Sleep is for the weak and other lies

i

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

Another draft post that starts like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usually, this is not a problem for me.

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

ii

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

I should have asked Seth when I had the chance…

iii

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

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

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

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

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

iv

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

True fact: I suck at real downtime.

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

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

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

v

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

An appointment with the dark

i

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

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

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

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

Overwhelmingly terrified.

Breathe.

ii

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

But—breathe—I’m afraid nevertheless

I’m afraid of being alone in the dark.

iii

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

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

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

iv

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

Breathe.

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

Breathe.

Regroup.

Face the dark.

v

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

We’re going to get through the dark together.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

i

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But also, ordinary.

iii

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

Just doing the everyday, very ordinary things.

The basics.

I’ve been… content.

Life is much easier this way.

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

iv

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

Julia.

What do I need to do?

xoxo

“Jane”

Backwards through time: All the thoughts not fit to print

i

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

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

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

A sneeze.

ii

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

I’ll talk to you. Soon.

Probably.

iii

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

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

Food for thought.

Ha.

iv

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

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

My only un-advice: patience.

Patience.

v

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

Poetry should never be literal.

I read it again.

Jesus.

It’s even worse than I thought.

Delete.

vi

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

Let it go.

Done.

vii

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

Dammit.

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

Alas.

viii

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

Moving on.

ix

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

Copying that one into another book.

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

Maybe walk.

Maybe.

x

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

xi

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

Impossible to do it justice, right now.

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

It can be a gift for her 70th birthday.

Yes.

xii

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

Mine alone.

xiii

“Extreme self-reliance is a trauma response.”

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

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

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

The piece is “sharp as a guillotine.”

Also kind of mean.

I don’t think you can handle it.

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

Del…

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

Save for later.

Click.

xiv

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

Apparently.

xv

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

Fail.

xvi

A lot of introspection and whining.

Fuck, woman. Pull yourself together.

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

Honor them.

xvii

A pretty good poem.

xviii

A story called “My cokehead lover.”

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

Can I rewrite it as a comic piece?

Maybe.

xix

Lover, tonight I miss your closed eyelids.

xoxo

Jane

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

Transitions, rituals–and, always, delusions

i

Transitions suck.

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

Him: A toddler tantrum of epic proportions.

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

Transitions really suck.

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

On edge—breathe.

It doesn’t have to feel so jagged.

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

ii

Transitions.

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

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

They have a purpose.

They are… soothing.

iii

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

Everything will be all right.

Him: Better, baby?

Jane: %@#$.

xoxo

“Jane”

August 4, 2021

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

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

Its headline is ‘Hello, World.’

Cute, innit?

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

(It isn’t.)

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

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

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

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

Choice empowers.

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

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

I picked up my first new literary kettle bell yesterday:

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

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

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

I exist.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

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

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

Jane: And, you’re fired.

Right now, I exist.

It’s a great feeling.

What next?

i

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

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

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

In the end, no.

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

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

So, there’s that.

ii

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

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

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

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

We survived.

What now, what next?

iii

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

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

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

I will miss you. So fucking much.

What next?

iv

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

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

But the crisis is over.

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

So, what next?

v

Seriously, what next?

xoxo

Jane

Bad dreams, good friends, and French onion soup

i

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

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

Her: You broke my heart.

Jane: But do you forgive me?

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

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

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

You: Protect yourself?

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

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

ii

Jane: Are you dying or something?

Him: WTF?

Jane: You are being so nice and accommodating.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

Jane: Are you moving away?

iii

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

(I’m talking to you, Jason Kenney.)

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

Jane: Wait for it.

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

Them: I’m double-vaxxed! Can we hug?

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

We don’t want to let go.

Jane: OMG, I’ve missed this so much.

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

Jane: Damn right I am. (Lick)

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

We hug again.

iv

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

It doesn’t matter.

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

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

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

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

Jane: I will eat whatever you bring.

Him: French onion soup with croutons and cheese?*

Bastard.

He’s probably not dying.

He’s moving away.

v

Jane: But seriously. Have you forgiven me yet?

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

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

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

Her: Of course.

Phew.

“Jane”

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

You: This makes no sense.

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

The secret correlation between prime number birthdays and sore calves…

Before

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After

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

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

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

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

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

In the middle

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

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

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

Let’s try it like this:

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

After-after

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

You know how much I wanted a party.

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

After-after-after

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

In gratitude,

“Jane”

Instead of nihilism, hit a piñata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theirs go to paradise.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe a piñata.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

Or a piñata.

Mother’s Day, non-resident…

i

It’s Mother’s Day and usually, on this rather ambivalent holiday, I engage in a rant about how our society is hypocritical, gives the cult of motherhood a great deal of lip service, heaps all sorts of expectations and judgements—oh-god, the judgements—on mothers, but gives them virtually no actual help and support. I planned to skip it this year because if COVID-19, working at home and supporting children’s learning at home hasn’t shown you how true this is—what can can I say?

Also, it’s now nine months that I’ve been living four blocks away from my children and carrying significantly less than 50 per cent of the daily tasks of parenthood, so I feel my moral high horse for this topic this year is a little impaired. Still. I’m dealing with a whole new slew of judgements and issues right now, and mostly, what I’m thinking is that mothers just can’t win.

Really.

No matter what you do, the world will crease its judgemental eyebrows and say that you should do it differently—better—with more grace—with a smile—in nicer clothes—in cheaper clothes—more selflessly… or with more attention to self-care… OMFG kill me know—you can’t win. You’re either negligent or you’re too helicopter, you’ve given yourself up and burned it all on the altar of family—no, actually, you’re too focused on your career, if you were a really good mother, you wouldn’t be so ambitious—you’re too selfish—you’re a martyr—you do too much—you don’t do enough…

You really can’t win.

Flora: Why I don’t want children.

Jane: As I’ve said before, I won’t dissuade you. But also, that’s why I had spares.

Here’s the thing though: it’s not children who make motherhood hard. No. Really. Children, in all their snotty, exhausting glory are amazing. I would not trade that experience, that love for anything. Every sleepless night, every tantrum, every hard hard moment, worth it.

Flora: Even that one?

Jane: Even that one.

Worth it, worth it. What makes motherhood hard is not children—it’s Aunt Augusta and Mrs Johnson and Good Housekeeping magazine, and also Vogue and your CEO, co-workers, neighbours, strangers on the street—society and its expectations.

Screw you all. I’m doing my best.

ii

It’s a drizzly, grizzly rainy day and Cinder is working from 2 pm and my mom is sleeping until 2 pm after spending a night intubating 30 and 40 year-olds in the ER, and also, third or fourth lockdown, everything is closed anyway, so the plan is shawarma take-out for lunch at my place, just me and the kids. Then, drop Cinder off to work and take Flora and Ender to drop off flowers at my mom’s. Then, I don’t know, probably a movie, maybe a nap, it’s a drizzly, grizzly, gloomy day, rain turning to snow and slush on the sidewalks. I’m trying to have no expectations on this first post-divorce, second pandemic Mother’s Day.

