Pandemic Diary, the Collection from Nothing By the Book

I am, of course, blogging the pandemic. What else would I be doing?

Below is a collection of my Pandemic Diary posts, from March 17, 2020 onward. I’d say, “Enjoy,” but they’re not really fun. Yet? Maybe eventually, I’ll get funny again? One can hope.

In the meantime: I’m documenting. You’re welcome. 😉 xo

The Year of Hell, with the Good Bits, too (2019 Collection)

Life’s real troubles are rarely about a boy, but “survive” was definitely our family theme for 2019. We did, and we will even danced a little.

But it was an awful, awful year.

Game face on

Happy birthday (the war’s not over)

Suffering, loving, living… home

She danced, who is she?

Some words of wisdom from the House of Snot & Vomit

All the good things in the year from hell, or, conscious loving

I believe I can fly

“I’m crushing your head!”

Work, heroin, and a heroine named Clementine

Jane does Disney like this: no mouse, no rides, a hell of a lot of angst

But you don’t understand–I really am feeling stupid, or Arguing with the therapist and non-problem solving strategies

Deep Texting Conversation with My Teenager

So, yeah, I met Julia Cameron (in the flesh!): The power of story, dialectics and the creation of god

Heaven Hangover, or, thoroughly non-journalistic reflections on the Investigative Journalism Intensive, Banff Centre 2019

Manufactured Memories, for Suzie

If you want to save the world, fund libraries, use libraries, love libraries

Two in high school, one at home equals… I don’t know, I’m really bad at math

Confessions of an unreformable plant killer

Finding Water, grateful for Julia Cameron, kinda whiny anyway

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

“You are amazing”—you are partly right

Her story, my story, our story

This is a happy moment

Halfway to 90: on flying, smashing the patriarchy, and other dreams (May 21, 2019)

We “celebrate” mothers but we neither value nor support them: if you’re not gonna walk the talk, take your hallmark holiday and shove it (May 12, 2019)

Kick like a girl (April 28, 2019)

Because laughing is good, even when it’s hysterical (March 30, 2019)

Privilege, burnt quesadillas, and betrayal (January 27, 2019)

Anger as Fuel: Latin History For Morons, Microaggression Defined, Calgary Artist Eman Elkadri’s Social Justice Art #raceissues (January 12, 2019)

 

52 Weeks Project (2018 Blog Post Index)

For 2018, I had set myself the goal of returning to regular–religiously weekly, actually–blogging. The only “rule” was that I had to post once a week. Otherwise, I was free to navel-gaze, freefall, freestyle, and freeform and be relatively incoherent.

The really terrifying thing about this collection? It reads so honest, doesn’t it? It fails to document–notice?–what was really going on in my family, my life, with my daughter.

It is a hard year to revisit. Nonetheless, I expect, some time in the future, I will be glad to have documented it.

Table of Contents for 2018: 52 Weeks Project

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

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

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

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

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

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

one last thing…

Trio on benches at laundry park3

“Mittens?”

We come out of the warm YMCA building, the chlorine scent of the swimming pool still clinging to us. Ender, with the determination only a four-year-old possesses, drags his sled down the stairs. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Slam! It lands on the bottom. He looks over his shoulder. Scowls at me. He’s tired. Hungry. Probably, despite the snowpants, sleeping-bag-jacket, and over-the-face toque, cold, because it’s the coldest, snowiest December YYC has seen in 112 years.

He plops down on the sled in a Buddha pose.

“Mittens?”

I ask, kneeling down beside him.

“No! My hands are NOT cold!”

He’s tired. Hungry. Contrary. It’s at least -15 Celsius.

I shrug. Get up. Start pulling the sled.

It’s a beautiful, clear night. The air feels clean—sparkling—even as it hurts my lungs, bites at my exposed cheeks. I pull the sled on the cleared-of-snow-but-there’s-so-much-of-it-everywhere-I-kind-of-want-a-snowmobile paths. Look at the twinkling lights. The sleeping-bag-parka-engulfed people. Turn my head.

“Mittens?”

“No.”

I shrug. Start walking again, my hands warm in my mittens. I think of what 2013 was, and what 2014 might be. I think of milestones, real and artificial. I think of hope-despair-desire-acceptance-creation-destruction-reconstruction. A plot line emerges from all those thoughts, a fascinating one, and I hear a conversation in my head that sets it up, and I fall in love with it, but it doesn’t really fit into what I want to do, ultimately, with that piece of work, and then my thoughts leap to the unBloggers Manifesto I want to write for Nothing By The Book for January, a polemic that in its current form is not doing quite what I need it to do, and I know it’s because I’m pulling too much into it, going off on too many tangents, and for a piece of writing to work, it needs to be focused, and a polemic piece of writing needs to be brutally so, digressions and tangents only work if you pull them back, at just the right time, to the central idea, the theme… or the chorus…

I turn around.

“Mittens?”

“No. Not cold.”

Mittens Pin

I cross the bridge. The lights are beautiful and almost make me forgive Christmas its existence. And I think about… beauty, definitions of, abstraction of, and that thought takes me to my daughter-who’s-about-to-turn-nine, so beautiful in mind-soul-body that it makes me ache, so full of potential and wonder that it’s that thought, and not the cold air, that stops the breath in my throat for a second… and I think about all the ways that I think fail her as a mother, all the ways that I am not what she needs, and tears swirl in my eyes—but maybe I am what she needs? And, really, what a silly question, because I am what she has and she is what I must learn—and, tears still dancing in the corners of my eyes, I turn my head…

“Mittens?”

He shakes his head. I never imagined motherhood to be this—so full of such intense joy and such paralyzing pain. So full of summits and valleys. So glorious, so rewarding—so fucking heart-wrenching. And that thought takes me to twelve different places at once, and I’m not sure how much self-awareness I want to chase in this moment, so I choose to chase the idea that self-awareness, for all the pain it brings, is also a source of power and that takes me to such very, very interesting places…

“Mittens?”

His hands are folded in his lap, and he’s bent over them. Head bopping. Falling asleep. He bops up. Scowls at me.

“Mittens?” I repeat.

“No.”

I walk faster. Over another bridge. Through the steam rising from the cracks in the ice of the river. I look at the water, ice, snow, steam and feel a shot of resentment and fear. I try to see beauty… and not next year’s flood waters. And I grit my teeth and don’t chase that thought. Find another. Oh, this one I like… I smile—my nose runs, because it’s so cold—my mouth opens and I almost stop moving because all I want is that thought and, irreverently and irrelevantly, I also glory in the fact that it came to me in this moment when I am alone… except I am not, because I am MOTHER and I am never alone, even when I am.

I look over my shoulder…

“Mittens?”

“Not! Cold!”

I can’t really run in my boots and on the snow, but I walk as quickly as I can. Home, home. I cannot wait to be home, and not just because it’s cold, and I love that thought, that feeling. I want to get home.

“Mom? My hands are cold.”

I’m about… what? 200 meters away. Maybe less. I kneel down beside the four-year-old. His hands are pulled into the sleeves of his sleeping-bag coat. I blow on his fingers and slip on his mittens. Kiss the tip of his nose.

Do not lecture, and so, enjoy the brief victory of mind over impulse. Pull the sled the last 200 meters home.

I wish I could tell you that the next time we go out in the cold, he says “Yes” the first time I try to put on his mittens. But he won’t.

I wish I could tell you I will never again doubt that I am what my daughter needs or let my thoughts go to all those other unproductive, painful places.

I wish I could tell you that, somewhere between the YMCA and home, I found the answer to EVERYTHING. Because how awesome would that be?

But, I just want to tell you this: You can fight over the mittens. Cajole, badger, plead. Force.

Or you can wait for those little hands to get cold.

And when they do—put on the mittens. Silently. Without the “I told you so’s.” Or too many expectations for the next time.

Fuck, yeah, it’s a metaphor.

Jane

P.S. Happy New Year, beloveds. I am torn what to ask of 2014. In the closing weeks and months of 2013, I rather wanted a less eventful year. But now that it’s here… eventlessness is so boring. And unfulfilling. So, 2014—be eventful. Be FULL. I’ve got plans for you. And you’d better be prepared to rise to the occasion.

P.P.S. “Jane, why are you anthropomorphizing a calendar construct?”
“Because… Metaphors. So useful.”

Coming sometime this month: the unBlogger’s Manifesto. Minus all of its digressions. Or maybe not. Focus is key. But it is digressions that make life and thought interesting…

P.P.P.S. “I love this! I want more!”
“I am so pleased. Connect with Nothing By The Book on Twitter @nothingbythebook, Facebook, and Google+. Or, for a not-in-front-of-the-entire-Internet-please exchange, email  nothingbythebook@gmail.com.”

After the flood: Running on empty and why “So are things back to normal?” is not the right question

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He asks the question with a smile, as a casual opener before we move on to “real” issues, and is shocked and appalled when I burst into tears because, well—I don’t cry.

“Are things back to normal?” he says and immediately wishes he hadn’t said it, and doesn’t know where to go from there. And I’m shocked too—I don’t know where the hell those tears have come from, because I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s just fine.

Except, of course, it’s not.

We had this flood in YYC and Southern Alberta back in June, you may remember (my flagship post about it was unLessons from the flood: We are amazing, and if you want facts, visit the evolving Wikipedia entry  or the Calgary’s Herald’s The Great Flood of 2013 page), that devastated my neighbourhood and so much of our city. An army of citizen volunteers turned out in the tens of thousands to respond to the crisis. It was amazing. It was euphoric. It had us walking on air and out of crisis mode in a couple of intense weeks.

People were asking a week, two weeks after the flood—as soon as the rivers receded, as soon as most of the debris that was our basements, our houses, our possessions, our lives, was taken off the streets and into the dumps—“Are things back to normal?”

And in late July, August, euphoric, proud, we could smile and say, “We’re out of crisis mode.” And maybe talk a little about insurance, and the Disaster Recovery Program, and plans for reconstruction. And laud our mayor’s leadership and bitch out the provincial government and, you know, do all those “normal” things.

I’m not sure when “normal” got harder to fake. Maybe in September, when we’d reconnect with people we hadn’t seen for a few months, and they’d say, “So—did you have a good summer?”

Funny—we are so socially programmed to be inoffensively happy and placating, the autoresponse to that question, which the mouth starts to form before the brain has a moment to reflect, is, “Yes. And you? That flood thing? A minor inconvenience. Moving on. Going to Disneyland!”

I did not have a great summer. We did not have a great summer. And things are not back to normal. What does that mean, anyway?

I look at him as if he can give me the answer, but of course he can’t. And he’s never seen me like this before, or under stress before, but he’s spend the summer ripping out friends’ basements, and they’re none of them quite “normal” right now either. But they’re not talking about it. “We’re fine, everything’s fine.” So what’s going on? What’s up with us, what’s tearing us up, as we move into month five after the flood?

I struggle to put it into words.

The obvious answer is that reconstruction is not going well. The rip-outs, it turns out, were the easy part. Putting things back… Well. We’re all at different stages. Sunnyhill’s probably further behind than many others because of our need to rehabilitate all 41 damaged units simultaneously. But I don’t know anyone who was affected who’s totally “done.” Most of us—all of Sunnyhill—have been back home for a long time. But we’re living in reduced, scarred spaces. An eternal mess. That’s hard. I know every time I walk in and out of my front door, every time I see the ripped door casings, the dismantled walls, the hole where my hall closet used to be, my jaw tightens.

So. That kind of sucks. But—really—I’ve been through renovations before. Who hasn’t? We are, I tell him, the mildly inconvenienced. We know this. Bitching and complaining about naked joists, drywall dust and “what the hell did the contractors do now?” seems like such a First World Whine. And that’s the other thing.

We feel bad—guilty—over feeling bad. Because. India. Colorado. Fuck, High River.

That sure doesn’t help.

He refills my glass. He tells me about his friend, whose house is fine but whose rental property was devastated, and how guilty she feels that her own personal loss wasn’t greater. That she was, ultimately, only financially inconvenienced, while her tenants lost—everything.

Stupid, I say.

Human, he counters.

I start crying again. He gives me his napkin to wipe away tears, snot. I hide my face.

We’re exhausted, I say when I can talk again. I’m the mother of three young children who all went through severe insomniac stages—and I’ve never been this physically exhausted. And it’s not from physical labour, the way it was during the crisis. We were entitled to be exhausted then, right? But now—others are doing the work (or getting paid to do work the results of which we’re not seeing, I snarl, and I laugh, and he does too, because that’s “normal” for me, much more normal than these uncontrolled tears). We’re just doing the everyday stuff—well, a little more, and so much of the everyday stuff is more difficult, but… Not entitled to complain. Not engaged in heavy physical labour. And, frankly, letting a lot of the everyday stuff go. Never did one thing to the flooded garden this year. Cleaning windows? Ha. I barely clean the kitchen. And my kids have never eaten so much take-out, ever. So what are we exhausted from?

Living? he says, gently.

I shake my head.

Frankly—I look at him through the wine glass, and it’s the refraction of light through liquid that blurs his features, not the water still swimming in my eyes—frankly, we’re exhausted from being so fucking positive and amazing. We know we pulled off a miracle. We were awesome. We were strong.

And now we’re really tired, and we’re done—except, of course, we’re not done.

Because things are not back to normal.

But tears aren’t swimming in my eyes anymore and I heave a sigh of relief.

Jesus, that felt good, I tell him. And then—I’m so sorry. We were supposed to talk about…

He interrupts me, waves my apology away. And he tells me—how he’s been struggling. Trying to figure out how to be a good friend to his floodster (we don’t do the victim thing in YYC, and survivor’s a rather dramatic term, don’t you think?) friends post-crisis, and feeling at a loss. And how he needed to hear this as much as I needed to tell it. And how he will never ask anyone in any of the affected Calgary neighbourhoods “Are things back to normal?” ever again.

We laugh. Order dessert. More wine.

In this moment, although things are not back to normal, I’m fine. We’re fine.

Or, at least—you know. Functional.

• 

The writer engages in overt emotional manipulation, both to achieve a level of release and to communicate that which is hard to articulate. My family and friends won’t finish reading this post—they’ll be texting me in a panic before they get to the end of the first paragraph. Chill. Although things are definitely not back to normal—and for the love of any and all of the gods I don’t believe in, do not ask your flooded (or otherwise whacked by life’s events) friends and neighbours if things are back to normal, ok? Just don’t—life is unfolding as it must. And in my own beloved little corner of the flood plain, we are all doing what must be done. And—because we’re a community—we’re helping each other through it. (And possibly drinking too much wine, but. So be it.)

But if you’re on the hills and edges of the flood plains—if you’re on the edges of any life affected by a traumatic event—and you’re struggling to figure out how to help your friends who are clearly post-crisis but equally clearly not-ok, do this:

  • Listen. Don’t tell us how strong, wonderful, amazing, or lucky we are. Just listen. Let us feel bad, sad, frustrated, furious. Tired. We know we’re amazing. We kind of need permission to be… whiney.
  • Connect us to help. If you’re a local reader and you need to help a local floodster, a good starting point is the resource list provided by Alberta Health Services here. But babe, remember how I was telling you during the crisis to see the need and fill it, how saying “How can I help?” isn’t enough when people are in shock? Sending your friend the link or telephone number may not be enough. Walk the line between empathy and obnoxiousness as best as you can, but a “May I call and make an appointment for you?” is likely more helpful than “Here’s a link I thought you’d find helpful” email. For your hard-core entrepreneur friends who don’t want to do stress-relief acupuncture and roll their eyes at sacrocranial therapy etc. etc., the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has some hard-core resources—that include getting connected with counsellors if that’s what you need.
  • Recognize that we’re not as… full, or resilient as we used to be. And so—take less. In a way, take more—we’re not as patient or tolerant as we used to be either. Nor necessarily as rational. Deal with it. And, if you can, look for ways to fill us up. (Preferably not just with wine. Although that sometimes does do wonders.)
  • Invite yourself over. Our scarred houses are difficult to love right now. Sometimes, company is difficult to seek out. But isolation really sucks. Come on over.
  • Invite us over, or out. Our scarred houses are a little oppressive right now, but suck us in with all their demands. Get us out.

For my neighbours, who are awesome, and doing all the things. But who are also exhausted and running on empty, and need to have those feelings acknowledged and respected. (Especially my beloved L. So much love and appreciation for all that you’re doing.)

For my friends, who helped so much, and who are always trying to help. In the most creative, occasionally disturbing, ways. (Yeah, I’m talking about you. I’m not saying it didn’t work… but that was really weird. Still. Thank you.)

And, for myself. Cause I really needed to cry.

Cheers.

photo (13)

“Jane”

Sat., Nov. 2nd P.S. You’re breaking my heart but also feeding my soul with what you’re sending to my in-box. Yes, you are free to share this piece wherever you think it needs to be heard. The private place to cry is nothingbythebook@gmail.com. Much love. J.

The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing. Really

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When my kids were teeny-weeny—but already hairy—my friends and I used to joke that you could always identify the attachment-parented kids at playgrounds and playgrounds by the “AP Hair Style.” That is—unbrushed. Unkempt. Wild.

Now, ya’ might think that’s a granola-hippy-natural kind of thing.

It’s not.

And you might think—goddamn lazy attachment parents, not with it enough to perform the simple task of running a comb through their kids hair in the morning.

Screw you.

