Dear Fatherland: the pallbearers were probably not skinheads, but I don’t know, and reflections on grief, roots, and love

For my dad

Nov 29, 2017
Kafefajka, Nowy Swiat
Warszawa

I.

Dear Fatherland,

You’re beautiful even on a grey and drizzly November morning.

But your government is fascist.

Your religion is medieval.

Your customer service sucks.

And your people are rude and pushy.

II.

We bury my grandfather on Tuesday, on a grey but dry November afternoon. I stand in the cold chapel looking at his embalmed corpse, waiting for feelings.

There don’t seem to be any—just a clinical curiosity.

An awareness that the suit his body is wearing is the suit he wore to my wedding, 17 years ago.

Then, an awareness of the awareness (how’s that for meta thoughts?) that I was thinking of the corpse very comfortably as a corpse—my grandfather’s body, but certainly not my grandfather. Not at all.

Which, of course, is at it should be.

A corpse is not a person.

III.

I don’t like coming back “home.”

I never feel more alien—or more Canadian—than when I visit the place where I was born.

IV.

My grandfather’s sister, 14 years his junior, is already in the chapel when I enter. Not alone—her husband and daughter are with her.

I’m not alone either. I’m accompanying my grandfather’s youngest daughter, caretaker—chief mourner—who’s my father’s youngest sister. Therefore, my aunt, but closer in age to me than to my father, so really, my sister.

My grandfather’s sister is crying.

His daughter (my aunt-but-more-sister)–eyes dry this time—they have been wet a lot—suggests they pray together.

For his soul?

They start a pattern of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, the three women of the family—my grandfather’s sister, his daughter, his niece. The only man in the chapel—my great uncle, I suppose—mouths the words, but makes no sound.

When my mother walks into the chapel a few minutes later, she joins the chorus of the praying women.

It is very strange for me to hear my mother pray.

V.

When I come “home” to visit—and I come, it seems, only for weddings and funerals (and not all of them), and once, a baptism—it generally takes me two or three days to start hating Poland.

This time, my dislike for the people I come from hits me in Amsterdam as I board the plan for Warsaw, as they seem to go out of their way to push and jostle me as they rush for the plane.

They’re so loud.

Their voices grate on my ears, and their bodies invade my personal space.

And their casual racism and sexism, with the thinnest veneer of European worldliness, disgusts me.

“You’ll get used to it,” my mother says.

I don’t want to.

VI.

Four young men with shaved heads—one has a neo-Mohawk—who probably aren’t skinheads, but well, look more like skinheads than pall bearers despite the white cotton gloves on their hands—carry the coffin with my grandfather’s body from the chapel to a Mercedes hatchback, which rolls slowly towards the front doors of the church, a few dozen meters away.

We follow, first the car, then the pall bearers—always, the coffin—into the church.

My aunts—my grandfather’s sister, my grandfather’s daughter—walk arm-in-arm with their husbands and children; I walk with my mother, conscious that I am my father’s stand-in. Conscious too of my red coat, its brightness imperfectly hidden by my black scarf.

Everyone else is wearing black.

VII.

The funeral home taking care of my grandfather’s body, by the way, is called Anubis.

VIII.

I recently attended a German Catholic mass for a friend’s father. This one is almost identical, except for the language in which it’s delivered. Well, and the priest is younger and seems to have committed at least some of the words of the liturgy to his memory. But not all. He does a lot of reading.

I am struggling to stay respectful. But I feel more like a spectator at a dated theatre play than a celebrant of a holy rite.

I start counting the number of times the word “sin” occurs; lose count and interest at 21.

It had been my intention to observe the outer forms. The sign of the cross; the responses to the prayers. It’s been almost 30 years, but I probably remember—I remembered enough of the patterns at the German Catholic mass to stand up, sit down and kneel down at the appropriate places.

But I can’t.

The words aren’t just empty, they are distasteful.

I stand in silence.

My inner (bad) Buddhist counsels understanding and suggests I take the opportunity to do a metta meditation.

The outer atheist says, “Fuck that shit. Don’t still your mind: scratch at all the scabs and take notes.”

The writer agrees. So I look around with the cold, unforgiving eyes of the documentarian. Collect source materials.

Listen to the whispers of the mourners, hissed under the cover of music and prayers… but almost always audible.

Analyze the appearances and manifestations of grief.

Halfway around the world—fine, less than a quarter, 7,778 kilometres away—my father, the eldest son, is spending a sleepless night alone.

I try to shift into watching with his eyes, not mine. But it’s hard; self obtrudes.

IX.

The night after the funeral, I spend my sleepless hours—still jet-lagged, tired but unable to give in to sleep—texting with Internet strangers as unrooted in time zones as I am. One’s a Moroccan born in France (but not French), now based in Dubai, who was just in Warsaw on business. The other’s a UK-educated Tamil now working in Geneva.

All three of us have a poor sense of which time zone and country we’re in currently; I feel a stronger kinship with them than with my Polish family.

After a short discussion of my peculiar childhood in Libya and his European-North African shuffling, we end up talking about sheesha, and the Moroccan tells me where I can find a sheesha lounge in Warsaw.

I’m thrilled.

X.

The best part of my grandfather’s funeral mass for me is the entrance of my younger cousins with their very young children: a girl four years of age and a seven month old baby in a sling.

The girl is all smiles. She loves the flowers—the coffin and path leading up to it are adorned with bouquets and wreaths—and she beams at her grandparents with perfect happiness.

She and her brother affirm the beauty of life for me much more eloquently than the priest’s canonized readings and out-of-the-can sermon on eternal life.

I do think, though, that life would sometimes be easier if one were not an atheist and a pathological scab-scratcher and curtain ripper and could just accept something, anything on face value. You know?

XI.

The church, by the way, is beautiful. About 200 years old, but built in the Gothic style, designed to make man (not in the gender neutral sense; woman was simultaneously irrelevant and unreal—this, after all, is the religion that venerates a mother in the form of a virgin)—feel small and God grand.

God, I have the irreverent thought, must have a very fragile ego to require all these giant buildings to feel good about himself…

XII.

We follow the coffin—carried by the probably-not-skinheads-(but after that Nov 11 March of Shame, I don’t know, I think they might be–I look at every Pole I pass with suspicion and fear)-pallbearers out of the church and to the Mercedes again, and then we follow the slowly rolling car to the cemetery.

The priest, clad in an odd ceremonial black cap that looks like a cupcake with a pompom, leads the way.

In the recently restored family grave rests the body of my grandmother—my father’s mother—and her parents.

She died at age 53, when I was seven or eight, and living in Libya. I didn’t attend her funeral, nor did my father.

My mother was there, though.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side died in 2003, age 93.

I remember her.

I loved her.

XIII.

I’m not sure that I loved my grandfather, and frankly, until his death, I have no real evidence that my father loved him. The night after the funeral, when I talk with my father, he is crying. Grieving, mourning. He sends me a copy of the letter he wrote to my grandfather the week before my grandfather died—at his sister’s request.

The letter is full of good memories and warm feelings.

It ends with, “I love you very much, Dad.”

It’s the first time I hear those stories.

I know my grandfather’s youngest daughter, who took care of him through to his death, loved him (loves him still if one loves the dead themselves and not their memory? I am not sure who the object of love is once life is gone…).

This, I always knew and had evidence of. I saw them together, loving and supporting each other. And she has talked to me of him, with love.

I probably know him best through her stories.

XIV.

At the sheesha place the day after the funeral, I’m served by a Polish woman and then by two Turkish men, who both speak fluent Polish—they understand my Polish better than they do my English, which makes me laugh.

I’m one of three customers when I come in. One is a silent Pole–and despite his shorn hair, I’m pretty sure he’s not a skinhead; the other, an Arab who makes several business phone calls in beautiful German.

Citizens of the world.

XV.

The last time I saw my grandfather was at my brother’s wedding. In Poland, in 2009, because my brother’s wife is a Polish woman—whom he met in Korea.

At the wedding, a 70-something widow who spent the weekend making an ardent play for my then-80-year-old grandfather asked us when we last saw each other.

We looked at each other, my grandfather and I, and we both did the math with some effort.

“Ten… no, nine years ago,” I said.

“In 2000, at her wedding,” he said.

The hunting widow gasped, and put her hands on the hand my grandfather had on top of mine–squeezed it. He smiled.

(My twice-married grandfather—he remarried very quickly after my grandmother’s death–and I never really knew my step-grandmother, although she too was at my wedding—was a player until he died, and the joke among my cousins and my brother’s single friends that weekend was that Grandfather was the only one who scored. Possibly more than once.)

“It must be so hard,” my grandfather’s would-be lover said. “To have your granddaughter so far away. To see her so rarely. You must miss her.”

“Well, you know,” my grandfather said. “It’s been like that for a long time. You get used to it.”

I nodded.

My mother, who overhead the conversation, was appalled.

“How can anyone not miss their grandchildren?” she demanded of me, holding my children on her lap in a covetous embrace

She didn’t understand, at all.

But I did.

Geography matters.

Time spent matters.

If my grandfather didn’t miss me–well, I didn’t miss him either.

My children will also miss only one set of grandparents.

XVI.

At the cemetery, an octogenarian woman—who probably also wished to share my grandfather’s bed at some point (like, when I mention that player thing… it’s not even a slight exaggeration…)—reads a letter, a eulogy of sorts—of behalf of my grandfather’s (legion of girl)friends, from the Warsaw branch of the University of the Third Age.

It’s a beautiful letter that describes, lauds, and mourns a  man I did not know, at all.

But apparently, I’m not the only to have that reaction.

“Wow, those people did not know Grandfather at all,” my cousin—the daughter of my grandfather’s youngest daughter, and the mother of the children who save the funeral mass for me—says. She’s known my–our–grandfather intimately all of her life. She loves him, knows him.

That’s not him, she says.

Fog and mirrors, I think. That was him, I suppose, to them…

The University of the Third Age woman also reads a poem written by my grandfather’s last paramour, the woman with whom he sorta-kinda-but-not-really-almost lived since the death of his second wife up to the final two years of his life.

The final two years of his life, he spent living with his youngest daughter, fighting to maintain the semblance of independence at a huge price, paid almost in full by his daughter.

It was, I think, too high a price to pay.

But you see… she loved him so much.

(I love my father very much… but I would not do that for him. We talk about it at length, my parents and I. “A nursing home, please, as soon as I can’t care for myself, and you don’t even have to come visit if I lose my mind,” my mother says. “Just, um, make sure it’s a nice nursing home.” My father shudders. “Kill me first,” he says.)

My grandfather’s last paramour—should I call her his lover? partner?—does not comprehend this price, and resents that my grandfather–unable to walk or sit up without help, among other things–spent the last few weeks of his life in a full-care nursing home.

Her poem is as full of the anger and resentment as it is of love.

It contains the phrase “contemptuous people,” which is a blatant slap in the face of my aunt—the woman who changed my grandfather’s diapers, took him to endless doctors’ appointments, bathed and fed him, almost to the end of his life.

I find it interesting that my aunt and my father give the status-less paramour the compassion and understanding that she can’t give them.

Isn’t wisdom, perspective something that comes with age?

Apparently not; the paramour avoids my aunt in the church and at the cemetery, and refuses to come to the post-funeral dinner with us.

Family is complicated.

Is love?

XVII.

My mother and my grandfather—her father-in-law—also had a fraught, complicated relationship.

I understand the specifics of it imperfectly, and yet the thrust of it very well, because I don’t love my father-in-law either.

We resent the slights and harm done to people we love more than we resent slights against ourselves.

My father-in-law has never harmed me. (I didn’t love him, so how could he, really, even if he tried?)

But what he did to the man I love, I find difficult to forgive.

Love is also very simple.

XVIII.

My aunt asks me and my father to prepare the eulogy for the funeral. It’s really something that she’s the best suited person to do, but she frames it as my father’s job as the eldest son—she also defers to my skills as the family writer.

I don’t even have to tell my father “But I didn’t know him!” He sits down to work on the eulogy and spends a week writing, revising, crafting—creating a goodbye that compromises between justice, truth, and love… liberally tempered with compassion.

It’s beautiful, and I find out that my storytelling talent has come to me in equal parts from both parents.

(Never ask anyone in my family for a clear, concise accounting of the facts. We can’t do it. Ask us for a good story, on the other hand…)

The priest refuses to read the eulogy in the church. Or at the graveside.

“It’s inappropriate,” he tells my aunt.

“Fuck that shit,” the daughter in me doesn’t even give my bad Buddhist a chance to breathe.

As the mini-drama unfolds beside the grave, I wonder how big a scene I’m going to have to make to carry out my father’s wishes.

My lack of ability to compromise, and disdain for conventional social mores—I smooth my red coat with pride now—that comes from my mother’s side of the family.

 

XIX.

My father comes from a devout family. The oldest child and only son, he was nonetheless in his early childhood intended for the priesthood—or at least holiness. He does occasionally tell me that story.

I’m not sure if his eventual atheism—he calls himself an agnostic, but I think it runs deeper than that—is innate or rebellion.

My grandfather, his tomcatting notwithstanding (as is the case, frankly, with most of the Poles I know) would describe himself, throughout his life, as a devout and practicing Catholic.

Both his daughters remain religious and devout.

The elder one and her family are not at the funeral.

Family, as I’ve said, is complicated.

The younger daughter is effectively running the funeral, and I decide it’s, ultimately, her place to figure out how balancing the priest’s dogma and my father’s wishes should play out.

But I realize my hands are balled into fists and my heart rate is elevated.

XX.

My father’s youngest sister is 12 years younger than he and only ten years older than I am. She is my aunt, but more my sister and friend than aunt. Her children—my cousins—are now in their early thirties and late twenties—in other words, at an age where we are all effectively peers.

Her daughter is the mother of the two children who return meaning to the funeral mass for me, and her son has an actor’s beautiful voice.

As the priest leaves the gravesite, not in a huff, exactly, but… ungraciously, I would say—my cousin liberates the microphone from his assistant.

(His assistant, by the way, is a 60+ year old altar boy. Deacon, perhaps. He’s wearing jeans and this pisses me off—“Show some respect for my grandfather, you peon!” My reaction amuses me.)

My cousin reads my father’s eulogy in his beautiful actor’s voice and I relax.

He also pulls out a portable speaker that he had hidden somewhere in his winter coat and plays the song with which my father wanted to end the funeral mass, with which he wanted to say goodbye to his father.

XXI.

In the sheesha bar, the Polish waitress speaks with the two owners in Turkish. Then switches to English to serve another customer.

Citizens of the world, all of us.

She’s a lovely person, I’m sure. But she seems put out every time I ask her for something. She does it… but just with a tinge of resentment.

