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.
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.
Content note: this piece is about the COVID-19 pandemic.
I walk up to the hospital. There’s a line with a sign that says “COVID VACCINES”. I get in it. A woman lines up behind me and starts coughing. I inch forward. A nurse hands me a medical mask. “You can take off your mask and put this on or put this on over yours”. I put it on over. The mask I wore already has two layers and a filter, so now I have four layers of mask. It slides into my eyes. I fix it. It slides into my eyes again. I am ushered into a foyer, and a nurse with a mask and face shield screens me for the first time. I have to ask her to repeat herself. It’s loud with all the people milling about, and I can seldom hear anyone who wears a mask. “Has anyone in your household been ordered to self-isolate?” I lean my ear towards her, unable to maintain social distancing and our conversation. After a bit of repetition, we settle that my answers to all her questions are no. I am ushered forward again and told to follow the pink dots.
I am grateful for the pink dots because it’s overwhelming inside with nurses, doctors, admin staff, and patients everywhere. I am no longer used to being in places so full of people. I’m thankful for the double masks. I follow the pink dots and am told to stand on a circle. “No, not that circle, stand on the circle at the end”. I walk towards the circle at the end when someone with a tablet beckons me over. Sorry, circle, not today. I hold out my health card, and they do not take it. They don’t take anything from you these days. My details are read off the card and typed into the tablet, and I am screened once again. Then they ask, “Why are you getting the vaccine?” I wasn’t expecting this question. Why are any of us getting the vaccine? Not sure of the appropriate response, I just say “Work”. I give them the name of my agency.
I am told which door to go through. I have no autonomy. I’ve become compliant, turned into putty. Another nurse asks me to stand on another circle. Someone else is told off for standing on the wrong circle. I enter the doctor room. Their names are posted on each tiny cubicle. Dr. This, Dr. That. I see an older woman getting vaccinated. A doctor is explaining to her that the vaccine is not a substitute for social distancing. I follow the line and move to a new circle because it seems to make sense, hoping I’m not doing it wrong. Everyone is terribly close together, but there are screens everywhere to prevent virus particles from floating into mouths and eyeballs. I am sent to cubicle six. My doctor’s name is John. I feel a sense of familiarity, like I’m always encountering doctors named John, though I don’t think this is actually the case.
I sit down and neither of us speak. He is looking at his tablet. He asks for my name, and I tell him it’s spelled with an I. I’m screened for the third time. I still don’t have any COVID symptoms. I am told that this is not a substitute for social distancing and wearing masks. I tell him I understand. I get the evil eye because I am a young person. I swear, Doctor, I’ve been good! Doctor, doctor, I have an anxiety disorder. I’m a hypochondriac. Trust me, I’ve been good! I am given a choice of arms and sacrifice the left one. “Do you consent to the vaccine?” “Yes”. God, yes. It’s quick, painless. “Well, that’s it, you’ve been vaccinated.” “Thank you!” “Go over there. You will have to wait for fifteen minutes to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction.”
I am directed to a hallway where people are lined up and waiting on chairs between screens. They print out my ticket and tell me I am allowed to leave at 12:21. I hear the nurses tell others that they can validate their parking at the welcome desk. I left my ticket in the car. Damn.
When allowed, I exit the hospital with a little more autonomy (though not a lot). I use sanitizer before I leave. I’m not protected just yet. I get in my car and begin the hardest part of my journey. I don’t go back in to validate my parking because I believe that would disrupt the order of things. Just a few people out of place in there could throw everything into chaos, and then I may end up on the news: Local vaccinations stalled by careless redhead over parking dispute. The person in the car in front of me struggles with the parking meter, but eventually, the bar rises and they are free.
I drive into place. The person ahead of me left their ticket in the machine. For some reason, I pull it out and try to put it back in. Then I try with my ticket. Then I try with theirs again. Then mine. There’s a car behind me. I realize then that the machine is telling me to stop putting the tickets in upside down. I put in their ticket again. It tells me it’s already been used. Duh. I put mine in again. It says I owe six dollars. We’re getting somewhere. I pull out my credit card and tap to pay on the contactless “tap to pay” spot. It beeps. Nothing happens. The car behind me pulls into the other lane, pays, and leaves, which I am grateful for. I don’t need a sustained witness. I tap my card about six more times. I begin tapping my card all over the meter. Sometimes it beeps, sometimes it doesn’t, but otherwise, nothing happens. I will die here.