Or you might think—if you’re a self-identified AP mama, perhaps—that it’s because… well, it’s not important. And there are more important things. Sleep. Play. Breastfeeding. Perusing the fair-trade-all-wooden-no-plastic toy catalogue. (I’m not making fun of you. OK, I am, a little. But–I’ve had that catalogue too. Chill.)

Nope. It’s actually really important. The not brushing even more so than the brushing.

Ready?

I didn’t brush—don’t brush—my children’s hair when they did not want me to brush their hair—because it’s their hair.

Hold on.

I’m going to shout it.

IT’S THEIR HAIR.

Part of their bodies.

I do not assault it, when they are unwilling, with a hair brush, any more than I would assault, do violence, on any other part of their bodies.

THEIR BODIES.

Their own.

Under their own dominion—not mine.

Their wild, messy hair? Part of the lesson that they’re learning that no one—not me, not nice Mr. Jones down the street, not that creepy dude in the park, and not their first, over-eager boyfriend—has a right to do anything to their bodies that they don’t want them to do.

This is a lesson our children need to learn, repeatedly, while they are close enough to us that they will learn it, hear it.

But we don’t teach it with words. We don’t teach it with scary lectures or with fear.

We teach with how we treat their bodies. From their nose to their toes, and all the parts in-between.

And their hair.

Think about that next time you wield a hair brush.

xoxo

“Jane”

COMMENTS FOR THIS POST ARE NOW TURNED OFF, so we can all have a peaceful weekend. And for those of you continuing the debate on other fora:  a not-so-gentle reminder that name calling is not debating. Criticize the idea. I want you to. No name calling or being nasty to other commentators though, ok? Not cool.

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Other People’s Awesome

For all the parents on the verge of *that* conversation with your daughters (and sons), here is a brilliant Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex piece from the Good Men Project.

For the bloggers in the crowd having social media anxiety and overdose: Joel Comm’s I am leaving social media.

For the bloggers in the crowd who want an easier way to share my stuff and to have me share your stuff, come join me on Triberr, at Ain’t Nothing But a Blog Thing Tribe or, if you’re a homeschooling blogger, at Undogmatic Unschoolers.

My neglected (by me) blogging sisters have been turning out all sorts of awesome these last few weeks. Jean at MamaSchmama wrote a beautiful I can make it home  piece into which she sneaked some lovely introductions to some of her favourite (and mine—she is clearly a woman of immaculate taste) bloggers. Kristi at Finding Ninee wrote what I think is a love letter to her son titled Forgotten Loves  that will a) make you cry and b) make you hug that squirmy love in your live extra-extra-hard—and Rachel at Tao of Poop was clearly on the same page with I Used to Love.

And while I’m tugging at your heart-strings, let me turn you over for a few minutes to Jen at My Skewed View, who delivers a birth story so poignant I’m tearing up as I remember it, and I read it more than a week ago: Eight Years Ago Today.

Jessica at School of Smock wrote a great piece about why pregnancy books now piss her off  and Stephanie at Mommy Is for Real reminded us all why we never eat out anymore. With our children anyway.

And Sarah at Sadder But Wiser Girl was also full of advice last week. She tells you to always check your underwear (and then some… you might need to change your underwear after reading Sarah. Just a word of warning). Jenn at Something Clever 2.0 also made me pee this week. So maybe read this post before changing your underwear…

Deb at Urban Moo Cow made me really, really, REALLY happy I don’t have a toddler anymore. Can I admit that? I can. I’m good with that. I don’t want any more babies, either. EVER.

But I’m super-super-super happy that Stephanie at Where Crazy Meets Exhaustion is glowing. Really. (Note to my most beloved: Vasectomy. Now. No more babies. Ever. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps…)

Last thing: new friends. I’m getting to know these people this week:

Dysfunction Junction

and you should come play with me.

-30-

P.S. Where the hell is your like button? I turned it off. Cause if you really liked it, I want you to tell me. And I don’t really need to ego stroke from the other. xoxo J.

unLessons from the Flood: We are amazing

I didn’t really panic until I hit the first police barricade and was told I couldn’t get into my neighbourhood. The police officer and I eyed each other through my window.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he said.

“I need to go get my husband,” I said.

“And our dog!” Flora piped up.

“We can’t let any more cars into Sunnyside,” he repeated. Then looked at me again. Cut his eyes to the right.

He might as well have said, “But you know the area well, of course.”

I nodded.

Sharp turn right. How many other ways into Sunnyside? The main roads would be blocked off… but, yeah. Residential streets. Roundabouts. Alleys.

Text from Sean:

“Worst case scenario, park on McHugh’s Bluff. I’ll bike up the hill.”

It’s good to have a Plan C.

But Plan B worked: about 12 minutes later, after several not-entirely legal turns—one of them right in front of another police cruiser—I was in my driveway. The sky was blue, although the clouds south of the city were terrifying, and coming closer.

And I was home… and my neighbours were throwing things into their cars… and, yet, none of us really felt a particular sense of urgency, even though we got, at 5:45 p.m., the call to get out of our neighbourhood by 7 p.m.

See, our city’s two rivers, the Elbow and the Bow, get angry every once in a while. We get massive snow melt most years; every few years, they rip our riverbanks. And there was crazy flooding already south and west of the city—but… we were so sanguine. I mean, this is Calgary. One of Canada’s largest cities. Natural disasters don’t happen here.

Still. We’re responsible citizens.

“Are we going to flood?” Flora asked, in tears.

“No,” I said, firmly. “This is a precautionary evacuation. We’re just leaving so that the emergency crews don’t have to worry about us. Chill. Grab some books, your iPad—sleep-over at Grandma’s. No big deal.”

But. Those clouds. Disconcerting.

An hour later, with some clothes, computers, and Sean’s film equipment (our livelihood) in the truck, we were in evacuation traffic. But of course, right? What in a big city emergency doesn’t involve a traffic jam? Especially when you’re evacuating 100,000 people in a city of a million?

Texts from family and friends: “Are you guys high enough? Are you safe? Are you dry?”

Our response: “Evacuating. But safe. No worries.”

That was Thursday, June 20, 2013.

It was, honestly, kind of fun.

Ender’s commentary: “Does the river have a leak? Shouldn’t someone plug it?”

We laughed.

The rain that came down on us as we were navigating evacuation traffic and already flooded bridge and road closures to get to the safety of my parents’ house—providentially on very, very high ground—was a little scary.

But. You know. It was rain.

“Kind of an adventure, hey?” Cinder said. “Holy crap, look at that thunder!”

Kind of fun.

***

It stopped being fun in the morning when we saw what the rivers had done.

Our neighbourhood looked like this:

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… and, by comparison, we got off easy.

If you want your heart torn to pieces, google “High River flood images” and see what the rivers have done to our neighbours in High River.

Not that Calgary was unscathed. The damage was… astounding. Our downtown core—the financial core, the business centre of one of Canada’s largest, richest cities—under water. Paralyzed. Some 100,000 of our people—out of their homes.

The rivers—gone mad. Still flowing, ripping.

It was, we found out, not just the worst flood ever in Canadian history, but the worst natural disaster in Canadian history.

“Well,” I told Sean—who’s from Manitoba, a Canadian province famed for its rampaging waters and regular floods, “when Calgary and Alberta do something, we do it all the way. Even natural disasters. Eat your heart out, Winnipeg! Our flood’s more epic than yours!”

And we laughed hysterically. Because, you know. If you don’t laugh…

We spent the first day after the flood doing what our amazing mayor, Naheed Nenshi, told us to do. Staying home. Staying off the roads. Letting the emergency crews do what they had to do.

It was the hardest thing ever.

You know how you watch the reactions of survivors of natural and other disasters on the news, and there’s all these people clamouring to go home, even though it’s dangerous and stupid?

I will never mock them again.

We wanted to go home.

We wanted to see home.

On Saturday—day two after the flood—we broke. We started calling and Facebooking and connecting with the people in Sunnyhill—our immediate community—and we met in a safe area… to plan? Compare notes? Cry? I’m not sure why we met. I think we needed to see that we were all ok.

And then… we broke orders. We didn’t mean to, you know. We were just going to stop on top of the McHugh Bluff to look.

But.

Home.

We walked down.

Thigh-high water in our street, spilling over sidewalks, lawns, and the adjacent Curling Club parking lot.

Water everywhere.

No way of getting “home.”

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We looked.

The kids played on the playground—high and dry.

I let tears flow for the first time.

I don’t think the pictures really do it justice.

There was so much, so much water.

So much destruction.

It was overwhelming.

Our children—how resilient are children?—thought it was kind of cool. “Can we swim in it?” Cinder asked at one point. “Jesus Christ, no, it’s probably full of sewer water,” I choked out. They ran. Climbed trees…

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Cinder took this photo of our Common area from the Tall Pine.

… and skipped rocks in the flood waters. Ender earned himself a cameo in one of the flood videos:

 (That’s one of our neighbours kayaking through our Common. An experienced paddler, she was rescuing some of our people’s documents. You see, we didn’t really take that evac order that seriously. Some of us didn’t even take underwear, much less passports… The video is by Calgarian Bradley Stuckel and co.–did they not do a beautiful job? My filmmaker husband is uber-impressed.)

On Sunday (the flood waters came over Thursday/Friday night), Sean and I sold our children to friends, and, along with most of the flooded out Sunnysiders, waded into our neighbourhoods ahead of the all-clear from the city to see what the hell was going on with our houses.

It was, I’d like to say upfront, after seeing what we waded through, an incredibly stupid and dangerous thing to do.

But you see… it was home. We had to go see.

We reacted, all of us, in different ways to what we saw.

Sean went shopping for clean up and demolition supplies, and then to a community planning meeting.

I, unable to deal with the massive destruction on the ground floor, went up to our kitchen, and cleaned out the fridge—power, of course, was off, and had been since Thursday, and everything was rancid. And then cleaned, scrubbed the fridge. Because that, I could do.

And then…

And then, friends, my city’s people pulled off a miracle.

I think, in the future, the enormity of what the flood did to Calgary will be underplayed because of the rapidity with which the city stabilized and returned to some semblance of “normal” within a week.

We evacuated Thursday, June 20, 2013.

A week later, parts of our downtown were open for business.

The majority of the flooded houses in my neighbourhood had been ripped and disinfected: saved. All of the 41 (I said 38 in my earlier posts on calgarybusinesswriter.com: forgive me, numbers not a strong suit, ever) flooded units in my little sub-community of Sunnyhill were gutted, cleaned, bleached, demolded: saved. (Here’s my initial call for help to our friends, neighbours, and citizens; here’s the thank you and another thank you because one is just not enough—and here’s my take on why and how they performed this miracle.)

We lost, as a city, as a province, a mind-blowing amount of infrastructure. Roads. Bridges. Our beloved Zoo! Individual houses, and so many possessions (me: never buying anything. Ever again). But our response to this crisis, as a community, as individuals, has been amazing.

What grabs the headlines during so many other crises, and disasters? Looting. Riots. In Calgary, we had too many volunteers. And the Calgary Police Service wrote the citizens a thank you letter

Our people opened their houses to evacuated relatives, friends and strangers. Started a laundry brigade for the evacuees. Fed displaced residents and the army of volunteers. Turned out in hordes to rip out basements, clean up debris, help any way they could.

Laughed in the middle of the chaos:

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We put up “Need Sewer, Need Power, Need Cute Firefighter” signs in our windows:

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(This isn’t my photo; it’s a FB/Twitter viral sensation–if you took it, tell me and I will happily credit you.)

Why our mayor is awesome and you should have nenvy too: “To all the people with the ‘Need Cute Firefighter’ signs in their windows’: We’re working on it,” he tweeted in response. And man, he delivered:

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Ender wanted to pose with the cute firefighters. It was totally Ender. Not his mother. Really. Um. Moving on…

We have a crazy amount of work ahead of us, as individuals, as neighbourhoods, as communities—as a city and as a province.

Are we back to normal? Not quite. But we’re “back.” And we’re working on defining our new normal.

But after what YYC did in these last two weeks—we’re gonna get her done. No question about it. Because—we are Calgary. We acted as a community, to save our communities.

We are amazing.

You want to see more pictures of how amazing we are? Of course. Here are a few more:

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“Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will…”

2011. Flora is six and lives in a bit of a bubble. There’s no TV—and thus commercials—in the house. No glossy magazines. The meme videos she watches on Youtube are big brother-tested and, while generally in poor taste, rarely an assault on the self-worth and identity of a young woman. She chooses her clothes among her favourite friends’ hand-me downs, and loves them because of who they came from. “Designer jeans,” to her, are an ethically troubling line of scientific research.*

She eats real food—and lots of delicious, sweet things. She never has to clear her plate. She can eat dessert first. Or never. For breakfast or in the middle of the day. She eats when she’s hungry, and does not eat when she’s not.

She loves herself.

And then, that stupid bastard, he tries to wreck it. When she’s six.

He’s not a bad man, you know. Just a guy. With a TV and without a daughter. I think he was just trying to be nice, make conversation.

This is what he said:

You’re eating a second ice cream? You are going to get so fat.

To my six-year-old daughter.

He moved on. Forgot. The effect on her? That evening, as she comes out of the bath, my six-year-old daughter looks at herself in the mirror—for the first time in her life, critically. She thrusts out her belly. And asks me:

Mom? Am I fat?

And I, who have spent much of my adult life struggling against the eating disorder and body image damage inflicted on my teenage self, I freak. But manage to hold it in, for her. And hear the story, what’s prompting this. And engage in a little bit of deprogramming. And tell her, that the next time I see him, I will explain to him why what he said was inappropriate and wrong and ensure he will never say that to another little girl again.

I figure by the time I see him, I will be… less angry. Because, you know, I know he’s not a bad man. Just a guy. With a TV. And no daughter.

But I’m still furious, seething. And so, what comes out of my mouth, instead of the rehearsed, rational statement I practiced, is this:

I understand you tried to give my daughter an eating disorder.

And he’s shocked—hurt. Doesn’t understand. Then, as I explain—a little appalled. Both at me, and I hope, at his lack of reflection? But perhaps not. I do think, however, he won’t call a little girl fat again. Or suggest she might be getting fat because she’s eating an ice cream cone.

But he hasn’t changed, he doesn’t understand. No, I don’t think I was that effective.

He’ll never do it again, because he’s afraid the little girl’s psychotic mother, who clearly has issues, is going to go medieval on his ass. As I did.

And you know what? That’s good enough. Not perfect. But good enough. That’s what I think in 2011…

Green tea (matcha) ice-cream with red bean.

2013, now. Flora’s eight and a half. A specimen of physical perfection: healthy, strong, athletic, beautiful. She kicks ass in Tang Soo Do. Does one-handed cartwheels for fun. Can outrun just about every boy on the Common, except for her big brother.

Eats when she’s hungry. Doesn’t eat when she’s not. Snacks on chickpeas. Loves ice cream. There’s no TV or glossy magazines in the house. She’s still lives in a bubble, at least some of the time.

But when she gets out of the bath tub, when she’s in the swimming pool change room—not always, but every once in a while, I see her looking at herself in the mirror—critically.

It rips at my insides.

I thought I could save her. But how can I? She has nine-year-old friends who talk about diets—who are on diets. Too many women in her life, around her torturing themselves, hating themselves. Unhappy with themselves. Passing the message on.

It’s everywhere. She’s learned “fat” is a horrible insult when thrust at a woman. She’s learned the look, shape of her body is what matters the most to too many people.

She’s not even nine yet. She still doesn’t know about designer jeans. But she knows this.

I thought I could save her.

But you won’t let me.

Inspired by Urban Moo Cow‘s guest post on Finding Ninee in the This is Our Land Series: The Greatest Gift

* My kids are brilliant. Deal with it.

The Authoritative New Parents’ Guide to Sex After Children, Redux

(or, how to make sure you keep on doing that thing that landed you with children in the first place!)

Two Hearts

Ambitious title, but I bet I’ll deliver. Tell me afterwards. Two caveats. First, if you’re currently childless, don’t read this. It will either depress or embarrass you. Especially if you’re a guy. It’s the weirdest thing, really: when it comes to talking about sex and bodies, there is no creature more uptight than the childless male. Anyway, if you’re one of those, go read How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games or Math + Gun = or … (I’m not being sexist, am I? You can read this if you really want to. But I know you’ll be mortified… Here’s a test: let me tell you about the time my bestest male friend first saw me breastfeeding. Where are you going? Come back!)

Second, if you’ve got young children and you’re having all the sex you want—really? Honestly?—you probably don’t need to read this. But you should anyway, because maybe at the end of it, you might be having more sex. And what could be better than that?

And thirdly—I said two caveats, right? Oops—in case you haven’t noticed, this post is going to be about sex. That’s how you get children. If reading about sex makes you squeamish, stop here and go read… how about It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony or 10 habits for a happy home from the house of permissiveness and chaos. Or that fabulous, famous They tell you, “It gets easier.” They lie post.

Also, mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother—um. Yeah. You’re excused. Go read how Cinder and Flora became Greco-Roman Pagans. And never, ever mention this post to me. OK.

The rest of you, come with me.

English: 3 of hearts.

