On not buying a new notebook

I’m on page 136 of 250 in a bright yellow Leuchtturm 1917 hardcover notebook — my favourite notebook type and brand, yes, I’ve just inserted an unpaid product placement in this post, sorry. Each notebook lasts me two to three months. It’s where the Morning Pages and first drafts of posts, skeleton sketches of ideas and occasional texts live. (Yes, I sometimes draft texts longhand, don’t you? Perhaps you should. Halfway through the drafting, 90% of the time, I decide to make a phone call instead… or NOT send the text, let the argument go. And if I do decide to send that text? It’s PERFECTLY crafted. #highlyrecommendedcommunicationpractice — no, I don’t think that hashtag will catch on but how about #hrcp? ok I’m lost in a digression, let’s move on…)

Shopping lists also live in the notebooks, ditto bad poems (first and final drafts of). And, when I’m writing the way I want to be writing, the notebook is my process journal, the place in which I ponder how and when to kill grandma and where did I go wrong with the hero’s character development, because he is such a soppy milquetoast (it’s a GREAT word, look it up), I don’t ever want to be trapped in a conversation with him, so why should Amelia be remotely attracted to him when he trips over her umbrella and falls down at her feet?

Anyway, point: I’m on page 136 of 250 (137 now), more than 100 blank pages to go, and I want to abandon this notebook and start a new one.

Don’t get me wrong: if you ask me, ever, “Jane, look at this cute notebook, should I get it?” the answer is always, Yes.” If you’re a working writer and you enjoy working longhand, there is no such thing as too many notebooks. You’ll get to it eventually.

(But if you’re looking for a gift for me, please don’t get me a notebook. I’m particular: it needs to be hardcover, the lines need to be a certain size — too narrow or too wide and my experience is 100 per cent affected, the paper has to take fountain pen ink well, the size of the page needs to be just right and, god, it’d better lie flat when opened, how do they even get away with making notebooks that don’t do that? Dammit, I’m digressing again, it’s because I’m afraid to write about the thing I actually need to write about…)

The reason I want to get a new notebook now is because I want to abandon the current one. I want a hard break between today’s writing and tomorrow’s first line and I want it because I hope that new notebook will galvanize me into doing that thing I need to do right now — take one of my six unfinished manuscripts and take it across the finish line.

Yes. I currently basically have almost as many unfinished manuscripts than I have published novels – more if you count the 2020 trilogy as one mega novel rather than three novellas.

This is not ok. 

They’re not even rejected manuscripts. They’re just… unfinished. So close to finished — Matilda a final proof away from being ready for an agent’s and publisher’s eyes.

A new notebook will get me doing what I need to do do finish them, right?

You don’t have to answer.

I know the answer is, “Wrong.”

I know this. But I’m kinda thinking… maybe? Sometimes, a hard break, not just a new page but a new notebook is what you need to mark the end of one thing (procrastination, paralysis?) and the beginning of another (execution!). How else do you really make a commitment to the change you’re promising yourself?

Well… you just do it.

But I’m not doing it.

Maybe a new notebook… and if doesn’t help, surely, at least it won’t hurt?

Jane to Jane: Or, you could use the time you’d spend going to the store to get that new notebook to, you know. Write those final chapters of Bingo. Proof Matilda.

Jane to Jane: But I just don’t think I’ll do that until I get that new notebook.

Jane to Jane: I don’t think you’ll do that if you get a new notebook.

Jane to Jane: I hate you.

Jane to Jane: The feeling is mutual.

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Let me name the demon again, shall I? I know it intimately. The last time I set aside a generous block of time in which to focus on finishing Bingo – and also, to plan my writing year and quarter – I had a bit of a breakdown and cried for two hours instead.

So here’s the thing, here’s the demon.

The five years between the publication of my first novel and the publication of the last were really, really hard.

They sucked.

They had good moments, of course, and lots of photogenic highlights, but they were the worst years of my life to date.

I create the novelist and the novels as a way of getting through them.

I feel, right now, as if I’ve come through… a very dark forest, or that part in a video game where you just keep on dying and being forced to relive, over and over again, a really awful, unenjoyable part of the terrain.

I don’t want to go back.

And I haven’t quite figured out how to make my way back to the good parts — the writing, the finishing, the publishing — without revisiting, reliving all those shitty bits I want to keep in the past.

Him: Well, if you know what’s wrong…

Jane: We’ve been over this. Self-awareness is actually not enough.

I suppose what will happen is that I will not get a new notebook.

And I will not finish Bingo before the end of the month.

But I will finish it eventually?

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I am not getting a new notebook today.

I am writing this post, and I am looking at Bingo, and what I need to do to it. Also, All in the Cards. Clearly, what I should do, is proof Matilda and send her out into the world, but that’s too easy. And I’m thinking about writing a new short story about a wanna be dominatrix called Tina and her best friend Fran and I’m thinking I might have them discover a body in the dungeon and maybe what I really need to do right now, instead of finishing one of those six romances, is to write a murder mystery?

Help.

At least I’m writing and not shopping for a new notebook. Right?

xoxo

“Jane”

18.

Flora is 18 today. It feels like victory – over fate, genetics, the universe, God, whatever you want to call it. She’s made it another year, we’ve made it another year – she made it to 18, dammit, and you can all 18 just a number but socially constructed milestones matter. She can vote, drink legally in most jurisdictions, be tried in adult court, and possibly own a gun.

My girl is 18. She made it.

My joy and relief are, and always will be now, fragile. The demons that started to ravage her life four, five years ago will never leave. They are part of her DNA and for the rest of her life she needs to work to keep them controlled, contained, and the people who love her need to stay aware, vigilant.

But when the meds and therapies are working, we can relax, at least a little, and rejoice.

Celebrate this 18th birthday for all that it’s worth.

If you see my beautiful, confident daughter today, you’ll be blown away by her poise, style – and, as soon as she opens her mouth, you’ll be blown away, and likely intimidated, by her intelligence. You never see what it costs her to get there. Not in some distant time in the past, not in the time she spend in hospitals, clinics, with armies of doctors and therapists, but that morning, every morning, an hour ago, every moment of every day.

Maintaining her health and well-being is, in effect, a full-time job that she fulfills while going to school and working to spend time with friends, have fun, live a life.

In her university applications, she’s had to reflect on her youthful milestones and accomplishments, to tell the gatekeepers who she is and why she’s worthy of admission. She’s told me and her dad that the questions are had to answer. Retraumatizing in some ways. At a time when most teenagers are supposed to do the teenage thing, find their first selves, and also party a little, have their first crushes and broken hearts, all of her energy was focused on battling her illness, staying alive.

“I don’t know who I am,” she says, writes. “I’m just starting to be able to ask that question.”

She’s 18. She’s alive. Beautiful, smart, tough. A little cruel and unforgiving, but I understand. Surviving her illness made me cruel and unforgiving too. Perspective is actually a terrifying thing.

She’s 18. Every functioning day a gift. Every hard day that she sees to the end and to a new beginning a victory.

Happy birthday, my most beloved. Keep on fighting.

xoxo

Mom

Why I document

Kick like a girl, April 28, 2019

Her story, my story, our story, June 22, 2019

“You are amazing” — you are partly right, June 25, 2019

Suffering, living, loving… home , January 5, 2022

Happy birthday (the war’s not over), January 9, 2022

Happy 2023: Here’s to NOT becoming a better person, again

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Happy New Year, and belatedly, Happy Solstice, Happy Yalda and also, merry three days until Christmas Eve – I wrote the first draft of this post on December 21, while I was still busy dying, but when it started to look as though I would live and I would not have to spend Christmas in isolation.

The bad news, of course, is that I’m two weeks behind on life during what we’ve managed to turn into the busiest and most stressful time of the year

The good news is that I don’t care.

The neutral news – the news that I’m not sure is good or bad, but which has acquired consciousness and insists that I recognize its potential significance – is that I ran out of coffee a day or two into my incapacitation, and I was too sick to do anything about it. Didn’t matter, anyway, my main beverage was NeoCitron.

So my First World dilemma as I recover: the illness enforce a caffeine – and alcohol – cleanse of sorts. Do I keep on riding that horse or do I celebrate my return to the land of the living with an espresso and a glass of Cab Franc?

