Non-Fiction

You Don’t Need to Have a Brand

Photo taken out of a car window that's covered in water droplets of a storefront with an open sign in the window and several framed pieces of art on the walls within. Pink-and-purple filter over image. White text aligned left reads, "You don’t have to have a brand as a creative person. You can just create. It’s fine." Handle @sage_pantony in white in bottom right corner.

You don’t have to have a brand as a creative person. You can just create. It’s fine.

Late-stage capitalism and social media are impacting our relationships to ourselves and our art. We are encouraged to commodify, label, and measure the success of our creativity.

If we don’t have a large audience for our work, we may feel like we’ve failed as artists. If we don’t make money from our art, we may feel like we’ve failed as artists. If we don’t have a defined brand or theme for our work, we may feel like we’ve failed as artists.

We haven’t.

Feel free to experiment, get weird, and try different things. Don’t feel like you have to stick to creating something you don’t like just because it’s a part of “your brand”. It’s probably healthiest to stop thinking of yourself as a brand.

Creativity likes flow, freedom, experimentation, messiness, and room to breathe. Creativity doesn’t like confinement, pressure, rigid expectations, commodification, and, um, capitalism. Don’t kill your creative process with branding. Don’t try to label and define something just as it’s trying to be born.

Let yourself fuck around. Start new projects and abandon them. Spend your time creating what you want rather than what you think the world wants from you. Don’t get stuck making the same thing over and over just because other people like it.

Art is not always straightforward, presentable, and easily consumable. Not everything you create has to be made for consumption. Not everything you create has to resonate with an audience. Art can exist for its own sake. You can make it just because you want to.

If you’ve been feeling pressure to create specific things in certain ways, if you’ve been feeling blocked, try doing something completely different. Step outside of the confines of what you normally make. Experiment. Don’t worry about how it will be received, and know that it doesn’t have to be received at all. Don’t worry about the final product. Allow yourself to get lost in the process and see what happens.

Non-Fiction

Someone’s Probably Laughing at Your Art

Close-up photo of a flower peeking out between two wooden slats in a fence. Pink filter over image. White text in the centre reads, "Yes, someone's probably laughing at your art." Handle @sage_pantony in white in bottom right corner.

Yes, someone’s probably laughing at your art.

Depending on the size of your audience, there may be multiple people laughing at it. Unless you’re a comedian, this probably doesn’t feel great.

I recently saw another poet talk about how devastated they were to find out their partner and his friends laughed at their poetry. Obviously, that’s cruel and messed up, and it’s going to hurt.

I assume that there are people who laugh at my writing. While I wouldn’t tolerate this from a partner, I expect it from strangers online. I’m sure some people follow me or look at my stuff just to make fun of it. If that’s what you get out of my work, well, I’m glad it makes you feel something at least. Making people laugh isn’t the worst thing.

This is the risk of putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable, and showing the world your art. This is the risk of being sincere about what you love.

Some people will laugh at your art. Some people will make fun of you, especially if you’re on the internet.

If you’re a lurker who laughs at my work, I wish you all the best. And if you’re an artist who’s worried about being made fun of, know that this happens to everyone. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at what you do. It doesn’t mean you should stop doing it. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put yourself out there.

As artists, we deal with all kinds of rejection. People mocking your art is a kind of rejection you may have to face. While we can’t change other people’s behaviour, we can choose how we respond. What works for me is to anticipate and accept that some people will laugh at my work and take that in stride.

Non-Fiction

Create What You Want to Create

Close-up photo of a blooming flower. Grass, sidewalk, and road in the background. Red filter over image. White text in the centre reads, "Let yourself create what you want to create." Handle @sage_pantony in white in bottom right corner.

Let yourself create what you want to create.

Your art can be anything.

It does not have to be serious. It does not have to be “real”.

Creating silly art for the sake of it is a gift you can give to yourself.

Creating silly art for the sake of it is a gift you can give to the world.

You are not meant to take your art so seriously that it drains you of joy.

Your desire to create is a gift you were given to bring more joy into your life.

Embrace the ridiculous. Make silly art. Don’t worry about what “counts”.

Respect your desire to create by allowing yourself to create whatever the hell you want.