OK. Here are the three assumption I’m making:

1. You have kids. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, sentient school age kids. The babies need to be breastfed and rocked to sleep at all hours of day and night, the toddlers and preschoolers exhaust you, and them older kids stay up later and later and open doors and need help with homework and need you to feed them and take them places and…

2. You don’t have enough sex. Define enough as you will. You’d like to have more.

3. You’ve got a partner to have this sex with (if you don’t, I canna’ help you with that, but I hear there’s these dating sites…). The partner would also like to have more sex. The will is there. What’s lacking is time and opportunity AND STRATEGY. (If the will’s not there… well, I can help you with that a bit. There will be an addendum about that at the end.)

With me so far? Want to. Don’t have (enough) (at all these days). Don’t worry. There’s hope. Really. You’ve just got to rethink a few things.

Two Hearts Beat As One

First, there are three principles you have to internalize.

1. Sex is more important than sleep.

2. Sex is more important than cleaning.

3. Sex is more important than work.

Somewhere between child one and two—or maybe it was two and three?—my partner and I made the following pact: either one of us was free to wake up the other at any other time for some quick love making (stress on quick: I’ll come back to this point shortly)… unless the sleeper had a 6 a.m. appointment with the client from hell or some other such situation. We made this pact after the following conversation:

Jane: Dear God, do you realize this is the first time we’ve had sex in… oh my god, has it been three weeks? Four?

Sean: Well, by the time I come to bed, you’re always asleep. And I know you’re going to be up half the night with the baby, and then up super early with the toddler, and…

(This is why I love him so, by the way. What a guy.)

Jane: You can wake me up.

Sean: Really?

Jane: Yes.

Sean: You can wake me up anytime, too. I mean, if you’re ever awake after me. Well, unless I have a 6 a.m. shoot. Don’t wake me up then.

Jane: Deal.

Sean: Deal.

(And we draw the curtain so we can have some privacy.)

two hearts

So. Make this pact with your partner. Sex is more important than sleep. (Or watching that 10 p.m. show on HBO. Turn on your PVR, and romp. If you’re not drowsy after, then watch your show.) Agree to wake each other up when you’re horny. Agree to say yes—at least 4 out of 5 times. (I’m assuming you’re going to show appropriate discretion in when you’re doing the waking up. If partner’s got strep throat, you know, let the guy sleep. If the baby’s been going through a particularly tough phase—let the mama sleep. Find a different time for sex. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Next: what do you do when that most miraculous thing of all happens and all your children are either simultaneously asleep, totally mesmerized by a movie or activity that doesn’t require your presence, or (gasp!) out of the house?

If you’re a mama, I bet in 9 out of 10 cases you clean. We can’t help it: the little monsters are messy, and if we clean when they’re out of the house, then at least we have the satisfaction of a clean house for a few minutes… an hour.

I’m not going to tell you to stop cleaning. But have sex first. The children are asleep—quiet—gone. Put down the vacuum cleaner, turn your back on the kitchen floor, and go fuck.

You can scrub the bath tub afterwards.

This is really easy for me, because I hate cleaning. However, if you derive some pleasure from the cleaning process, this may be harder for you. Do this: tell the messier partner to grab the initiative. When the children are asleep—quiet—gone, it’s his or her job to drag you to the bedroom, bathroom or living room rug. All you have to do is say yes.

Say yes.

Happy Valentine's day!

Sex is more important than work. In our case, we both work from home, so this is how it goes—one or the other or both of us is always on deadline. There’s always one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

There will always be one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

Have sex first.

Then go back to the computer. Have a project you took home, memos to revise, report cards to mark? Fine. They’ll still be there in fifteen minutes. Five, if you’re both properly motivated. Two, if it’s been as long as I think it’s been… Have sex first. Then work.

Now before you quote Dan Ackroyd at me,* it really is that easy. If you believe that…

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

…you will have more of it. Maybe not as much as you’d like to… but more.

To have even more, embrace the next three principles:

4. Foreplay is icing.

5. Beds are optional.

6. Matinees rule.

Valentine

Remember those hours and hours and hours of sensuous, languorous foreplay that went on and on and on and on…

Yeah, I don’t really remember either. It’s been 10 years… eleven. Well, there was that one night we sold the kids to the grandparents for the entire night exclusively for those purposes… but that might have been four years ago. Anyway. You now have kids.

That means foreplay is being alone in a room together.

Agree with your partner that foreplay is icing. Frankly, when you’ve got toddlers, it wastes precious time. You can after-play if the kids don’t barrel into the room. When you’re in one of those “OMG we never have time for sex” phases, this is your modus operandi:

A. Hey, we’re alone!

B. Clothes (but only the essential ones) off!

C. Coitus.

Everything else is icing.

Bed

Note how nowhere in the above did it say we’re alone in bed. Beds? Who needs beds to have sex? We’re alone in the bathroom. We’re alone in the kitchen. We’re alone on the landing. In the living room while the kids are in the bedroom… If you’ve got a family bed, the kids are always in the bed. Have sex somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just draw the curtains first.

Finally—especially when you’ve got teeny ones around—break the sex/night association. No law. Not mandatory. Repeat after me: you can have sex in the morning. In the afternoon. When the baby’s napping. If one or both of you has a regular Monday-to-Friday job, you’ve got less flexibility—but you’ve still got weekends. The hour before supper. You got the baby and toddler down for a nap on Saturday afternoon? Cancel the visit to Joe and Marla, and screw.

Be late for dinner at Mom and Dad’s. Don’t clean, don’t nap, don’t work until after.

“But Jane… you know… the truth is… I don’t really want to. I feel blah. Unattractive. Unsexy. Touched out.”

I know. I think every mother—and many a hyper-involved father, frankly—has been there post-partum. Babies and toddlers take a toll on you. (This part’s mostly for the mamas, boys, but read along to get educated.) Your hormones might be out of whack, and you might simply be exhausted. I’m going to send you to kellymom.com or Dr. Jack Newman’s breastfeedinginc.ca to look for some evidence-based research on how pregnancy and lactation might affect your libido, because I’m no doctor. From personal experience I can absolutely tell you this: I love my partner dearly and I love making love with him—and with each child I’ve gone through stretches where it’s just not been a priority and desire’s been hard to scrape up.

Here’s what’s helped me:

1. Exercise and sunshine. Bonus: if you do the Pavlovian “I have an orgasm after exercise” association, the motivation to exercise spikes.

2. Going to Mom’s Nights Out. Really. How does hanging out with a bunch of women help your sex life? Simple. You dress up and spend an evening with adults talking adult stuff and enjoying a meal without anyone throwing up on you. You go home—and if your partner played things right, the children are asleep. S/he’s not. Woo-hoo.

3. Put it on the schedule. OK. Least romantic thing ever, right? It sounds awful. Sex Saturday. You know what’s worse and less romantic? Not having sex at all.

4. Make it a habit. Here’s the weird thing about thinking you don’t want sex when you’re not having sex–as soon as you start having sex, your priorities shift. You think, “Sweet Jesus, this is great! Why don’t we do this more often?” Hold on to that thought… and do it more often. In the afternoon. Instead of cleaning. Before working on that work project. Quickly if you’ve only got five minutes. Hey, if it turns out you’ve got more time, you can always do it again…

Heart

Photo (Heart) by mozzercork

All right then. That’s it. To recap:

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

4. Foreplay is icing

5. Beds are optional

6. Matinees rule

Get off the computer, and go wake up your partner. And if you’ve got other tips for reigniting your sex life post-children, share them.

xoxoxo,

Jane

PS Veteran mamas, can you tell I just weaned the third? I bet you can…

PPS Play carefully, eh? Seems every time we have a frank sex post-children discussion on one of my groups or lists, someone gets pregnant. Once it was me…

English: Pregnant Elf

*(That’s Jane, you ignorant slut, the best SNL quote of all time, read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and no, it doesn’t show you how old I am, I saw it in re-runs.)

PPPS For a different point of view, visit my brilliant friend Dani at Cloudy, With A Chance of Wine and read Having kids kills your sex life, but then, pop over to when she changes her mind and tells you the 5 ways sex gets easier once you have kids. And then pop over to read Julie De Neen spew coffee all over her friend in Lying to your kids about sex toys.

PPPPS “Woman, I need an antidote to all the sex talk, cause I ain’t getting any.” I’m so sorry, babe. (But you know there are toys, right?) Go visit Wonderland by Tatu and read Hi, my name is T. & I am a screamer. Get your mind out of the gutter! Not everything’s about sex–she’s talking about something else. And, do pop on by The Sadder and Wiser Girl as she celebrates the one year anniversary of her blog–good on you, Sarah, and write on!

PPPPPS One more. The funniest thing from my over-crowded in-box this week so far comes from The Book of Alice: Wrongly Accused. It’s about boogers. And children. So you know it’s worth clicking on.

Jane out.

They tell you “It gets easier.” They lie

So there she is, stumbling down the block—walking circles around the playground—sleepwalking through the mall. The mewling baby inside a sling—a car seat—stroller. Glassy eyes, cause she hasn’t slept more than 45 minutes—no wait, two days ago, she got three hours in a row, score!—in four months. Wearing ratty pants—because they fit. And her husband’s sweater—because all her tops have been puked on and laundry, she was going to do laundry yesterday, but then the baby had a fever and…

So there she is. The new mom, the first-time mom, and she’s so exhausted and she so clearly needs—what? A hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you—you’re a good person, and so you want to give it to her. So there you go. Run up to her. Smile. And you want to say, you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Just fucking don’t. Because, fast-forward two years, three, and there she is. Running down the block. Maybe another baby in sling. Toddler in stroller or running away. And maybe she’s getting more sleep—but maybe not. Maybe the toddler has night terrors, and wakes up screaming for hours on end in the night. Or maybe, even if Morpheus has been kind to her and the children sleep—she doesn’t sleep nearly was much as she should, because when they sleep, that’s the only time she can be free. To… think. To read. To be… alone.

The toddler makes a break for it and tries to run into the street, and she nabs him, just in time, and pulls him back, and starts explaining how streets are dangerous and he must hold Mommy’s hand, but he really, really, really wants to be on the other side, and he’s two, so self-will is emerging with a vengeance and soon he’s screaming and tantruming, and you, you can see she’s on the edge, about to lose it, because maybe this is the seventh time today—this hour—she’s had to deal with this, and you want to help. You want to give her a hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you want, you’re going to run over to her and you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Don’t. Because a year later, there she is, with her three-and-a-half year-old. Before they left the house this morning, he put her iPhone in the toilet, cut his dad’s headphone cord into shreds, and threw $30 worth of grass-fed beef off the balcony in the compost pile. And now, his pants around his ankles, he’s chasing a flock of pigeons, penis in hand, yelling, “I’m going to pee on you, pigeons!” at the top of his lungs. And she’s trying to decide—should she catch him? Or should she take advantage of the fact that he’s distracted for five minutes, so she can change the new baby’s diaper? Because she hasn’t had a chance to even check it for the last five hours… And I swear on any of the gods that you may or may not believe in, if, at that moment, you come up to her, and you say—because you’re an empathetic, loving person who wants to help—if you come to her at that moment and say,

“It gets easier.”

she’s going to rip that diaper off the baby and throw it in your face. Followed by the tepid remains of her coffee (you’re lucky that she hasn’t had a hot, scalding hot, deliciously hot cup of coffee in three and a half years). And then she’s going to sob. And she’s going to say…

“When? When the fuck does it get easier? Because I’ve been waiting for it to get easier for two three five six years.”

I’m sitting in the middle of my living room—11 years into motherhood—and I’m in a brief picture-perfect postcard (Instagram for those of you born post-1995) moment. I’m stretched out on the couch, coffee cup beside me, laptop on my lap—and, for a few minutes at least, I’m chilling. Three feet away from me, my 11 year-old is building worlds in Minecraft, and Skyping with a friend. My eight-year-old is running with a pack of her friends just outside—I hear their voices, hers most distinct among them to my ears, through the balcony. Tucked under my arm is the three-and-a-half year old, taking a break from wrecking havoc and destruction on the world to play a game on the iPad.

I’m messaging with a friend a few years behind me on the parenting path. And she asks me, and I can hear the tears in her words even though she’s typing them (people who think texting lacks nuance do not text enough; she is weeping through the keyboard),

“When does it get easier? People keep on saying, ‘It gets easier.’ When? When?”

So, I wonder, is she ready to hear this? Is she ready to hear: It doesn’t get easier. All the people who say this? They’re all liars, every last one.

But I won’t say that. First, because I do not wish to make her despair. Second, because it’s not true. It does get easier. It really does. But when people say it, what you, first-time mother, hear it is not ‘It gets easier,” but this:

“Things will get back to the way they were before, soon.”

And that, my lovely friend, will never happen. Things will never be the way they were before. Never. Things have changed forever. Things will never get back to “normal”—as you defined normal when you were single—when you were childless. Never.

And so I tell her this, and again I hear tears in-between the words she types to me.

And now I have to deconstruct the lie to her. I have to explain. That they don’t mean to lie. It really does get easier—sort of. The stuff that’s killing you now—be it the lack of sleep, the aching nipples, the endless diapers-laundry-is-she-sick-is-he-teething or be it the toddler tantrums, potty training regressions, “She won’t leave the house!” “Getting him in and out of the car seat is hell”–all of that, it will get easier—and, in fact, end. They all wean. Toilet train. Stop drawing on walls (unless they in this house). But see, then, other stuff happens that’s really hard too. Ferocious Five. Sensitive Seven. Bullies on the playground—social issues with friends and ‘frenemies.’ Broken hearts. Explosive anger at things and issues much, much bigger than all those daily rubs that cause toddlers angst.

“It gets easier”: yeah, I suppose it does, because you figure it out, and adapt, and get coping strategies. But every time you “master” a phase—they change. Grow. Face new challenges. And you’ve got to change, grow and adapt with them. If only you could do so ahead of them…

But you can’t. And so, you see, “it gets easier” … it’s a lie.

And it’s the most destructive lie, the most life-damaging myth you can buy into. See, because if you keep on waiting for things to get easier—if you put living, changing, adapting, figuring out how to dance this dance, walk this path as it is now, with all of its bumps and rubs—if you put all that on hold until it gets easier…

Well. You’ll be fucked. Totally. And completely.

So. My dearest. It doesn’t get easier. It changes. You get better. You grow. Learn. And that little squealer—that awesome toddler—that slightly evil three-year-old—he grows. Learns. Changes. It gets better. When you learn and change and grow and all that—it all gets better.

But. Easier? No.

So. There she is. Frazzled. Exhausted. So fucking tired. And she sees you coming, and you have empathy poring out of your pores. And you want to help her. Offer her empathy. Support.

What are you going to tell her?

Hey, all, wow, thanks for all the sharing and massive Internet love. Bad day for my RSS feed link to break — this is it: RSS Feed https://nothingbythebook.com/feed/ — and even though there are a bazillion comments, I am reading and responding to every single one. Thank you so much, beautiful people. You can also email me privately at nothingbythebook@gmail.com. Or find me on Twitter @nothingbtbook. You know the drill.  xoxo “Jane”

Two great things from my weekend in-box, from the #FTSF blog hop, that fit in beautifully with the theme of today’s post:

Kristi Campbell’s post on FindingNinee.com:  I blog because of you, I blog because of us, and

Katia’s post on I Am The Milk: Closest to Me

Flora Space Art

“I Give The World To You,” by Flora (May 2013)

unLessons from the Posse

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Photo from the newspaper "Nogales Herald&...

As we come around the corner, the crowds scatter, jump, recoil. First one–two–three–flying like the wind, silver scooters carrying them along like lightening, legs pumping–and then four–five–bent lower over the handle bars, legs pumping even faster to keep up with the vanguard–and you think they’re all through, but no, here comes six, working harder than everyone else because he has to keep up. And me, at the end, with number seven in the bike. Calling out, “High traffic area! Everyone keep to the right!” But they don’t hear me, of course; of course, they don’t, because there is only speed, wind, the path, and the posse.

I love the posse. Three are mine, four are borrowed for the day. Four people have the temerity to ask, as we zoom by, “Oh-my-god-are-they-all-yours?” and sometimes, I would punish them with The Look, but today I am happy, so I just smile. One-half of one couple is so appalled by the procession that is us that the beautiful young woman turns to her husband-boyfriend and says, loudly, fully intending me to hear, “And this, honey, is why we always use condoms.” I’d give her The Look, but then I catch the husband-boyfriend’s look, and it is one of such joy-envy-lust that instead of giving her The Look, I give him The Grin, and we have a very quick, secret psychic conversation:

Him: Seven, eh? Six boys? Man. My own fucking hockey team.

Me: Imagine the soccer games you would have.

Him: Basketball. Camping!

Me: You’d just sit in the chair, and they’d set up the tent.

Him: The littlest one would bring me beer.

Me: You’d build them the best treehouse ever, right?

Him: Oh, fuck, yeah. Would I ever. So… um… you wanna have more kids?

Me: No, I’m done. Sorry.

Him: Okay then. Well, have a good day

Me: Good luck with her, eh?

Him: Yeah… not sure this is going to work out.

We move on. Along the river. Over this bridge. That one. I don’t even attempt to tell them to stick with me–they are a posse, The Posse, and The Posse don’t wait for no Mom. But I am wise in the ways of The Posse, so I don’t ask. I command. “Meet me at the Dragonfly!” I yell to their backs. “Go ahead–and wait for me at the crossing! We all cross together!” It doesn’t matter how fast I go–they go faster. It’s all about being alone, really. I can read the fantasy, in the three eldest anyway. As far as they are concerned, they are alone.

We stop. Regroup. Do a headcount.

