Confessions of an unreformable plant killer

Many, many years ago—two decades ago, in fact—when Sean and I were engaged to be married and madly in love, but living 3739 km apart, I sent him some potted plants for his birthday.

This was a horrible mistake. In my defence: I didn’t do it on purpose. The internet was young and the Yellow Pages—remember those?—were still the way you found florists, and the way you found a florist who delivered flowers in another city was by finding a national chain in the aforementioned Yellow Pages, and the way you chose what you wanted to send is the florist asked you your price point, then described what was available—and you picked one of the bouquets, baskets, arrangements based on her description.

No pictures, if you follow my drift.

So I didn’t know I was sending Sean a bunch of potted plants in a basket. I thought I was sending him Our Love Will Never Die: A Romantic Ever-living Rhapsody Arrangement or some such thing.

When I went out to visit him at Christmas, there were potted plants all over the apartment he shared with his cleaning-challenged roommate. Ok, there were just three or four. And he loved them and he watered them diligently—because they were a gift from me.

He also mistakenly thought that I loved houseplants… which led to the following tragedy. After we married and I moved to Montreal, the plans came with us to a new apartment. And then—it happened. Sean stopped watering the plants. And I didn’t start.

He denies it was some kind of subconscious patriarchal “the houseplants are the responsibility of the wife” kind of thing. I don’t press it. Point. He stopped. I didn’t start.

The ivy withered and died first, this I remember, because it was the most fragile, most romantic plant.

The others followed. The hardiest of them lasted a full 18 months. I don’t remember its name, but it had shiny, angry leaves, and I imagine it lived  as long as it did out of spite. Eighteen months! I still can’t quite believe it. It was not a cactus, this little I do know about plants. It was pretty humid in Montreal, so perhaps the water in the air fed it a little. Or perhaps Sean did water it occasionally—or maybe a visiting friend, struck with pity for the parched plants, poured a bit of wine into its soil. No matter. It lasted longer—but still, in the end, it perished with the rest.

When we moved back to Calgary, with a new baby and, mercifully, no houseplants, we bought a cute little bungalow in an older neighbourhood and poured way too much time and money into its renovations. When everything was painted and unpacked, Sean came home with half a dozen houseplants.

I burst into tears. And we had the conversation we should have had years ago when I first accidentally bought him houseplants.

Now, if you love houseplants, all the more power to you. I don’t want to make you feel in any way weird or guilty about surrounding yourself with things in pots. For me, though, houseplants have always been an unwanted additional responsibility—even before kids. Something that I had to keep alive and that wouldn’t complain if I was doing a sub-par job… except by death.

And let me tell you, killing houseplants by omission and neglect feels awful. I do not rejoice when one of my victims bites the dust. I suffer. Their little dried up corpses sit there in their pots, staring at you with mute reproach…

Over the years, various friends—and my flower-loving mother—have inflicted houseplants on me. First, I tried to keep them alive. Then, I recognized that it was just prolonging the inevitable. Sure, I could give the plant, and myself, false hope by forcing myself to water it and tend to it for the first week or two. But was it not better to be honest with us both as to what was going to happen? And surely, eventually, people would notice that the plant they gave me first turned yellow, then brown, and then just wasn’t around anymore?

A couple of years ago, a newly enamoured friend brought me a little houseplant (I prefer not to learn their names; it makes their deaths slightly less painful) in a cute mug, as a “so happy you’re in my life” gift.

“I noticed you didn’t have any plants in the house,” she said. I thanked her and looked at the little green thing with a sigh. Apologized to it silently for the short straw it drew. Three months, I murmured under my breath. I figure you’ve got three months. If you’re lucky.

“I told her that if you didn’t have plants in the house, it’s because you don’t like then,” her partner put in. Perceptive human. My friend looked crestfallen.

“I love plants,” I said. Not lied, exactly. I love plants… in their natural habitat, so to speak.

I didn’t add, “I just can’t keep them alive.”

There is no miraculous twist to this story, by the way. The poor plant withered and died as do all living things when deprived of love and water. But I still have the mug. So there’s that.

Sean and my mom frequently buy me Tiger or Calla lilies in pots, or early tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, the occasional pot of mums. No African violets though, not after the African violet disaster of 2004; don’t ask.

This seems to be our compromise. I’d be quite happy to receive only already dead cut flowers.

Sean: I feel guilty about buying dead flowers.

Jane: Baby, I’m gonna kill the potted plants anyway.

Sometimes, though, I transplant them into the garden, and they eke out a slightly longer existence there. And one Tiger Lily actually came back the following year. That was pretty exciting.

I do love green things, you know. Gardens, parks, forests, mountains, prairies.

Old, lush, overgrown European cemeteries…

I just think… they belong outside. Where I don’t have to water them.

Oh, my garden? A self-sustaining assemblage of the hardest plants know to sapiens that have learned to fend for themselves. Every once in a while, I think I might learn to care for them, and learn to love gardening. I take a few books on gardening out of the library.

Enjoy reading them. Return to neglecting the plants…

The motherfucking sadist who helped me walk again wants me to do push-ups.

Him: We haven’t done these in a while.

Jane: That’s because I hate them and I’m not good at them.

Him: We will practice more.

Jane: You know what? I think there are some things—I’m 45 years old. I’m never going to floss better. I’m never going to enjoy doing push-ups—or invest any time practicing doing them better. And I’m never going to take care of houseplants.

Him: I’m hearing you think we should floss more during our workouts? And you want me to get you a plant or something?

I don’t want to be a bad feminist, and I’ve absolutely seen women master push-ups and do dozens and dozens of the things without breaking a sweat. I’ve never seen a woman with my body shape master push-ups. Boobs are heavy. I tell the motherfucking sadist this. Then also pontificate about the length of my legs and the plumpness of my ass, and how all of this adds up to non-push-up executing body.

He sighs.

Him: From the knees. Ten. A ten year-old could do that. Don’t whine. And when you go home, floss.

I comply.

But if the bastard gets me a houseplant for our next anniversary, I’m leaving him.

Who am I kidding. Of course I’m not.

But. I will kill the plant. This time, with pleasure.

xoxo

“Jane”

All photos courtesy of Pexels.com

Finding Water, grateful for Julia Cameron, kinda whiny anyway

I’m re-reading Julia Cameron’s Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance, one of her “sequels,” if I can be permitted to call them that, to her revolutionary creative recovery program, The Artist’s Way. I have a cynical suspicion that both Finding Water (2006) and its predecessor Walking in the World (2003)—as well as Cameron’s myriad The Artist’s Way spin-offs, including The Prosperous Heart (2012), The Artist’s Way for Parents (2014), It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again (2016)—were written more at the behest of her publisher than her muse. “Julia!” I imagine the publisher saying. “We need The Artist’s Way 2!” “But I said all I have to say on this in the last book!” Julia protests. “Julia! The people want—need—more! Also, money!” And she sighs, and she looks at her 12-week structure, and she thinks, sure, I can come up with another variant of this, and she writes. And writes some more…

What you need to know: Neither Finding Water nor Walking in the World are nearly as good or life-changing as The Artist’s Way. Because she did give it all away in that first one: the “sequels” are just refinements. Not as good, not as profound. And yet, I re-read both every couple of years as part of my The Artist’s Way refresher. And when I do, I always find something “new,” something I need to hear, learn, affirm at that particular joint in my artistic journey, personal life.

And on this week’s trip with Julia Cameron—the woman who, six, seven years ago now, gave me permission to think of myself as an artist, and what a frightening thought that was—I find Julia’s mid-life insecurities reassuring. I love reading about her sudden foray into music and piano lessons at age 45. Her attempt to stage musicals in New York City in her fifties. I’m not clear if they’re successful or not. I rather think they’re not, or she’d give me the happy ending now, wouldn’t she? Or is she holding it back so that I value the process regardless of what happened to the final product?

When I teach writing (or marketing, for that matter), I draw on a lot of Julia’s ideas, and I’ve read and re-read her so many times now that you’d think nothing would be new… But today, this, if not new, is necessary, and it lifts my heart. Julia says:

One of the greatest disservices we can do to ourselves as artists is to make our work too special and too different from everybody else’s work. To the degree to which we can normalize our day, we have a chance to be both productive and happy. Let us say, as is often the case, we are resistant to getting down to work. We have a choice. We can buy into our resistance—Writer’s block! Painter’s block!—or we can simply say, “I don’t feel like working today, and I’ll bet an awful lot of other people are in the same boat.”

I don’t feel like working today.

I don’t feel like dealing with my shitty first drafts or my marketing analysis or my synopsis or anything, and OMFG, the taxes, I don’t want to do that either. My process for today, I decide, is going to be reading Julia. Because, today, I need to read about how on some days (months) she doesn’t feel like working (more than 20 books later), I love reading about her shitty first drafts, and agent’s rejections of her novels. This is Julia-fucking-Cameron, after all, author of The Artist’s Way, the former Mrs. Martin Scorsese, if anyone should have people beating a path to her door for a book, any book, surely it should be her—how many copies of The Artist’s Way has she sold? (Four million, at 2016, and she still can’t place every novel.)

I find this reassuring. Not because Julia’s suffered and struggled—if I could take that away from her, from anyone, I would. It’s just… reaffirming. Nobody’s entitled to success, fame, an easy ride, an easy second or seventeenth contract. We do the work… because we must do the work.

I’m corrupting young minds part-time these days, teaching journalism courses at a post-secondary institution to “aspiring” writers, artists, photographers, journalists. I’m giving them all I’ve got a la Annie Dillard, although sometimes, I worry I’m teaching skills as obsolete and unvalued as typewriter repair. I hope the core of what I’m giving them is still valid. They want to know how I built a freelance career, and most of what I did, had to do, could do, doesn’t precisely apply to them. But this does—I sent out 97 pitches before I sold my first story.

…spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Their reaction to this story—most are horrified—tells me what their odds of succeeding are in whatever career or artistic path they choose.

Perseverance. How hard are you willing to work for this thing you love?

My industry has always been an industry of attrition. We the survivors, the “success” stories? In some ways, we’re the idiots who persevere well past the point of reason.

One of my favourite things about re-reading The Artist’s Way and Finding Water etc. are the encounters with the quotes Julia (I feel we’re on a first-name basis now, it’s been so many years) sprinkles in the margins. It’s here that I first “heard” George Nathan say that “Art is the sex of the imagination,” and Irving Layton assert that “If poetry is like an orgasm, an academic can be likened to someone who studies the passion stains on the bedsheets.”

Yesterday, I read this:

It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.

John Cage

Where I am right now is not awesome. Irritating doesn’t begin to describe it. The family therapist, who is part of Flora’s ever-growing medical team, and whose job, I think, is to medicate me without drugs—although, really, I keep on waiting for her to give me a marijuana prescription, it’s the most useful thing she could do, except, of course, she doesn’t need to, I can just go to the Co-op and get it—well, except that weed isn’t really my thing, but, OMFG, every time I think about the family therapist, I want to get stoned, where was I? The family therapist tells me not to think of this time as the new normal. She says this is still the crisis, a stage, things will get better. Also, things have been much—much—worse. She counsels… hope, and focusing on the future.

I wish I could fire her. I’m not sure if she’s incompetent or if I’m just being obtuse. But I can’t live on hope. I can’t endure today simply by thinking that tomorrow—next month—next year—2024—will be easier, better, more functional.

Thich Nhat Hahn—my favourite monk—and the Jewish Buddhists I read (seriously, so many of the modern American Buddhist teachers come from the Jewish tradition—why is that? I should find out) want me to be able to enjoy the sun on my skin, the beauty of a flower—Flora’s excited smile as she puts together her Pastel Goth wardrobe for high school. And I do. This, right now, is a happy moment. Unfortunately, odds are pretty good it will be followed by an hour in hell, and that hell is not all in my head, fuck you, Bodhisattva Junior.

Breathe.

When the hours in hell outnumber the happy moments by a substantial factor, I dream of running away, and I apply for a job in Dubai, an arts residency in the mountains.

You: Yeah, what happened with that?

Jane: Didn’t get the job in Dubai. Got the arts residency.

I am very excited about the residency. But I’m also aware that the 12 days in the fall that I will spend away from the demands of my life, while giving me time for focused work and, also, uninterrupted sleep, will not change anything, in the present, in the long term. In fact, they can damage the work I need to do in the present. “I can suffer now, I can sacrifice now, because I get those 12 days soon!”

This is the way most people think about their shitty jobs and vacations.

This is not the way I want to live my life.

Neither does Julia. In the week of Finding Water I’m reading now, her doctor notes that she’s tired and recommends renting a cabin in the country for the summer, so she can get away from it all and write.

I didn’t want to rent a cabin in the country; I wanted to write right where I was, smack in the middle of New York City. I wanted to write about the excitement of the flower district, the garment district, the antique district. I wanted to write about exactly where I was planted, in the rich soil of a bustling metropolis. I wanted to write, period.

I had a lust to simply lay some track, to put some words to my experience, to try to achieve an optimistic balance by putting things onto the page.

I must be serene in the place where I am planted.

Me too, Julia, me too. (No hashtag.)

So, I’m trying to figure it out. To make the present inhabitable, fulfilling. So many things completely beyond my control and unpredictable. What can I change, affect? What anchors, routines, predictability can I create? Where can I thrive?

I’ve kept writing in the mornings, my Morning Pages as Julia taught me in The Artist’s Way all those years ago. (Six years now? Seven?) Trying to jump from the pages to creative, constructive work when the mornings are calm. But life does not always allow this, and I cannot pressure myself. “I must set my own gentle pace,” Cameron writes in Finding Water. Something else, someone else is setting my pace. I must accept it and work with it. Not hope that tomorrow, maybe, next month, maybe, for fuck’s sake, next year, surely, will be better.

What can I do today?

Sometimes, only the basics. Morning pages, Flora’s current morning routine, Ender’s breakfast, potato chips and pickles for lunch. A meditation session that turns into a nap, because, interrupted sleep. Apologies to the dog for not taking her out for a walk—ok, fine, five minutes, to the end of the alley and back, hey, we did it!