For years, I thought I had to be a fiction writer to be a “real” writer. I don’t know why. I suppose I didn’t understand that creative non-fiction is a legitimate art form. I thought that I couldn’t just write about my life, I had to write about something interesting, something people would actually want to read. I didn’t think that the kind of writing that comes naturally to me, creative non-fiction and poetry, “counted” as real writing.

So, I wrote short stories. I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as writing creative non-fiction and poetry. I also wasn’t particularly good at it, but I persisted. If I was going to be a writer, then I needed to be a real, legitimate writer.

Then one day, I sat down at the computer and typed up an essay about the challenges I was facing trying to access hormone replacement therapy. All of the logistical and emotional details poured out of me. Writing that essay felt effortless, cathartic, and therapeutic, but I told myself that it wasn’t “real” writing and I needed to get back to my fiction the next day.

I ended up submitting that essay to an anthology that wanted to publish it. Years later, I included it in my zine about transitioning. I’m unable to recall most of the fiction I wrote years ago, but the creative non-fiction and poetry have stuck with me. Non-fiction has felt more meaningful, and even though I tried to push it away, I couldn’t stop writing it.

I have since learned that this thing I do where I write about my life is called creative non-fiction, many writers do it, and it’s a perfectly legitimate art form. It is creative, expansive, cathartic, therapeutic, vulnerable, brave, painful, and also ART.

These days, I write what I want. When I noticed I was writing more about kink, I went, okay, that’s a scary subject to tackle publicly, but I’m going to make a zine about it. When I found myself writing more poetry than prose, I embraced that. When I started to enjoy adding text to my photographs, I indulged in that too. I create because I am driven to. I believe it makes more sense to create what I want rather than what I think I should. Both I and my art are better off for it.

Poetry

I Like to Walk

Sidewalk and road at dusk going off in the distance to the left. Two lit streetlamps visible with connecting wires. Parts of two shadowy trees visible on either side of image. Sky contains some light pink which fades into a dark blue.

I like to walk through urban wastelands.
I like to walk where I won’t stumble upon anyone.
I like to walk where the grass is dead and the buildings are disused.
I like to walk past peeling billboards, abandoned advertisements.
I like to walk out of pedestrian-friendly zones, out of friendly zones.
I like to walk in areas only meant to be seen for seconds through a car window.
I like to walk where the aesthetics have never been considered nor cared for.
I like to walk where I’m not supposed to go.

I like to walk with music.
I like to walk all alone.
I like to walk out here in the open.

I like to walk at night after the joggers have returned from their flight.
I like to walk until the muscles in my legs twitch when I stop.
I like to walk where I can sit on the ground and type out a poem.
I like to walk where I won’t be given funny looks for writing a poem.
I like to walk until I am unimportant, unworthy of comment.
I like to walk through places that don’t matter as a person that doesn’t matter.
I like to walk where and when I won’t be seen.

I like to walk through urban wastelands.
I like to walk,
And I like to pause
Without holding anyone up,
Without drawing any attention.

I like to walk at dusk as the joggers are just finishing up.
I like to walk as the sun sets, as the heat follows it out of the pavement.
I like to walk where the ashplant is cracked, and there is no one around to complain.
I like to walk until I empty every last thought from my brain.
I like to walk to the bus shelters without waiting for the bus
Because I like to walk.
I like to walk.
I like to walk,
And often,
I wish I never had to stop.

Snippets

Cherry Pie

Photo of a cherry pie sitting on a cooling rack with the outline of a heart carved into its centre.
Photo by davidpwhelan.

Content note: this piece contains gory imagery symbolizing heartbreak.


It’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to start consuming. It’s easy for everything to become confusing. It’s easy to mistake typing for writing. It’s easy to forget how to write, but it’s just as easy to remember (in theory). I’m easy, some would say, yet my heart is locked away. I say I’ll date again when the pandemic ends and my date says if. I say I’ll lock my heart in an icy cold container for the winter and, if it feels right, let it out in the spring.

None of my recent romances have worked out. Last year, I wrote a poem about how we would keep each other warm for the winter. Aside from moving into an overheated house with no access to the thermostat, we absolutely did not do that.

I tried to fall in love twice last summer. I succeeded once and then had my heart cracked open over concrete. I ran inside just in time for my blood to spray across the walls and leak from the rapidly beating organ onto a floor that desperately needed retiling. I tried. I gave it my best. I really did.