I don’t say, “It’s your fucking job. Boil the water for my tea, goddammit.”

But I think it.

I think about the priest, too. What is his fucking job, exactly?

Did he do the right thing by his job, by his God, in refusing to accede to my father’s request?

I doubt it.

But he did the typically Polish customer service thing—leaving the customer served… but unsatisfied.

XXII.

From the cemetery, we trail, in couples and clumps, to a nearby “locale” that celebrants of funerals, weddings, baptisms and possibly other events, hire for post-mass dinners and revelries.

“You have to eat a warm dinner after a funeral,” my aunt-sister-friend tells me earlier when she’s explaining the day’s agenda to me.

(Poles are very serious about their warm dinners—our lunches.)

The dinner is for about 30 people, family and close friends.

I’m introduced to an assortment of family I know not at all or not very well, including my father’s outrageously beautiful goddaughter, who is also his niece—and the mother of three fully adult children.

Her mother is my grandfather’s youngest sister, and the last remaining of his siblings. She was the first in the chapel to stand vigil with his body. She shed tears there; she sheds tears still.

Introduces herself to me twice. The first time, she doesn’t know who I am—the second time, she does.

We eat.

Conversation, memories, stories.

The children play hide and seek, ask for seconds and thirds of dessert—are responsible for most of the laughter in the room.

XXIII.

The near-five decade Communist occupation of Poland leaves all sorts of lingering legacies, and I suppose Poland’s current fascist religious turn is one of them.

Shitty customer service is another.

The locale’s serving wenches are efficient and… see, impolite is the wrong word. Impolite, rude—implies malice, intent. There is no malice in the way they grab plates before people finish eating or remove still-full dishes. They just want to get their job done as quickly and with as little inconvenience to themselves as possible… and they don’t give a fuck about the customer.

The natives are inured. The Canadian at the table is a little appalled.

XXIV.

After the funeral, back at my aunt-sister-friend’s house, we talk about all sorts of things. The funeral, yes. My grandfather.

Family.

Love.

The proper way to make and serve schabowe.

We take turns talking to my dad when he calls. I can still hear the tears in his voice.

I send him the photographs I surreptitiously took at the funeral, with some caustic/loving commentary.

I don’t know if I understand my grandfather—or his relationship with my father—any more than I did before.

But maybe, I understand myself more. Just a little.

I tell my dad, “I’m glad I came.”

“I’m happy you like Poland,” he says.

Um. That’s not what I said.

XXV.

Dear Fatherland,

I think I don’t love you and I probably never will.

It’s not your fault.

I mean, this current fascist incarnation is certainly not helping.

But it wouldn’t be much different under a more progressive, enlightened regime. I would be less ashamed. But I still wouldn’t love you. I don’t really love my adopted Motherland either, although it fits me better. I feel less alien there than I do here.

“We are now citizens of the world, right?” the Internet stranger keeping me company in the middle of the night after my grandfather’s funeral texts again. “We are not just the future. We are the present.”

In the heart of the place where I was born, I find solace in a Turkish owned sheesha lounge, a Tower of Babel cacophony of languages around me.

You are where I was born and where my parents were born. Where my grandparents—all of them now—are buried.

But I am not yours and you are not mine.

I wonder if my children’s relationship with their motherland will be different. Tighter.

I guess… I hope not. People like me—we don’t start wars.

But that’s their future to navigate and write.

I’m writing my present now.

Goodbye, Grandfather.

I’m really glad I came,

xoxo

Marzena

PS This is the song with which my dad said goodbye to his father:

Real time: Hunger, love, and a ticket to a funeral

I.

I am in the kitchen, burning tortillas.

Well, I’m supposed to be crisping a tortilla—Ender asked for a plain tortilla (we’re out of “his” cheese—i.e. the fake cheese-like substitute), and he asked for it crispy—and then more crispy… and then I got distracted.

This is take three, but I got this idea for a post and I started writing, so I’ll probably burn this one too.

Hold on…

Saved it. “It’s perfect,” Ender says.

Well, except for the lack of fake cheese. But he’s coping.

II.

I am feeling simultaneously tranquil and poetic. Calm and fiery. It’s a really interesting feeling—I wrote “cool feeling” first, then deleted it, because it’s not cool; if anything, it’s hot… but not so hot that it burns. Like still-warm bread, not scalding hot coffee.

Speaking of which, I am nursing a cup.

It is nursing me back, whispering sweet everythings into my lips with each sip.

III.

Yesterday, Flora and Cinder had an epic fight that ended up with him having cheese (real) in his hair and her being thrown to the floor, and me having to leave a community meeting to come and arbitrate.

Cinder called me on the phone. “She was greedy. I overreacted. She’s crying.”

The few minutes’ walk in the cold November air cooled my anger and my desire to declare that they were never ever EVER going to eat frozen pizza again.

(That’s what the fight was about. Aren’t epic fights so often about non-epic things?)

When I walked into the house, I was able to hear things. And to say things calmly and with love.

They didn’t like hearing them.

It was interesting. I won’t take you into the details of the situation—suffice it to say, there were two of them in it, and each one made the wrongest of the wrong choices along the way.

Cinder really didn’t like hearing that, because he was bigger, stronger, and older—it was on him.

This has been one of my parenting mantras since he’s been two.

“Big people take care of little people.”

“Flora’s not little.”

“She’s younger and smaller than you. More to the point, in this situation—she’s weaker than you.”

When big people take care of little people, everything is right with the world. When they don’t—everything goes to hell. Pretty much completely.

IV.

At this precise point, I get a text from my Dad telling me he found out his Dad died.

Not unexpected news.

I am not at all sure how it makes me feel.

Sad for my dad, and sad for my grandfather’s immediate family back in Poland. My aunts and my cousins will mourn him fervently.

Me?

I hardly knew him.

V.

The text, however, changes—if not precisely my mood, I am still tranquil and poetic, warm like bread from the oven, bubbling with something that needs to come out—the direction of my thoughts.

Sean’s grandmother died the day Cinder was born. She was critically important to Sean’s life, and her loss—then, physical, before that, slowly to dementia—caused him immense pain. She loved him, so much—I witnessed this first-hand when we visited her, even when she was losing her thoughts. And he loved her.

Being loved and loving is very important.

VI.

That, really, is what I try to tell Flora and Cinder—instead of punishing him, punishing them both, yelling.

Loving is important. Feeling loved is important. Feeling safe in your house, in your family is SO IMPORTANT.

I think they understand.

Ender comes home from a friend’s house after the crisis is over.

“I’m hungry,” he announces.

VII.

Sean spent the day and the evening of the epic fight at the Neufeld Institute Conference: Resilience, Recovery & Relationship: Towards Flourishing Children & Youth.

That’s Gordon Neufeld, as in the author of Hold On To Your Kids:

…which, 15 years into my parenthood journey, is one of the two parenting books I still keep on my bookshelf and in my heart, and which I am so grateful to have encountered when Cinder was fresh. (The other is Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn)

When he gets back, he debriefs me on the conference…

“And I just kept on finding myself in these situations where people would say, ‘I’m just checking out what this is all about, I guess it’s sort of interesting,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, we’ve been running a 15-year experiment in attachment-based development of empathy and self-regulation, and I’d say this stuff isn’t just interesting, it’s THE thing that’s the foundation of EVERYTHING!’”

I ask the kids if they want to debrief him on the fight.

Flora: No.

Cinder: We had a stupid fight. Flora was greedy. I over-reacted and I hurt her. I feel really bad.

Sean particularly wants to talk to me about food. One of the ways that Ender frustrates me is…

Ender: I’m hungry!

Jane: I just fed you!

Sean’s full of fresh insight about food and attachment and security and love. I listen carefully; reflect.

When I myself am full, and Ender says, “I’m hungry,” I hear it for what it is.

“Love me. Pay attention to me.”

When I myself am hungry… well.

VIII.

My mother calls and asks me if I want to go to Poland for my grandfather’s funeral.

I’m shocked to find out… that I do.

IX.

Sean calls me as soon as he gets my text. He was about to ream out Gordon Neufeld for his antiquated position on video games (let’s save that story for another time). I ask him about going to the funeral. Should I? Is it strange that I want to?

He doesn’t hesitate.

“Go.”

X.

I am in the kitchen, a cup of cold coffee dregs at my left hand, my wedding album at my right (my laptop in-between them). I have the album open to photographs of me and my grandfather, now more than 17 years old. I’m 26. He’s already old. He’s already a stranger. I’ve seen him twice since my wedding day—no more than a handful of times in the 20 years between ages six and 26.

In one of the photographs, he’s reading a Christian gospel, in Polish, at my Canadian-atheistic-pagan wedding.

XI.

I’m looking out the window—the air is thick with snow.

I am still feeling… tranquil. Poetic.

Sad. But in a… in a really good way.

And suddenly, so fucking full, if Ender walked into the kitchen right now and said, “I’m hungry,” I’d bake him a cake and a find a way to cover it with delicious dairy-free icing (surely, there must be such a thing).

xoxo

Jane

written and posted in real time

Rhythm, interrupted

I.

My day is interrupted by a puking child, and…

No. Not like that. Interrupted?

The definition of interrupt:

  • Stop the continuous progress of (an activity or process)
  • Stop (someone speaking) by saying or doing something.
  • Break the continuity of (a line or surface)
  • Obstruct (something, especially a view).

(So says the Oxford English Dictionary, which also adds, btw, this:

“Late Middle English: from Latin interrupt- ‘broken, interrupted’, from the verb interrumpere, from inter- ‘between’ + rumpere ‘to break’.”

– I learned something new, and now so did you.)

But for something to be interrupted… there has to be an expectation that it won’t be. An assumption that the activity will be continuous—that you will get to finish your sentence—that the line will go on forever, or at least for a while.

So. My day is NOT interrupted by a puking child. Let’s try this again.

II.

My sleep is interrupted… No, here I go again…

Take three:

I’m in that marvellous liminal morning place of sleep-not-sleep, and I am thinking I will wake—soon, but not just yet—when I hear footsteps on the ceiling (on the ceiling, yes), and then footsteps tramping down the stairs—doors opening—laundry bags being stepped on—and… there he is. In the crook of my arm, not quite as long as I am yet but definitely not small, and yet in that moment of crawling into bed beside me, so tiny.

He doesn’t whisper, “Upstairs?” as is his way when he wakes up before me or Sean. He just curls into me. And wiggles. “Maggie?” he says, searching for the dog in the dark.

I shush him.

“Your Dadda has to get up so early today, he needs to sleep until it’s time. Be still.” He stills, a little.

But Sean gives up on the remnants of sleep and gets up before his alarm clock.

Ender falls asleep, in my arms, for a while.

I don’t.

I mind-wander. Sad thoughts, happy thoughts. Heart-piercing, heart-breaking thoughts.

But happy thoughts too.

I like thinking.

At some point, my eyes are wet and I can’t exactly say I like that, but… it’s part of the experience.

Ender stirs beside me, awake in a flash. Starts to torment the dog.

“Upstairs?” I whisper to him.

He’s out of bed almost before I finish the sentence. Me, I stretch. Rub my eyes, forehead, neck. Sneek a peak at my phone.

6:17.

Early.

Ugh.

By the time I follow Ender upstairs, he’s already ensconced in one of the armchairs in the kitchen and wrapped in a blanket. Sean’s made coffee and I play the game I’m playing these days every morning, with every cup. Yes? No? A choice? A compulsion?

I pour a cup. Drink half of it while it’s hot… pour the cold remains down the sink later. A choice. Not a compulsion.

Sean’s got a 9 am presentation that he’s still refining, so I get Ender his cereal before going back downstairs with the coffee. Sit down in the space-that-is-me and write the morning pages.

Don’t whine in them very much, although at one point my eyes do get wet again.

Then—work. The tasks I MUST do first thing in the morning. And—go. Tedious. Unfulfilling. Necessary. Not ideal—I will not schedule a project like this again. My mornings need to belong to creative work, not this. These thoughts dance in the back of my head—but the front of it is all focused, disciplined, working.

About to be interrupted—but no.

It’s not an interruption if you know it’s coming.

“I need to cuddle.”

Ender in my armpit, under my blankets. I wonder if the reason I work on a couch, on the floor, on a chaisez-lounge is this? So I can accommodate one child, two, three while I write?

It’s hard to type AND cuddle an eight-year-old at a desk, in an office chair.

It’s not, by the way, an idyllic moment.

He keeps on grabbing my right arm. And I keep on snapping. We have a deal, Ender and I—the mornings are MINE and he can come into my space and BE with me. But I am working. I am not HIS at that time. He can be present—but all he gets is my presence. No interactions. Except ones that sound like this:

“I need my arm to do my work, stop pulling on it.”

“Ender, baby, you know this is my work time.”

“For fuck’s sake, stop yanking on my arm!”

He wiggles down and curls around my feet.

I do my work.

Get to the goal I set out as my “finish” for the morning stretch.

He says it this time before I do:

“Upstairs?”

Upstairs.

Upstairs, I make him his second breakfast and myself my first. And I break a rule—a new friend sends me a text that brings a smile to my face and so I text back (more on my texting rule later, maybe)—and I am flirting and moving around in the kitchen and trying to plan the day—I’ll read a bit with Ender, make sure Flora eats protein for breakfast when she wakes up—but then, I’ll probably be able to get the second block of my work done, and then, in the afternoon, will I have time to…

And that’s when Ender comes into the kitchen, and pukes all over the kitchen floor.

III.

My week, by the way, has looked sort of like this:

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But of course, this is only the public part of the story.

IV.

I’m trying to read, for the second time, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I’m reading it because I got it as a birthday present for Sean, because he heard Rubin on a podcast talking about how different personality types are motivated and thought she was insightful and because he is very interested what makes people happy.

I’ve tried reading it before, when it was first released and there were 64 people ahead of me on the holds list for it at the public library. When my turn to read it arrived… Rubin lost me in February.

This time, I’ve persevered til June. I’m looking for the nuggets. But it’s hard.

Rubin’s relentless search for happiness (while claiming she is very happy to begin with) exhausts me. Really, that is what’s happening: as I read about her resolutions, projects, and initiative—I feel utterly drained.

It’s fascinating.

Her frantic energy vibes off the page and into my rather sensitive and strained… shall we be New Agey and call it aura? … I don’ t know. Something. Her frantic energy infects me. And not in a good way. Reading about her quest for happiness is decreasing mine.

It’s kind of interesting.

Also, insightful, although perhaps not in the way Rubin intended.

I’m not sure if I will persevere with the book through to December. It does have some good stuff, and quotes and insights from others, and I was going to pull one out for you, but I can’t find it, and really, fuck it, because the point is–Rubin’s desire to be even more happy (while denying that she’s unhappy) is making me tired.