I hate, tbh, that this question is even occupying brain space in me. I don’t drink coffee morning to night. I don’t think it affects my sleep, my energy levels or my behaviour. I just really enjoy my coffee. I love making it, smelling it, tasting it. It’s glorious. (See “But I love it” https://nothingbythebook.com/2017/10/16/but-i-love-it/

Wine and its variants are a bit more complicated. There are signs that alcohol adversely affects my sleep, and even a drink or two makes me more sluggish in the morning. But I don’t drink a bottle of wine a day – or even a week. And  if I choose to indulge with the grape on a Saturday night with friends and am willing to pay the price of a mild hangover for a couple of glasses of wine… why do I feel as though I should work towards eliminating all alcohol from my system til the end of time?

A smidgen of it has to do with the family and national history of alcoholism – I do not want to all victim to that, ever.

But most of it is your fault.

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I don’t mean you personally, of course. I’m talking about the meta-you, the global-you. Or, if you don’t want to take any responsibility for my neurosis, we can say it’s their fault. You know, them. The media, society, Instagram wellness reels and pop-up advice about nutrition trends. The First World has eliminated famine – for the First World – and replaced it with joy-killing obsession about what we put into our mouths, our bellies.

I wish I was immune to its guilts, but I’m not.

Coffee. Alcohol. Gluten. Processed foods Dairy. Soy products. Nightshade vegetables. If I  really cared about my body and my health, I wouldn’t put any of those thigs into my system.

Ugh.

I love all of these things. (Except soy. I can give up all soy products tomorrow. Tofu is what people invented when they were short of yummy animals.)

Here’s the thing: I’m actually a pretty healthy person. Reasonably fit, and the bit of squish on my belly is a perfectly reasonable amount of squish (and, if I believe my lovers, adorably cute to boot) for a woman careening towards 50 whose body has birthed three humans.

Nope. Not good enough, not thin enough, not firm enough, not flexible enough, not strong enough, not Instagram reel worthy enough.

Double ugh.

Why did you do this to me?

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I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. I lived in cooperative housing for 15 years, and let me tell you: getting a group of like-minded people already committed to a common goal to agree on the colour of building siding and the cost of bathroom fixtures is hell. The Illuminati don’t exist, and if they do… all their energy is spent on vicious in-fighting over the interior decorating choices of their secret meeting room.

I know no government, media, corporation or religious representatives ever sat down in a room and decided, “You know what’s guaranteed to perpetuate the patriarchy? Getting women to obsess about the inadequacy of their bodies. Here’s how we do it.”

No. They didn’t do it to us to push their agenda. We did it to ourselves – and they (corporations in particular) happily leveraged it.

The last few decades, instead of liberating women from The Beauty Myth, we are sucking men into it. Check out the beard oil product selection in a drug store, or how exercise is marketed to men now if you don’t believe me.

For the last few years, I’ve been becoming increasingly – suspicious? disillusioned? angry? hard to choose the right adjective, they all fit – with the self-improvement cults sweeping the First World and invading the globe. They are all replacements for religion, tradition, community. They give their adherents something to focus on, something to believe in, and a group of fellow believers to commiserate with.

They keep us focused on ourselves. We make ourselves the work, the project – instead of making the world the project.

That’s right. I’m not giving up coffee, because if I do, the Illuminati win.

(I know I said they don’t exist. It’s a metaphor, dammit.)

In 2023, again, I am NOT working on becoming a better, let alone a best, version of myself.

Screw that.

So bring me a latte and a glass of the house red, a side of fries and then a crème brûlée.

I’ve got two weeks of the NeoCitron diet to make up for

xoxo

“Jane”

On my recalcitrant reluctance to re-establish a meditation practice

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I meditated today for 20 breaths.

It wasn’t awful.

Among my dozens upon dozens (hundreds?) of unpublished posts and unsubbed (bad) poems from the last two and a half, three years, there’s a whole category entitled “On my recalcitrant reluctance to re-establish a meditation practice.”

(I know, the title just rolls off the tongue, don’t it.)

I had a robust, twice daily meditation practice for many years. Hey, atheists have to pray somehow — for me, after many years of mocking yoga (I still find it problematic), an encounter with Kundalini yoga and an (unrelated) romance with a (sort of) Buddhist nun finally got me meditating … not coincidentally, at what I had then thought was the hardest patch of my life.

Then came truly the hardest, worst patch of my life – nothing will ever be worse and I have no fear of tempting the fates to fuck around with me here. I have lived the worst that a mother can live, and meditation utterly and completely failed me at this time.

I used Rex Stout and M.C. Beaton audiobooks to silence the screaming in my head instead.

Query: Can reading murder mysteries be a religion? Asking for a friend.

Later when the screaming subsided, I tried to find my way back to meditation. Repeatedly. I’m not sure, honestly, why. It had, after all, failed me. And as I reflected on my clearly dysfunctional relationship with meditation as I tried to work through my resistance to resuming the practice, I repeatedly came up against this:

Meditation did not help me to endure to help I had no choice but to walk through. (Rex Stout’s shallow plots and Michael Prichard’s sonorous voice did that.)

When things hadn’t been so bad, and when I actually had a choice? Meditation contrived to keep me in a situation I should have been actively working to change.

ii

So what I did today was breathe. 20 breaths. Eyes closed. A moment of silence and stillness.

It wasn’t awful. But then, I’m very happy now. There aren’t a lot of demons howling inside.

iii

Why am I even trying to find my way back to this practice that I view as having failed me, twice, in two different ways?

Because I remember… I remember it feeling good. The stillness, when I achieved it, felt really good. I catch glimpses of it now in my daily life: after I finish my morning pages, when I’m driving Cinder to the train station at 6:30 in the morning in -40 weather, when I water my plants, when Ender and I make art, when I watch the cats wrestle, when I read while Flora works on her bones, when I make coffee, occasionally when I peel potatoes.

Sadly, never when I load or unload the dishwasher – or when I do my work-work. I love my job-job, more than I care to admit to most people (“Sell-out,” you know) but my days are fractured, full of meetings, revisions and shifting deadlines. I want to find pockets of stillness in my workday.

I think meditation may help.

And that, perhaps, is its proper role. A helpmeet with a narrowly defined role and purpose.

Not a panacea. Not salvation.

iv

Salvation, incidentally, is a hard concept to full let go of – and that’s how you know I was raised Catholic. The concept, the metaphor of salvation pervades my creative and reflective language still. Who really wants to give up on salvation? To say – yeah, you know, what? I’m good. I’m embracing suffering and damnation, I don’t want relief, I’m good, really.

I officially let go of religion, faith – and so, I suppose, salvation – when I was 14… but it creeps in. It creeps in.

I suppose it always will.

v

I am not sure I will meditate, or take 20 silent breaths, tomorrow. Or ever again. Then again, I might, when I have eight minutes between meetings, an awkward amount of time, not even enough to properly pay attention to email… but enough for a couple of spinal stretches, 20 breaths.

I might.

But I might not.

Don’t hold your breath.

xoxo

“Jane”

The winter of my immune system’s discontent

So I’m sick again, sore throat sniffles, probably not COVID but maybe and even if it is, who cares – I feel like death, for the third time since October. Between our three core households, someone’s been sick all fall. I can’t remember if it was like this every fall pre-COVID (it probably was). It definitely wasn’t like this during the restrictions of the pandemic.

Inevitable conclusion: we may have hated the mask mandate and the lockdowns… but they worked.

My kids usually get sick first (schools are disgusting) and as soon as any one of them is coughing or sneezing – they’ve been sick so much this fall – I wear a mask to the grocery store, to Pilates, and I don’t go into the office. These days, I feel self-conscious in a mask. I live in Alberta after all, the anti-masking and anti-vaxing capital of Canada. Odds are most of the people I’m trying to protect from my children’s germs are pegging me as a paranoid freak and thinking unkind things about me. (And how whack is that, friends? The worst thing about the pandemic: it seems to have killed  the capacity for kindness and compassion in so many of us.)

Thing is, I’m resigned to getting sick myself. If my kids are sick, I’m gonna be sick. In most families, children are the patient zero, binging in diseases from their schools. All I’m trying to do is not to pass o this latest gross thing to you and yours just before Christmas. You might get it from elsewhere – I just don’t want you to get it from me.

You’re welcome.

(I know you’re not grateful. Whatever. My capacity for kindness and compassion is also not where it was pre-2020. If someone invents a pill or shot to give me back that, sign me up.)

