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

i

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

i

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”

Still writing?

i

I pick up my Ender from his homeschool school—like school, but part-time, like school, but for weird, unsocialized homeschoolers, like school, but you can tell the teachers you don’t care about academics and grade level and if you see them screwing up your kid’s love of learning and confidence—OMG, none of this is relevant to this post, except that clearly, I still feel defensive about sending Ender to fake school at all, because I didn’t really want to and I wish I had been able to give him the full ten years pre-high school that his siblings got, but such is life and so far, he seems to be thriving—although it was a rocky start, point: I’m picking up Ender from school and as I’m circling the playground with the Bear called Bumblebee, I bump into someone from my previous life.

“Still writing?” she asks me after giving me a shorthand of what she’s been up to over the past decade.

(People always ask that. See Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing for a book-length riff on why that’s such a weird question for a writer.)

“Yes,” I say.

It feels like a lie. Because outside of my morning pages, the occasional blog post, and a handful of bad (so bad) poems, what am I writing?

Well, I write at work, but that’s not really writing, it’s more production… anyway. It feels like a lie and as I excuse myself and yank the dog to finish our round-the-playground loop, I force myself to examine why that “yes” feels like a lie.

The answer is the same as it was on the day I realized that despite the undisputable fact that I’ve made a full-time living writing since I’ve been 17, whenever I said, “I’m a writer” when people asked me what I did or who I was… it felt like a like.

Because real writers write books.

Novels.

I haven’t been working on a new novel since I paused Bingo in February or March. I haven’t even been trying to sell the finished one(s).

So am I writing?

The published titles on my shelf say, “At least you wrote.”

They mock me.

I’m still writing, I tell them.

I think…

ii

There is, of course, one way to NOT make myself feel like a liar and that’s to pick up Matilda, Honey or Bingo and take one of them across the finish line. Matilda just needs a proof and can be subbed. Honey needs a consistency edit and polish, and it’s ready for a beta reader. Bingo needs 50K more words, but that’s a month’s worth of work at most, full-time job, kids and lovers notwithstanding. I’m only working one job now and I live alone, with the kids coming and going only three or four days a week—I definitely have the time.

Why aren’t I writing?

iii

If I were a friend asking me for advice—please don’t—I’d remind them about the hell that was 2019, the strains of the pandemic, the divorce, the stress of living on imaginary money for eight months, the five months of working two and a half full-time jobs, and suggest that they stop being a self-aggrandizing queen (queen can be a gender neutral word) and cut themselves some slack—also, what about that memoir they just finished ghostwriting, what is that, chopped liver?

(It’s so good, btw. Coming to a silver screen near you one day soon, I’m sure of it. Well, I hope. Nothing is certain. But. It’s so good.)

But I’m me, staring at me, and I think that clearly, I need to stop reading Ann Cleeves novels, watching Brooklyn 99 (because, inter alia, ACAB), dancing and dating and, like, write.

At least proof.

So I don’t feel like a liar.

So I don’t disappear.

Because, as everybody knows, when a writer doesn’t write, she doesn’t exist.

iv

Ender had a great day at school and is excited about everything. He likes his math teacher—I like his math teacher—and he loves gym and recess. There’s too much homework, though, he complains. When we get home, I make him a snack and he gets on his computer to double-check what he needs to do for next week—ends up making rockets instead (also homework, but he was just supposed to make one—he makes at least six).

I make supper, assist him a little with the rocket production line, in-between, read The Healers by Ann Cleeves and check work email. Flora walks over in a bit to join us for supper—have I told you Cinder has flown not just the nest, but the province?—and we eat, then clean up and play Anomia.

I walk them to the Coop house in the dark. It’s still early, only 8:30—I could, I should write. Right after I walk the dog, I can write before bed—but on the days that I pick up Ender from school, I like to start work by 6:30 so that  I’m essentially done for the day by the time I leave to go get him from school and now, I just want to stretch out on the couch and read.

Be asleep before 10.

I write a couple of (very bad) poems and this blog post first.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Still writing.

Sleep is for the weak and other lies

i

Another two weeks, more, of daily hand-written pages, ideas—one really great post about how kids take good parenting for granted—and that’s how it should be—but why da fuq does my daughter notice how hard doing all the things is for her dad, but never, ever noticed it for me, nor does so now—and perhaps she never will, is this something she should notice?—and how can I really write about that while being both honest and taking the higher ground—also, then it goes into how friends take friends for granted and that’s kinda how it should be, but really, maybe not?—screw it, I’m not going to transcribe it.