I have to call for help. I press the green “call for help” button. A voice answers.
“Hi, um, I’m trying to pay with my credit card, and it isn’t working”.
“Have you tried putting it inside the machine?”
“Like where the ticket goes?”
Thank goodness there were no other witnesses.
“Thank you!” I say. They hang up.
It accepts my payment, and I leave. As I roll out of the parking lot, I say to myself, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. Not the vaccination, just the parking.
I was impressed with how well-organized and efficient they were, like a well-oiled machine, easily able to handle my chaos. If the hardest thing about getting vaccinated is leaving the parking lot, that means they’re doing something right. Thank you to all the frontline workers, the nurses, doctors, screeners, and admin staff, for working long and hard all year to protect fools like me. Your services are essential and greatly appreciated.
Content note: this piece discusses alcohol consumption, binge drinking, intoxication, and trauma. It also briefly describes sexual assault.
I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink except when I do. Throughout my twenties, drinking gradually evolved from an enjoyable activity to one I’m rather afraid of. There have been too many nights where I lost control, too many days lost to hangovers, and so many apologies that I’ve lost track. When a night went well, people told me I was fun and funny and crazy, the life of the party. I miss being able to be that person. When a night didn’t go well, people told me I was crying and yelling and crazy, that I’d killed the party. I don’t miss that and am afraid of becoming that person again.
I was drunk when I yelled at my friend about her girlfriend who sat listening in the other room.
I was drunk when I threw myself out of a cab and into a snowbank.
I was drunk when I hurled nonsensical accusations at my boyfriend. I was drunk when he carried me home.
I was drunk after sneaking shots of Irish whiskey away from my friends in-between the shots of vodka we were doing together. I was drunk when they carried me crying through the streets with my strapless dress hanging around my waist. I was still drunk hours later when I woke up in my bed after blacking out and asked if they still wanted to party. I was drunk when they told me I had killed the party.
I was drunk when I tried to leave and he pulled me onto the floor, ran his hands over my body, and whispered his repulsive desires into my ear. I was drunk when I went still and silent, when I needed to spring into action, to fight and to run. I was drunk when I shoved my elbow into his gut, releasing his hold on me, and fucking ran, ran, ran.
I was drunk when I broke my best friend’s laundry basket and puked on his dorm’s bathroom floor. I was drunk when I tried to clean it up with my socks, and he told me the biohazard people would have to come. I was drunk as I imagined that scene from E.T. with horror: people in head-to-toe gear storming in, taking over.
I was drunk when an angel found me crying alone in a laundry room. I was drunk when she introduced me to her friends and took me out for the night.
I was drunk on prosecco on my champagne birthday when I stood up on a chair and made announcements to the surprising number of people who liked me enough to attend.
I was drunk on red wine in your bathtub when we poured it into the water and watched it turn a cloudy grey.
I was drunk on hard liquor on New Year’s Eve when I calmly and carefully made myself throw up in the toilet and then came back downstairs for snacks…and more liquor.
I was drunk and standing by myself in a bar while tears crept silently down my face. I was drunk when you asked me what was wrong and told me it’s okay, wine makes you cry for no reason too.
I was drunk when a little voice inside my head whispered that it wanted more, more, more. It never wanted this to stop. It wanted to feel powerful and brave and invincible forever.
I was drunk when I told you I loved you and made you cry.
I was drunk when I ran out of your house in socks and a t-shirt in the middle of February, and you had to chase me down the street.
I was drunk when you found me hiding in a stairwell, when I was a scared and needy puddle. I was drunk, and I wanted you to look for me.
I was drunk when I splattered glow stick goo all over your basement, ripped down your curtain rod, and then smoked a cigarette while sitting on your floor. I was drunk when I held my friend’s hand and took her to the bathroom to clean the blood off of her feet. I was drunk when I ran the three of us a bath, and you threw up in the toilet. We were drunk when we put you to bed soaking wet in the freezing cold glowstick room after laying an unopened sleeping bag on top of you.
I was drunk on the half-empty bottle of vodka and orange juice I held in my hand as we sat on the swings and flew. I was drunk and full of the future.