We will spend some time together, some time apart.

I will do my best; it probably won’t be enough.

iii

It’s actually pretty good.

The kids are a bit grumpy-dumpy in the car while we go get the food—everybody skipped breakfast to be hungry for lunch and that is just a bad idea—but once we get the food, everything smells so good, is so good. We eat, and the brothers poke at each other only a little bit, and the sister’s tongue, while always as sharp as a guillotine, only comes out intermittently. Cinder gives me a pot of yellow mums and Ender a hand-written card that’s been crammed into his hoodie pocket for days.

Sean hands me a pint of Chocolate Salted Caramel ice cream and says “Happy Mother’s Day” when I come to pick up the kids, and I appreciate the gesture.

My mom wakes up in time that I can do a drive-by flower drop off with all three kids, and we make her day. The kids fight over shotgun, but it’s funny. We drop off Cinder at work and then—everybody needs a nap. I drop Ender and Flora off at the coop with instructions to text me when they wake up and are ready to come over for supper.

I myself crawl into bed, grizzly-drizzly day, heart full of big feelings, head requiring strict instructions so it doesn’t spin negative stories of Mother’s Days past.

Flora texts me after 5 pm, awake and groggy, not really hungry. I go pick her and Ender up, and we argue about what movie to watch. Make popcorn in a wok. Stretch out on my very uncomfortable couch, make it less uncomfortable with pillows, watch Detective Pikachoo and eat lunch left-overs for supper, all is bliss.

Then it’s time to go get Cinder from work—I leave Ender with Minecraft, run Flora home, then to pick up my eldest essential worker, bring him his lunch-for-dinner left-overs. And then, the first sleep-over at Mom’s new house for Ender.

Nine months after I moved out.

Finally.

No expectations. But for God’s sake don’t let him cry and don’t let me cry—it’s ok if he’d rather be at the other house, that is his house and he loves it because I had spent a lifetime making it a child’s paradise.

But. We snuggle and read a graphic novel by one of his You-Tubers, turn off the light—he’s restless. Can’t sleep. We whisper for a while, then turn the light back on. Read another book. He falls asleep, wrapped in a pile of blankets, his hand in my hair.

I am so happy, I cry… but then I sleep, and all is bliss.

I’m doing my best.

xoxo

“Jane”

Speaking of cults…

i

I’ve had my first dose of the microchip, kittens—the cheap, doesn’t die in normal refrigerator temperatures one—and suddenly, everything is clear… and I’m yanking your chain, but also  not, because I do have to tell you that holding out for the vaccine of your choice is such a privileged person, First World Problem, I can’t even.

Still—I’d no more prevent you from waiting for Johnson & Johnson than I want you to prevent me from making #genxzeneca trend on Twitter.

Which brings me to what’s so very clear—and yes, clearly, it’s the microchip—the problem with the world order as know it.

Ready? It’s, very simply, this:

Intellectual policy makers, democractic governments and many regular people expect human beings to be rational and to act in rational ways, even in irrational situations.

We’re not. We don’t.

That’s it.

That’s the problem.

You know who knows people aren’t rational?

Religious and cult leaders, marketers and spin doctors, populists and fascists.

Which makes me think… they’re probably gonna win.

We’ve got to start a cult, kittens.

ii

Speaking of cults—I’m thinking of workplaces, organizational cultures and indoctrination, and how some places are so good at getting their people to drink the Kool-aid and others just can’t seem to even fake it. At the heart of it, it’s all about… the heart and not the brain. Organizations that recognize that people are irrational and emotional and so make their decisions with their hearts do a better job of making their people buy into their story than organizations that treat people like a number, a variable, a cost. Which is what they are, absolutely, in rational terms: labour is an expense item.

In emotional terms, though?

“Our people are at the heart of everything we do.” Take that, Karl Marx.

iii

Speaking of labour and Das Kapital, I’m writing this on a Friday, as the official work week ends and the labours of love begin. I have so much to do but the microchip is slowing me down a bit, chills, sweats, arm still sore. Mostly, I want to spend the weekend in bed not labouring. I don’t have a hard deadline for the labour love, so it’s easy to put it off.

But if I only rest, I’ll be unhappy. I know this. Some labour is necessary for pleasure and rest to feel… pleasant.

iv

Speaking of pleasure—it will be a gorgeous afternoon and evening, night, and I will feel the sun on my face and all will be right with the world for those delicious moments. Who needs a cult—I’ll make my own Kool-aid. Second dose in 16 weeks, which means only four more months of this half-life. I can do that—you can do that.

xoxo

Jane

PS Posting on a rainy Monday after writing on such a beautiful Friday and thinking how happy I am that on the sunny Friday, I seized the sun by the lapels and drank from it and bathed in it. Today, clouds, drizzle. Gas fire on even though it’s winter, hot mug of tea on the couch instead of wine and sheesha on the patio—but then, perhaps that is more appropriate to a Monday night. Fingers flying on keys, books around me—this is a good night too. But it’s good because on Friday, I felt the sun on my face and laughter of friends beside me.

If I’m making no sense—don’t mind me. It’s just the microchip.

Lesson 2: Just bring me soup without asking me if I need it

i

I love you. And when you suffer, I suffer.

Flora: Yeah, right.

Jane: Truth.

She can’t believe that right now, because she’s a teenage girl. Also, because I’m relatively emotionally disciplined and I don’t make a showcase of either my primary or secondary suffering, she tends to—as do others—think I have no feelings. I tell you, people, teenagers—the most terrifying funhouse mirror of your soul.

Flora: Well, I’m so sorry my illness is causing you so much…

Jane: Um, I wasn’t even talking about you. Why are we in this spiral again?

Because children, rightly, think they are the centre of their parents’ universe and teenagers, wrongly, think they are the centre of the universe.

Enough of that though. Back to this:

I love you. And because I love you, when you suffer, I suffer.

Especially when there is nothing I can do to alleviate your suffering. And there isn’t. All I can do is be here.

Helplessness is awful.

Intentional presence—without interference, without unwanted acts of helpfulness, without making my suffering an additional burden on you… not awful.

But really, really hard.

I love you. Because I love you, when you suffer, I suffer.

I am here for you.

ii

When Flora was so sick, I had to draw borders around the secondary suffering experienced by others—as well as myself.

“Yes. I know you love her. I know you love me. I know you’re suffering. I am not interested in hearing about your suffering or dealing with your feelings. I need to save my child’s life, now fuck the fuck off and let me do what I need to do.”

You: Can I bring you soup?