And even those of her insights that resonate with me… I think we apply these insights in very different ways.

Anyway.

Happiness.

Sean is also reading—er, listening to—Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. The subtext of which—or maybe its main point, actually—is that chasing happiness does not make people happy.

We talk about that for a bit on Thursday night. About the difference between “happy” and “meaningful.”

I am, right now, definitely not happy. Oh, I have moments of joy and pleasure. And even the occasional second of bliss.

But happy?

No.

And I don’t even want to be happy.

But let’s not talk about that today.

V.

I send Ender to the bathroom to wash his face and hands and I clean the kitchen floor. Settle him in bed with a puke bowl and his iPad.

“And Mommy?” he asks.

So my office for the rest of the morning is his sickbed, and I do most of my work with my left hand, as he convulsively holds onto my right.

When he falls asleep, I go downstairs and feed Flora protein, although it’s more lunch than breakfast now.

I should sit down and work. I start to draft this post instead—it seems important.

VI.

I don’t want to be happy or chase happiness, but I don’t want to be dysfunctionally unhappy either. I try to create my life, consciously and conscientiously. I want it to be meaningful, purposeful. Good, which to my mind is not the same as happy. Fulfilling. You know?

Right now, I have a project on the go that’s, ironically, meaningful and purposeful, and overall critical to the creation of my meaningful and purposeful life, but which has me doing things that are making me dysfunctionally unhappy.

So I’m looking at those things and trying to figure out… do I need to do them? If I do—if they are indeed unavoidable—can I do them differently?

It’s an interesting exercise. I’m trying different things. They all have few things in common: or maybe, just one thing.

They are a quest for… stillness. Silence.

My texting rule—I break it for you, I broke it this morning—is part of it.

My project requires me to be online, plugged in, sharing, responding, six out of seven days at least—and that seventh day, even then there are things…

It has, so far, been a 40-day long experiment in what happens to a creative person when they are never truly alone for 40 days.

It’s fascinating… and it ain’t pretty.

VII.

After his nap, Ender wants to play with his friends and go sledding, and I, the worst mother in the world, don’t let him. But I bundle him into a snowsuit—myself too—and we go for a slow loop around the Common. He barely makes it, all the while insisting he wants to go sledding and to play with his friends.

Back home, I make him tea with honey, but he’s asleep again when I bring it back.

The day continues like this—Ender waking up, falling asleep, whining, the elder two gaming, reading, fighting, me remembering at some point that I should feed them—finding out they’d already fed themselves (“But can you ask Dziadzia to bring buns and milk when he comes?”).

My dad arrives in the evening—with milk and buns, and also chicken wings—to take Flora to her martial arts class. I leave Cinder in charge of the not-puking-but-clearly-not-well Ender—then my mom comes to pick me up, and we go to the premiere of Sean’s film project (which, btw, you can now view at Art Enabled Life).

When we come back, Ender is asleep.

Turns out, Cinder took him sledding.

“Seriously?” That’s me.

“What?” That’s Cinder. “I made him wear a helmet.”

Ender sleeps like the dead; wakes up perfectly healthy.

VIII.

I want to finish writing this post in the evening, in my space. I think that will be the perfect closure to this day and this story: me, in my space, mostly uninterrupted. It was going to go like this, I had it all written in my head, scripted perfectly, and it was going to go like this:

“I have this… affirmation, I guess? words, ugh… that I’m working with right now. Well, there are two—the one I need to work on more I’m not ready to share with you. This one, though, you can hear:

“My days flow with a rhythm that nourishes and inspires myself and others.”

I’m chasing… not happiness. But flow.

Rhythm.

And I think… my rhythm will never be really smooth. Or uninterrupted. Sometimes, I will get planned or unexpected hours that flow gently, naturally into one another. But most of the time—I don’t expect, I can’t expect it.

Someone will puke. The furnace will break down. You will need me. My eyes will be wet.

I can’t control for any of that, and trying to paves the way to dysfunctional unhappiness.

But there are other… interruptions—and ways of being and thinking and acting that nurture interruptions—which all pave the way to dysfunctional unhappiness—that I can control.

So that’s my next project. Adjacent to the ongoing one, and my other creative and professional work.

I’ll tell you about it, bit by bit.

Now I have to go meditate. Then let my mind wander. Have some fabulous sex.

Sleep.”

But, um… instead, after the film, I come home to was-asleep-but-is-now-awake Ender and sit with him for near an hour until he falls back asleep, and then, I want to sleep, not write, myself. So, I do. And the next day, I’m up at 6:17 am doing all the things, and getting picked up before 8 am by a friend and going to an all-day workshop and…

I finish the post there, in-between presentations, pitches, meet-ups.

Rhythm?

Flow?

Sort of.

Rhythm, interrupted?

Sure. Hey, there’s my title.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS A shameless plug for Sean’s amazing work again—Check out the ART ENABLED LIFE project, either via its website, or if you’re a Facebook user, on its Facebook Page. The eleven films featuring eleven artists in dialogue with middle school students about how art builds resiliency (and other beautiful insights) are also live on Youtube now, and they will change your life.

But I love it…

Have I told you—have I told you that coffee loves me? I feel it—in every sip I take, as its aroma enters me through both my nostrils and my throat, even as it scalds my tongue with that first HOT sip—especially as it scalds my tongue—coffee loves me.

Oh, it loves me and it wants to share all the pleasures of the world with me and it fills me with zeal, joy, and adoration for all life.

Tea… tea doesn’t give a fuck. Really. Tea is all about itself. And the reputed kick of caffeinated varieties notwithstanding, in my mind, tea associates with the phlegmatic Brits, celibate too-Zen-for-love monks, Ayurvedic herbal concoctions.

Coffee is a passionate Latin lover, a conquering Turk.

OMG, fuck, yes, I know I have a problem. But let me sing the praises of my heroin.

I’m writing this while conducting an experiment of sorts. I made mug of herbal tea, sweetish. And a mug of dark, biting, bitter coffee—percolated until thick and chewy, OMFG, the smell. I was going to drink the tea… just smell the coffee.

The tea is mug is still full, the coffee cup half empty, and as my right hand writes, my left is curled around the ear of the coffee mug.

Compulsively, convulsively.

Co-dependently…

“Don’t leave me again,” the coffee whispers.

“Don’t cause me pain again,” I whisper back.

I think I’ve figured out how to drink the coffee without suffering—and in moderation too, I hope. I think? And as I cradle the cup in my hands and inhale the aroma—really, this is too intimate, avert your eyes because my toes are curling and this coffee cup and I are sharing a passion so intense it is sacrilege to look upon it and I haven’t even touched my lips its black liquid—as I cradle the cup, I wonder… have I failed? Should I have tried harder, longer? Fought more intensely against its seductive allure?

Should I have tried harder, longer to forget the tastes, the associations? Forge new ones?

(There is nothing—there are no associations worthy of those I have with coffee. There is no substitute, there is no methadone…)

Have I failed?

“Never,” the coffee whispers as it trickles down my throat. “I adore you and you came back to me.”

Fucking addictions.

I don’t know if I’m going to embrace, make peace with this one.

“I love you.” (The coffee’s seductive whisper.)

“Don’t hurt me again.” (My subjugated whimper.)

Maybe today’s cup isn’t the beginning of a new string of them. Maybe it’s just an anomaly… a brief fall off the wagon, and I will sanctimoniously and self-righteously get back on it again tomorrow. Or the day after.

Maybe…

“Don’t leave me again.”

It travels through me, fuels me, stimulates me.

Loves me.

I love it back.

*

I don’t throw the word “love” around lightly, you know. I love my children. Their father. You, even when I’m feeling pissy and neglected and estranged.

And coffee.

Fuck, I love coffee.

Flora: And what’s why I’m so glad I never started drinking it.

Flora, my most disciplined and thus judgemental child.

Ender: I’ll love coffee.

He probably will. He is my most passionate and hedonistic child, and coffee likes her lovers—er, drinkers—to have passions.

Cinder: Mom? Can you come help me with this?

Cinder. How much do I love you, my son? So much, I am relearning high school algebra for you. The answer, by the way, to “Why do I need to know how to factor polynomials” is —unless you’re going to pursue a career in engineering, possibly IT, or something like that—“So you can help you  kids with their math homework when they are in high school.”

Me, doing algebra, without coffee…

Help.

This is so so hard.

“Here, darling. Take another sip. It will make everything better. At least for a while. I promise.”

Fucking addition.

I mean addiction.

Addition isn’t that hard. Unless you’re adding imaginary unknown numbers related to each other in random mysterious ways.

Cinder: It’s not random and mysterious! There’s a pattern!

There is?

I don’t see it.

Where was I?

“You love me.”

“I love you.”

“Don’t leave me again.”

“I won’t.”

xoxo

Jane

PS The day after writing this post, I started reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. I know, I’m a decade behind. But see, serendipity being what it is, I started reading just at the precisely right time that this particular paragraph resonated with me:

“BREW RUTS INTO GROOVES

A bad habit—that is, one that doesn’t produce good results—is a rut. Coffee is a rut for me. I need a cup or two every morning and I don’t know why. Part of it, I’m sure, is its addictive properties. But I don’t enjoy it that much.

At one point, I played a game of delaying my daily coffee until I produced something solid that day. No good work, no good coffee. I transformed coffee from rut to reward. To be honest, this didn’t last long. Within a month, I was back into my coffee, grind. I don’t know. You can’t be stoic and strong about everything. Some things in life are just meant to be enjoyed simply because you enjoy them. They are their own rationale.

But the mere act of thinking about my coffee rut had a transformative effect. I now regard coffee in a positive light. It’s my coffee groove.

Pick a “bad” habit—whether it’s coffee or reading the newspaper in its entirety every day to avoid writing—and do something to make it “good.” Realize that you don’t need elimination, so it’s working for you. Exercise the rut. Exercise the groove.”

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, pg 208-209

I’m pretty sure that Twyla Tharp just said..

“Yes. She did. Come back to me. Now.”

Excuse me. Stop looking. Don’t judge. I have to go… grind some beans…

“Yes. Hurry.”

“I’m coming.”

J.

PS2 SOAPBOX. If you’re a Calgary citizen and reading this on October 16, vote. Preferably for Naheed Nenshi for mayor, because he’s awesome, but just get your ass out and vote, because democracy, while flawed, is the best system of government we have, and its price is citizen participation.

Informed citizen participation. Educate yourself. Especially on our school board trustees. Don’t accidentally, through laziness, contribute to the election of a sexist-racist-homophobe (ain’t it funny how it’s all three and not just one or the other/) hiding intolerance and hate under “back to the basics” “power to the parents” “family values” and the like rhetoric.

You: Yo, Jane, political all of a sudden?

Jane: I’m a little scared the world is going to hell, and not even my love for coffee can distract me from this fear.

Coffee: Darling. Don’t think. Just drink.

Jane: Um… I have to go.

You: You have a problem.

Jane: I have a problem. But I love it…

Like Anaïs Nin, I lie when I write the truth

monday

The Monday morning starts with desire—the desire to write, and the desire to write a journal-diary type post that my fingers tease and type on a computer screen instead of scribbling long-hand with a fountain pen that’s a gift from someone I love in a notebook that’s also a gift from him.

I want to write a public diary entry, and I know why: last week, in-between ALL THE THINGS (and there were so many things), I read Alexandra Johnson’s The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life.

The book examines the diaries of Marjorie Flemming (Scottish child prodigy; she died at age nine, and you’ve probably never heard of her), Sonya Tolstoy (Leo’s wife… he made her keep a diary with the understanding that he would read it—as she would read his—btw, this was a sure-fire way of ensuring an unhappy marriage, DO NOT EMULATE), Alice James (sister of Henry and William), Katherine Mansfied and Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, and May Sarton.

It nominally asks the question why do writers keep diaries, and what is it that they achieve in those pages.

It doesn’t… actually answer this question.

I’m not sure if I should recommend it to you or not… there are fascinating passages and insights, but ultimately, for me, the book does not hang together as a whole—I had this sense of “Oh, and now I’m going to write about Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield diaries… and… oh, well, I have to write about Anaïs Nin, of course…” and none of the chapters flew into one another for me.

And the Anaïs Nin chapter pissed me off.

Anaïs Nin—you know this by now do you not?—Anaïs Nin is one of my four… what shall I call them? Models, mentors, saints, inspirations, heroes. (The other three are Frida Kahlo, Colette, and Jane Austen, Jane Austen with an asterix, in a way, because whenever I read Jane, I always end up thinking… how much better a writer she would be if she had been… a mother. It’s funny, I never get that feeling with the childless Frida—who so desperately wanted a little Diego she was willing to die and destroy her body more and more for the chance—or the wilfully childless Anaïs  who presented to the world at least one attempted abortion as a stillbirth. Oh-my. I wasn’t going to write about this at all, but I am thinking about it, and one day soon, I must write about it: why do I get this sense with Jane and not with them? And now I realize that of my four idols—I guess that’s the word, really? Saints is too Catholic. I don’t know that idols really fits either, but I cannot think of the right one—of my four idols, three are childless, and of these three, I look at Jane and think, “You lack this.” Unfair. Why? I will be spending the next few days, weeks, months, thinking about this.)

Back to Anaïs :

The Hidden Writer is written in the late 1990s, shortly after the “untruth” of Anaïs Nin’s diaries came to light. (If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy: she revised them extensively, edited and censored them heavily, omitted lots… crafted more… etc etc.) And Johnson takes the very conventional, middle-class—bourgeouisie?—approach to vilifying Anaïs for betraying her reading public by, effectively, manufacturing her diary…

…therefore missing the whole point of Anaïs Nin, and who she was—and what she achieved and created…

…the whole point of for-publication journals, diaries, and memories, which are manufactured for an audience… and which are the truth, as the writer is willing to reveal/present it to that audience at that point in time…

…the whole point of the elusive relationship between truth – confession – reality – lies – creation of self-protection of self, and this despite the fact that she quotes perhaps the most illuminating thing Anaïs Nin has ever said:

“I would not be concerned with the secrets, the  lies, the mysteries, the facts. I would be concerned with what makes them necessary.”

(Anaïs says this, by the way, to her lover Henry Miller, about his wife June. Which makes me want to watch Henry and June again.)

Anyway. Johnson loses me when she doesn’t get Anaïs. Creatively, historically, viscerally—she just doesn’t get her. Because I not only get  Anaïs, I feel her in my creative DNA—both in my moments of joy and glory, and the moments of despair and madness.

Ender just came downstairs into my writing space, and announced he has to poop. Which means I need to go upstairs and clean his butt—and have a conversation with him, again, about how, um, really, maybe it’s time he starts doing this himself? And he will say, “But poop is so gross and I don’t want to accidentally get it on my hands,” and I will sigh and say, “Me neither, dude!” And I will suggest that his birthday might be the time for this change, no?