Another draft post that starts like this:

I’m pretty sure this is Sun Tzu, or maybe Machiavelli:

Don’t back your opponent into a corner unless you want a fight to the death, which you might lose, cause nobody fights with the ferocity and abandon of the desperate.

(It’s neither Sun Tzu nor Machiavelli, but that’s using force of authority to launch into an otherwise weak argument.)

It’s supposed to be an intro to a post about how nobody is saying to the unvaccinated people (some of whom are among the people I love, and if you don’t have in your heart and life any people who think drastically differently than you on key issues, you’re part of all the problems): “I hear you. I think you’re wrong. But I hear you. So why do you think…” –> this is how you begin a conversation.

“You’re dumb and stupid and wrong and what the hell is wrong with you?” –> that’s how you end a relationship.

It’s a good idea, I think, but somehow it doesn’t work—I can’t make it do what I want it to do. Because, again, I realize, I’m holding back.

Moral of this disjointed story: You can’t be truthful unless you’re willing to hurt, possibly alienate people.

Usually, this is not a problem for me.

Right now? I think what the world needs right now is less “truth” and more kindness.

ii

So I’m hanging out with Seth Godin at work (you can’t prove I wasn’t) and he says a bunch of things that are both insightful and obvious, and I find myself wondering why it is that the obvious seems so hard to enact sometimes?

I should have asked Seth when I had the chance…

iii

I have a weird day at work during which I go from meeting to meeting and fry my brain on Teams and Zoom (I hate computer monitors so much right now—when I write now, I write longhand or, if on my laptop, I type with my eyes closed), and feel stupid and sluggish—but those four hours spent sitting in front of the screen qualify as work.

When they’re over, I take the dog for a long walk. I’m stupid for the first 20 minutes, then I start thinking… and at the 45 minute mark, I have a brilliant idea, and also, I see two problems and two actions that I need to take ASAP to cut them off.

So, now, a quandary: that was nominally my lunch hour… but, really, my four hours of meetings (for which I was paid)—largely unproductive. The last 15 minutes of my “lunch hour”? The best work of the day.

The moral of that story: paying people by the hour for brain work is dumb. At the same time, though, there is incredible freedom in knowing that I just owe my employer seven hours a day. When I work for myself, I’m the kind of nasty boss who expects me to perform 24/7. Who needs sleep?

(Me. But when I’m my own boss, I think sleep is for the weak.)

iv

I finished (mostly) a massive project I’ve been working on since June 2020, and it feels really, really good, and now, for the first time since I’ve started my new full-time gig, I’m about to start working only one job—and this is so very exciting (shall I sleep more?)—but also, really, what this means is that I should start/finish another novel—but also, maybe, some downtime is not a bad thing?

True fact: I suck at real downtime.

Probably time to start/finish another novel no one will read.

Or, start to exercise again? Maybe I should start a new martial art, find a  non-writing hobby…

^^^We all know that’s not going to happen.

v

For the record, I’m trying really had to NOT start anything for at least the next two weeks.

But November, as every writer knows, is a really great month in which to write a book.

xoxo

“Jane”

An appointment with the dark

i

It’s dark when I wake up now, and, ok, I do wake up very early, but, still. Calgary summers seem night-less—dawn breaks while we sleep and the sun sets after we go to bed. The return of night as fall nears portends the dominance of night throughout our long winter.

I don’t want to say I hate the night—I love sleep. Late night parties and conversations. Sex.

But I do dread the dark of November, December, January—it’s still there in February, really. Oppressive. Relentless. Four months of dark, during which sunlight needs to be snatched forcefully from the workday, because it is possible to start school and work, and end it, in the dark.

The dark is not conducive to life and happiness, and as my province continues to ride into a fourth wave lockdown and threaten further restrictions, I am terrified of another dark winter in isolation.

Overwhelmingly terrified.

Breathe.

ii

I’ve talked with my people and I know that no matter what happens, I won’t be alone. They will be my nightlight—we will be each other’s nightlight.

But—breathe—I’m afraid nevertheless

I’m afraid of being alone in the dark.

iii

Being alone in the dark is different than being alone with the dark.

Being alone with the dark is a critical part of my creative practice. It has nothing to do with the dark outside—as the dark outside returns, I realize that I haven’t sat with the dark inside for a while and that perhaps I should.

Come, shadow. Let’s have a heart to heart.

iv

I’ve been feeling busy—lazy—exhausted—restless—all at the same time. I want, suddenly, desperately, more than anything to take a day in bed, a non-moving sick day. But this, that and the other—I’m also afraid that if I stop moving, I’ll never start again and I have so much to do.

