Maybe You’re Not Special

Photo of socks with various stripy patterns on two feet standing on a hardwood floor, shot from above. Red filter over image. White text in the centre reads: "Maybe it's okay to be a regular person." Handle @sage_pantony in white in bottom right corner.

Maybe it’s okay to be a regular person.

Maybe you don’t have to be special, talented, unique, different, or all that interesting.

Maybe you’re not one of those people they’ll tell stories about. Maybe no one will make a movie about your life.

Maybe you’re an average Joe, just some guy out here trying to get by.

Maybe you don’t have to prove anything about yourself to be valuable.

Most of us are regular, average people who aren’t going to do anything outstanding with our lives, and that’s fine.

We’re fed all of these stories about outstanding people, and sure, these people deserve to have their stories told. They can be noteworthy, interesting, and inspiring. Their lives make for good stories! I wonder, however, if this leads many of us to develop a complex where we believe we have to be special. I think most of us regard ourselves as unique and different. Ours is the only consciousness we experience. This can give us the impression that we’re special because we experience ourselves in a special way. But we wouldn’t have the concept of average if most of us weren’t average. We may be under the impression that we’re different or destined for greatness, but does the rest of the world agree? Likely not.

I understand why we celebrate outstanding people. I understand why we’re fascinated by the geniuses, the prodigies, and the gifted. I do worry, however, that our fixation on these folks can lead us to believe that we have to be one of them to matter.

I’m almost thirty. If I were a genius or prodigy, I’d probably know by now. I have about average intelligence, talent, and skills. I’m probably not going to make a huge impact or change the world. My impact will likely remain small, mainly affecting the people in my life, but that’s important too. I still matter. My life is still valuable.

Also, being an outstanding person looks fucking exhausting, while being average is pretty comfortable. I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. I’m just a regular guy who’s trying to survive and get some enjoyment out of life. I think I can live with that. I think that’s all most of us need.

Are You Afraid to Share Your Art?

Photo of concrete ground and wall, with the bottom of a staircase in the top left part of the image. There is a smashed salsa jar on the ground that has splattered across the concrete.

As artists, most of us are sensitive to criticism. We can feel terrified of putting our work out there. Our art can represent the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, and the last thing we may want is to make that available for public consumption. It doesn’t help that we regularly see other creatives be eviscerated online, their art trashed and their humanity hung out to dry.

I’ve heard so many creative types say they want to share their art, but they’re terrified of online mob harassment. They don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing, have their work taken out of context, or expose a shred of ignorance and become the internet’s next villain of the day. It makes me sad to think about all of the art we’re missing out on because people are (rightly) afraid.

If you put your work out there, you will be criticized. There’s no way around that, but a reasonable amount of constructive criticism can actually be a good thing. It can help expose weaknesses in your work and areas in need of improvement. It can help you refine your work and create something better in the future. Constructive criticism can help you learn, grow, and develop as a creative.

It’s the harassment that’s the problem. The bad faith critiques. The personal attacks. The degradation and humiliation. The demands. The threats. The massive tidal wave of angry comments and messages. None of this is justified.

I can’t promise that you won’t be harassed, but what if we, as artists, collectively stopped doing this to each other? What if we focused on supporting each other’s growth and development instead? The internet will never be a safe space, but we can build communities that bolster rather than punish each other. We can create little pockets of support and safety.

As artists, we are deeply familiar with the tenderness and vulnerability involved in putting our creations out into the world. Let’s keep this in mind before writing a comment, sending a message, or joining a tidal wave targeting another person’s work. Before you act, think about how it would feel to receive such a response to your heart. Would you want to be subjected to this? Would you want to be treated this way?

As artists, I want us to focus on finding ways to support each other. This can mean offering constructive criticism at times. Overall, it means operating from a base desire to help our fellow creatives be their best selves as opposed to trying to tear each other down or apart. The larger world may never be a safe container for our art, and that will always be scary, but I believe we can hold each other’s work, and each other, with care.

December Laundry Line

Photo of a river taken at night with buildings, lights, a blue-lit crane, and a green bridge on the other side. Dark, heavy clouds hang over the sky, which is light pink-orange and clear just over the horizon. Dark leafless branches hang down from the top of the image in the foreground.