And I have typed for too long for he is calling to me.

But here. You have a public diary entry.

There is a private one too. It includes a bad poem—that I might copy out and play with and try to turn into a less bad one—and a private, unshareable few pages that I will burn or soak with water… truly keep private.

But you can share this part of me.

I consent.

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S.

tuesday

I live my day in 15 minute chunks. I do all the work, all the things… in 15 minute chunks. Including some crying.

At the end of it, I am a focused, responsible faking-it-very-well adult, talking into a microphone about BIG PICTURE STRATEGY stuff and THINKING IN QUARTERS, YEARS, AND DECADES.

It’s not lies. It’s all truth.

But part of the truth is that the big picture decade-long strategy… gets implemented in 15 minute chunks.

wednesday

I think I can do it all, plus two more things, but instead I manage to do just the minimum.

And start reading Karen Karbo’s Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life to ground myself.

I remember, while reading it, that when Flora and I watched Julie and Julia—she was four or five, and I was crippled and on bedrest with Ender permanently tied to my nipple—I promised her that when Ender was weaned, we’d debone a duck and make that “amazing recipe” that Julie Powell made at the end of the movie (and her book and blog).

I send Flora a text to a Pâté de Canard en Croûte recipe, and tell her to assemble the shopping list.

thursday

I wake up at 4:30.

Am still awake and in bed at 5:30.

I get out of bed at 5:33. Am working by 5:43.

Ender comes down at 8 a.m. I don’t feel ahead… and, by 8:30, I need a nap.

Still. No one can undo the work I have done in those ridiculously early 2.5 hours.

friday

the week can’t be over. I have too much to do.

Sean: You have the weekend. And you said, you’re a week ahead now.

Jane: I’m panicked. I have too much to do.

The children feed me chocolate. I do all things. Or at least, most of them. A few more still to go.

I dream about going for sheesha in the evening, when they are all over.

I have too much to do.

I think I’ll do most of it. In 15 minute chunks. Right?

And journal about it. Like Anaïs. Creating a cohesive narrative out of something that, while I’m living it, feels like utter chaos.

That’s me, sort of, in a painting by outrageously talented Iranian-Canadian artist Golriz Rezvani.

The painting is really about Anaïs Nin–or at least, the battle she lived, fought, documented.

Won.

In the background is a letter I wrote to Golriz while on a plane to Portland, the day after I read my poetry in public for the first time in… twenty? more? years.

I’m reading The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin on the plane, and the letter is mostly Anaïs Nin quotes:

Mind wandering, solitude and NOT texting you

It’s Sunday morning of a weekend that I am trying to “take off”—the last long weekend of the summer—the last weekend of the summer, really, because are we not really in fall by Labour Day? There may be two weeks until the Equinox still, but September is fall. This year, the grass on the Common has been brown all of August. The leaves of our parched trees are already dotted with yellow and brown.

It’s fall.

It’s also Pride weekend in Calgary, and I was trying to finish a piece this morning that I’ve called, “It’s just a fucking pronoun—use it,” but it doesn’t seem to be gelling, so I set it aside. Because I’m trying to take today “off.”

So instead, I’m sitting on my balcony—a cup of coffee I can’t bring myself to drink beside me… I really wanted it… why, why, why does it not taste good anymore?—watching Ender waste water—er, play with the hose—down below—burning incense instead of smoking a cigar, because it’s 9 in the morning, and hell, even my vices have their shame—and I’m letting my thoughts wander.

NB: Today’s post is illustrated with Prisma selfies.Because I feel vain. And pretty. 😉 Call it self-indulgent. I do; I do it anyway.

They are wandering/wondering about three things:

First: The idea that “mind wanderers” are unhappy.

There is a swatch of research about this apparently. You can check out this Psychology Today blog post (” Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer”); this Ted Talk on Day Dreaming; or this Smithsonian mag article for a smattering of insight on why mind wandering / daydreaming makes people miserable.

But I like it when my mind wanders. I can’t imagine it not. (Ha, see what I did there?) What is the point of having no thoughts?

You: So it’s been what, eight months now, and you still don’t get the point of meditation, eh?

Jane: I like thinking. I don’t think not-thinking is the solution to anything. Nor is thinking my… problem.

Second: Solitude.

I’ve had a hectic week. Month. Full of work and play. Also, people. In-flesh people and cyber-people—the biggest hunk of my work over the last month of so has involved finding people, researching people and emailing them. And I’m fatigued.

On Sunday mornings, I usually read BrainPickings.org, because, brilliant, and today, Maria Popova is teasing out wisdom from Rachel Carson:

I read this:

Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He* moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.

Rachel Carson

and this:

You are wise enough to understand that being “a little lonely” is not a bad thing. A writer’s occupation is one of the loneliest in the world, even if the loneliness is only an inner solitude and isolation, for that he must have at times if he is to be truly creative. And so I believe only the person who knows and is not afraid of loneliness should aspire to be a writer. But there are also rewards that are rich and peculiarly satisfying.

Rachel Carson

And I have this very strange thought that I want to be… lonely.

And yet… also…

Third: I’m thinking about texting you.

It’s ridiculous, really. I have nothing to say to you. I don’t even particularly miss you. I’m sorry, my love—I don’t. I’ve seen you not that long ago, and even if I hadn’t—I’ve seen, emailed so many other people. I am fatigued, did I not say? I want to sit still, alone, smell the incense, drink the coffee—ugh, it tastes like poison on my tongue, I shove the cup farther away—and let my mind wander.

And I also want to text you.

No. I don’t want to text you.

I feel this sick compulsion to pick up my telephone and scroll down this newsfeed, that, ascertain nothing interesting is happening… and then send you a, “Hi. How’s it going?”

Except… honestly, my love? I don’t care. I don’t care what’s happening with you at all.

I don’t miss you.

I have nothing to say to you.

What I want… is to be alone with my mind wanderings. And I have these precious few minutes in which that can happen.

And yet… the phone. The fingers. The thought of contact with you…

I let my mind wander in this direction. Why do I crave, in this moment, something that I don’t actually even really want? I see the text in a similar light as I see the cup of coffee—a habit that doesn’t serve me, the craving of which is more pleasurable than its execution.

You: You fucking bitch, thank you very much for penning an essay about how you hate texting me!

Jane: A) In this case, you are a metaphor. B) I don’t hate texting you. I’m just questioning-examining the motivation behind my desire to text you. When life offers a moment of solitude… that I know I need… and yet… I move to sabotage it by grabbing the damn crack-Phone and saying, “Hi. How are you doing?”

Here is what I have found about texting—with which I have had a love-hate relationship ever since I finally buckled and allowed the iPhone into my life in 2013—which is also my experience with Facebook and all forms of social media:

It fucks up my connection receptors.

Does that make sense?

When I feel lonely for people—when I need, want people—and I reach for them in the cyberworld—when I feel lonely for you, and I text you—while we’re engaging, I think I’m with people. And then, when we get off the phone… I’m still lonely. Unfulfilled. I haven’t filled my very real need for connection.

Worse—when I feel the need for solitude—when I need to be lonely (Maria Popova and others go on at lengthy about the difference between solitude and loneliness—I don’t know… I think they’re a little related, but we can talk about that another time)—and you text me or I text you… because I’m alone and you’re alone, and we can’t be together and one or the other of us has forgotten how to be lonely and satisfied with that feeling, for a while—I don’t get my solitude. I haven’t seen you. I haven’t seen, touched anyone. But I haven’t been alone either—I haven’t gotten my alone fix.

Texting/social media contact has the potential to make me feel never alone… and never connected.

And I need, very desperately, both.

This is the point at which Aunt Augusta may, self-righteously, tell me to stop whinging about it and just… unplug. Not text. (Not blog, lol.) Live like it’s 1999 again.

And I do that intermittently—I did it in Cuba. I loved it.

But it’s 2017, and 24/7 connectivity is part of my life, and my task—I direct my mind to wander there—is to make that connectivity work for me, fuel me, empower me—free me.

Not fetter me and damage me.

So I whinge. Reflect.

Take my Sunday morning “off” to be with myself. My—not silence, I suppose, because my Self is very rarely silent—but my thoughts. My self.

You: So you know your thoughts are not your self, and…

Jane: You know what? I get that kind of thinking helps other people. And you can think your thoughts are not your self. And you can think that my thoughts are not my Self, too—your thinking that does me no harm. Really, I don’t even care that much if my thoughts are or are not my self. I just like having them. Even the fucked up, hard ones. I like spending time with them. I like parsing them and dissecting them and feeling them and chasing them. I like thinking!

(interlude)

When I pontificate about writing, I have this line I like to use:

Writing is easy. Thinking is hard.

(end of interlude)

So. I didn’t text you.

I thought about you, though.

You: I thought I was a metaphor.

Jane: Metaphors are grounded in reality. That’s what makes them so powerful.

Wasn’t it better this way? I thought about you and experienced you… and had my solitude too.

I feel better. I am better.

You: I feel neglected and lonely.

Jane: Your problem, not mine.

The morning is about to turn into early afternoon—the sun has climbed over the rooftops and trees and is now flooding the Common with light—definitely autumn light. Ender and his friend are drowning toys in a tub of water, and soaking themselves in the process—I will need to change his clothes before we go to Pride. Flora and her friend are covering themselves with glitter. Cinder is still sleeping, the heavy sleep of the metamorphosing teenager. Sean, fighting nasty cold-it-is-not-the-flu!, is back in bed. The house is a strange mixture of quiet and noise—a metaphor, in this  moment, for my mind.

You: Maybe you should meditate.

Jane: I might. Or, you know, I’ll just sit here a while longer… and think.

I will text you, perhaps, tomorrow. I will maybe have some things to say… about mind wandering. Solitude. Texting.

If you don’t hear from me—it’s because I decided I want to, need to be alone. And I managed to overcome the craving for the fake contact in favour of real solitude.

But if you miss me… come by. Not for coffee—we’ll make something else to drink. I found this recipe for ginger tea with pepper and cinnamon that has a most satisfying smell. Or maybe tea with cardamom?

Come by. I’ll make tea. We’ll go for a walk.

I’ll tell you things.

And when you leave, I’ll settle into solitude—if the kids let me—deliciously.

xoxo

“Jane”

I’m not a slob: I’m a radical revolutionary, or “Housework is unnatural”

For Cathy & Yvonne

I.

I am smoking my first cigar in weeks—but drinking tea, not coffee (although I did have a cup of the chewiest, most hedonistic-erotic-arousing-fullfilling Turkish coffee a few days ago, OMG, my black drug, you make me…)—and I want to write you a story.

II.

Flora: Mom, I had a nosebleed, and I tried to clean it up, but the bathroom looks like someone slaughtered a pig in it.

Jane: Um… can you clean it up more?

Flora: No, I have to go rescue a mouse.

The bathroom doesn’t really look like someone slaughtered a pig in it. But it could possibly be mistaken for a poorly cleaned up crime scene.

I give the blood streaks a half-hearted wipe.

III.

We are having a meeting in the Common and chewing out the challenges of community living (it ain’t always paradise; actually, it’s rarely paradise, but it’s the closest to heaven we can come), and my neighbour uses her in-family compromises as a metaphor for what we need to do as a community.

“I love having a clean, perfectly tidied house,” she says. “But when I have a perfectly clean, tidied house, my family suffers.”

My ears perk up, because that too has been part of my journey.

“When I get everything cleaned up just so, I’m happy—for about half an hour. And then my family tries to live in the house. And I nag them. And… they suffer.”

She says more… and you could argue with her, I suppose. You might. You like to keep your house very tidy too.

Me, I hear her perfectly. I remember the years of writing, over and over again:

“Five people live and learn and work and eat and create in this house. Five people mess in this house. Five people love this house—the way it is.”

The end result is a house that will cause Aunt Augusta (she’s a metaphor) pain and will make her judge me as an inadequate housekeeper and thus an inadequate human being.

The end result is a house that five people love to live in, that everyone considers their own.

IV.

Aunt August always calls it her house, her kitchen.

The pronoun always makes me… flinch. I wonder how her partner, her children feel about that.

I prefer to live in… our house.

I keep my space in our house the way I want it. Everything else? It’s theirs as much as it is mine—some places, so much more theirs than mine.

VI.

She texts me:

I just had this thought as I’m doing all the food and house related drudgery.  The reason “women’s” work isn’t appreciated but Dads doing “women’s” work are celebrated is because on some level it is assumed women just know how to do all things domestic so it’s no effort for them whereas it’s hard for Dads because they have to learn something unnatural to them.

I think this is brilliant.

I write back:

Housework is unnatural.

And then I decide I’m not a slob, but a radical revolutionary.

V.

It is of course much more complicated than this, and I know I’m over-simplifying, but let me leave you with this:

If you weren’t scrubbing your kitchen floor, counters, bathroom, whatever, today… what else could you be doing?

And don’t throw that “these things must be done” stuff at me. Let’s assume a minimum standard here. I’m not suggesting you—or I, for that matter—live in an unhygienic pig sty. Let’s assume… it’s good enough, it’s clean enough. Child Services won’t freak.

Aunt Augusta, though, will judge.

An idea: until you can just shake her judgement off… stop inviting her over.

VI.

When Sean brings the bathroom to a good-enough state a few days after the nose bleed, all the blood spots are gone. Why I love him—he doesn’t even mention that he had to scrub them. He just does it.

VII.

There’s this really, really brilliant comic about gender conflict and housework in heterosexual partnerships that I’d like to send you to: The Gender Wars of Household Chores: A Feminist Comic by Emma.

It makes some really brilliant points, and one that gave me pause:

So I’d like to offer you this life hack, which I think is the reason I am able to homeschool, work from home, chase my passions, and live the life I want.

When the thing you want is to clean off the table… just clean off the table. Leave the damn socks on the floor.

(I know I just gave Aunt Augusta an anxiety. Someone want to hand her a glass of water, please, perhaps doused with laudanum? Thank you.)

VIII.

Cinder and Flora take out the recycling, and Ender does not want to put away the cutlery.

I make him.

It takes less than five minutes.

We actually spent more time talking about putting away the cutlery than putting away the cutlery.

There is a sub-moral in there somewhere too, that possibly contradicts some of my thesis above. I don’t care. Sometimes, you just go and clear the table. But other times… Negotiating relationships and living as a family, community can be complicated, and sometimes, arguing—sorry, discussing—something for an hour instead of just doing the five or ten minutes task-at-hand is a necessary part of the process.

IX.

I’ve smoked my cigar. Written you a story.