Breathe.

Instead of a day in bed, an evening in bed. A mid-day nap.

Breathe.

Regroup.

Face the dark.

v

I make an appointment with the dark. Put it in the calendar. Prepare three key talking points to discuss with the shadow.

We’re going to get through the dark together.

xoxo

“Jane”

When someone who doesn’t believe in writer’s block doesn’t want to write…

i

For the second time in my life—no, wait, third—I’m having a hard time writing. For someone who does not believe in writer’s block, this is a most humbling admission. And when I say I’m having a hard time writing—I should clarify. I’m still writing for money. And I’m practicing in the Morning Pages. But as you’ve seen by the long stretches of time between blog posts, not a lot more than that.

I can’t claim lack of time as the culprit. I blame it in lack of energy—the pandemic, the continuing emotional and financial adjustment to the divorce (I have to make a lot more money now and all transitions, even good ones, are draining), missing my love who moved to Toronto, still adjusting to the demands and rhythms of my new job…

Lots of legit reasons, but, really, they’re also all just excuses. Clearly, right now, I don’t want to write enough… or I don’t know, I can’t sell myself on the purpose of writing.

My five years of trying to make it as a novelist battered me financially and weren’t that great on my ego either. Why should I pour myself into another novel that nobody will notice or read? That thing I did at work yesterday potentially affected 250,000 people, maybe more.

If you write a book and nobody reads it, does it really exist?

(The answer is No. No, it does not.)

ii

I’ve been in this place twice before and what got me out the first time was a lover, Julia Cameron, an encounter with a practicing, hard-working artist, and a story that I HAD to write.

The second time, it was sheer will. The therapist said, “Could you consider that part of your problem is that you identify with your work too much?” And I said, “Fuck you, bitch, if I don’t write, I don’t exist,” and I went home and wrote three novellas.

The third time… well, I’ll keep you posted. I’m leaning on Vladimir Nabokov and Ursula K. LeGuin right now, but that might be a mistake. He’s a genius and she’s brilliant, and I am ordinary. I’m not downplaying my talents: I write well. I’m funny. I’m creative. Other things.

But nothing in my head or soul will ever produce something as ground breaking as Pale Fire or The Left Hand of Darkness.

Maybe it’s time, again, to lean on Julia. Go on a solo artist date, and make that a weekly ritual again.

Write a bad poem, send it to one of my loves.

Julia, she’s a lot like me: talented, insightful, with stories to tell and a deep understanding of the bones of writing and creativity.

But also, ordinary.

iii

Over the past six months, I’ve led an intensely ordinary life. A Monday to Friday job, children, dogs, friends. No grand events, goals or aspirations—no chasing dreams, tearing pockets of time out of life with my teeth and claws for art.

Just doing the everyday, very ordinary things.

The basics.

I’ve been… content.

Life is much easier this way.

Do you see why I’m reluctant to return to the edge again?

iv

Easier, but, but… if it goes on like this much longer, I will cease to exist.

Julia.

What do I need to do?

xoxo

“Jane”

Backwards through time: All the thoughts not fit to print

i

I just wrote a post about how we need to stop trying to save the unvaccinated and build their resistance and refusal to save themselves into public health policy. You don’t get to read it, because, in the end, I don’t think it’s worth sharing—you don’t change anyone’s mind by calling them too stupid to live, and while I’ve learned many things over the course of the pandemic, I have not learned how to talk to science deniers. The ones I love, when they go there, I change the subject, because I want to preserve the relationship…

I still want to preserve the relationship. And other things. But I’perm tired of watching small businesses, my children’s education, and my mental health crash and burn because we as a society don’t seem to be able to control a stupid cold virus.

Fitting, really. What, in the end, brings human civilization to its knees two million years after our ancestors domesticated fire—and more than 5000 years after the first written script, 2333 years after the first aquaduct, 1550 years after the longbow, 1000 years after gunpowder, 225 after the smallpox vaccine, 76 years after Hiroshima, 52 years after the moon landing?

A sneeze.

ii

The post before that is about how you should drink less, or maybe not at all. Not going to share that one too, because we’ll talk about that face-to-face, in what I’m afraid will be a relationship-ending conversation… Anyway, here’s a heads up. It’s coming. Another conversation I don’t know how to have, because I don’t like telling people what to do and you don’t like being told to do, but suppose you die because I’ve said nothing?

I’ll talk to you. Soon.

