Content note: this piece deals with addiction, abuse, and intergenerational trauma.
I wish my father a happy birthday. He tells me he’s drinking again, And that he hardly heard from anyone. I can only ever write poems about him.
Write back, he always says. His emails come quickly, contain hardly anything. Write back, he always says. Write back.
I have to come up with more to say, more that I can share. There are so few safe topics to choose from. He wants to see me. I don’t know if I can let him. Just a few years ago, seeing him on the street would send me reeling— Running, hiding, heart pounding, panic swelling. I don’t know if he ever saw me run away.
I don’t know how to write that fear into a poem, And perhaps this is where I fail as a poet.
I never thought I would speak to him again, Never expected to write to him. Five years of estrangement passed, And then I did. Something within me shifted. Words like abuser, monster, Jekyll, and Hyde Moved over to the side— Making room for Illness, sickness, and intergenerational trauma. It took five years for my fear to begin melting, For my anger to start eroding, Revealing layers and layers of fresh-cut Pain, Confusion, Compassion.
Write back, he always says. Get your brother to write to me, And write back. Write back. Write back.
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 gory imagery symbolizing heartbreak.
It’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to start consuming. It’s easy for everything to become confusing. It’s easy to mistake typing for writing. It’s easy to forget how to write, but it’s just as easy to remember (in theory). I’m easy, some would say, yet my heart is locked away. I say I’ll date again when the pandemic ends and my date says if. I say I’ll lock my heart in an icy cold container for the winter and, if it feels right, let it out in the spring.
None of my recent romances have worked out. Last year, I wrote a poem about how we would keep each other warm for the winter. Aside from moving into an overheated house with no access to the thermostat, we absolutely did not do that.
I tried to fall in love twice last summer. I succeeded once and then had my heart cracked open over concrete. I ran inside just in time for my blood to spray across the walls and leak from the rapidly beating organ onto a floor that desperately needed retiling. I tried. I gave it my best. I really did.
For the past while, I’ve been jumping into bed with whoever spares me some attention. I jumped into bed with a boy who was not supposed to be a boyfriend. We made an agreement. Then a few months passed and he became a boyfriend. A few more and we moved in together. He hated going outside. My mother said that was a warning sign.
Like everyone else, I pay too much rent. I watch the world unravel out the window. I become a hyperventilating, vibrating creature. My heart continues beating, but it beats in the wrong ways. I am no longer human. Instead, I am fear, I am anxiety. I scroll through timelines and feel my guts churn. The world is burning, literally in some places. I cannot do anything. I cannot move. I share stories on Instagram, for all the good that will do. I follow the government’s orders and continue to stay inside. My heart breaks open, and I bake its juices into a cherry pie. No one will know what’s inside.
Wow, it’s so sweet! They’ll say. And there’s something else…
We dropped—released the movie. We didn’t drop the movie. It’s not an album. Sorry, I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. I know it’s ridiculous, but you’re cutting out again. Sorry, what? I can’t hear you. You’re cutting out. Oh, it’s probably my internet. My internet sucks. Is it my mic? It could be my mic. Is that louder? Is that softer? Is that muffled? Sometimes it sounds muffled. Yeah, so…we released the movie and it went well, but we have a lot to learn for next time. What will you do next time? Well—
Sorry, you’re cutting out.
…I realized they didn’t want to be my friends because I had to try so hard, and you shouldn’t have to try that hard with friends. Sorry, what? You’re cutting out again.
Over the last year, I learned who my friends really are.
Over the last year, I dove for my heart in the dumpster.
Over the last year, I—
What? Sorry, you’re cutting out.
Okay, let me whisper something in your ear. There’s a trick to that in noisy places, you know. We’ll have to request they turn the music down though because your ear isn’t anywhere near me. You can message the host about that in the chat.
But…you cannot whisper.
Because, and this is absurd, you’re cutting out again.
I said goodbye to my home when I was fourteen. As I sat within its walls for the last time, I received a message. The magic of that place spoke up and told my scared and broken heart that everything would be all right. I left my home and have carried its message with me ever since. I’ve often wondered what it really means as things certainly don’t always feel all right. As I grow older, I seem to get closer to an answer. This poem is my attempt to unravel and examine this old message.
Not “everything will be all right” as in nothing bad will ever happen, but “Everything will be all right” as in your great-grandmother is watching.
As in you will have a roof over your head, even if that roof is always changing.
As in your support system will be small but strong.
As in the moon will provide for you.
As in the tarot will warn you.
As in the ground will lovingly hold you.
As in you always have your breath to come back to.
As in you will come further into the vastness of your queerness.
As in a stranger will find you crying alone in a laundry room.
As in you’ll be pushed far but somehow never past where your limits actually are.
As in there’s a mix of chaos and reason in everything.
As in you will always have your writing.
As in you will unfailingly hold the sacred right to question.
As in you will get yourself away from him.
As in you will do whatever you set your mind to.
As in you will build the life your young brain dreamed of.
As in horrible things will absolutely happen, and you will survive them.
As in you have been given this life for a reason.
As in you’ll live for as long as you’re meant to.
As in you’ll draw pentagrams on your body to protect you.
As in you’ll read books like your grandmother used to, like she wanted to.
As in you will certainly not get all that you want.
As in you will eventually have all that you need.
As in everything makes sense even if it’s not comprehensible.
Not “everything will be all right” as in nothing bad will ever happen, but “Everything will be all right” as in everything will be.
Content note: this piece contains abstract references to trauma.
Sometimes, you want to stay in the dark because the light is too much to take. Sometimes, you choose the dark. Sometimes, you say no to new information. Yes, even in the information age. Yes, even in the disinformation age. Sometimes, you say no. Sometimes, you go for solitary walks at night. Sometimes, you don’t respond to messages. Sometimes, you choose to be alone. Sometimes, you just don’t want to know.
You’re tired of knowing. You wish you could know less. You wish you could go back to knowing less because you know the regret of knowing. When given the option, the choice, sometimes you say no to more knowing. Sometimes, you say yes to the dark and you slide slowly into its embrace. It’s safer here. It’s quieter. It hurts less. You can tend to your scars here, rub the raised skin with lightly-scented oil. You don’t need any new gashes. Not yet, not now, maybe not ever.
Your friends may not understand. Aren’t you curious? They’ll ask. I’d be curious. I couldn’t stand not knowing.
I know enough to know I won’t be able to stand knowing more. I’ve known too much. I’ve known too much too young. I’ve had too much knowing. I want to unknow. I can’t do that, but I can say no to more. I can exit the conversation. I can leave the letter on the floor. I can put down the phone. I can go for a walk in the dark. I can fade into the peace of night. I can dwell in the peace of not knowing.
Please, let me stay here. Please, don’t share any more. I can’t take knowing more. And of what I have, I plan to… if not let it drain away, at least let it fade. Let it fade so it doesn’t hurt so much. I will always have this knowing, but I can choose, now, how much more to take and what to do with what I have.
Content note: this piece focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic.
I open a new tab to check the numbers. I open a new tab to check the numbers. It’s the morning, and I open a new tab to check the numbers. It’s the afternoon, and I open a new tab to check the numbers. It’s the evening, and I open a new tab to check the numbers.
This time, however, I close the tab before I can check the numbers. I close the tab because I am writing. I am writing. I am meant to be writing. I don’t need to check the numbers when I am writing. What bearing do the numbers have on the writing? None (but also a lot).
I open a new tab to check for a vaccine. I open a new tab to check for new restrictions. I open a new tab. I open a new tab.
How many hours have I spent opening a new tab? I open a new tab to check.