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The Former Poet’s Guide To Survival

Field Notes In/On Transition

The Former Poet’s Guide To Survival 

I don’t consider myself to be a poet anymore. I’m not writing any new stuff. I have written maybe 4 poems in the last five years. I’ve put out my books sure, and even written a few poems (for those books,) that I’m proud of. Editing of my old pieces has been the only real work I’ve done in that area. Yes, it is work, completely unpaid, but such is the life of someone who writes. We are the bottom of the barrel, expected to work for free far more than any other ‘content provider.’ A term I loathe. One more thing the internet has helped to ruin, is the idea that people should be able to earn a (meagre) living from their art. 

Every artistic endeavour I’ve ever undertaken, people expect the work to be done for free. As a graphic Designer in the late 90’s my heart was constantly broken by small businesses who would hire me to design their business cards, or signage. Very few ever actually paid me. They were desperate with their own deadlines, calling me late at night, to make sure it was getting done. Once they had their product though, trying to get payment (way below market value for what I was doing as well.) it was like you were asking to take their first born. Fuck all of them. I still hate every single one of those jerk offs who never paid me. 

When I was a professional stage manager, the reason I called myself a Pro, was that all my plays came out in the black, as I made sure that we sold lots of advertising for the program. One play, there was a PR person on the payroll, and yet, I sold all the ad space, she never even thought of it. She got paid because of my work. This is the reason I never want to do that kind of work again, that and the complete dismissal of any gratitude to the person who makes the lights, sound work every night. 

Joe was the poet, the graphic designer, the cartoonist. I don’t feel like I’m any of these things anymore, just like I’m not that sad angry dude anymore. I am however sad and angry still. Unlike interesting ‘career’ choices, the sad and angry stays with you I guess. I’m so morose all the time I can barely stand it. As Joe, I was completely unable to cry, or deal with these emotions in any meaningful way. Booze, drugs, and food (and occasionally sex) were my therapists. 

Well, I have no taste for booze or sex anymore. in the last two months I’ve made a sincere effort to drink less beer (the only booze I can still stomach) if only because these days I really notice the extra calories, and how fast a weekend of drinking will put the weight on. As well, I almost always am alone when I drink, and for me, I realize maybe only now at 47 that drinking is actually entirely a social thing for me. I really only want a drink when others are drinking around me. I have a beer, now when I go out for dinner, once or twice a week. That used to be usually 2 or 3 beers when going out to eat. I have only bought a beer or two for the house once or twice in the last couple of months. Of course, I haven’t lost any weight. Though I know if I were still drinking that much I would be way heavier. Life is NEVER fair, ever.  :)

A big part of transition that I haven’t read much about in all the biographies, blogs I read/have read are the parts of your previous life that you have to let go of. For many of us, these things are bad habits, like food, booze, drugs, but there are also things that you never thought of, like not being a poet anymore.

I have a poem in my latest book (The Wickedness Of Flowers) called “The Bad Poet” that talks about how I don’t really read very many other poets, and it’s the one statement in the poem that is really true. I don’t. I read even less poetry now than ever, now that I’m not writing any myself. There was a time when I read tons and tons of poetry, when I first started writing classes in university. Since that’s what I was drawn to scribbling. Initially I thought I was writing ‘songs,’ but I suck at, and am averse to rhyme for rhymes sake. The whole world of free verse opened up my brain in ways that LSD never did. 

the bad poet

i have a confession
         to make to write
i hardly
           anyone else's poetry

i disdain all but internal rhyme as a waste of
i am loathe
to learn my own quivering words

i will not
           recite i will not
                         i will not
i will not

i am a bastardly yellow
coward of form
          my verse is more wild than free
it is of course 

and it is almost as if by design
that my pen lazily drifts across the page

i may never deign to writhe in a bloodless sonnet
or a purply prosaic triolet 

i already have and will 
again haiku

and as pentinance for my rather
mortal sin of omission 

i promise 

crossing my frontal lobes to forget
any   one   else's   epiphanies 
that may cloud 
              my cloven heart when it speaks

and to remind 
       you who are listening
that this
     poem is well 

this poem is 
          full of lies.  

© Josie Boyce all rights reserved 2013

Since I’ve started transition the only writing I’ve done really is this blog, that I started out trying to do once a week. I quickly found that I only had the moxie and enough things to talk about to get one or two entries a month. But I have done that very regularly. I also have almost completely stopped watching movies and television. 

Just after I lost some hours at my job in May and decided to do as little unpaid time at my job as possible (It’s amazing how hard this is for me) I found that I really had no interest in watching movies in my free time if I wasn’t being paid to do so. I still am able to talk about new films though as I get spoilered all day ever day, because people think you’ve seen every movie in the store. 

I’ve seen several thousand of them, but there are at least 10,000 I haven’t and likely never will see. Something I think everyone who knows me thinks I am passionate about is movies, and they aren’t wrong, but I feel I’m just more discerning in what I watched. I may have watched fewer movies in the last year, than ever before, but the important part is that I’ve watched fewer really terrible movies in that time. 