When I’m sick, wearing a mask in public basically doesn’t arise because since my bout with COVID last spring, when I get sick, I get hammered: I can barely get out of bed, never mind the house. Isolation caused by inability to move is my default setting.

I also start to think that life has no meaning and that if the cold-flu-COVID takes a turn for the worse… well. What does it all matter?

Yes. One of my flu symptoms is existential angst and despair.

I had a pre-Christmas weekend full of fun planned as I felt the first tickle in my throat develop into hacking and needles in my lungs. There was to be a work Christmas lunch, a solstice celebration and a crazy 90s dance party, the YC Queer Writers Christmas party and, most importantly, a family pierogi making assembly line… Throughout the week, during the good moments, when the meds kicked in, I deluded myself that I’d be ok, I’d be fine – surely, a sore throat wouldn’t last all the way until Friday, right? I’d be good to go by Saturday, right? I’d get to do all the things on Sunday, right?

Hope springs eternal until the existential angst sets in and I crawl back under my blankets, sobbing.

If I don’t survive – have a merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Rocking Omisoka and a Happy New Year.

If I make it through – see you in 2023… or next week if I have a really good idea for a post.

xoxo

“Jane”

It’s beginning to look a lot like (a writer’s) Christmas

The tree – fake, prelit, about five feet tall, $50 on Kijiji – is up. Fifty dollars, tbh, seems a bit high for a hand-me down tree. I mean, you don’t need it anymore because you bought a $300 or $900 new fake tree this year. You should, by rights, be paying me to take this unwanted, inferior tree away from your house. No? You really need that $50 to recoup your original 1990s costs or to offset the cost of your new $900 tree?

Yes, Virginia, there are $900 artificial trees. And, there are $600 trees on Kijiji. I quote: Prelit 7.5 foot Christmas free – some brand I’ve never heard of – $600. Ad text: Like new. Paid $900, asking $600.

Kitten. You may have been dumb enough to pay $900 for a Christmas free, I’m not dumb enough to pay $600 for a used Christmas tree. (Not even if it’s vintage or antique—but it’s not.)

Anyway—Christmas tree is up, the one glass ornament we bought is already in a thousand pieces and in the garbage. Within minutes of the tree’s erection (ha ha), the cats liberate two or three plastic red apples from the bottom branches and bat them around the house. I feel good. Almost in the mood to put on Christmas carols. Or, at least, Wham.

It’s a good day: hell is thawing and the temperatures are hovering around zero Celsius and not -100.* I’ve been up three hours before the crack of dawn and I’ve already worked and I feel guilt-free and entitled to take a 20 minute writing break. Funny thing about my job btw: I’ve been hired for my writing expertise but I don’t write enough at work to maintain it. None of us do. We work, hard, for sure, but nobody on my team has ever written at the pace a journalist with a daily or a romance novelist writes – the pace that really hones the craft and expertise and kills the myth of writer’s block. There’s something to be said for the expertise and practice sheer volume (and the fear of real deadlines) gives you.

In my prior life, a light month would have me producing 10,000 words of long-form copy – and that’s just the stuff that would be published. When I’m working on a novel, that’s the weekly – or weekend – word count target.

The end result of all that practice is that even when I’m bad and inspired, I’m pretty good at getting the words out – and fixing yours.

Practice.

A few months into the now not-so-new job, I noticed that I wasn’t writing enough to stay where I want to be. It’s not like riding a bicycle. It’s more like running competitively. Just because you’ve trained to run a marathon doesn’t mean that ability stays with you once you stop practicing. So I’ve incorporated additional writing practice into my slower workdays, on top of my Morning Pages and my personal writing. I write and rewrite headlines and leads as I read industry articles. I write ad copy for ads we’ll never publish. I’m turning my work bullet journal into a mini blog. I have to keep my claws sharp.

Flora: Workaholic, also, I think I’m starting to see where some of my issues might come from.

Jane: You know what? I’m sick and tired of people who don’t love their jobs and don’t excel at what they do calling people who are really committed to doing good work workaholics.

Flora: Don’t yell at me. I see my future and it’s scary.

Jane: It shouldn’t be. Mastery is intoxicating and flow is the best high.

Back to writing: I’m prepping notes for a couple of new writers’ conference presentations and looking for a new way to say the same old thing: Practice, practice, practice and also, find yourself a ruthless editor who will strip you of your ego and make you understand that the only thing that matters is whether the story works…

Flora: Speaking of, what is this story about?

Jane: Our new Christmas tree and me having a good day. Stop interrupting.

So it’s a good day because I’ve worked and I’m writing and it’s not too cold outside and the cats haven’t toppled the Christmas tree yet. Also, coffee is delicious and my new writing nook is adorable. I found it – or rather, its contents – at a thrift store ($25 for the table, $25 for the chair) while looking for a non-$600 Christmas tree.

I still kind of feel I overpaid at $50. But I understand – inflation, also greed. I don’t regret it. It’s a one-time expense and I’ll likely leave it in my will to Ender. Or post it on Kijiji in 2050 for $900: Vintage Christmas tree, only slightly pre-chewed by cats. You know you want it.

xoxo

“Jane”

*written December 8, before hell froze over again

Untraditionally yours: What sort of Christmas do you want to have?

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Happy Saint Nicholas Day! Today is the day that children in Poland and other countries touched by the legend look in the boots they shined the night before and find a little present, perhaps some candy, and, in the case of my brother and me, a letter from Saint Nick setting out exactly what level of good we need to reach over the next 18 day to get a gift on Christmas Eve.

My family dropped the tradition somewhere along the line after we landed in Canada, replacing it with the chocolate Advent calendar (we never quite figured out the stocking thing). I never did it with my children.

I’m actually not sure that I own boot polish.

Traditions. They can come and go, you know.

ii

I struggle with Christmas. I used to love it and then I hated it, more and more, without understanding why. (You’re thinking crass commercialism—nope.) More than a decade would pass before I realized that on Christmas Eve 2003 I started bleeding, didn’t stop for five days, and when I woke up in the hospital on the morning of December 30, I was no longer pregnant and the remnants of my son—his name was going to be Kieran Adam—were god knows where and I felt so empty and I wanted to die but I had a toddler and it was the most wonderful time of the year, Season’s Greetings, party party, so I had to put the grief away.

It’s been 19 years.

It comes back every December.

iii

Ender and I are having a disagreement over the Christmas tree. I don’t have one. I don’t want one.

Ender: That’s what you open the presents under. You need one.

I will, of course, get one. He and I will head out together and get the perfect Christmas tree that will shed needles all over my floor—likely get toppled by the cats—but, whatever. I will get one.

Some fights, the kids always win.

Ender: Can we go to Safeway and buy some snacks? You’ve got nothing in the house except for vegetables.

Sigh.

iv

At work, I’m struggling with EOY burnout. EOY, btw, stands for End of Year, and EOD is End of Day and OOAS is Overuse of Acronyms Syndrome, a poorly understood neurological disease that large organizations and texters are both prone to, lol, wtf, brb, kwim?

Back to burnout: the week in Cuba (I went to Cuba, did you know?) was marvellous (but I’m back now, I wish I wasn’t), but I still wake up exhausted. And it’s cold and dark out. It’s not just me. My whole team is running on empty right now—we just want to nap.

We need to pretend to work—and intermittently actually work—for two, three more weeks. If you think about it, barely 10 days, really. Not a lot of new projects get launched in the week just before Christmas.

We don’t call it Christmas at work though. Just the Holidays.

v

My family celebrates on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is for hangovers and leftovers. The kids spend December 24 with me and in the late afternoon, we head over to my parents to sit down for the Christmas Eve feast extravaganza. We eat when the first star appears in the sky (yeah, so basically at 4:33 p.m.).

It’s a largely secular Christmas, although we do share the Body of Christ before we sit down to the barszcz and fish soup.

On Christmas Day, the kids are with their dad and his family, and I’m crafting new traditions. They might involve binge-watching Bridgerton in bed, atheist/heathen potluck with other folk for whom December 25 is just a day off, or a writing marathon.

Traditions. They all start, in the beginning as a one off event that you choose to repeat. And repeat.

Until you don’t.

Traditions can be started.

Broken.

Resurrected.

Happy EOY to all those who celebrate.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Christmas tree acquired.