Jane: Yes. But better yet, don’t ask me what you can do for me. See a need and fill it without adding to my plate.

You: You know I’m here for you. Anything you need.

Jane: Can we talk about this later? I have shit to do.

iii

We have this myth in Western culture—not just Western culture, actually—that suffering ennobles. I don’t know about that. Maybe, afterwards. If you survive. While you’re suffering, you’re mostly an asshole.

It’s okay. You kind of have to be to survive.

iv

You’re suffering and I’m helpless. There’s nothing I can do. You are a lot like me and I don’t want you to feel that, on top of everything else, you have to manage my feelings. I text you kisses and links to songs. Tell you I’m thinking of you, ask for nothing.

It’s not enough, but maybe it’s too much.

I love you and when you suffer, I suffer. That’s just the way it is.

v

The last year has made us intolerant of the suffering of others.

We’ve all been acting like assholes—not because we’re evil or selfish or anything like that. But because we’re all suffering. And it’s hard to feel compassion for others in the middle of our own pain. It’s especially hard to feel it for strangers.

I start here. With you. Start here. With me.

I love you. I love you and when you suffer, I suffer. I’m going to bring you something delicious to eat tomorrow, and see if I can take you for a walk, even though we’re both sick of walking and it won’t help anything.

I love you. When you suffer, I suffer.

That’s all.

xoxo

“Jane”

Work, kids, sleep, repeat—but also, revel: Stripping life to essentials, again

i

I am waking up early these days. The new gig is like a new baby—threatening to take up all of my time with its demands. So I wake up before it does, and, wrapped in the pre-dawn darkness and my bath robe, do my morning pages, drink my coffee—very, very slowly—and give my time to my labours of love.

Then, work.

It’s still more of an intellectual, learning exercise—background knowledge, research, thoughts in my head rather than words on paper (or, to be more precise, the screen?). But thinking is physically exhausting—we don’t often appreciate that adequately.

By the time I log off for the day, I’m mentally and physically exhausted. Happy—but exhausted. Intellectually blunted—thinking is hard, decisions, even small ones, impossible.

On the days that I don’t have Ender or the kids coming over for supper, I have a bath as soon as I log off, then eat—force myself to take a walk, thank goodness for the dog—and crawl into bed with BritBox (currently binging Jonathan Creek and really loving how in British TV people are… people-like, both in appearance and character. Not caricatures, not photoshopped, botoxed stereotypes. The villains aren’t all evil and the victims and heroes aren’t flawless. Youth is as complex and painful as adulthood—children aren’t cherubs and the elderly aren’t necessarily wise. And old, wrinkly people fall in love, and nobody thinks it’s weird).

Up early, I crash early. And so, finally, here is a silver lining to the third wave of the pandemic—no FOMO, right? Nothing’s happening, nothing to do. You and I can go for a walk or sit on a patio sipping bear, but, you know, I have a patio of my own and I’m so sick of walking as a social activity—I might as well just go to bed.

I sleep deeply, nine to ten hours a night. I still don’t know if this is a sleep deficit from more than a decade ago when I had three kids under seven—or from 2019, when I just did not sleep—that my body is trying to make-up, or a response to the stress of the pandemic.

You complain of insomnia—I, as soon as I lie down in bed, fall into unconsciousness. It’s blissful. When dreams come, they’re weird as all fuck—so weird and surreal, they neither disturb me nor tempt me to hunt for hidden meaning, omens.

There are no nightmares.

I sleep deeply.

ii

I am not sure how to explain to friends what it is I’m doing for work at the moment. “I write” covers a multitude of sins, so I stick to that. Mostly, right now, I’m learning, and I’m reminded of the seductive power of a mid-life, late-life Master’s or PhD.

Learning a new discipline, a new language—and each discipline, industry, organization has its own language—is intoxicating.

This happens, in one of my classes at the Polytechnique last year:

Student: I can’t wait until I get my diploma and I can stop learning.

Jane: Oh, honey. You’ve just explained why I can’t seem to teach you anything. Can we do anything about that mindset, or should I just give you an F now and explain why you can’t ever ask me for a letter of recommendation?

At the moment, I’m working on teaching myself everything, about a new industry, new organization. New culture, new people.

It’s taking all of my juice.

I sleep deeply.

iii

As Ender comes to the end of what is either grade six or grade five—surely not yet grade seven—I can never remember rightly, and, really, what does it matter—we’re entering year three of what has essentially been the Minecraft and Youtube curriculum. Between Flora’s illness, COVID, the divorce—now my new job—what else could it have been?

I’m researching resources, books, games—Youtube channels—wanting to give him some more scope to explore this summer, and in the fall.

Ender: Why?

Jane: I just… I just want you to be learning more.

Ender: I’m learning all the time. And having fun.

Even seasoned unschoolers need this reminder once in a while.

I kiss him. Hold him close.

I sleep deeply.

xoxo

“Jane”

First Fortnight Report: Of flowers, meetings, homeschooling, and just rolling with it, because, what’s the alternative?

i

On the fifth day of my new gig, a meeting-ful Friday, which I begin with a two-hour call/texting session with IT support—Cthulhu bless all IT support people, btw, because sorting out “the thingie isn’t doing the thin that I think it should be doing, please make it go!” from a person like me must be a competent IT person’s hell—and end with a 45-minute training session on a magic project management software (hello, Asana, I think I love you), my new employer sends me flowers.

It’s a gorgeous pink-purple-white-red bouquet of fresias, carnations, gerbera daisies, mums, and one green branch with delicate yellow flowers, and rather robust, thick leaves. It’s crowned  with a lovely card that reads “Welcome to the team. We’re thrilled to have you on-board and are looking forward to working with you.”

The bouquet arrives in the five minutes I have between a Teams meeting on a process/communications update on a project I’ll be kinda-sorta-maybe part of (or else it abuts a project I might kinda-sorta-maybe be part of; I don’t know, I’m confused, it’s my first week) and my 1:1 debrief with one of my squad leads, and it kind of makes me cry. Later, I do a ROI calculation of the gesture: say a $25, call it $30—although there’s probably a corporate discount, why, by the way, is it that it’s cash-flush corporations that get discounts and we daily joes have to pay full price—plus delivery, plus the time required to order it—call it a total $25-50 investment by the company in me on that chaotic first week. Result? I end my first week thinking, “They love me, they want me, they care about me.

I’m that easy.

Probably, so are you.

PS The bouquet comes from Flower Gallery and it is so pretty; follow Flower Gallery on Instagram for pretty pictures of lowers.

ii

On the first day of my new gig, nothing works the way it’s supposed to, I’m confused and disconnected and alone in my living room-cum-office—how is this really a first day of a new job? Then, a dedicated hour debrief with my VP and I perk up. I still can’t get into the system proper, but I “eat” the Internet and bring myself up to speed on the industry while sitting on the patio with my laptop.