Probably.

iii

Then there’s that post about why I love drag shows and why I love dragging straight people to drag, burlesque and draglesque shows to shake up their worldview, but it seemed to exist only so I could say “dragging people to drag” and didn’t go any deeper, really, so, not gonna transcribe it, publish it.

One of the most important things you learn, I think, as a writer, is that just because you wrote something that doesn’t mean that you should share it.

Food for thought.

Ha.

iv

Before that, a post about the first conversation about the divorce with the kids, coming thirteen months post-divorce. I needed to write it. You don’t need to read it. Although, maybe you do. Some of you do: I know my guilt, my struggle, the things I had to wait for over the past year, they’re not unique to me.

But I also think you probably need to sort all that out for yourself.

My only un-advice: patience.

Patience.

v

A terrible poem about how much I miss Persian tiramisu, but hope it’s very happy in Toronto.

Poetry should never be literal.

I read it again.

Jesus.

It’s even worse than I thought.

Delete.

vi

A post about my trip to Vancouver with Flora and my mom, that echoes my Three Generations post of almost a year ago, but doesn’t really go deeper.

Let it go.

Done.

vii

A “Thank god for rednecks” post that’s actually really, really funny but it was relevant when I wrote it in mid-August, and is relevant no more.

Dammit.

That one, I should have typed up and published as soon as I had written it.

Alas.

viii

Whiny notes from my first solo camping trip that I thought I could turn into a Waldenesque reflection on lessons from the wilderness, but then I decided to drink wine and read Nabokov instead so…

Moving on.

ix

One really terrible poem and one that might actually have soul.

Copying that one into another book.

I don’t know if it will fly but it might crawl.

Maybe walk.

Maybe.

x

Me on Nabokov: “He’s so exquisite, it hurts. And I don’t want more pain right now.”

xi

An attempt to celebrate my mother’s retirement after 50 years of service as an ER nurse.

Impossible to do it justice, right now.

But. Look, there—that line. That’s the beginning of the next draft.

It can be a gift for her 70th birthday.

Yes.

xii

A way too personal post about how much I missed my kids when they went to visit their paternal grandparents for a week. You don’t get to read it—you don’t get to be a voyeur to my pain.

Mine alone.

xiii

“Extreme self-reliance is a trauma response.”

I don’t know. Is it? Maybe it’s just a recognition of the fact that when the shit hits the fan, the one person I can absolutely count on to get me through it all is myself.

Also, is that trauma, really, or is it just life?

I don’t think the word trauma means what you think it means.

The piece is “sharp as a guillotine.”

Also kind of mean.

I don’t think you can handle it.

Also, as I re-read it—I notice it reveals way more about me than I want you to know.

Del…

No. That one line. Can I do something else with that one line?

Save for later.

Click.

xiv

A really sappy account of our last week together. What am I, fifteen?

Apparently.

xv

Attempt to turn a walk with a friend into an urban vignette with a moral.

Fail.

xvi

A lot of introspection and whining.

Fuck, woman. Pull yourself together.

So much evidence in these pages of people who love you and are there for you.

Honor them.

xvii

A pretty good poem.

xviii

A story called “My cokehead lover.”

It’s kind of funny, except it was supposed to be serious.

Can I rewrite it as a comic piece?

Maybe.

xix

Lover, tonight I miss your closed eyelids.

xoxo

Jane

[Review of Morning Page/ Process Notebook, June 9 to September 5, 2021]

Transitions, rituals–and, always, delusions

i

Transitions suck.

He tells me to enjoy the summer, what’s left of it, because they’re going to shut us down for the Delta Variant in the fall, and goddammit, no, I refuse—your life is not worth it and neither is mine—there are too many of us human cockroaches around and you know what, if half of us die, whatever, life will go on—I’d rather die than spend another fall, winter locked in m hobbit hole… actually, if you make me spend another winter away from from everyone and everything I love, I will die, blood in the bathtub, I’ve thought out the logistics in great detail last December…

Him: A toddler tantrum of epic proportions.

Jane: The difference between us is that I put into words and into the world what I feel and you just let it fester.

Transitions really suck.

I’m on edge, after a week, a month, a year of anticipating transition after transition after a year, two of unmanaged transitions.

On edge—breathe.

It doesn’t have to feel so jagged.

I crawl into a bath, water clear, almond-flavoured foam—why is my mouth full of bubbles?

ii

Transitions.

Rituals are a lifesaver. Morning pages, coffee with cardamom, walking the dog. Routine and anchors—they keep you—me—moving, creating through chaos.

