Field Notes In/On Transition
I’m thinking about going back to school.... I'm a writer and a self publisher, but I'm not good enough at either right now to make a living at it. My gut is telling me to apply at the SFU Writers Studio downtown (where I already know a lot of people), but there's no student loans for the intensive but still part time course... I just found out that you can borrow from your RRSP to cover tuition etc. But after I finish, likely still working in the video store, will I be able to pay back my RRSP? There’s a summer course that is shorter and less expensive, but still too expensive to do without going into more debt. And that one is in Surrey, a commute I’m not into.
I could do that, and keep working... or should I try some MA program? I feel like I have very few options for work the rest of my life, and the video store thing doesn't really pay the bills anymore. Any other retail position I could get, (which I do not want in the least. The retail I do now is the only retail I could do for more than a day) I would make even less money. Weirdly, I think, I often get talked out of going back to school when I talk to writers and others who have done so.
Do they see my "career" as something more than it is? A series of low paying jobs that help keep me in debt living in Canada's most expensive city (Sorry Toronto, cost of living here is higher)and a few self published chapbooks. Which granted have done okay considering, that beyond pretty some decent launch gigs: they’ve had no reviews, due mostly to my fear of sending them out to be reviewed. If you think about it, it is pretty lame that I went to all the work, expense and trouble to self publish several times now, and yet I seem paralyzed by the idea of hustling to sell my words.
Even now with that poetic impulse seemingly dead and buried, I write this very public blog. I obviously want to be heard by at least a few people.
I have never really given these needs to be seen and heard that much thought, before transition. It was just who I was. I have always felt like everything happened around me, and occasionally I’d get to step into the circles I flew in... poet/cartoonist/film maker/film critic/cranky video store guru... and be the star, or at least be heard. Now I write my blog, little snippets of unpublishable prose (it is improving) that are just fragments of all the huge stories I have to tell. I can’t focus on one story long enough, though to even finish a short story. I’m really bad at self-deadlines; and as a student was terrible at essay deadlines. I don’t recall ever handing one in on time, though I may have, if I knew there was a no extension rule. Sometimes I dropped those classes. This is one thing that keeps me from going back, can I be a better student now?
Also, I sort of miss going to all the open mics,( The open Mic scene in Vancouver in the 90’s was a kind of Grad School for me) like I did all through the 90’s, but I am not feeling myself as part of that scene anymore. I get invited to most things, and almost always say, “maybe”... Facebook is where all the invites come from in my world... I almost feel like I shouldn’t can’t or am not allowed to go to these things anymore. silly right, but is a big reason why when I had my last book launch, none of the other writers I know showed up: I don’t go to their gigs. Networking and maintaining relationships with your peers is an important thing that I have let lapse in my life.
I don’t feel like I’m a poet anymore. Joe was the poet, and even then by the time I went into the hospital a few years ago my poetic impulses had all but abated, replaced by the internet, gorging myself, and letting myself get wound up over stupid little ephemera of life that other people slough off.
Sometimes I wish I had the get up and go still that had me do things like read my poetry at an open mic. I’ve crawled inward in terms of reaching out to friends. I’m rarely the one to call and say let’s do something. I really let all that kind of thing fall out of my life. I have no interest in dating and all that entails. Blah to that is where I’m at right now. I hate just chatting on the phone with anyone other than my mom. And if we lived in the same town, I wouldn’t be calling, we’d spend time together.
I do miss having a bit more social interaction that is not work related. I feel like I have isolated myself from others. I have so much social interaction at work, that when I get home, I almost never feel like leaving until I have to go to work in the mornings. I just curl up with a book on my ipad and read, maybe, and facebook insidiously takes care of my gossip needs, or doing something like looking at someone’s vacation photos.
There are often events in the Trans community that I don’t go to, as well as gigs, movies etc, all under the excuse that I don’t have the money. There is some truth there, but I could definitely go to more than I do now. I could eat out alone one less night a week, and go to a movie with friends, or out to a show, opening, something. I feel bad that I don’t ‘want’ to do more of this.
I still feel a lot of the same desperation that I’ve felt most of my adult life, that no matter how good whatever it is I’m doing is, it’s not good enough, to be noticed except by a few. I’ve spent much more of my life wanting to be who I am than I have being who I am. But now I’m transitioning, and learning so much about myself, and the world I’m also overwhelmed by that concurrent sense of failure in my arts, never trying hard enough. It was never really going to be me, right?
This limbo around my creative endeavours, and the words “should have already” are my biggest enemy most of the time. I’m 47, I ‘should be’ teaching classes, not contemplating taking them, right? Well, no, that’s silly, but it is the thought I always have first, second, and eventually it wins out and I do nothing, or like publishing my books, I do as little as possible, other than write the pieces. I’m too impatient and not confident enough in any of my writing to submit it around anymore.