Meanwhile, my phone starts to ping:

Him: Good luck on your first day!

Her: First day! How are things going?

You: Break a leg!

Them: I hope you have a wonderful first day!

I am loved. I am not alone.

Neither, lover, are you.

iii

On the fourth day of the new gig—it’s a Thursday, cause, like, yeah, I started on Monday—Cinder needs to make it to work alone mid-day, but the weather is crappy, so Sean takes a break from his job to drive him. Me, I’ve got most of my tech and connections working, meetings, training, gathering background on the projects I’ll be working on. Flora and Ender are coming over for supper after 5 p.m., as soon as I unplug. I’m feeding them Babi Easter soup, sourdough baguette from Sidewalk Citizen, and very expensive fruit from Safeway—what the hell has happened to produce prices this week?

Ender spends the evening sitting on my head.

“Do I get to come back next week?” he says, plaintively. Since January, he’s been spending Monday and Wednesday days with me, fake-homeschooling (don’t ask), as those are Sean’s heaviest days. This week, he spent Monday with my Mom (note for the panicked and sanctimonious: she’s vaccinated, also, seriously, how are my child care arrangement any of your business?), and Wednesday, he stayed at the Coop with Sean.

“Yes. Of course.”

I am, secretly, thrilled. I never really know if he likes being at my little apartment, in which he has one bin of Legos, some Kapla blocks, a tiny box of art supplies, and no room of his own. He leaves behind—well, a kids’ paradise that I had spent 18 years building for him and his siblings.

So, I’m very happy that he misses me, my place, our time.

The next scheduled Mommy-Ender day—the sixth day of my new gig and the second Monday of my new job—I start with a Teams meeting at 8 a.m. and have no breather until noon.. No possibility of picking up Ender and the dogs in-between.

We decide that I’ll come pick him up at noon, take him to lunch, then, I’m not sure, maybe put on a documentary for him while I wrap my head around the afternoon’s work… maybe just let him loose on Minecraft.

All you “Why aren’t we closing the schools?” people? It’s because closing schools needs to go hand in hand with accepting that either parents aren’t working or kids aren’t learning. There is no such as multitasking and you can’t homeschool your kids WHILE working. You can’t even supervise your kids WHILE working. You can’t make them lunch WHILE attending and paying attention to a Zoom call. Closing schools turns one of the parents—remember most households in North American are effectively single-parent households most of the time anyway—into a full-time child-minder/teacher’s aide.

Take it from someone who’s been homeschooling for more than 18 years—it is, of course, possible to homeschool AND THEN work AND THEN make lunch AND THEN homeschool AND THEN work some more. I’ve done it, for more than 18 years. But it is not possible to do both things in the same dedicated one-hour or fifteen minute block of time.

iii

On the weekend between my first and second week at the new gig, I mostly sleep and watch Death in Paradise on BritBox, intermittently vacuum. That had been the plan going into the month, and I feel very satisfied in carrying it out. Sunday night, I cook for the week, and prepare a delish supper for the kids. We eat and watch Community.

Flora asks me if I’m ready for Monday.

I am. I am.

iv

On the seventh day of the new gig, the school board announces that next week, all junior and senior high school students are moving, again, to online learning at home.

Flora: Ugh.

Jane: It will be easier than all the back and forth.

Flora: They could just give us summer vacation. Now.

They could. They won’t. We’ve just gotta roll with it.

Ender spends Monday and Wednesday “homeschooling” with me while I work. The Minecraft curriculum continues, although we do squeeze in a little bit of reading. And Lego. Monday is hard because, meetings from 8 am until noon with barely enough time off to pee. Wednesday is easier.

But we roll with it. We make it work. That’s what we do.

v

On the ninth day  of the new gig—that’s the Thursday of the second week—I start to feel like I’m finding my feet. I start to recognize the vocabulary and the patterns. I get assigned to projects. I even knock off a couple of small tasks, and I do them well. I feel appreciated, and I preen. I haven’t had external validation of note for a while—it’s nice.

It’s a gorgeous sunny day, and I work with the patio doors open and, when I don’t need a reliable wifi connection, I take the laptop out into the sun. How is it that the sun makes everything better? I feel happy and alive, and I’m pondering if I’ll have time to cook between end-of-work/arrival-of-kids for supper… or, pizza? Ender wanted “real” pizza, and I can totally afford regular take-out now… can Thursday nights be our regular take-out night?

I text the kids to see if they want pizza for supper; they are enthusiastic.

vi

The tenth day of the new gig, I start the day with a 6:15 a.m. walk to the Coop, Bumblebee in hand, to drop off the dog and drive Cinder to work for a 7 a.m. shift. Then, back to my place for 7:20, a quick shower and coffee, and I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for an 8 a.m. meeting.

By noon, though, I need a nap, and after I run over to the Coop to see Ender and give the dogs a quick walk, I lie down on my floor for a twenty minute yoga nidra session.

I pro-actively set my phone alarm to go off after 30 minutes… just in case the yoga nidra session is too effective.

Yoga nidra, if the term is new to you, is sleep yoga. It’s wonderful. Basically, you lie down in corpse pose, cover yourself with a blanket, and listen to a soothing voice give you instructions on how to enter a deep state of relaxation/meditation.

You can use it as a way to ease into sleep—or, mid-day, instead of a nap. However, if you are very, very tired—it can become a nap.

But on this Friday, I do it properly, and I’m rejuvenated for the afternoon. Except I really have nothing much to do.

I open up the company Intranet and get on with my task of learning all the things.

vii

On the second weekend of the new gig, I make time for a social life, adventures with Flora, helping Cinder with his homework, but also, reflection. How did things go? How do I feel? What do I need?

Inner Voice: More socks. Also, a foot stool.

Jane: Could we go a little deeper here?

Inner Voice: We need more socks. And a foot stool. Also, chocolate. Why was there no chocolate in the house this week?

I feel… good. Really, that’s it. Everything is unrolling as it should, as it must, and I’m rolling with it.

I need… chocolate. And maybe more socks, because, yeah, why not.

Those flowers I got on the fifth day of the new gig, by the way? Still gorgeous.

It’s going to be a great third week.

xoxo

“Jane”

Lesson 1: Do less yoga

i

Today, we start with a poem:

KINDNESS
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

This via Brainpickings.org, where you can also experience it as a short animated film.

Next, the key insight from Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life:

If you don’t find your work in the world and throw yourself wholeheartedly into it, you will inevitably make your self your work. … You will take your self as your primary project. You will… dedicate your life to the perfection of your self. To the perfection of your health, intelligence, beauty, home or even spiritual prowess. And the problem is simply this: This self-dedication is too small a work. It inevitably becomes a prison.