Me: Fuck. Five. Who’s missing?

They: The twins.

Me: Your mom’s going to kill me. Where are they?

They: Who knows?

Me: Dudes! No man left behind! Find them!

Phew. Just fixing their helmets by some bushes. Onward. But now I have given them a new war cry. They push off:

No man left behind!

Flora scoots beside me. “Did they leave me behind because I’m not a man?” she whines. “They didn’t leave you behind,” I point out. “You came to visit with me.”

Up ahead on the path: wipeout!

Me: Blood?

Him: I’m okay.

You don’t show weakness in The Posse.

The Posse fractures. Its members fight. When we stop at a playground and they play a mad game of tag with rules so complicated it makes my head spin, my eldest gets his nose out of joint. The twins think they’re picked on. Flora feels left out. Mostly, I stay out of it. Sometimes, I nudge towards a solution. But mostly–I let them be The Posse. I’m there to make sure there is no real injustice … but they know most of the rules of engagement. They are learning how to work things out. This is not Lord of the Flies.

My final test as Mom-wise-in-the-ways-of-The-Posse comes when we hit an ice rink. The ice is melting, sloppy. But still slippery. I see the desire in their eyes. The two eldest look and do a risk analysis. Then decide to try to break their bones on the nearby playground instead. The littles dump the scooters and go to slip and slide on their feet. But he-who-will-test-me comes up to me and says,

“Can we scooter on that?”

It’s a test. Any mother in her right mind would say no, and he knows this. And I know that he knows this. We look at each other, take each other’s measure. And I say,

“I can’t fit seven kids in my car if we have to go to the Children’s Hospital… Look, keep your helmet on, and no whining or crying at all unless there’s massive amounts of blood, and you’ve lost more than two teeth.”

He looks at me. Mildly appalled. His mom would have said no, outright, his eyes tell me, and I’m clearly irresponsible. Criminally so. But I’ve just given him permission. Really. If he doesn’t go on the ice, I’ll know it’s because he’s afraid. Of blood. Losing teeth. He’ll lose face.

He puts the scooter on the ice. Scoots.

“It’s not slippery enough to be fun,” he tells me. Drops it. And goes off to join The Posse.

We pass another couple on the last block home. This time, I have a quick, secret psychic conversation with the girl:

Her: Is it hard?

Me: Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

When The Possee’s split up, and four-sevenths goes home with Fishtank Mom, they are all exhausted. And not-a-little tired of each other. But next time–next time, they’ll gel together again. Feel the wind, the speed. Be the pack. Fight, fracture, learn. Is it hard? Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

Photo from the newspaper “Nogales Herald” dated July 20, 1922 showing an American posse after capturing the Mexican bandits Manuel Martinez and Placidio Silvas (middle of back row) who killed or wounded five people at or around Ruby, Arizona in 1921 and 1922. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And a thank you to the fabulous Tatu from Wonderland By Tatu for including Nothing By The Book in the shininess of the Sunshine Award. As you may have noticed, I truly suck at passing these on adequately. Not out of any better-than-thouness, truly, just out of… what shall we call it… laziness.Pure laziness. But thank you muchly, Tatu, you made me all smiley and sunny on a hard day. Here’s the link to the last one of these that I’ve paid back “properly,” which includes some irrelevant facts about myself and some of my favourite bloggers.

The not-so-mysterious incident of the carrots in the milk carton

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

I.

I sleepwalk into the kitchen in search of the first cup of coffee. Boil water. Fight with the grinder. Dump old coffee grounds all over the floor. Clean them up. Make the coffee. Inhale the smell of… sheer bliss, really. If you’re a coffee lover, you know what I mean–there is nothing like it, it is the smell of perfection, the birth and end of the universe in one olfactory sensation, the promise of everything. Ah. Pour the first cup. No cream in the fridge–reach for the milk carton.

Pour.

Discover there are two giant carrots in the milk carton.

Look at them uncomprehendingly, because, you know, I have just smelled and not yet drunk the coffee.

Pour the milk into the coffee carefully. Replace the milk carton in the fridge.

Go sit on the couch beside the 3.5 year old. Drink my coffee.

II.

Sean stumbles into the kitchen in search of his cup of coffee. Lucky man, the lag between his wake up time and mine insufficient today for the first pot to be empty. Pours himself a cup of coffee. Savours the smell. And, responsible father that he is, asks the 2/3 of the awake progeny if they want to eat something. (Their mother does not speak, or serve, until she has finished her second cup of coffee. She is still on the couch drinking the first…) The progeny want cereal.

He grabs bowls. Cereal. Milk. Pours.

“Why the fuck are there two carrots in the milk carton?”

Neither the milk nor the carrots answer. I look at the 3.5 year old. He grins a wicked grin.

“I put them there, Dadda!” he calls out happily.

“Why… why did you put carrots in the milk?” Sean says. His voice full of angst and despair–and see, this is why I do not talk until after the second cup. Why suffer? And make others suffer? Let the caffeine do its work first…

“Flora was peeing,” Ender replies promptly.

I am almost done my first cup of coffee, so I understand perfectly. What he wanted to do was to flush the carrots down the toilet. However, the toilet was occupied. What else could he do with them? Aha! Milk carton!

Sean is still just smelling the coffee. And trying to understand all this. And perhaps on the verge of tears.

And here is proof that I am an excellent, excellent wife and helpmeet: although the effort involved in this is Herculean, I lift myself off the couch, stagger into the kitchen, grab his coffee cup, and put it into his hands. He tries to speak–I shut his mouth with a kiss.

I’d say drink–but I do not speak until I’ve downed the second cup of coffee.

He takes a sip. Then another. The world is slowly becoming a better place, and the case of the carrots in the milk losing its power to ruin his day.

I pour my second cup of coffee. Pour the rest of the milk into it. Shake the carrots out into the sink. Rinse them.

“They don’t look like they’ve been in there very long,” Sean says. He picks up the empty milk carton and peers into it. To determine–by what evidence?–the length of the carrot milk immersion?

Cinder, our 10 year old, stumbles down the stairs. Stops, and stares at the tableau, dominated by his father, evidently distraught, peering into the milk carton. And says…

“Did Ender pee in the milk again?”

I draw the curtain on the resulting scene. Suffice it to say, Sean was never happier that he was lactose intolerant… and Flora may never eat cereal again.

More like this: The obvious correlation between crying over spilt coffee and potty training

And some blogger love. Last week, Tirzah Duncan, the talented writer-poet-entrepreneur-cynical optimist-coiner-of-phrases-extraordinaire at The Ink Caster, passed The Versatile Blogger award on to me (which of course means someone gave it to her, congratulations, Tirzah). In addition to being a talented writer, Tirzah would be a great person to watch your back come the Zombie Apocalypse. If you don’t believe me, check out this post.

My head wasn’t quite done swelling when TJ, Sara and Jen from Chi-Town Mommy Mayhem — well, possibly just one of them, but I prefer to take the compliment from all three — handed off the Liebster Award to Nothing By The Book. Their blog is “dedicated to the uncensored mommies of Chicago” and their motto is “We don’t sugar coat anything here.” And they have kick ass tweets ( @MayhemMommyTJ).

I’m eight awards or possibly more behind doing the proper reciprocity thing, and with each passing day… Well. If you really want to know seven random things about me, read this my last Blogosphere Group Hug and find out how I once interviewed the prime minister of Canada sans underwear. For blogs that deserve to have the awards passed on to them–check out the blogs I follow, bottom of each page of the blog. Cause, you know, I only follow good ones.

The naked truth about working from home, the real post

Showerhead

I’m in the shower when the phone rings, and I hear it through the water and the door, and I know who it is even before Cinder hollers, “Mom! It’s for you!” Shampoo in my hair and my eyes, I’m leaping out of the shower and out of the bathroom without turning off the water—where the fuck is the towel?–and skidding into the combination Lego room/Sean’s office that holds the only upstairs telephone.

“Hello, “Jane” speaking,” I say crisply, sharply. Out of breath? No way, not me–the phone voice kicks in ASAP. My well-trained eldest son—the ire of the mother for misbehaving on the telephone is legendary—hangs off the receiver. On the other end of the line is a VP of a blue chip Bay Street company (like a Canadian Wall Street, but less sexy and exciting) I’ve been stalking for a few days, and I need to talk to him today. He’s in an airport—“Houston? And how’s the weather?—he’s got five minutes, what do I need? I speak quickly and cut to the chase: this, that, and, above all, a comment on that mess. The door of the room creaks open, and my daughter comes in. She sees the phone at my ear and mouths, “Mom? Why are you naked?” I mouth back, “Towel! Paper! Pen!” I cast a desperate look around the room—full of Lego and an assortment of my husband’s crap, including a printer, why the fuck is there no paper here? Or pencils? How can there be no writing implements in the bloody office?

The VP’s already talking and I see, gloriously, buried under all the Lego, a purple marker. This is how the professionals do it, boys and girls—I grab that marker and… I move to start writing on the wall, but the two-year-old comes in, and I have a brief second thought. I make desperate hand motions at my seven-year-old, and—she’s well-trained in this this too—she immediately says, “Ender? Want to watch a show on the i-Pad?”

But their exit is too slow–they’re still in the room and I start to scribble. With the purple market. Not on the wall. On my leg. I start at the thigh and work my way down, to the ankle and instep, contort myself, and write on the inner leg. Then the other one… The VP’s a gold mine. He gives me exactly what I need, and I’m transcribing every word.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I sing as I hang off. And become aware that

a. I’m naked in my kids play room

b. my legs totally covered with purple marker

c. the purple marker is a horrible, kid-friendly, washable piece of shit

d. the water from my hair is dripping onto my legs and smearing! Smearing my interview transcript!

“My laptop!” I scream, and Cinder bounds up the stairs with the lap top. “Um, and a towel!” I add. I’ve been anticipated: Flora’s in with the towel. I grab the towel, the laptop. Scrunch my hair with the towel before tossing it over my shoulders and torso. And I start to transcribe. From the top of the leg—never before am I so grateful for the remnants of the baby weight that give some heft to the thigh—down, up the inside. Down the other one.

And yeah. I got this, that, and the comment on that mess in particular. Fucking score. My heart beat slows down. I’m going to meet deadline, and the story’s going to kick ass.

What you need to know:

 a. It’s not supposed to be like that.

b. It’s like that much too often.

c. If you can’t handle life throwing that at you with regular irregularity, you shouldn’t even think about working from home with children underfoot.

I’ve worked as a freelance writer since 2000, and I’ve popped out babies in 2002, 2005 and 2009. They’ve all grown up in this: I managed three weeks off after Cinder, four days after Flora (I went into labour actually in the middle of an interview, and had to cancel another ), and with Ender, I blocked off a luxurious two-and-a-half months off… sabotaged about four weeks in by a favourite client.

What I mean when I say I’m a freelance writer: I churn out five-to-ten-thousand+ words a month for a variety on business publications and clients (my real life business portfolio here for the serious-minded in the crowd).

What you really want to know: what this means time-wise and brain-wise and child-wise. The time commitment is erratic: I’d say at least two hours a day spent in just keeping on top of having the work—that is, emailing back and forth with editors and key contacts, keeping on top of what’s happening, clearing up questions and details on what I’ve filed etc.—and anywhere from 12-40 hours a week in research-interview-writing mode. My target weekly work rate is 20-25 hours (12-low-effort-maintance, 8-12 high-effort research-interview-writing hours). Less than that, and I’m setting myself up for a hellish 40+ week down the line. (My target earn rate, by the way, is the equivalent of a full-time job within that 20-25 hours. But that’s a topic for another post…). Once or twice a year, I actively invite a hellish week or two because of a particular project, client, or painful state of the bank account.

I used to get the “How on earth do you do that with a toddler and a baby?” comment all the time; now I get the, “How the heck do you manage that with homeschooling?” And everyone who asks it is looking, if they’re honest with themselves, for a magic bullet. They’re looking for that instruction sheet, that secret, that has them visualizing me sitting at a desk typing away—or on the telephone conducting an interview—while my children quietly and peacefully play at my feet.

No such thing. How do I work from home with children underfoot?

The short, and really honest, answer is—in ideal circumstances, I don’t. My most productive and efficient output happens when another adult is in charge of them. My husband—my mother—a neighbour—a friend—a paid babysitter. That childcare and that focused time don’t happen spontaneously. I plan the hell out of my work weeks and work days. I schedule interviews for the days when the kids are planning to spend a day with Grandma. I swap child-care with my film-maker husband. I pay for it when I must. In a four-hour block of child-free time, I get two-days worth of work done. Perhaps more. On the days my mother takes the kids for a long 8-10+ hour day, I am so uber-productive my brain and fingers (and sometimes throat) hurt at the end of it.

That low-maintenance work—checking email, social media, initial research, screwing around on the Internet and calling it research—these are things I can do with kids underfoot, during the littlest one’s naps, while the older two are really engaged with something. These are things I can do in spurts, things that don’t require me to enter the flow or to fully focus. Telephone interviews? I never plan to do these without another adult in the house or the kids (under sevens anyway) out of the house. Writing? There are things I can write in spits and spurts, off-the-top-of-my head, and in 45 minutes after I put the kids to bed. A 5,000 word feature on the history of the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Trade Dispute? Or an analysis of what’s really at stake when it comes to the proposed oil sands pipelines? I need focused time and space to produce that, and I prefer not to sacrifice sleep for that.

Sleep-deprived writers produce second-rate drivel. (Unless they’re in the flow on the novel. That’s different. Right?)

So. In my ideal world, working from home still requires an investment—financial, or otherwise, in child care. But life is rarely ideal. No matter how well I plan, every story and every project has its share of surprises. A cancelled interview—spontaneously rescheduled just as the toddler needs to go down for a nap or the baby needs to nurse. An editor’s demand for a last-minute rewrite, due yesterday. A client’s panic attack requiring me to pull an all-nighter—or to rely on the house’s assortment of electronic devices to babysit the children while I pound away at the keyboard. A last minute “I shouldn’t take this story, but oh-my-god-I-get-to-fly-to-Montreal-to-interview-the-prime-minister!” assignment. And havoc reigns.

Planning allows me to ride out the havoc. The irregular regularity of the havoc trains the children. They know a deadline must be met. They learn by age four how to behave when Mommy’s on the phone (she doesn’t push it too much: tries to keep those unplanned interviews to under 15 minutes).

(Sorry, until age four—no guarantees. A DVD might buy you 15 minutes. Or it might not. The good news: with my almost-8 year-old and 10 year-old, I can handle whatever havoc hits with them taking it in stride. I now only have to outsource the three-year-old on the days when I have to write, write, write—or spend the day glued to the telephone. And increasingly, I can outsource the three-year-old to his siblings. Not for an entire workday—but for a decent stretch of time. So yes, it gets much, much easier as the kids get older. But when they’re little? It’s tough.)

And that, friends, is the naked truth about working from home with children in your life. Possible, rewarding, the only way I want to work.

But it’s work. It requires planning. It throws you curveballs. It don’t look like that sepia-postcard dream you’ve got rolling in the back of your mind in which you write an award-winning article effortlessly while a perfectly balanced and delicious meal is already simmering on the stove and the toddler is at your feet playing with dinky cars for two hours. It’ll have to racing out of the shower naked with shampoo in your hair at least once in your life, and teaching your children swear words nobody at the playground knows yet.

Think you can do it? Of course you can. Right?

More like this: The naked truth about working from home, the teaser

This post is being recycled as part of A Mother Life Hum Day Hook Up #33: 

A Mother Life

The most recent Nothing By The Book post is How we teach children to lie, without realizing it.

If it’s your first time here, I’d love to connect, in all the usual ways:

Follow me on Twitter: 

Add me to your circles on GOOGLE+: Jane Marshon

Send me a personal email to nothingbythebook@gmail.com

Like Nothing by the Book on Facebook.

(Split personality alert: If you are interested in my business writer alter-ego, you can find her portfolio at Calgary Business Writer and on Twitter .)

Thanks for visiting!

xoxo

“Jane”

Embracing Chaos

A61

or, unParenting unResolutions

“Mama? Big mama? Wake up, big mama. I love you so very very very much.”

This is how Ender sets up the mood for the day—ensuring that no matter what he flushes down the toilet or smashes into pieces with the meat mallet (“How the hell did he find it again? I hid it on top of the fridge!” “Judging by barstool beside the counter, and the stack of boxes on the counter, you don’t want to know.” “Oh, Kee-rist. How has this child not broken any bones yet?”), my first and most brilliant memory of the day is tickling butterfly kisses and expressions of love ultimate from the beloved beast who will spend the day terrorizing the house, the family, and if we let him outside, the neighbourhood.

He is who he is; he is three. He’s careening towards three-and-a-half (see Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: A cheat sheet for an exposition and some almost practical tips and tricks), and three-and-a-half for the boys I birth is the age of chaos. So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, I know that chaos and the Ender crazy will dominate much of the year.

And I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass—of wine.

That’s part of the ride; part of the package. I’ve written elsewhere on that the ultimate secret behind parenting is; its close twin is this: every age and stage, every journey has tough stretches, challenging stretches. And they’re all necessary, and most of them are unavoidable, and happiness and peace lie in knowing that they just are. And not seeking perfection, from myself as mother, or from the child.