Sometimes, a 12-hour marathon. I try to take Saturdays away, mini-arts residencies, maxi-Artist’s Dates. Sometimes, work, work, work, work, and I am so happy—fucking family therapist and her bubble baths as self-care suggestions—just because she hates her job, can she not imagine that what I want, more than anything, is more time for mine?

Sometimes, silence.

Today, a few hours with Julia.

Julia says,

When joy is elusive, we must actively seek it out. We must put ourselves with people and things that bring us delight. Sometimes, when we are at our most depressed, it can be difficult to even recall the joys in life. It is for this reason , that one more time we must take pen in hand. Turning to the page, number from one to fifty. Now list fifty things which you love.

Do it.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you’re in yeg or yyc or thereabouts, Julia Cameron is coming to Edmonton on October 5! Of course I’m going.

TICKETS HERE

PS2 Here’s a recent New Yorker article on Julia Cameron’s utility to 20-somethings in an age of self-promotion:
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-artists-way-in-an-age-of-self-promotion

PS3 And here’s a recent New York Times article on Cameron, kinda an overview/homage:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/style/julia-cameron-the-artists-way.html

If any of my students are reading this, and you’ve clicked on the above article and read it, please note: if you ever write a sentence like this:

“On a recent snowy afternoon, Ms. Cameron, who has enormous blue eyes and a nimbus of blonde hair, admitted to the jitters before this interview.”

I will fail your ass. Today’s lesson. WTF, NYT?

The kids are all right, but you’re old and out of touch: a love letter to libraries inspired by Susan Orlean et al.

In brief: The Internet is a technology, not a medium; People think in pictures; The kids are all right (but you’re old and out of touch); Story is eternal; Libraries will save us all

I’m here, I made it, I’ve got my seat, my macarons and my tea, and there, they are, today’s stars: in the middle, Susan Orleanthe Susan Orlean—to her right, Michael Harris, to her left, Carol Shaben. It’s July 10, an overcast Wednesday night in Canmore’s Communitea, and I’m vibrating with excitement, poised for stimulation.

On offer is Literary Journalism at Communitea: Editors in Conversation. The programme is part of the Banff Centre’s showcase of its Literary Journalism program, and begins with readings by each of the journalists—and non-fiction authors, who are also serving as faculty in the program. It ends with a Q&A that infuriates and inspires me. But more on that anon. First, the readings.

The first reading comes from Carol Shaben. It’s a piece from her 2012 book Into the Abyss: How a Deadly Plane Crash Changed the Lives of a Pilot, a Politician, a Criminal and a Cop. I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on how well the chosen reading—a look at how the criminal of the subtitle, Paul Archambault, met his end (probably) as a homeless alcoholic on a cold winter’s night in Grande Prairie—reflects the overall tone of the work. There are no homeless alcoholics from Grande Prairie in the audience, so I cannot ask them if how they and their life are presented bothers them as much as it bothers me, and I am too cowardly to ask Shaben what the fuck she was thinking when she likened the word “hero” to the “N” word—and whether a white person ever has any right, ever, to make that analogy? Still. The prose is beautiful, and I see pictures in my head.

The most powerful reading of the evening follows, in the presentation by Michael Harris of the opening of The End of Absence (2014). In this Governor General Award winning book, Harris tackles, from the point of view of “the last generation to remember the world before the Internet,” the implications of the technology on solitude, daydreaming, and free time. In his chosen reading, he introduces us to Linda, a woman born in a small, tech-free Malay village who, after emigrating to Canada, returns home with a laptop to introduce her mother to the wonders of Google. “This can show you anything, everything in the world,” Linda says (I paraphrase Harris’s paraphrasing). Her mother asks, “Can it show me my mother in the afterlife?”

Harris stops the reading; perfect delivery. Do you need to know anything more about the thesis he takes in The End of Absence? No.

Finally, Susan Orlean—author of The Orchid Thief, made into the Spike Jonze-directed movie Adaptation, now do you know who she is?—reads from her newest work, The Library Book, which nominally chronicles the 1985 Los Angeles Public Library fire, but which is above all a love letter to libraries. She presents two excerpts that bracket the book—one from its beginning in which she’s a child getting a taste of freedom and the joy of discovery roaming the stacks of a library unattended, and one from its end, in which, as an adult, she still adores libraries and sees them not just as repositories of stories and knowledge, but as community and relationship-builders. Her relationship with her mother—who died mid-way through Orlean’s creation of The Library Book—and her mother’s influence on the writer comes through loud and clear even in the brevity of the chosen readings.

I’m there to see, hear Susan Orlean, who was one of only two female journalists featured in Robert S. Boynton’s The New New Journalists, which celebrates the heirs to the “new journalism” of Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and Gay Talese. Her reading is spectacular—my introduction to Michael Harris and his work an unexpected boon. The Q&A that follows—unstructured and unlead, left entirely up to the whim of the audience—thrusts me into existential angst, which I spend the entire car ride back to Calgary, and a partially sleepless night, processing.

In the morning, several things are crystal-clear (aren’t mornings wonderful?). Ready?

People think in pictures

“Reading is a highly unnatural act,” Michael Harris says in response to a question/statement from an educator who’s finding it harder and harder to get her students to read long, meaty things. Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Reading is a highly unnatural act, and lovers and creators of books and other printed word material are most successful—only successful—when their words make their readers see pictures.

Let me say this again, because some printed word lovers are in such snobby denial of this (no matter how much they enjoy obscure French cinema) that you might have missed it the first time: our goal as writers is to make our readers see pictures in their heads. They take our words and turn them into an individually-created, unique-to-them, perfectly-cast visual reel. When our words make readers see pictures, we succeed. When our words stay words, flat and two-dimensional, we fail and reading us is a slog.

This, by the way, is also why video did not kill the radio star. It just gave radio more competition—and, as the explosion of podcasts continues to show, pressure to reinvent itself. Spoken words are the first, the original stories. We learned story, the structure of story, the enjoyment of story—and the purpose of story—in Nana’s lap as pre-literate children. This is also why, printed word lovers, you should always read your work aloud before hitting publish or send—that spoken cadence is one of the things that makes us see pictures in our heads. It’s also the reason we still read Jane Austen but know Ann Radcliffe’s fiction mostly through Jane’s references to her (ditto Sir Walter Scott).

Speaking of spoken word and radio stars—Michael Harris is a fan and creator of podcasts, but questions from the audience and some of the answers to them cast them as a “new kid on the block” (and that’s a direct quote). People! Podcasts are almost as old as blogs, indeed, the internet. People have been trying to find ways to use the internet to distribute audio since our new year zero (that is, the birth of the internet). The word was coined in February 2004 by The Guardian’s Ben Hammersley, and you could upload and download podcasts to Apple’s iTunes since 2005. Compared to the book, the newspaper, radio and even television, the podcast is a younger medium, I’ll grant you. But new kid on the block? Only if you’re living in 1999.

The kids are all right

Which, actually, based on their questions, a large chunk of the Wednesday audience might have been, and while I hate to accuse my idols of being out of date, the presenting journalists could be accused of the same, especially when the Q&A moved—as it inevitably does when old people start talking—to “what’s wrong with kids these days” and a discussion of the differences between the internet and books.

Let me demolish the first point immediately and quickly. There’s nothing wrong with kids these days, except that they are living in a world the complaining old people created, but which no longer operates by the most of the rules these some old people want them to follow. Young people (all people today) are expected to process too much information, much of it irrelevant, are exposed to too much stimulation, much of it damaging, and are subject to too much future uncertainty, none of it of their making—and they are dealing with this shit situation in the best way that they can.

And if they don’t want to read long, dense, BORING articles, short stories, and books—it’s up to their creators to make their work engaging, powerful, immersive and evocative—to make their audience see the story they tell in words… in pictures.

Want to engage them in a topic they’re not interested in, and that you have to deliver because it’s on the curriculum? (They’re right, you know. It’s probably not relevant. What do you, with your 1990s education, know about the world they’re going to face in the 2030s and beyond? Dick all, sweetheart. Dick all. And the curriculum you’re delivering was probably created by someone educated by the 1960s. Or earlier.) Give them podcasts, TedTalks, YouTube videos, and blogs as starting points. They will read the “dense” stuff that requires deep concentration when it is engaging, necessary, and relevant to them. There is no merit in reading a fat boring book just because it is a book any more than there is any merit in enduring a six-hour miniseries on the history of button museums in Europe just because it’s on the History Channel (My three least favourite words: “It’s educational!” Gag).

Susan Orlean speaks quite engagingly against the fetishization of length and the mistaken view that a 20,000-word feature is better than a 7,000-word feature which is better than a 2,000-word feature which is better than a 750-word column simply because one is longer than the other. (From the point of a view of journalists who get paid by the word, of course longer is better. I love and miss 7,000 word features—nobody’s commissioned me for one since 2008.)

Let me speak passionately against the demonization of youth. People, in general, prefer the easier thing. Hutterites use laundry machines, not washing boards (and the Amish have a blog—seriously, check out AmishAmerica.com). And old people have always complained about young people. Step carefully when you do so, my icons and silverbacks of the Establishment: when you start to complain about young people today, it means you no longer understand the present and so the future will leave you far behind.

The Internet is not a medium

As it is leaving behind those people who speak of the internet as a medium. The thrust of that particular aspect of the Q&A riffed off Susan Orlean casting a book as a finished, static product, compared to the flowing, ever-changing—almost uncapturable—nature of the internet. A visually evocative metaphor—I see the river of headlines, fake news debris, cat video rafts, memes on tubes, careening towards me, past me, smashing the dams totalitarian governments try to put up around it, oh, yes! A visually evocative metaphor, but wrong, so wrong when, at the heart of it, the Internet is seen as a medium—and that was how Orlean, and apparently everyone in the audience saw it.

Slow processor that I am, I nonetheless tried to speak up here, on the verge of apoplexy, but they were all too busy discussing the static/non-static nature of the two media—books and the Internet—and everyone was taking for granted that the Internet was a medium.

Photo by Hannes Wolf, Unsplash

It’s not. The internet is no more a medium than the printing press is a medium. They are both revolutionary technologies that made new media possible and knowledge more accessible and more easy to disseminate by new and old media alike.

The internet is amazing, and it continues the democratization of knowledge and the elimination of cultural gatekeeping and exclusivity that widespread literacy and the printing press began. It is a radical technology, an enabler—a creator and a destroyer, and yes, it brings with it a lot of crap, but we had haters, Fox News, The National Enquirer, scammers, badly written books, and poorly researched news stories and outright hoaxes long before we had the internet.

Amazing, radical, powerful—but not a medium. This is not just pedantic semantics. It’s a critical distinction. Seeing the internet as a medium and not a technology is the misconception that is still killing traditional publishing and print news media.

(Think about it—a book is a book whether it’s been meticulously copied by hand on sheep skin parchment, come off a 16th century printing press, or popped out of a Print-on-Demand Espresso machine. It’s still a book when I read it on my ereader or my phone.)

Not a medium, not a medium, not a medium! A technology. A technology that makes possible the dissemination and presentation of, for the most part, the old media: static pictures, moving pictures, sound, words…

Libraries will save us all

Libraries got this. Perhaps not all of them—there are social dinosaurs everywhere—but the good ones for sure got this immediately (I see the Calgary Public Library—the second most used library in North America, by the way–as really leading the way here). Just as they made books on tape and then on CD, and also videos and DVDs, available to their patrons, they looked to the internet as a technology that would enable them to better fulfill their mission of making knowledge (stories) available to as many people as possible, as effectively as possible. They invested in apps and operating systems that made loans of ebooks and digital audiobooks possible almost before there were ebooks (i.e., before traditional publishers stopped living in 1999 and made ebooks available). I know this, because at one point, in 2011 or so, on my very first ereader, I had read just about every single ebook the Calgary Public Library had in its system.

Libraries recognized that people don’t just come to libraries for physical books. They come, as Susan Orlean notes, for stories, For knowledge—and for community and for connection. They come to come together over story, whether as isolated mothers dragging their barely sentient toddlers to story time at 11 am every Monday or as freshly laid-off or retired seniors looking to rebuild a post-working life social network via workshops on podcasts (try it, Mom!) or the mysteries of the internet (it’s not a medium, Dad!).

If you want to save the world, rich people, invest in libraries. Parents and grandparents, if you want to make sure the kids today turn out all right, make sure they know how to use libraries.

Because libraries saw the power and potential of the internet to deliver more stories and more knowledge to more people, they will be here tomorrow. Because book sellers, traditional publishers, and newspaper tycoons didn’t—because they saw themselves as static, established and powerful, and the internet as an upstart “medium—a competitor they could snub and ignore instead of a technology they could and should harness—they are perishing.

And people like me, who used to make a decent living writing for the old media have had to reinvent ourselves ahead of our industry, and leave it behind.

My former editors moan, constantly, about our desertions to the corporate world, to public relations agencies, to new business ventures made possibly by the (not-so-new) internet. But they can’t afford to pay us to stay. And while I love, love story–I’m not independently wealthy and I need to sell my words to those who will pay for them, ya?

(My former editors are, increasingly, jumping ship themselves. They love their magazines and newspapers, as much as they loved their first typewriters. But, like, they gotta eat. And pay for their kids—still 1990s style, if not 1960s style—education.)

Story is forever

What will save us? Frankly, we need to save ourselves. We can—as some folks on Wednesday night did—moan about how hard it is to be a writer, a journalist. (It was never easy. Just stop.) Or we can embrace the potential offered by this (not-so-new) improvement on the printing press and look for the opportunity social democratization of stories offers us. And ride it.

The good news is that whatever else might be dying, whatever might be under threat now, whatever might be changing—stories are safe. Susan Orlean highlights this point beautifully several times.

Stories are safe. And not just because of libraries. Because while not every human being loves to read (and that’s ok)—every member of the species Homo sapiens is wired for story. Hunger for story is constant, and the part of our bio-evolutionary make-up that makes cultural transmission possible. The medium, the method of delivery will change—is changing. The nature of the stories we want and need will change –is changing, must change if we are to survive changes to our culture. But our hunger for story? That will last until the apocalypse, and, if any of us survive, beyond.

The next Banff Centre Literary Journalism talk is on Wednesday, July 17, and features Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is one of the most astounding non-fiction books I have ever read.

I’ll be there, vibrating with excitement, and you should come too.