(Yes, I did just use a quote from the author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self to tell you to do less yoga; you’re welcome.)

There is a dark side to throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your work though, isn’t there? Stepping away from it feels like death. Not a little death, but a fairly complete self-death.

Back to kindness: I have found that, when you are suffering the most, it is almost impossible to be kind. There is only pain and survival. But then, a respite, a breath, and suddenly—you are able to be kind again. To hold open the door. To forgive. To understand—or, if you don’t understand, to accept.

When you are able to be kind, you’re starting to do ok.

When you’re not able to be kind… if you notice? That’s the time to worry.

ii

I’m half-kind, half-exasperated, which means, I think, I’m half-ok and therefore on the mend because you, lover, you are not ok. I’m able to be half-kind with you, though, as you are able to be half, quarter-kind with me. Perhaps right now that is all that we can ask of each other, even though each one of us wants more… but neither is capable of giving it.

iii

Tomorrow, a new chapter, a new job. Before that—Easter egg hunt for Ender, maybe Flora. Easter Sushi. In-between, an impromptu visit to a friend, a brief dream of listening to, maybe dancing, salsa on Peace Bridge—aborted by rain—chores, Death in Paradise in the background, reflecting on the meaning, purpose of life, and it all boils down to this:

The most basic, base purpose of life is to survive. That’s it, the beginning, the end.

And the ultimate, most evolved purpose of life? The great work of all of our lives, regardless of what our meta-calling?

To be kind.

That’s it.

Not self-work, self-improvement, self-perfection.

Just… being kind. To your annoying friend. To that bitchy stranger. To the woman in front of you in the line of the grocery store, regardless of whether she’s wearing her mask properly or not.

To your lover.

To yourself.

That’s it, that’s all… it’s that simple… and nothing is harder.

it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes

Naomi Shihab Nye

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Controlling the narrative, changing the story, again

i

I’m starting a new job next week. My heart is aflutter and my stomach in butterflies. I’m half-excited and half-terrified—no, I’m 90 per cent excited, 10 per cent terrified, and 10 per cent heartbroken—also, 100 per cent bad at math. But the excitement is paramount, and the other feelings remind me that life is complicated and one needs to feel all the feelings to be truly alive.

So, the job—it’s one designed for me, literally, they rewrote the job description after they saw my CV—and the result of that lucky turn of life’s roulette wheel in which, to para-quote Louis Pasteur, chance favours the prepared mind (or, as Seneca less elegantly put it, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”–ok, it might have been elegant in ancient Latin, but in English, I dunno, meh).

(The secondary theme of this story, btw, as per Lennon and McCartney, that we all get by with a little help from our friends.)

So, there I am, suddenly under-employed and in considerable financial strain because COVID, divorce, effective doubling of life’s expenses, also, feeling a little purposeless and unfocused, frustrated with the indifferent performance of my novels, drowning in pandemic (and divorce) accelerated existential angst (also wondering how many mid-life crises can one woman have in a single decade, I mean, isn’t there an upper limit? isn’t there supposed to be just one? surely three was enough, and there really is no need for a fourth and fifth to be happening simultaneously—look! shiny thing! Corvette! And look at you, you sexy thing, come over here and sit in my lap—I digress, point: existential angst), that 50th birthday is now three years and three months away, if I’m going to make a change, leap, move, now’s the time, now’s my prime sell date—where am I going to jump?

Don’t know, don’t know. I pull out my CV, try to craft a cover letter—I’ve had an amazing career, let’s face it, but it’s damn unconventional. I’ve done nothing by the book, and where am I now? Towards what was I building? I don’t want to be an editor or manager, the “natural” next steps… I want to write, and also teach—how is it that I love that piece of my work so much, I never thought I would—but, like, also get paid on a regular basis, and, also, I don’t know, be part of something bigger, I’m so tired of it being just me in my studio with my laptop and the voices in my head, I’m so tired of being my only colleague and employee, and also, I don’t know, I have all these skills, but let’s face it, I’m very, very bad at math—the most basic income/expenses kind of math and, despite writing about them and worshipping them most of my life, not an entrepreneur at heart at all, could someone just, like, take care of that part of things for me for a while, and just leverage, use me for the things I’m really, really good at?

(Words. Story. I know you can’t tell from this post, but words are my superpower and I’m a hell of a storyteller.)

And there they are…

Them: Yo. Over here. You’re what we didn’t know we were looking for.

The company. The job ad. The opportunity. The month-long interview process, during which they revisioned and rewrote the position to better suit what I brought to the table.

The offer.

Wah.

I’m so excited, people, most of the time I’m forgetting to be terrified, and that, of course, is very good.

ii

How I find out about the job: I post on Facebook that I need work. I am, of course, by this point, monitoring Indeed and Canada Job Bank and, yes, there are quite a few jobs for communications professionals and underemployed journalists and I guess that’s what I am, but most of them… a) I could do in my sleep, bored already, b) they’re a step backwards, like, maybe 10 years, more like 15, actually, junior and mid-career positions and, dammit, I’m old and at my peak. Past my peak? Ugh. What an awful place to be, damn COVID and the economy, and I’m broke and stressed—I grit my teeth, send off resumes, think that perhaps I’d prefer working as a cemetery labourer, look at that, the city is looking for one and the pay is actually almost as good as being a mid-level corporate communications flack, and I’d get to work outside, digging graves and pruning bushes, ooh, operating a fork lift to move tomb slabs and gravestones, maybe? Why not? Maybe this is the next life stage: cemetery worker, communing with ghosts on the night shift and spooking canoodling couples behind gravestones at dawn and dusk, hey, how would that work as a cozy mystery–a cemetery worker-cum-detective…

Gravestones on my mind (how heavy are tomb slabs, anyway, and how hard is a forklift to operate?), I post on Facebook that I’m looking for a job. Money, really, a job being the most obvious legal way of obtaining a steady flow of it. “I write,” I say, “but, really, I’m willing to do anything unreasonable.” But dammit, I think, the problem is—I’m a career writer. Like, literally, I have virtually no other skills—ok, yeah, I also teach, and fine, public relations, strategy, blah blah blah, but my particular superpower is story, except at the moment, no one seems to want it and I’m just going to curl into a fetal position and cry, and then apply to be a cemetery labourer, except they’re not going to hire me, because I don’t have a fork lift licence, but maybe, I could go get a fork lift, licence, and…

A woman who’s the current president of a business communicators organization and whom, a couple of years ago, I taught how to plot and write a bad romance novel (set the bar low for your first manuscript, people, that’s how the professionals do it—repeat after me, an amateur thinks it has to be perfect, a professional knows it needs to be done), tells me to connect with her on Linked In. “I get all these communications job alerts all the time,” she says. “I’ll forward the interesting ones to you.”