I might now go tackle the dishes in the kitchen. Although I’m pretty sure it’s Flora’s turn to wash and Cinder’s turn to put away. I might just argue about that with them for a while instead, and then, while they do the dishes, write another story.

xoxo

“Jane”

Breaking habits, keeping friends, looking for methadone

I.

I am drinking self-made almond milk, spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom, and heated into a marvellous froth. It is creamy, tingly, delicious… and all I can think about is how much better it would be with… coffee.

I’ve been trying to not drink coffee for somewhere between four and six months now.

I have never missed a lover, my children, or any experience, ever, as I now miss my black drug.

II.

Cinder: Anyone want lettuce? Only slightly used?

Jane: No, nobody wants your used lettuce.

Cinder: I didn’t bite it. I just took it off my burger.

Heaven forbid the teenager eat something green. Please don’t judge me if he gets scurvy. I keep the house stocked in limes.

And also vegetables.

But I don’t think most of them ever make it down to his stomach.

Still. He’s like six feet eighteen inches (I exaggerate only slightly) and he’s only fifteen. I guess he’s not that malnourished.

This has nothing to do with my coffee saga. He just happened to wander into the kitchen while I was writing this.

III.

So, this isn’t going to be a painful, TMI, self-confessional post about addictions. But I do want to tell you, I started drinking alcohol—mostly wine—dysfunctionally four years and four-five weeks ago, more or less to the day; I quit drinking dysfunctionally three years less four-five weeks ago today.

It was a rather interesting experience, my year of using alcohol as numbing-coping-we-will-get-through-this tool. Like so many of life’s most intense experiences,  its pathos, its impact… and its hidden (or not so hidden) lessons and consequences are visible only in retrospect. At the time, all I was doing was opening a bottle of wine every night. To have with dinner.

There was nothing weird about it. Everyone else around me was doing it too… (See: Running On Empty + A Lost Year)

But, I put the brakes on that quite quickly and, really, all things considered, easily, once I noticed what the hell I was doing. I like to think I’m either too self-aware or too contrary to really cultivate addictions and excessively self-destructive behaviours.

Or so I tell myself as I engage in my newest vice, lighting each cigar, reaching for each sheesha toke with a sick combination of clinical self-awareness and abandoned hedonism. I know the danger of letting the smoke swirl in my mouth, nose, lungs. But there is something about that experience… What am I chasing in that moment? What is it that I am craving? I dive into the crevices of the vice and craving—and, sometimes, surrender to it willingly… other times, fight it, win, feel self-righteous and powerful… sometimes, lose… feel shame, learn compassion.

IV.

Flora: Worst! Parents! Ever!

So what happened was, she dropped a pizza slice on her foot and got burned by the pizza sauce.

And we laughed.

Flora: Aren’t you going to help me?

Sean: Are you asking me to lick the pizza sauce off your foot and the floor? Cause that’s gross.

Jane: No. But I’m going to blog about it.

Flora: Worst. Parents. Ever.

She’s so lucky. Do you think she’ll ever realize how lucky she is, she was?

Maybe when she’s 40. Right now, she’s 12. And we suck.

Flora: Why don’t you blog about how you can’t stop whining about how much you miss coffee instead?

Worst. Child. Ever.

I’m kidding. ;P I know how lucky I am.

Jane: Threat fail. Already doing it.

V.

I am not, by the way, whining incessantly about how much I miss coffee. What I am doing is… I am exploring, and curbing, my coffee drinking habit.

I’m exploring (and curbing) it because the unadulterated joy it used to bring to me—I don’t think I can ever fully express to you just how much I loved every aspect of my morning (afternoon) (it’s not really evening yet) coffee, from the sound of the beans dropping into the grinder to its whirr (it was musical), the slowly released and changing smells, the visual pleasure of watching steam rise from the kettle, the sound the water made when I poured it over the ground beans in the Bodum (yessssss), the first sip—the last sip—every sip in-between, OMFG, I miss that experience so much, I WANT MY COFFEE NOW… but that unadulterated joy?

It’s gone.

It was gradual. A slight discomfort in the belly, a strange feeling in my throat. Bitterness on my tongue… the slow (I fought against it so hard) realization that something—metabolism, taste buds, lining of the gut, sensory perception, whatever—had changed, I wasn’t enjoying that first sip, the last sip, the in-between sips very much at all, and I was suffering after, and my coffee habit was just… a habit.

The joy of which was… problematic.

The indulgence of which was… possibly, probably a caffeine addiction.

VI.

Jane: Ender, put your dirty dishes into the sink. Into the sink. Into the… thank you.

So much of parenting, have you noticed, is helping children cultivate positive habits… and discourage negative ones. And so much parenting, good and bad, is… a habit.

You create a habit of… morning fights to rush out the door, for example. Bedtime struggles. Fights over tooth brushing.

Or, you create the habit of… slow mornings. Chill bedtimes. Etctera.

Flora: The habit of ignoring your children while you write.

Jane: I work very hard to cultivate that habit. Now stop looking over my shoulder and go make some art or something.

Flora: Can I watch a show?

Jane: It’s up to you which habit you choose to feed.

Flora: World’s. Most. Annoying. Mother.

Whatever. ;P

VII.

The spiced almond milk tastes good. It warms my throat and slides easily into my gut. It makes me feel good.

I am enjoying it.

I don’t… love it.

I fucking love my coffee.

VIII.

I’m sitting across a cafe table from you, as you drink your coffee, and OMFG, can you feel, smell my hunger? I am drinking you drinking. I want you to slow down and savour—really savour—every sip so that I can prolong the experience.

“How’s your tea?” you ask.

I grimace.

Tea-like.

Not coffee like.

Inferior.

Crappy methadone, and I miss my heroin.

IX.

Here is a fascinating video from Kurzesagt about what really causes addiction.

There are socially sanctioned addictions too. And so many of our habits, good and bad, are formed in community. My year of dysfunctional drinking was fully supported and fostered by my community (we were all suffering, coping, dysfunctionally drinking together). Coffee is what you and I used to meet for, remember?

I hate meeting you for tea.

Sometimes, breaking a habit means breaking a relationship. Losing a community.

Ugh, why did that get so heavy?

I don’t want to lose you along with coffee (the wine). I promise. But I need you to help me… break this habit. And become part of my new one.

X.

The almond milk is almost gone and its dregs, because it is homemade (so domestic goddess, so not me) and imperfectly strained (that’s more me), are pretty chewy. I drink them anyway. I like my coffee chewy.

In that last sip, my methadone is just a little more heroin like.

I swallow it, chew it with joy.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I. Miss. Coffee.

PPS I make it. Or pour myself, a little, from a pot someone’s made. I remember… I remember how good it felt. How much I wanted it. I taste it. It fails me. And yet… I still miss it. Crave it. Intensely. The chemical caffeine addiction is long gone, I think. It must be. The rut of the habit, the memory of the ritual—my longing for that once-effective hit? God. It is yet to fade.

PPPS I had a cup this morning. With coconut milk, ginger, and cinnamon. I almost enjoyed it… with some additional, complicated feelings mixed in.

 

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Creative-Non Fiction Life

A couple of years ago, I attended a generally meh conference and found myself at a blah workshop—and the entire weekend was suddenly reclaimed and not just salvaged but elevated to a peak experience by a sentence uttered by a woman whose name or face I no longer remember.

But what she said… that is chiselled on my mind.

Because she said…

“I lead a creative non-fiction life.”

Me too, sister, me too, I thought.

Actually, I think I said it out loud and applauded. I don’t think I stood up for a standing ovation. I should have.

There is no point to this story. Not really. Except that—I want to lead a creative non-fiction life. I think, generally, I do.

How about you?

xoxo

“Jane”

You: That’s it? You call that a post?

Jane: What? Unfulfilled? Write a longer one of your own.

Or, you know, go through Postcards from Cuba or my Laugh Out Loud archive.

Sultry, slow, summer, time

I.

Saturday couldn’t decide if it wanted to be the summer’s hottest day or its stormiest; it compromised and so the kids got heatstroke and our evening barbeque was ruined.

But it was all okay, because, in the evening, the Mother of ALL Fireworks displays, to celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada. Which is really the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Canadian Confederation, through the creation of the Dominion of Canada, which, at the time, included the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

My family came to Canada in 1984. I was ten; my parents in their very early thirties. We got our citizenship three years later—so, I’ve been Canadian for 30 years now.

Patriotism is a tricky thing for immigrants and children of immigrants—especially when your relationship to your birth country and its government(s) is… you know… fucked. It leaves you… cynical, at best, I think. Anyway. Happy though I have been to call Canada home and myself a Canadian, I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten goose bumps singing the Canadian anthem.

But I totally got goose bumps listening to this:

II.

Sunday was hot.

So hot I melted. I wasn’t skin and bones: I was a fountain of sweat. The day was the definition of sultry and it was glorious. It made me slow and lazy—I moved slowly through the day and I loved it.

I thought, a lot, about process. Also stress and cortisol levels.

Also, why it is that I like smoking cigars so much. And how really, I’m lucky that the Cuban street stash is long gone and I have to pay extortionate Canadian prices for my tobacco, because it keeps my indulgence to a level that’s on the okay side of addiction.

(I’m not addicted, okay? I just really like them.)

(But, um, if you’re going to Havana… there’s this place I can send you… let’s talk…)

Flora: It’s disgusting and it’s going to kill you.

Jane: I’m doing this at least in part to make you sure never think smoking is cool.

I’m doing this at least in part because it slows down time.

Did I tell you? I’m taking back time.

One slow lazy sultry day, hour at a time.

III.

Monday hasn’t happened yet.

Isn’t that wonderful?

It’s all in the future. All potential.

At its end, I will have Cinder back home, and all five of us will be HERE.

And it will be hot. And sultry.

And even though I have so much to do so much to do so much to do, I will move through my day slowly.

See?

I’m doing it.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I moved so marvellously slow I didn’t get around to posting this until the cooler evening. 🙂

Dharma, slowing down time, & beauty in the ordinary

I.

Ender and two of his friends have just finished beating the shit out of each other on our trampoline. Well. Play-wrestling. Apparently. But there was screaming and taunting and swearing, and I think possibly a bloody nose. I tossed a roll of toilet paper off the balcony—my nod to helicopter parenting.

Now, they’re sitting on the trampoline, pretending to meditate.

It’s fucking adorable.

Cross-legged. Hands on their knees in gyan mudra. Eyes closed. Except when they peek them open to see if the others are meditating as well.

II.

Today marks six solid months of meditation practice for me, the first time in my life that I have ever—well, so many, firsts, actually. Not just the first time I’ve meditated for a sustained period of time—the first time I’ve meditated, ever. Sure, there were the five minutes of “meditation” at the end of my martial arts classes way back in the day—but let’s be honest, all we did was close our eyes and pant and try to slow our breath down and stop our hearts from exploding out of our chests. Plus, we only did it because the instructor told us to do it.

Compulsory practices don’t count.

I think it’s also the first time I’ve ever consciously and conscientiously engaged in anything like spiritual practice. I don’t count the prayers and masses of my compulsory Catholic childhood: a child does not choose, consciously and conscientiously, her religious beliefs and practices. And, indeed, as soon as I could choose—I chose to not just step away, but to run away screaming.

I flirted with Neo-Paganism and Wicca for a while after that. It was my methadone before the heroin of full-on atheism.

And now I’m meditating.

It’s really weird.

And I keep on being told I’m doing it wrong.

But I’m doing it.

At least once a day, most days twice.

III.

I’m doing it, because, dharma.

Dharma is an annoying Sanskirt word that means, almost, whatever it is that you want it to mean at the moment you’re deploying it. For me, right now, it means, purpose. With a capital P, I suppose. Maybe in all caps to boot. PURPOSE. As in, “What the hell is my purpose in life?”

IV.

When Cinder was five or six, one of his aunties asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He gave her this withering look and said… “Me.”

Fuck.

Me too.

When I grow up, I want to be me.

So… I’m all grown up now, right? And I’m me. Is that it? Am I the me I’m supposed to be? What does “supposed to” mean, anyway? Who decides? Just me? Who am I?

OMFG, my head hurts…

And is the very fact that I’m engaging in all this obnoxious navel gazing just proof that my life is too easy and I have too much time on my hands?

V.

Wait. No. That is not possible. I feel a scarcity, a paucity of time. So much to do so much to do so much to do. Not enough… too much? What a thought. Is it possible?

I watch Ender and his gang fake meditate on the trampoline and I close my eyes to join them—invite enlightenment.

Her: You know that’s not how enlightenment works, right?

Jane: Nobody knows how enlightenment works. My ignorance is really not significantly greater than anyone else’s.

It doesn’t come—enlightenment—but I do decide that I’m definitely not bored. I’m meditating in part in pursuit of boredom—I mean, stillness. That’s the word. Stillness. I want stillness. Silence. To slow the world—time—down a little. So that I can pay attention to it more fully. Because it is precious and beautiful just because it is, and I want to… I want to live it, breathe it, experience it… document it.

That, I think, is my dharma.

I experience things, the world, life… and I write it all down so other people can share that experience too.

There. That. My dharma, my purpose, the driving force in my life since I was four years old.

The problem—you knew a problem was coming, right?—the problem is that it just doesn’t seem… big enough.

You know? Shouldn’t my Purpose be something bigger than writing very ordinary stories about very ordinary things?

VI.

Flora has spent much of the last three, four days working on this poster. It’s beautiful and amazing, but she said I couldn’t show it to you.

So just imagine something beautiful… right here:

 

[this space intentionally left blank]

 

I don’t ask her… why. To what purpose. She doesn’t ask herself, either. There is no need. It is blindingly obvious, to her.

I don’t think she cares if it’s not blindingly obvious to the rest of the world.

VII.

I would like to make it clear to you—if it’s not blindingly obvious, because, as I am a self-conscious grown-up and not a yet-unspoilt child, I care, a little—that I am not a Buddhist, nor attempting to be one.

I’m chasing dharma, but fuck, I love desire. Desire is the fuel of… well, everything.

One of the books that I’ve been using to obsess about dharma is called The Four Desires, by Rod Stryker. Its entire first section is called Life is Desire. I love it. Stryker frames desire and dharma in terms that resonate with my practical poet’s soul:

Your soul has four distinct desires… The first of these four desires is dharma, the desire to become who you were meant to be. It is the longing to thrive, and, in the process, to fulfill your unique purpose; it is the drive to fulfill your destiny.

Right? Purpose, with a capital P, and in all caps to boot. But, there’s more:

The second is artha, the desire for the means (such as money, security, health) to help you fulfill your dharma. The third desire is kama, the longing for pleasure in any and all forms. The fourth is moksha the desire for spiritual realization and ultimate freedom; it is the intrinsic desire to be free from the burdens of the world, even as you participate fully in it.