He’s so lucky, my Ender, my third. His eldest brother broke me in, thoroughly, and no sooner did I start to boast that I had “cracked the Cinder code,” Flora arrived, teaching me that I had learned absolutely nothing about the uniqueness that is her (bar that nursing every hour, every 15 minutes, or, what’s that word, constantly, is kind of normal) from my first years with the Cinder. By the time Ender arrived, all I knew, for sure, was this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

As far as everything else goes? As he grows, I will learn him slowly, piece by piece, unique need by unique need. Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Sometimes I’ll fail him—and sometimes, I will do right by him even though in the moment he thinks I’m failing him completely. And maybe, at the end of it all, when he’s 30, 40, with his own children—in therapy—maybe he’ll despise me, blame me, reject me. I don’t know. All I know for sure, is this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

More like this: Sunshine of Our Lives, or, How Toddlers Survive.

Blog Hop Report: I spent some of the weekend blog hopping at the TGIF Blog Hop hosted by You Know it Happens At Your House Too. What a fascinating variety of blogs, people and approaches to life, the universe and blogging.

I’d like to introduce you, if you do not know them already, to three mama-bloggers (but so much more) with attitude:

Jenn at Something Clever 2.0  (Twitter: @JennSmthngClvr)

Teri Biebel at Snarkfest (Twitter: @snarkfestblog)

Mollie Mills at A Mother Life (Twitter: @amotherlife)

And something completely different, a woman who took my breath away with her authenticity and boldness of voice from the first line of the first post I read of hers: Jupiter, “Eco-Redneck,Breeder,Stitch-Witch,Knittiot Savant & Whoreticulturist Extraordinaire” at crazy dumbsaint of the mind. I’m not going to attempt to explain her. If whoreticulturist is not a word that turns you off, the word sapiosexual turns you on, have a visit and get to know her. Otherwise, maybe not. Safe she is not.

Happy reading, happy blogging, happy living, and I will see in 2013. My year of chaos. Your year of… what?

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. And if you’re having a slow New Year’s Eve at home with your kids and computer, check out Dani Ryan’s The Best of 2012 Blog Hop at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine.

How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games

Cinder’s just shy of 10, and the big passion of his life is Minecraft. Or Terraria. Or both, but usually just one or the other. He loves them so much, he’s convinced his Mac-using parents to get him a PC laptop so he can play them more effectively. He loves them so much that his show of choice is watching Minecraft or Terraria videos on Youtube. (A digression for a Cinder recommendation: for Terraria, nothing beats Total Biscuit and Jesse Cox; for Minecraft, Antvenom is King, and Cavemanfilms is pretty good too. Now you know where to go.)

My boy loves video games. And this is a wonderful thing.

I never thought I’d find myself saying this. Video games were never a part of my childhood, and my experience of them as an on-looker—sister, girlfriend, wife—was, well, blah. Wasn’t interested. Didn’t understand the appeal. Could tell you one thing for sure: no kid of mine was going to waste his childhood playing video games. Could rattle of spades of research about how detrimental to the proper development of a child excessive (any) video game playing could be.

Well. What changed?

Simply this: My boy loves video games, and I love my boy. He started getting drawn to them about age eight, I suppose, meeting them at this friend’s house or that, telling us about them with excitement, in vivid detail. His game-playing father entered into his interest; his game-ignorant mother started to agonize. What to do? For what reason? With what consequences?

I spare you my internal angst, as first one online game and then another (“It’s educational, Mom!” Supported by Dad’s: “Really, Jane, it’s educational.”) got introduced. Then the X-box (“It’s Kinect, Jane—they’ll be exercising and moving while they play—isn’t that good?”). Then an iPad and all the apps and games that enabled. Here’s what steered me through it, though: I love my boy. He loves these things; he’s drawn to them. What’s he getting out of it? Why? How?

I love my boy, and if I love my boy, I can’t be dismissive and contemptuous of something he loves.

So, I’d sit beside him and watch him play. Listen to him talk about the games afterwards. In-between. Eavesdrop while he talked about with his friends. Watch while they acted out game scenes on the trampoline or on the Common.

I might tell you about all the things I’ve seen him learn from gaming another time (for one example, check out this salon.com piece about Minecraft ). Rattle of spades of research about how playing video games actually makes kids smarter (Here’s Gabe Zichermann talking about this on Ted Talks). But it really comes down to this:

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. His reasons for loving them are complex—but no less valid than my love for Jane Austen novels, or John Fluevog shoes. I do not have to love them just because he loves them—I do not have to make myself play them or enjoy them as he does, just because I love him. But because I love him, I can’t say—or think and believe—that what he loves and enjoys is a waste of time. Of no value. Stupid.

Flip it. Think of something you love. Knitting? Film noir? Shiny cars? Collecting porcelain miniatures? Whatever. Doesn’t matter what. I’m thinking of my Jane Austen novels, which I reread probably half-a-dozen times a year. Now think of how you feel when someone who’s supposed to love you and care about you—your partner, your best friend, your mother—thinks that hobby or activity is of no value. And takes every opportunity to tell you so. Do those interactions build your relationship? Inspire you with love and trust for the person showing such open contempt for something that brings you joy?

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. And I love that he loves them. I love that they bring him joy.

As I finish writing this up, Ender’s having the tail-end of his nap in my arms, and Flora’s listening to The Titan’s Curse. Cinder grabs his lap top, and sits down beside me on the couch. He pulls up an Antvenom video on Youtube. “I need to get this mod,” he says. “Cool one?” I ask. “Too cool,” he says. I watch him watching for a while.

I love my boy.

“Love you, Mom,” he says. “What do you want to do when my video’s over?”

Minecraft Castle

Minecraft Castle (Photo credit: Mike_Cooke)

Five is hard: can you attachment parent the older child?

It happens to the most attached parents among us. We’ve breastfed, co-slept, and slung our babes happily. It was easy—or, it became easy, once we got into the groove and shook off Aunt Maud’s disapproving glare. We saw our children grown and flourish, loved, connected, happy. But then, at some point, the demons of self-doubt return. Our child goes through a phase we see as difficult and challenging. Almost inevitably, this happens when we’re not at our best—pregnant, tired, stressed. And we wonder—is it possible to AP the older child?

Five seems to be the milestone when these demons attack most ferociously. Makes sense: it’s such a milestone age in our culture. The preschooler becomes a kindergartener. The stroller’s abandoned; first loose teeth come. The search for self becomes super-pronounced, and our five-year-old is frighteningly selfish. (I write about that aspect of five in Ferocious Five.)

It hit one of my friends very hard when her eldest daughter turned five. She asked our playgroup community for help, and she framed her struggles under this big question: “Is it possible the attachment parent the older child? This five year-old who’s driving me utterly, completely crazy every moment of every single day? Is it time to bring out the conventional discipline–punishment–toolbox?”

This was my response. I had seen Cinder through five pretty successfully. Not yet Flora. Bear that in mind as you read. Check out Ferocious Five for the lessons Flora taught me.

Five is hard. But so is two, three, four, six, sixteen–all in their different ways. Part of the trouble is that our children move onward and forward through the different ages and stages, while we, their imperfect parents, have just figured out how to cope with the preceding one.

Is it possible to attachment parent the older child? Possible, necessary, critical. And here is where the difference between AP “things we do”–co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing–and the AP “things we are” plays large. We don’t carry our five year olds, the majority of us don’t breastfeed them any more, we’re not necessarily co-sleeping with them. The “do” stuff is gone. The “be” stuff is all that remains.

And how do we “be” with the older children? I think this is one of the points at which our paths can diverge quite dramatically. And I don’t know that there is one *right* answer. For what it is worth, based on my sample of one five-year-old shepherded through some challenging stuff to date, these are the principles that helped us:

1. Make their world larger.

At five, Cinder’s world got larger. We’re homeschooling, so the massive change that is five day a week kindergarten wasn’t part of it–but think of what a huge change that is for the average five-year-old, and how hard it must be sort out, everything so new. Still, even minus kindergarten, it was so clear to us that a five-year-old was very different from a four-year-old. And absolutely, we butted heads because while he had moved on, I was still mothering a four-year-old.

A huge breakthrough for me was to make his world larger–ride his bike on (safe!) streets, cross the street on his own, go into stores on his own, play a bigger role in everything. I can’t quite remember all the different changes we did, but they’re pretty much irrelevant–they wouldn’t necessarily work for your child. Talk with her. What would she like to do now that she couldn’t (or wasn’t interested) in doing a year or six months ago?

2. The only person whose behaviour I can control is myself.

The other thing I always come back when we run into “downs”: the only person whose behaviour I can control is myself. And if I am unhappy with how my child is acting, the first step is not to look for a way to change my child, but to look at myself, within myself, and ask myself what can I do to change how I am reacting and communicating with my children? What am I doing–reflexively, thoughtlessly–that I can change. Start with me. When I’m okay, when I’m balanced, when I’m grounded–well, very often, the problem goes away, because it was in me in the first place. My children mirror me.

And, if the problem really is in the other–if it is all my Cinder being crazy or my Flora being whiney–when I’m taking care of myself, reflecting on my behaviour, and acting from a place within me that’s grounded, well, then I can cope and talk and help them sort through whatever craziness they are going through at the time without losing it.

3. Re-connect, re-attach.

I strongly, strongly believe that any punishment–be it a time out, a withdrawal of privileges, or the most innocuous manufactured consequence–does not help these situations but serves to drive a tiny, but ever growing, wedge between the attached parent and child. The absolutely best thing I’ve ever read about discipline was in Gordon Neufeld’s *Hold On To Your Kids*–absolutely aimed at parents of older children, through to teens. We’ve talked about this before, but this is the essence of what I take away from Neufeld’s chapter on “Discipline that Does Not Divide”: “Is [whatever action you were going to take] going to further your connection to your child? Or is it going to estrange you?”

So what do I do when I kind of want to throttle Cinder? I work at re-connecting. I call them re-attachment days. Have a bath together. Wrestle (I’m not advising it for pregnant mamas 🙂 ). Go for coffee (for me) and cookie (for him) at Heartland Cafe, just the two of us. Really focus on him and try to enjoy him. So often, that’s what he’s asking for by being obnoxious–really focused attention from me.

Now if I could only ensure I always give it to him so that we wouldn’t go through the head-butting phase in the first place!

4. Remind myself of what I want to say and how I want to act.

What do I do in the moment? That’s way harder in practice, no question. When I’m really frazzled, I leave notes to myself in conspicuous places with “when Cinder does x–do not say/do this–say/do this instead.” (Fridge and front door best places. Also, bathroom door.) And I tell my children what they are–“Those are reminders to me of how I want to treat you and talk to you, even when what you are doing makes me very, very angry.”

5. Sing.

Sometimes, I sing, “I want to holler really loud, but I’m trying really hard not to, someone help me figure something else to do, I think I’m going to stand on my head to distract myself…” (This works really, really well with two and three year olds too, by the way.)

6. Forgive. Move on.

Sometimes, I don’t catch myself in time and do all the things I don’t want to do: yell, threaten (if there is an “if” and a “then” in a sentence, it’s almost always a threat)… and then I apologize, try to rewind, move forward.

7. Put it all in perspective.

And always, always, I remind myself that 1) the worst behaviours usually occur just before huge developmental/emotional milestones, changes and breakthroughs, 2) my child is acting in the best way he knows at this moment, and if that way is not acceptable to me, I need to help him find another one, and 3) I love the little bugger more than life or the universe, no matter how obnoxious he is. (This is a good exercise too: after a hard, hard day, sit down and make a list of all the things you love about your little one. From the shadow her eyelash make on her cheeks when she sleeps to the way she kisses you goodnight… everything you can think of.)

And, finally, if I want my children to treat me–and others–with respect, I must treat them with respect. No matter how angry or tired I am.

Lots of love and support, 

“Jane”

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

Pandemic Diary: Take me to church, and also gambling, but whatever you do, don’t come over for dinner

Monday, November 23, 2020

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The masked woman brings me bra after bra. I’m stripped to the waist but masked—damned straight this is weird, damned pandemic! I’m finally buying myself another ridiculously expensive French lace bra. Yes, it’s weaved of gold and the underwire is platinum—I’m not sure how else one can justify the price. I can only afford it, barely, because a dear friend has, for two Christmases in a row, given me gift cards to this lingerie mecca.

A good bra, like a good hair cut, takes ten pounds off—all around the belly too—and shaves a decade off your wrinkled, aging face. True story, and I wish I weren’t that vain, but I am. Also, here I am, surrounded by frilly, beautiful things, and I am relaxed. Really relaxed. Well, except for the mask. That’s still weird, will always be weird—I don’t want it to become normal. I want it to be an anomaly.

Want, want—but what is, is. I wear the mask and remember that things were much, much worse in maskless December 2018, when I received that first gift card—and could not even think about using it for more than a year—and worse in an even worse way in December 2019, when I thought thing were better but found out I was just blind and delusional. I kind of want to dare December 2020 to bring it on, do its worst—what can it do? I’ve been to hell and back—facing your own helplessness to save the life, health of a child is the second worst thing one can experience. (The worst thing is losing that child; I’ve lived both. There are, really, no horrors left.)

Lingerie store. Mask. Bra. December coming, November blues facing, but oh, I’m so afraid of December. It’s never easy. It’s the month of shitty anniversaries, and anniversaries make pain fresh. This year, pandemic. Even with the gift card, I can’t really afford this bra. The woman helping me—her name is Kira—can’t either. How many hours does she have to work at this minimum wage retail job to afford these two triangles of French lace? I do the math—it’s brutal.

Today, she’s working. Tomorrow? Who knows. The Chief Medical Officer says we’re in crisis. There will be further restrictions, recommendations. Kira will likely be unemployed just before Christmas and her employer bankrupt by the first quarter of 2021.

I am afraid of December.

Kira asks me about my plans for the day, as I pay for the bra with a combination of gift cards and credit cards, and make a note to self to not replace my blender, nor buy any meat, until after December 15, when the credit card bill rolls over to the next month.

“I’ve got a couple of friends coming over,” I say, then wish I hadn’t spoken. “I guess for a semi-illegal thing,” I add. Not illegal yet. Just… frowned upon. I want to over-explain, that this is my COVID cohort, we’re all safe and responsible and nobody licks doorknobs and we really see nobody other than each other, not really, I promise we’re not the reason the COVID numbers are climbing—that idiot who wanted to shop mask-free at Costco after testing positive is the reason, don’t paint us with the same tar…

But I don’t. Kira and I exchange looks and she says, “Friends are important.”

I nod.

Especially in December.

“Which one do you think I got?”

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My newsfeed is very black and white. Well, mostly black: my friends and social media acquaintances take the pandemic very seriously and, really, overwhelmingly want another full-on lockdown. I don’t have hoaxers and rabid anti-maskers sharing news memes and outrage in my feeds, because, well, social media silos and I mostly associate with smart, thinking people.

But this time around, I am out of synch with my silo. I am, to be honest, ashamed of its lack of empathy and compassion towards people trying to navigate an unprecedented situation in the face of a pronounced lack of political leadership. They are trying to do their best for their children, for their businesses and for their livelihoods—for their mental health.

They don’t need to be called stupid and selfish for struggling and trying to carve out some sense of normalcy, of life amidst the current chaos—especially given the confused messaging from their leaders.

Things are about to get worse. And people are about to start getting shittier to each other. Nastier. More judgemental.

You: “My neighbours have people over! Why are people so stupid and selfish?”

Her: “Sheeple!”

Him: “That woman’s not wearing a mask! Fucking bitch!”

Them: “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see your rights are being taken away?”

Just what we need for December.

“Take me to church, but don’t come over for coffee.”

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The new bra buys me a little bit of happiness and, that night, resting in the presence, arms and love of my two friends gives me more. We’ll get through this because I’ve been actively building our cohort for months, since I started worrying about the second wave and November and December and another lockdown, way back in August. In a more significant way, I’ve been building this cohort for years. We will get through it together—by which I mean our “little” together. The macro “together” of the slogans? I don’t think it exists. You don’t care about me. I don’t care about you. We’re too abstract to each other—academic, unreal. Also, shrill and nasty and who wants to be kind to an asshole?

Not me.

But I really care about my people. And you care about yours, right?

Care about them, for them a lot.

Especially in December.

xoxo

“Jane”

“Brunette in despair”

Thursday, November 26

So Alberta’s new second wave restrictions, while keeping pretty much everything unchanged and opened, took my safe social cohort away from me, and I’m trying really hard not to feel despair.

The sad thing here is that I haven’t yet had a chance to experience the effects of social isolation. I’m just stripped so raw already that its spectre is making me feel physically ill. No friends in my house. But I can go to a casino or a mall. Fuck me hard, my primitive monkey brain refuses to understand the logic of this.

Policy made by sexless introverted psychopaths who hate people isn’t conductive to good mental health, you know?

If you need me, I’ll be in my bath tub with Scotch and chocolate. I know it’s 9 a.m. It’s 2020 and it’s almost December.

Merry Christmas.

“Alt title: fuckity-fuckity-fuck.”

Pandemic Diary: Principles of Propaganda, a FREE primer for the Government of Alberta + Random Acts of Kindness, a FREE primer for the rest of us

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Sometimes, I teach propaganda, and today, I want to teach our political leaders how to use propaganda, because, while reprehensible and usually unethical, it is a very effective communications tool, and their COVID-19 communication strategy at this moment, to use a highly technical public relations term, sucks ass.

Principle 1: Effective propaganda (like all effective opinion writing, btw), has a single, clearly articulated position.