Temptation in my pocket

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Trying to write my Morning Pages with two phones and two laptops open beside me. Not good. I can’t focus or rest on the page. On the work phone, a Teams chat about something not urgent but interesting that I want to be part of. On my personal phone, sweet nothings from my lover and a dozen notifications from this site or that. On the work laptop, a presentation I can’t wait to start working on and an article I need to share, also, my LinkedIn profile. On my personal laptop, banking tab—can’t forget to pay the Mastercard—also, my current WIP in Scrivener.

Breathe.

Why am I doing this, why am I setting myself up for such failure? I will neither rest on the page nor do my work nor prepare for future writing. I will freeze, paralyzed by all that I could do, ought to do.

Breathe.

ii

I accidentally give my iPhone, much battered already and with many cracks and breaches, a bath. As I put it in a bowl of lentils—I’m out of rice, but surely lentils will do the same trick?—I ponder whether I really want/need to get another smart phone.

I have a work phone on which kids could text me in emergencies.

Could I go back to a life free of apps? A pre-Instagram, pre-texting all the time, everthing at my fingertips life?

And do I want to?

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It’s the question I’ve been asking myself since May 2013, when my mother bought me my first iPhone for my not quite-40th birthday.

It’s been great. I love it.

But it’s also been awful. By which I mean—I know I’m chained to, dependent on that device more than I am on coffee, never mind cheap red wine.

I think there’s  lot to be said for NOT having the world at your fingertips.

At the same time… Google Maps, Yelp restaurant reviews, cat reels on Instagram and all those sweet nothings from you totally make my life better.

iv

So I’ve ordered a new phone. It’s the smallest one I could find, on the cheapest plan I could find—still more than I need or want, and I know I will use it more than I want—or need.

I resent that it’s this difficult.

I don’t own a television. I don’t binge on Netflix (although, I confess, I’ve spent the occasional weekend in bed with a BBC murder mystery series or Bridgerton or low-budget Netflix romcoms).

I should be able to just use this microcomputer in my pocket to serve me—not to worry that I am its slave.

v

Morning pages. Laptops and phones away, out of sight and out of reach… but I know where they are. And what is the worst that will happen if I open Spotify s that I can have some music on while I write?

I push the thought away. Breathe. Stay on the page.

Resent the effort it takes.

xoxo

“Jane”

More drama, please

Have you ever noticed that the people who tell you “I’m not the type of person who…” are guaranteed to be the type of person who, precisely that?

And, the people who tell you, at every turn, “No drama, please!” and criticize friends, lovers, and strangers for bringing drama into their lives—they aren’t just drama magnets, but drama creators?

Weird.

But maybe not…

Let me be honest and contradictory: me, I like drama. I prefer Macbeth and Hamlet to As You Like It and Love’s Labour Lost. I’d rather watch murder mysteries than sit-coms. And I like life to be… well, interesting. If you bore me, I won’t hang out with you—or work for you—but neither will I create drama in our dynamic to spice things up.

I’ll just move on.

Drama creation is on my mind these days because a friend-acquaintance of mine seems to be particularly bored in her life right now and hell-bent on making it more interesting by manufacturing drama. I get it—a boring life is, well, boring. It does not use up enough psychic energy, and all that energy needs to go somewhere. If I felt entitled to give her advice, I’d suggest she take up knitting or woodworking, maybe Zumba, aerial yoga or karate—but making such suggestions would be officious and, really, neither her boredom nor her theatricals are any of my business. I can watch from the sidelines and be amused—or decide that the show is tedious and move on.

A friend who has known me since I’ve achieved sentience—for me, that happened at 17, not seven, I guess I was a late bloomer—fixates on, almost idolizes this aspect of my character, this ability to define a clear boundary and maintain it—to move on from relationships. He keeps on getting sucked in by manufactured drama and, inevitably, becomes not just compliant in the drama, but its active co-creator.

Jane: You can stop texting. You can hang up. Leave the room. Unfollow, unfriend, delete and block the contact.

Him: But I can’t!

And he really can’t. Weird thing: unlike me, he’d probably say he doesn’t really want life to be interesting. He’d prefer it to be, if not outright boring, then at least largely predictable. He’ll protest this assessment, I expect—no one likes to be tagged as wanting things to be stable. (But they don’t like drama! No drama, please!)

As I write and reflect, I think that perhaps I lie: yes, I want life to be interesting. But I also want large chunks of it to be predictable. Predictably interesting, is that a thing? I thrive on routines, and so do my kids—Laundry Monday, Tuesday night dancing, Wednesday night movies, Friday night rambling and tacos, Saturday morning Pilates (hey, that worked for a while, maybe I should bring that back), Sunday night board games. I want to have a rough road map for how my day, week, year will unfold—when most things are predictable and constant, the unexpected and the dramatic, be it good or bad, when it comes, shakes things up just enough. I can ride it, enjoy it, thrive on it too.

When everything is out of control—I’m looking at you, 2013, 2019, 2020—everything sucks, including drama.

Well past the halfway point for 2022, I feel I’m still rebuilding my anchors and routines, crafting the predictability that lets me enjoy chaos. It’s going well: I’m now creating some space for boredom—not to create drama in your life or mine, but in my head.

I tend to channel my thirst for drama, when it comes, into story. Rachel’s grandmother is dead, now it’s time to pick up the pieces—is this the fall that I finally write Noelle’s story, go back to Felicia Elizabeth Jay’s drama, is my life stable enough that I can engage in my favourite type of drama again?

Here’s some dialectics for you (mostly me): Each one of my novels to date was conceived and completed in chaos, against a back drop of severe unpredictability. The novel was the anchor—my writing practice the key thing that gave a semblance of stability to my life.

A lot of things are giving me stability right now. If I can accept that the chaos of the pandemic (if not the pandemic itself) has firmly retreated into the past, my life right now is the most predictable it has ever been. I’ve never had so much certainty, security.

Yes, this means I’m about to start manufacturing drama to make it more interesting.

Let’s hope that it stays on the page…

xoxo

“Jane”

Today, I’m going to kill grandma

I’ve been thinking about killing grandma for days—weeks, maybe even months—and today, I’m finally going to do it.

Don’t feel bad for her. She’s ninety-three—maybe even ninety-seven, I have to double-check, hey, don’t judge, she doesn’t keep count anymore, not since she’s outlived all her friends—Mabel was the last to go, at ninety-two—and she’s had a good life, for the most part. A harsh beginning, child of the depression, and a challenging middle, unwed mother when that was not an ok thing, but until the broken hip a few months ago, she’s really lived her best life. Since the injury, she’s been bed-bound and while not miserable—hers is not a miserable character—she’s not been happy. She’s said to the people around her that she’s ready to go with, with increasing frequency.

I’ve known killing her is the right thing to do for a long time. What’s held me back is not quite knowing how to do it. Should she pass away in her sleep, to be found in the morning by the cleaner, the day nurse or her granddaughter’s roommate? Should Rachel—the granddaughter—be the one to find her? (Generally, I don’t want Rachel to find her—I want the news to be mediated, I want her to want to kill the messenger—I don’t want to miss that chance at drama.) Should she, maybe, die mid-conversation with Dark and Stormy—or, while texting on the phone? (Part of the storyline: she’s catfishing young men on Tinder. Because she’s bored. She’s that kind of ninety-three year old grandma.) Maybe I kill her while she’s sneaking in a wheelchair joyride down the condo corridor? Should she have a big fight with Rachel just before she dies, and leave her granddaughter dealing with even more guilt?

Or should they work all their shit out first?

I don’t want to mess her death up because it’s important. It pulls the rug out from under Rachel—takes away the one constant in her life, which is also her excuse for not doing certain things. It lets me shatter her, completely. The grandmother’s death is necessary.

And, it will let me write the funeral scene, which is key and awesome. I’ve been carrying that one in me for months too—I know exactly how to write it. But I won’t let myself do it until I get the death scene right.

So. Today. The end of grandma’s life. I think she’d appreciate a somewhat theatrical death. Where are we in the story timeline? Is it summer yet? Can I make it Canada Day? Stampede? Pride?