Rod Stryker, The Four Desires

Moksha and I have just the most passing, casual of relationships—I think it’s possible it will come on me in old age (religion often does). Right now, I’m all about dharma. Artha and kama matter only as they support it. It is fascinating, really. The intensity of the desire to live, to fulfill my… dharma.

VIII.

I feel goofy writing, owning that. Especially when I look at my children. Who seem to simply… embody and live their dharma. Not, you know… existentially angst over it. At all.

IX.

The boy meditation session on the trampoline below me has again deteriorated into a wrestling match. And this time, not bloody, but out of joint noses. Ender leaves his friends to come sit with me. He wants to do a puzzle. He asks for help he doesn’t really need: what he needs is my attention.

I put away my laptop and my existential angst, and give my undivided attention to the boy and the puzzle.

Time slows down.

I’m… to be honest, I’m a little bored.

I explore the feeling.

X.

Just in case you were waiting for some kind of mind-blowing, insightful wrap-up here… that’s not how enlightenment works.

But this is how serendipity works. I remember, that while I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons, during her conversation with Martha Beck, Beck said something along the lines of, “Living with my son is like living with a Zen master.” (One of Beck’s children, Adam, has Down Syndrome; Beck wrote about the life-changing experience of his diagnosis, birth and their ensuing life in Expecting Adam). I type “Martha Beck” and “living with a Zen master” into Google, looking for, what? I’m not sure—something to round out the story of Ender’s trampoline meditations and Flora’s art practice, maybe?

Instead, I get this:

Our culture has created two almost irreconcilable descriptions of a “good woman.” The first is the individual achiever; the second, the self-sacrificing domestic goddess. I found that women fell into one of four categories: those who’d chosen career (and were very conflicted); those who put family first (and were very conflicted); those who’d combined work and family (and were very, very conflicted); and mystics.

Mystics? Where the hell did that category come from? It was so unexpected that I did years of interviews without even noticing that the calmest, happiest women had all experienced a kind of satori: Faced with two mutually contradictory options, they had discovered and come to trust an intensely personal inner voice. Each had found some method of detaching utterly from social context, connecting deeply with inner peace, and carrying that peace with them back into their hectic lives.

Martha Beck, “Yes? No? Maybe? How to Make Decisions,” September 29, 2013

OK.

That helps.

That actually… really helps.

Me, anyway.

Does it help you?

xoxo

“Jane”

Time, Magic Lessons, Hitchhiking & Silence: an only slightly annoying meditation

For… um, I’m sorry, I never asked your name. Travel safe.

I.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. How about yours?

How do you feel about me throwing that cliche at you? Are you embracing it joyously—are you filled with the desire to use PicMonkey or equivalent to turn it into an Insta-Graphic and send it into social media memeland?

Or do you want to throw a handful of mud at my smug face and tell me to go fuck myself and my empty platitudes?

II.

My kitchen sink is, miraculously, empty this morning. Flora put all the dishes away before she went to bed, and, as Cinder is 600 kilometres away, he did not spend the night eating and filling it up again. I stand in front of the empty sink in the morning and fill up with gratitude… and then immense sadness.

As I make the coffee I’m no longer really drinking, I cry and miss my son.

III.

(My face, by the way, is not smug.)

IV.

I drive 500 miles and 500 more to Kelowna most years since my Marie and her brood moved out there. I didn’t go last year, and we suffered. I mean, Marie and mine’s connection. There is only so much you can do by text, Facebook, the occasional phone call. Real relationships require real life, real time, person-to-person investment. Snotting on each other’s flesh and blood shoulders, not just cyber ones.

So this year, I drive Cinder and his friend to Kelowna, to visit their forever friends, and mine, over four days I wrench from a too-heavy schedule. I leave Calgary a few hours after attending a “can’t-miss-it-you-are-so-important-to-me” event; I come back a few hours before an important (yes, it really is) community planning meeting.

In-between, Marie and I squeeze in urgent together time. Precious but also exhausting: we do not have time on this visit for leisurely conversations that meander and unfold. We have very little time for each other, really: we are mostly ferrying six manic boys (and their bikes) around.

It’s all right, we tell each other.

It’s their time more than it is ours.

Our time will come… when?

V.

I am having an uncomfortable relationship with time right now. It feels like my most precious and most finite resource. I feel I don’t have enough of it—I hate feeling that way. After all, time is… time is time. We actually have all the time in the world, right? Sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, 365 days in a year…

Where the fuck have the last 365 days gone? Actually, the first half of them, I can account for rationally. The last half? These last six months?

I feel I have blinked and they have disappeared.

VI.

My time in Kelowna is both too short and too long. Too short, because, Marie, soul sister conversations, beauty, beaches—and the world’s best Value Village—I swear, people, the Kelowna Value Village is a fucking treasure trove. (Would that I had more time to explore it this time: I do find a pair of gorgeous yet practical and virtually unworn shoes.)

Too long, because… so much to do so much to do so much to do.

I hate it. I hate that feeling. That feeling of time slipping through my fingers, of the pace of my days moving too fast, of never feeling on top of things, of never feeling done… or allowed to rest.

I hate it.

I watch the boys plan their days and all the things they want to do on this trip with a total disregard for the reality, the tyranny of time.

I love it.

I envy them.

I watch them with love—and envy—and maybe, I think, maybe I learn something.

VII.

I leave Cinder behind in Kelowna and I leave Marie’s house early in the morning on a Sunday for the near-eight hour drive back home.

I am…

(Don’t throw the mud pie at my face.)

I am aware that today is the first day of the rest of my life. As they all are.

And that I can think I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time… or I can have all the time in the world.

I plug my phone into the AUX port and start playing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast.

She’s going to be my companion and the background to my silent meditations on this precious solo trip home.

Eight hours. Alone.

If you’re a parent, if you live amidst a web of obligations—no matter how willingly entered into—you know how precious each of those eight hours is.

VIII.

I pull over to pick up the hitchhiker just outside Revelstoke. It’s 10 a.m., and I feel the bone-tiredness and fuzzy-headedness that comes not so much from not enough sleep but not enough good sleep.

He’s in his 50s—maybe 40s. He has the weathered-withered look of a person who works outside, who works with his body. Also, the withered-weathered look of a person who’s suffered.

All his worldly possessions in a backpack about the same size as the backpack I took with me to Kelowna.

It’s sweltering hot already, and there is no shade where he is standing. I see car after car whiz by and I actually whiz by too… I want to be alone. With Liz Gilbert (who’s already annoying me, but I am learning things in-between), and with my thoughts and meditations. With myself.

I look in the rear view mirror, and I see his shoulders slump, and I think—fuck it. I can make one human being’s life easier today.

And I don’t actually have to make mine harder.

He runs to the truck. And looks startled when he opens the door. It’s interesting: I hear the thought as sharply as if he had spoken it, “Lady, you should not be picking up hitchhikers.”

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“Calgary,” he says.

I nod.

“I have a request,” I tell him. “I’m happy to give you a ride all the way to Calgary. But I don’t want to talk. About anything. Not where you’re from or where you’re going or the weather. Nothing. I’m going to be listening to these podcasts the whole ride and thinking and occasionally murmuring to myself. From you, I would like silence.”

“Works for me,” he says.

And we go.

IX.

Ferrying six teenage boys around Kelowna, from beach to park to waterfall to beach, one becomes hyper-aware how precious silence is. Ditto–living with three children, in a community full of children, in which gangs of seven-year-old boys alternate places with gangs of preteen-oh-no-they’re-teenagers-now! girls in my living room.

Their noise—especially when happy—is precious too.

But silence—fuck, silence is a gift from god.

The hitchhiker does not say a word for five hours.

Our ride is a prayer.

X.

Elizabeth Gilbert and her guests share a lot of insightful things in Magic Lessons. Although—did I tell you, I find Liz annoying? It’s because she’s… so fucking perky.

I guess that’s why I didn’t like Eat Pray Love, either.

I’m not perky.

But every once in a while, despite being annoyed by Gilbert’s perkiness, I do… perk up.

It’s a nice feeling.

interruptions

(this, by the way, is the point in the composition at which I was thrown off by life. Ender was hungry. Flora needed a hug. A bookstore owner pinged me in a panic, and I had to run to the print shop and then the post office. In-between there was also lunch, four attempts to set up interviews, and a phone call from the dentist. But, there was also a nap and meditation (interrupted by the phone call from the dentist). Still. With all of that, I am having a hard time picking up the thread. Platitudes. Time. Silence. Perky.

Busy.

Time

Today is the first day… Yes. Right there.)

XI.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

On Sunday, I shared five silent hours of my life with a stranger.

Grateful.

I came home to joy and hugs… and then was promptly abandoned by the children who “We missed you so much, Mommy!” but who wanted, in the moment, to be with their friends more.

I took the opportunity to fold into Sean’s arms, and he took the opportunity to take me down to the bedroom and take off my clothes.

Ender knocked on the bedroom door about three seconds post climax.

“What do you need, dude?”

“I need to hug Mommy!”

Grateful.

Also… you know. Other things.

I am not sure my mountain meditation to the soundtrack of Elizabeth Gilbert and the silence of my traveling companion solved anything for me. Or gave me clarity. Penetrating insight.

But I wasn’t really looking for that, anyway.

I was looking for… time.

And time… I got.

All the time in the world.

xoxo

“Jane”

Metamorphosis

Today, my eldest child turns 15. Do you remember 15?

I do, so clearly, harshly.

I hope it is kinder to him than it was to me—I hope he flourishes and flies this year instead of suffering. But I know he will suffer, at least a little, no matter what I do or say, no matter how much I try to protect him.

‘Tis that stage, that age. Metamorphosis into adulthood is intense and dramatic—it involves suffering. Perhaps if it doesn’t, the result is arrested development…

I worry… did you ever, by the way, realize mothering, parenting would be 90 per cent worrying? I worry. Of course, I worry. I worry about what life will throw at him and whether I’ve given him sufficient tools to deal with it. I worry… about everything, really.

I worry most about—forgetting. The tool that has helped me the most along this parenting journey is my clear—harsh—memory of what it was like to be six. Then eight, 12, 16. I don’t remember pre-six very well, but I have a younger brother, and I remember him, vividly, from age three.

Remembering myself as a child—remembering my thoughts, feelings, frustrations, joys—has helped me to be a better parent: to see my children as they are at that age, as they must be at that age, and not want them to be… well, you know. Miniature adults, or, worse, two-dimensional limited (idealized) models from a television screen or a Hollywood script.

I hope I don’t suddenly lose that. It seems so many of us do—forget. Forget what it was like, felt like to be a child. A teenager—child no more, not quite adult. I worry—I hope—I can’t forget what I was like at that age just as my son most needs me to remember what the transformation of adolescence does to a human.

Caterpillars and butterflies do it better. Impenetrable chrysalis. External stasis. Inside: complete and total metamorphosis, transformation, reduction of what as a caterpillar into a liquid DNA soup from which the miracle of the butterfly is created.

(I’ve told you before, have I not, my love, that the caterpillar-becoming-a-butterfly is the reason I don’t need to believe in god to know the universe is divine?)

Maybe I will think of adolescence as a butterfly’s chrysalis, a moth’s cocoon—nature’s armour, protecting the magic that happens inside.

Metaphors… help.

In a human, the magic doesn’t happen just inside though. And this is both hard—and wonderful. I do love this: how sometimes, it is the child who walks into the room—then starts to talk and I get a glimpse of the man—then the toddler suddenly surfaces, a regression that comes complete with a two-year-old’s facial expressions and desires. Then the man returns… disappears…

I love it. I fear it. It is necessary, inevitable. I bow before its force.

Happiest of birthdays. First born. First loved. First caterpillar… first butterfly.

Fly.

xoxo

“Jane”

Dreams, dentists, doorways, and demonic sounds at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning

I.

The dream is ridiculous. I’m walking through a forest with Ender and Flora—Cinder is around, but on the periphery of my dream and my awareness—and I can smell the moistness, freshness, aliveness of the air, and all is good, when suddenly—the whirr of a lawnmower. Not just any lawnmower—a power ride-on mower. You know, the kind of must feel like riding an ATV or something?

I hear it… and then I know IT IS COMING RIGHT FOR US.

And there it is. Possessed, like Christine.

We run.

For reasons that seem ridiculous to me even in the dream, we run on a large, clear, paved path that cuts through the forest. “We’ve got to get into the trees!” I tell the kids and try to pull them off the path. “But it’s easier to run on the asphalt!” whines Flora.

The lawn mower whirrs louder, comes closer.

They finally let me drag them into the woods… and then… we see the world’s largest anthill. It’s not an anthill—it’s an ant-Metropolis. Hills and hills and hills of pine needles. Becoming mounds that are larger than us—larger than the trees.

So of course that’s where we hide.

We crouch down in an enclave between the hills. And, we stay safe and hidden as the lawn mower powers past us.

The ants don’t bite.

Sitting in the curve of the anthill, I am aware I am dreaming. I am aware that hiding from a possessed lawnmower in a giant anthill in the middle of a forest through which cuts a perfectly straight paved path is kind of… ridiculous.

I wake up to the sound of a gas-powered leaf blower in the alley.

At least one mystery, explained.

II.

We have health benefits again, and so—everyone gets to go to the dentist. We are… well, happy’s not the right word. Resigned? We know we gotta.

I schedule all the kids’ cleanings simultaneously, so that the dentist kills only one of our precious spring afternoons.

Cinder: Ugh. I hate the dentist. And you know what I hate the most? The lecture. “You need to brush more. You need to floss better. Blah blah blah.”

Flora is quick to agree.

Flora: I think of myself as a pretty truthful person. But that all goes out the window as soon as I go to the dentist. “Yes, I brush six times a day. Yes, I floss after every meal. Sometimes in-between, just for fun. No, I never ever eat candy or drink pop.”

I laugh.

Ender curls into a fetal ball and cries and refuses to get into the car. I want to curl up into a fetal ball and cry with him. Instead, I cajole.

We go.

We survive.

When we get home, Flora unloads 17 packets of floss from her pockets.

Jane: What the hell?

Flora: See? It starts with a lie. I lie to the dental hygienist, and then I steal the floss. When I become a criminal mastermind, you will know it’s all the dentist’s fault.

I laugh. Although I also kind of want to curl up into a fetal ball and cry.

I hate going to the dentist.

III.

In something I’m writing, there is this phrase… “as I walk into the door.” It takes me about ten minutes of staring at it to realize that should be “as I walk through the door.”

