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.
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.
Content note: this piece contains casual mentions of apocalypse, death, and a lack of overall meaning.
I did a reading the other night. I was sandwiched between authors who spun stories and poetry full of metaphor, who spoke words layered with meaning, who filled the room with depth and imagery. I got up and read my plain language piece: here is something that happened to me and how I felt about it. I sat back down.
Self-consciousness arose with the question: am I even a writer?
Hello, imposter syndrome, old buddy, old pal. How have you been?
The webs I weave with my words aren’t complex or layered. I am direct. I say what I mean. I’ve always struggled to get into writing that has more substance than that. I don’t read between the lines and so I don’t write between the lines either. It’s not that I think my way is better or worse, it’s just what comes naturally.
Some people tell me that they like that. They say it’s easy to digest, accessible. Simple, direct language that allows them to dive into the content of what is being said. My writing does the job of delivery quickly.
It’s also not for everyone. I know there are some who see my work as novice, childish, indulgent, or one-dimensional. Maybe they’re right. That’s okay with me, actually. I’m writing to express, not writing to please.
Occasionally, something I’m working on develops depth without my conscious intent and I think, “Oh, look, I’ve done it! There are multiple ways to read this. It has L a Y e R s”. It’s exciting when that happens, but I can’t force it. Forcing makes it come out sounding hollow and pretentious. I may create something “wrapped in meaning,” but there’s no meat in the center, the center remains empty. It’s better, I believe, to write the meat first and see if any layers follow. Sometimes they don’t and that’s okay too.
Whenever imposter syndrome rears its head, I try to answer with, “So what?”
“Am I even a writer?”
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, but so what?”
“Am I a bad writer?”
“Maybe, but so what?”
“Is my writing overly simplistic, straightforward, and lacking in depth?”
“Maybe it is, but again, so fucking what?”
As far as I know, I have just this one life. I don’t know what will happen after I die and I also don’t know whether everything I create will be destroyed in an apocalypse in the near future. In the grand scheme of the universe, everything is temporary and nothing really matters. I know I am alive now and I like to write, so I write. It feels good. It’s therapeutic. It helps me to express what I otherwise find difficulty expressing. It helps me to articulate my own existence. It helps me to connect with others. So what if it isn’t worthy of awards, honorariums, or acclaimed publication? So fucking what? That’s not the point.
Anyone writing for the sole purpose of accruing money or fame is in the wrong line of work. Chances are good that writing won’t pay your bills, and people are more likely to make fun of you than hand you accolades. Trying to write the next great novel? Try writing a novel first. It’s hard.
Writing makes you vulnerable. You don’t necessarily need to be writing the way that I do, either, where I intentionally lay myself bare to the world. Creating is a vulnerable process, one that involves speaking to experiences and feelings we often keep hidden from the wider world. It can result in rejection, misunderstanding, or a lack of recognition (i.e. enthusiastically putting your creations out into a world full of people who couldn’t care less about it). It can also result in connection and that can be really powerful. One of the best pieces of feedback you can receive as a writer, I have found, is “I’ve felt that way too”. I measure the “success” of my work in relation to that sense of connection more than anything else.
For me, writing is a process of learning how to articulate my lower-case “t” truths. Who am I today? What am I experiencing? What do I think? What do I feel? How am I navigating this broken, bizarre, beautiful world? How am I like you? How am I unlike you?
My truths tend to come out in plain, straightforward, just-read-the-actual-lines-themselves-not-between-them language. This is not the case for everyone and that’s also fine. There are many powerful writers out there who find ways of expressing their truths through layers of symbolism, double meanings, vivid imagery, and otherwise evocative language. What they create is beautiful.
What I create is also beautiful.
Our capitalistic society will have us believe we are all in competition with each other. Whose writing is bad, whose is better? Who deserves this or that prize? Who is otherwise unworthy? Who should be ashamed of daring to express themselves without having a degree, perfect grammar, or an extensive knowledge of the literary canon of old/dead white men.
It can be argued that writing is a skill, yes. Effective communication is a skill. Weaving words and making meanings are skills. But we should interrogate how we measure these skills because, often, our methods of measurement are rooted in colonial white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, classism, and other forms of power imbalance and oppression.
It can be argued that writing is a skill, yes, but you do not have to be skilled at writing in order to be a writer. In fact, you will never become skilled if you never practice, if you never write. You must give yourself permission to be an unskilled writer, to be bad, and to be embarrassed. You must give yourself permission to go through the awkward and uncomfortable process of getting better. You must remember not to take it all so seriously. We will all die, existence might be a dream, and the world may be ending sometime soon. Allow yourself to write if you are so inclined and allow yourself to write badly. You will always be able to find other people in the room who are more skilled than you. You will likely always be faced with imposter syndrome.
Sure, okay, you’re an imposter. I’m an imposter. We’re all imposters pretending not to be imposters.