She wants a day at Pride. She dies mid-Parade, but, a la Weekend at Bernie’s, Rachel and her crew take her around the whole island first, because she has a bucket list to check-off. No, not Rachel. Rachel gets called away (work? She’s a workaholic, I’ve established) and leaves her grandmother with her friends, isn’t there for the death and the day… of course, police end up being called in—why, exactly, did they not call an ambulance as soon as they noticed the woman was unwell, dead?—and Rachel extricates her friends from the situation, but she hates them. Oh, she hates them—for being there for Adinah when she wasn’t—and she hates herself.

Ok, I think that will work. I’ll kill her at Pride. I can seed some “My only granddaughter is a lesbian and I’ve never even been to a Calgary Pride parade, never mind New York or San Francisco. How did that happen?” into the first act.

She’ll have heads around her neck and a lap full of candy and condoms.

And she’ll die happy.

(I’m still not sure about Rachel. She should be there—she’d want to be there—but does it all work better if she’s not there?)

(Writer problems.)

I’m off to kill grandma. Don’t call the police.

xoxo

“Jane”

Hunting ghosts: hopefully, not a metaphor

Sometimes, my cat sees things that I don’t see—and yes, this freaks me out. What can a cat see that I don’t see? It can only be three things, really: rodents, insects, or ghosts. Of the three, there’s only one I don’t mind having in my house—and it’s not mice. Or insects.

My daughter mocks me for believing in ghosts. And it’s not that I believe in them, exactly. It’s just that I don’t… disbelieve in them. I’ve felt atmosphere of places polluted by past tragedy, the weight of history, paralyzing sadness—also, overwhelming joy, sense of sacredness… I’ve felt spooked, and warned.. Terrified. And, also, protected.

Flora: Therefore, ghosts?

Jane: Therefore, why not ghosts?

Flora: How are you an atheist and how I am your daughter?

I don’t think atheism is at odds with thinking ghosts might be thing. Shadows, residual energy, memories so powerful they outlive the corporeal form? I’m sure if I tried, I could come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation for ghosts, aka Ghostbusters, ghost hunters or The Sixth Sense.

But I don’t need one.

I just think—you know, they might exist… and I don’t need a because.

Flora: So not a scientist.

I make no claim to be a scientist as I take my budding scientist across Alberta ghost towns. She, of course, is hunting for physical things: animal bones, owl pellets, coyote carcasses. If we ever find a human skull, I expect she will expire from sheet joy right on the spot—perhaps becoming a ghost that haunts that place ever after.

Me, I’m looking for stories, which is pretty much the same as looking for ghosts. Who lived here? How did they live, laugh, suffer? How did they die? Why did they leave—what did they leave behind? If they saw this physical ruin of their past, would they experience pleasure or pain? What do they regret? If they could live life over again, would they choose to live it in this isolated prairie town?

Sometimes, we find real people. They can be scarier and sadder than ghosts.

I’m thinking about ghosts because last week, a work colleague and I attended a collaborative writing workshop in which we set down the bones of a play—a scene, really—about a ghost haunting the Banff Springs hotel, because—of course—love and betrayal. It was a fun exercise and a stimulating workshop.

And it got me thinking about ghosts—and whether my cat really sees them. (I think she does.) Also, writing, the process of. Also, how annoying I find ‘aspiring’/’amateur artists and writers who take four years to finish—more often, not finish—a play or a project and who set themselves as somehow better than the people who actually write, create for a living every day.

I find myself annoying in that same way too. It is two years now since I’ve finished a novel. I’m writing… but not enough. And I’m not polishing, finishing—publishing.

My shitty first drafts haunt me, like ghosts.

Flora: Maybe that’s what your cat is staring at.

Jane: Mean. But fair.

As the cat stares at ghosts, I stare at her. She is aesthetically perfect, absurdly beautiful. Is she happy, fulfilled in her limited, safe pet life? Does her inner hunter need an outlet more meaningful than stalking spiders, dreaming of mice, imagining ghosts?

(She is not a metaphor.)

She stretches. Yawns. Curls up into a graceful ball and sleeps.

(OMG, is she a metaphor?)

I close my eyes and listen to the whispers of ghosts.

xoxo

“Jane”

Hierarchy of needs

i

On the mornings when Bumblebee the beast sleeps at my house, I start my morning serving the biological needs of the pets. The dog’s bladder trumps the cat’s stomach—although by the dirty look I get as I slide on a coat over my pyjamas and put a leash on the Bumblebee, it’s clear that the cat disagrees.

I tell the cat—Disobedient Sinful Disaster, or SinSin for short—I’ll feed her as soon as I come back. She does not believe me, even though this drama plays out pretty much every morning. When I come back ten minutes later, she is lying on the floor, dying of hunger. How could I?

I feed her before I make my coffee.

That’s the natural order of things: the dog’s bladder, the cat’s stomach, my addiction. I pour water into the kettle, grind the beans, and enjoy every moment of the ritual. Then I take the tray with my Frida Kahlo cup, off-brand Bodum, cardamom and cinnamon to the sofa, sit down, open my notebook, uncap the pen and take my first sip as I write the first lines of my morning pages.

(Julia Cameron would disapprove. She’d say walking the dog, feeding the cat and making coffee have all woken me up too much and my sleepy subconscious won’t be present on the page; the censoring consciousness will obtrude. I don’t buy it. I’ve written first thing the morning before walking the dog or feeding the cat—occasionally before coffee—and it is more or less the same. Sometimes painful, sometimes easy—always grounding.)

Today, I am not sure how much time I’ll have to rest on the page. There’s a lanky child sleeping on my sofabed, so the coffee and morning pages are with me in the bedroom. A child’s needs trump everything else. I need to work—he needs to sleep—if he does not wake up before my first scheduled meeting, I’ll take my work laptop in the bedroom. If he wakes up before I finish my pages, I’ll stop writing.

When I was at home with him every morning, I’d make him—all of them—wait.

”Mommy’s writing. I’ll be with you as soon as I’m finished.” When he was little, he’d crawl into my lap or sit beside me as I wrote. As he got older, he’d abandon my lap, occasionally and then more frequently, for electronics.

Now, at 12, he’s old enough to get his own breakfast. I know that.

He never gets his own breakfast at Mom’s house—the sleepovers are still too few and too precious.

Both his dad and I would prefer if he spent more nights at my place. But children’s needs trump parents’ wants and needs—we had broken that rule with our separation—and what he needs most of the time in his bed, in his room, in the only house he’s ever lived in.

(You do see why he doesn’t make his own breakfast when he’s at my place?)

I find myself pouring a second cup of coffee before I finish my first page, and I frown. I’m not that caffeine deprived—slow, down! Relish and sip, don’t gulp. One of my partners shares my addiction, the other has mocked it for seven years and refuses to feed it. I recognize it for what it is, both a physical and an emotional habit. I’ve let go of it in the past, for months.

But I’ve always come back, because no Japanese mushroom or grain concoction tastes this good, or loves me back this  much.

(My coffee whispers sweet nothings into my ear. Doesn’t yours?)

My son wakes up and stumbles into the threshold of my bedroom.

“Foods?” he says, as if he’s four and not a preteen. He’s often four at Mom’s house, in Mom’s presence, these days. I think that’s the way it needs to be, for a while—Flora, my daughter, 17 and too clever by half, thinks we both need therapy.

I expect we’re both right.

I take a sip of coffee and a breath. I tell him I just need to finish my writing, and I’ll make him breakfast right away then. He tells me he’s going to torment—er, cuddle—the cat while he waits.

I write faster. Then take another breath. Slow down. Take a sip of coffee. Rest on the page.

ii

I’ve just finished teaching a four week course for writers that’s not so much about writing as it is about organizing your life so that you have time for writing—and, also, about thinking in terms of writing practice, not just focusing on, chasing the finished product.

In the course, I talk about the art of radical prioritization, the lie of multi-tasking, the freedom of discipline—and how you only ever have as much time as you are willing to give to yourself.

People generally leave the classes feeling empowered and energized, as do I.

This time around, teaching the class highlights for me, again, what a lifeline my morning pages are, and how often they lead to a morning writing sprint, a draft essay, an outline of a blog post, an idea for a scene or a new story or even book. They are foundational to my writing practice.

But they are not enough. Practice is important. But so is performance.

And product.

Ender: Mom? Are you still writing? I’m starving.

I’m still writing. Then I’m going to make my son breakfast, and also feed myself. For a few hours, I’ll juggle being present for him with working from home—my least favourite thing, because there is no such thing as multitasking. Then I’ll take him to his dad’s house so that Sean does the juggling, and I’ll return to work more focused.