For the past while, I’ve been jumping into bed with whoever spares me some attention. I jumped into bed with a boy who was not supposed to be a boyfriend. We made an agreement. Then a few months passed and he became a boyfriend. A few more and we moved in together. He hated going outside. My mother said that was a warning sign.

Like everyone else, I pay too much rent. I watch the world unravel out the window. I become a hyperventilating, vibrating creature. My heart continues beating, but it beats in the wrong ways. I am no longer human. Instead, I am fear, I am anxiety. I scroll through timelines and feel my guts churn. The world is burning, literally in some places. I cannot do anything. I cannot move. I share stories on Instagram, for all the good that will do. I follow the government’s orders and continue to stay inside. My heart breaks open, and I bake its juices into a cherry pie. No one will know what’s inside.

Wow, it’s so sweet! They’ll say. And there’s something else…

There’s

Something more substantial as well.

Semi-Fiction

You’re Cutting Out

Photo taken through a chain-link fence at night of dark water, a building, dam, light post, and dark sky.

We dropped—released the movie. We didn’t drop the movie. It’s not an album. Sorry, I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. I know it’s ridiculous, but you’re cutting out again. Sorry, what? I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. Oh, it’s probably my internet. My internet sucks. Is it my mic? It could be my mic. Is that louder? Is that softer? Is that muffled? Sometimes it sounds muffled. Yeah, so…we released the movie and it went well, but we have a lot to learn for next time. What will you do next time? Well—

Sorry, you’re cutting out.

…I realized they didn’t want to be my friends because I had to try so hard, and you shouldn’t have to try that hard with friends. Sorry, what? You’re cutting out again.

Over the last year, I learned who my friends really are.

Over the last year, I dove for my heart in the dumpster.

Over the last year, I—

What? Sorry, you’re cutting out.

Damn, really?

Okay, let me whisper something in your ear. There’s a trick to that in noisy places, you know. We’ll have to request they turn the music down though because your ear isn’t anywhere near me. You can message the host about that in the chat.

But…you cannot whisper.

Oh, why?

Because, and this is absurd, you’re cutting out again.

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, 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

Hello, Imposter Syndrome, Old Buddy, Old Pal

Picture of a tarnished silver frame on a wooden surface with the same image copied inside the frame, creating an image within an image.
Photo by PictureThis.

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.

So what? That isn’t going to stop me.

Non-Fiction

Where We Have Gone, Where We Are Going

Coniferous trees with mist around them. Dry pine needles and patches of snow on the ground.

“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.”

I published the essay Where Do We Go Now on January 15, 2019. I wrote it over the holidays while staying with my family, which might be why it includes references to my parents and young writer self. I was in a place to reflect back on everything that had come before while figuring out how to move into the future.

I like this essay, mostly. I think it says some important things. I wrote it in a passionate, charged haze. It was partially a response to a book I’d just read on creativity, as well as feeling stuck and uninspired writing short sci-fi and horror stories, which I’d done for the previous year-and-a-half. I was feeling bound in by those forms, not allowing myself to write what I wanted but focusing my energy on what I dubbed “real” writing, i.e. whatever I thought would be publishable and digestible. I figured poetry and personal essays, what I’ve always written, didn’t count. I’d bought into the “real writers write this, not that” bullshit.

Luckily, the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert got me out of this funk. Say what you will about Gilbert (I’m generally not a fan of hers), but reading that book was what I needed to get over myself. It helped me see that the lines I had drawn between “fake” and “real” writing were silly and unnecessary, blocks that were getting in the way of my drive to create.

I like this essay, mostly, though it does read as a little pretentious to me now. My writing over the past year has gotten more casual, more chilled out. I think that’s for the better. I think that piece was also strongly influenced by all of the science fiction I’d been writing. It has a vague kind of surrealism to it, especially with the use of the “we” pronoun. I suppose it was a transitional piece from speculative fiction to personal essay.

“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.”

When I wrote Where Do We Go Now at the beginning of this year, I had no idea about zines and the journey I would go on with them. I was just on the cusp of finding out. I think I had some vague sense that I just needed to follow my instincts and my next big project would emerge, and that’s exactly what happened.

I stumbled across Clementine Morrigan’s work again. I had read some of their stuff years ago and then lost track of them. I think Instagram recommended a post of hers, which prompted me to look them up again. I ended up on her website browsing through their zines. I purchased a few e-zines. One was about writing. I enthusiastically absorbed them late one winter night. I could write a zine, I thought. In February, I set to work on my first zine, One Year on T, a compilation of essays and poems about transitioning as a non-binary person. I published it in April.