Therefore, “COVID-19 can be effectively mitigated by washing hands, not touching your face, wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart—OMG—why aren’t you people just doing that—it’s so simple and the virus is so deadly—the numbers are spiking—you’re killing the elderly—you’re all going to die—don’t stress, just wash your hands—stay home but only if you really want to—why isn’t everyone doing their part to stop the spread?” is not effective propaganda.

Principle 2: Effective propaganda identifies a common enemy. A scape goat. This is sad but effective, because the concept of “enemy” is pretty primal. If you don’t give the people a common enemy to focus on and hate, they turn on each other. And while they might say they hate the WHO, say, or the CDC, or the Chief Medical Officer—who they actually hate is the guy next door and the woman ahead of them in the  grocery store line-up.

The common enemy is COVID-19. Repeat after me: the common enemy is COVID-19. Dr. Hinshaw actually said this in today’s briefing, brilliant woman. Let’s say it again: The common enemy is the fucking virus. Not your neighbour who’s just hosted a birthday party, and not your co-worker who made you feel like shit for going on a date.

THE COMMON ENEMY IS COVID-19.

Frustrated and angry? Me too, sister, me too. The approved mantra is, “Fuck you, COVID-19.”

Not “Why are people so stupid and selfish!”

They are not the enemy. Your neighbours are not the enemy. They are doing a shitty job of following the rules because their leaders are doing a shitty job of leading them—and really failing at the effectuve propaganda thing.

Who’s the enemy?

That’s right. The virus. Not your disempowered, frustrated, frightened neighbours.

Principle 3: Effective propaganda empowers. This is key: effective propaganda tells people what they can do to win the war, preferably in slogans. Loose lips sink ships. Put that light out! Make do and mend! Do your part—stay six feet apart.

See what’s happening there? It gives people a determined, simple, non-negotiable action item. Giving them this action item—giving them instructions vests them with power. This is kinda paradoxical on the face of it, but modern psychologists can explain to you in great detail why this is true (shorthand: we’re really just very articulate monkeys; we’re not that great with freedom and choice, tbh). So—want people to feel empowered by your propaganda? Tell them what to do.

Put that light out!

Not—We encourage everyone, if they think they’re capable of it and it doesn’t conflict with their self of what they’re entitled to or comfortable with, to put out their lights. It would really help. We’re not going to infringe on this, because we really don’t want to infringe on personal liberties. But, like. Please? Because otherwise, things will get worse.

Got it? Effective propaganda empowers by being commanding. Imperative.

It does not plead: Please, please stay home—but if you do go out to frequent the businesses that we’re keeping open, because nobody wants another lockdown, make sure you’re safe and do all the things we’re asking you to do, okay? Yes? Will you?

It declares: Stay home. Save lives.

Go back to principle 1 now. Can’t remember what it is? It’s ok—all of us have impaired, shitty memories right now. Pandemic stress. I’ll repeat it: Effective propaganda has a single clearly articulated position.

It’s not journalism or a reasoned argument. THE OTHER SIDE DOES NOT EXIST.

So. You cannot simultaneously tell people, “Stay home. Save Lives!” and “Schools are safe though and please, go shopping LOTS and keep the economy going—restaurants and bars are totally okay too, if you stop drinking by 10 pm and are home and in bed—alone—by 11.”

It doesn’t actually matter if restaurants and bars are totally okay, by the way. You just can’t sell it like that. “We’re in a crisis way worse than when we implemented the lockdown back in the spring. But we’re not closing anything down. Restaurants are not the problem. Entertaining your friends at home is.”

The stressed, strained monkey brain does not compute. At all.

It needs a Single. Clearly. Articulated. Position.

An empowering, clear and direct Call to Action.

And a common enemy—that, in this case, is the virus.

Not the people next door.

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So there you go. These are the three essential principles of effective propaganda, all of which are missing from Alberta’s and Canada’s COVID-19 communications strategy right now. There is a fourth one that kind of runs through all three of these: propaganda makes the complex simple. That’s what makes it intellectually suspect and also dangerous. And that’s why if you want to wield its power for the benefit of the great social good, you’ve gotta thread carefully.

Our government is refusing to wield this power, and it has delegated the responsibility for flattening the second wave of the pandemic to the people on the street. (Btw, notice how it has arrived right on schedule? I mean, in March, we could at least claim we didn’t know what was coming—Bob and Bob’s uncle, not to mention the WHO and Health Canada and the CDC were all warning of a November spike since… April.)

This quasi-libertarian delegation of responsibility and abrogation of leadership sucks. It’s very very unfair. We the people on the street cannot speak with a single voice. We do not espouse a single, clearly articulated position. We are many; we have conflicting views, beliefs, priorities. Values.

But let’s agree on this: the common enemy is COVID-19.

I think you can get behind this even if you think COVID-19 is a hoax. Your tweak on this mantra: the common enemy is the COVID-19 hoax. There. That’s the enemy. Not the bus driver. Not your neighbour. Not the retail clerk who asks you to wear a mask. Not the customer who refuses to wear a mask.

The common enemy is COVID-19.

And we’re going to kill that motherfucker’s ass by committing random acts of kindness towards our friends, neighbours and strangers.

COVID-19 sucks, people, but we don’t have to.

(That’s my propaganda mantra, btw, and I think it’s pretty effective even though it doesn’t rhyme.)

What? You’d rather just bitch about how your neighbour sucks?

Well, fuck you.

No. Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. You are not the enemy. COVID-19 is the enemy. So what you’re going to do, is you’re going to go buy your favourite chocolate bar—yes, you can just steal it from your kids’ candy stash if there’s anything left over from Halloweeen. Write a note.

“COVID-19 sucks, but we don’t have to” is my suggestion. But feel free to elaborate and be gushy. Or trashy.

Pop it in your neighbour’s mailbox instead of glaring at them for not responding to the government’s lack of response to the pandemic in the same way you do.

It’s not the vaccine (but hey, there’s good news on that front this week, right?). But random acts of kindness—I recommend gifts of chocolate, although Scotch, wine, weed and pizza will also do the trick, and flowers are nice too, although you can’t eat or drink them—will get us through this while governments fail us with mixed messages.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Disinfect the chocolate bar wrapper, by all means, or wear latex gloves. You know the drill. Also, if you’re engaging in personal propaganda—remember our three principles. A single, clearly articulated message. A common enemy (the virus, not the mayor, not the premier—I know we want to make it the premier, but no, it’s the virus—not the snotty senior on the C-train). An empowering, clear call to action.

“COVID-19 sucks, but we don’t have to.”

Now, go give people some weed, wine, and chocolate.

(I’m also accepting cigars, because, fuck it, I’ve given up on shepherding my lungs through this. But that’s another story.)

Pandemic diary: But if the world is ending, I don’t want six pack abs…

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I’m doing writer stretches this morning.

Word plus word plus word equals sentence. Two or three of those make a paragraph—except this one, it stands alone, and this one is fat, seven sentences long. Hmmm, take the scalpel that is the return key and split that chunker in half.

I’m not saying you can’t have long paragraphs in your work.

But if you want people to read it? You shouldn’t.

A great deal of my teaching/coaching work involves undoing the work of English teachers everywhere. Sometimes, I feel bad about it.

Most of the time, I do it with glee.

ii

I’m writing about writer stretches and thinking about body stretches, which I haven’t been giving my body for months.

Body: I can’t stretch myself, you know.

Jane: I know. But exercise is so boring and I just want to eat chocolate croissants instead.

I go for a walk in the crisp November sunshine with a friend then spend the evening wrapped in the love of another. Some of the businesses in my city are entering a voluntary lockdown for a couple of weeks to help the health authorities get ahead of the second wave. It’s a good moral call, but financial suicide.

Body: What the hell does that have to do with your refusal to exercise me?

Jane: Everything. Everything is interconnected.

iii

Everything is interconnected, and that simultaneously makes us strong and also vulnerable, and I really should do some sit-ups this morning and maybe hold the plank for 45 seconds, but really, if the end of the world is coming, do I want to gout with six pack abs or with the memory of pain au chocolate on my tongue?

Body: You hate me.

Jane: I’m doing writer stretches and when I finish, I don’t really want to do physical stretches all alone on the floor of my living room. You know?

I thought gyms were stinking cesspools of infection and disease before the pandemic, anyway. But I did go. Once in a while.

Body: 15 lousy sit-ups. Come on.

Jane: And then, a croissant?

Body: You’re hopeless.

I am, it’s true. Optimism in my heels and hope floating up into the atmosphere like helium, escaping one atom at a time over the past few months… not much of it left.

Still. The important part of me feels stretched.

Body: I’m dying here.

Jane: Shut up. Eat some chocolate. I’ll take you for a walk later.

Writer stretches.

Ouch.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Suck it, 2020. I mean… let’s be excellent to each other, or at least not Grade-A jerks, ok?

I’ve started doing this thing in my morning pages where I begin every day with a Month… Date… 2020.

November 13, 2020.

November 14, 2020.

November 15, 2020.

And when I say I’ve started—I’ve been doing it for months. All year, really—definitely since March. My pre-2020 habit was to include the year in the first one or two entries of a new notebook. Now? Every day. 2020. It’s still 2020.

Well. Yes, it’s still 2020 but also, 2020 is almost over, isn’t it? Six weeks and this year ends and 2021 begins.

I’m kinda worried it will suck too. Maybe even worse. Lockdown, relaunch, get sloppy, bitch and complain, lockdown, repeat. I am hoping Pfizer will save us all—at least, the 80 percent of us willing to take the vaccine—but my optimism is in my heels. Also, I hate you all. I’d apologize but a) I wouldn’t mean it, and b) you hate me—and us all—too. We’re frayed and we’re angry, and it’s getting harder and harder to be kind.

I get it.

I don’t like it—but I get it.

My notebook is full of a month of posts, untranscribed and unpublished, in which I let myself hate you audibly, loudly, enthusiastically. Not constructive, I know. But cathartic. I feel a little better now—not loving and selfless, by any stretch of the imagination, but. You know. Somewhat compassionate. A little understanding.

It’s a start.

So, 2020. Six weeks to go in the year in which nothing went as planned. There must have been high points, beautiful moments, right? Halloween was one of mine but if I tell you that, you’ll make me feel bad, so I suppress that post. And there were others, too, ones that maybe I could share, recall, if I tried, but it’s hard. The shadow of the pandemic and the paralyzing uncertainty it created in the souls and lives of everyone who thinks and feels—it’s a long shadow.

I think it eats happiness.

I know it eats your happiness as much as it eats mine. We show our frustration in different ways. You hoard toilet paper—I mock you for hoarding toilet paper—you call me an idiot for not taking anything seriously enough.

Both reactions—all reactions are valid. 2020 and the pandemic are kicking our collective ass. So, like… let’s not be nasty to each other because we’re suffering. Imagine this. Let’s not, let’s just not. Is it possible? Let’s not be nasty with each other for being frustrated, confused, angry, depressed, frayed to the breaking point.

Let’s keep in mind that while a record number of Canadians filed for unemployment at the height of the lockdown, twice if not thrice that many have seen their income halved—or decimated—and don’t qualify for any assistance. (Raises hand, looks at line of credit, sighs.)

Let’s keep in mind that we are poorly designed to deal with an ongoing crisis. A one-day, one-week emergency? We got it! A month? That’s pushing it. A year-long crisis with no end in sight? We’re done, we’re fried, we don’t know how to cope.

Crisis fatigue.

It’s a thing.

I’m doing a lot of thinking about “How the fuck did my grandparents get through six years of World War 2 and Nazi occupation?” And “how the fuck did my entire extended family get through 44 years of Soviet occupation”?

(Also—how did my daughter get through 2019? She did. She did.)

And I must believe that they did this by NOT being assholes to each other.

My cup of frustration runeth over, and also, I know, does yours. Let’s drink from them to more understanding and patience and less knee-jerk hate and anger in these last six weeks of the year that wouldn’t end. With non-alcoholic pomegranate juice, because I think I’m drinking too much again and I won’t say anything, no judgement, times are tough, but so are you.

This is my goal for the rest of 2020: let’s not let the crisis and fear turn us into assholes.

We can do better.

Except that dude over there. He was an asshole before; he’s a bigger one now—he’ll be unbearable in 2021. There’s no hope—expand no energy on him, don’t fixate on him. You can’t save him.

You and me, though?

We can do better.

We will do better.

Suck it, 2020.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Less enthusiasm, more chocolate

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Before I start, a caveat: no, you can’t make me happy, no, you can’t do anything right. It’s 2020 and pretty much everything sucks, and the good things are so comparatively small, it takes supreme acts of will to appreciate them.

Anyway:

You: How are things?

Jane: Things are ok.

You: I’m glad things are ok!

Wait, wait, wait, WTF? Where did that exclamation mark, that enthusiasm come from? Things are—ok. Not Ok!

LOL.

Never mind. Let’s just talk in GIFs and memes, and misinterpret those instead.

I love texting / I hate texting and because right now texting is the dominant mode of communication between me and the world—I really hate texting and I guess I could pick up the phone and call you, but I’ve forgotten how to do that. Also, tbh, I don’t really want to fix my problems. I just want to complain about them.

You: Are you sure things are ok?

Jane: Yeah, they’re fine.

You: I’m glad things are fine!

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Maybe we just shouldn’t talk.

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Things are ok. Fine. No exclamation mark, please, no excessive enthusiasm or toxic positivity, ok? It’s 2020 and breathing is hard—especially if you’re a Black American—what, did you think I was going to make it about masks? Come on, honey. Choose a better hill to die on.

Things are hard, but ok, ok but hard, ok and hard. That can be a thing, right. This and that.

Ok and hard.

You: I’m afraid to say anything.

Jane: I know. Just, like… don’t use exclamation marks or thumbs up emojis when you text me, ok?

You: ok!

Now you’re mocking me. Why would you do that?

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You cannot make me happy and I cannot make you happy, because it’s 2020 and even when things are ok, they’re definitely not ok! and they’re hard. But we can NOT make things worse, for each other, personally, anyway, right

You: Wait, I figured this out!

Jane: It’s not that hard. Just drop the damned exclamation marks and send hugs.

You: No, no, I got this. Let me try again.

Fine. Why not? Ok and hard, and I can deal with your attempt to deal with negativity—or neutrality—by drowning me in enthusiasm and positivity, because I love you, and… Fine. Ok. You may try again.

You: How are things?

Jane: They’re ok.

You: Chocolate?

OMG! Yes! I love you! Thank you!

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Pandemic Productivity Peccadillos

My eldest is having a hard time buckling down to finish (start?) his Social Studies 30 assignment, and both his dad and I are like, “Yeah, baby, we hear you, we don’t want to do any work either.” I’m writing this post after squeezing out of me one revised paragraph—ok, maybe like three—on a project on which I feel three to four weeks behind, because, for fuck’s sake, it should be way over the halfway point right now, but I am slow as molasses and stupid to boot, and who wants to sit down at the computer and write when each sentence, each paragraph makes you feel like a covidiot?

So I delay.

Wash the dishes.

Walk the dogs.

Dust a bookshelf. (Seriously. And I never dust.)

I teach these workshops on organized creativity, the creativity process, and the power of habit and discipline in seeing you through periods of trauma and despair. These days? I feel like such a hypocrite. Except, of course, when I don’t: when I realize that even though I am slow as molasses and stupid to boot, even though I don’t want to do the work and I don’t particularly like doing the work when I do it… I do manage to do some of it anyway.

Not as much as I’d like.

Not to the level of “good enough” I expect of myself.

But I do it. Kind of.

On most days.

Well, on some days.

Half the days?

Maybe most days. It depends.

Now, the good news/bad news of my impaired pandemic productivity is that when I don’t work / don’t write / don’t file / don’t deliver… I don’t get paid. And so, the good/bad news is that, well, when I don’t work, nobody’s paying me to not work. The really bad news is that when I don’t work, nobody pays me and, like, thank god for the line of credit, is all I’ve got to say. The good news, I suppose, is that I’m not “cheating” anyone, so to speak. I expect that if I had a paper-pushing office job right now… I’d show up. Sit. Open some windows and files…

But not really accomplish very much.

Question: would my supervisors notice?

Don’t answer that. There is no good answer to that.

I deal with my perceived pandemic (un)productivity peccadillos the way I always do: by re-reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’ve decided that The Artist’s Way is the closest that I have to a spiritual text. You’ve got the Q’ran and she’s got The New Earth and they’re grooving on the Baghavad Gita. My prophet, it appears, is Julia Cameron:

Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention.

Show up at the page.

Very often, a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy. Rather than working or living the now, we spin our wheels and indulge in daydreams of could have, would have, should have. One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that a creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.

Attention.

It is hard to pay attention now, isn’t it? To really focus? In large part because not paying attention and not focusing on the news, current developments, the raging political-economic-social panic outside the door is a coping strategy. Don’t pay attention to that—it’s a survival mechanism. Distract, distract, distract.

And that spills over, and focusing on the work, the stuff that actually matters—it gets hard, impossible.

So. This week’s exercise is to pay attention. To little things, to beautiful things. My son’s smile and my daughter’s glower. The smell of coffee. The squeak of my bicycle chain.

The imperfect but still pleasing rhythm of this sentence.

Practice, practice, practice paying attention.

You: Still not gonna pay this month’s rent that way.

