Life and Death

Feeling Stuck

[Image: black text aligned left over a white paper background that reads, "I don't think the answer is out there In the next town over, At the new job, In the new school, Coupled with the new lifestyle Or routine. I think it's right here, Staring me in the face. I think it's always been." Instagram handle in grey in bottom right corner].

Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck. I’ve grown tired of the repetitiveness of my routine. I’ve been asking myself what the point of it all is. Where is this leading? Why am I doing it? What’s the purpose?

When you’re a young person, you’re taught to structure your life around your future rather than your present. You’re meant to perform well in school so that you can apply to do more school. You’re meant to decide on potential careers to pursue. You’re meant to engage in clubs and extracurriculars to bolster your resume. You’re meant to work part-time to save money for future you, who’s gonna be really fucking broke. They don’t tell you most adults change careers several times in their lives. They don’t tell you it’s okay not to go to university, that college and trades are fine too. They don’t tell you the real world often isn’t as stressful as school can be. In your mind, the real world is a terrifying place that will take one taste and then spit you out, which is why you spend the entirety of your youth preparing for it.

When all was said and done, it was actually pretty anticlimactic. You finished your undergrad and declared that you were done with school forever. You wanted to do “something real” with your life and school didn’t feel real. You got a temp job two weeks after you wrote your last exam. Three weeks went by and they extended your contract. A few weeks after that, they hired you on permanently. You got an apartment alone—finally, no roommates—because you were making more than minimum wage for the first time. This would change, of course. Rents continued to rise and wages stagnated, making having your own place difficult to swing.

You stayed at that job for well over a year. A few months in, you started to ask yourself, “Is this it? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I’ve been preparing for my whole life?”

You felt dissatisfied, stuck. You were living in your hometown and that didn’t feel quite right. You had left to travel and for school and then returned without intending to stay. You decided to leave again and began making escape plans. You talked to a close friend who lived in a nice little town you had visited several times. You asked them about it. They said it was a great place to live. You needed to leave your town, you didn’t want to go too far, and you weren’t interested in living in a big city again. You decided on a date and handed in notice at your job. It felt good to have plans again, to pin your hopes on the future once more. It felt familiar.

You moved to the new town. You stayed with your friend until you found a job and your own place. You got a part-time job and a side gig. You explored the new town, connected with the communities there, and settled into your new life. Moving was the right call. For awhile, things felt good, better than good, actually. You revelled in contentment.

The clock kept ticking and another year passed by in a blink. They increased your hours at the job so you were no longer reliant on side gigs. You moved two more times within the town, struggling to find decent affordable housing, but eventually landed in a nice (though overpriced) two-bedroom apartment with your partner.

Week in, week out, you go to work. You pay rent. You cook dinner. You take out the garbage. You write in the mornings. You try to get published. You finish another zine. You see your friends. You go to events. You attend weekly meetings. You go for walks. You call your mom.

You feel those questions come creeping back up: “Is this it? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I’ve been preparing for my whole life?”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice life. It’s comfortable and relatively easy. It reeks of familiarity. Not too much has changed since you first arrived here, and yet, your contentment has waned away. You’re beginning to resent the things that once made you happy. You’re looking for meaning in it all and not sure if you can find any. It might actually be too easy. You’ve settled down into a routine and none of it is exciting or challenging. You think back to the plans younger you had: get a Ph.D., become a professor and a published author. You gave those dreams up during your undergrad when the big city you studied in made you feel like you were drowning and the school that was meant to support your development was apathetic about your dissolution. While in school, you felt alienated by the competitiveness, the institutionalization of education, and the pretentiousness of accreditation.

Maybe I don’t need to reach those heights, you thought. Maybe I can have a smaller, quieter life.

So that is what you built for yourself, and here we are: something isn’t quite right.

I resent the way I was set up to always think about the future as a young person because now I can’t stop focusing on the future. I seem incapable of being comfortable with the present. I am constantly looking elsewhere for satisfaction; looking to escape, explore, and go on adventures. I resent routine, repetition, and familiarity. I am happiest when I am learning, having my limits tested (within reason), and being challenged by life. I believe that part of this is just the way I am. I thrive on newness and change. I need to feel like I am growing, and if I am not being challenged by life, then I feel stuck.

I also think that part of this is learned and it isn’t healthy. I have a hard time being in the present and I am constantly searching for happiness elsewhere because it never feels attainable in the moment. I am always pinning my hopes on the next town, the next job, or the next school, as though a little change is all I need to be happy. Though change is an important part of the recipe, I don’t think I should just pursue it for its own sake. Sure, I might be happy for a little while if I get a new job, a new place, or a new routine, but that will eventually wear off and I’ll be back where I started.

I need to pursue a life where I feel challenged and invigorated, to some degree, by my surroundings and by what is expected of me. This is something I have to give some thought and attention to. I will never be happy just getting up and doing the same thing over and over until I die (because let’s face it, millennials don’t get to retire). I need to respect and attend to the part of me that thrives off of change, challenge, growth, and development.

But I also need to heal something within myself that is unable to fully engage with the way things are.

I have to learn to live in and appreciate the present, even as I make plans for the future. I wrote a short poem recently about this:

I don’t think the answer is out there
In the next town over,
At the new job,
In the new school,
Coupled with the new lifestyle
Or routine.
I think it’s right here,
Staring me in the face.
I think it’s always been.

I’m not going to find satisfaction by constantly running around like a chicken with its head cut off, running towards this or away from that. I need to figure out how to be in my life as I build my life. I need to hold space for the discontentment as I learn to live with the discontentment. I need to think about and plan for the future, but I can’t keep only ever living for the future, because eventually, I will run out of future.

I think I am going to try two things then: explore my options for the future and start meditating again. I have a love-hate relationship with meditation, but I need a practice that will help pull me into the present and that seems to work for some people. I’ll give it another go and see if it works out. I was reminded about meditation as something potentially useful while reading Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices edited by Kevin Manders and Elizabeth Marston. So many of its contributors cite meditation as a practice that, albeit difficult, enabled them to get in touch with themselves on a deeper level. There is something important about being still and I am missing stillness. I race from one thing to the next with little mindfulness and it’s having a negative effect on my overall life. So, fine, I’ll try it again. Thanks, I hate it, but I need to find a way to strike a balance between coming home to the present and respecting my need to plan for the future.

 


Note: I’m referring to myself with the use of “you” in this piece, not trying to generalize or dictate your experiences, which I recognize may be quite different from my own.

Queer Identity, Trans Identity

1.5 Years on T: My Non-Binary Body, Transition & Ambivalence | Zine

Finally, it’s here! My second zine about transitioning as a non-binary person is now available!