(Maybe I’ll even run over to the office, because we can do that now.)

And in the evening, I’ll write again. In-between, I’ll walk the dog. Feed the cat again. Finish my taxes. Maybe meet you for a drink.

It will be a good day.

“Jane”

P.S. Drafted April 21, which turned out to be not that good a day, but not bad either—thoroughly average, let’s say, with bad news and challenging moments interspersed with small victories and deliveries of support and love. But it started and ended on the page, and in-between, other needs were met. For me, that’s almost always what makes a good day.

What’s your anchor, bookend, consistent key to a good day?

Yeah? You gonna do that today? And tomorrow?

You should…

On work, time and money: Happy first anniversary to me

One year ago, I started a new job.

It was—is—my first Monday-to-Friday, 9-5 (more like 7-3, because I work on Toronto time, really, well, 7-5, because also, Calgary and Vancouver—point: people expect me to be reachable from 7 a.m. until whenever it is that they finish work)—and I haven’t had to pay attention to days of the week or hours of the day since, yeah, July 2000.

(I am now so old that I have 20+ years of experience as a freelance writer and 30+ years of industry experience, when da fuq did that happen?)

(I also have a child who’s about to turn 20—again, when did this happen? How? But I digress.)

As you have no doubt inferred, I’m having a moment. Anniversaries always throw me for a loop, and I have a birthday just around the corner that’s only two circles around the sun shy of 50, so I’m, you know. Reflective. That’s the word. Reflective. Not angsting. Definitely not angsting (yet).

Anywhere… where was I?

One year ago, I started a new job, my first Monday-to-Friday type thing since the year 2000—the turn of the century (!!).My brother outright asked me—“Do you think you can handle it?” We both knew he didn’t mean the technical aspects of the work. He meant Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m.—well, 7 a.m.—to 5 p.m. Routine. Predictability.

(Pro tip: When someone asks you, “Can you handle it?” always say, “Yes.” You don’t need their doubts in your head—your own are enough.)

I’ve been handling it—killing it, really—for a year now. The pandemic lockdown and work from home orders definitely eased the transition. I’ve been working not in an office, under my own supervision, for more than 20 years and initially, very little had changed. It wasn’t until I was in the office physically for the first time, with my team, more than six months into the new adventure, that I really felt I had a job.

As I celebrate my first anniversary, we’ve slowly going back into the office, in a new, hybrid model—work from the office, work from home, work where you like, just work together and get the work done. I’m mostly happy about this—a little worried that too many people will choose to work at home most of the time and I’ll be as lonely in the office as I get in my living room. But I appreciate the flexibility of the model, which stems from the recognition of how well we worked together from the isolation of our respective homes.

This stage of going back has its challenges. I only have two suitable for work outfits. I can’t quite remember how to pack a lunch. I keep on forgetting that it takes time to actually get to the office.

Transit time. It’s a thing!

When I do go in—I’m aiming for two to three days a week—I’m often alone on my floor and that’s not much different from being alone in my living room, except that there’s no place where I can have my post-prandial power nap. (Note to hybrid world architects, at my employer and elsewhere: nap rooms! Or yoga mats besides each desks and officially sanctioned yoga nidra sessions during that dreaded mid-afternoon productivity slump—think about it.)

When there are two or three of us, it’s a party, and when we all come in for a team meeting or lunch, all is bliss.

Still, overall, I’m thriving. This is surprising a lot of people—my brother, who thinks of me as a non-conformist hippy born in the wrong generation, for one, also, my corporate world loving lover in Toronto, who conceptualizes me as a flighty artist who has to be coached on how to dress appropriately before leaving the house. To be honest, even I’m surprised—who would have thought I’d find this industry so interesting, and this particular corporate assignment so fulfilling?

There are trade-offs. I can’t do all of the things. I give the job my all, which has taken moonlighting and freelancing mostly off the table. I miss some of those opportunities—a journalist gets to meet all sorts of fascinating people and hear so many stories. I’m teaching again, but just a little, and that’s lovely, but it makes for long and intellectually and emotionally demanding days. I haven’t quite figured out where to carve out the time for the novelist. She’s writing—she’s always writing—in the mornings, on the edges, on weekends. When she’ll find the desire and energy—it’s not a question of time—to submit, to publish, market,  I’m not sure—that’s never been her favourite thing. I expect she’ll manage somehow, eventually—she always does.

Time is, for sure, more rigid. There are still twenty-four hours in each seven day week, but not all of them belong to me. I can’t spontaneously take a sunny day off and take the kids to the river or on an impromptu road trip. I can’t go for a mid-day two hour walk with you when you drop by unexpectedly. Everything has to be scheduled—we’re lucky if I can tear myself away from my portable office for a fifteen minute coffee.

But right now, it’s all worth it.

What makes it worth it is, first of all—I won’t pretend—the money. It magically appears in my bank account every two weeks, a nice, predictable amount, and I still feel I don’t have to do anything for it. No invoice, no follow up invoice, no begging email, no semi-threatening phone call… it’s just there. All I have to do to get it is work. Amazing!

Also, the people—I’ve been professionally lonely for a while and the pandemic exacerbated that by taking way what writing community I had, so I’m loving having colleagues. Brainstorm sessions. Peer reviews. Professional development support.

Most of all? The daily recognition is da bomb. I’m really, really good at the work, and people reflect that back at me all the time. I’m not conflict-free about this—there are moments, when I look at my job satisfaction and tell myself, “Really? This makes you high? This is your purpose in life?” I struggle with its narrowness and limited impact.

But within that small sphere—I do make a substantial difference. And I make that difference with words, with my gift.

So happy anniversary to me, and thank you for coming to my Ted Talk…

“Jane”

P.S. I am going to take the time to type up and publish this post—yes, I’m drafting long-hand again—and as I do it, I’m going to reflect on the increasing reluctance I’ve felt over the past year of making most of my writing public, and poke about in that resistance.

But I won’t tell you to expect more posts from me, or a new novel from the novelist, in the months to come. I’m writing. Everyday. That’s key.

The sharing will come in its time.

As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, “The first rule of magic is containment.”

Also—and this is Mary Oliver, from “Black Oaks” in her poetry collection Blue Iris:

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from one boot to another—why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.

But selling some time for money—well. It’s definitely working for me right now.

How to craft meaning in a cloud of smoke

i

I began the year with three and a half exhilarating weeks at work, followed by a massive setback/roadblock/slam into a brick wall that had me screaming, not just into a pillow, but into my headset on a Teams call—my director slid off their headphones so as not to puncture their eardrums—and plunged me into severe existential angst. Ever have days like that, months like that?

No, I figured not, just me. 😉

I’m working through the existential angst the way I always do—by walking for miles, writing down all the unsayable things, re-reading risque romance novels (K.J. Charles, thank you, from the bottom of my aching heart, for all your books, especially the Sins of the Cities series), smoking sheesha, arguing with Julia Cameron and reminding myself of my responsibilities to my children and other important people in my life… and also daydreaming about running away to Cuba and being Ernest Hemingway—but hey, he didn’t end so well, so perhaps he is not the role model I should be looking at right now, or ever.

(But, man, could Papa ever craft the world’s most perfect sentences.)

My bouts of existential angst always boil down to the very simple question of “Why am I here?” … and “to craft a collection of perfect sentences” seems like a pretty inadequate life purpose.

Maybe I’m confusing skill with purpose, talent with meaning.

ii

Because the human brain is wired to look for patterns (and stories) in the randomness thrown at us by our senses, The Marginalian’s Maria Popova chooses this moment to pop into my inbox with Thich Nhat Hahn’s epiphanic loss of self—and discovery of his true nature:

Yet every time we survive such a storm, we grow a little. Without storms like these, I would not be who I am today. … when such a frenzied hurricane strikes, nothing outside can help. I am battered and torn apart, and I am also saved.

I, too, will soon disappear.

Some life dilemmas cannot be solved by study or rational thought. We just live with them, struggle with them, and become one with them… To live, we must die every instant. We must perish again and again in the storms that make life possible.

Thich Nhat Hahn, Fragrant Palm Leaves

Ok, Maria, not helpful. I don’t want to just live with my dilemmas, dammit. I want to solve them.

iii

The thing about creative work is that while you’re engaged in it, you can’t think too much—at all?—about reception. The inner critic is hard enough to silence; if you let the outer critic shape the work as you’re drafting, you will never finish anything worth sharing.