Register here:

https://www.banffcentre.ca/houseprogram/literaryjournalism-in-conversation-july17

Featured Reading:

Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben

The End of Absence by Michael Harris

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Suggested Follow-up Reading:

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Story by Robert McKee

(These are targeted at fiction writers, but the principles are all the same.)

And also, while we’re lauding librarians:

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktoo by Joshua Hammer

All books available at the Calgary Public Library.

xoxo

“Jane”

“You are amazing”—you are partly right

The nurses tells me, “You guys are amazing.” It’s 9, 10 am in the morning and we’ve been in the hospital for almost 12 hours—we will be there another 48 before being transferred to another hospital. I have just lived through the hardest night of my life. I do not feel amazing. I feel like something the cat dragged in, chewed up, swallowed, then puked up, and stomped on.

Compliments in crisis are hard to take. You don’t really have the capacity respond to them with a simple, “Thank you.” Also, I think, they invite self-reflection at a time when you can’t really afford it, because it goes from “Fuck, yeah, I’m amazing!” to “No. No, I’m not. How did I let things get this bad, how did I not recognize the symptoms, why did I not act earlier?” in microseconds.

“I sure as fuck don’t feel amazing,” I tell the nurse and she tries to reassure me how amazing indeed I am, by comparing me, favourably, with the scores of un-amazing parents she’s seen. I understand those parents completely. I stand with them, not apart from them. I too am a mess, helpless, indignant, in denial, frustrated, angry, so angry.

Apparently, I just hide it better.

My mom tells me I’m amazing too, all the time, and I finally tell her she needs to fucking stop. I tell you the same thing, and you’re hurt. You’re trying to reflect something good and beautiful at me, you’re trying—you say to me—to acknowledge what I’m doing and going through. My courage, my commitment, bla bla bla, stop talking, for the love of God, stop talking now. I get your intention, but you make me feel like you are acknowledging a lie, encouraging a facade, and preventing me from telling you how hard things are, how unhappy I am.

I am not, by the way, unhappy today. This is a happy moment—me, coffee, notebook, pen. The sun is shining—yesterday was a good day—today, I might start on our 2018 taxes, the process interrupted in March—I’m going to make a list of new publishers to query for that book—this is a happy moment and nothing that happens later will take this moment away from me.

Him: Meditation or marijuana?

Jane: Neither. I’m writing. Do you understand?

I’ve been trying to figure out, for months now, what the right thing to say to someone who’s suffering is. And I think Thich Nhat Hahn nailed it:

 “I know you’re suffering, and I’m here for you.”

Nothing more—we really can’t hear anything else.

I have many good friends and when things were at their worst and Flora was in the hospital, I got a lot of “What can I do to help?” “Anything you need, just ask” texts. So I can tell you all this—the next time a friend of yours is in crisis, do this: bring them soup, make up a care package of chocolate, break into their house and do the dishes and clean the bathroom, hire a maid, drop off non-perishable groceries. If you are making an offer that requires making a decision, make it very, very specific: “I will come by your house on Tuesday at 4 pm to take Ender to the zoo, so you can go to the hospital for the night.” “I am going to Superstore on Sunday, and I’ll pick up groceries for you. Don’t worry about a list—I know what you need.” (Non-perishables, frozen prepared meals, and snacks. People in crisis do not make salads, roasted vegetables, or risotto. Finding a can opener is hard enough.)

Asking, “What can I do to help?” turns me into your project manager. And, in crisis, I cannot do that. Project management requires high executive skills. People in crisis have a hard time showering.

Him: Ungrateful much?

Jane: Ah, good point. Why do you want to help me, exactly? Because you want to alleviate my suffering—or because you want me to feel grateful to you? Or because you want to feel good that you’re the sort of person who helps? Motivation matters, and my crisis is not a feel-good opportunity for you. My deep gratitude practice notwithstanding, if you want to help me because you want me to feel grateful, you can take your help and shove it up your ass without the aid of lube.

By the way, Ender and I celebrated the end of his easy illness by spending $800 at Costco on all the things, so don’t buy me groceries. We never have to go shopping again.

Cinder: You do know how much I eat, right?

Jane: Hush. Let me enjoy, for a few more days, the illusion that I’ve just taken down a mammoth, and the village has more than enough meat to see it through the winter. I mean, summer.

Cinder: You’re so weird.

Speaking of weird—Thich Nhat Hahn (yes, he’s weird—I expect to be that woo-woo and spiritual, you have to be—it just isn’t normal to be that compassionate and loving and insightful), he says, when you tell me, “You’re amazing,” what I should say is, “You’re partly right.” And he’s a wise egg, so I’m going to try that. Shall we practice?

You: You’re amazing.

Jane: You’re partly right. Mostly, I’m a fucking mess but I’m doing my best. Most of the time. Sometimes, I just lie there and wish this was the sort of crisis one could call the fire department for. Do you remember, during the flood, all those firefighters? Yum. That’s what I need now. Not a team of six—I won’t be greedy. Three will do. And they will say, “Are you all right? Do you need anything heavy moved? Do you need a taxpayer-funded, first-respondents-in-uniform, gorgeous-humans-who-work-out-all-the-time-in-uniform hug?”

You: You’re so weird.

Jane: You’re partly right. I’m also very normal. And, amazing.

xoxo

Jane

Her story, my story, our story

Calgary celebrates this year’s flood anniversary with a heavy rain but the river stays in its bed and our alley does not turn into a lake. A friend, away from Ground Zero at work, texts me anxiously. It’s all ok, I tell her—I wonder how many years have to pass before we relax in June—and how many years after that that a flood will come again, catching us off guard?

I am in a very reflective mood—not full-on navel-gazing, because I’m thinking not so much about myself as about story, and not just my story. In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Noah Yuval Harari says, “You are not a story,” and he argues that realizing this fact is one of the ways we will save the world. A funny statement from a historian—one who weaves stories for the present from stories of the past. And, he’s wrong. So wrong. We need stories. Stories is how we make sense of the world. It’s not truth and justice that carry the day. It’s the best story. Whoever has the best story persuades, conquers, wins.

In the many handwritten, unpublished “posts” I have from this year to date, my favourite—and the one that, perhaps, one day I will be able to share with you—is called “The End of Mommy Blogging.” It’s my story of how my children’s sentience and desire for privacy are killing my blog by altering, limiting the stories I can tell. Nowhere is this more blatant than in the largely untold story of the last six months and Flora’s health situation. “Don’t write about it, don’t tell anyone, my life, my story, my disclosure, my refusal to be seen as the disease, to carry a label,” she says, and I nod, I understand, I try to comply—but badly.

I understand her need to control the story, but the story of her illness is also my story, our story, and to not be able to deal with it the way I always deal with shit—to express it as a controlled, structured narrative, to turn suffering and pain and angst into story—into art—that makes some sense of the suffering—not doing that is very hard.

“Write about something else,” Flora commands. But she’s 14 and she doesn’t understand that there is nothing else. Her illness and her suffering touch every other part of my life, external and internal. Nothing exists in separation from it: my relationship to her brothers; my work, such as it is at the moment; my marriage—the best metaphor for which, right now, is me and Sean as two drowning rats, trying to keep their heads above water, each trying to help the other stay afloat, but fuck, it’s hard, would you do all of the work for a while, and also hold me up while you’re doing it? my little rat feet just can’t paddle any more…

My story, his story, her story, our story.

Every once in a  while, I force myself to interact with other people. And I can do it, for a while, so long as they don’t ask me how things are, how I’m doing. I cannot dissemble or evade. I cannot say, “I’m fine.” I’ve tried, and “fine,” in my throat, turns into a wail and comes out as “My daughter is really sick.” But that’s all I can say, because her story, so now, they need to find something else to talk to me about. And they say, “How is everything else?”

And I don’t understand how they don’t understand that there is nothing else.

There is only my child’s suffering. My helplessness. Worse, my ineptitude, resentment, anger.

The anger is getting better. Meditation in not a panacea—I’m pretty sure it does not cure cancer and heart disease, sorry, Buddhist and yoga fanatics—but it does dissolve anger. How can one be angry at gravity, the theory of relativity, electrons, basal ganglia, your right arm? Breathe in and out, wish I could pray, but what sort of asshole god would let this happen to a child, breathe…

“Things could always be worse.” Flora says this every once in a while, and then we all say, “And they have been, let’s not forget, they have been.” And there is so much suffering around us, and so much of it, almost all of it, so much worse. My child will live. And may be—very likely, actually—win a Nobel Prize for research into genetics that will alleviate some of this suffering.

Weirdly enough, telling yourself others have it much worse than you does not alleviate suffering. It just makes you feel guilty for feeling bad.

What I have learned, during the flood, now, is that guilt is a bad motivator.

Flora disagrees. Trots out examples I can’t share with you. But she’s wrong. Guilt makes you ashamed of what you feel, what you want. (“I just want things to be normal, and I’m so tired of all this shit!”) Guilt makes you deny your needs and desires.

Maybe it propels you towards the required action—the action deemed necessary, usually, by others. But it keeps you from peace, acceptance of your shadow, and it keeps you from the action that is truly right for you and the situation.

Meditation, by the way, does not really seem to dissolve guilt. But gratitude does.

So, I practice being grateful for you, even though I can’t really accept your help, because your help comes with obligations I can’t fulfill, do you see that?

Ender’s been sick much of this week, a little lump on the couch in the kitchen, fading in and out of sleep and refusing medicine but demanding cuddles. I give him what I can; Sean stays home from work two days to multi-task, study for his final and cuddle the Ender. We’ve decided, long ago, that children are energy vampires when they are sick. They need you to sit beside them and hold them so they can use your life force to replenish theirs. Hey, it sounds cynical—if you have kids, you know it’s true.

Ender’s illness is simple, easy to care for—my duties, role, responsibility easy to see and fulfill.

“You’re not angry with Ender for being sick!” Flora.

Bam. Guilt. Flare of anger. Fucking ungrateful child, does she not see… Breathe. She probably doesn’t—after all, a loved child should take it for granted that a parent drops everything for her when she has an owie.

I look at all the things I’ve dropped and I wonder how, if I will pick them up again. You are there too, our friendship and our love, the time we used to spend together. And my work. Fuck. Right there, in broken pieces.

In my story, I mourn it more than I mourn you. Can you understand that, and will you forgive it?

We don’t flood yesterday, we probably won’t flood tomorrow. “This is a happy moment.” Gratitude dilutes guilt. Meditation slowly turns anger and resentment into compassion and acceptance.

Breathe.

Flora: Tell me a story.

Jane: Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved stories…

Flora: You’re so lame.

Jane: I’m what you’ve got.

Flora: Tell me a real story.

Jane: One upon a time there was mother who told stories…

Her story, my story, our story.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

 

This is a happy moment

Words are rather hard these days. So, a few pictures:

It’s official.

Seven year journey, and the last six months, so fucking hard.

You want to see that video, right? Watch. You’re going to fixate at how high that leg goes. Don’t. Watch how effortless the drop of the kick is, and how her body relaxes immediately afterwards.

She’s gonna be ok.

Life, these days, consists of a lot of this:

A little bit of this:

And this giant turned 17. Guess what he wants for his birthday?

*

The six mantras of loving speech, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

  1. I am here for you.
  2. I know you are there, and I’m happy.
  3. I know you suffer, and that’s why I’m here for you.
  4. I suffer. Please help.
  5. This is a happy moment.
  6. You are partly right.

(The Art of Communicating)‎

This is a happy moment.

xoxo

“Jane”

Halfway to 90: on flying, smashing the patriarchy, and other dreams

I turn 45 this  month—this week—this day, hey, it’s today!—and I suppose now, when you call me middle-aged, I can’t say fuck off, because what else is this? My native language has a much better term for this time of life—it translates as “in the strength of life,” and it’s a term that’s applied, incidentally, exclusively to men. Regency English has a similar and similarly gendered term—Jane Austen’s men in their 40s and 50s are “in the prime of life and still as handsome as ever.” The women, of course, enter the “danger years” before their mid-twenties. Thank you, patriarchy.

I mean, actually, fuck you, patriarchy.

I don’t mind getting older. I won’t mind being old. Let me tell you, I plan to be the most bad-ass granny that there ever has been.

But I’m experiencing some reluctance–ok, massive refusal–to take on that middle-aged label.

Flora: Now you know how I feel.

Jane: This has nothing to do with being a middle child.

Flora: The point is the middle sucks.

It totally doesn’t. The middle is fucking fantastic, or should be. I’m finally not too young for the titles and keynotes and responsibilities. No one is saying with doubt in their old, gravelly voices, “Well, you seem qualified… but do you think you can really hand it?” and forcing me to find a way of saying, “Grandad, just cause you in the prime of your life are intimidated by the task doesn’t mean I won’t breeze through it, ok?” in a way that is both submissive and just sufficiently confident—not too arrogant, not too threatening, look at me, I’m Goldilock’s “just right” bowl of porridge, really.

Right now—I am Goldilock’s “just right” bowl of porridge. In another decade—15 years max—I’ll be qualified but past it, out of touch—too old, and also, too expensive. So, I’ve got to milk this next decade, this middle for everything I can get out of it. In the middle, my hard-done-by middle child, you have both clout and (comparative) youth. Experience and energy. The ability to connect with the generation that preceded you—because they raised you—and the generations that follow—because you birthed them.

Yes. This is a good place to be, except for, patriarchy.

Him: Again with the male bashing.

Jane: No. Never.

I have sons, a husband, brother, father, colleagues, friends, the occasional lover with a penis. I will not shit on men—neither all men nor most men. When Flora, in her nascent, emergent feminism, says, “Men suck,” I redirect her. Men are human, good and bad, as are women. The patriarchy, though? The patriarchy sucks ass, and I will shit on it without reservations. It hurts everyone, male, female, non-binary, young, old.

Its oppressions, for women, become more evident with age. Think you don’t need feminism, my pretty Millennial, because your law school class was more than 50 per cent women? Come talk to me when you’re trying to make partner, and tell me it’s an even playing field. Get a little older, a little more experienced—work a little harder. No, a lot harder. Have a baby or two. Then come tell me how easy it was to smash that glass ceiling, tell me how it feels to realize, in your prime, your male colleagues are out-earning you while underperforming. Tell me then how you’re navigating the reality of working in a system that still doesn’t understand the consequences of having employees that have and use their uteruses for something other than monthly PMS cramps.

