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.
I wrote in this post that I would be making some changes to my online presence and some announcements down the road. Well, we’ve arrived at the announcement portion of the road!
Firstly, I am not abandoning this blog. I will still be here. I will still post sometimes, though likely not as frequently as before. If you’re looking to stay updated on what I’m doing and are interested in snippets of my writing, I’ll still be pretty active on social media. Feel free to follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
Okay, on to the announcement: I’m launching a Patreon page! This page exists as a way to support my writing. I’ve previously made most of my work available for free. I’ll still be doing this with snippets and shorter pieces. However, it’s not sustainable in the long-term for me to make the majority of my long-form writing available for free. Most of my time has been going into maintaining this blog, which I’ve enjoyed doing, but it’s time to transition to something else. I will be changing careers and moving to a new city in a couple of months, so it feels like the right time to change this up too.
On Patreon, all patrons will have access to the patron-only activity feed, which includes works in progress, exclusive pieces of writing, updates, details about my process, other bonus content, and access to digital copies of my zines and poetry chapbooks. There is one higher tier where patrons can also receive three printed zines of their choosing in the mail.
If you’re not able to support me on Patreon, no worries at all! I’ll still be sharing some of my writing here and on social media so please stick around for that. Thank you for supporting my work so far. My platform is small, but I love knowing there are people out there who enjoy my writing.
I’m excited about these next steps. I’m excited to launch this Patreon, move somewhere new, and change up my lifestyle. I’ll be sharing more details about these changes as they come. Like many of us, I’ve been stuck inside for well over a year and life has felt rather stagnant, so it’s exhilarating (and a little daunting) to have all of this change on the horizon. All I know for sure is that I plan to keep writing. The future feels bright for the first time in a while. There are no guarantees, but I’m full of hope.
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.
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.
People always ask me, “Sage, how is it that you have so skillfully refined the art of avoiding writing?” I tell them there is no one simple answer, no quick fix. There’s a lot of little answers, a whole variety of distractions that make up the whole. You have to practice, do a little every day. This is an honest answer, but I recognize it isn’t all that satisfying. That’s why I have decided to compile this list of tips, showing you fifty different things I do in order to avoid writing. I believe that you too, with enough practice, can avoid ever getting any writing done. Don’t expect to get there overnight. It has taken me years to learn how to properly avoid writing. Years. Take it one step at a time. Don’t give up. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. With guidance from mentors like me and enough dedication, you too can basically never write again.
Please enjoy this list and don’t forget to preorder my e-book, which will be coming to a virtual shelf near you this fall. It will be completely blank.
50 Ways to Avoid Writing
Check Discord. Oh, what was that, a notification? Better check again.
Open Instagram to look for a NaPoWriMo prompt and immediately forget why you opened it.
Build a brand.
See what’s trending on Twitter.
Call your doctor. Get the busy signal. Rinse and repeat.
Do the dishes! There are three dishes, ya’d better do ’em!
Read a novel. Read another.
Play some music to help you focus. No, not that music. Find another playlist. Find another platform. Turn the music off, it’s too distracting. Now it’s too quiet.
Go get a tissue.
Refill your cup of coffee.
Go make some breakfast!
Get a snack. Eat that snack. You can’t write while you’re eating a snack, but you should do something to entertain you and your snack. Open youtube.com.
Get invested in someone else’s drama.
Experience your own drama! Oh no! Ah! (This is ideal as it will prevent you from writing for quite some time).
Google the lyrics for the song you heard yesterday in the convenience store.
Think about how you’ve been using commas wrong for twenty-eight years.
Stare at your blank word doc. Open another tab.
Curl up into a ball on your couch and start crying because the world’s been like this for over a year and you’re tired.
Take some nudes.
Check how many likes your post got. Check again in twenty minutes.
Reread the DM someone sent you three weeks ago shaming you over your writing.
Overly censor yourself. Think about all the different things people could yell at you about. Nitpick your own writing before the call-outs can. Try to get ahead of them.
Remember what it was like to write on trains when you used to ride trains. Think about riding trains again.
Shame yourself for not having published a book yet. Think about how you’ll be thirty in two years. WEEP.
Update your profile, doesn’t matter which one.
Go for a walk. Bring your notebook with you but call your friend to hear the latest gossip instead of write in it.
Ask yourself if perhaps the well is empty.
Allow yourself to relax for once. Take a day off.
Look at the NAKED TREES out the window.
Treat yourself like a machine but forget to oil yourself.
Remember visiting your ex in a cafe and the frothy yellow drink you ordered that he found off-putting. Try to recall the details of your conversation.
Drink some mushroom tea.
Have a little cry about it.
Notice that your friend has left his watch on your mantle.
Remind yourself to write about something other than your childhood.
Light two candles, one for the goddess and one for the god.
Listen to a podcast about cancel culture and get worked up about it.
Wonder when the pandemic will end. Wonder again.