I did that in the 90’s a bit, mostly to contests at very reputable CanLit contests/magazines. I never once ever even got a form letter rejection (let alone the magazine subs you were supposed to get just for entering) so I have no idea if anyone at any of those contests even got my work. Maybe Canada Post hates me? This did wonders for my own sense that my poetry was not good enough for publication. Not even a form letter (when promised, and return envelope/postage included.) in return.
Obviously my stuff was only good enough for the bin.
I have already documented my curse with bureaucracies, lost forms, registrations, oy. This is where I lay that: the curse of always being the file that gets lost.
These few experiences warded me off even bothering with submissions on a more regular (and what people do, you submit a lot, constantly, if you want to get published somewhere) basis, and I love the idea of making and selling your own books. Once I realized I could do that, submission became something other writers did. Besides I was only ever writing for myself, even poems dedicated to others were poems of self love. It was also, in poetry the only place I felt safe exploring my gender dysphoria (I know that term is un-fash these daze, but I like the way it sounds) on a regular constant basis.
My poetry was always therapy, every poem is like a few months of really heavy daily therapy sessions. Often edited by virtue of “group therapy” which for me was the response that various bits of my poems got as I read them in public. I’m still editing all my poetry and will ’til I die. I just don’t get as much group input as I used to.
Which leads me back to my growing fear of being out in public: the only reason I returned from Japan before finishing paying off my debt was to Transition, and make a living somehow as a writer/film maker. I was really focused on these things before leaving Japan, writing and shooting a lot of video (youtube was just becoming a thing, and mostly I made video/music mashups, which were all the rage... most I’ve had to take down, as I’m not smart enough to navigate youtube’s arcane settling dispute things.), and taking tons of photos with the digital camera that changed my life.
Having the big viewfinder meant the cinema nerd me suddenly had widescreen to play with. I’ve always had an eye for composition, and wow, this little innovation changed my life. Photography rapidly replaced writing poetry as my primary creative output. I had always been frustrated by how non-artful, poorly composed my snapshots always were (I never had a really good camera, though to be fair) before digital, and widescreen viewers. I am bad at looking through tiny viewfinders, be they cameras, telescopes or what have you. It feels so wrong somehow to me, much like being male, growing up. Seriously, I was so frustrated, knowing I had learned so much about image composition from being a film student, and being unable to replicate what I could see in any good art.
But my other plan was Transition. That didn’t happen, right away. At first, while I still had savings from Tokyo, I found my own place, figured I’d score an ESL gig, or somehow make a living by making videos. I never figured out how to get either of those things. I made a lot of video poems. I was quickly disheartened to not be able to get any work after months of searching. I reluctantly went back to being a Video Store Clerk. Again the Transition timing was not there.
I was too stressed about earning enough to pay my bills, exactly like before I fled to Japan. This may be when I think, I began to understand, or grok Depression, capital D Depression. I vacuumed up all the food I could and maintained the Orson welles-like girth I had developed in Japan, desperately trying to be a gay man, rather than a trans woman. It just never took. Like dating girls in my younger days, it always felt wrong, as wrong as being a boy. I did however have a great deal of fun out in the clubs, doing all this. It’s when you are alone that all the self loathing happens, for me, anyway.
Boy, I’m long winded, eh?
I’m getting there... Everything had become what it was before I left Japan, half closeted, trying to be a bedroom only T-person, and Hating every second of that, eventually giving up on there ever being a real me.
I’ve talked about all this before, still, to recall how low I was literally the day I got the phone message that finally over 2 years after first trying (and over and over again during those years) to get an appointment to even talk about my dysphoria, and the possibility of transition. It makes me cry.
That was my lowest ebb.
Just like my long ago poetry submissions, and every school registration, student loan mess I’ve had.... Completely thwarted by bureaucracy and bad luck...
But since Transition has started, my overall depression or ennui has lessened, there definitely have been some moody swings in the last 18 months. But right now I really feel a bit like if I don’t start getting out a wee bit more, writing and finishing something, anything other than one of the rambly blog posts. If I don’t go back to school, change my routine and my work life, if I can’t get started on some of these things, I’m circling that darkness again. I don’t want that, so I’m trying to get motivated by going to some regular monthly counselling at the gender clinic, I’m at least researching and looking at back to school options. I’m not looking for a “trade.” I have one, I’m a writer... also a film maker, but mostly a writer. Again, money is a factor, no matter what if I go back to school, I will be in deeper debt.
Maybe I should just keep writing on my own and hope to hit it, like everyone else out there. I really don’t know for certain. I just know I need to feel more secure in my life, and work. Odds are I make as much as I will ever make working in a store. And I am done with that, as soon as I figure else what else will have me.