I was drunk when I stripped naked next to the fire, when you laughed and said my name before we all dove into the lake. I was still drunk when I joined the others hotboxing in a tent even though weed fucks me up, and I don’t like it. I was drunk, and then I was crossfaded, sick, disoriented.
I was drunk and full of possibility when I ran out of the house, called your name, and then held your hand and said goodbye.
I have a strained relationship with alcohol. It’s not all good nor bad. It’s not cut and dry (heh). I go through periods of sobriety. I go through periods where I drink cautiously. Occasionally, I lose control, the alcohol imp in me waking after a few drinks and driving me to have more, more, more…
When I drink, I awaken my fun side. I awaken my wild side. I awaken my no fucks given side. I awaken my destructive side.
Over the years, I’ve learned that vodka and trauma make a terrible mixed drink.
I guess you could say I practice harm reduction when it comes to alcohol. I mostly avoid it, and when I drink, I tend to do so cautiously. So cautiously that I rarely let myself get drunk, as that’s usually when I lose control of my behaviour and how much I consume. I also get wicked hangovers after just a couple of drinks these days, which makes it feel not particularly worth it anymore. I don’t miss the hangovers. I don’t miss drinking most of the time. I do miss the person it allowed me to become sometimes: fun, bold, adventurous, wild, and free. I don’t miss the person it brought out at others: angry, sad, destructive, tactless, and self-loathing.
I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink except when I do. That glass of wine you put in my hand? It makes me nervous. It can also make me fearless, spontaneous, reckless…
Drinking enhances and exaggerates whoever I am, whatever I’m carrying inside. There are days when I have a beer and all it does is make me feel sad and hopeless and vaguely nauseous. There are days when I have a beer and it makes me feel lighter, looser, and more carefree. I can’t predict what the next drink will bring out. I can’t predict who I will be.
It’s not all bad, so I don’t cut off all contact. It’s not all good either, so I’m wary of our interactions. I’m not sober, but I don’t really drink either. I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I wish I didn’t. I wish it was simpler. I wish I could go back to when drinking was fun and exciting instead of fraught and disconcerting. I wish I hadn’t inherited this perilous relationship with alcohol that goes back generations in my family. I wish it was simpler, but it’s not.
I have a strained relationship with alcohol. I don’t really drink anymore. Oh, except when I do.
Content note: the following piece contains descriptions of drinking and intoxication.
We arrive at the hostel, unpack our things, and head to the bar. We’ve been travelling all day and have steam to blow off. My companion and I open the menus and are met with a variety of overpriced cocktails. We each order something pink and settle into our booth. Time passes in a haze of sickly sweet drinks and strong beer because for some unholy reason, we’re going between the two each round. I keep pace with my friend. Not a great decision.
We lose our seats, and the bar becomes standing room only. We end up in a corner with a man whose breath I can smell from three feet away. He’s interested in my friend and mostly ignores me. I’m pretty into tea at this point in my life, working for a tea shop back home. The topic of conversation turns to tea and my boredom lifts for a moment. I begin talking about the magical powers of certain brews. The man cuts me off by saying, “I don’t get tea. It’s just barely-flavoured warm water”. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom.
I return to the bar, but I don’t go back to my friend and the man. The man is irritating, and I don’t want to spend the rest of the night standing to the side while I watch them flirt. At this point, I’ve had way too much to drink. Two of our roommates, who we’d met earlier that day, arrive at the bar and say hello. One asks why I’m crying.
“Oh,” I touch my face and find the tears, “…I don’t know”.
“It’s okay,” my roommate says, “sometimes I drink too much wine and start crying for no reason”.
I excuse myself. I’m feeling the tears now. I leave the bar and climb the stairs that lead back to our shared room. I get to the door and can hear voices inside. Wanting to be alone, I walk back down the hallway and find an open door. I enter an unused laundry room and sit down on one of the benches. I’m at the far end of the rectangular room and can see all of the unused washers and dryers sitting in shadow. I do what any drunk eighteen-year-old far from home for the first time who has just had their passion rejected by some tea-hating man would do: I begin sobbing. Heaving, gut-wrenching sobs. In my mind, I’m all alone in this laundry room without a door and am able to privately express how I feel. I’m also not cognizant of the volume of my feelings.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a man fills the doorway, his arms raised and hanging onto the top of the frame. I go silent. He looks terrified.