A man hangs his laundry at night
High up in the sky
On a cold December line.
Does he think about
The crunch of his clothing?
His hands must be freezing.
Water droplets turn into
On his linens.
He hangs up the last shirt.
His washing is suspended above
The whole neighbourhood.
Is he aware of
The spectacle he’s making?
Has he read
The poem I’m writing?
Has he noticed that
The moon is waxing?

He must have looked at the moon
On this cold December evening
And thought,
Ah, yes, that ought to do it.

Gender Invites Comment

Photo of a coniferous tree on a snowy hill covered in shrubbery. A cloudy sky with pale pink light is visible behind it.

Gender invites comments, questions, and suspicion. Gender invites opinion. Gender is individual, yes, but it is also social. Gender has been forced upon me, and gender has been withheld from me. I’ve been free to explore my gender, and at the same time, it has imprisoned me.

I have a complicated relationship with gender. I think we all do. I resent it, yet I have it. I don’t want it, yet I need it. It can make me feel incredibly euphoric, and it can also make me feel like shit.

Gender is something I can explore on my own, but this is not a solitary activity. Gender is individual. It is identity. Gender is also socially constructed. It is society.

There’s the gender I understand myself to be, and there’s the gender society understands me to be, and these are different. The gender other people see me as does not dictate the gender that I am. Society does not get to select my gender. At the same time, the gender others see me as determines how I am treated.

If my gender appears confusing to others, if it raises eyebrows and question marks, I can be on the receiving end of stares, saliva, and slurs, as well as inappropriate comments and invasive questions. If my gender doesn’t cause confusion, I can hide in plain sight. I can have access to a higher level of safety. Who I am is erased, yes, but I’m less likely to experience people’s anger and distress over my gender.

If I look like a man, a whole host of privileges become available to me—more so if I’m read as a masculine man and less so if I’m read as a feminine man. If I look like a woman, I experience different kinds of harassment. If I’m read as a feminine woman, I receive sexist forms of attention. If I’m read as a masculine woman, I draw less attention, but that’s also when the homophobia slips in.

What does it mean to be a queer non-binary person that the world sees as a lesbian? That’s the positionality I’ve been embodying lately, and I’m grappling with the relationship between who I am and how I am perceived.

Your gender is your own, but it does not exist in isolation. Gender is interactive. Whether you like it or not, your gender or lack thereof will invite interaction. The kinds of interaction and its impacts depend upon how the world sees you. The more normative I look, the fewer eyebrows I raise, the safer I will be, and the more privilege I will have.

Gender is individual and social. Gender is innate and constructed. Gender is real and totally made up. Gender is exhausting, and it is exhilarating too. I often grow tired of gender, yet I do not want to live without it. I just wish it didn’t invite so much comment.

The 2,000-Word Essays Will Have to Wait

Close-up photo of a leafy plant in front of a window with a tiny light-coloured flower blossoming from its stem. Green filter over image.

There are days when I can write a 2,000-word essay in one sitting, no problem, and then there are days when I struggle to get a single coherent sentence out.

Welcome to being a writer. This shit’s hard.

I can’t compare the good days to the bad ones. Expecting myself to write a 2,000-word essay before I’ve put down a single sentence will prevent me from being able to write anything at all.

Take this morning, for example. I’m tired. I just moved to a new city and am having some significant challenges with my living situation. I’m stressed about money, getting a job, and finding a roommate. Because I’m unemployed, I expected this to be a prolific writing period for me, but the stress of figuring out my situation has been interfering with that. I’m managing to get these sentences out, but the masterful and profound 2,000-word essays will have to wait.

And that’s fine. I can only do what I can do.

This is also the first time that I’ve sat down to write in over a week because of how life got in the way. I normally write at least three times a week. Coming back to the page after a dry spell is tough. I no longer have a routine. The words don’t flow as easily. They’re buried deeper inside. It’s more work to reach in and pull them out, and when I do, there’s more gunk on them to clean off, but hey, at least I’m writing.

My expectations for myself as a writer often don’t align with reality, so I make do with what I have. I always give it my best. Sometimes, my best is 2,000 words, and sometimes, it’s just two.