Reach out to a new therapist and ask to be added to their waitlist.
Remember the shitty breakup you went through six months ago.
Feel the barometer change in your head. Ask yourself what to feel instead.
Close your eyes and hear all of the sounds around you. Pull them into pieces.
Read your friend’s thesis.
Think about moving to Montreal. Make a plan. Learn French on Duolingo.
Look at the fog outside the window. Think about how it’s foggy out there and lonely in here.
Ask yourself if this year of lockdowns means you’ve run out of things to write about.
Remember that you have to finish doing your taxes.
Hop in the shower.
Pick up your phone.
Write a list. Ask yourself if that counts. Ask yourself what it means to count.
Content note: this piece contains ableist language, discussion of childhood trauma, self-worth, and verbal abuse.
A question that I constantly grapple with is:
How can I be a responsible writer?
I create a lot of work that is raw and personal. I open up. I express myself. I also get nervous about the ways I express myself. I frequently question my self-expression.
How do I express myself openly and honestly while also remaining responsible and aware of how my words can affect other people? How do I strike that balance between realness and consideration for others? How do I remain considerate while simultaneously not overly censoring myself?
I feel sometimes that I lean towards self-censorship too heavily.
Let me explain. I want to be a responsible creator. I want to express myself while also being considerate of other people’s experiences, not causing harm, and not perpetuating ignorance or oppression. I want to speak to the ways in which I experience oppression and privilege, and all other things. I want to explore the complicated tangle of everything. I want to be honest and raw and real without crossing a line into being ignorant or harmful. But the reality is, I’m a flawed human being. I don’t know everything. There are many ways in which I experience privilege. I strive to be aware of all of them, to understand the perspectives of those who don’t experience the same privileges as I, and to check these privileges at the door. To paraphrase sociologist Michael Kimmel, the insidious nature of privilege is that you often aren’t aware that you have it, or of the extent to which you have it. Unless someone points it out or we go out of our way to learn, our privileges can often remain invisible to us. The dynamics of power and oppression are built into the foundations of society and internalized by us in deep, unconscious ways and it takes ongoing effort to root all of that out.
This work is something I am committed to. It is also always ongoing, which means there will always be more to learn and ways in which I am ignorant. I’m learning and people who are learning screw up. People who are learning miss things, make mistakes, stumble, go slow, doubt themselves, have revelations, get confused, feel overwhelmed, forget, but ultimately keep going. People who are learning can be wrong and can cause harm. People who are learning must remain humble, take their egos out of play, and be open to having their perspectives challenged.
I remind myself of this often as I create. I will screw up. I must remain humble. I have to keep learning.
Fucking up is human. It is inevitable. I know this and yet I am absolutely terrified of it.
A lot has come out recently about “call out” or “cancel” culture in leftist communities. I won’t dive into this messy conversation in this piece because I think there’s plenty better suited to the task and I’m actually looking to explore an adjacent issue here. If you’re interested in critiques of callout/cancel culture, Kai Cheng Thom has written some fantastic stuff on this topic that I would recommend.
I have never been “cancelled”. I’ve never had the following for that. I have been called out, often rightly so, and sometimes… questionably so. As someone who has shared their creations online for several years, I have seen people read things into what I’ve made that I did not put there. I have been accused of making arguments I’ve never made and of believing things I’ve never believed. There have been instances where I’ve felt like my work has been examined under a microscope in the worst possible light, like people have scanned it looking for flaws, imperfections, and potentially problematic aspects without taking it in as a whole, without recognizing that I am a whole, that the person whose work they are about to tear to shreds is a human being capable of feeling things. When this happens, it can be scary. This is in part because my work is often very honest and raw and I already feel vulnerable putting it out there. It’s scary to watch someone pick up that vulnerability and use it as a weapon, aiming it back at me. It’s scary because with that vulnerability, I’ve given them the tools to hurt me. This is especially true when the jump is made from “you’ve said something problematic or ignorant here” to “you are a problematic, ignorant, or bad person”. People can look at my work, which reflects who I am as a person, say that something about it is bad and therefore I am bad.
I’ve also watched this happen to creators I admire on a much larger scale, where thousands of people go from critiquing their ideas to calling for them to be de-platformed, cancelled, or disposed of. I’ve seen critiques of creations turn into attacks on the creators themselves. I’ve seen people’s work be willfully misrepresented, taken out of context, and examined in the worst possible ways. This makes me want to hide. It makes me want to get off social media. It makes me want to stop writing.
It makes me want to silence myself.
I believe that we need to hold each other accountable, but I think that needs to come from a place of helping each other to learn, grow, and do better rather than one-upping, attacking, and disposing of each other. There are exceptions to this. Sometimes, people are genuinely dangerous and not open to learning. I also don’t believe that marginalized people are responsible for gently educating the people who oppress them, but that’s where allies need to step in and step up. Anyway, this stuff has all been written about before. Like I said, this is not a piece specifically about call out or cancel culture, though these things do factor into how I feel, there’s stuff going on with me internally that I want to explore.