“Are you okay?” He asks.
I nod my head, in shock. I had left the hostel behind and ridden the waves of intoxicated emotional despair, and this man’s arrival has unceremoniously snapped me back to reality.
He disappears, clearly unequipped to deal with the mess that is me. I descend back into tears, expecting to be left alone for good, but before I can get in too deep, my saviour appears.
She floats in on a cloud of glitter and light. Long arms wrap around me, and I am struck by a vision of blonde hair and perfect makeup. She looks like the kind of girl who would have bullied me in high school, but here and now, she is my guardian angel. She murmurs words of comfort such as sweet and baby and it’ll be okay. Transfixed, I go quiet and compliant. She asks for my name, and I give it. She asks what’s wrong. I tell her I don’t know.
“You know what you need? A little mascara. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just put on some mascara, and it makes me feel so much better.”
She takes me by the hand and leads me back downstairs to the bathroom by the bar.
At this point, the bathroom is full of women in various states of intoxication, and all of them are friends. The angel unleashes compliments on them and her mascara brush on me. I silently take in my surroundings. She applies the mascara and rubs something on my face. I trust her completely.
“What do you think?” She asks.
She turns me towards a mirror. My face has been transformed. I’d expected to see blotchy redness from the crying, but the concealer has taken care of that. My eyes look big and beautiful, not bloodshot. She is a magician, doing with makeup in five minutes something I’d never managed with far more time. I look fucking pretty.
I thank her and we reenter the bar. She buys me a drink because I clearly need another. She introduces me to her boyfriend, and it turns out she’s friends with my two roommates from earlier as well as the man I’d seen in the laundry room doorway.
“We’re gonna go dancing. Do you want to go dancing?”
“Yes!” I say, “But I have to find my friend first”.
I go back to the corner of the bar where my travel companion is still talking to the man who just doesn’t get tea.
“Oh, there you are!” She exclaims.
I reach for her hand. “I made friends, and we’re going dancing”.
She bids the man a quick goodbye and follows me.
Our group bursts onto the street. The angel, her boyfriend, our two roommates, the man from the doorway, my friend, and a short man I haven’t been introduced to. It’s a chilly night in Munich, and the air is enlivening. The angel leads us to a club. On the way there, we come across a fountain shooting water out of the ground in several places. Despite the temperature, I run through its icy jet sprays. The short man joins me, and we leap about and laugh together.
We arrive at the club and wait in line for a long time, only to be turned away for having too many men and not being attractive enough. The angel and her boyfriend are the only ones allowed in. The rest of us make our return to the hostel, but not before a quick diversion into the subway to look for a bathroom. We roam through the twisting tunnels with our riotous voices echoing off the walls. There are no bathrooms in sight. Eventually, one of my roommates finds a seemingly abandoned, narrow hallway and pops a squat while I stand guard. I have to pee too but don’t want to risk arrest in a foreign country.
We arrive back at the bar and luckily for us, the party is still going strong. Our group, multiplying upon arrival with friends of friends, fills up a large table. Pitchers of beer are ordered. The short man sits next to me, and I ask him where he’s from. He says Toronto, which isn’t particularly exciting as it’s only a few hours from where I grew up. My friend disappears with a tall Australian man who is exactly her type. I notice I’ve put my hand on the short man’s leg and before I know it, we’re making out. My friend comes back after her brief interlude. The tea-hating man from earlier sits down at our table and starts hitting on her aggressively, but this time she tells him he has bad breath. I consider saying that tea could help with that but decide to leave him alone. We continue to drink too much beer until the bar closes and then we’re off to bed. We don’t bring any men with us, being too tired and too drunk. We collapse onto our bunks, foregoing the necessary water drinking after such a bender. I’m not thinking about it yet (I’m not thinking about anything), but the next morning is going to be rough when the cleaner arrives, throws the curtain open, and yells at us for lying in.
This took place almost ten years ago when I was just eighteen. I still think about that rollercoaster of a night and the magic imbued within it. There’s something beautiful about making friends with a bunch of strangers for a single night of adventure. As someone who’s pretty introverted, these nights are rare occasions for me, which makes them feel even more special. I’m not currently living in a world where doing something like this is even possible, but when it is again, I hope to ride the magic of another night like this, with angels, mascara, fountains, friends, and all.
“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.
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?