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[Image: small glass bottles of testosterone stacked on top of each other on a window sill. Behind them is a torn screen, a tree, and a cloudy blue sky. Black text below reads, “1.5 Years on T: My Non-Binary Body, Transition & Ambivalence”].

1.5 Years on T: My Non-Binary Body, Transition & Ambivalence

1.5 Years on T is a 40+ page zine about transitioning as a non-binary person. It continues from where One Year on T left off. In it, I grapple with lots of questions and plenty of confusion, showing that my transition has been far from straightforward. I open up about my relationship with my body, navigating all-male spaces, gender expression, beauty standards, privilege, pronouns, next steps for my transition, and more.

Order the E-Zine (PDF) | $5.00 CAD

Order the Hardcopy Zine | $8.00 CAD (Includes Shipping)

Life and Death

What My Grandmother Taught Me

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[Image: two abstract paintings with black borders hanging on a yellow wall with an info card between them. The left one has black, grey, purple, and yellow splashes of colour on a white canvas. The right one has black, purple, pink, and yellow splashes of colour on a white canvas]. Paintings by H. Jou Lee.

 

CW: discussion of death, grief, and hospitals.

I don’t really know what to write. My usual way with words has gotten away from me. I’ve been left with a chaotic swirl of thoughts, images, and feelings that are difficult to articulate.

Thinking about death. Thinking about grief. Thinking about meaning, about birth, about loss, about change.

Your life can change in a moment, with one voicemail, text message, or email. One moment.

I was homeschooled for most of my childhood. My mother was the primary person in charge of my education. For a few years, she would drop me off at her parent’s house once a week to learn from them. My Poppa taught me math. My Nan taught me french and poetry. She had me memorize and recite The Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear to her, which I initially hated because it was hard, but eventually managed because she wouldn’t let me give up on it. She had it memorized herself and would correct me mid-recitation if needed. We went again, again, and again until I got it.

Everything changed with a voicemail. When I first heard the recording over the phone, I assumed it was for something else. I had last spoken to the caller a few years ago about arranging a surprise party for my Nan.

I heard her voice. She said her name. Confused, I thought, “Why is she calling about the party? The party already happened”. I was almost irritated. Who calls about a party that’s already happened?

Then she explained her reason for calling and it clicked. Ah, it’s one of these phone calls.

My partner was sitting in the room with me. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

Heart racing, I told him what I had just heard. I called the person back. No answer. She hadn’t been able to reach my mom, she’d said. I called my mom. No answer. I left my own voicemail.

While I’d been trying to call my mom, the person had called me back. I called her. She picked up.

She was with her, there. She explained what was happening, what they had found, and where the paramedics were going. She mistook me for my mother. I explained who I was and said I would keep trying to call my mother. She said she would keep us updated. We said goodbye.

I tried calling my mom again. No answer.

Wait, had anyone told my brother?

I called him and he picked up on the first ring. Later, he told me he’d been looking at his phone while walking home from work, just about to change the song he was listening to, when he’d received one of those kinds of phone calls from me.

I told him. A few minutes later, he walked into the house and told my mom. A few minutes after that, she responded to my messages.

Now they knew.

As I got older, lessons with my Nan became less formal but just as formative. We moved away from memorization and practice and towards discussion. After the day’s chores were done, we would sit together in the evening with tea and snacks and talk for hours. I would tell her all about my life, my plans, and my questions. She would listen openly and curiously. She would ask me to elaborate sometimes and share stories from her own life. She didn’t pretend to have all of the answers or try to make me see things in any particular way. She would just share what she knew and had experienced. She would also tell me stories from the books she read or movies she watched in great detail. She was a wonderful storyteller, and often, just listening to her take on a story was more interesting than the books or movies themselves.

I had to get there. I haphazardly packed a bag, forgetting socks and underwear. I arranged a ride with a friend. The conversation on the way down was surprisingly normal. When we neared the hospital, I realized what was about to happen, what I was going to walk into. I felt scared.

We got there and it all happened very fast.

I was in the bathroom shortly after, looking at myself in the mirror, drying my eyes and blowing my nose. I was still scared. I didn’t know if I could handle this. I was buzzed back into emerg and told they were moving here into a private room in the stroke wing.

The damage was too severe. They couldn’t operate. This was the end.

She squeezed my hand when I first arrived but never woke up. There was a substantial bleed in her left hemisphere from the blood thinners she was on.

Two days went by. I won’t go into detail about them. They were awful, beautiful, powerful, painful, bizarre, long, exhausting. They are private. At some point during those two days, I stopped being scared.

Then she was gone. Just like that. Gone but not really gone. Gone but still here, gone but everywhere. She left that room in the hospital and went everywhere.

My Nan told her grandchildren she was a witch. She would cast spells sometimes to be dealt a better hand of cards or win a draw prize. She told me one of our ancestors had been a witch, a powerful healer who shared my name. I asked her about this when I got older and she maintained that it was true. That magic is real, everywhere, and accessible to all of us was one of her lessons.

Look for me
when my spirit leaves this earth
look for me above,
I wish to join the eagle’s flight
and soar with them at dawn’s
first light.
Think of me each time you see
a pair of wings,
close your eyes & in your mind
see hummingbirds + dragon flies,
the gorgeous wings of butterflies,
when they alight then look for me,
a flash of light in a twilight sky
just know I’ll be close by.

– Wendy Pantony

I went for a walk on a trail the day after I got back home. I looked for her in the birds that flew above me. I looked for her in the light and the clouds. I felt her presence everywhere.

I still do.

Your life can change in a moment, with a voicemail. One minute, you’re going through your Saturday routine, and the next, everything is different.

At some point during those two days, I wrote a poem about grief sitting next to her. My brain was fried and scrambled, so it wasn’t very good, but in essence, I was trying to describe grief as being like a ball of energy. When it first forms, the ball is huge and takes up every part of you, beginning in your core and seeping into every limb, into the tips of your fingers and toes. Gradually, it shrinks down to a more manageable size, until eventually it can be tucked away and stored. Once acquired, that ball of grief will always be with you. Even if you manage to tuck it neatly away, it’s still there. It will always be there.

My Nan will always be everywhere now, and nowhere. She has gone to that expansive place where individuality, separation, definition, and lineality are not factors. She exists differently now. She is here and not here. We miss her and she is with us. She has moved on, gone elsewhere, but the love she gave us is still here, within us alongside the grief.