I’ve hated and dreaded rituals the past two, three years, but I’m starting to give in to them again.

They have a purpose.

They are… soothing.

iii

I think, I hope—I must life as if I believe it’s all going to be ok. We will have a beauitful fall, and Christmas with family and friends, and we will weave the social fabric of our lives in person and not on Zoom. We will meet for coffee and dinner, and not for frigid weather walks.

Everything will be all right.

Him: Better, baby?

Jane: %@#$.

xoxo

“Jane”

August 4, 2021

Radical prioritization or, choosing to stop, choosing to begin… always choosing focus

Did you know, when you start a WordPress blog, it comes with a draft post that walks a ew blogger through what to write, where (not so much how).

Its headline is ‘Hello, World.’

Cute, innit?

Hello, World. I’m here, writing, emoting, sharing. Are you paying attention?

(It isn’t.)

It’s been a slow blogging summer for me, because, 2.5 jobs, children, sleep—also, walking the dog, also, dancing, also, that teary, long goodbye. I’ve been writing longhand every morning, but spending more time glued to my laptop to transcribe and post the occasionally shareable insights—just not in the cards.

And I’ve been ok with that, just as I’ve been ok with putting the novelist on ice for the summer. Radical prioritization—we need to focus on what is most important at the moment. That’s how we get things done.

This practice, and its application this spring/summer in particular, still against the backdrop of the pandemic, drove home to me the importance of choice. This season, I chose NOT to write (much), I chose not to blog—I chose not to chase those dreams, ride those frustrations. So I didn’t feel bad or unproductive (how could I? I was working 2.5 jobs).

Same thing as choosing to stay home versus being forced to stay home…

Choice empowers.

(Most of us are very bad at choosing though, aren’t we? But that’s another story…)

So—I’m choosing now to start stretching those writing muscles more seriously again. Not ready for a marathon yet, I’m not even sure about sprints—but the stretches are about to get more intense and I’m going to start lifting some weights too.

I picked up my first new literary kettle bell yesterday:

Think, Write, Speak, Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews and Letters
Valdimir Nabokov
Edited by Brian Boyd and Anastasia Tolstoy

People. Nabokov. I would have been his fourth-string mistress, char, boot cleaner in a heartbeat, without a second thought.

Anyway—Hello, World. I know you don’t care. But I’m here.

I exist.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS The reason I had fired all the therapists who were supposed to help ground me, save me while my Flora was so sick—I could not make them understand this very simple truth:

When I don’t write, I don’t think I exist.

I disappear. To myself, most of all, and if I don’t exist for myself, how can I exist at all?

Therapist: We really need to work on your over-identification with your work.

Jane: And, you’re fired.

Right now, I exist.

It’s a great feeling.

What next?

i

It’s coming on a year since I’ve moved out of the matrimonial house, four blocks over, to a 100-year old furnished garden flat in which I’d spend most of the pandemic.

What a year, people. May none of us ever have to live through such a one.

It’s pandemic-related stresses were such that I’m not sure I really processed—addressed—reflected on the big questions, the end of my 20-year-long marriage. Which I refuse to see as a failure, by the way, even though pretty much everyone around me is trapped in that story. I—we—made things work for 20 years. We worked through some tough shit. And in the end, we decided we didn’t want to keep on working through the same shit for another 20 years. Kudos to those of you who will keep on having the same conflict, the same conversations for the rest of your lives. I thought I could do that too.

In the end, no.

I am still not sure—I will never be sure—if, for the kids, it was the best decision. We were always functional—amazing—co-parents. And I am still not sure—I will never be sure—that the kids get that they were never the problem, or the source of any of our conflicts. And I am not sure—will never be sure—that they understand that I moved out and I left the marriage but I didn’t leave them. It doesn’t matter how many days and how many suppers and how many outings there are—I know it’s not the same as having me there 24/7. I see Ender every day, Flora most days, and the 19-year-old—and living on his own now!—Cinder a couple of times a week… for me, it’s not enough, it’s never enough.

It will never be enough. I will never be sure—with all of that, I don’t regret having acted.

So, there’s that.

ii

Action is better than inaction. That’s my personal take on Krishna’s advice to Arjuna as paraphrased by Stephen Cope in The Great Work of Your Life: “Do any actions you must do, since action is better than inaction; even the existence of your body depends on necessary actions.” (He also says that inaction itself is a type of action, but let’s leave that aside for now.)