The other reason that my cinema interest has waned is that I have been reading novels at a voracious pace that can only be matched by the 3 years I was in Japan, and my early teen years. In my teens I devoured science fiction and fantasy like a nerdy young boy who plays D&D and learned to read by reading Spider-Man comics. In university I found out that Literary fiction was also very much to my taste, and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy staff waned in my reading life. I still kept up with authors I adored, John Varley, Gene Wolfe and so on, but from the late 80’s until the beginning of 2013, I mostly read, so called Literary fiction. I’ve read as much Can Lit as anyone not employed as a Can Lit teacher. I am so stoked that a Maritimer Lynn Coady has just won the Giller Prize.

This change in what I do with my non work hours has really turned my idea of who I am as a writer, on its head. Most of the last couple of years, this blog was the only thing on my mind. I had the odd fiction, or poetry idea. I have made some brief jabs at some fiction over the decades I’ve been writing. 3 day novel contest? I have entered 4 times, twice finishing more than 80 pages in 3 days and sending them in. I was never in the running to win anything, and wasn’t even hopeful of doing so. 

For me it was a way to prove to myself more than anyone else, that I could write and finish at least a draft of a story. I tried National Novel Writing Month a few years ago, and while I crumpled and only got maybe 30,000 words, and gave up on my story about a week short of the deadline, it was nice to have a focussed writing challenge every day. That not quite first draft is still on my hard drive with all the other novel length attempts that I’ve made over the years. 

The one thing though that I have never until recently attempted to write is SF/Fantasy. Why? I think that I was so entrenched in the idea that I had to write like my peers (a great many of whom are working Can Lit authors. I.E., they also teach, or do gigs other than novels, as it only ever pays so much unless you are extremely lucky to find some zeitgeist) and write “The Great Canadian Novel.” 

This summer I started working a bit on this sci-fi idea that has been percolating in my brain for a couple of years. I did a lot of note taking, sketching out character ideas, structural stuff. I have never done that for a long form piece before, and was always a bit intimidated doing any kind of fiction writing that wasn’t just sitting down and writing from beginning to end. Which I guess, is how I always approached the poetry. It used to sometimes take me a whole, occasionally 2 little pocket notebooks, or journals to finish a poem. But a poem and a novel are very different beasts.

The novels I have written in the past were mostly just like the poems, sit down, write and write and rewrite til finished. The difference being that the novel is a substantially (mostly) longer form than the poem. And I always burned out on the rewriting part, and moved back to the easy (for me) rhythm of writing poesy. 

But, when I was in Japan, the poetry rhythm ebbed, with my health and self image; it became something that I drowned in movie, TV,Comic Books, Sex, Booze, and Food, so much food. So much fast food, really was the typical Gaijin problem, that everyone warned me about... eating too much comfort food, fast food joints, or family restaurants, instead of mostly eating, cooking at home (Though I did only have one burner hot plate and a microwave in my tiny apartment.)... Many ESL teachers literally do become “Big In Japan.” The first 18 months I was there, I was so broke, I lost 30 lbs, in the second eighteen moths I put on 60. Another 18 months later I was in the hospital with hypertension.

Again with the digressions, what I’m getting to, is that, Transition isn’t just about representing your authentic gender in the best way that you can, it’s about becoming your authentic self, shedding maybe not just weight, but also for many of us decades of striving to be things you thought you ‘should be’ you now, given the circumstances. (Having to lie about who you are. Being closeted is really hard on the heart) It’s like being an actual Onion. Recently I’ve been shedding layers of self, kind of publicly and loudly. I have some days that are simply too grim to even revisit. But the one light for me in the last month or so, is this new writing idea that I had while stalling a bit on the patchy idea I had in the summer.

This one came to me just like poems do, or did. Fully formed, sitting there in my frontal lobe waiting for me to turn on the tap. For the last two weeks every day I sit down at least once and write for an hour, maybe 2, or 3 or 4. A totally different, and very much a science fiction story, that at first I thought might be a short story, but that now 40 odd pages in seems like it’s just getting underway. I am not going to talk about the content other than to say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever written before, but not so different from the stuff I read every day. If I was watching Tv and Movies all day, I think I’d be writing a script.

I have no idea if what I’m writing is any good. but I find it immensely entertaining to write so it’s a win win. It seems to be no trouble to sit down and pick up where I left off yesterday. It’s a story with legs. If those legs turn out to be therapy more than it is a finished creative endeavour, that’s fine too. I need to hone the skills I have, and learn new ones. I am pretty sure the going back to school thing won’t be happening soon. I can learn on my own, by doing, by writing every day.


  1. We all doing it at some point of life and anytime: discard the old and renew and refresh and reinvent our future. For transgender woman it is just more inclusive and complete change, some may even say progressive change. There is an empty canvas waiting for us to be filled with beautiful painting. If we made it so far to this point and we need to reinvent ourselves, there is nothing to stop us. We are free as butterfly with determination to go on with new and fresh ideas. It works, believe me, it does.


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