Then I spend twenty minutes pondering if what I meant was “as I walk into the door”… what was I thinking? Was the door closed? Did I smack my face into it? Is that what walking into a door means? “I walk in a door.” “I walk into a door.” “I walk through a door.”

Flora: It’s supposed to me “I walk through the door.”

Jane: You sure?

Flora: Yup.

I think she’s right. Except that I feel as though I walked into the door. My entire face hurts.

Why?

Oh. Dentist.

IV.

I suppose being a responsible adult involves going to the dentist regularly regardless of how little you like it.

But you know… being an adult also involves deciding that you’re not going to be treated like a helpless child when you sit down in that chair.

Dental hygienist: So, do you have any concerns?

Jane: Yes. I’ve been able to vote for more than two decades now. I have three children and an assortment of degrees. I’m, generally speaking, a competent and accomplished person. And I am never, ever, ever going to get any better at my dental hygiene. I will not brush my back teeth more thoroughly. I will not master whatever up-down-circular-left right thing you want to show me this year. I will not floss more regularly or more aggressively. I will do what I’ve always done, and I’ll come back here next time with the same load of plaque and tartar on my teeth. And what I want you to do is clean it off without lecturing me or talking to me as if I’m a simple-minded idiot who doesn’t know how to use a toothbrush. Are we cool with that?

Dental hygienist: …

Jane: You can talk. I just don’t want to be told that I’m brushing my teeth wrong. K?

Dental hygienist: K.

K.

Except for the part where she cried, that went pretty well.

V.

The worst part of going to the dentist—even worse than the lecture and the nurturing of one’s inner liar (“Yes, I floss after every meal!”)—is the sounds.

The drill. The polishing toothbrush. All of it. Awful.

My soon-to-be-made fortune to the person who invents silent dental tools.

Seriously. How hard can that be? Get on it. You WILL make a fortune, even if I don’t.

And after you do that—the silent lawnmower and the silent leaf blower.

In the meantime… if you own a not-so-silent one and live in my neighbourhood? Could you please, please, please NOT operate it at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning?

Please and thank you.

xoxo,

“Jane”

Alternative facts, subjective truth & the emergence of reality deniers

I.

True story:

A Facebook acquaintance shares a link accusing the government of doing something “immoral and corrupt.” It’s a link from one of those sites. You know? Not an actual news outlet, but PeopleAgainstTruthAndRationalThinking.com (btw, that URL is available if you’d like to claim it, you’re welcome). Someone calls her on it—says, um, “The source for this news isn’t real. I don’t think this news is real.” She comments back, “I don’t care. This government is immoral and corrupt and must be stopped.”

I fucking weep.

Truth is no longer just optional, it’s completely unnecessary. Nobody wants to learn, reconsider, reflect. They just want to feed their anger, fuel their demons—find support for what they already think. Facts be damned.

I am purposefully not telling you which level of government, from which region/country, she’s talking about—or which decision—because it doesn’t matter.

Facts don’t matter.

II.

My children devour YouTube vloggers and social memes. I am a killjoy. Deprogram.

“Interesting. What’s the source for that? Is that true or is that his opinion? So is he riffing off actual facts or is he making up shit? Let’s find out.”

“Mom, it’s just funny!”

“But if it’s funny and it’s not true—but it makes people think that it’s true—then… is that right? What do you think?”

Fuck. Has raising critically thinking humans always been this hard, or has the Internet made it exponentially harder?

III.

Not a true story, just my opinion, completely based on anecdotal evidence and unsupported by research or a systematic review of the evidence:

The Internet makes smart people smarter. And it makes dumb people dumber.

Wait. I didn’t mean to say that. Because nobody ever changed anybody’s mind by calling them stupid.

Oh, wait. It doesn’t matter. Nobody actually wants to have their mind changed anymore. Not even smart people.

IV.

Jane: OMFG, the world is ending.

Sean: And this is why we don’t let your Mom watch the news.

Jane: I’m going to bed with Jane Austen. OMFG. Wake me up in two decades. Or after the Apocalypse.

V.

True story:

Ender: My friend said…

Jane: Is it true?

Ender: No! But he said it!

Jane: But is it true?

Ender: He said it!

Jane: But sweetie, you know it isn’t true.

Ender: But he said it!

See?

VI.

So I’m thinking about buying PeopleAgainstTruthAndRationalThinking.com and then setting up a Patreon or crowdfunding campaign to protest or support something or other. Clearly, it doesn’t matter WHAT.

Because facts don’t matter.

Except… of course they do.

They must.

Truth is not optional.

And if the woman who lies for a living tells you that… you KNOW it must be true.

😉

“Jane”

PS I think I coined the term “reality deniers.” D’you think it will take off? Should I trademark it?

A narcissist, a psychopath, and a hypocrite walk into a bar…

I.

Put in a position where I must act either like a social hypocrite or a ruthless bitch without feelings, I don’t even choose the latter—I am the latter because I can’t be the former—and by the way, this convention, this use of latter and former, is so fucking pretentious, I can’t believe I’m using it. Confession: when I encounter it when reading, I always have to scrunch up my forehead, and look carefully—ok, latter refers to… ok, got it… I think… or did I screw it up? Is former before? Former’s before, right? And latter is later? Why didn’t they just say first point, second point? Or parse the sentence differently?

Anyway. My point: I don’t choose to be the ruthless bitch without feelings. I just am one.

Except, of course I’m not. Well. I can be ruthless. But ruthlessness is a characteristic that’s rooted in pretty intense emotions. For me, anyway. And acting ruthless involves looking at the intensity of those emotions… and then cutting a straight ruthless path through them… to the right thing.

The right thing, being, of course, an entirely subjective thing, so let us qualify it as… the right thing for me, the right thing as perceived by me, the important thing in that moment.

The right thing, for short.

II.

Sometimes, I coach Flora on how to do the kind thing instead of the right thing. Because, you know, I want her to do better than me.

Flora: But don’t you think ruthless people are more efficient?

Fucking nailed it, baby. But I don’t think… efficiency… is the thing that’s supposed to make the world go round.

III.

I’m taking lessons in social hypocrisy from a psychopath.

No, seriously. He’s been tested. Not even a borderline psychopath. We’re talking, off-the-charts scores. But, he had a really good mother, who taught him how to… fake it.

Except he doesn’t call it that. He calls it analyzing a social situation and acting appropriately.

Jane: Ok, for the last time, I don’t have that gene.

Psychopath: Neither do I. It’s a socially learned behaviour. Let’s try again.

The lessons are not going well. I think, at least in part… because I’m proud of my INability to engage in that type of behaviour. You know?

Although I do know… white lies make the world go round.

IV.

Ender has that gene. In spades.

Cinder: He’s lying!

Ender: I’m not!

He is… except in his head, he’s just saying the thing everyone wants to hear. Well, not everyone. His parents.

Cinder: Stinking little liar!

Jane: He’s not lying, sweetie, he’s just…

What? Protecting himself? Protecting me. Something like that. It’s not a bad thing, you know. As someone who doesn’t have that ability, I do appreciate it in others.

V.

Except when I don’t.

Jane: And for fuck’s sake, next time? Just tell me—‘I don’t want to—I just really need to be alone.’ Don’t come up with excuses. False excuses have no place between friends.

Her: You’re telling me you wouldn’t have been mad if I had told you the real reason?

Jane: I would have been fucking livid. For five minutes. Then I would have moved on.

Her: You are very scary when you are livid.

Truth.

Jane: I would have been livid in the privacy of my head.

Her: …

Jane: I would have tried to be livid in the privacy of my head.

Her: …

Jane: Ok, I would have probably freaked out at you. For five minutes. Then I would have moved on, and apologized.

Her: …

Jane: What? I am really good at apologizing.

I’m just not that good at social lying.

Which is actually hilarious, because I’m really good at story telling. And you’d think the two would be related.

But they’re not.

VI.

Something else that’s ironic: the psychopath occasionally calls me a hypocrite.

Jane: What the hell? Seriously?

Psychopath: You have completely different expectations of other people than you have of yourself.

Jane: That’s not hypocrisy. That’s common sense. I’m not like other people, so of course I have different expectations of myself.

Psychopath: You might also be a narcissist.

Note to self: when a psychopath calls you a narcissist, it’s even odds whether he’s being casually analytical or coolly manipulative.

In either case, there’s only one right response.

Psychopath: OMFG, why are you crying?

Jane: Because you upset me!

See? I am not a ruthless bitch without feelings.

Just… ruthless.

xoxo

“Jane”

You: WTF?

Jane: I’m experimenting and practicing.

You: What? Incomprehensibility?

Jane: …

You: OMFG, why are you crying?

Jane: Because you just don’t understand me!

;P

PS New here? Catch up on the first three series of Postcards from Cuba. Or just browse.

Buddhists make bad artists or is it the other way around?

I.

Feeling out of sorts yet knowing what he should do, he texts me, partly to whine, partly to ask for advice he won’t take.

“I don’t do that anymore,” I tell him, and as I type the words, I decide it’s true. No more advice, gentle or forceful. No more suggestions. No more answers to questions either explicit or manifestly implied. Figure it out on your own.

Also, no more listening to anyone’s whining.

I make that explicit, too.

“In a mood?” he asks.

“Yes. And I like it. I hope it stays permanent.”

We end up talking about religions, gods, and faith—or lack thereof—will, mindfulness, and discipline—or lack thereof—and the relationship between art and suffering, also the connections between inner discipline, the ability to exist in a place of discomfort, and sex and its permutations.

Much better than him whining and me offering solutions and advice he doesn’t really want, won’t implement.

“So what happened?” he asks after a while. “Advice given gone horribly wrong?”

I’d tell you I shrugged, except we were texting, so, well, I couldn’t.

“I’m in a mood,” I say. Tell him a little more and we return to bigger, more interesting topics.

I won’t tell you what I told him about my mood because A. it’s a boring story and B. I’m done telling it now. Its summary and my take-away is that you can’t save people. I used to have a caveat on that—you can’t save people if they’re not willing to save themselves, but now I’ve struck it. You can’t save people. They have to save themselves.

The only help you (I) can offer… I suppose, really, it’s your (my) presence. I’ve quoted Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mantras of Loving Speech at you before, right? This is the most important one:

I’m here for you.

Except when I realize even that doesn’t help you—and it actually harms me—and then, I’m not.

I’m a terrible Buddhist.

It’s ok. I’m not trying to be a good one, or even an indifferent one.

“You’re a pagan,” he says.

I shake my head. (Well, we’re texting, so I actually write, “No, I don’t think so.”)

“I’m an artist,” I say.

Last week, I purposefully did not write about selfishness versus self-care (and, more importantly, versus self-actualization).

Today I will tell you this: a certain amount of selfishness is critical to physical survival and emotional stability… and to making art.

Not too much. An excess of selfishness makes your art meaningless and self-indulgent—unable to reach people, without resonance… and thus pointless.

Not enough selfishness makes your art… non-existent.

I told you, I’m a terrible Buddhist.

But I’m a practicing and producing artist.

II.

I’m still meditating, twice a day, and laying down in savasana most days.

I’m doing it wrong, because instead of infusing me with boundless compassion, it’s giving me cruel clarity.

And also ramping up my productivity… exponentially.

Like, holy fuck.

So… I don’t actually want to do it right, you know?

;P

xoxo

“Jane”

You might want to re-read this: Meditation for writers, “Mom! I need you!” and struggling to stay on that tightrope (but for fuck’s sake, don’t misconstrue it as advice)

Escape from the ashram (an entirely misleading title, but not really)

I.

This was last week:

This was two years ago:

This was seven years ago:

(And fourteen years ago, there was just one of them, and it was all harder, because it was new.)

You send me this:

and we laugh. But then I think… no. No, actually, that’s wrong. For me, anyway. See, without the children, I wouldn’t have written any of the work that really matters to me—the books, the best blog posts, the articles that captured the tension inherent in all aspects of business and life (especially for women, especially for mothers).

More—before children, I did not know how to love. I did not understand what suffering really was.

There’s a quote I’ve intermittently encountered (I haven’t been able to track it back to its source, my apologies) along the nasty lines that for a woman writer, every child is a lost book. It has always made me bridle, and today, I would like to officially say to that originator of the quote and everyone who has since repeated it, as an excuse it keep herself silent: So. Fucking. Wrong.

I do get why they say it, you know. Why they might even believe it. We live in a culture that hasn’t figured out how to value women, motherhood, or creativity—International Women’s Day, the still-enduring lip-service to the Victorian Cult of Motherhood, and adoration of WEALTHY and FAMOUS musicians, painters, and authors notwithstanding. Being a woman-mother-creator is much more difficult in a patriarchy (we’re still one) than being a man-father-creator. Our burden is bigger. And, we’re not supposed to—we’re terrified of being—selfish.

II.

Ender is playing a Lego.com video game on Sean’s laptop at the kitchen table while I sit beside him and work on mine. Flora comes in, to the soundtrack of a Harry Potter audio book. Groggy-eyed, she asks for a kiss and French toast; I ask for fifteen more minutes.

When Cinder trundles down the stairs before noon—well, probably after—I will thank him for doing the dishes before going to bed at 3 a.m. And stand on my tiptoes to kiss his chin, because I can no longer reach his forehead unless he stoops.

And then I will tell him I’ve found a way for him to earn the $50 that’s his heart desire right now.

III.

I don’t actually want to write about the difference between selfishness and self-care (and, more importantly, self-actualization). A. Everyone else is doing it and B. It’s not a paradigm I’m going to shift in that particular way (I have another plan, but it’s a secret, sssshhhh). Instead, I want to tell you how important it is for me that my work be rooted in this messy, crazy, unpredictable, demanding FULL life. In this kitchen. In this family. In this community that throws an extra obligation at me just as I need to hit a critical deadline. In… reality.

Not in an ivory tower or the isolation of a writer’s retreat or an ashram.

Instead: in this child’s need to crawl into my lap at the precise moment that I need both hands to type and all my faculties focused on what it is I am trying to put into words.

Jane: Ender, I love you, but get out of my lap.

Ender: I love you more, and I need Mommy cuddles now.

On some level, I have been fighting this for the past three years. It was three—three-and-a-half, coming up on four!—years ago that I realized the nature of my work had to change. Before, it was enough to me that I was writing for a living. How lucky was I? Writing for a living, and able to be the primary caregiver for my children. Supporting my family, fulfilling my need to be a writer, and being the mother I needed, wanted to be. What more did I need?

Well, as it turns out… there was some stuff… but that’s probably a novel in itself, or even a hefty self-help book (that one of you can write; as I’ve said, I have other plans).

