon, as will I. You have carried me this long and have always been my friend. I will try my best not to let my mind get in the way of your needs again.
Spring is almost here and soon it will be my champagne year. I am leaving something bad behind. I am writing every day. I am searching for community. Just like that NYE all those years ago, something in me died last night and something new came alive in its place. I let toxic smoke rise from my body in that bath and I became new.
I am turning twenty-six in two days and finally, I am ready.
I think that a lot of us are exhibitionists when it comes to over/sharing on the Internet.
There’s something thrilling about sharing intimate details about your existence with complete strangers online. I have the option of keeping my personal writing safely tucked away in a journal but like the idea of the world-at-large having access to it. Why is that?
I spill my guts when I write. I would never share half of what I write about with someone I had just met in person, and yet I feel comfortable hitting “publish” and releasing my words for the world to see. I even attach my face and real name, upping the risk of my work coming back to bite me.
I’m a very non-confrontational individual in person. I don’t do well with conflict. It triggers all kinds of stuff and effectively shuts my brain down, so I avoid it whenever possible. In contrast, my writing can be very confrontational. I’m able to be a lot more direct about what I think and feel. I touch on controversial issues sometimes. People don’t always like what I have to say, and I know my art has inspired ire on more than one occasion. Back when I turned scripts into videos on YouTube, I even managed to make a few waves of hatred wash over me. That hasn’t always been easy to deal with, especially when sharing something vulnerable has resulted in dozens upon dozens of strangers viciously attacking my ideas, physical appearance, and worth as a human being.
The Internet is not a safe space. I know this and yet I continue to open up to it anyway.
Someone did something to piss me off recently and I wrote a short poem about it. Mind, this is not a person in my life. This is someone I met at an event, have no relationship with, and likely will not see again. I do feel I owe it to the people in my life to have direct conversations with them, not passive-aggressively publish poems about them on social media. I’m not a monster. Anyway, I had some feelings about a negative interaction with a person I barely know and then wrote and posted a poem online about the experience. This wasn’t a call out. The person was not named or identified. I just needed to express my frustration and this felt like a pretty harmless way to vent, but I was also aware of how aggressive and confrontational the piece I created was. It very much carried a, “Fuck you, fuck you very much” kind of tone.
“I might get some hate for this,” I thought, pausing for a moment, “Well, then, bring it on”. I hit the “post” button.
I didn’t get any hate for that poem. In fact, a few people commented about how they related to my experience. This is the most positive reaction you can hope for after releasing something controversial, and it’s not always the one I’ve received. I was, however, ready for hate, or at the very least, criticism for that piece. I almost welcomed it.
I might not be comfortable with controversy or conflict in my day-to-day life, which I believe has something to do with the trauma I carry, but I welcome it within the realm of my art. Okay, maybe welcome is a strong word, but I don’t shy away from it. My mother has commented before that I have a tendency to create things that provoke strong reactions. I don’t shy away from difficult topics and I let people know exactly what I think. Obviously, I’m imperfect. I get things wrong, and I know that my opinions are just opinions, but I’m not afraid to speak out, question doctrines, and go against the grain in my work. I have subsequently provoked strong reactions from all sides. Some folks don’t appreciate my existence as a vocal queer and trans person, while others aren’t a fan of my questioning dogmatic thinking. It can be easy to feel isolated and alienated when one speaks out in such a way, but what’s interesting is how many folks come out of the woodwork to say, “I feel that way too”.
I’m not afraid to write something that you don’t like.
It’s taken me a while to get here as a creator, but I’m happy that I’m here now because it gives me free rein to make whatever the fuck I want. I don’t need anyone’s approval. I might struggle without it, yes, but I don’t actually need it. It’s still scary to share my writing and deal with criticism and hate online, but the risks are worth it, and I get better at dealing with them the more that I do.
I believe that one of the most effective forms of activism I can practice is to unapologetically write about my own experiences. This should not be where my activism begins and ends. This also may not be right for everyone, but it is right for me. It is where I am the most effective. And in order to be effective, I can’t live in fear about how other people will react. I can’t mould my experiences and expression so that they are comfortable and uncontroversial to all who encounter them.
Face-to-face, particularly if you don’t know me very well, I come off as passive, shy, and timid. At my core, however, I am not any of these things. If you take the time to get to know me or read my writing, you learn that. Contrary to what some may believe, I’m actually pretty brave and I don’t take shit. My writing is one of the avenues where I can express that.