The pandemic did keep most of us in some state of not chosen inaction, did it not? What actions, over the past year and a half, have you not taken?

I am thinking about this now—future actions, delayed actions.

It was—for me, for you—in so many ways a year of survival.

We survived.

What now, what next?

iii

The post-pandemic new normal—please, not another lockdown, please, no super-spreader events or vaccine-resistant variants, please, do not take the people I love away from me again—starts for me on a hard note. I’m losing one of my loves to distance and what the pandemic has taught me is that we—not just me—stop loving the people we can’t touch.

Yes, we do—you’re attached to your family in Colombia, Iran, Egypt, Poland much less than if you were there with them, your daily WhatsApp, Telegram exchanges notwithstanding. It’s not the same. It’s not even methadone… it’s pictures of gourmet meals when you’re starving.

Think about how most people’s understanding, compassion for strangers and neighbours alike eroded as the pandemic progressed. Proximity matters. Close physical contact matters—when you move away, I lose you, no matter how many promises to text, call, visit we make.

I will miss you. So fucking much.

What next?

iv

My future-planning ability has been severely impacted by the pandemic. I mean—even grocery shopping for the week versus the day is hard. When you ask, “What are your plans for the summer?” you trigger a mild panic attack. Plans? What are those?

I’m still largely in “I’m just doing my best to survive—I’m just getting from day to day” mode.

But the crisis is over.

We must live as if the crisis is over, anyway—I at least must live as if the crisis is over. You do you.

So, what next?

v

Seriously, what next?

xoxo

Jane

Bad dreams, good friends, and French onion soup

i

Her: I had  very bad dream. You were hiding things from me. You said you did it not to hurt my feelings and I was so sad and crying—I’m still crying. You betrayed me. You broke my heart.

Jane: Oh, those dreams are the worst. But, um… do you forgive me?

Her: You broke my heart.

Jane: But do you forgive me?

It takes some wheedling, but the upshot of it is that she’ll forgive me, eventually, but I should probably take her out for a drink on sunny patio first. And as I feel guilty for having betrayed her in her dream, and as she feels still betrayed, I marvel at the human mind and its capacity to create stories and a “Why” out of flotsam and jetsam.

Let me be clear: I know I did not “betray” (what a heavy word) my friend, and she knows I did not betray her. But the feelings, damn, so real.

And the thing is, a kernel of truth: I never tell her, anyone, everything. Not so much to protect them, but to…

You: Protect yourself?

…because it’s none of their business. My aches, my pains, my dark? My own.

Go wallow in your own angst; mine is not for exhibition.

ii

Jane: Are you dying or something?

Him: WTF?

Jane: You are being so nice and accommodating.

Him: I’m being nice to you and you think I’m dying? I’m always nice to you. I love you.

He loves me, but he’s not always nice to me, and he’s rarely accommodating. But, ok, thinking that he’s dying because he wants the camping trip to be exactly the way I want it to be, even if it means hauling a pack of firewood into the backcountry might be an over-reaction.

Him: You ever think that maybe you should think less?

All the time. But it’s hard. The neurons fire, pathways form and I start to look for a cohesive narrative.

Him: Could you find one that does not involve me dying?

Maybe.

Jane: Are you moving away?

iii

I take a half day on Friday to pick up a friend from the airport and drive her 90 min out of town. I have no idea what the current state of restrictions in Alberta is right now and I don’t care. But I remember the “illegal” rides I gave to friends in 2020—several of them for COVID-19 tests—and I find myself thinking, again, how the public health policy initiatives during the pandemic constantly favoured capitalism over the human need for social connection, and how it was clear that most of the policy makers just did not have friend or family obligations and most will die alone in long-term care homes with no visitors, not because karma, but because that’s the life they’re building.

(I’m talking to you, Jason Kenney.)

You: Where the hell is that vituperation coming from? Or going?

Jane: Wait for it.

I bump into a friend walking on the river path, one I haven’t seen for months…

Them: I’m double-vaxxed! Can we hug?

I fold them into my arms. A two, three, five minute hug. We’re not that close—have we hugged like that before?

We don’t want to let go.

Jane: OMG, I’ve missed this so much.

Them: I know. I hear you’re licking everyone now?

Jane: Damn right I am. (Lick)

Them: More gross and less exciting than I expected. Still. Thank you.

We hug again.

iv

After I pick up my friend the airport, we go for sheesha, to a place we love, with service staff we adore. We talk about this and that, and then I drive her the 90 minutes home. It’s hot hot hot and my car has no A/C. The windows are open. We can’t talk.