Her: You know, you’ve been immensely successful. Show me one glass ceiling you haven’t smashed.

Jane: I broke all the rules. And I’ve been privileged. And supported by an extended family. And to be arrogantly frank—I’m exceptional. And it’s still been hard. And what I’ve done—it’s still, in 2019, possible only for the exceptional, the privileged, and the supported. I want it all to be better, and easier for my daughter.

Flora: But aren’t I exceptional too?

She is. Fuck, yeah, she is. Flora and I are 30 years apart. That’s a generation gap and a half, and not just because she’s a digital native and I’m a Luddite who not-so-secretly rejoices every time I kill my cellphone with melted chocolate.

(I’ve replaced it. I still think… perhaps I shouldn’t have.)

But she’s going to have to deal with all shit I’ve had to deal with. All of it. My path was easier than my mother’s–hers, easier than her mother’s, thank you, first-wave and second-wave feminism. Flora’s? I don’t think the needle has moved forward at all in the thirty years that separate us on gender equity—in some ways, it’s moved back. Yes, she can be a geneticist, neurosurgeon, or overlord of the universe (her current life plans). And she will be. Will it be as easy for her as it would be if she had a penis? Fuck, no, and don’t you dare whine, you over-privileged white male, that you’re not getting all the seats and all the prizes right now. You’re still getting more, and you’ve been getting more for centuries, in some cultures, millennia—and while you’ve been getting shafted in other ways (cry, brother, cry), it’s really time to own the immense economic and political privilege you’ve enjoyed. Her brothers will have an easier time in almost any career they choose—even in the female-dominated careers like nursing and teaching, they will have it easier because they are “special” (but in a good way).

(When you’re the only woman in a boardroom, loves, you’re not special—you’re either invisible or you’re that steel-balled cunt.)

(I’ve always chosen to be the steel-balled cunt. But wouldn’t it have been great… if I could have just done my job.)

And they will certainly have an easier time balancing the demands of career and family.

But I (surprise!) digress. I’m 45 today, halfway to ninety, officially middle-aged and then some—because my plan is to check out at 78, do not make plans for my 80th birthday, kiddies, let’s have a big bash at the 78 mark, cause I’m not sticking around much past then—45 and I suppose no longer a young woman to anyone… except when I’m visiting a nursing home or crashing Senior’s Day at the Grand Opening of a new Safeway on Vancouver Island.

When Flora and I are in Wales, a tour guide in Cardiff Castle takes us for sisters. He’s 80, half-blind and demonstrably deaf. Flora’s appalled. I can’t be flattered. Did I mention, he’s half-blind.

Flora: You’re kind of pretty, but you do not look that young. Like, ever.

Teenagers keep that “in the prime of life” ego in check better than anything. Perversely, I invite more punishment.

Jane: How old do you think I look?

Flora: 43? Maybe 42. In a good light, when you’ve slept well.

From the mouths of babes.

I am 45 today and I’m both vainer and more confident than I’ve ever been in my thirties, twenties, teens.

I don’t deny or hide the laugh lines, crow’s feet, the sharp crease in my forehead, most of the grey hair (most… I like my blonde fringe, and when there is more grey, especially if it goes white, I’ll sprinkle with with all the colours of the rainbow). I don’t wax or bleach my little moustache. I kinda like it (it makes kissing better, I’m pretty sure).

So I don’t deny or hide those signs of age, and I again have the body of an athlete, bar the softness in the post-partum belly and breasts, but I’ve made peace with that half a decade ago.

I don’t hide my age.

But, I am vain, and I do want all those aging part to still be… you know. Sexy. Attractive. Sizzling hot. Because I am…

Him: Middle –aged?

Jane: Fuck off.

Her: In your prime?

Jane: Precisely.

In my prime, professionally, creatively, sexually.

Fuck you, patriarchy.

Flora: Can you please not write about sex? Your children read your blog and it’s embarassing.

Jane: You don’t have to read it.

Forty-five. Middle-aged. Question: did the term “middle-aged” always sound so… frumpy, milquetoast? Or did we make it so, post 1950s and 1960s, when we as a culture started to worship youth?

Her: I think you’re losing your train of thought and the thrust of this essay.

Jane: Perhaps. I hear memory goes as you age.

The past six months have been the hardest six months of my life. I feel, much of the time, like a limp dishrag. Overwhelmed, overextended, exhausted—ill-equipped and inadequate, to boot. And yet, with all of that—this is me, in my prime, at the height of my powers—watch me take this load and learn to fly with it. Because I will. Because what I am capable of at middle age is exponentially greater than anything I dared dream in my untested youth.

Happy birthday to me.

Still my anthem:

xoxo

“Jane”

PS And this is my … epigenetic anthem if you will. Mom, thank you for showing me how to play with matches.

English translation:

You’re underage, your dad’s oppressing you
Taking your nascent power away
Checks your notebook and your pockets, controls
To put out what burns inside

When on Saturday for a party
You whet your appetite
Daddy’s lounging with a beer,
and says,

Hey, baby, don’t go crazy
You’re only sixteen
It’s too early for soirees
The time for night clubs will come
Don’t play with matches
The heat will burn you
Sit at home in the evenings
When a party tempts you
Eh, baby, don’t carouse
One exam after another
That’s life, baby
That’s life

When a wife you’ve been for twenty something years
And your husband collects postcards or stamps
Sometimes you dream of a pub or a bar
With the Argentinian tango after supper
When you want to run out
For a cocktail and a coffee
The husband with achy joints
From behind a newspaper, will say to you
Hey, baby, don’t go crazy
You’re fifty years old
It’s closer not further
What the world had to give you, it already did
Don’t play with matches
The heat will burn you
Sit at home in the evenings
When a party tempts you
Hey, baby, don’t carouse
Cook, clean, do the laundry
That’s life, baby
That’s life

Today you sit quietly in your corner
With a kind little smile on your face
Over cheesecake, homemade jam, your knitting
You no longer dream of anything
Only when it smells like roses
Suddenly you believe that
God himself there above
Quietly whispers to you, hey!
Hey, baby, go crazy
You’re eighty years old
Burn something and pour
The world gave you so little
Play finally with matches
Let the heat burn you
Don’t sit at home in the evenings when a party tempts

Eh, baby, go crazy
Take what you want with greedy handfuls
That’s life, baby
That’s life

We “celebrate” mothers but we neither value nor support them: if you’re not gonna walk the talk, take your hallmark holiday and shove it

Flora made me the most amazing, glorious card for the Mother’s Day, a work of art with every doodle a symbol—and a beautiful letter inside. Cinder, when he wakes up, will give me, I expect, chocolate, and Ender is out biking around with his friends, oblivious—but of course he will give me love, he always does. And Sean, yesterday, feted with a Cuban cigar, and today, will do all the things while I fuck off and spend Mother’s Day smoking sheesha, drinking Guinness, and perhaps writing—or perhaps not—but doing all of these things without my children.

Her: OMG, that sounds glorious, what a good idea.

Flora: You’re a weird mother. But I guess it makes sense.

Aunt Augusta: What is wrong with you?

Nothing. As a mother, I spend about 350 if not more days of the year with my children; as a homeschooling and work from home mother, on most of those days, I’m with them or in their very near vicinity 24/7. The gift I ask for consistently, on Mother’s Day, on any holiday—is time for myself.

This particular Mother’s Day is a hard one for me. In the past six months, I’ve been absolutely the shittiest parent I’ve ever been… but also, more awesome, enduring, patient, determined—give me an overblown purple prose adjective, and it probably fits here—than I ever thought I’d have to be. And my feelings, thoughts about what it means to be a mother have never been more clear—and, simultaneously, more ambivalent.

Deeper than that I won’t go, because the damn children read my blog now, and some things, they don’t get to know, now or ever.

But I’ll tell you this—it’s also never been more clear to me that for all the lip service and pap we give to mothers, for all the pomp of Mother’s Day, for all the cliched-but-true quotes in Hallmark cards, for all the excess of Mother’s Day brunches, flowers, presents, blah, blah, blah—as a society, we don’t value mothers. We don’t support them. We don’t make anything easy for them. We remain, as a society, the children who simply expect mothers to change their poopy diapers, feed them, bathe them, soothe them, educate them, love them unconditionally—do all the things—and don’t really think about the effort and the cost that goes into all of that.

I don’t expect my children—your children—any babes, toddlers or even teenagers—to appreciate or understand the cost. I never thought about any of it when I was a child. It didn’t occur to me that my mom had something other to do than drive me to martial arts practice four times a week, or take me out for coffee and a cinnamon bun after working a 12 hour shift because I felt lonely. A loved child should take all of those things for granted, frankly. They shouldn’t think twice about why mothers do the things they do—it is so obvious, you are the Mom, you love them, you do it.

But once they grow up, and they become politicians, policy makers, employers, CEOs… for fuck’s sake. Time to grow up. Want to show your mother how much you appreciate everything she did for you?

Make it easier for your sister, your wife,  your daughter, your friend—every mother—to care for her children, earn a living, be a person. If you have power to shape legislation and policy, effect that change on a macro level. If all you have is the power to shape your workplace—or your individual interactions—do that.

Do that. Don’t send me GIFs of flowers and don’t post Happy Mother’s Day on my timeline, and then vote for governments, implement policies, and behave in a way that shows me you don’t value me.

Flora: You know, you could have just said Flora made me a beautiful Mother’s Day card and I’m so happy and left it at that.

Jane: You know, I rant like this to make things easier for you.

Flora: I’ve seen how hard it is. I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna give you grandchildren.

We have this conversation frequently these days, she and I. She asks, “Is it worth it?” …and I can say to that, “Fuck, yeah.” She asks, “Is it easy?” and I shake my head. I don’t know how much of the tightrope I walk she sees… at this age, she shouldn’t see most of the effort that goes into my balancing act, or how much it hurts when I fall off.

When she asks me, “Do you think I should have kids?” I generally laugh and say, “Definitely not yet.”

When she asks me, more in earnest, with more urgency, in her twenties, thirties… I don’t even know if then I’ll be able to tell her about the personal, professional, creative cost. I don’t want her to think she was a sacrifice. That she made things more difficult. After all, I would not be the person I am, I would not be capable of the type of work I do, without her and her brothers. They are part of my alchemy.

But in a society that celebrates motherhood without valuing or supporting it—there is a cost. And it is high.

If things don’t change, and Flora chooses not to have children because she does not want to bear it—that will be the logical, rational, intelligent choice. I will support it.

Flora: I’ll probably have cats. And snakes. Many snakes.

Awesome.

Jane: Just FYI, I’m not changing your cats’ litter boxes and I’m not feeding live mice to your snakes when you go on holidays.

Flora: Jesus. You’re already a terrible grandmother. When can I get my tubes tied?

God, I love her.

Happy Mother’s Day.

“Jane”

PS Mom? I get it now. Not all of it. But more and more of it every day.

Kick like a girl

i.

I plug up the charging port of my phone with chocolate—dark, Bernard Callebaut, delish—on the plane on the way to London, so, in the gym of a college in Brigend, Wales, I need to borrow a phone equipped with international roaming to text Calgary. People are good; I’m given not just the phone but an invitation to FaceTime. But I just need the text message, and I just need to send three little words.

Jane: She nailed it.

Sean texts back fireworks. And I know, 6894 kilometers apart, we are both breathing easy for the first time in months.

She nailed it.

She did it.

She got here, and she nailed it.

Traditional Tang Soo Do Federation, Black Belt Test, April 25, 2019, Wales

ii.

Rewind one agonizing month and three days. It is the end of a horrible night—horrible month—horrible quarter—and I am at the Alberta Children’s Hospital with Flora. They’re talking admission. She’s crying.

Flora: How am I going to get to Wales?

The rational answer is, you’re not. You can’t, right now, get out of the hospital bed to go to the washroom.

Jane: I promise. I will get you to Wales.

She believes me.

The doctors—and her father—don’t.

But she believes me.

And so, I must believe myself.

Signing in

iii.

Rewind seven years. Flora’s first Tang Soo Do class. Her motivation for joining is pretty simple: her big brother and his friend disappear off the Common to go to Tang Soo Do two nights a week, and she wants to be one of the gang.

I don’t want her to start the martial art any more than I wanted Cinder to. My spine, pelvis, joints are still paying the price for my brief glory days in the dojang, on the mats, in the ring.

I don’t want her to damage any part of her precious self.

But even at seven, Flora is unstoppable.

Her brother and his friend both quit Tang Soo Do later that year. Flora doesn’t miss a class.

Pre-test pep talk from Master Experience Senior

iv.

If you’re wondering why a Canadian girl practicing a Korean martial art—that’s what Tang Soo Do is—has to go to Wales for her black belt test—you’ve figured out, yeah, that’s why we are in Wales? her black belt test?—the short answer is globalization, Cold War, and warped patriotism. I can give you the long answer sometime in person; it makes no sense either, but it is what it is.

Anyway. She doesn’t have to go to Wales. She could test for her black belt in Calgary, under her local master. And she could do it next month, next year.

Flora: I have to go to Wales in April.

A year ago, when she started the arduous pre-tests required for her black belt, and the possibility of testing in Wales before a panel of strange masters was floated before her, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go. In fact, she was sure she didn’t want to go. It was too scary, it was too big, it was… No. She didn’t want to go.

Flora: Also, it’s so expensive. And we don’t have the money.

Jane: If you want to go, we will find the money.

We talk about it now, why she didn’t want to go. She’s  not sure. She was already battling her illness, although she didn’t quite know it yet. Was that a factor, on some level? Maybe.

Flora: Maybe I was just afraid.

Maybe.

There are many definitions of courage. The best one: doing the thing you need, want to do even though you’re fucking terrified.

Bow-in

v.

I practiced the Korean martial art of Taekwon-do with the same kind of devotion Flora gives to Tang Soo Do, between the ages of 11 and 27. Then, babies, life. Spinal injuries.