I wish I could write about this more articulately, beautifully. I wish I could find all of the right words. I wish I could express the depth of everything I’m feeling, but this is where I am and what I have. Maybe better words will come with time. Maybe words themselves are too limited to capture death, loss, or grief. Maybe all of these things are too big for words.

I think my Nan is at least partially responsible for my being a poet, which I’d never thought about before now. It didn’t come from nowhere. She introduced me to poetry at a young age. She was a closeted poet herself, a private one. She wrote a collection of poetry throughout the course of her life that she never published, but she let me read some when I was a child. When I started writing poetry, she was always keen to read it. She encouraged me to get my work out there and was proud when I would occasionally get published. A few years ago, she asked me why I hadn’t published a book yet. “I thought you would be like J.K. Rowling by now,” she said. At the time, it irritated me to hear this because it felt like a lot of pressure. She had high expectations. J.K. Rowling wasn’t even J.K. Rowling at twenty-four, but maybe it wasn’t high expectations so much as highly complimentary. She just assumed I would become a famous writer and was wondering when, exactly, that was going to happen.

I cry a little bit every day. I write a little bit every day. I go back to work. I act normal. Sometimes, I feel normal. Usually, I feel surreal. I’m exhausted, in body and brain. I keep crashing with fatigue. I keep thinking I’m getting sick, but I’m just tired. It hits me in waves and the waves contain all kinds of things. I keep thinking about how I’ll never talk to her again: never share anything with her, never ask for her advice, and never hear her stories. Occasionally, I’m hit with feelings of elation and surges of energy. Is that her? I wonder. Is that her telling me she’s happy now?

I don’t know. I have no way of knowing. I’m realizing I don’t really know anything.

Nothing matters and everything matters. We’re all going to the place she’s in now. I hope it’s a good place. I hope she’s happy there. I think, if she is, she’s trying to tell me that.

Before all of this, death had affected me, but I had never seen it, never touched it, never gotten that close. At first, I was scared. Terrified. I wanted to leave. I didn’t think I could do it. It was too much. And then, at some point, I just got comfortable there. I had to. It doesn’t scare me the way it did before. I was able to see the beauty in it. I was able to see it as natural, normal, just another part of life—the counterbalance.

She gave me so much all my life; so much love, so many lessons, so many adventures and questions. The last thing she ever gave to me was a close proximity to death. This was the last lesson she ever taught me.

Death is natural, normal. It is coming for me, for you, for all of us. Do not be afraid. Do not avoid it. Do not run away. Come into the room, sit down, get comfortable. Be with death. Hold space for death. Respect its power, its inevitability.

I watched my grandmother die and I learned about death. I also learned about life. She was fearless, dedicated, grounded, open, loving, generous, and always curious. She and my grandfather built a beautiful and enriching life for themselves and their family from very modest beginnings. I believe love was her guiding pillar, she pursued what she loved and centred the people she loved in her life. I can’t count all of the lessons she gave me. I am grateful she was in my life and I was in hers. I am grateful to have been with her at the end, to have held her hand during that final lesson. It was a hard one to learn, but it will be with me until my end, until the cycle repeats itself again.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

– Edward Lear

Creativity

Hello, Imposter Syndrome, Old Buddy, Old Pal

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[Image: picture of a tarnished silver frame on a wooden surface with the same image copied inside the frame, creating an image within an image]. Photo by PictureThis.

 

CW: casual mentions of apocalypse, death, and a lack of overall meaning.

I did a reading the other night. I was sandwiched between authors who spun stories and poetry full of metaphor, who spoke words layered with meaning, who filled the room with depth and imagery. I got up and read my plain language piece: here is something that happened to me and how I felt about it. I sat back down.

Self-consciousness arose with the question: am I even a writer?

Hello, imposter syndrome, old buddy, old pal. How have you been?

The webs I weave with my words aren’t complex or layered. I am direct. I say what I mean. I’ve always struggled to get into writing that has more substance than that. I don’t read between the lines and so I don’t write between the lines either. It’s not that I think my way is better or worse, it’s just what comes naturally.

Some people tell me that they like that. They say it’s easy to digest, accessible. Simple, direct language that allows them to dive into the content of what is being said. My writing does the job of delivery quickly.

It’s also not for everyone. I know there are some who see my work as novice, childish, indulgent, or one-dimensional. Maybe they’re right. That’s okay with me, actually. I’m writing to express, not writing to please.

Occasionally, something I’m working on develops depth without my conscious intent and I think, “Oh, look, I’ve done it! There are multiple ways to read this. It has L a Y e R s”. It’s exciting when that happens, but I can’t force it. Forcing makes it come out sounding hollow and pretentious. I may create something “wrapped in meaning,” but there’s no meat in the center, the center remains empty. It’s better, I believe, to write the meat first and see if any layers follow. Sometimes they don’t and that’s okay too.

Whenever imposter syndrome rears its head, I try to answer with, “So what?”

“Am I even a writer?”

“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, but so what?”

“Am I a bad writer?”

“Maybe, but so what?”

“Is my writing overly simplistic, straightforward, and lacking in depth?”

“Maybe it is, but again, so fucking what?”

As far as I know, I have just this one life. I don’t know what will happen after I die and I also don’t know whether everything I create will be destroyed in an apocalypse in the near future. In the grand scheme of the universe, everything is temporary and nothing really matters. I know I am alive now and I like to write, so I write. It feels good. It’s therapeutic. It helps me to express what I otherwise find difficulty expressing. It helps me to articulate my own existence. It helps me to connect with others. So what if it isn’t worthy of awards, honorariums, or acclaimed publication? So fucking what? That’s not the point.

Anyone writing for the sole purpose of accruing money or fame is in the wrong line of work. Chances are good that writing won’t pay your bills, and people are more likely to make fun of you than hand you accolades. Trying to write the next great novel? Try writing a novel first. It’s hard.

Writing makes you vulnerable. You don’t necessarily need to be writing the way that I do, either, where I intentionally lay myself bare to the world. Creating is a vulnerable process, one that involves speaking to experiences and feelings we often keep hidden from the wider world. It can result in rejection, misunderstanding, or a lack of recognition (i.e. enthusiastically putting your creations out into a world full of people who couldn’t care less about it). It can also result in connection and that can be really powerful. One of the best pieces of feedback you can receive as a writer, I have found, is “I’ve felt that way too”. I measure the “success” of my work in relation to that sense of connection more than anything else.

For me, writing is a process of learning how to articulate my lower-case “t” truths. Who am I today? What am I experiencing? What do I think? What do I feel? How am I navigating this broken, bizarre, beautiful world? How am I like you? How am I unlike you?