I send her a request to connect. She sends me two job links immediately. Flags one. “You’d be perfect for this one,” she says. She’s right. They put “storyteller” right in the job description. And the job description—who wrote this baby? I want to work for her. I’m mostly qualified for the job, maybe a corporate gap here and there, and certainly not their typical candidate, but I can totally do this job and then some, and the company hits all my sweet spots too, and also, did I mention, that job description? It’s incredible. It was written by someone who is clearly looking for me.

I shoot my CV and highly customized cover letter off within 24 hours.

Other friends shoot me job links too, and I’m full of gratitude. Send off a resume here or there. But—it’s that job I want. Everything else, it will give me money. This one? I WANT IT. I REALLY, REALLY WANT IT.

The human resources manager calls me within a week. Yes! The following week, I’m talking with a VP, then onward and upward—or maybe, sideways. I’m not quite sure about the hierarchical structure of the company… it’s bigger than any place I’ve ever worked for before, and the hiring process reflects this. There are personality profile tests, and a writing assignment, and a lot of butterflies in my stomach—an intensive background and criminal check and employment verification process (I have no secret Criminal Code offences that I did not know about, phew, but I literally hold my breath for two days until the results come in—I mean, weird stuff happens, suppose someone with my exact name and birth date—it could happen—has defrauded credit card companies, ran a crack house, or laundered money for the local mafia—did I mention, I have a really good imagination, OMG, I’m going to fail the criminal check because of identity theft, my conspiracy theory friends were right, I never should have joined Facebook—what? I’m all good. Oh thank god).

Finally, an offer that kind of makes me pass out with its awesomeness—you’ve got to understand, I’ve freelanced for 20 years, I’ve never had BENEFITS—and after I recover consciousness, I breathe easy for the first time in months.

Except, I’m also terrified.

But, mostly, excited.

iii

I prepare my cover letter and CV alone—but I have an “eye-for-detail, Grammar-Nazi” friend proof it. (That, kittens, is also how the professionals do it—always, a second (fiftieth) set of eyes on the copy—and no, nobody proofs these posts, every single typo is mine, shut up, the blog is a labour of love, why do you always criticize me?) In my interviews I’m alone too—except, well, I’m not. The first interview catches me off-guard. I’m unprepared for the types of questions HR throws at me and it’s been a while (don’t ask how long) (ok, like 20 years) since I’ve been the person answering the questions in an interview.

(When I interviewed for the journalism teaching job at the Poly, we were all just journos shooting the shit together, speaking the same language, more of a conversation about the state of our beloved and traumatized industry than an interview as such. I didn’t stress about it as an interview at all. I sweated buckets over this one.)

I spend a solid week preparing for the second one, with the help of a friend more experienced in the art. The night before the interview, as the final pre-interview test, he throws question after question at me and critiques my delivery of my story for two, three hours—until I’m in tears and I hate him and at one point, I yell at him that he’s really terrible at giving constructive feedback and “That wasn’t good enough” isn’t actually feedback a person can work with—what, precisely, was wrong with it? How would it be better?

My friend calls me in the morning to make sure I don’t oversleep for the 8 am (gasp) interview. No worries there—I’ve been awake for hours.

Practicing. Rehearsing. Kinda panicking, but in the “panic now so you don’t panic when it counts” way.

And so in the real interview—alone but not—I’m confidence personified; sparkly and on fire—I know my story inside out and I’ve got specific examples galore for everything and anything I might be asked about.

I’m not asked about most of it—I tell the stories anyway.

I also do this, on Facebook:

“I need magic tomorrow at 8 am MST. Send ravens, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, prayers, vibes, fist bumps—you know. All your magic.”

My social network obliges.

What? I believe in magic. I’m alone in the ring, on the Zoom call—but not really. My crew’s got my back.

iv

When the offer finally comes, my crew is as much on pins and needles as I am.

Him: Especially me.

Jane: Because you love me and are excited for me and…

Him: Because I just can’t take any more “Why do you think it’s taking so long? Do you think I fucked up the interview? Should I not have told the Brian Mulroney story?” middle of the night texts from you.

Jane: First, they were middle of the day texts…

Second—they didn’t really take that long (and I skipped the inappropriate part of the Brian Mulroney story—but ask me sometime over a glass of wine, it’s hilarious)—less than a month from application to offer, so, really, for a big corporation? That’s moving at the speed of light.

It’s just that… when you really want something?

You: And you really want this?

Jane: I. Really. Want. This.

That’s a change in my story. I sent out those first resumes in January  and February 2021 with a profound sense of… let’s be honest, failure. It felt like failure—I had made a pretty comfortable living writing since I’ve been 17, with only a brief two-year detour into a “real” job, the best part of which was that I met half of my future editors while working it. In 2015, I had given myself five years for the novels and the fiction and that part of my life to become a dominant revenue stream and, well. Seven novels—four of them published—three novellas, and dozens of short stories and anthology contributions later, I have to confess that my ambition outstripped my capability—or the realities of the market—and the financial pressure on my creative work to perform, perform, perform and pay the rent was… well, exhausting.

But… a) I did it (did I mention… four published novels, seven written? Take that and stuff it up your teapot spout, Aunt Augusta) and b) along the way, I discovered… that I have a very deep, innate understanding of the storytelling process, more importantly, that I can show and share this process with others. I’m an effective teacher and I get high on teaching. And—as has been the case since I’ve been 17, maybe even seven—I can turn anything—anything—into a compelling story.

Including the frequently random, occasionally traumatic events of my life.

So, in this story, at a time when I need a career refocus, a new challenge and financial stability—a big company comes to me and says, “Hey! We want you to show our people how to craft effective, compelling stories.”

Sign me up, yes, please, here I come.

v

Him: So, like, you know you’re going to have to work Monday to Friday, eight to five or whatever their hours are? Week after week? Month after month?

Jane: Yes.

Him: Are you going to be able to cope?

Jane: Yes.

Because, truth be told—freelancing and self-employment, for all the theoretical freedom to wake up at the crack of 9:15 am, is a 24/7 hustle. And so is motherhood.

Monday to Friday, lunch and coffee breaks, paid vacation, health-spending account, pension plan, interest-free loan to buy a personal computer, and money magically appearing in my bank account every two weeks?

I think I can handle it.

vi

Forgive the long, self-indulgent dive into my navel—I realize there’s not much take-away here for you for your own current drama. I’m writing this post to control MY narrative—to shape my story. I’m so excited to be starting this new chapter and, as with everything I do—I’ll be doing it full out.

And documenting the process, of course.

So. This is the last entry in the Pandemic Diary project. I realize the pandemic is not over but I’m done with making is the star of my story. Starting next week—a new chapter, maybe even a whole new book—definitely, a new project on the blog. I’m not yet sure what I’ll call it. An Artist in Corporate Canada? Adventures in Storytelling? Madwoman in the Corner Cubicle?