Maybe this is why I love sharing my work with complete strangers online. In person, I’m slow to warm up. I grapple with social anxiety, stimulus overload, homo/transphobia, and trauma—which all cause me to wrap myself in a protective shell around new people. After people get to know me better and see my real personality, I often hear the comment, “You’ve changed!” No, I haven’t. I was always this way, you’re just now seeing who I really am. It is through my writing that I can show myself right away. I can be honest and open without dealing with everything listed above. I can show myself in a way otherwise reserved for the people I’m close to.
I think there are lots of reasons why we share intimate parts of ourselves online, but this is one of mine: to show the world who I am and not apologize for it.
P.S. Ironically, I felt pretty nervous about publishing this. I almost kept it forever buried in my drafts with the justification that wasn’t very well written and therefore undeserving of publication. Upon further reflection, I realized that goes against what I wrote about and I owe it to myself to practice what I preach. So, here’s the final product: imperfectly edited, somewhat messy, and rather exposing. It is both exciting and daunting to share. Feel free to love, hate, or not give a damn about it. Thank you for reading.
In the past, when we were here, we always had some sense of next. We did not move on from one project until we had another in mind that we were itching to begin. This time, however, the path ahead is unclear. There is a path in that there is ground under us as we put one foot, slowly and carefully, in front of the other, but our eyes cannot help us. There is nothing but fog in our vision. The harder we try to look, the cloudier the future appears. So we leave it alone. We leave it alone and we keep walking with the hope that we keep finding ground for purchase. There are no guarantees. We checked the warranty. It was a joke, a poor one, and it laughed at us. No, there is nothing that says our feet will always meet with solid ground. We are on solid ground now. We could stop here. We won’t because something inside tells us to keep going. We reassure ourselves, There has always been ground, there has always been ground. The sun has always risen and there has always been ground. It is a fallacy, our reassurance, but what else do we have?
The fog clears when we look back, though not entirely. We are given access to the recent past. If we would like to go further back, we must seek out the archives. The archives are a mess and we are responsible for that. For years, we have been saying that we will do something about the archives, devote time to their organization. For years, we have been baffled by this task. Where to start, what to do… We have made mistakes and lost whole reams of the archives. Gone, forever, are those creations, right along with the selves who made them. It is like those selves never existed, that is, until we find a scrap of something somewhere and realize all is not lost. My grandmother printed out a poem I sent her in an email, that self is not lost. I filled a photo album with my earliest scribbles, that self is not lost. I found a password for a website I kept up in university, that self is not lost. Do not get us wrong, some of the selves are lost. We cannot properly mourn them because we cannot remember them, but we can mourn the loss itself because we know it is there.
It is very likely that we will die before ever properly addressing the archives. We will die on this path, in this fog, and we will leave behind a mountain of notebooks, drives, documents, folders, websites, scribbles, accounts, and marginalia in no particular order. What we need is for a curator to come along and take up the task of piecing everything together and extracting the inevitable secrets that will come out of this process. We say secrets because we assume that when you make an image from 1,000 puzzle pieces, you must learn something about the whole that has until that point remained unknown. We, the creator and abandoner of the archive, would like to extend a heartfelt and sincere apology to any future curators. You have your work cut out for you, and you will probably not be comfortable with everything you find.
Apologies, we got lost in the past for a moment. That happens. The chaos of the past and its gradual disintegration is distracting. What we must do now is address the future and the question at hand:
Where do we go now?
Forward, yes, obviously. Let’s not be pert, shall we? We clearly cannot go sideways and we’ve already walked over what is behind us, which leaves one option: the slow march towards our death. We have always gone forward and we must continue to go forward. That is the way of things.
The above question is really asking about how we choose to move forward rather than what we are moving towards. We cannot know that. We can only know the ground we are standing on and the body we are standing in. We can know some of what we have done before. We can remember some of the results. We can know what we have learned, and we can take that into the fog.
So what have we learned in, say, the past year?
We are a strange kind of writer, it would seem, compelled to write in strange kinds of ways. If we force ourselves to write more seriously, to pick one form and stick to it, to stay within the confines of a set of rules and regulations, to write what is publishable, to nail down what kind of writer we are, to impose the external on the internal, to steer clear of what feels natural, to pull teeth in the name of what is hard, we kill the joy. Challenge yourself, yes. Leave the realm of your comfort, and leave it often, but do not kill the joy because when you kill the joy, you kill the writer. We cannot restrict ourselves to short stories with plots and characters within specific genres. We can write these things and we can benefit from the challenges they pose, but we cannot wrap our whole identity around them because that kills the joy.
I am a semi-autobiographical speculative poet—a monstrous kind of hybrid—and the joy is being all of those at once, regardless of the social acceptability of multiplicity.