My truths tend to come out in plain, straightforward, just-read-the-actual-lines-themselves-not-between-them language. This is not the case for everyone and that’s also fine. There are many powerful writers out there who find ways of expressing their truths through layers of symbolism, double meanings, vivid imagery, and otherwise evocative language. What they create is beautiful.

What I create is also beautiful.

Our capitalistic society will have us believe we are all in competition with each other. Whose writing is bad, whose is better? Who deserves this or that prize? Who is otherwise unworthy? Who should be ashamed of daring to express themselves without having a degree, perfect grammar, or an extensive knowledge of the literary canon of old/dead white men.

It can be argued that writing is a skill, yes. Effective communication is a skill. Weaving words and making meanings are skills. But we should interrogate how we measure these skills because, often, our methods of measurement are rooted in colonial white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, classism, and other forms of power imbalance and oppression.

It can be argued that writing is a skill, yes, but you do not have to be skilled at writing in order to be a writer. In fact, you will never become skilled if you never practice, if you never write. You must give yourself permission to be an unskilled writer, to be bad, and to be embarrassed. You must give yourself permission to go through the awkward and uncomfortable process of getting better. You must remember not to take it all so seriously. We will all die, existence might be a dream, and the world may be ending sometime soon. Allow yourself to write if you are so inclined and allow yourself to write badly. You will always be able to find other people in the room who are more skilled than you. You will likely always be faced with imposter syndrome.

Sure, okay, you’re an imposter. I’m an imposter. We’re all imposters pretending not to be imposters.

Really, we’re all creators. Capitalism tells us to compete, but we don’t have to listen. Other writers are not your competition, they are your friends, your inspiration, your support, and your community.

I can get up in a room to read my work sandwiched between authors who spin stories and poetry full of metaphor, who speak words layered with meaning, who fill that room with depth and imagery. I can get up and read my plain language piece to my community of writers without shame. Whether I am worse or better does not matter. What matters is that we write and share that writing, that we support and encourage each other wherever we are in our learning.

Maybe you don’t like my writing, don’t think it’s any good. Maybe you’re outraged that some novice, unknown writer is breaking an unspoken rule by writing about writing. Maybe I am an unskilled writer. Maybe I am an imposter.

So what? That isn’t going to stop me.

Creativity

Where We Have Gone, Where We Are Going

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[Image: coniferous trees with mist around them. Dry pine needles and patches of snow on the ground].

“I am a semi-autobiographical speculative poet—a monstrous kind of hybrid—and the joy is being all of those at once, regardless of the social acceptability of multiplicity.”

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

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

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

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

“We have learned that we must make space for the joy, and making space for the joy means allowing ourselves to make things that may not make sense to anyone else.”

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

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

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

“We have learned that conventional packaging, like conventional styles, may not be for us and that is okay as well. Creating a book from cover to cover may not be for us… It is a waste of energy to beat ourselves over the head with the concept of the book we feel we are supposed to be writing. If a book comes, it comes. If it does not come, it does not come. We will keep writing anyway.”

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

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

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

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

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

Uncategorized

Drawing Tarot in the Chaos of a Move

Oh, hi there. It’s been a minute. My life has been chaotic lately, which is why this blog has been pretty quiet. One of the reasons for this is that I just moved again. I’ve been moving two to three times a year since I was 18 and you’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m not. I’ve managed to whittle my possessions down to just the essentials (plus a ton of clothes), but moving is still a big, time-consuming, exhausting task.

The last time I moved, it was to escape a bad living situation. It was a desperation-motivated move, a run from something rather than towards something. Unfortunately, like in so many places, it’s really hard to find decent affordable housing where I live. This latest move, however, was different. A move towards something. I moved in with my partner.

I wrote a post a few months back about having the desire to cultivate more spiritual practices in my day-to-day life. I ended up centring my writing practice for this purpose, something I was inspired to do by Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, which I may go into detail about in a different post. Aside from this, however, I haven’t been doing any other practices consistently. I wanted to change that and I also wanted to document my latest move while it was happening, so that’s how we got here. I decided to start reading tarot cards in the evenings in-between packing, hauling, and unpacking. I did simple readings, just drawing one or two cards at a time, from the Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan and Mark Evans.

Below are my readings and reactions, entries I wrote while drawing tarot cards in the chaos of a move. I’m definitely a novice reader and rely heavily on the interpretations Ellen Dugan provides in the book that comes with the deck, quoted below. Maybe I wasn’t doing it properly, but that’s okay because I was just doing it for me. Some of the readings were rather vague while others were scary accurate. It was an interesting experiment, one I would certainly try again. If you’ve ever been curious about tarot readings or trying to divine deep spiritual meaning in the middle of moving, you may find this interesting.

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[Image: two cards side-by-side on a wrinkled brown sheet. One is the “Two of Swords,” showing a blindfolded woman in a gown crossing her arms over her chest with two swords in her hands. The other is the top of the tarot deck, with a full moon and two crescent moons on either side in pink-and-blue starry galaxy].

October 21, 2019 | Two of Swords

Initial impressions: Looks guarded, on the defensive, or ready to attack. Blindfolded. Cannot see what is coming. Serene, calm landscape. Defending serenity? Protector of the land? Confident pose and expression. Two fairies flying away. Protector of the innocent?

I asked about moving in with my partner, which is happening very soon, and the Canadian Federal election. I voted today and the results will be out when I wake up tomorrow. I will be moving in with my partner in two days as well. So, this is a very interesting card.

“The woman is depicted at twilight because she is at an in-between state. Her back is to the moon and to the water to illustrate that she has turned away from her emotions, or at least shut them down for a time… When this card turns up in a reading, it is a warning that you have blocked off your heart and emotions and are holding in your feelings. You are literally refusing to see what is right in front of you… Consider your options: boundaries are a positive thing, but do not shut yourself off from others” (Dugan).

I voted for who I wanted rather than strategically. I don’t really know how to interpret this card. Maybe my emotions are too shut down for me to understand it? I’m sitting in a room full of boxes right now with everything I own in piles. There’s a lot going on at work for me to keep track of. There’s an election happening. Things are stressful right now, so it makes sense that I’ve kind of shut down emotionally. I was really panicky about everything a few days ago because it was all too much, but I couldn’t sustain that energy. But it’s not all bad, it’s not all stress. I’m actually very excited to move. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a move I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve been sharing spaces with strangers for more than a year-and-a-half now and will be moving in with my partner. That’s really exciting. Stressful, yes, kind of a lot, but mostly a good thing. We’re going to build a home together and my heart is yearning for a home. But I’m going really fast, keeping super busy, and not stopping to process anything, so maybe that’s what this card is about. Who knows.