Maybe I’ll just let it flow naturally, each post a stand-alone.

The future is full of possibilities.

I’m so excited.

So very, very excited.

xoxo

“Jane”

A little corporate, a little punk.

Pandemic Diary: On living life, versus “filling up time”

A text from a friend:

So what are you filling your time with before you start work? Want to go for a walk?

Oh yeah—I’m starting a new gig on April 5th, more on that in another post. This one is about “filling up time.” And, walks.

Let’s tackle walks first. I used to love walks. Walking the dogs, walking the kids, myself, you—I could spend hours being a flanneur, rambling city streets, alone or with a companion, perfectly happy.

One year into the pandemic (unhappy anniversary to us all, again), I am so thoroughly sick of walks as a social activity, I can’t even. If I’ve gone for a walk with you in the last few weeks, it means I really, really love you. And I probably won’t do it again, I just can’t, OMG, no, no more walks, let’s just sit somewhere and talk, please, my neck is already getting a crick in it from its two-hour tilt sideways in your direction, also, I’m getting anticipatory shin splints.

One of my loves wants to go hiking, again, and I’m pretty sure this falls in the category of walks and, honestly, we never went hiking together before the pandemic—actually, it’s quite lovely, fine, let’s do it, just don’t call it a walk through the woods. It’s a hike. Let’s not talk and march really fast, up hills and through the snow. Hike. Not walk. What you call things is important.

Him: You’re insane.

Jane: Pretty sure that, after a year of walks being the one legally sanctioned social activity, none of us are sane.

Enough about walks. Time, “filling up time.” I’ve written before about what the pandemic has done to our sense of time. Today, I want to focus on that terrible phrase—“filling up time.”

I have nothing much on my plate for this Friday. No deadlines, no dreaded Zoom meetings. Some chapters to revise on the memoir I’m ghostwriting, but my plan is to get to them on the weekend—Friday is kind of my unscheduled day off. I’ve got an in-person lunch—the first since, god, I can’t remember when—with a treasured colleague at noon. A “share a bar of chocolate” and “pick up some plant babies” drive-by outdoor visit at a friend’s house. In-between those two events, I’ve got to drive Cinder to work, and in the  morning, before the lunch—well, the usual: morning walk with Bumblebee as soon as I wake up, then morning pages, a writing sprint, some chores, meal prep, then, to the kids’ house to drop off Bumblebee, see Ender, walk the dogs again. I don’t have anything planned for the evening, not until it’s time to pick up Cinder from work. It’s not my night with the kids, and Ender’s going for a sleep-over with his (vaccinated!) grandma anyway, taking Bumblebee with him. I’m feeling kinda low energy and I think I might spend the night on the couch with Netflix and a book… if I feel a burst of energy, I’ll go grocery shopping, maybe go buy some pots for my new plant babies. The Sean texts—he’s working an evening event out of the house, and Flora’s feeling off, home alone. I text her, and we go to Value Village together, then out for Peruvian food. After supper, on my couch with the fireplace blazing, and Maggie the elderly Boston Terrier who didn’t get to go along for the sleepover at Grandma’s, I let Flora convince me to watch the first episode of Hannibal with her.

Flora: Am I still the child most likely to befriend a serial killer?

Jane: Or, be one.

Flora: You’re a terrible mother.

Jane: Or a very honest, insightful one?

I’m sorta kidding—and getting off topic—but also, I’m pretty sure that if Flora decided her grand master plan required the removal or you—or me for that matter—from the Earthly plane, she’d do it without hesitation. She’d feel mildly bad about it, maybe… but she’d do it.

Flora: And they wonder why I need therapy.

Jane: It’s ok. I’d probably help you hide the bodies. Well, unless it was one of your brothers. Please don’t kill them. Also, if you kill me, I can’t help you hide the bodies, so you’d better keep me around.

Mid-Hannibal, I get a panicked text from a client. You wouldn’t think there’d be such a thing as a Friday night writing emergency, but they happen more frequently than, say, Monday night writing emergencies. We pause Hannibal and Flora reads fan fiction while I deal with the emergency—then, yelp!, I’m late to get Cinder from work. Car. Drive. Son. He’s happy—he got another bonus at work. Schoolwork? Ugh, yes, he’ll get to it on the weekend.

We swing by my place to pick up Flora and the farting Boston Terrier (how can something that small and cute be that gassy—note to self, do more research on dog breeds next time you get a dog). I take the teenagers home, leave the family car in their driveway.

Walk to my home briskly, to finish dealing with my client’s emergency.

A friend texts as I’m finishing. He’s driving by on his way to work, night shift. Time for a quick hi? I just want to crawl into bed, to be honest, but pandemic, I haven’t seen him in forever—the last time he planned to drop by, I had to cancel because COVID scare at Flora’s school again, isolation, precautions. I say yes, and we have a brief but delightful visit. When he leaves, I check in with the client—is she going to be able to sleep tonight? Are we good? Have I pulled the chestnuts out of the fire? (She likes old British metaphors; I like thinking about chestnut trees.)

Yes.

I crawl into bed, with Death in Paradise on BritBox for company. I’m wiped, but happy. It was a very good day.

I realize that I didn’t respond to my friend’s text, you know, the one about how I’m filling up my time.

The answer, I suppose, is “with life.”

I’ll try to remember to text him tomorrow. And to convince him to do something other than a walk. Art galleries are open, outdoor social gatherings permitted. Takeout on the riverbank, coffee on my patio on a sunny afternoon? If you still don’t feel comfortable socializing inside, there are alternatives to the walk now that Spring is arriving, even in this corner of Viking Hell. Let’s do one of those. And let’s… live life, not “fill up time.”

Of course, if you do need to fill up time—by all means, go for a long walk.

Just, like… without me.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Maybe it’s time to gaze outward for a bit…

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I have been trying to draft a post for hours—well, 45 minutes—and each of my false starts so far either goes into too much too deep oversharing mode or into an ultra-negative I hate humanity mode. And I don’t, not really. I can’t say y’all my favourite Earth species, but then, who can compete with the Amber Phantom butterfly, platypuses or capybaras?

Not this bipedal ape with its propensity for cruelty and violence.

So I’m thinking that perhaps this is the sort of day on which the truth can’t even be told at a slant. Such days happen: it is for them that abstract art and metaphor gone wild poetry exists. What did Kurt Cobain mean when he sang, “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido”?

He was oversharing, but he wanted to be oblique about it.

I don’t want to be oblique; neither do I want to overshare. Where is that sweet spot of clarity?

Somewhere between transparency and metaphor.

You: OMFG, you’re reading the post-modernists again. Lacan? Derrida?

Jane: [shudder] Goddess forbid. Never again Lacan.