And once you share it, when the outer critics start second-guessing you… while you’re listening to them—and you have to listen to them, because critical feedback is, you know, critical—it’s very difficult to shut them, and the inner critic, out on the work you haven’t yet shared.

But I digress. I’m just chasing thoughts where they want to go.

I’m going to give them free reign for a few more hours.

Then, I will shape them.

iv

The thing about creative work that “aspiring” (I hate that adjective) writers and artists don’t understand is the amount of discipline it requires.

Moving out of existential angst requires a similar type of discipline.

Iron will.

I’m trying to find mine in a cloud of smoke.

v

Discipine, and that exercise of will, requires a clear sense of purpose. What I have learned over my decades (when did I get this old) of battling existential angst is that it doesn’t have to be the purpose.

It just has to be a purpose.

Sometimes, that purpose just needs to be—I need to get through this day, this hour, this minute.

But it helps if it’s a little bigger, more constructive than that.

vi

Constructive is a good word.

vii

We construct meaning. Purpose. We create our stories and our narratives before we live them.

Well, I suppose we can live them without construction, but I’ve never been capable of that kind of in-the-moment existence. Have you?

I chase clouds of smoke, looking for a way to shape the narrative.

viii

The nice thing about my existential angst is that it has been my fairly constant companion since age four, and the nice thing about being a storyteller is that I have a lot of experience in shaping its narrative. Bending it to my purpose.

I’ll do it again.

In the meantime, I’m going to read some K.J. Charles and meander through another cloud of smoke.

See you on the other side.

xoxo

“Jane”

Sitting on the couch and eating bonbons

My inner artist is very lazy these days, and much as I know that the only way to want to work is to start to work—desire comes from action—my default mode is still inertia and exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not just sitting on my couch eating bonbons. I doing all the things that bring me a guaranteed revenue stream. The rent is paid.

But, instead of performing my labours of love, I am sitting on the couch—laying, really—eating bonbons.

Hey, at least I’m not drinking wine—day 11 of no alcohol here, dry January, kittens. It’s not hard exactly, it’s just that tea is an insipid beverage and water is so boring.

By the way, a friend one told me, “Tea is my poison,” and I almost had to terminate the relationship. Tea is nobody’s poison, nobody’s vice. IT’s the liquid equivalent of saying you eat too much kale, especially if you take it black. (Green?)

So, Day 11, no alcohol. I have not replaced it with weed, cigarettes or cocaine, so, you know, kudos to me all around.

Hey, it’s not cocaine.

All that as belaboured exposition to say—as I sit on the couch, not drinking wine and not doing my work, I’m waiting for boredom to set it. I mean, not doing anything is boring. I’m a driven, ambitious person with a high need for stimulation. Surely, any moment now, my inner artist will become so bored, she’ll get off the couch and create?

Problem is… I’m not bored. Not yet. The not doing doesn’t feel bad. It feels awesome. The couch, wine-free though it is (full disclosure, there is always chocolate within reach), is a great place to chill right now.

This may all be part of the process.

Or, I’m totally spent as an artist and I’ve become a regular Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-fiver working schmuck.

Where is that wine?

Part of the process. It’s part of the process.

Right?

😬

“Jane”

Compassion in year three of sparkling COVID

I don’t know precisely how things stand in your neck of the woods because of sparkling COVID—by the way, this is the best COVID joke ever, maybe the only good COVID joke:

–but here in Viking Hell (it’s so, so cold) things aren’t great, although, of course, things could always be worse—things could always be worse. My kid who’s graduating from high school this year continues to have crappy, interrupted schooling. The kid who should be in first year post-secondary is working in a restaurant—well, when they’re open. My youngest is starting to think that this is all life has ever been or will be. Me, I’m about to start a second year of 100% remote work, with colleagues who are going into their third year of working in their basements, living rooms, and bedroom corners. It all kinda sucks and we’re the ones who’ve had it pretty easy…

All this is to say, inelegantly, that if you’re frayed and frustrated, irrational and irritable? It’s not without reason. Our reality is really not that awesome at the moment… and this moment has lasted a really, really—really—long time.

Still. With all of that, I see a shift in myself. Like, I actually want to live. This is so exciting folks—for most of 2019, 2020, let’s face it, at least the first half if not more of 2021, it was largely a matter of indifference to me whether I ended a day breathing or not. (And let me tell you, inconveniencing yourself for the sake of protecting others while you’re indifferent to your own survival? Really hard.) I wasn’t actively suicidal—chill, Mom—that would have required more energy than I had. I was just… indifferent.

So the best thing about leaving that space—on most days, I’d really like to be here tomorrow, and what a great feeling that is—is that I’m feeling my ability to feel compassion for other people return. Did you know that’s one of the things that happens? That when you don’t much care about what happens to yourself, you really, really don’t care about what happens to other people, their suffering, their pain… let alone their point of view?

I’m not going to pretend that I’m all sweetness and light, Kumbayah my Lord, let’s all hold hands and love each other (we’re still discouraged from holding hands with strangers anyway). But when you cut me off in traffic (how is there even traffic when we’re not supposed to go anywhere?), say something stupid online, of fail to be competent at the most basic requirements of the job you’re being paid to do… I generally think,

You must be having a hard time right now, nothing’s easy at the moment, hope it gets better for you soon, and until it does… I, at the very least, don’t need to make it worse.

End of 2020, early 2021? When you annoyed me, I wanted you dead.

So hey, progress, right?

Lest you think I’ve gone all Zen and enlightened on you—come on, you know me, that’s never going to happen—I’m still struggling with extending that compassion and understanding to those nearest and dearest to me when they… disappoint me, let’s use that verb, shall we…

We are always more unreasonable and demanding with the people we love, and they with us.

Still. Generally? I want to breathe tomorrow, and so I recognize that it’s hard for you to breathe right now, and I feel for you, even when you’re being a total ass.

It’s a much better place to angst from.

xoxo

“Jane”

Accidental self-reflection, about, of course, writing

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Hobbit hole. Baby, it’s cold outside, and the fireplace is roaring. The Giant Beast is sprawled on the couch beside me; the Svelte Beat is roaming the tiny apartment as if it were the Serengeti. I’ve got a cup of Turkish coffee beside me, and a lover tidying up in the bathroom.

I’m writing.

I don’t want to be self-reflecting, though. I realize this as I finish my morning pages, which flow well enough but which read more like a laundry list of the day’s and the week’s tasks than the “brain dump”—or space for self-reflection—that they’re supposed to be.

(A decade later, I’m still not sure if it’s possible to do the morning pages wrong, but if it is, mission accomplished. I think I do them wrong all the time. Still. I do them.)

The lover in the bathroom spent the weekend with me and between that and kids, I missed two days of morning pages since Thursday. So, no more. One missed day makes me feel off. Two missed days make me feel tetchy. Three missed days, and I am unwell.

So, I’m writing.

The people who love me value, encourage, and facilitate this need to write, be it the morning pages, these blog posts, the novels nobody reads or that other stuff.

That helps me stay on the path.

One word, one scene, one post at a time.

ii

I don’t want to be self-reflective and so I’m accidentally preachy.

(Side note: Flora and I debate earlier in the week weather accidental and unintentional are synonyms—I maintain that they are not, she’s not so sure. We also talk about the “Baby, it’s cold outside” lyrics, which she thinks are rapey, and which I think make total sense in the context and time in which they were written, and tell you a hell of a lot of about patriarchy and how fucked up gender roles and expectations still are, and, really, you want to combat rape culture, there are more practical ways of doing it than losing your shit over an American songwriter born in 1910, but hey, I’m old, what do I know.)

I definitely do not wish to be preachy either (man, it’s hard, when you’re in the mood to preach, everything‘s an opening–I am aware of what I did up there, thank you, let’s move on). One, nobody wants to be preached at—except, I suppose the people in church, but, maybe even there, really? They’re already converted: they don’t want to be preached at, just reassured. Preaching, kittens, is not how you change the world.

Two, who da’ fuq am I to tell you what to do?