During that transitional time, I spent a lot of time dreaming of month-long writers’ retreats and week-long conferences and government-funded residencies… I substituted them with occasional weekends alone in hotel rooms (or friends’ apartments) and self-created 12-hour writing marathons in cafes and sheesha lounges. I was chasing “the time and space” to really do my work, to give to it the attention and care it deserved—to give it the sort of focused attention I like to give my family… without, of course, short-changing my family…

…but there was only so much time to go around, right?

And so… a fight…

In the last few weeks, something has shifted.

I have long been able to see the value in this tension between the demands of my kids and the demands of my work. Before 2013, though, the demands of my work were mostly externally created. You know? Editor. Client. Magazine deadline. For the past three years—they have been increasingly, and now almost completely, internal. The drive to create, to make, to write this stuff—it’s all mine. It’s nobody else’s fault, demand, responsibility. I want to—I need to do this.

And now I see the tension between my desires and my life’s demands is not just valuable—it’s also critical. Necessary. Essential—it’s who I am, it’s the reason I write what I write.

And what I want to do going forward is not to alleviate this tension, but to continue to grow how my work comes from my life—how I perform it in the middle of life.

Now—this does not mean that I will not make focused time and space for it. I need that 12-hour marathon at least twice a month. That occasional weekend away is part of an equation that then lets me work in hour-long, 15-minute increments the rest of the time. And the week-long writers’ conference—it’s a gift I will continue to give myself whenever I can.

But it’s what I do on the ordinary days, full of mess and chaos and conflicting demands and dentists’ appointments and children fighting and supper burning and “fuck, we’re out of groceries again, am I a bad mother if they eat cereal for supper? Wait—they can’t even do that, because there is no milk” that determines what I make, how I create it… why I write it… and who I am.

This is a good feeling.

I hope it lasts.

III.

This is today:

xoxo

“Jane”

PS This is a disclaimer to mothers of babies and toddlers: My children are aged fourteen, twelve, and seven. They can get their own breakfast. And lunch. The elder two routinely make supper. Everyone’s old enough to do their own laundry, run a vacuum cleaner, take out the garbage and the recycling. There are no little people sucking on my nipples or needing me to change their poopy diapers. The amount of time that I have to give to my work now compared with what I had seven years ago is exponentially bigger.

Like… I can’t even express how much bigger. When they were little, real work only occurred when another adult could tend to their needs, or when they were asleep.

And they so very rarely all slept at the same time.

But all that time—it was like compost, fertilizer, seeds. This time, this current place of—I don’t even know how to express where I am, because it’s not a place of tranquility at all… it’s a place of explosive creativity and drive and celebration of tension, it is so many things, but tranquil, yeah, not so much—this current place-space I’m in has been created by journeying through the demands and exhaustion and challenges of the baby years and the toddler years and all those “I thought it was supposed to get easier, when the fuck is that going to happen” years.

I am still, to be honest, not sure that it gets easier. Parenting, I mean. It’s gets… different. And we get… better (or, in some cases, worse, but that’s also another story).

PS2 POSTCARDS IN CUBA, the final leg, you won’t get to see until the fall or so. Because this final leg of the postcards is very, very different… and I want to deliver it properly. And that takes time. This, incidentally, another shift: I have all the time I need—and I refuse to give myself Internet/social-media induced FOMO/YOLO/DO IT RIGHT NOW! psychosis.

Because… priorities, baby.

PS3 Sometimes, I think Maria Popova and I share a brain: Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence 

Figuratively dying, literally screaming, kinda lecturing

I.

On Monday, I do savasana the proper way.*

It is so fucking boring, I almost die.

Like, literally.

My heartbeat and breath rate slow down to nada.

Also, figuratively.

I am so bored, I think, this is what death must feel like.

(Hey, was that a moment of enlightenment?)

And then I think, fuck, if this is death, then I definitely want to live. FOREVER.

Jane: If you tell me again I’m not doing yoga and meditation right, I’m going to stop talking to you. FOREVER.

Sean: There is no right or wrong. But there is weird.

Well. I don’t mind being weird. But I hate being wrong.

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II.

Flora and I are burning hydrocarbons (sitting in a non-moving but engine-running truck) and listening to Hedley.

Flora: Do you know that this is the censored version? That it’s really supposed to be ‘Fuck that,’ not ‘Forget that’?

Jane: Yup.

Flora: So everyone knows.

Jane: Yup.

Flora: Censorship is so stupid.

Yup. Except…

I’m about to contradict myself. Take a deep breath… inhale through your nose… hold it… exhale in four snotty snorts…

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III.

Racism is stupid.

Sexism is stupid.

Being an ignorant asswipe is stupid.

You know what else is stupid?

Telling people they’re stupid.

Jane: See, nobody ever changed anybody else’s mind by saying, ‘You’re wrong. No, you’re not just wrong, you’re FUCKING STUPID.’

Flora: But some things are just wrong.

Jane: Yes.

Flora: So we’re not supposed to say that they’re wrong?

Jane: No, we can’t ever, ever fall silent, but…**

Why is this so difficult to explain?

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IV.

In my newsfeed: all the same things that are in yours. Including an exhortation that sanity lies in surrounding yourself with ‘like-minded people.’

So, um. No.

You: Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is stupid?

Jane: No. But it’s too easy. In fact… it’s cowardly. And it’s not going to change the world, and it’s not where sanity lies.

Do you know where sanity lies?

Sanity lies in not demonizing the Other. And the only way to not demonize the Other is to get to know the Other… and make the Other know you.

I’m not suggesting you love the fucking racists, sexists, homophobes, and assholes.

(BTW, autocorrect changes homophobes to homophones, and I do suggest you love homophones, cause homophones are cool.)

I am suggesting you… like, make them know you. You know? And that means stepping out of your safe bubble of like-minded people. Keep your bubble as your sanctuary and safe place, by all means. But fuck. Look around you. Right-wing or left-wing, liberal or conservative, if everyone in your life is JUST LIKE YOU… you’re part of the problem.

We’re all part of the problem.

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V.

Laying in savasana today I decide yoga and meditation are part of the problem too. A form of escapism slightly more palatable than substance addiction.

Sean: Ok, you really are not doing yoga right.

Jane: I don’t think anybody is doing yoga right, actually. That’s the problem.

So judgemental. I’m trying to find some compassion. It’s hard.

VI.

Jane: So see, I think what we need to do is sit down with the racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and all the other “What the fuck is wrong you”-obes, and…

Flora: Say “What the fuck is wrong with you?” to their faces?

I’m so fucking this up.

Why is this so hard?

Jane: No. I think we just have to say, “Hey. I’m… me. I’m real. Hey. Look at me. I’m a person. I’m a human. I’m a child-parent-worker. I eat. I breathe. In all the essentials, I’m just like you. You’re just like me. I’m looking at you, and I’m trying to see you as real. And I want you to look at me and see me as real.” Do you see? Because it’s  much easier to hate an abstract idea… than a real person…

Flora: And who did the shooter in Quebec City hate? Abstract ideas… or the Muslims he shot?

Why is this so hard?

VII.

Tomorrow, I’m going to lie in savasana properly. As a form of escapism.

And listen to Hedley:

And probably be part of the problem. Because the only way towards a solution I see is so hard. So hard.

I don’t know if I can do it.

And if I can’t do it… the Others won’t, will they? Why should they?

😦

“Jane”

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Photos from Project: Beautiful Things All Around Me 

* How I usually do savasana: American hell, the corpse pose & a murder in a yoga studio

** From Brainpickings: An Anthem Against Silence: Amanda Palmer Reads Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Piercing and Prescient 1914 Protest Poem: “To sin by silence, when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”

American hell, the corpse pose & a murder in a yoga studio

I.

For a family of atheists, we spend a great deal of time discussing hell. I guess mostly as a rhetorical or literary device, a metaphor. But still.

So what happened is they said something and I said something and they said something, and then:

Jane: And that, children, is why you’re all going to American hell.

Flora: Wait—there’s an American hell? How is it different from regular hell?

Jane: It’s like regular hell, except the US flag is burning and Donald Trump is president.

Flora: Isn’t that real America?

Jane: Right. I still keep on hoping it’s all a very bad, bad dream.

Flora: So what’s Canadian hell like?

Cinder: Oh, it’s very chill. You get to go to heaven as soon as you say, ‘I’m sorry.’

Flora: What?

Cinder: Yeah, Canadian hell is reserved only for the people who don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ when they accidentally bump into someone. But once you’re in hell, as soon as you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you get to go to Canadian heaven.

Flora: Cool.

Cinder: Not really. I mean, if you think Canadian hell is boring, imagine Canadian heaven.

I think the awful moral of that story might be that evil is… interesting.

Disturbed?

Me too.

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II.

My least favourite part about EVERY yoga/meditation book I have ever read (which, ok, is a grand sample of… three or four. But still):

“While you can meditate anywhere, it is best to create a dedicated space for your practice…”

…followed by instructions on what to put in your beautiful ‘dedicated’ room after you first unclutter it (and then, I suppose, go shopping for all the sustainable-organic-fair-traded crap that should go on your mindfulness altar).

(Wow, I’m a judgemental bitch. I guess I need to meditate more.)

As I read these privileged pronouncements in the kitchen-that-doubles-as-dining-room-triples-as-office-and-is-also-a-pantry, and then pop into the living-room-that-is-also-the-playroom-computer-room-school-room-library-arts-and-crafts-cupboard, then navigate the stairway landing that is also the linen cupboard—and this is all before I go into the hallway-that-is-the walk-in-closet-that-morphs-into-my-writing-space, I don’t feel an awful lot of compassion and connection to these overly privileged Omming people who are solving their life’s problems by sitting on a designer meditation cushion ($425 on sale at Macy’s) on a newly installed hardware floor (tatami mats are nice too) in an empty room in their 5000 square foot weekend beach house.

(So. Judgemental.)

(Rich, privileged people deserve compassion too.)

(Really.)

(But, fuck, sweetheart. It’s really hard to feel your pain and suffering when the amount of money you saved refurbishing your kitchen exceeds my entire annual income.)

(Yes, fine, so fucking judgemental. I’m taking my judgemental, compassionless ass to another yoga class. Sigh. Coming?)

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III.

So I’m laying in savasana—the so-called corpse pose—at the end of my “I’m a little worried it’s a cult because they’re all dressed in white and the teachers wear fucking turbans!” Kundalini yoga class (I’m doing yoga in January instead of writing, which was probably a TERRIBLE idea but more on that anon)—and the teacher is giving us a gong bath (don’t ask), and I’ve got to tell you, I love savasana. The first time I lay in savasana, I came up with a brilliant three paragraph pitch and completely refined AND managed to hold it in my head all the way home until I got to the computer. The third time, I rehearsed in some detail how I was going to break someone’s heart (not real) and then realized I was going to have to break someone’s very real heart and that sucked, but I was okay with that, and while not quite sure whether it was okay to use the script from the not-real heartbreak in the real heartbreaking, I had a definite script for both.

The fifth time I had the best-ever nap and…

Sean: I’m pretty sure you’re doing savasana wrong.

Jane: Baby, I get to lay still with no one asking me for shit for 5, 10, 20 solid minutes? I am not wasting that time NOT thinking.

…after I woke up, I really wanted to write you a long, detailed letter about my bizarre dream, but that, I did not manage to hold in my head until I got home and to the computer. There was a Phoenix in it, though, and some very bizarre Harry Potter-imprinting. Also, at one point, you were the Phoenix, and you very badly wanted some ice cream. Raspberry cardamom ice cream.

(Actually, I don’t know about that. The raspberry cardamom ice cream, I mean. I had some raspberry cardamom ice cream yesterday, and I thought about you as I ate it, so I have now retroactively put it into the dream. Which reminds me, another time that I lay in savasana, I was thinking about retrocausality and how what we do in the present and want from the future actually changes the past, and… but that’s another story. Where was I going with this one?)

(You: You were laying in savasana

Jane: Right. Thank you!)

So I’m laying in savasana and the teacher is giving us a gong bath (ok, fine, since you’ve asked again, what’s happening is she’s beating the gong and it’s causing these fantastic reverberations that are supposed to quiet—stun?—your mind and thrust you deeper and deeper into relaxation and connection-communion with your true self—I’m paraphrasing—but for the record, I did choose the most cult-like yoga class I could possibly find, why the fuck did I do that?) and I’m laying there and I suddenly get this great idea for a murder mystery set in a yoga studio.

The murder itself, of course, takes place during savasana.

I think the murder has to be the teacher.

But… oh…. yes!

I can’t wait to get home to tell the kids.

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IV.

Jane: So what do you think?

Flora: Ok, let me recap. Everyone is laying on the floor in corpse pose with their eyes closed. And this loud music…

Jane: Gong.

Flora: …this gong is going the whole time. And so the murderer gets up, and kills the victim, and then gets back into corpse pose.

Jane: Exactly.

Flora: And no one sees or hears what happens—because they were all laying there with their eyes closed, and because of the gong.

Jane: Exactly.

Flora: But the teacher is beating the gong the whole time.

Jane: Or is she?

Flora: What?

Jane: Ok, two options. One, the teacher is innocent, and she’s so focused on banging the gong that she doesn’t notice what happens. We could even have her with her back to the class. Or beating it with her eyes closed too. Or—the music is played off an iPad or something and the teacher lies down and does the savasana with all the students.

Flora: Or, two, the students think the teacher is beating the gong, but she’s actually playing a track off iTunes, and she murders the victim while everyone else thinks she’s beating the gong.

Jane: Exactly.

Flora: Too obvious.

Cinder: Are you going to put a police officer in the yoga class?

Ender: The police officer should be the victim.

Flora: No, the police officer should be the yoga teacher.

Jane: Oh, can you imagine how pissed… he? she?

Flora: He.

Jane: he is? Police officer. AND yoga teacher—all in tune and aware of people’s auras and intentions and energies—and one of his students kills another right behind his back.

This is the point in the conversation at which Sean joins us. And shakes his head.

Jane: Don’t tell me I’m not doing savasana properly.

Sean: I won’t. Just… when you go back to yoga tomorrow? Please remember you IMAGINED all this, and your yoga instructor is neither a murderer nor a police officer…

Jane: She’s… he’s the victim, the victim—the yoga instructor-police officer is the victim! And, on that day, his… partner? Or assistant? is in the class for the first time, and they’re both the crime solver, primary witness, and most likely culprit, and…

I wish I wrote murder mysteries. That one would fucking rock.

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V.

The next time I lay in savasana, I write this post.

But I’m still not writing. Still not writing. This doesn’t count, this never counts.

Why is that?

Hmmm.

VI.

Somewhere, in the space between American hell and Canadian heaven, there is…

Flora: Limbo?

Cinder: Purgatory?

…ordinary, everyday life.

Ommmm.

To end this post, lay down in corpse pose and treat yourself to a gong bath:

xoxo

“Jane”