It doesn’t matter.

When I get back, I meet the vivid dreamer for a drink. Which she doesn’t let me pay for, because she’s still not ready to forgive me.

Another friend joins us. We talk about this, that and the other. My phone rings.

Him: I’m at MEC. So what exactly do you want to eat on the camping trip?

I am 100 per cent sure now that he’s dying.

Jane: I will eat whatever you bring.

Him: French onion soup with croutons and cheese?*

Bastard.

He’s probably not dying.

He’s moving away.

v

Jane: But seriously. Have you forgiven me yet?

Her: No. I probably will. Eventually. But you really, really upset me.

Dream crimes. They’re the worst and apparently, utterly unforgivable.

Jane: But you still love me and we can still hang out while you’re mad at me?

Her: Of course.

Phew.

“Jane”

PS *This only makes sense if you know I’m allergic to onions, and eat a mostly gluten-free, diary-free diet.

You: This makes no sense.

Jane: Again, why do you always criticize me? Screw off.

The secret correlation between prime number birthdays and sore calves…

Before

I turn many numbers this weekend—47, how did that happen?—and as always when I have an odd-numbered birthday, I miss the symmetry of the even years. I don’t like the odd years—I really don’t like the prime years. And 47? Just look at it. Say it—47. It’s predecessor and successor, 46 and 48, have weight and balance. What can you do with 47? You can’t even divide it, except by one and itself.

You: Feeling old and fixating on the aesthetics of your digits rather than the fact that all life is a relentless march towards death, and also, anytime now, menopause?

Jane: Shut up. I’m going to be young forever.

Well. No, That’s never been my ambition. I’ve never been in love with youth and I’ve never feared either wrinkles or death—although, while we’re being honest, Hollywood and Vogue have done enough of a number on me that I fear extra pounds and tricep flab—why do you think I’ve turned not eating bread and pasta into a religion? Vanity, pure and simple.

Anyway—47. A second pandemic birthday. My first one post-divorce. Everything’s closed and there’s snow in the forecast—why do I live here? A few days before the birthday, “Why do I live here?” peaks. I want to pack, run away—Vancouver, Montreal, Cuba.

Then a friend shows up on my doorstep at 6:30 a.m. with a gluten-free chocolate cupcake and you tell me you’ll buy me a piñata and she says yes, she’s making the Egyptian baklava-style dessert for my birthday cake, of course, and my mom texts, “Black Forest cake for Sunterra, as always?” and Ender clamors for a birthday sushi dinner while Flora slyly steers him towards Chinese… and I remember why I live here.

I still don’t love this number, weird and indivisible prime. But I only have to wear it for a year. One of the really lovely things about life is that everything changes, and nothing is forever. Even inscriptions carved in stone fade, with time.

After

Nineteen years ago—19 is also a prime number, how about that—on my 28th birthday, I hoped my first-born would arrive as a birthday present. He came three days later—although “came” is probably the wrong term, cause he sure did not want to leave the uterus, that one, thank the virgin goddesses of childbirth for Oxytocin, also, epidurals.

Since then, the May long weekend has felt like one prolonged family birthday—lovely and exhausting. My not-so-little eldest turns 19 today, but he’s with his dad today. My time was yesterday. It was all right—for me, it felt all right? For him? Does he appreciate, or take in stride, the maternal birthday, followed by the paternal birthday? Two birthdays, woo-hoo, I win? Or does it suck, and does he wish for last year?

I don’t wish for last year, and I’m pretty sure Sean doesn’t either.

But I will never know, really, what the kids wish.

Just do my best to ensure that what they get is good enough…

In the middle

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[deleted]

People. I’m trying to describe what was a really amazing day—day-after—day-after—a magical weekend, each piece of it perfect, even the two that went sideways, because of what followed, and I can’t—chronology limits and words fall flat.

So I won’t tell you what I did. I’ll tell you how I felt, how’s that?

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[deleted]

[deleted]

For fuck’s sake. Apparently, sometimes, not even I can make this piece of writing flow… 😉

Let’s try it like this:

I felt so incredibly loved, it was all utter bliss.

After-after

It’s in the calves, actually. That’s where the memory lives. They are tight and sore, and oh, I should slip into a hot bath and get them to relax, but I don’t want to yet. I like the pain. It reminds me that, on my second pandemic birthday with everything closed and nothing allowed, we danced all night anyway, just us, and it was still a party.

You know how much I wanted a party.

Visceral, body memories are the best. That’s why flowers and chocolate are such enduring gifts: you inhale the scent of the one, devour the other. Remember the giver in your body.