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[Image: two cards side-by-side on a wrinkled brown sheet. One is the “Eight of Cups,” a blue card with a woman walking away on a beach and eight silver goblets lined along the bottom. The other is the “King of Pentacles,” which pictures a king sitting on a throne holding a large gold plate with a pentacle on it].

October 22, 2019 | Eight of Cups and King of Pentacles

I drew two cards for this reading because I pulled one and another started coming with it, so I figured why not draw both?

Eight of Cups initial impressions: SO BLUE. Very blue. Walking away from something and towards something else. Adventure. Exciting.

King of Pentacles initial impressions: Hello, rich boy. Focused on a big gold pentacle plate circle. On a thrown. Concerned with something, preoccupied.

Eight of Cups: “She has chosen to abandon things that are no longer necessary or are detrimental… The young woman is moving on and moving forward… The card symbolizes the need to move on in your life. The need to move forward might be a physical relocation such as moving for a job or moving to a new home, or this may be an emotional shift… If you are physically moving, then go forward and enjoy the positive changes in your life” (Dugan).

King of Pentacles: “The King of Pentacles represents a man with dark hair and deep brown eyes… He is a generous and supportive personality, and a loving, loyal spouse… The lesson of the King of Pentacles is that your efforts have manifested into success. Prosperity will be drawn to you” (Dugan).

Wow. This is a very direct, on-point reading. I have been feeling anxious, stressed, and exhausted by this move but these cards have reminded me that it is a good thing, both the place I am moving into and the person I am moving in with. This reading has calmed me down a bit. This is a good thing, a right thing. This is a necessary next step.

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[Image: “Nine of Pentacles” card sitting next to a tarot deck on brown fabric at an angle. The card shows a woman in a brown dress standing outside with nine golden pentacle flowers on either side of her].

October 23, 2019 | Nine of Pentacles

“When the Nine of Pentacles blooms in your reading, it tells of a time of joy and abundance… In addition, this card represents sharing the magick and the secrets of the garden with others. You are being called upon to connect to the earth and to study its mysteries… It heralds a time of creative focus, confidence, and personal growth” (Dugan).

Well, we have moved in together. Half moved in, anyway. I have been awake since 5:20 this morning helping my partner get all of his stuff into our new place. I am super fucking exhausted. We will go to bed soon. I’m very happy to be here with my partner. I’m not sure what this reading means in relation to this, but I like the overall message.

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[Image: “The Fool” card shown upsidedown next to a tarot deck on brown fabric. The card shows a young boy standing on a cliff with a white dog, holding a staff, against a blue, cloudy sky].

October 24, 2019 | The Fool

Initial impressions: Reversed. Upside-down. What could that mean? Young man, a traveller. On a mountain. Off on an adventure. With a dog. Companion. Friend. Something new, a new adventure, but not alone on it.

“This card often materializes in a reading when the querent is trying something new and completely different… The Fool encourages us to dare, be more openminded, and enjoy the ride… The fool encourages you to be open to new prospects and ideas… Reversed: Irresponsibility, recklessness, dangerous and careless behaviour. A precarious situation. There is a need to be cautious and plan ahead” (Dugan).

I’m not sure if this card counts as reversed or not in this reading. I was going to draw it reversed, did not, but then flipped it after. Maybe I will take both meanings, then. I need to be open and adventurous, but also have a plan and watch that I don’t enter a precarious situation. I think that makes sense. There’s a lot in my life right now that requires quite a bit of planning, but I should also be enjoying these changes and some of the freedom that comes with them. I can’t afford to drop the ball on anything, but there’s also quite a bit that’s brand new and exciting, so maybe both readings do apply.

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[Image: from left-to-right, there is a tarot deck, the “Queen of Wands” card, and “The High Priest” card on red fabric. The “Queen of Wands” pictures a queen in a golden gown on a thrown holding a flowering staff and sunflowers. “The High Priest” pictures a priest sitting between two pillars, holding a staff, with two large skeleton keys in front of him].

October 26, 2019 | Queen of Wands and The High Priest

Queen of Wands initial impressions: Royal. Feline. Languishing. Golden. In charge. Flowers.

The High Priest initial impressions: Monk. Keys. Sun and moon. Staff. Pillars. Religious. Symbolism.

Queen of Wands: “When the Queen of Wands appears in a reading, brace yourself. This is where the fun begins… The message from the Queen of Wands is this: home, family, magick, and career—you can have it all. Just allow passion for life and your creative and spiritual energy to fill you up and lead the way” (Dugan).

Well, that’s nice. I finally moved all of my stuff into the new place, and while there is still a LOT of unpacking to do, I feel like I’m more than ready for “the fun”. I’m here, my partner and I are here together, and this chapter of my life has officially begun.

The High Priest: “When this card appears in a reading, it means that there are questions that need answering and advice to be sought. Classically, this card denotes a need for legal advice or counseling” (Dugan).

Hm. This is tricky. I hope I don’t need to seek legal advice for anything anytime soon. I feel like that would cancel out the fun promised by the Queen of Wands. This card can also indicate “furthering your education” (Dugan). Hm… Hm. Apparently, the Priest gives you the keys to “unlock” the answers to your questions yourself rather than the answers directly, as you are responsible for finding them with everything you’ve been taught. Well, okay, that’s good. If I have the keys, I should be able to figure it out for myself then.

I’m settling into my new place. It’s nice. I’m happy to be here. It’s not without its challenges, but they’re worthwhile challenges. This place feels good, feels right, feels like it could become home. I enjoyed drawing tarot cards during this process. It felt reassuring to stop and try to gain some insight in the middle of so much chaos. Reflecting in this way made me more aware of my mental and emotional states, reminded me to check in with the internal while my external surroundings swirled and changed all around me. I would like to make a practice of doing tarot readings, perhaps not every day but a few times a week, to help me stay in touch with myself.

Activism

Climate Change, Intersectionality, and Action

Social-LinkedIn-Cover-DigitalStrike-Company-HouseWarming 2
[Image: green background with graphic of earth next to a thermometer that reads, “Worst house warming ever / Global #ClimateStrike”]. Available for download here.

 

CW: discussion of ableism, climate change, colonialism, environmental racism, and white supremacy.