Two zine fairs, three zines, over a dozen blog posts, more than a hundred poems, and pages upon pages of unedited freewriting later, we’re here in November. I have a clearer sense of where I’m going than I did in January, though nothing is concrete. I am still experimenting, exploring, searching, and questioning. I’m happy to have switched gears into writing whatever I want. I’m happy I chose to believe that what I love to write counts as “real” writing. I’m so, so happy I started writing zines. In Where Do We Go Now, I wrote about doing a poor job of managing my “archive” of previous work, of there being so many disparate, disorganized pieces and projects behind me. I apologized to whoever might eventually stumble over them. Well, that person ended up being me from the immediate future. For my first zine, I pulled together pieces I’d written about gender over a period of four years. For my second, I reviewed old journal entries I’d written at the ages of 17 and 22. For my third, to be published soon, I combed through everything I’d written in the period between finishing my first zine and now. Zine writing has made me the curator of my own work, work that would otherwise go stale and turn to dust in the dark. As a medium, zines have helped me to pull together, disentangle, and make sense of my otherwise disorderly of writing.

“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… 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.”

I’ve often struggled with the idea that “real” writers write books, and because I have never been able to finish writing a book I must not be a real writer. Listen, I know this is bullshit, but it’s bullshit that I’ve internalized, and so I’ve felt like a failure for not being able to do this. A book did not materialize out of this year, no, but a path towards one did. I don’t think I could ever write a book in the conventional way, from cover to cover, but I can write zines, and what is a zine but a small book? I could see myself writing a book the way that I learned to write zines this year, by curating my messy archive, by combing through and threading together my work.

“So long as we keep going, keep creating, I believe the path will become clearer with each step.”

So far this has held true, and so I will continue to trust that moving forward will clear away the fog on my path. This year is coming to a close and I will move into the next one with everything I have learned and created. I will move into the next one with poetry and essays and zines, with ideas and curiosity, and without oppressive rules. The future is still uncertain, the future is always uncertain, but I’m continuing to gather more tools to move into it with. I am committed to the practice of writing however that practice may change.

Like at the beginning of a traditional book (one I’ll never write), I would like to go into the next year by acknowledging who helped me get here. I would like to thank my mom for giving me Big Magic to read, which reignited a spark in me and convinced me to commit to writing every day. I would like to thank Clementine Morrigan for all of the work that they do, which is powerful, insightful, expansive, unapologetic, and endlessly inspiring. Thank you for introducing me to zines. I would like to thank my best friend for providing me with such thorough and useful feedback on my zines, assuring me that I could confidently put them out into the world. I would like to thank my partner for teaching me how to bind zines and spending a long day tabling with me at a fair without complaint. I would like to thank my mom again, and my nan, for always reading and commenting on my work even when no one else does. I would like to thank a friend I hosted a radio show with for doing a show on writing with me as well as giving me their copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, which deepened my writing practice. I would like to thank one of my friends for encouraging me to table at Queer Between the Covers, which was so worthwhile. I would like to thank Broken Pencil for nominating One Year on T for the 2019 Zine Awards and inviting me to table at Canzine. I would also like to thank everyone who has ever read or engaged with my work. As a mostly unknown writer, your comments and feedback mean a lot to me. It could be easy to feel like I’m putting stuff out to empty airwaves, but a number of supportive and encouraging people consistently remind me that’s not the case. As creators, we are not solely responsible for our work. We do not exist in isolation. We are propped up, inspired, assisted, driven, pushed, and supported by our communities. I owe so much to the communities of friends and creators I am a part of. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Here I am, at the close of another year and about to enter a new one. I cannot know what it will bring, exactly, but I suspect it will not be more of the same. It’s almost never more of the same, things change too much for that. The path is a little clearer now. I can see a few steps ahead. My footing is a little surer. I’ve had another year to learn to expect ground under my feet. I know I’m going to keep creating because, just like change, creativity is one of the only constants in my life. I intend to keep writing poetry, essays, and zines, but I am also open to other possibilities. I’m sure that other possibilities will enter my orbit in 2020, just as they did this year. So, here we go: moving because we cannot stop moving, choosing how to move rather than what to move towards, and feeling good about this direction.