I have a peculiar relationship with my martial arts history. On the one hand, it’s the reason I can’t jump or run. Or skate or ski—not that I care about that so much, winter sports, yuck. Or walk very fast or do that position in yoga or that stretch, ever again. But also—those years in the dojang, those hours in the ring… they’ve formed so much of who I am now. For better or for worse… mostly for the better. I like me. So. Could I be who I am without them?

Probably not.

My personal history with the martial arts also means that I keep myself at a bit of a distance from Flora’s path in her martial art. She doesn’t want me to watch her classes, and, even as I drive her to them—first twice a week, then three times, then four—I am grateful for that. I drop her off, and I read, write, shop. Pick her back up. Never give advice. Neither criticism nor encouragement. And absolutely no backseat coaching. But, we do talk about tangentally relevant stuff.

Flora: I hate the other kids’ parents.

Jane: In general, or in class?

Flora: In class. Why would you put a kid in martial arts if they didn’t want to be there?

At nine, she’s resentful of the classmates who act out, who need to be cajoled to attend, work, perform. By 11, she’s typed certain parents as “athletic failures” who are trying to “live out their dreams” through their kids.

Flora: And seriously, ok, if you’re going to make your kids do martial arts—the least you could do is not criticize their forms and kicks from the sidelines. You know?

I know. I hated parents too, when I was a coach and an instructor.

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Calgary Crew pep talk from the Masters Experience, before Traditional Tang Soo Do Federation United Kingdom Open Championships Tournament (April 27, 2019)

vi.

I don’t ask Flora what she gets out of her time on the dojang floor. That’s for her to know—for her to reveal if she wants to.

She never really tells me. Sometimes, it looks like peace. In that last awful quarter, it is the only peace she has.

I don’t quite remember anymore what it is I got out of it, to be honest. Mastery, accomplishment, yes. Release, relief.

A kid, a teenage girl, treated as a peer, mentor by adults—a sense of belonging. Empowerment.

vii.

Doctor: So I’d really like you to rethink Wales.

Flora: I’m going to Wales. Mom promised she’d take me, no matter what.

Doctor: I see. Do you think your mom—do you really think your mom can handle it?

Jane: That doesn’t enter into the equation. I told her, I promised, I would take her to Wales.

We repeat the conversation, three, six times over the three weeks Flora is in the hospital. Including on the last day.

Doctor: You know what I think about Wales.

Flora: You know what I think about Wales.

Sean: Are you really sure you can get her to Wales?

I think, perhaps, this is the legacy of my time in the dojang. I am terrified. I feel I am taking my child out of the hospital and out of the country against medical advice.

I am fully aware of everything that could go wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

I am not, actually, sure I can get her on the plane. Into her uniform. Onto the dojang floor for the test. I am sure of only one thing.

She wants to go to Wales, she needs to go to Wales, and I promised her she would go.

Jane: Yes.

Ready

viii.

The worst thing that happens on the way to Wales is that I plug up the charging pod of my iPhone with chocolate, and so can’t take photographs or text.

Everything else goes perfectly.

Flora: Too perfectly. Aren’t you afraid?

Jane: Hush. No jinxes.

We allot extra time for everything, and we meet every deadline. She’s a rock star. I keep on waiting for her, exhausted, to come apart.

Flora: After my test. I think I might be a mess after the test.

We get to Wales on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. after about 20 hours in transit. At 8 p.m., it’s raining, and Flora’s in her first Welsh Tang Soo Do class with the Welsh Master. At midnight, she’s passed out in my arms, shaking.

Flora: We made it.

We don’t doubt, neither one of us, she’s going to make it to her test on Thursday.

Hill with a view, Wales, somewhere between Porthcawl and Treorchy

ix.

On Wednesday morning, an 8:30 a.m. class, ninety minutes of focused practice for the six Canadian students, four of whom ate testing for their black belts. When we get back to our Welsh lodgings, I feed her, tell her to rest, and take myself for a walk, on which I cry.

I really didn’t know how I was going to get her here.

I did.

OMFG, I did.

I have, over the past four, five months, been a really shitty, powerless, useless parent. Her illness blindsided me. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t know what to do with it—and I resented its encroachment into my creative, professional and personal life as much as I resented the suffering it inflicted on her.

But I got her to fucking Wales, and tomorrow, she’s going to test for her black belt, and while this is not atonement for the horrible things I did, said, and, worst of all, thought over the past four months… this moment is what matters.

I come back to the lodgings with aching eyes but a light heart.

Find Flora puking into the wastebasket in our room.

Jane: Nerves?

She wishes.

The puking continues for 12 hours. Food poisoning, the flu. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.

I work to keep her hydrated. Feed her Gravol, which she pukes up, and Tylenol cold and flu medication, which I think she keeps down.

Flora: Can I have some chocolate?

She probably shouldn’t, but what the fuck, what could possibly be worse? I feed her chocolate, she pukes it up.

Flora: How can this happen? How am I going to test for my black belt tomorrow?

Jane: It doesn’t matter if it’s food poisoning or the flu. These things usually last no more than 24 hours. You’re going to stop puking by noon tomorrow, and the test isn’t until 6 p.m. Everything will be fine.

I don’t believe a word I say, but I talk as if I do.

Flora: Suppose I’m still puking in the evening?

Jane: We will strategically position a garbage can within lunging reach.

I’m joking. And she laughs. And pukes some more.

x.

She’s puke-free for a solid 16 hours when we arrive at the community college that’s hosting the test. White as a sheet and achy all over, but puke-free. Still, her master speaks to the Welsh master organizing the test, tells him Flora was sick all of yesterday—is worried she might start throwing up again on the floor.

Welsh Master: Wouldn’t be the first time sometime puked at their black belt test.

He fetches a garbage can from beside the entrance to the gym, and positions it within lunging distance of Flora. Tips her a wink.

As it turns out, she doesn’t need it.

Jane: When the Master was talking to you at the first part of the test, what was he saying?

I’m expecting… I don’t know. Words of encouragement. “Do your best.” “I know you’ve been sick, I’ll cut you some slack.”

Flora: He told me to kick faster.

Ah, martial arts instructors. Your sensitivity and empathy made me the ruthless bitch I am today.

x.

She nailed it.

No puking, from flu nor nerves.

No faltering.

No errors.

A flawless performance.

I am not a fawning parent. I am a merciless critic. There was, actually, one kick during which her hip position left something to be desired. But, you should have seen her spar…

Flora’s teammate sparring one tough chick from South Africa (April 27)

xi.

Rewind three months.

Flora: Will you teach me how to spar?

I’m… taken aback.

Over the last year or two, every once in a while, Flora and I goof around in our crowded living room, and I show her how we taught sparring strategy and movement.

Flora: We don’t do any of that in class. We just fight, and not very often. And I’m terrible at it.

She is. Everyone at her school, forgive the bluntness, is. Sparring isn’t just throwing random kicks and punches at each other. It’s strategy, it’s art. Dance and a game.

I used to be really good at it. But it’s been a long time. And I can’t jump or bounce, and there’s one leg I cannot balance on at all, and them fucked up hips…

Jane: Ok.

Two weeks later, I’m coaching Flora’s entire class, including her instructors, on sparring strategy. It’s a little surreal. “Listen to the cripple on the floor.” “Do what I say, not what I can’t do.”

Thing is… I’m still good at explaining this shit to people. Angles, circles, reaction times, telegraphing, fake outs.

We don’t have a lot of time, so I stick to three basic rules and drill them in deep.

In her test, Flora applies every single one.

Flora: I fell on my ass twice.

Jane: Neither of those times did you get hit as you fell. So, you know. I call that a win.

Calgary Crew and their medals (April 27)

xii.

The test is on Thursday. Friday is a day of rest.

Saturday, a tournament.

Flora’s first.

Neither of us gives a flying fuck about the tournament. This trip was never about the tournament. It was about that black belt test rite of passage. If I can’t get her to the tournament—if she can’t get to the tournament—if she gets to the tournament and gets eliminated first round, starts puking or gets sick before she gets on the floor—it doesn’t matter. She’s already won.

Flora: I made it to Wales.

Jane: You made it to Wales. And you’re going home with a black belt.

Flora: They didn’t tell me I passed.

Jane: You know you passed.

She smiles.

She knows it too.

My girl.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS At the tournament, she doesn’t medal. But, she doesn’t choke, faint, falter or puke. She performs a beautiful, perfect traditional form and she survives a sparring match against a much better opponent. She cheers on her dojang mates. Makes new friends.

Finds out she nailed her black belt test, as did all of the Calgarians.

Flora: Fuck, yeah.

Fuck, yeah.

Coming home with a black belt.

Now, swap “girl” for “boy,” and enjoy:

Because laughing is good, even when it’s hysterical

File under “things we never thought we would say to our children”:

Sean: The hand sanitizer is not for throwing at your siblings!

+

Sean: Stop! If you go that way, you’re just going to run into more naked people in wheelchairs.

+

Sean: Do not put mustard packets down your mother’s shirt! Do not put mustard packets down my shirt! Do not…

Cinder: I am pointing a mustard packet AT your shirt, and you must do whatever I tell you to.

 

Privilege, burnt quesadillas, and betrayal

i.

I spend Friday dealing with school board bureaucracy, driving here and there, getting forms signed, proving to yet another bureaucrat that Flora exists, and—my favourite—sitting opposite a woman who does not know how to type with all ten fingers, OMFG, how does she have this job?—as she inputs the information I just wrote out on a paper form into a computer.

I feel a little tetchy—my time is precious and it is being wasted here—deep breath—the things we do for love—I squeeze Flora’s hand. Done and done, the girl will be starting her high school classes a semester early.

A few weeks earlier, Sean and I were engaged in a similar form-gathering, filling-out, and cat-herding process to get Cinder enrolled into a metal-working program at the local polytechnic, giving him a taste of post-secondary life while still in high school.

Both times, as I finally cleared the final hurdle and declared victory, I came face to face, again, with our ridiculous privilege.

Stop cringing, fellow white friend—take race and skin colour out of the equation for a minute, and just think about this. That particular Friday, all the things that I had to do—they all had to happen before 3 pm on a regular workday. I am so lucky I am, for the most  part, mistress of my own work hours. I can run to one appointment at 11:10 and then cross the city to another one at 11:45, and then circle back to wrap up some more form signing at 2:00. I don’t have to take a sick day, vacation day—or lose a day’s pay—although, to be honest, all through that Friday, I am grinding my teeth at the reality that all this shit that I could do online that I’m being forced to do in person means lost time, lost work that I will have to make up on the weekend, and where will that time come from?

Still. I am able to make that time on a weekday.

Most working parents aren’t—or when they do, it comes with a financial penalty.

Most immigrant parents do not start with jobs that give that that kind of flexibility. Most working class, poor parents can’t afford to take a day off to battle bureaucracy. That’s privilege.

So is this: I am an over-educated woman, who can shake my pile of degrees at the average teacher or bureaucrat and cow them into submission. I understand how the system works, and how to work it. I don’t take “This is the policy” for an answer. I don’t take “No” for an answer when it harms my children. My education—which is a gift from my parents, by the way, and is therefore generational privilege—means I question, challenge and navigate the system. I make it work for my children, rules be damned.

But I can make it work, because—privilege.

Not everyone has the same capacity, ability, access.

Flora and Cinder are benefiting from privilege they were born into.

Will they recognize this when they are older?

ii.

Ender wants a cheese tortilla, and I tell myself to fucking focus, so I don’t burn it, because there is no such thing as multitasking.

Here’s the problem: I put the pan on the element, and I need to heat it up a bit, right? So, I do. Watching a pan heat up is fucking boring. I’m writing, I turn back to the computer… Fuck. The pan is smoking, so hot. I turn down the heat, grab the tortilla, Ender’s fake cheese… put it on the open. Turn to the computer.

The smoke alarm goes off…

So I’m not going to do that this time. I watch the pan heat up… turn my attention to the sink. Fuck. Too hot. Take it off the element, let is cool down. But then, stay focused on it as the tortilla browns, and the cheese melts.

It’s perfect.

There is no such thing as multitasking.

I wish I found watching pans heat and tortillas brown fascinating. Or at least fulfilling.

But, I don’t.

iii.

I’ve been busy, and you haven’t been around much, and as always when we don’t spend a lot of time in which other’s sight and arms, I forget how much I love you. It’s not the same for you, I know—you miss me, long for me, and when we are together, you don’t need to spend any time at all remembering who I am, or how you feel about me.

When I don’t see you for a while, I forget all the feelings. I’ve tried to explain this to you, others, before. They don’t quite understand—neither do you.

I understand, now.

iv.

On Saturday, I wake up with no voice—I fall asleep at 7 pm, Ender beside me—wake up at 9 am. The voice is back, but there’s also some snot. I am not happy—I do not have time for illness, a fuzzy mind, on the schedule.

Also, I’ve been taking these stupid cold showers purely in order to avoid the flu, and now I feel betrayed.

Ok, they’re not so much cold showers as… after my delicious, wonderful HOT shower, I turn off the hot tap and stay in the stream as the water runs cold and then leap out of it, and throw some of the cold water onto my face, and my exposure to the cold is for like, maybe 10, 15 seconds. But still.

Don’t make fun of me. As far as cults and weird quirks go, my cult is fairly harmless and my quirks don’t generally damage others.

But this cold—I feel betrayed.

Still.

I have learned this, from children and animals: when they fall sick, they sleep and heal. Nothing else.

So.

I sleep. I heal.

And tomorrow, I probably won’t let the water run cold after my delicious hot shower, because, betrayed.

 You: But you just said you weren’t doing it right.

Jane: You’re not suggesting I stay in the cold stream longer, are you? Because that’s just not happening.

v.

I have a lot of things to do, and I want to do none of them. The chinook winds are blowing like mad outside—most of the snow on our driveway is gone. The glass panes are rattling. It feels like spring even though it is January.

Ender: Cheese tortilla?

Jane: Seriously? Another one?

He’s hungry. Or bored. Or needs love.

I provide.