I’ve been asking myself what I can do about climate change. The Global Climate Strike happened last week and my feeds were full of articles, videos, and photos of people striking and yelling at people in power. This is great. This issue deserves all of the attention it’s been getting. Critiques have been circulating as well. The official face of the Climate Strike is Greta Thunberg’s, a sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden. Greta is doing great work, important work, impressive work, especially considering her age. Hell, I was nowhere near that powerful at sixteen. Greta is scaring men in power enough that they’re lashing out at her with pathetic insults and conspiracy theories. That means they feel threatened and that’s what we want. I stand behind Greta. I’ve been participating in the Climate Strike in whatever ways I can. However, it is also important to acknowledge that Greta is being centred as a leader in a movement that has been largely led by Indigenous peoples for a long time, who have been ignored, criminalized, and even killed for their work. Climate change is also an issue that disproportionally affects BIPOC all over the world. That the representative of a major movement to fight climate change is white should make us uncomfortable. This is a form of white saviourism and centring which upholds the system of white supremacy. This is not a criticism of Greta, but rather the ways in which we have responded to her. Many of us, along with the media, have centred Greta even though she is not the only young activist fighting for climate justice out there.

White supremacy and the interrelated systems of colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism are why we’re here in the first place. We cannot have an effective movement if it upholds any of these oppressive structures. They must all be torn down. Our environmental activism must be decolonial, antiracist, and anticapitalist or else it does little to dismantle the status quo. A few hundred solar panels and wind turbines will not save us. We must dismantle the very systems that are hurting our planet and so many of its people.

Our environmentalism must be intersectional or it risks perpetuating harm and reinforcing power imbalances as they are. Just look at how straw bans have affected disabled folks… Is this justice? Is it decolonial? Is it revolutionary? When you have a large number of corporations enthusiastically embracing a new policy like banning plastic straws, chances are far more likely that it is a form of greenwashing, which deceptively bolsters rather than challenges capitalism.

Critics often accuse intersectionalists of being divisive. Some assume it is easier to act effectively on single issues, that intersectionality complicates, convolutes, and dilutes our movements. Intersectionality certainly complicate things. It can be a lot to take in, especially if you’re new to the concept, but I believe it’s an essential ingredient for strengthening our movements. I think it’s actually the opposite of divisive, the only way we can truly be united. These supposedly “single issues” are deeply connected. Sexism is a product of colonialism. The gender binary is a product of colonialism. Racial injustice is a product of colonialism. Capitalism is a product of colonialism. Climate change is a product of colonialism. We are all connected. All of the issues we are fighting for are connected. Intersectionality is a tool to help us map out these tangled connections, to help us draw the map of this messy web. Our movements must utilize this tool to be effective. There are no single issues. That is an illusion.

I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the hundreds of tangled issues that make up the web that is climate change. I frequently spiral into feeling hopeless and helpless. It all feels so vast, complicated, and terrifying. I don’t know where to start a lot of the time or how to keep going after I do. Then I feel frustrated with myself for not acting more effectively.

It is important to make space for feelings of overwhelm and grief. It is important to practice self-care. It is also important, particularly for people with multiple layers of privilege like myself, to take stock of the resources we have and the actions we can take. I did this recently and would like to share some of my process with you below.

Taking Stock

If you’re like me and you know that you have resources to devote to this issue but aren’t sure where to start because of how overwhelming it is, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What fiscal, physical, mental, emotional, creative, educational, etc. resources do you have at your disposal?
  • What privileges do you carry? What do you have to un/learn?
  • What have you been doing? What could you do? What could you do better?
  • How can you make these changes and actions manageable? How can you make them concrete rather than aspirational? What limitations do you or may you face in doing this work?
  • How can you practice self-care along with your activism? How about engaging in community care?

I made a lot of notes during this exercise, but some of the resources I listed were my writing (i.e. my voice), a supportive community, and a relatively stable job situation at the moment. Some of the privileges I listed were white privilege and able-bodied privilege. Some of the limitations I listed were to do with my time and mental health.

I then came up with lists of the following actions I can try. These lists are not exhaustive. They are ones I will add to and change over time. They are also not prescriptive or general, but reflective of my specific situation. None of these actions on their own are enough, but together they can amount to something. If this exercise resonates with you, please feel free to copy, steal, share, alter, or otherwise make it your own!

(Some) Actions I Can Take

Education/Awareness

  • Amplify the voices of BIPOC on environmental issues (and in general, for this stuff is all connected) via my writing and social media platforms.
  • Continue to educate myself by seeking out the work of people who experience different marginalizations than I.

Creative

  • Use my own voice by writing about these issues and sharing that writing.

Political

  • Vote for representatives that give a shit about environmental and other forms of justice.
  • Write letters and/or call all levels of government to keep nagging them about these issues.
  • Disrupt the status quo through acts of civil disobedience.

Individual Consumption Habits

  • Think about consumption before consuming.
    • Do I need this? Why do I want it? What is its environmental impact?
  • Buy fewer foods with plastic packaging.
  • Cut down on animal by-products.
  • Buy wax seals to use instead of plastic.
  • Buy used, rather than new, clothing.
  • Don’t order stuff online I don’t need.
  • Cut back on how often I eat out.
  • Grow food in my apartment (I have a zine on this!).
  • Check out my local farmer’s market.

Financial

  • Donate to environmental organizations and causes, particularly grassroots ones that are run by BIPOC and underfunded/underrepresented.
  • As much as is possible, make sure that I’m putting my money where my mouth is by supporting local and/or environmental organizations rather than major conglomerates.

Community

  • Participate in rallies/marches/actions in my community.
  • Get involved with a local environmental organization.
  • Pick up garbage in parks and green spaces to keep them clean.

The next phase I will work on is breaking down the above lists into concrete steps so that I can actually integrate these things into my day-to-day life.

My hope in sharing the above is that some folks in similar positions to myself may find it helpful, but please don’t just listen to me! I’m a baby activist who still has a lot to learn and a person who carries white privilege. Please also seek out other perspectives. Here are a few suggestions:

Water Protector Autumn Peltier Speaks at UN

System Change – Tom Goldtooth

What Listening Means in a Time of Climate Crisis

As Canadians join the climate strike, what does it take to turn a day of protest into lasting change?

Act Now | Extinction Rebellion

Definitions

Intersectionality: “Intersectionality, also called intersectional feminism, is a branch of feminism asserting how all aspects of social and political identities (gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc) discrimination overlap or (“intersect”)–for example, race with gender in the case of a black woman… It is a qualitative analytic framework that identifies how interlocking systems of power affect those who are most marginalized in society… The term was coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989”. Read more here.

Greenwashing: “A form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception of an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly… Many corporate structures use greenwashing as a way to repair public perception of their brand… However, a growing body of social and environmental accounting research finds, in the absence of external monitoring and verification, greenwashing strategies amount to corporate posturing and deception”. Read more here.