We have learned that we must make space for the joy, and making space for the joy means allowing ourselves to make things that may not make sense to anyone else. Making space for joy means allowing ourselves to play with our work rather than treat our work like the most serious part of our life. There are far too many serious things in life for the creative to be so serious, especially for the creative to be the most serious. What a drag, regarding it as the most serious. What a drag it begins to be.
We have learned that we are good enough—that our odd prose, unruly poetry, and memoir wrapped up like fiction are good enough. We are not great. We are not masterful. We likely will not change the world outside of our own. We may never reach more than a handful of people, or we may reach out and touch many people who simply will not care. None of that matters. It is good enough. Good enough to get the job of creating done, good enough to keep us on the path.
We have learned that conventional packaging, like conventional styles, may not be for us and that is okay as well. Creating a book from cover to cover may not be for us. We are not certain yet, maybe it will at some point, but writing a book is not the only legitimate way to be a writer, especially in the digital age. Writing can be packaged in many different ways, and that packaging can also change. It is a waste of energy to beat ourselves over the head with the concept of the book we feel we are supposed to be writing. If a book comes, it comes. If it does not come, it does not come. We will keep writing anyway.
If a book does not come, we will keep writing anyway.
If an audience does not come, we will keep writing anyway.
If money does not come, we will keep writing anyway.
If praise does not come, we will keep writing anyway.
If genius does not come, we will keep writing anyway.
Do you know why? Because we always have anyway. We have never written a book, drawn a large audience, experienced monetary success, received critical reception, or been visited by genius and yet we have always kept writing anyway. This is because, for us, writing and living hold hands. Writing does not need to give any gifts other than itself and when writing is burdened by the above expectations, it feels overwhelmed. It leaves with its tail between its legs. It sees that we are not grateful simply for its presence. It asks, “Am I not good enough for you?” and if the answer is anything but yes, it leaves. Writing knows its worth.
Yes, yes, yes. You are enough, my friend. I am enough. We are enough.
I don’t feel like I ever chose to be a writer, it was more like writing chose to be with me. It came upon me one afternoon when I was twelve and gave me my first poems, which I frantically scribbled down. I didn’t quite know what they were. Thoughts and feelings and questions that had swirled around inside of me were finally given a place, were put down on a page where I could see them for the first time. I rushed these poems to my mother, and thank goodness it was my mother and not my father as this was the moment that put me on the path. I rushed them to my mother, elated, put them in her hands and said, “Look what I did!”
She went quiet for a while, reading. Had I done something wrong? Was she upset? Did she hate them?
Then she looked at her child, who was still very much a child, and said,
“Sage, you’re a poet”.
I have been ever since.
Later, my father said, “Poetry doesn’t make any money. Out of all the books at the bookstore, the books of poems are the ones that never sell”. Thank god I did not take my poems to him first. A part of me must have known that would be the death of my early writer self. He was a poet and a published author. I knew these things and yet I took my poems to my mother instead. His relationship with writing was one of the tortured artist—critical and judgmental, invested in suffering—and the fledgling writer within me said, “Guard yourself against that. Take these poems to someone who will be able to see them and see you without projection”. Thankfully, there was such a person in my life then. Otherwise, those poems may have stayed hidden, with who knows how many others for how many years. Like so many writers, I may have kept everything I wrote a secret, and what a shame that would have been. Not because I feel like the world would have suffered without my work. Most of the world is without my work as it is. No, I would have suffered, and like my father, I would have invested my energy in judgment and shame.
My creative projects seem to divide themselves and line up nicely one after the next, each one lasting between one and two years. Before now, I was writing short sci-fi and horror stories. Before that, I was focusing on video production. Before that, I was experimenting with creative writing in-between piles of essays. Even further back, I practiced drawing every day for a year in order to improve my skills. There always seems to be a focus, an intense interest in something creative that can, at times, border on obsession. Then, once my curiosity has been satisfied, I quickly and neatly move onto the next thing. But writing is almost always at play, the undercurrent to everything else, though occasionally, such as with the drawing, it is not involved at all. Sometimes I need a break, but it keeps surfacing again and again in various ways. And hopefully, I keep learning.
So, where do we go now?
My plan is to do a little bit of everything and see where that takes me. I won’t impose restrictions, rules, or guidelines on what I do, except for two very basic ones:
Write every day for 30-60 minutes.
Read at least 20 pages a day.
This will make sure that I keep creating as well as engaging with other creations. In terms of where we go from here, so long as we keep going, keep creating, I believe the path will become clearer with each step. I believe the ground will continue to be there because I need to believe that. Writing and I may not know exactly where we’re going, but we’ll be able to see where we are. What else do we really need?