Jane: Line of credit, baby. Also, small steps, small steps. It all begins with small steps. Words become a sentence and sentences become paragraphs and paragraphs become pages and pages become cheques.

Cinder: Are you telling me you’re gonna pay me if I finish my Social Studies assignment?

Jane: A future employer will pay you, baby. Small steps.

Today’s second pot of coffee is delicious. The light outside is flat, but the way my lamp illuminates it is pretty. The dogs need to be walked, and my back needs to be stretched, and when I come back—maybe I’ll tackle another paragraph. Two. Three.

Scratch that maybe. I’ll do it, right?

Right.

Slow as molasses. Stupid to boot.

Writing anyway.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Come on, honey. Just have a bubble bath, there’s a good girl

So I’m in the bath and…

Actually, I’m not in the bath, but I had the idea for this post in the bath, and I had this perfect lead all worked out, but now it doesn’t work… but I don’t want to let go of it.

If one of my students or reporters filed a piece that began like this, I’d fail/fire them—okay, I wouldn’t, but I’d give them a very stern talking to, and remind them that “You don’t matter—the story matters,” and also, “It’s never about you—it’s about the reader,” and also, “Don’t fall in love with your fucking sentences, leads, metaphors, turns of phrase—their job is to serve the story, not to show the reader how witty you are—YOU. DON’T. MATTER.”

But this is my playground and I don’t have an editor (nyah-nyah-nyah) or an advertising manager (but that might actually be a mistake), and so—I’m in the bath and…

I’m in the bath, and it’s actually very nice and relaxing, and as my body relaxes, suddenly, anger comes, spikes and explodes, a mini-tsunami of rage inside me, threatening to spill over into the bathwater, and I remember with loathing how the family therapist at Flora’s clinic had nothing in the tool box she’d offer me except baths and I remember, very specifically, how en route to what would be our last joint meeting with her, I told Sean that if she said “have a bath,” I would conjure up a tub right there in her office and drown the bitch in it, what the fuck was wrong with people that they think self-care equals hot baths? And what the fuck is wrong with people that they think the solution to systematic, structural meta-problems is… self-care? The health care system is failing my child, the patriarchy sucks, our modern society is built on racism and genocide, capitalism is unjust, we’re raping the Earth—we’re raping our girls and women and most of our vulnerable with most of our policies, social structures, actions—hey, take a step back. Chill. Breathe.

Have a bath.

The bath is actually very nice, by the way. My new tub is, although short, really deep, and I’m submerged up to my shoulders ,and I even bought some stinky bath salts—I’m pretty sure someone, perhaps a whole village, was exploited in their production and procurement chain, but hey, whatever, don’t think about it. I’m not actually thinking about it. Well, I am and I’m not—I’m crafting a pissy, bitchy, angry post in my head and suddenly, I’m totally relaxed and perfectly happy, because that is the way the writer mind works—and I kind of want to get out of the tub NOW so that I can run to my computer and start writing NOW—but I’m finally starting to enjoy this stupid bath, so I should probably stay. Can I keep the whole piece in my head, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, until I get out?

It’s fading, dammit, as the anger fades. Probably, though, if I plug back into the tsunami of social justice anger… there we go. Ok. Open with the family therapist anecdote—build towards that whole “Upset with racism? Genocide? Underfunded classrooms? Incompetent politicians? Don’t worry—have a bath” thing, and then carry that through to the punchline: when we tell people (women especially) to take a bath, to engage in self-care, instead of actually supporting them with the shit they’re going through, we’re essentially making them personally responsible for… well, everything. And perpetuating the status quo.

No. Wait. Almost there—I mean, yes, that’s the thrust, but that’s NOT how I want to do it. Back track to that last punchy paragraph.

The patriarchy sucks, our modern society is built on racism and genocide, capitalism is unjust, we’re raping the Earth—we’re raping our girls and women and most of our vulnerable with most of our policies, social structures, actions—hey, take a step back. Have a bath.

There we go.

Have a bath. It won’t make anything better, but it will replenish you. And you’re important. Taking care of you is important. You need to take care of you before you take care of the world. So have that bath. Fill it with luscious unguents.

Full disclosure: When I first thought that last sentence (in the bath), I got stuck on ungulates, which are—I’ll save you the trip to google—hoofed mammals, while an unguent is a soft greasy or viscous substance used as ointment or for lubrication—and the lesson there is that you should just say bath salts, bath bomb, rose water or almond oil—because a) specificity rules and b) so does simplicity—the simple word is always best. And neither ungulate nor unguent are (most of the time) the word you’re looking for.

So have that bath. Fill it with bath salts. Light a candle.

Focus on yourself.

Not on the world and what’s wrong with it and what must be done to change it.

Hey, do you see what they’re doing there?

Meditate. Do yoga. Go to the gym. Sculpt that body. Discipline your mind. Make yourself your project. You can change you—focus on that. It’s better that way. Less frustrating.

Less… dangerous.

Her: You just ruined baths for me forever. Thanks.

Jane: You’re welcome. Now get out of that tub, get your hands dirty, and change the world.

^^^that’s the punchline and the call to action, the perfect ending, and in my head—in the bath—the piece ends here.

But when I sit down at the computer to write it down, a second idea enters. A second layer manifests. A piece within a piece, a story with a story—a story with a dual purpose, but a single action call—and it’s my playground, so why not?

Get in the bath. Relax long enough for the rage to build. Then take it out with you out of that tub, use it as fuel—change the world.

xoxo

“Jane”

The portrait that defines us as a family right now…

Pandemic Diary: Three Generations

I am in a liminal space again: back from a whirlwind road trip to Vancouver with my 69-year-old mother and 15-year-old daughter. “Three generations!” my mom thus hashtags most of the photos from the adventures. “We have three generations in the store today—a momentous occasion!” an employee of Venus and Mars Fashions tells her co-worker.

Three generations.

We are here because—well, each of us has a different reason. My mom loves road trips and got a little jealous of my earlier road trip to Vancouver Island with Ender and a friend—even though she was zooming around British Columbia at the same time with my dad. Flora loves the ocean and wanted tide pools, also, to check out the UBC campus—we’re all big on future planning right now (and, parenthetically, fuck you Eckart Tolle and screw off, Buddha, future planning saves lives). Me, I wanted to spend time with Flora, give time to my mom, and also, to avoid the first post-divorce Thanksgiving weirdness. Who goes where and with whom, when—ugh, let’s just not. So, yes, I ran away. Don’t judge me—things are weird. I’m not speaking to my Dad (long story, 100 per cent his fault, but fuck, I love him, will he get his head out of his ass and apologize so I can have a father for a few more years before he dies?); Sean and I are very polite and knd to each other but not really real; the kids are sometimes fine, sometimes pure rage; I haven’t seen my brother since he helped me move out; I have no idea what my ex-in-laws know or don’t know—everything fucking weird, and I have no bandwidth left to navigate.

So.

Run away.

Three generations.

The trip is good. We drive like the wind—24 hours in the car for 48 hours in Vancouver, 16 of those asleep in bed. The math doesn’t make sense, says Flora, who hates cars and road trips. But the pay-off is so worth it. Ocean. It’s cold and rainy and did I say cold, but it doesn’t matter. Ocean. A primal homecoming. Also, Vancouver’s lush greenery. Spectacular sushi. My favourite alternative fashion stores that I can now share with my pastel goth-punk alternative daughter.

“Don’t you dare tell me what these are for,” she hisses at me at one point during our private tour of Deadly Couture. I agree wordlessly. I forgot that my favourite clothing stores stock a fair bit of fetish wear, also, bondage aids and sex toys.

But I try on a latex dress both because I like it and to stretch my mom’s comfort zone, a little. She’s a champ, and appalled, just a little. She’s bankrolling the trip; Flora heads back with a whole new wardrobe and I score a new bra and steampunk Mary Janes.

Three generations.

I’m not sure, exactly, what meta-purpose the trip serves for my mom, beyond the obvious one of loving us, spending time with us. For me, I think it reminds me that family is more than the nuclear family I just blew up. I need the reminder that this too is family: Maiden, Matron, Crone. The kids and I, we’re still family, even across two houses. And my brother and I—I should text him. And my dad—I’ll forgive him, probably, eventually, hopefully while he’s still alive, but my anger, rarely ignited, is truly a terrible and powerful thing, and it still burns.

Three generations. There is no fourth generation alive any more. I grew up with great-grandmothers on both sides, and Flora had a great-grandmother alive for a while on her patriline. But they are gone, all of my grandparents, all of Flora’s great-grandparents. The fourth generation will come from my daughter…

Flora: It won’t.

…or her brothers. Or, not at all. If I were Flora and her gen… I would not want to procreate either.

Still. Three generations. It’s a powerful image. So I end my first post-divorce Thanksgiving full of gratitude and almost with a sense of peace. I am with my daughter and my mother. My sons are with their father. We are not together, but everyone is loved.

Everyone is loved.

Three generations.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: We’ll find out when we get there

It’s not really cold. A low of eight degrees overnight, the temperature climbing to 14-15 degrees by noon. A gorgeous, perfect fall day. I start it by the fire wrapped in a blanket—you suggest that I would be more productive sitting at my desk, but what do you know? Chairs are uncomfortable, and Truman Capote, for one, wrote everything lying prone on bed, and also, didn’t you just tell me I have to be kind to myself?

This happens yesterday:

Flora: Apparently there was a real lockdown at school but it was period 4 so I was home but you might get a email or something

Jane: I did. There was an “intruder.” How are you feeling?

Flora: Sad. I missed something interesting. Like what the hell! I wanna feel like an American student

Life today and its moments. The day before, this:

Flora: Can you take me to a taxidermy store so I can raid its dumpster?

Jane: what mother does not dream of a request like that
Is there a taxidermy store in Calgary?

Flora: More than you’d think
Like, 7

Jane: cool, ok, choose one, and we can go after school or after your nap, or tomorrow

…and yes, I am the mother who takes my 15-year-old dumpster diving behind a taxidermist’s after school, except that it turns out that the taxidermist works out of his house, and his street does not have a back alley, so going through his garbage would involve, essentially, breaking into his garage, and neither Flora nor I have quite the chutzpah for that.

Jane: Surely, there must be a taxidermist who works out of one of those creepy little strip malls in one of the industrials areas. Maybe we should go raid their dumpster. What are we looking for, anyway?

(A sane person might have, I grant you, asked that question before driving to the taxidermist’s home address.)

Flora: Bones.

Jane: Do you think they just throw bones and shit into the regular garbage? Aren’t there rules, bylaws about the disposal of biological matter? I mean, if your cat or dog dies, you can’t just toss the corpse into the dumpster.

Flora: Can’t you?

We don’t know.

We could google it, but I’m driving and she’s hungry, so we go to Subway instead.

Today, I want to want to work, very much so, and that feels pretty good. But I’m also going to spend some time with Julia Cameron, and have lunch with a fascinating human, walk the dogs, and watch Ender play dinosaur LEGO army with the growing army of homeschooled neighbourhood kids—maybe go buy his birthday present, and…

Flora: Take me to another taxidermy store?

Jane: Maybe. Let’s make sure this one is NOT in someone’s house. Did you ever find out if they’re just allowed to throw bones into the trash?

Flora: No. I figured we’d just find out when we get there.

Fair enough.

(The above conversation took place entirely in my head, by the way, but odds are good it will unfold more or less like this, via text, this afternoon.)

The fire roars. My nose drips. Allergies, I insist, and not the plague—anyway, I know it can’t be COVID, because Cinder and his Dad both just tested negative, and they’re my proxy test.

Today will be a good day. I feel it in my cold toes and dripping nose.

Flora: Excited about that taxidermy dumpster diving experience?

Jane: You’d better believe it.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Instructions to Self

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Get up. No, really. Pull off the covers and get up, get out of bed. Feet into slippers. Aren’t you glad you bought those when you did—these floors are cold and the fur inside the slippers so soft… Pause. Enjoy this first joy of the morning. Yes? Now, dressing gown on. Good. Look at you, almost at the door. Turn on the light. You’re doing it! Open the bedroom door. Look at this space that you love and glory in it. Fine, don’t, too early for glorying. Just don’t crash yet, ok? You’re doing it, you’re moving. Turn on the lights and turn on the heat—don’t think about the darkness and cold of winter, coming relentlessly—don’t think about it. Why are you thinking about it? It’s like you don’t want to be happy, bitch, come on. Pull yourself together and work with me! Yesterday was a sunny, warm day and while the sunset comes well before even your lame early bedtime, wasn’t it beautiful? Don’t think about winter. Think about your fireplace. Actually, don’t think, just get your ass into the kitchen. Fill the kettle with water. Light a burner on the stove. Grind the beans. Why did you wash the Bodum last night, ya’ lazy fuck, you’ve got to do it now. Sigh. Ok, done.

Fuck. You forgot to pee—how is that even a thing? Pee.

The bathroom is cold. Be grateful for your robe and slippers, and that living room fire. How lucky are you that that’s your main heat source and not a hedonistic indulgence? As soon as the kettle boils, you’ll make coffee and sit beside it and be cozy and warm. Will you work today? Don’t think about it until after the coffee is made—but also, why are making that an option, a question? Do you want to pay rent and the credit card bill? Then pull your whiney shit together and work.

Don’t think. The kettle is whistling. Turn off the gas. Pour the boiling water over the ground beans. Inhale the smell. Yessss. Glory in that. Good. Now glory in the gas stove—think about how hot that gas fireplace will be now. Good. Cup, cinnamon and Bodum on tray. Where’s your notebook? Beside the burning fire, with your pens. Perfect. Sit down. Pour coffee.

Write.

ii

Every once in a while, a friend or a stranger provides me with an external reality check—a reminder that while I feel that in the last two months, I’ve been treading water (again), doing nothing, writing nothing—I’ve written 40,000 words plus revisions plus queries plus thinking of course—and, course notes and materials—also, of course, these blog posts.

It doesn’t seem like enough; it never seems like enough.

Yesterday’s crop of work: editing one 900-word piece, gratis, for a friend, proofing (really, ghostwriting) a 2000 word article for a client. No proofing of Matilda, and no work on the memoir project. Today, I am afraid, will be the same. Same but different—I will make myself work on one chapter before letting myself eat breakfast. No work—no breakfast. No work—no food. This is the stratagem I am reduced to right now—but at least I have a working strategy left.

I talk with another creative yesterday. He’s taking up singing lessons in an attempt to shake his malaise up, light a fire of motivation, creation, action under this inertia. Induced by the pandemic or other life’s stressors? He doesn’t know and neither do I. Let’s not talk about it. I don’t care about root causes anymore: I just want to DO things.

A lovely stranger tells me to think about adrenal supplements. A less lovely stranger suggests a multi vitamin and more iron. I tell him that he, in turn, could use to lose some weight. That Quarantine 15 looks more like a Quarantine 35, that is, if he had a flat belly beforehand—and also, two or three drinks every night probably does make you an alcoholic, and it’s definitely not good for the complexion. We part in mutual acrimony; ironically, we’re probably both right. Maybe some of this low energy in me is due to an iron deficiency; and eating, generally, is more a chore than a pleasure these days, so a multivitamin might not be a bad idea—but really? Shut the fuck up and don’t provoke me—OMFG, I can’t believe I just told someone to lose weight, not something you should say to stranger, foe or friend, ever. But in my defence, between his “you need to take an iron supplement” and my “and you need to lose 20 or 30 pounds, asshole” retort, came a suggestion that I wax the dark fuzz on my upper lip, and would I consider taking out my lip rings?

Motherfucker is lucky I didn’t bury his body in the gravel of the playground at the local elementary school, at which children lick each other during recess, then wait six feet apart, masks obediently on, before being marched back into the building.

But I digress. What was my point? I want to DO things. Ok, specifically—I want to WANT to DO things. I feel this is probably a positive first step. To desire desire. I am out of bed. I have ranted, emptied myself on the page in my Morning Pages practice. I have closed my eyes for two minutes in a fake meditation and, still feeling resistance instead of desire-to-desire, I’ve started writing anyway.

Start to work, start to write, start to move. Desire comes next, desire comes from action—and even if it doesn’t, the action, once executed, persists.

Also, honey, if you don’t revise that fucking chapter, you get no breakfast and aren’t you hungry? Starving?

Work, dammit.

Tummy grumbling, I work. The desire doesn’t come. But the words do, anyway.

The mark of a professional; OMFG, I wish I was an amateur, a hobbyist, did not have to get out of bed today—no, I don’t—I… work.

I work. And, finally, five pages in, flow. Not ninety minutes, not hours. Just a few minutes. A taste. But enough, enough, enough to spark a little bit of desire. Enough to remember what the heroin feels like. Enough to chase it onto the next page. And the next one. One more? And one more.

Two more—so hungry—two more, and you can eat. You can eat soon.

You can invoice soon.

The mark of a professional.

Doing the thing, even when you don’t want to.

xoxo

“Jane”

There are good moments
From the first post-COVID GoGo Battles at Dickens

Pandemic Diary: Sand in the well

I had a week last week. You too? You know the kind of week I mean—the terrible, horrible, no good very bad day that morphs into two terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, then three, then feels like a week—an eternity—long before it hits seven—the kind of awful week that’s barely endurable even when it’s a day—the kind of week that feels as if it is a month, a year long—the kind of week that feels it will never end…

…but, mercifully, eventually, it does.