Mental Health

Anxiety > Insomnia > Anxiety: Capitalism?

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[Image: photo of Sage lying down in a bed with a disgruntled/sad expression on their face].

 

CW: discussion of anxiety, insomnia, and mental health.

Hi, I’m Sage, and sometimes I forget how to sleep.

Maybe this makes me sound quirky, but I can assure you that it’s mostly just terrible.

I have anxiety-induced insomnia and sleep-deprivation-induced anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m not always sure what triggers my bouts of sleeplessness, but I know as soon as they’ve been activated.

For awhile, all is well. Then one night, right after I lay my head down, I’m hit with the first pang of anxiety. It begins just below the centre of my chest and rolls into my stomach, and it tells me I will be wide awake for many hours to come. Usually, this will last for three or four nights in a row and then resolve on its own. Sometimes, however, it can go on for weeks or even months. Life transitions, burn out, arguments, overcommitments, and a variety of other stressors can all be triggers. Sometimes, it feels like life itself is a trigger.

I’ve tried many things over the years in an attempt to either solve or cope with this issue and have come to the conclusion that if I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep. That sucks but it seems to be the way it is.

On August 19th, after returning from a long trip and needing to wake up extra early for work the next morning, I wrote:

I have to change my relationship to sleep in order to get over my insomnia. I have to switch from “should” to “want,” like with food, where it is healthier to have a “want” relationship than a “should” relationship. Instead of, “I have to sleep now because I should in order to be functional tomorrow,” I need to go, “I am tired, I am done with the day, and I want to go to sleep”. The “should” is what keeps sleep from happening by making me anxious. I have to do the difficult work of changing the way I think about sleep.

The next morning, I wrote:

The trick is to lean into the anxiety. The issue is with trying to make it go away, make it stop so that I can sleep, but that does not work. I need to feel the anxiety in my body, the way it rolls in my belly and tingles my feet. I need to take deep breaths, not try to erase the anxiety but breathe into and around it. I need to lay there and embrace it. Eventually, I can get to sleep this way. Eventually.

It’s tricky because I can use these strategies to help myself fall asleep, but then I will often wake up about ten minutes later with a renewed surge of adrenaline. Anxiety really gets the best of me when I’m not awake enough to properly deal with it. Reasoning gets harder and fear takes over. It’s best, when this happens, to turn on the light and read, write, drink water—anything but continue to lie in the dark with the fear.

I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with bouts of sleeplessness before, but they can seriously interfere with your quality of life. I’m far more irritable and less able to focus on whatever tasks I have to perform. I try to compensate for my lack of energy by drinking more coffee than normal, which makes me feel even more anxious. I often end up cancelling plans, getting sick, and feeling totally disconnected from my body. Most of the coping mechanisms I have for managing my mental health go out the window. Small things that would normally have little impact on my mental state send me over the edge into full-blown panic attacks.

To summarize, when I stop sleeping, EVERYTHING IS BAD.

Pot helps sometimes. Herbal remedies help sometimes. Deep breathing helps sometimes. Leaning into the anxiety helps sometimes. Reading a book helps sometimes. Sleeping with my partner helps sometimes. Writing helps sometimes. All of these things help sometimes, but I haven’t found anything that helps all of the time, that is guaranteed to help me get to sleep. Even with my awareness and coping skills, I still experience anxiety-fueled nights with little-to-no sleep on a regular basis.

I will likely never be “cured” of this issue. Insomnia runs in my family on both sides. I’ve had sleep issues my whole life. My mother says my brother was the picky eater while I was the troubled sleeper. I remember, night after night when she would tuck me in, I would ask her, “What if I can’t sleep?”

She would reply, “Then you’ll just be tired. It’s not like you have to perform brain surgery tomorrow”.

I still use this to calm down sometimes. Thank god I didn’t become a surgeon.

Until my brother was born and his crying kept me awake, I insisted on sleeping in my mom’s room because sleeping on my own scared me. A nightlight wasn’t the solution because it wasn’t the dark that bothered me, it was the fear of being alone with my nighttime anxiety.

I believe this issue is in my genetic makeup. It has also been with me for my whole life and I don’t expect it to ever go away, so what do I do? Is there anything I can do beyond what I’ve already tried? I don’t think so. I feel like I’ve tried everything. And yes, before someone suggests it, I have tried meditation and mindfulness exercises. Those things are about as effective as everything else I’ve listed.

I’m anxious. I’m an insomniac. These things are a part of me, a part of my package. I seem to have been born with them. I doubt they’ll change or go away. Sometimes, they’re relatively mild and easy to live with. Sometimes, they flare up and significantly impact my ability to function. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting! But also, it is what it is. I don’t know if it’s worth my sometimes very limited energy to fight something that may, very well, just be an integral part of my existence.

I read once that there’s an evolutionary advantage to some folks being light sleepers because if there’s trouble at night, the light sleepers are more likely to wake up and alert everyone. Perhaps this is true of insomniacs as well. We keep odd hours and are often hypervigilant in the middle of the night, aware of whatever may be lurking in the dark while many are blissfully asleep. Perhaps my insomnia isn’t purely negative and shouldn’t be viewed as such. Yes, it makes functioning in the nine-to-five world difficult, but I solve a lot of problems at night, I process things, I remember important things I’d forgotten during the day, I read, and I write. When I’m not totally consumed by anxiety, which often results from me resisting the insomnia, it can actually be a thoughtful and productive time. I’m able to look at things from a different perspective than I do during the day. I wrote a poem once that captures this:

wide awake at 4 am
getting my tasks done
my boxes checked
my ducks in line
what would i do
if it wasn’t for
4 am anxiety
4 am memory
reminding me
of messages to send
of supplies to bring
of work to plan

what would i do
if i didn’t
wake up & worry
so early
in the morning
forget probably
slip up probably
be stressed probably
it’s 4:20 now
i’m writing this & thanking
4 am anxiety
4 am memory
the 4 am that’s saving me

There’s research that shows that humans are not necessarily meant to sleep solidly through the night but in two stages, which would explain why so many of us deal with insomnia. It may actually be hardwired into us to be alert for a few hours when we think we should be sleeping. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society that doesn’t accommodate that. I’ve thought about how much easier my life would be if I had time to take a nap during my lunch break or sometime in the afternoon, if I could split my sleep and my workday in two. What makes me anxious is knowing that I have to get up early in the morning and then muster the energy, regardless of how little sleep I get, to go go go all day without any breaks, rest, or downtime.

Wait a second here, might the problem actually be… capitalism?