Then stretch myself on the couch, wrapped in blankets. Sleep. Heal.

xoxo

“Jane”

Anger as Fuel: Latin History For Morons, Microaggression Defined, Calgary Artist Eman Elkadri’s Social Justice Art #raceissues

Flora and I are watching John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons. It’s funny and heartbreaking—the same style of comedy-but-not that Hannah Gadsby presents in Nanette. The premise of the piece is god-awful (in the heartwrenching sense): Leguizamo’s son is experiencing racially motivated bullying in school. And so here’s the thing: this is John Leguizamo’s son. If an American Latino boy can be privileged, surely, that’s this kid. His dad’s not just wealthy—he’s a fucking Hollywood star. He’s famous. A celebrity. Untouchable. Should that not afford some sort of protection against… no. Apparently. not.

Flora’s disgusted. Later, appalled. Finally, she says, “Is that the history the world? White people fucking up and oppressing and killing everyone else?”

“Well, first they did that to each other,” I say. “I mean, when they were landlocked in Europe. Oh. And then there was Attila the Hun. And Genghis Khan.” I come from the part of Europe most exposed to their attention; if you look carefully, you’ll see the results of wartime rape and pillage in my cheekbones. “And the Moors and the Ottomans did some white people oppressing for a while. Sorta.”

“But they didn’t stay. Or exterminate,” Flora points out.

“They didn’t stay. Or exterminate,” I agree. I don’t want to argue the point—at this juncture in time, human history is white people fucking things up for all other people. Even in places where brown people, black people, and rainbow people are scarring each other—they’re doing it against the backdrop of white European colonization and imperialism, white American economic warfare.

And I don’t want to do anything to undermine… her sense of responsibility. I am so glad that her go-to position isn’t, “But I didn’t give anyone smallpox!” “I’m not the one who didn’t colonize North America!” “I didn’t participate in the slave trade!”

That’s not the point…

Flora sighs.

“I’m glad we watched it,” she says. “But it was hard.”

I agree. And love her so much. And suddenly, have hope, because she is not atypical—well, perhaps in some ways—but in this way, she is not. She is typical of her generation.

They’re going to change shit. I know it.

In December, I re-connect with a woman—let’s call her Anne—about my age, a little younger, born in Calgary, but with more melanin in her skin than I have, who has recently become aware of the price that shade of skin, coupled with her uterus, have extracted from her over the course of her education and career. I met her for the first time three, more, years ago, before she’s aware. She wasn’t benefiting from the horrors from colonization—indeed, she was being actively penalized by their enduring heritage—but she didn’t question them. She accepted them as “just the way things are.” She was earning $30K a year less than her less experienced, male, white colleagues? Ouch, wow… but… that’s the way things are. Right?

That’s the way things are.

But that’s not the way thing should be. And she’s done. She’s not putting up with that shit.

“I got really angry,” she tells me.

“Anger is fuel,” I tell her.

By the way—it was a white male colleague, who was out-earning her, who pointed the phenomenon to her and who first put to it the words, “This is not right.” So if you’re wondering what your role in addressing injustices, racial, gender, other, is when you benefit from them, it is, very simply, this. To say, “This is not right.” Not, “That’s just the way it is.”

And then, do something about it—support the people who are doing something about it.

At the very least, get the fuck out of the way of the people doing something about it.

Anne and I meet again the first week of January, at the opening of the Race Issues, a fantastic comic art exhibit by Calgary artist Eman Elkadri. Supported by The Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation and ActionDignity’s Youth PLACE project, the exhibit presents the microaggressions faced by Canadian racialized youth in… well, meme form. It is outrageously effective, as art and as social change.

Microaggression is a term Flora is familiar. But one she has to explain to her father.

You: And me.

Jane: Microaggression is the casual degradation of any marginalized group.

I think of it as death by a thousand—ten thousand cuts. This isn’t that one big awful moment when the bus driver tells Rosa Parks to vacate her seat because a white person needs it or Gandhi gets thrown off the train in South Africa because he’s riding in a first-class carriage. This is… all the thoughtless, off-the-cuff everyday things. So small in the moment that the perpetrator—who is wearing a shirt with Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” and absolutely loved the Dr. Who episode about Rosa Parks—isn’t aware she’s done something harmful.

And the recipient of the microaggression… often struggles with the validity of their pain. Anger. After all… it was just a question.

They were just making conversation, right?

They didn’t really mean it to be… offensive…

That off the cuff-remark about Asian women drivers… It was just a joke, right?

For fuck’s sake, not this again…

Really?

He didn’t just say that, did he? Yes, he did. Yes he did…

Ok, that was not a micro-aggression. That was pretty macro.

Most microaggresions are more subtle. Like this:

But they cut hard, and close. Like this one:

Flora: Hey, is that why you gave ma an impossible to spell and pronounce Polish name?

Jane: What? To dent your white privilege a little, and teach you compassion?

Flora: No, I meant more as revenge. Making me suffer because you suffered.

Jane: God, no, what sort of monster do you think I am?

She’s 14, so I am the worst monster that ever was—although, as she is now under Leguizamo’s influence, I think she’d cede I am not as bad as Columbus and Cortés.

At Race Issues, I talk a little bit with the artist. I thank Eman Elkadri for the work she’s doing, and I hope I don’t come across as condescending, a privileged old white woman patronizing a younger one. I hope not. I don’t know. My taste of Canada’s and the world’s racism has always been mitigated by the lack of pigmentation in my skin—and augmented by the privilege of education and relative economic stability. My taste of sexism was always mitigated by my confidence and the gifts my father gave me.

I miss my chance to take Flora to see Eman Elkadri’s art, but I show her the images online.  She’s silent for a while, then asks me about the artist’s age. I don’t know, exactly. Young, because the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation is an organization for the young: “We are millennials and Gen Z activists who are working to improve race relations in Canada.” (I suspect that’s why they’re going to be successful.)  Similarly, The Youth PLACE project focuses on the young, by engaging “racialized youth to inform, create, incubate and implement approaches to address the systemic racism and day to day barriers that they face.”

“Mid-twenties?” I hazard. I tell her about CCMF.

“Why is it the young people who have to change the world?” Flora demands.

“Because the old who were trying to change the world get too beaten up and exhausted to keep on fighting—and the ones who were comfortable with the way things were just get more comfortable and resistant to change as they get older.”

I’m so fucking wise.

Flora: You’re so fucking wise.

Yesterday, she thought I was too stupid to live, so I preen.

Eman Elkadri and my friend Anne talk for a while. I melt into the background, lose myself in the crowd—oh-my-fucking-god, there are so many people—the little gallery is packed—and they are so young—they are so going to change the world—art is powerful—I get dizzy, step outside, and watch the people and the art through the dusty window.

In an interview with The MetroStar, Eman Elkadri talks about her own awakening, which took place in a university class. “We would go around and talk about our experiences with racial issues, and it made me realize, wow, when I was younger, racism did happen, but I put it on the back burner and tried to change myself.”

That was Anne’s experience too. Anne was born here—as, I think, was Eman, though I am not sure, and I don’t ask. But this story is so common to me now: born here. Canadian by birth, by right. But not by sight. “Where are you really from.”

I am not born here. But I don’t get the “Where are you originally from?” question until people hear my name.* Anne, Eman—they get it on first sight.

Not cool. Not right.

Let’s change that. Now.

“Jane”

*PS I have a long rant inside me about what you can say instead of “Where are you from,” and perhaps one day, I’ll share that with you. But if you think you ask that question in pure innocence and curiosity, consider this: When people meet me as Jane, they never ask me where I’m from. Nor do they hear an accent. But when they meet me as Marzena… I have an accent. And they cannot talk to me about anything else, until they ascertain where I’m from. Fascinating, no?

PS2 View the full slide show of Race issues HERE, find out more about the Canadian Culture Mosaic Foundation HERE, learn about John Leguizamo’s Required Reading for America (shorthand; Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and Charles Mann’s 1491) HERE, and watch the trailer for Latin History for Morons below:

About Race Issues: This project was created in partnership with Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation; Artist’s Statement

The images and stories presented within these comics symbolize a disconnect between the perception of an equitable Canadian society and the very real experiences of Indigenous peoples of this land and racialized Canadians. Although diverse cultures do coexist and thrive within Canada, many individuals cannot help but feel that their identity is constantly compared and contrasted to whiteness. It is up to all of us to be more conscious of the ways we treat each other, and to avoid the use of microaggressions by being more aware of how biases, stereotypes, and misconceptions frame the way we interact with others. Differences are what make our country such a vibrant and unique place to live, and we all have to learn to embrace people that look, speak, and act differently than we do. When we choose to acknowledge that our personal experiences are not universally shared by everyone, we will no longer react in ways that “other” people for not being just like us. We exist within a time and generation where there is no one way to look or speak Canadian, and it is important that we continue to challenge the assumption that there is.

Source: http://www.canadianculturalmosaicfoundation.com/race-issues.html

 

 

The year will end on a Monday (Week 52: Guilt and Gratitude)

i

It’s the last Sunday in December, the last Sunday of 2018—tomorrow is the last day of the year. The year ends on a Monday, as it began. My 52 week experiment is over. The commitment met—on some weeks joyfully, on some weeks reluctantly, each word typed out in a spirit of anger, resistance. Also—practice.

Was it a good exercise? Yes. For me. For you, I don’t know. But then, it was never about you.

You: It never is.

Jane: It sometimes is. Just not this time.

It’s the time of year for reflection, and a time of year that, for the past 13 years, has carried for me the shadow of heartbreaking grief. This year, the shadow has seemed fainter, and that made things easier, until it didn’t—I don’t want to forget. Memories, even the awful ones, are all that we have of the past.

You: Not true. You know that.

I suppose. We are, after all, made of the past. Nothing else.

The faintness of the shadow comes from the demands of the present. Flora’s going through a rough patch, I’m starting a new job and two new projects. I am moving, moving, thinking about the future and so busy in the present, the past lessens its hold.

A little.

I don’t want to be busy. This past year, I was supposed to look for sustainable rhythm (assignment to self) or some other such unicorn. It proved as elusive as unicorns usually are. But I did learn a lot about my process—my blinders—my guilt.

Imagine motherhood, marriage, life without guilt.

Sean’s been off work this week and doing the heavy lifting at home. I’m grateful. And guilty. And, aware that come the New Year, new job and projects notwithstanding, the heavy lifting will be mine again. And I’m afraid. And resentful.

And, guilty for feeling resentful. Which makes me short-tempered and snappy and then, again, guilty for being…

I used to blame those first 14 years of a Catholic upbringing on my finely developed sense of guilt, but it runs even deeper than that. Because you’ve got it too…

Funny thing about guilt: guilt cannot really co-exist with gratitude. It crowds out gratitude, diminishes it. I’m not sure it works the other way around.

Wait.

It does.

Epiphany.

Gratitude.

ii

The holiday week has no Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday… Sunday. The days get jumbled and confused. My weekly rhythm and routine come undone. And the only one of the kids who is really enjoying it is Cinder. The holiday week offers a break from the routine of school for him, as it does a break from the routine of work for Sean.

For Flora, Ender, Ender and me—it just takes away the anchors we use to organize our time. Flora comes undone. Ender is clingy. I’m… angry, not working enough. Guilty.

Jane: We should have gone to Cuba.

The lack of routine in a new place at least comes with novelty. And an active search for a new routine…

iii

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

Annie Dillard

So I’m writing about this again in one of my projects, and I’m dealing a bit with this with Flora-and always, myself—and Sean would like Cinder to spend less time on video games.

But when I need a rest from the world, I reread Jane Austen—how is that different or better?

I understand Cinder.

Sean understands Flora.

Ender… he’s a mystery.

Sean: He’s love.

He is love.

 

iv

The year ends much as it began. Some changes. Some statis. Some joy. Some pain.

A sudden clarity, followed by fog and clouding.

Hello, 2019.

May you be full of gratitude.

xoxo

“Jane”

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

You have a bad memory, while I want to rest on a flower (Week 49: Mothers and Caterpillars)

Atheism, Spirituality, Boundaries, Slytherins (Week 50: This and That)

When everyone’s a special snowflake… (Week 51: Normal and Narcissistic)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

When everyone’s a special snowflake… (Week 51: Normal and Narcissistic)

i

Morning. The sun is not up yet. Winter. Darkness. Solstice has come and gone but the days will not get noticeably longer until February so it’s still very dark and my morning’s writing births another unpublishable post. Big ideas. Inadequate expression. Inevitable violation of another’s privacy, unforgivable.

How do I make the idea… impersonal and thus shareable? I cannot. Abstract ideas are useless.

I like to be useful.

I think every being does.

You: Except for her.

Jane: That’s mean.

You: What’s she good for?

Jane: She’s … she’s so very ornamental.

ii

the world owes you nothing

Do your thing. Follow your path. Do what you love. Keep this in mind: the world owes you nothing. It doesn’t owe you riches or fame or even a semblance of recognition. It doesn’t even owe you a living. Sorry.

The world—society, market, people, however you want to operationalize or anthropomorphize the concept—has a right to demand that your art—product—vision—is of use to it… and to refuse to buy it, laud it, use it, if it’s not.

The world owes you nothing.

The world owes me nothing.

Do your thing anyway. Be useful on the side so you can pay the rent, buy food, and the  occasional shiny thing (or trip to Cuba). But know that the world owes you nothing, not even appreciation. In this recognition lies freedom. In clinging to some sense of entitlement lies unhappiness. Misery. Possibly madness.

“Hand-crafted by non-conformists,” Cinder’s pierogi tray

iii

I’ve figured out how to salvage one paragraph from the morning’s writing. Out of context, it reads as even more narcissistic than in the context. Still. Look what I do with it:

I am not prone to depression or anxiety, social or otherwise. I am not a highly sensitive person—just sensitive enough. Nor am I, despite what Flora sometimes suggests, a highly functional sociopath. I’m pretty sure I do not have borderline personality disorder. I definitely do not have any of the characteristics currently labeled and medicated as ADHD. I might be a little narcissistic, but then, who isn’t? We all think the world revolves mostly around us, and experience it from the limited point of view of ourselves (unless we “transcend,” but I’m pretty sure even that’s a potentially narcissistic illusion). I’m moody as all fuck, really clever with words and less so with numbers, and I’d be more likely to invent a story about why the sun rises and sets every morning and night than study the heavens to get them to reveal their natural mysteries to me. I’m easily overstimulated by crowds and noise, and I’m afraid of heights and small, dark places, but I venture into them anyway. I try to be open-minded, I can be judgemental—and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I used to think I wasn’t very compassionate and empathetic, but then I realized I was, I just don’t like kittens and ugly babies and I’m pretty damn good at not letting the suffering of others paralyze me, because, once paralyzed, what good am I to you?