I’m actually just thinking about baby platypuses, but trust me, that story as an entry-point to this navel-gazing post won’t work.

My new sweater makes me happy too, by Jolanta Fashions

ii

Speaking of navel-gazing—a friend wants to meet for breakfast, I explain, again, why I can’t—seriously, do you not listen to me? we’ve had this conversation two, three times—breakfast? Fuck, no, I get up early, write, then children and dogs and even now that I don’t live with them, the priorities and the obligations are the same. I get up early when it’s cold and dark, write so that the artist is placated, then, children and dogs, and it’s not that I’m a slave to schedule or routine, it’s just that… what? Radical prioritization, and obligations, and pleasure after all of that, and why are childless people so selfish.

My friend does not like being called selfish.

Jane: All childless people are selfish, including/especially monks & nuns pursuing enlightenment. You’ll see one day.

Him: They dedicate themselves to their god. One could argue that is a selfless act.

Jane: Bullshit. Epitome of selfishness.

If there is such a thing as an all-powerful god, do you really think it gets anything out of a human animal doing nothing except gazing worshipfully into its eyes; worse yet, its own navel? I think not. I think this fetishization of religious devotion and the search for enlightenment is a pathology. If we all sat under the Bodhi tree or on a pillar in a desert seeking perfect communion with God, our crops would wither and our children would die.

Think about it.

iii

I’m thinking about it because I am surrounded by (lovely) people (whom I love) who are really into self-work—and for whom the pandemic has become a reason to really, really work on themselves and I’m increasingly convinced that way… lies madness, narcissism (the really bad kind) and, also, the end of civilization.

I’m not engaging in hyperbole. Writing in 1930, Bertrand Russell called “the disease of self-absorption” the greatest obstacle to happiness.

“One of the great drawbacks to self-centered passions is that they afford so little variety in life. The man who loves only himself cannot, it is true, be accused of promiscuity in his affections, but he is bound in the end to suffer intolerable boredom from the invariable sameness of the object of his devotion.”

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

He also argued that the cure for depression and ennui is not, as the current gurus would have it, a steady gaze inward, but orienting oneself outwards, both towards the needs of others and towards one’s passions and work.

In a similar vein (although he spends a great deal of time gazing inward), Stephen Cope, in The Great Work of Your Life, writes that if we don’t find the “great” work of our lives—and this, really, is a purpose bigger than self—we make ourselves the work of our lives… and this isn’t, you know. Healthy.

I guess I’m taking this a step further and suggesting that spending too much time gazin inward and working just on yourself is selfishness run rampant.

But hey, if it’s making you feel good…

iv

The thing is, it probably is not making you feel good. Is it? For so many people, the thing they call self-work is just another addiction—the currently socially acceptable crack, laudanum, alcohol—Netflix binge.

You: Really? You’re going there?

Jane: I’m going there.

Her: Don’t listen to her. She’s just feeling guilty because she still can’t meditate.

There is truth in that. Can’t pray, can’t mediate, feel like shit when I spend too much time gazing inward at my flaws and imperfections.

Know what makes me feel better? Making supper for my kids, picking up pistachios for you from Costco, helping a student “see the light” of story structure, writing a story that illuminates an experience other than my own.

In other words… taking my head out of my ass—I mean, er, navel—and looking outside.

But hey. Whatever makes you happy.

Are you happy?

xoxo

Jane

xoxo

“Jane”

My new haircut makes me happy. 😉
Hair by Rose Mossa 403.283.8281

Pandemic Diary: Some very bad advice about anger

i

What I most appreciate about Bumblebee—that’s the bear that thinks it’s a dog that we adopted back in February 2020 as Flora’s emotional support animal—is how she seems to be this negative energy neutralizer. I feel angry, frustrated—she stares at me with those liquid brown eyes, presents a fluffy head or rump for petting, I start to pet her wool because how can I not, and, true thing, you can’t feel angry while you’re petting a fluffy dog.

I am not generally an angry person. It is not my default state and it takes a lot to get me angry. And that’s good, because when I do get angry, there are no filters. Heads roll. Relationships end. I’m, to be honest, afraid of my anger. I back away from its precipice often. And when I’ve made myself with with it, just sit with it without smashing things—or people—my main takeaway is, fuq, I don’t want to feel like this, ever, go away, be gone.

My friend the Buddhist nun probably has some things to say about this; maybe you do too. Hush. I don’t think it’s a bad practice to step away (run away?) from things that make you feel angry. Really, you only have two choices: flight or fight. Leave… or work (fight) to change the circumstances that make you angry. Because just sitting in anger, staying in anger, living in anger—unbearable. It will consume you, destroy you.

I think a lot of us are living in anger right now. Righteous anger—or do I mean self-righteous anger? Frustrated anger. Helpless anger (that’s the worst). Unfocused anger. And we can’t leave because the thing that’s triggering our anger is, well, everything—it’s all around us.

(Spoiler alert—there are no words of wisdom at the end of this post—no three steps of moving past your pandemic anger. No call to action that solves everything, or even empowers you. Sorry.)

 I’ve been dealing with my anger by choosing actions and focus whenever possible—when not, choosing sleep. Also, petting the dog. And also—just trying to let it burn out without trying to assign it a cause—not naming the “because.” You know? We do this all the time. The feeling comes—I feel angry (or sad). Why? Because—we make a list. Of such very, very good reasons for the feeling. We feed it. It grows stronger.

Instead—I feel angry. Period. Burn, evil feeling. Ok. You’re gone. I can do shit again now.

I’m pretty sure this is a conflict-avoidant, dysfunctional way of dealing with anger. But when you don’t have the energy to deal with its root causes—why waste energy you don’t have even looking for them?

ii

I’m not angry right now. I’m… flaccid, deflated, limp. I’d say spent, but that suggests a state post-effort, post-climax, and I don’t think that’s happened. I’m just… you know. Limp like dirty dish rag, flat like a punctured bicycle tire. I’ll be better soon—the sunis out and I have plans and things to do. But right now, I’m limp.

As with anger, sitting with my limpness is not a state I enjoy. But at least, it doesn’t hurt, me or others.

iii

This post needs a third verse—threes make for a more powerful, emotive narrative technique than twos, that’s just the way it is. But I don’t want to circle back to anger, and I’ve already told you (spoiler alert redux) that I don’t come bearing solutions. Except, I suppose, the one about petting a fluffy dog—although I suppose a non-bitchy chihuaha or a cuddly cat will do in a pinch too.

Hey. So I do come bearing solutions. Pet a dog. Maybe a soft blanket if you’ve got allergies.

Breathe. You’ll be able to act, change things, eventually.

For now—breathe. Pet that dog. Go limp.

xoxo

“Jane”

Sweater by Jolanta Fashions