Might it be how we’ve structured the workweek to maximize our labour rather than fit comfortably with the rhythms of our bodies and minds? Hm, there’s a thought. I know during times in my life where I’ve had more flexibility with my schedule, where I could choose when to sleep and when to work, insomnia hasn’t been an issue in the same way.

Okay, so now I’m thinking that rather than mindfulness exercises, to deal with my insomnia, I should be using my sleepless nights to work on overthrowing capitalism. This would also give me something to focus on rather than my anxiety about not sleeping. Alright, there’s one thing I haven’t tried. I’ll give it a shot.

Trans Identity

Gender Expression, Revisited

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[Image: torso clad in a blue shirt with a pink arrow pattern, pink front pocket, necklace, and black shorts].
CW: gender trouble, misogyny, and transphobia.

I attended a queer zine fair in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal last weekend. There were so many people in attendance expressing gender in defiance of the binary, with beards and glitter and leg hair and lingerie and jewelry and shaved heads and colourful outfits. It was really affirming. Seeing so many gender variant people made me want to vary my gender expression more. I’ve been getting boxed in by the binary again, this time on the other side. I recently started “passing” as male and so have been leaning into that more, but I realized that I don’t want to move through the world looking like a straight, cis man. I’m uncomfortable with that. Sure, the targets that come with being read as female, as queer, as trans, and as gender non-conforming may be gone, but walking around looking like an average straight white guy isn’t for me—that isn’t who I am and it’s not how I want to take up space in the world.

My friend, after reading my first zine, suggested that my gender may be like a bent spoon. I have wanted to be read as male because I’ve been unbending the spoon. In order to “straighten” (no pun intended) the spoon out, I’ve needed to bend it in the other direction. I’ve needed to be misgendered as a man in order to compensate for being misgendered as a woman for so long, but even now “he” pronouns are starting to feel uncomfortable. They don’t upset me the way “she” pronouns do, but they also don’t fit perfectly. “They” fits best. It always has, ever since I first learned it was a viable option.

Seeing the rich array of gender nonconformity at the fair made me ask what my ideal expression of gender looks like. The answer is complicated. There is a part of me that loves presenting masculinely and being read as male, but even then I still like things that are colourful and cute, outside of what’s typically deemed masculine. I like blue-and-pink t-shirts, flower patterns, and quartz-stone necklaces. I like adding a touch of non-normative masculinity to what I wear, even when I want to be read as male.

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[Image: torso clad in a short black lace dress that goes in at the waist].
I also like dresses. I bought a black lace dress from Value Village the other week and it’s absolutely adorable. I haven’t worn it out anywhere, though. I feel nervous. The people who know and are used to the more masc version of me might not “get” it. I’m worried that some may assume my wearing a dress means I’m “not really trans” or that I’ve “de-transitioned”. I’m worried that people will use it as another reason to intentionally misgender me. It’s tough. I feel like I’ve given up the ability to wear dresses, which wasn’t the point of my transition at all—I wanted more options for expression, not less. It’s easier if I wear a dress as a “costume,” like at a themed party or drag event. That feels easier to justify, not that I should have to justify it, but somehow, I feel like I do.

I worked at a summer camp after I’d just come out in 2015 where I presented almost exclusively masculinely. Near the end of the season, I threw on a dress because I wanted to and missed wearing dresses. The people I’d worked with all summer were mostly polite about it, but it did draw a lot of attention. There were many smiles, surprised expressions, and compliments. One individual, however, became distressed and confronted me, saying, “I’m sorry, I want to be supportive, but I’m really confused right now because you’re dressed as only one gender”. I can’t remember what I said in response, only how I felt: disappointed and frustrated. The implication of their words was that clothing is inherently gendered, and also, that my wearing men’s clothing was me somehow “wearing two genders,” the one I was assigned at birth being one of them. I’m not cross-dressing when I’m wearing men’s clothing. Neither am I presenting as a “single” gender when I’m in a dress. I’m just me, Sage, not more or less of one or another gender. Dresses are dresses, pieces of fabric cut in a specific way. You don’t have to be a woman to wear them. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that, that it shouldn’t be a radical statement these days, but I do and it is.

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[Image: torso clad in a pink shirt with colourful dinosaur graphics on it and black shorts].
I want to wear my black dress but I don’t want to deal with people’s reactions. Even if they’re not negative, I don’t want the attention: the surprise, the stares, the compliments, the questions, the opinions. Masculinity has afforded me the privilege of invisibility and I’ve grown attached to that. I remember what it was like to leave the house with long red hair and a summer dress. I remember I couldn’t do it without at least one catcall, stare, threat, or physical invasion of my space. That was before I grew facial hair and lowered my voice through testosterone. I know the added element of my genderqueerness will only make it worse.

In my ideal world, the world I hope we are slowly working towards, I could leave the house in a dress and not be met with shock, accusations of de-transitioning or being a “fake” trans person, invasive questions, misgendering, confusion, anger, or catcalls. I could leave the house in a dress and be met with not much more than a smile or, “Hey, nice dress”. In my ideal world, I could leave the house in a dress with a beard and not be met with violence. In my ideal world, I could play around with masculinity and femininity in whatever way pleases me and still be called “they”. I could be read as male, female, or ambiguously and be “they” regardless.

One day, one day.

Life and Death

Inside the MRI

CW: discussion of health issues, medical stuff, and death.

I lie on my back with my head ear-muffed inside the MRI scanner, listening to bad club music, trying not to laugh, and thinking about death. The awkward redheaded technician is visible as a shapeshifting shadow through the glass. They’ve provided a mirror inside the machine so I can see them and not have a panic attack. They are (apparently) shifting my copper IUD around and taking a picture of the inside of my skull. The instructions said to put on pants but I couldn’t find any pants. I’m worried they can see up my gown and grateful I kept my underwear on. My grandfather died of brain cancer and I’ve been getting migraines. I searched for his obituary online and came up with nothing. He’s buried in Smiths Falls. We used to visit his grave once a year. I wonder if death is like dreaming, if when you die you go to a dreamscape. Maybe dreaming at night keeps us in touch with death, a little taste of the other side, reminders of what we will go back to. Is my grandfather dreaming? Did he ever lie on his back with his head ear-muffed inside an MRI scanner, listening to bad club music, trying not to laugh, and thinking about death?

Death seems less scary if it’s like a dream because I know what a dream is. I never really knew who my grandfather was. I’m scared I might have brain cancer.

 


Note: Nothing scary came up on the MRI, thankfully. I’m still trying to figure out what’s causing the migraines but I’m okay.