I think what all of the above makes me is… normal.

No girl ever wants to be called ‘normal,’ does she? She wants to be called ‘special’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘sexy’ and ‘passionate’ and a million other words that mean she’s unique. ‘Normal’ is just another word for ‘boring.’

Alexandra Potter, Me & Mr. Darcy

I am most definitely not boring. No worries there.

iv

The world owes me nothing.

But what do I owe the world?

Babi’s pierogi production (and eating) factory

xoxo

“Jane”

“Blood-splattered apron over velvet suit jacket kitchen selfie”

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

You have a bad memory, while I want to rest on a flower (Week 49: Mothers and Caterpillars)

Atheism, Spirituality, Boundaries, Slytherins (Week 50: This and That)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

Atheism, Spirituality, Boundaries, Slytherins (Week 50: This and That)

i

No preamble at all:

I feel very conflicted about my current spiritual practice, because, you see, I’ve spent three decades of my life as a proud atheist (the first fourteen years as a born Catholic). My atheism has never been a central part of my identity, as it is for, for example, the rather terrifying (and unhappy) Richard Dawkins. But it’s definitely been part of the mix in the Sorting Hat.

(I’ve never taken the Harry Potter sorting hat quizzes, by the way, but my family assures me, with no hesitation, that I’m a Slytherin. That makes all four houses represented in our nuclear family of five: Ender and Sean are Hufflepuffs, Flora says she’s a Hufflepuff but she’s really a Ravenclaw, and Cinder is definitely a Gryffindor.)

I’ve never been a cynical atheist either, usually thinking the world beautiful and fascinating even when it is nasty and cruel. The caterpillar becoming a butterfly: how fucking awesome is that? The theory of evolution to explain it—thank you, Darwin! My atheism has never been devoid of wonder and gratitude. (Only briefly, perhaps in late adolescence, when, in love with a cynical atheist, I tried to be cynical too—but, fortunately, it did not stick. Cynicism, you see, is neither attractive nor creative. You can’t make amazing shit, discover new things when you’re busy scoffing at the world.)

Anyway. So now I sit and breathe—me, the woman who always hated yoga and scoffed at meditation (almost cynically, tis true) and who will still tell you that if yoga really was the path to enlightenment, then India would be the most enlightened, peaceful, perfect society in the world and, well, caste system, sorry, you lose, you don’t get to claim enlightenment, wisdom and compassion if you have the caste system and I’m not even going to touch on the sexism. And I still think the Buddha was a psychopath and a really shitty father, and no, I can’t forgive him for leaving his little boy—what do you think your abandonment did to him, you asshole, and how much meditating did he have to do to let go of the suffering caused by his father just fucking off?

But still. I now sit and breathe. Once, twice a day. Still, alone—and suddenly part of everything that ever was and will be, holy fuck, what a feeling, and then, again, alone.

I don’t find myself in the stillness. Me, I’m always here. What I find is the rest of the world and  my very insignificant, ordinary, yet critical and magical place in it.

So.

I sit.

And breathe.

And once or twice a week, I go and I sit and breathe and chant and wave my arms around and otherwise do ridiculous things with a group of other people who are sitting and breathing and chanting and breaking down their ego. There is nothing sexy or athletic about the yoga I do—and not a single leotard or crop top in sight, by the way, although palazzo and harem pants seem to be all the rage at the moment. And I have to admit that on some level, this is my church. That being amidst other people who experience that same moment of something or other, stillness or belonging or unity or dissolution—their presence amplifies the experience. Alone-not-alone. I like it. I want it. Maybe, I even need it, although that’s still hard to admit.

I sit and breathe. Sometimes, I lie down and breathe. Walk and breathe. Yesterday, I sat on a damp, sunny hill, my back against the trunk of a tree, cold winter sunshine on my face and in my eyes, and I breathed. Then I smoked a cigar. Breathed some more.

You: Jesus, if you try to argue that cigar smoking is part of your spiritual practice.

Jane: No. It’s an indulgence, a vice. And a short-cut.

But it achieves the same thing. Time slows down, I slow down, everything else recedes, there is only the breath and the smoke.

My  morning pages are still part of my spiritual practice (year five now). And I don’t flinch every time I say “spiritual” (although, fuck, isn’t it a pain when the way other people use a word spoils it for you?). So be it. I’m a spiritual ape. I think the natural laws and yet unknown mysteries of the universe are amazing. I don’t mind, some of the time, giving them the word “divine.” After all—cosmic dust, promiscuous electrons—and that liquid caterpillar in its chrysalis—how are they less divine than the flour-free chocolate cake you made me just because you love me?

You: Chocolate cake?

Jane: Chocolate cake is divine. And so is Hafez’s poetry and the seashell ear of a child.

You: I think you’d better wrap up this essay while you still have a point and before it degenerates into utter self-indulgence.

Possibly already too late. But, time is pacing, relentlessly, and I still want to sit and breathe a while before I start doing all the things.

ii

The doorbell rings at 9 am.

Ender: Yes, you can come in. But only stay three or four hours, ok? When you’re here the whole day…

Friend: It gets boring?

Ender: It’s just too much. I need a break and some me time.

Sean overhears them. Is amazed—“Isn’t that amazing that at  nine, he can articulate that?” But then, this is my son. Earlier this week, I am seated in a loveseat at Lounge XVIII with her. The loveseat opposite us, separated from ours by a low table, is empty. The lounge is very crowded; two young men ask, politely, if we mind if they sit there. She agrees. I nod. Why not, the table separates us—and the lounge is very crowded. It is a kind, NICE thing to do.

The two young men are very young. Very drunk. Very friendly.

Too friendly.

Jane: So, you are very welcome to sit there, but we’re on a date here, and I actually don’t want to interact with you, so if you could just talk to each other and not to us?

They are… muzzled, muted. And actually, after a period of awkward prolonged silence, get up and join someone else’s table.

Her: I can’t believe you said that.

Jane: Did you want to spend the whole evening making conversation with two drunks?

Her: No, but…

No buts.

Boundaries.

I spent years teaching Flora about boundaries, how to recognize them, respect them, communicate them—how not to feel bad about having them. It was an upstream battle (forgive the mixed metaphor), because our culture works very hard at breaking down girls’ and women’s boundaries.

Nice girls smile and say yes.

Bitches have boundaries.

Well. So be it.

I am not a nice girl, and I’d rather raise a bitch than a victim.

iii

Mornings. Mornings. Mornings.

My routine in 2019 is about to get two mornings on which I have to be somewhere, perky and ON, by 8 am, which means I’ll have to get up at 6 am, which means…

Ugh.

I’m not sure I can do it. Ok, let me rephrase that. Of course I know I can do it. I will do it. I must do it. Can I do it unfrazzled, unhurried, unresentful? Taking my time for my morning pages and scalding hot coffee, my shower and my meditation, a proper breakfast?

You: Probably not.

See, this is what I’m afraid of. My story for the past 20, 30 years has been that I don’t do mornings. The last time I tried to change this and create an intense early morning work routine, I almost went crazy. (Fall 2017… to be fair, there were other reasons compounding the crazy. But getting up before 6 am did not help.)

It’s not even, I think, that I mind getting up early. Today, I was up at 7 am, and no one made me, there is no place I need to be by 8 or 9 or even 10. But… I’m just not… I’m not fast or focused early in the morning. I move like molasses or a sloth that needs to empty its bladder but, ugh, the bottom of the tree is such a long way away, is there no other way to pee? In the mornings, I move slow and I don’t like to be hurried. Hence, I’m thinking 6 am wake up time to make my 8 am commitment, not 6:30 or 6:45, which, technically, might be enough… but really isn’t. I want time to move at my sloth-molasses pace. But that means, waking up so early.

Will I do it?

We will see.

iv

Sit.

Breathe.

Boundaries.

Mornings.

Flora: I think you called me a bitch.

Jane: I said I was raising you to have boundaries.

Flora: And then…

Jane: How about… I’m trying to inject a bit of Slytherin into your Hufflepuff.

She’s not convinced. But trust me. The Slytherin do have some redeemable qualities, and not just because Alan Rickman played Snape.

Jane: You’ll thank me. I’m pretty sure, eventually, you’ll appreciate this.

Thank me, blame me.

Breathe.

xoxo

“Jane”

Professor Slytherin Glasses ;P

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

You have a bad memory, while I want to rest on a flower (Week 49: Mothers and Caterpillars)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

You have a bad memory, while I want to rest on a flower (Week 49: Mothers and Caterpillars)

I have in my notebooks, Word documents, half a dozen sketches about this week. Reflections on consent, privilege, and race. Reflections on social media, connectivity, and mob mentality—and Facebook in particular—I think I’m opting out, by the way, loves, but more on that later in the month. Reflections on teenagers and their pain and beauty. Reflections on the second adolescence that is my forties, and perhaps yours. Narcissistic reflections on what I want, what I don’t want.

Not very much angst about who I am. That, I know and you’d think everything would just flow from that. Yet, it doesn’t.

Ender: You are my Mama.

I am. And so many other things, my little love. But always your Mama, yes.

This little love of mine is nine, but when he curls up in my arms he might as well be three. I wonder if all third or last babies endure this prolonged infantalization. Sometimes, I fight it—I wish he was a tween—fuck, what a terrible word, btw, made up, imagined life phase, too-fleeting and ephemeral to matter except to marketers. And sometimes, I am so grateful I still have my baby that I am still the mom who can fix almost everything with a hug and a kiss.

Not as easy any more with the teenagers.

Sean: They’re good kids.

They’re amazing kids. But they are now metamorphosing caterpillars, caught in the limbo between childhood and adulthood, a time that was never easy and that now seems impossible.

When I meet people nostalgic for that first bloom of youth, that first adulthood, I always think they must have very bad memories. Who on earth would miss that excruciating pain of that first self-discovery and those first attempts at self-actualization?

It’s bad enough the second and third time around.

You: You in a cocoon, metamorphosing again?

I wish. There is a certain appeal in being recombinant liquid swooshing around into its next incarnation in the protective cover of a chrysalis. No. I’m no not metamorphosing. That metaphor does not fit right now.

But I’ve been running, flying very hard and I need to take a break. Rest on a flower.

Her: Just one? You’re not lusting after a meadow full of flowers?

A meadow sounds nice. Sunshine.

This week, the notebooks are full of sketches like this. This one is no better or worse than the others; representative, I suppose. And probably should not be shared either. Technically, it’s just not very good, and I’m paying a lot of attention to technique these days.

Still.

I’m also committed to a certain production schedule and deadline.

So there you go.

“Jane”

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

I didn’t kill anyone–it just smells like it (Week 48: Guilt & Poison)

Flora: Mom? Did you  kill someone in the bathroom?

Jane: Yes. Can you smell the blood—or just the lye?

I’m not sure I actually know what lye smells like. If it has a smell. It probably does: most things that have the power to dissolve a body—or truly clean soap scum and potential mildew off a shower wall—do.

Ender: Mom? I have to go pee.

Jane: Go pee. Just don’t close the bathroom door.

Ender: I’m afraid.

Jane: It’s fine. Just don’t close the bathroom door and don’t breathe too much.

He holds it, for longer than he should.

Cinder: What are you making?

Jane: Vegetable soup.

Cinder: That looks like whale fat.

Jane: It’s chicken stock, with fat from the bone marrows.

Cinder: Whale fat.

Jane: You know what? You don’t have to eat it. But you can stop commenting on it, now.

He saunters out of the kitchen, fake-hurt, fake-upset… with an undercurrent of shame under it all. I keep on making the soup.

It’s sort of a domestic day, I suppose. Clean the bathroom, make pork chops for lunch and soup and spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Laundry, and sweep out the entryway. In-between, all the work things… I end up not reading with Ender, twinge of guilt. But in the evening, I dance it away. It’s all right.

Guilt.

Every mother I know exists in this fairly constant grip of guilt, between the demands and obligations of the house, the needs of the family… and, not even her own needs, but the obligations that come with needing to work for a living. Whatever the job. Layer on to the job the passion and desire to do it well, to do it often, to move up whatever hierarchy exists in it… guilt, guilt, guilt. Always pulled in two, three directions.

Generally, when the house guilt sets in, I tell it to fuck off. When the work guilt sets in (as in, I should be doing MORE work), I can manage it rationally: I look at what I do do, and tell myself, firmly that it is more than enough.

But the kid guilt? Fuck. It pulsates in me, through me constantly.

You: Benign neglect. Aren’t you an advocate of benign neglect?

Jane: But when does one cross the line into active neglect?

It’s your fault, you know. Not individual you. The global you, the social you, that hasn’t yet figured out what it means to be a woman and a mother in the twenty first century, and you demand a kind of Mother Monster that does it all—and loves it, too, but absolutely loves her children and her home MORE and can demonstrate this by neglecting her work. And herself. But not too much. Because if she’s not pretty and well-taken care of physically, she loses her value too.

I’m rambling. All these thoughts seemed so much clearer as I walked the hill, taking a short break from the house, the children, and the work, and trying to reconnect with self.

Self had me thinking of all the books and movies in which the female character resents the male character’s commitment to his work, workahalic, you’re never home, you don’t have time for me and the children… because, of course, she has no commitment to hers. I remember, specifically, the passage in the Emma Jung biography, in which the author tries to make the reader sympathize with Emma (and despise Carl) because, on their first trip to Vienna, Carl spent all his time with Freud and Emma was left to tend for herself in the hotel room—or at the Freuds’ dinner table.

As I read the passage, I actually screamed at the book, “He went to Vienna to meet Freud! The pre-eminent person working in his field, his only potential mentor and real colleague! THAT WAS WHY HE WENT TO VIENNA! What did you expect him to do? Hang out with Freud in his ‘free’ time, while making Emma’s pleasure trip to Vienna his chief concern?”

But she did. She—the author—totally did. And she assumed the reader—the female reader, because after all, men don’t read biographies of women, particularly when their only claim to fame is being married to a man—would feel the same.