Really, we’re all creators. Capitalism tells us to compete, but we don’t have to listen. Other writers are not your competition, they are your friends, your inspiration, your support, and your community.
I can get up in a room to read my work sandwiched between authors who spin stories and poetry full of metaphor, who speak words layered with meaning, who fill that room with depth and imagery. I can get up and read my plain language piece to my community of writers without shame. Whether I am worse or better does not matter. What matters is that we write and share that writing, that we support and encourage each other wherever we are in our learning.
Maybe you don’t like my writing, don’t think it’s any good. Maybe you’re outraged that some novice, unknown writer is breaking an unspoken rule by writing about writing. Maybe I am an unskilled writer. Maybe I am an imposter.
“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 contains mentions of death, social and environmental crises, and apocalypse.
The cat is here.
The cat next door came for a visit and is over here now. The cat without the hat. I’m always nervous that the cat will fall when she comes over. Now she is looking down at the world through the balcony’s bars to the left of me. Now she is sticking her head between the bars. Now she is walking to the other side of the balcony. Now she is looking through the screen door into my apartment. Now she is sniffing stuff. Now she is looking at where she came from like she plans to go back. Now she goes back. She sits back, looks up, pounces, and lands perfectly on the eight-inch platform, and then her body disappears behind the barrier.
You can have all the worries in the world and then there’s just a cat that will come over and investigate your space. Everything can be so chaotic. Everything can feel so broken. Your adrenal system can be completely shot and your mind can be a dark cloud of fear. And then it can get quiet again, even though the problems and chaos are still all around you. It can get quiet for a few minutes, quiet enough for a cat to slip over and curiously sniff around.
Every single moment has the potential to be quiet enough for a cat.
In every moment, you can focus on the chaotic swirl in your head or the cat curiously sniffing around, pausing to take in all the details of the balcony you’ve never given much thought to. The cat is unaware, it would seem, of the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the government crisis, the climate crisis… She is just here to check things out, get the lay of the land, and then leap back over to her own balcony—seemingly unafraid of whether she will make the landing on an eight-inch platform nine stories in the air.
Perhaps this is why we love cats so much: they’re nothing like us.
They show us what we aspire to be with our writing, our mindfulness practice, or our meditation workshops. They do it effortlessly. They are simultaneously detached from and deeply involved with the world. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Cats are enlightened but they don’t really give a fuck.
The cat left fifteen minutes ago and here I am, still writing about her. She isn’t writing or thinking about me. She isn’t here, she’s over there, in a new moment, exploring different surroundings. She came, caught my attention, and then left me to dwell on her without looking back—a little Buddha, a god, a teacher. They’re all around us in every moment, these Buddhas, these gods, these teachers. Whether or not we tune into them is up to us. I could have ignored the cat and kept on writing like she wasn’t here. I could also choose to ignore the sounds of cars driving by, the playfulness of the rain-filled air, the clink of dishes being moved around in my neighbour’s apartment, the light on the leaves of the trees, the white hairs on my knee, the damp plant smell, the machine-beast noise of a transport truck revving up the street, the itch on my neck, the quiet birdsong underneath everything, the beeping of a vehicle backing up, the dishes again, the quiet shuffle of leaves on a not-so-windy day, the utterly shocking silence of hundreds of humans piled on top of each other at this intersection of space, the sound of my neighbours opening their screen door, someone on the sidewalk saying good morning, or the squeaky wheels of a car that hits a bump and slams. I could choose to ignore all of this or I could choose to engage with it.
“Peaceful, isn’t it?” I heard my neighbour say to his wife when I first came out onto the balcony to write. Isn’t it? This is peace. All of this noise and bustling and activity.
Yes, this is peace, peace in the heart of a city.
An airplane flies overhead and a bird does too. The plane goes straight while the bird flies in circles. Have the birds ever laughed at how we copied them? Have the birds ever laughed?
A motorcycle chugs by and is gone. Most of these sounds last for just a few seconds. Can you feel it? No one is yelling at anyone, that I can hear, and some people may still be sleeping. There is so much going on and there are so many of us and no one is fighting right now. This is peace.
We’re nearing the apocalypse and the cats couldn’t care less.
Why should they? What can they do? Sniff around, hunt for mice, or perhaps jump nine stories in the air. What else?
You have to live in this world. You can try your best to fix it, to do something to make a difference, but the hardest thing about life is just finding a way to live it, to be with the chaos and the peace and the systems and their inevitable collapse and the change and the fear and the pain and the trauma. The hardest thing is to figure out how to live in a world that is constantly ending. You can’t ever get comfortable with that, only curious. You may or may not ever make a substantial difference. Regardless, the world you were born into will not be the one you die in.
The cat isn’t here anymore. I am. That will change. In fact, it already has, as I sit here editing this piece several days later in an entirely new moment.