Fortunately, the preachiness occurs primarily in the  morning pages and in drafts of posts I choose not to inflict on anyone else (except for that one, sorry, it slipped through). A moment of unintended self-reflection: if I’m preaching as a way of avoiding self-reflection, should I listen to what I am… Nah. I most definitely do not want to be preached at my myself.

iii

Today, I’m going to take the kids over to my parents for a pierogi-making marathon—assembly line might be a better metaphor—ok, it’s not a metaphor, it is a pierogi making assembly line.

I’m looking forward to it with an intensity that surprises me. Christmas is not the easiest time of year for me, but after last year?

Every holiday ritual, every chance to be with family, is extra precious.

iv

Baby, it’s cold outside, although not as cold as earlier this week. I’m a little bummed that you won’t get to read my panegyric about life in Viking Hell when it freezes over, because there are a few funny lines in there, but, alas, I’ve spoiled that with preachiness too. Still, nothing is wasted, everything is source material: the unpublishable blog post is still practice and process, and maybe I’ll use that turn of phrase elsewhere. Also, that particular cadence—I like it a lot. I’ll play with it some more, make it better.

The important thing is that I’m writing.

v

I’m writing, finally, again, the thing that I want to finish too. It’s not going well yet. I’m rusty and I have a hard time holding the plot line in my head. I don’t remember what seemed so obvious, inevitable ten months ago. But it doesn’t matter. I’m writing. One clunky sentence, one awkward scene at a time.

Novels get written, life gets lived in 15 minute increments.

Less.

I’m writing.

🙂

“Jane”

Cowboy boots, 21st century love and the road less travelled

i

I always wear my cowboy boots on my business trips to Toronto.

I don’t know whether your neck of the woods has a city that thinks it’s the centre of the universe and disses everyone who’s not from it—probably, eh? And then, the flipside: a city that knows it’s not the centre of the universe and works harder, parties harder … and has a bit of an inferiority complex in regards to the more sophisticated, snotty older sibling? It doesn’t help that that more sophisticated, snotty older sibling glories in putting down the upstart younger one—nevermind that the younger one, maybe, actually has more talent, a better job, a snazzier car and, damn straight, a better quality of life… but still isn’t the parents’ favourite?

That’s Toronto and pretty much every other city in Canada, especially my hometown of Calgary. As a Calgarian who has lived in Warsaw, Rome, Berlin, Paris, London and Montreal—and spent some time in New York, hush, we don’t need to mention my age at the time—I find Toronto’s attitude… cute.

I love visiting, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got fave clubs, restaurants and galleries—there a lots of benefits to being the biggest and having that population density. But when the city puts on its attitude—which it does as soon as you tell it you’re from Calgary—I like to hitch up my skirt, look at my boots, and pay homage to Nancy Sinatra.

ii

I’m in Toronto for six days, three pleasure, three business, although everything gets all mixed up in the end. I’m in town chiefly to visit my beloved and to try to figure out how, or even if, we’re going to navigate this phase of what has never been a typical relationship.

Love in 2021 looks like this, by the way: you leave your cat in the care of a new love while you go visit the one who left the city but not your heart, and nobody thinks it’s weird. Except possibly your parents, so like, let’s not talk about it.

You: You’re blogging about it.

Jane: Totally different. Hush. You’re breaking my flow.

You drive me to the airport at 4:30 a.m., and that’s also 21st century love, isn’t it, anam cara? Moments like this, I do think that we are changing the world, dismantling some of its most cherished assumptions one act of heartfelt kindness, love, desire at a time.

iii

I don’t know that I get any clarity as such during my visit. But I think a lot of things, all of them true.

First—there is no substitute for face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh contact. Professionally, personally, I don’t care: Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, Telegram, they’re barely methadone. Sit across from me over a cup of coffee for 15 minutes, and we’ll have moved our relationship forward 75 Teams meetings. Kiss my eyes once and it’s worth a thousand texts.

(To clarify, the kiss my eyes comment is personal, not professional. Just in case any of my new co-workers are reading: I am aware there is an HR manual, and it’s pretty clear: no eye kissing in the workplace.)

(Although I do occasionally send “smooches” to my director via text in response to compliments and forgiveness. Maybe I should stop that.)

(Where was I?)

(Here: There’s no substitute for face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh contact.)

Second—Toronto traffic is unadulterated hell. I don’t remember how Dante splits up the circles of hell exactly, but downtown Toronto, in a car? This is where the counterfeiters, hypocrites, grafters, seducers, sorcerers and simoniacs are punished.

And this is during the pandemic.

Third—the view from my Toronto office is to die for.

Fourth—for me to have the sort of life in Toronto that I have in Calgary, I would have to earn four to ten times as much as I do now.

Also, did I mention the traffic?

Him: Alternative–the flight was super cheap.

Fifth—children. Which is really the first and the final, and while one might be in Kelowna right now, and another planning a move to Vancouver, the little has at least six more years of Calgary growing to do, and, yeah, this is why I’m here to visit, and nothing more.

Him: I did mention the flight was super cheap…

Sixth—We’ve never actually spent six days together, 24/7 or as near as, and, fuck, by day three, I need my space back and so does my love, although when I ask him if it’s been too much, too long, he gets angry.

Seventh—I have a fabulous time (mostly) but I miss my kids, my friends, my life—my new love—with a shocking ferocity.

Eight—I’m in tears and pieces and utterly heartbroken, again, when I have to leave, but also at peace.

iv

A frenemy once told me that whenever I’m faced with a choice between two things, I always choose the harder one. Even back then, I suspected they were right; right now, I choose the harder thing again and again. I know how the easy thing will go. How boring is that? So. Let’s try this. Let’s suffer, in this new way, for a while.

Him: Suffer?

Jane: None of it is easy.

v

None of it is easy, but, actually, truly, honestly? I’m really happy.

True story: but every time I start to talk about how I’m actually pretty happy, I start crying.

That doesn’t make the statement untrue.

I’m walking a hard path sometimes, but, really… I chose it. And I’m (mostly) happy.

A little heartbroken, but perversely, even that feels good.

Him: Masochist.

Jane: You know it.

The cowboy boots make it all easier.

xoxo

“Jane”

Still not trying to be a better person

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I’ve been giving this a great deal of thought, kittens, and here’s the thing—generally speaking, I do want to be a good person. I just don’t want to be a better person. I mean, I probably wouldn’t mind being a slightly better person—it’s just a lot of work and I don’t want to do it. Like eating a totally sugar-free diet, exercising regularly, not drinking and not indulging with my occasional sheesha pipe—these are all things I’m capable of doing. I just… in the final analysis, when push comes to shove, insert cliché of your choice here—don’t want to.

You are on a relentless path of self-improvement—the goal, not perfection, I’ll grant you that, but that self-help enlightenment that makes me cringe. I’ve figured out why, by the way—your self-focus, self-improvement? It ensures that you will never actually change the world. You, yourself, after all are the project—the one thing you can control and change, and you do require infinite work…

He, conversely, thinks he’s perfect, no improvement required. When he clashes with the world, it’s the world that must change, not he. He’s often irritating to be around, I won’t deny—but he’s going to impact the world around him. You won’t.

You get upset when we talk about this—when I talk like this—because you sincerely believe that you do what you do for the greater good, not just of yourself and your soul—although, ok, there’s that too, you admit it—but for the Greater Good, two capital Gs, period.

That’s the lie the gurus, be they yogis of ancient lineages or secular life coaches sell. Maybe some even believe it. But the pursuit of self-enlightenment is really just a distraction—a way of sidelining intelligent, big-hearted people, funneling them away from the external work of social change and trapping them in the Narcissistic mirror of self-love.

Yeah, it’s a conspiracy and it’s a brilliant, grassroots one. The Man did not have to create it. He just needs to use it.

And he does.

ii

To be frank—when am I not—I feel the pull and allure of self-improvement too. I have control over so very little in my everyday life, nevermind on the macro political and social stage. My paltry actions on climate change and smashing the white, heteronormative patriarchy… all so insignificant.

But I have 100 per cent control over being thinner. Physically stronger, maybe even ripped. Capable of sitting still for 20-30 minutes each day in unfocused meditation…

Maybe it’s time to start sitting still and meditating again. It won’t change anything—but it will make me feel like I’m doing something.

Working on myself.

iii

I sit down and close my eyes. Breathe. Ugh. No. Not yet. Moral of the story, reiterated: I don’t really want to be a better person. Now excuse me while I go eat a chocolate croissant, not exercise, and have a long nap…

xoxo

“Jane”