Poor neglected wife.

Bad selfish husband.

I am, much of the time, the selfish husband—except that I need to “balance” (there’s no such thing) my near-obsessive passion for my work with my love for my children and my concern that I don’t short-change them… because everything I see around me tells me that whenever I do anything other than hyper-focus on them, I am not doing enough.

You: Breathe.

Jane: I should have never told you about my culty yoga.

Breathe.

Dance.

On the dance floor, in the rhythm, in the noise, in the primal movement of the body, I shed the guilt. For a while. It will come back in the morning, in the kitchen. The sink, the dirty counters.

Sean: Go work in your space. Not here.

And here’s the thing: my male partner could not be more supportive. My parents could not be more proud of me. In theory, the people around me, the people who really matter—they don’t put any of this on me.

They don’t have to. I’ve internalized the prison and the prison guards, as has every woman. And when I act in defiance of them—which I do every day, else I would perish, else there would be no self, no me—guilt.

Guilt.

Sean: I think the lye has made you stoned. In a bad way.

Jane: Perhaps. I always feel housework is very bad for my mental health. I won’t clean the bathroom again.

Sean: That’s not what I meant…

The lye really is stinky.

It’s not lye, by the way. There is no lye in the stinky stuff I spray on the shower once every two years to take off all the grime and crap eco-friendly cleaners and microfiber cloths leave behind.

But there is poison.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

PS A few words about lye:

A lye is a metal hydroxide traditionally obtained by leaching ashes (containing largely potassium carbonate or “potash”), or a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water producing caustic basic solutions. “Lye” is commonly an alternative name of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or historically potassium hydroxide (KOH), though the term “lye” refers to any member of a broad range of metal hydroxides.

Tissue digestion

Sodium or potassium hydroxide can be used to digest tissues of animal carcasses. Often referred to as alkaline hydrolysis, the process involves placing the carcass or body into a sealed chamber, adding a mixture of lye and water and the application of heat to accelerate the process. After several hours the chamber will contain a liquid with coffee-like appearance,[5][6][7] and the only solids that remain are very fragile bone hulls of mostly calcium phosphate, which can be mechanically crushed to a fine powder with very little force.[8][9] Sodium hydroxide is frequently used in the process of decomposing roadkill dumped in landfills by animal disposal contractors.[6] Due to its low cost and availability, it has also been used to dispose of corpses by criminals. Italian serial killer Leonarda Cianciulli used this chemical to turn dead bodies into soap.[10] In Mexico, a man who worked for drug cartels admitted to having disposed of more than 300 bodies with it.[11]

Source: Wikipedia

 

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

Time flies but the Christmas tree is up (Week 47: Status quo and Change)

I don’t really know what happened to this week’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—they flew by, proving, again that Einstein is right and time is relative. On Saturday, I played with my writer tribe and was reminded that 2018 was a very, very VERY busy year. That I remember. And today, I will chill and enjoy the snow and cold and not do very much at all. I can see the moon out the West-facing kitchen window—and it’s 8 a.m.—and it’s almost full and so beautiful. There’s a line of grey-pink light below it—the sunrise reflecting off the white of the mountains, I suppose. The noises around me are homey happy noises: the furnace kicking in to thaw the house a bit, the dog licking out every last bit of her breakfast from her bowl, the Ender murmuring to himself as he sets up his computer.

Ender has discovered magic, and is watching magic shows on YouTube. The still-illiterate nine-year-old has also discovered Siri and voice recognition. “Search for How to Magic,” he tells the computer. He’s never going to learn to read, I moan. But. He will. He will.

His elder brother, who didn’t read more than “CAT,” and that, with effort, until he was 11.5, is in Grade 11 and kicking ass in his science classes. Watching YouTube videos to supplement his Physics and Chemistry instructions—because the YouTubers explain things better than his textbooks or his teachers.

Of course, he also plays video games while watching the YouTube videos and while texting with his friends, and I wonder how that can be a thing, but I also realize—technology has rewired this generation. For good or for bad, this is how they are. And I think in some ways, they cope better with this stimulation and interconnectedness than we do…

Sean: Where’s Flora?

Jane: She went out.

Sean: Where?

Jane: She didn’t say. She said, “I’m going out.” I said, “Where?” She said, “I dunno.”

Sean has a minor Daddy freak out.

Jane: She went in the direction of Rosie’s house. And then they probably went to pick up Morgaine and Estelle, and they’re all hanging out together.

Sean: Why didn’t she just say so?

Because she wants privacy. I try to explain, but Sean is like Ender and never wants to be alone or inaccessible or unfindable. Cinder and Flora are like me. Every once in a while, they need to disappear.

On Monday, I taught the last class of my eight-week course, and one of my students gave me chocolates and another almost cried, and all of them told me sweet things, and I found myself incredibly moved and astounded by how much I enjoyed the experience—and yes, very eager to repeat it. But for now, I will have Monday nights free and I will use them to disappear.

I do wish, by the way, that there were places one could disappear—sit and be and work or play—without having to spend money on drinks and food. Art galleries, yes, but they all close so early, and malls, I suppose, but they are so noisy and full of people focused on either acquiring things they don’t need or wasting time, and the air is so bad, and then there is the outdoors, of course, but this is Viking Hell, and while the outdoors is very beautiful from the vantage point of my couch where I’m swaddled in an electric blanket, I don’t want to get lost in it at night with my notebook or laptop.

And I should smoke less sheesha and I don’t drink coffee at night anyway—and look, this is me, sabotaging my “free” Monday nights before they even happen.

No, on Monday nights, I will smoke sheesha and drink coffee—or tea—or nurse a beer and I will disappear in public places and tend to myself.

Until I teach again. I will teach again.

On Tuesday, I saw Naked Girls Reading perform The Worst Things I Ever Read, and I “met” for the first time The Golden Age and they were amazing, and I laughed, and I refueled.

On Wednesday, I tried not to totally and completely lose my shit with a racist and agist education system the purpose of which is to reinforce not just the status quo but the status past… So I’m tutoring an adult immigrant woman from Cameroon who needs to pass her English 30 equivalency to get into a nursing assistant program. She’s smart, articulate and will be totally excellent at her job. Her English is solid—she can communicate complex ideas easily and she will have no trouble communicating with either patients or doctors. What she is having trouble with is analyzing culturally irrelevant, context-free poetry and memoirs. I think she hires me to teach her grammar and essay structure. That, we cover in the first two sessions—did I mention, she is very smart. What she actually needs me for is to tell her… who Anne Page, Sara Lee, and Laura Secord were, because they’re in a poem that’s she’s being tested on. Except Laura Secord is not there as Laura Secord but as the box of chocolates, and Anne Page was never actually real in the first place, and the English tutoring lesson turns into a cultural history lesson that I’m too young to know myself and need to turn to Google for help, and…

Then there’s the 19th century memoir that’s so fucking racist, I’m ashamed to decode it for her. How is this on the curriculum, in 2018?

But, more to the point, how is suffering through this analysis going to make her do her job better?

It’s not. It’s a hoop she has to jump through if she wants the job. It’s the Social Sorting Hat. And the Social Sorting Hat favours those who… well, first, made the social sorting hat, and next, were raised and educated by those who made the social sorting hat.

Anyway. Sorting Hat. Sean and Flora are going to Harry Potter World in January. They think they’re both Hufflepuffs—I think Sean’s right about himself, but Flora’s probably a Ravenclaw. Ender, I think, is also a Hufflepuff. Rowan’s probably Gryffindor.

They tell me I’m a Slytherin without even a pause or a reflection.

I sigh.

I’m not evil, you know.

I’m just very clear-sighted and unsentimental.

It doesn’t mean I don’t love or I don’t suffer. It just means that when I suffer… I still get all the shit done. And when I love… I don’t lose sight of how wrong for each other we are. 😉

On Thursday, I teach again. And I realize that while I do really love this, it can’t come at the price of writing. But a balance, I will find a balance.

On Friday, I am sentimental. Just for a little bit. And the kids strong-arm me into putting up the Christmas tree.

And on Saturday, I get these socks:

Ender: Mama? I learned a new magic trick. Want to come see?

Jane: Coming.

xoxo

Jane

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

My least favourite thing in the world—after War, Famine, Pestilence, and… what is the name of the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse? I canna’ remember—is to wake up tired. You know? You open your eyes, reluctantly, you finally force yourself out of bed—also reluctantly—and then you—well, I—drink a glass of water that’s magically supposed to rehydrate and energize me (it doesn’t), reach for a notebook and pen, pour myself a cup of coffee (lover, I’ve come back to you), and… too often, the first words I write are, “Morning. Tired.”

I have now given up turning myself into a morning person or even a morning tolerant person. My Kundalini yoga cult wants me to wake up two and a half hours before dawn—fucking sadists. I crawl out of my bed, reluctantly, between seven and eight—which, at certain times in Viking Hell is almost two and a half hours before sunrise—but I don’t really wake up until I feel the sun shimmering on my skin through the dirty glass of the windows.

Anyway. That tired in the morning feeling? It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens too much. For no good reason. I don’t have a wee child keeping me up at night. I go to bed quite early and I don’t gorge on electronics beforehand. Sleep, when it comes, is deep. Nightmares, fairly rare. And, even when I do all the right things—morning. Tired. Not fully awake. Don’t want to get moving, going yet. Don’t make me.

I guess, theoretically, no one is making me. The pressure is all internal. (Well, and a little bit, Ender.) I feel I ought to… because the rest of the world is moving. And I am here, on the couch, notebook and pen, coffee, writing. Not even writing THE WORK but just making words and sentences, no one will read, practicing my scales, stretching on paper. Yawning on paper. When I put the notebook away—more coffee (lover… yes)—andI pick up my laptop, I stilll feel a little—yawn, moan—but once I start to work, I”m good. I go. And when I finally break the first sprint, between 9:30 and 10:30 am—depending on how much Sean fed Ender for breakfast—I am awake and not tired.

So maybe this being tired is part of my perfectly functional morning routine.

I don’t know. It doesn’t really feel like a functional feeling.

Yawn, moan.

I want to go back to bed.

But.

I don’t.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Conquest. The fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is Conquest. Interesting. War and Conquest. Wait. I just figured out what Conquest is a euphemism for. Ugh.

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

Halloween, Samhain, All Saints Day, Day of The Dead, Candy (Week 44: Neither Here Nor There)

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

War, Famine, Pestilence, Mornings (Week 46: Mornings and the Apocalypse)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com

Again with the silver-tongued Persians, and other stories (Week 45: Silence and language)

Mmm. Let’s start with this:

Unschooling looks like this:

Flora: Mom, in what grade was I supposed to learn how to calculate the circumference and area of a circle?

Jane: I dunno. Do you need to know how to do it now?

Flora: No. Just wondering.

Jane: It’s got something to do with pi and radius. Ummm… Let me think…

Flora: It’s fine. I got it. I googled it.

Sometimes, it is that easy.

Other times, the eldest child wants help with physics homework and makes you sit at the kitchen table with him he googles stuff, AND THAT’S REALLY HARD. ;P

What else? Monday, I taught, Tuesday, I played, Wednesday, I worked, Thursday, looked-like-play-felt-like-work—and I’m so sorry about that other thing—Friday, I juggled, Saturday, I tried to be lazy and it almost worked.

What else?

A quote from Olga Broumas:

She who loves roses must be patient and not cry out when she is pierced by thorns.

I sent it to a boy who desperately wants to fall in love. He can’t flip the pronoun; doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. It’s ok.

What else?

I’m supposed to be more open and honest with the people I love about what I feel, but fuck, it’s hard. I really don’t like telling you things. I prefer to write very very long stories, and bury the truth in a line on page 276.

Him: I found it.

Jane: Mmmm… no. You just think you did.

This is Rumi:

Silence
is an ocean. Speech is a river.
When the ocean is searching for you, don’t walk
into the language-river. Listen to the ocean,
and bring your talky business to an end.
Traditional words are just babbling
in that presence, and babbling is a substitute
for sight.

Also, this:

Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.

Those damned silver-tongued Persians, still wrecking havoc with my heart.

Still.

She who loves roses…

My parents are celebrating their 45th anniversary this weekend. Five years short of half-a-century. Crazy, isn’t it? Forty five years. Depending on the decade—month, week, day—I have seen them happy, unhappy, in love, fighting, angry, compassionate, furious, forgiving…

What they have taught me: “true” love takes a fuck load of work. Make a Disney movie about that, why don’t you?

On Tuesday, after a writers’ meeting and before a is-it-a-date-or-is-it-therapy, I smoke sheesha and write some bad poetry. Six redeemable lines. I send them as a gift, hidden in six bad verses. She accepts them in the spirit of gratitude in which they are written.

Her: And still, none of it is about me.

Jane: No. I’m sorry.

Back to Rumi:

You left ground and sky weeping, mind and soul full of grief. No one can take your place in existence, or in absence. Both mourn, the angels, the prophets, and this sadness I feel has taken from me the taste of language, so that I cannot say the flavor of my being apart.

Still.

Ender throws himself into my arms and I drown in his love, and Cinder is out all night, but then safely home, and Flora smiles at me and then delivers a scathing social critique of everything she’s ever seen on Netflix. Girls’ lunch out with my mom. Left-over macarons for Ender. Sean and I cuddle on the couch—you come for a visit.

All is well.

2005

xoxo

“Jane”

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

Ragazzo da Napoli zajechał Mirafiori (Week 34: Nostalgia and Belonging)

Depression is a narcissistic disease, fentanyl is dangerous, and knowledge is power, sort of (Week 35: Introspection and Awareness)

I’m not gonna tell you (Week 36: Smoke and Mirrors)

Slightly irritable and yet kinda happy (Week 37: Self-Improvement and Self-Indulgence)

It’s not procrastination, it’s process (Week 38: Back and Forth)

Pavlov’s experiments, 21st-century style (Week 39: Connectivity and Solitude)

The last thing I remember (Week 40: truth and um, not really)

All of life’s a (larval) stage (Week 41: Stagnation and Transformation)

Damn you, Robert Frost (Week 42: Angst and more Angst)

Speaking of conflict avoidance… (Week 43: Fight of Flight)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

nothingbythebook @ gmail.com