I’m traumatized and mentally ill. I’m in therapy, and this week, my homework is all about looking at “stuck points”. Stuck points are strong beliefs about self, others, or the world that develop as a result of trauma and are not particularly accurate. Part of the work I need to do to heal is to identify and unlearn my stuck points.
When I was four years old, I was joking around with my friends about their dog and called the dog “stupid”. They responded by yelling at me that he wasn’t stupid and that I shouldn’t have said that. I ran upstairs in a flurry of tears and panic. I found my mother and begged her to punish me. I told her that I had done something bad, that I was a horrible person, and that I deserved to be punished. She calmed me down enough to find out what had actually happened. I told her. She refused to punish me, just said I should apologize to my friends and that I wasn’t a bad person. I was surprised to learn this. In my head, having done something wrong and being a horrible person who deserved punishment were the same thing.
I want to say that I have grown beyond that little kid who ran to their mother claiming to be bad and asking to be punished, but that hurt and scared child still exists within me. One of my stuck points, a major one I’ve carried for most of my life, is that I am a bad person. I know, rationally, that this isn’t true, but there is a less rational part of me that holds this belief as though it’s a core aspect of my identity. Accepting criticism and navigating conflict can be very difficult for me. Hearing that I’ve done something wrong immediately makes me think that I am wrong, I am bad, and I deserve to be hurt, punished, or thrown away.
In therapy, I learned that criticism is so scary for me because of my trauma, because I was exposed to belittling, dehumanizing criticism at a very young age. My therapist said there are two types of criticism: 1) “here’s what’s wrong with this and how it could be improved” and 2) “this is a piece of shit”. As a child, I became intimately acquainted with the “this is a piece of shit” form of criticism, so that’s what I hear every time I’m criticized, that I am a piece of shit, and it’s scary. This is something I need to unlearn.
I have a hard time differentiating between constructive criticism and shit-talking criticism.
All criticism feels scary because it all calls my self-worth into question.
I can get really defensive because my brain thinks that accepting the (often valid) critiques of my behaviour means I must also accept that I am bad, worthless, and deserving of punishment. Sometimes, the people critiquing my work are also saying these things about me, which sucks. Often, however, people are not adding that cruel baggage onto their critiques. It’s me who does that.
I can’t control how other people respond to me. I can’t make people who are being cruel be kind. I can’t do much to change the broader culture around “shit-talking” criticism from my tiny platform, aside from refuse to engage in it and focus on constructive critiques of ideas instead. What I can do, however, is work on unlearning the stuck point that tells me that I am bad. If I do this, a few things will happen. One is that I will be able to stand my ground and stand up for myself in situations where people are hurting me. I will no longer gaslight myself, apologize profusely, and beg for forgiveness or punishment. The other is that I will become much better at accepting valid criticism. If accepting critiques of my behaviour or words does not mean having to accept that I am fundamentally bad, if it no longer leaves me feeling panic-stricken, I will be in a much better place to actually respond to valid criticism.
If I can heal from my traumatic childhood experiences with criticism, I can respond better when I cause harm. If I make the shift from “I am fundamentally bad” to “I am fundamentally good,” then fucking up and getting called out isn’t going to be the end of the world. Cause, right now, with the way I am, I don’t think I would survive being cancelled. And that’s going to become a problem if I keep creating and putting my work out there. I am going to be criticized. I need to be able to identify valid, constructive criticism from shit-talking criticism. I need to be able to protect myself and feel fundamentally secure in my basic goodness when people project their shit onto me. I am going to need to be able to hear, process, and accept valid criticism when I screw up, stumble, or act from a place of ignorance. I need to be the mother to the little kid who runs up the stairs claiming to be worthless and begging to be punished. I need to hold their hand, tell them they are not bad and deserving of punishment. I need to tell them to turn around, go back downstairs, listen to the people they’ve hurt, apologize, and try to do better, all without any self-flagellation, all while being secure in the knowledge that they have inherent worth and nothing will change that.
All of these things will help me to better respond to criticism and hold myself accountable, to be the responsible creator I want to be.
Being a responsible creator is not just about striving to do no harm, but correcting the harm you have caused without spiralling into shame and self-abuse, without making it all about you.
I believe we need to have a two-pronged approach to address these issues. The first is to address the issues with how we treat each other in our communities, the social side of things. The second is to address our own baggage. What is your history with receiving criticism? How do you code and respond to it? What about that might need some work? If we do this internal work, that can also help us to navigate the work that needs to be done in our communities.
Does your trauma affect how you receive criticism? Does it impact how you dish our criticism? Have you ever projected your trauma onto someone else? What did that look like? I think these are important questions for all of us, and they are questions I will continue to ask myself in my life and on my path to figuring out how to be a responsible creator.
“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.
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?