After-after-after

I guess there’s a charm to prime numbers. Maybe I’ll learn to love this one.

In gratitude,

“Jane”

Instead of nihilism, hit a piñata

We’re walking along the river on a breathtakingly beautiful May evening and you tell me that life generally sucks and not much worth experiencing happens after you’re 28—and how do people manage to live through their 50s, 60s, beyond, you don’t know. (And look what we’ve done over the past year to prolong the lives of those in their 80s, WTF is that all about.)

I crinkle my nose and raise my eyebrows and know, now, not to take it personally—you’ve got a thing about 28, and reminding you that you were a few weeks past 28 and I almost 41 when we met, and you already felt that you were past your peak while I was feeling I was yet to hit my prime is not what this story is about.

This story is, I think, about perception. Life past your youth, you say, requires committed self-delusion and would it not be more courageous if people accepted how futile things were and, when they realized that this was it, nothing but a tread mill, a hamster’s exercise wheel—this last, my metaphor not yours—they’d just end things. Properly, with professional assistance—institutionalized euthanasia on request.

I stiffen. My arm is looped through your freshly vaccinated one and my fingers rest lightly on your forearm. I can feel your heart beat through my fingertips, so you feel my stiffening.

“I’m not suicidal,” you say, quickly, forcefully, clarifying because you know you must clarify this to me, you know where any suspicion of this will take me.

“But you’re in a really shitty place.”

“No. I just know life is shit. Has always been shit. But I’m fine. There is a difference.”

You’re not fine, but I won’t argue. I don’t know if it’s pandemic frustration or professional malaise talking—you’re experiencing both in spades—or the anxiety about the health of your faraway loved ones that’s been consuming you for weeks. I suppose all of the above and I suppose it doesn’t matter. Root causes matter much less than pop psychologists and life coaches would have us believe.

I stroke your forearm and think—today, I believe, I know life is beautiful. Because caterpillars turn into butterflies and there are bees building a ground nest outside my front door and we just saw a beaver swimming in the river, right downtown, glass skyscrapers in the background, also, isn’t that crescent of a moon something else? But two, three months ago, I could barely get out of bed and I thought the weight I was carrying would crush me, and I definitely did not think live was beautiful then—I wasn’t particularly sure it was worth living, it just had to be endured, because Cinder, Flora, Ender.

So I won’t insult you with platitudes and clichés—I just stroke your arm.

You switch topics, a little, and talk about the delusions of religion. I don’t disagree, and neither of us mocks. We both know that, for the most part, those with faith are happier than we are. Our loved ones cease to exist when they stop breathing—your uncle, my uncle, both gone forever now.

Theirs go to paradise.

“Except Uncle Mo. He’s definitely in hell.”

And you laugh. I laugh with you. The stiffening in my spine relaxes, a little.

I’m not worried that you will kill yourself. You are, I think, on a very basic level, both too arrogant and too loving to do that, too aware of your importance to your family, your friends—to me. You know your death would destroy us. If things ever get truly dark for you, you will push through them, as I do, not for yourself, but for the people you love, the people who love you.

And I know, too well, from too much painful and so futile actions with my loved ones in the past, that nothing I say or do to you while you’re in this “life is shit” place will change anything, for you. It will just drain me, maybe make me hate you.

Instead, I start planning my birthday party. Three years shy of 50 this year, second pandemic birthday—fuck it all hard, I want to party all weekend. I want cake and balloons and flowers and dancing.

Maybe a piñata.

“Oh my god, you are a 47 year old child.”

Sometimes. But both Jesus and the Buddha thought that imitating a child’s mind brought adults closer to truth, happiness, salvation.

(You said the same thing to me shortly after we met, do you remember? “You are a 40 year old child.” I shrugged, and I kept on tantruming, crying until you fed me ice cream.)

“Can we do all those things?” I ask, five years old, greedy for more cake than is good for me.

“We can do anything you want. It’s your birthday.”

Life is beautiful. Sometimes. And sometimes—often—it is so hard, a slog, it takes superhuman effort to get out of bed. Do the things.

But we do them. Because sometimes, there’s cake and a piñata and always, there are people we love who love us.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS You see the implication, though, right? Check in on the lonely people in your life. The loathsome ones especially. I know it’s hard as fuck, cause you’ve barely got the bandwidth to take care of yourself and the ones you love right now—check in on Aunt Augusta too. She needs you.

If you can’t bring yourself to text or call… send cake.

Or a piñata.