I think it’s over, but, I don’t know. Its defining mood comes back every now and then, washes over me in a black wave—no, it’s over, it must be over, I can’t endure aother day of that week, be over, now!

Nothing bad happened by the way. Well, except the world and life—but, really. No external trigger at all, unless one can continue to plead macro causes—and I am sick of blaming the pandemic for my moods.

This beast, let’s claim for a change of pace, came entirely from within.

Mostly recovered—at least, not in a full-on hate for the world, myself, and you—I meet a friend for coffee and distraction.

Them: How have you been?

Jane: Fine. By which I mean, fucked up, insecure, neurotic and egotistical, as Louise Penny’s Ruth Zardo would put it. I had a week. Better now. Have you seen…

Them: Why did you call me? You know I’m here for you!

(When I say call, by the way, I mean text, as do they. Don’t call me. The phone rings, and I stare at it, confused—the only call I’m expecting is AHS to call if my COVID test is positive, and so now I’m freaking out, why did you do that to me? Just text, dammit.)

Jane: Yeah. I know. Pass the bean dip?

I like my friend. They’re good people and fun to hang out with. But I’ve learned that their ardent belief to the contrary, they are not there for me when I’m having a week. And not because they’re selfish or ungenerous or unfeeling. Quite the opposite. They will help me move, clean cook, rip out my a flooded basement. They will selflessly help me do a million things.

But when my emotional rollercoaster crashes, and I’m buried under its smoldering debris—hiding in bed on that no good day—I don’t call them.

I’ve called them in the past.

It’s gone like this:

Jane: Help.

Them: What’s happening?

Jane: Bad, no good day. Pain. Blackness. Suffering.

Them: OMG! I feel so bad for you! My heart is breaking! This is so horrible! I can’t stop thinking about how awful what you’re going through must be! I’m just shaking…

Jane: Hey, hey, take a deep breath. It’s not so bad. I’m fine.

(Thank you, Louise Penny, seriously, thank you.)

Them: Are you sure? Because I’m just totally devastated just from hearing…

Jane: Sorry. Over-reacted. I’m fine. Go have a bubble bath and smoke some weed. Think about puppies. Feel better?

Them: Yes. A little. Are you sure you’re fine?

Jane: Yes.

Them: If there’s anything I can do to help—you know where I am.

Jane: Sure. Take care of yourself.

Empath fatigue, kittens, It’s a thing.

Anyway. My bad no good terrible horrible week is mostly over. I’ve decided to blame the moon and the stars (say one word about hormones and my menstrual cycle and I’ll clobber you with my coatrack).

I accept that the pandemic, stress about money, and adjustment to major life changes may have been a contributing factor—but, mostly, the moon, and, also, Mercury’s in retrograde again I bet (when isn’t it), and you know what that means, right?

Them: And you didn’t call me.

Jane: Yeah, no, you know I prefer to deal with these moods alone.

Which, to be frank, is a lie—I just don’t want to manage your mood on top of trying to survive my own, you know?

You: And how are you feeling today?

Jane: Fine. Thanks for asking. You?

You: Really fine? Or are you quoting Ruth Zardo again?

I don’t know. One or the other. Hungover from the mood, and not chipper, but semi-functional. I might work today.

I will work today.

I worked today.

Jane: Totally fine. Take care of yourself.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Adulting without desire looks like this

I’m writing in a new place in my new place: the gas fire that’s the primary heating source for my 1913-built “garden flat” (old walk-out basement suite in less pretentious terms). The building has character, and the capricious heating that is the price of it. There’s a massive boiler in the basement proper that’s behind my apartment, which heats most of the building and, through a radiator, my bathroom, and through proximity, my kitchen. My living room and bedroom, however, are radiator-less and far away from the boiler—but equipped with large windows, one of which never closes fully. They rely on warmth from the fireplace, installed in 1996, when the building’s new (and current) owners, bless their hearts, decided that the basement denizens deserved to be warm in the long winter months as much as the upper story tenants.

So here, I am, in the opening fall months that already taste like winter, warming my feet in front of the fireplace as it warms up the apartment from the cold night. The forecast calls for a beautiful, sunny day with near-summer temperatures. But the nights know winter is coming. So do my toes, and they reach out for the fire, which bursts into life with a loud crackle, burns until its heat reaches the sensor on the thermostat that controls it, then disappears… only to come alive with a pop a few minutes later.

I expect there might be a way to make it burn incessantly—cranking the temperature into the 30s, for example—but in some ways, this is better. Intermittent reinforcement always is…

Today will be a chore day and a work day, a long list of tasks to move through, few of which inspire passion or are driven by desire. But, desire-less, I will try to be like my fireplace flame: come alive. Do the task. Burn out—and sit still, drink a cup of coffee. Maybe read some poetry. Explode into a second, third burst of energy.

Keep moving.

I can do that—I don’t want to do that—I will do that. Reward myself with heat from the bursts of the flame in the chilly evening—after the almost hot day—and meditate on the mesmerizing quality of fire.

What are you doing this Monday?

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: A meditation on desire

I want what I can’t have. You? Yeah? How weird is that—what faulty wiring. Why am I not satisfied drinking this cup of coffee, delicious and perfect, made in the comfort of my own home, at a fraction of the price, per sip, a café coffee would cost me? Also, truly, it is the best coffee. It’s made just as I like it—perfect.

But when the pandemic closed down my coffee shops, all I wanted was a coffee from—god, I didn’t care where, just not home. And when the Roasterie—my hood’s iconic little café—figured out how to offer take out without breaking AHS rules—all I wanted was to sit inside it and inhale the roasting beans and people watch. Or, have a coffee from Vendome—why wasn’t Vendome opened yet? At least for take-out?

Now that all my cafés are open? I am still not happy. I want them to be as they were before. You know? Crowded and noisy. Intimate. Tables crammed too close together, a cacophony of voices all around me—OMG, I miss the sound of crowded rooms so much…

I should be satisfied with this domestic—perfectly perfect—cup of coffee.

I am not.

I should be satisfied with my well-designed, well-lit spacious home office.

I’m not.

I want my poorly designed, ugly classrooms, and I want my crowded coffee shops and sheesha lounges. I want night clubs (to which I go like twice, thrice a year, I don’t care, I want them NOW), I want conversations with strangers that take place mouth to ear and not six feet apart.

I want.

I want what I can’t have.

My friend the Buddhist by would have things to say about all this. But you know what? I don’t want to stop wanting. Desire, after all, is the thing that really makes the world go round. First, there was desire.

I want.

I pour another cub of delicious, domestic black tar. Sprinkle it with cinnamon. Feel my heart rate accelerate after the first two sips… maybe I should cut back on the caffeine—no, I want this kick.

Sip. Swallow. Luxuriate in the taste. Fully give in to this experience, this moment.

And I love it.

It is perfect.

And yet—I still want… the other.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

Pandemic Diary: On getting out of bed in the morning

It’s another, “God I don’t want to get out of bed” day. No big deal, we all get them. Except during this pandemic without end, they seem to come more frequently—for me, for you. Sigh. Yawn. Crawl back under the covers, create a little cone of safety around yourself.

Hide.

Hide from everything.

Deep breath. It’s gonna be ok. There are no monsters under the bed (just in the White House and in the Alberta Legislature Building). And ordinary life goes on even as kings tantrum and empires fall.

I’m sort of re-reading P.D. James’s The Black Tower, and there’s this: “This is the spiritual life: the ordinary things that one does hour from hour.” And it’s true: I don’t fight it. This is life, this is all life is: the things one does, from moment to moment, and this is my life… but I don’t want to do any of the ordinary things.

I just want to stay in bed.

Yawn. Sniff. Hide.

OK, woman. Do it. Deep breath and covers off and feet on the floor and ass in gear—no, this pep talk is definitely not working. Can you find something that you really want to do today, focus on that, grab it with both hands, pul yourself out of bed that way?

Maybe.

Try.

No.

And so this is the final test. You don’t want to, I don’t want to. But we do it anyway. Covers off. Feet on the cheap but pretty faux Persian rug. Then into slippers. Pad into the kitchen. Coffee.

Start moving, starting doing, even when you don’t want to. Desire may come. Or not. But once you take the first step, the second one is easier.

Even when you don’t want to.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS “Retro-posting” because on that particular day, I did manage enough energy to write the post, but not quite enough to transcribe it and upload it. We do what we can, right? Right. Today is a better day.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it… no, wait, actually, let me change it…

I believe, rather ardently, in the power of story. If your religion is Christianity, his Islam and hers Wicca—and theirs veganism—my religion is story.

Story is, perhaps, not everything—other things must exist, else there would be no ingredients for story, and no one to tell stories to—but it is all-powerful.

The stories we tell other people, the stories we tell ourselves, they shape our reality. They change the past, define the present, and create the future. That, loves, is power.

Sometimes, in our interactions with other people, our stories clash. There’s a fight. Perhaps one loses and the other wins. Perhaps both break into bits and they create a new story from the flotsam and jetsam of both. Sometimes, two conflicting stories manage to meld into a cohesive—but tense!—single one.

One of the amazing thing about story is its fluidity, adaptability. In oral traditions, the story changes a little bit in every telling. And this happens even in our more rigid, current product-focused traditions. Look at all the remakes of movies, retellings of classical literature. Story changes. That is its nature.

That is its power.

Our personal stories are among the most powerful stories. And these can change too—we can change them. At will, almost. But it’s hard, because stories don’t exist without an audience, and we are rarely the only audience for our story. Family and friends, even if they don’t really like our old story, are used to it. They redirect us to it, in every interaction. Even when we are telling them a new story—they act as though they are hearing the old one.

That’s hard. And discouraging.

I think that’s why, when we are working to change a story, we look for new people. We want a new audience for the new story we are creating. We don’t want the tried and true audience that says, “No, that’s not what happened—I know this story, the Prince woke the Princess up with a kiss and they lived happily ever after, that’s what happens in this story, why aren’t you telling it like that?”

Because I’m changing it, love.

If you can’t listen to the new story without trying to pull me into the old one—that’s okay. It’s natural. I understand. I’m going to tell the story to someone else, who hears it.

The greatest gift we can give our friends and loves, when they are changing their story… is to listen to the new one.

Her: Suppose the new story is all bull shit?

Jane: It’s their story. Their bullshit.

This is, by the way, very hard. Terribly hard. Exceedingly hard. The closer you are to a person and the more enmeshed in their old story, the harder it is to really hear—never mind support—their new story. I’ve failed at this, in the most significant relationships in my life, so I’m not preaching to you from a moral high horse. It’s hard. So hard. Sometimes, impossible. And then, the greatest gift you can give your loves is the opportunity, space, encouragement to find a new audience for their story.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

😉

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Of sentence fragments and their opposite, and also, parenthetically, purposeful procrastination

i

Me, in bed, much coffee, a bare foot sticking out from between tangled blankets, notebook, leaky fountain pen. Morning pages done but not yet quite ready to work—unfinished business? Sneezes—not COVID-19 and not a common cold—I think I’m allergic to my feather pillows, oh, but they are so comfortable!

Achoo.

Mentoring a writer and ripping her work to shreds in a big way. I mean—editing, but a new writer doesn’t understand the process and every correction hurts. Also—“But you use sentence fragments all the time!” True. But I do it on purpose, to achieve a certain tempo, feeling. You do it because you don’t understand grammar.

Ouch.

I need to learn how to deliver life lessons in a more gentle, supportive manner.

Except… successful, published writers need to learn how to survive criticism—even harsh, unjust criticism.

Just read the comments.

(Don’t read the comments.)

ii

I guess this is still a Pandemic Diary entry because the pandemic is still happening. But man-oh-man—boy-oh-boy—why do we not say girl-oh-girl, do you think we could make that a thing—it sometimes feels like it’s not, and I still don’t know if your grandma, your son, your immune-compromised system are worth all this—I wish you’d show me they were—but I suppose what all this is illustrating is that I am just not a very good, compassionate human being—I’m sorry (not-sorry), I fucking suck, aren’t you glad I’m not making policy decisions?

The above is an example of a run-on sentence that I can get away with in a blog post (but not in an article) and that Henry James could have kept on moving for pages and pages, but which you, beginning writer, need to chop into six simple declarative sentences.

You heard me. Six.

Maybe seven.

Chop.

Ouch.

iii

Achoo.

I’m sneezing again. Another cup of coffee. Almost ready to work. (<<<— Sentence fragment used to a purpose.) (<<<—Sentence fragment used to a purpose to illustrate the purpose of sentence fragments.) Yawn. Sneeze. Curl and stretch the toes of the foot peeking out from between the sheets. Sternly tell it that no, it does not get to crawl back under and snoozle.

It’s time to work.

Achoo.

Ouch.

More coffee?

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: YYC Pride in Year One of the Pandemic

It’s sort of Pride Week in Calgary. Pre-2020, we had the best of all worlds, really: in June, while San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver et al. celebrated Pride, some of us travelled there and some of us had micro events here, and meanwhile, we planned for the Labour Day Weekend, when Calgary has been celebrating Pride since 2009—because our June weather sucks, what with the rain and floods and what not. By mid-August, our Pride events were really in full swing and so the parade, held on Labour Day Weekend Sunday, and its after-party were really the end, rather than the beginning of a week—month—summer—long queer orgy.

Ah, the good old days.

Of course, no parade this year. But, today, Flora and I are going to an All-Ages Drag Brunch at the Twisted Element, which has transformed itself from a nightclub in which nothing happens until after midnight to a pub with table services and a kitchen, with a couple of fellow queers—(parenthetically, I really love being the mother of teenagers—they are way more fun than toddlers). Because we’re doing that, we’re missing the Pride Park Takeover at Pearce Estates Park, hosted by Here and Queer Events –but, like, you should go. Calgary Pride is also, of course, offering an assortment of events all through the week, some on-line, some live, all queer as fuck.

So while it will be a shoestring Gay Christmas this year, Glittery St. Nick will still ride through town in his ass-less chaps and the lesbian angels will sing… on Zoom, occasionally live, six feet away from each other…

Better than nothing, right? But oh, I want to dance, I so want to dance—especially as I was supposed to dance at a wedding in Warsaw today (Congratulations, Łukasz and Magadelna!) but the only way that will happen will be if someone throws a somewhat illicit house party—about which none of us will tell anyone anything because, well, y’all are judgemental pricks and, in your own way, as rabid and dogmatic and uncompassionate as the anti-maskers… there. I’ve said.

Sorry-not-sorry—unloving thoughts on the eve of Calgary’s love is love celebrations. But. Seriously. Don’t understand why getting basic human rights for LGBTQ+ people has been such a slog and we’re still fighting for every single gain—or why the queer community is so fractured and rife with racism, transphobia, bi-erasure, femme erasure et al.? Look at how well we’re tolerating different risk assessments and responses to the pandemic.

The anti-maskers aren’t the only culprits. Think about it.

I digress, but not really, because all roads these days lead to COVID-19. I’ve got my rainbow mask, I’ve got my rainbow kid, and we’re going to take our rainbow hearts and go do something rainbow and fun—and sanitize our hands thoroughly after.

And then I will dream about a crowded dance floor while spinning in a circle, alone, in my living room.

Unless you’re hosting a dance party. In which case, text me.

“Jane”

 

Melting, working, waiting: an August vignette without a moral

We are melting.

The thermometer has hit 33 degrees centigrade today—for my American friends, that’s 91.4 Farenheit, or, as we say in Viking Hell, fucking hot. The air is hot and still, although a windstorm swept through the city and the prairie last night. But it did not bring a storm or rain, nor did it break the heat wave.

I rather love it, to be frank. I wrap a wet scarf around myself when I do have to walk, I stay in the shade and in my cool hobbit-cave of a house. I sit under a tree by the river and watch it swim by lazily. I take Ender rafting—and yes, son, we will go again on Thursday—and we bike, early in the morning before it gets too hot, to get ice cream. Ice cream—yes, this is the weather for eating ice cream—no, actually, it’s almost too hot, eat it quickly, lick as fast as you can before it melts, savour it after…

I am working.

Deadline, and another one—and also this, that, and the other—and now I’m done, out of steam, it’s too hot, thirsty, sick of drinking water, cold tea? I stretch out in a makeshift chaisse lounge with a book, Stella Duffy’s continuation of Ngaio Marsh’s Money in the Morgue. It was not, from what I can gather, a great commercial success. But those of us who can’t get enough Ngaio buy it, read it—just as we devour third-rate Jane Austen retellings, Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

We all want more of what we love.

I am waiting.

I have done all the things, done my best, rolled the dice, stacked the deck, ran out of metaphors—hit send. Visualized, manifested—worked my ass off. Nothing left to do—nothing left to chance. But now, waiting. Waiting. I try to distract myself with ice cream and pleasure; fail.

I work.

I am working.

I am waiting.

We are melting.

“Jane”

Books in the Time of Corona: what’s on my shelves and what’s not, and the story it tells

First, an apology for the title slug. I know you’re all sick and tired of plays on A Love in the Time of Cholera. Still. There’s a reason we’re doing it.

Second… but really first:

i. A catalogue

I recently moved, and as part of the uprooting, I culled my physical books to the essentials. (Ok, I moved like 500 metres away, but hey, packing and thus purging was definitely involved.) Stress on the physical: thank gods for my e-readers, a library of thousands always in my pocket.

Still. I was pretty ruthless. Totally ruthless, actually. Goodbye, university textbooks. Goodbye, books from the “I was a teenage Wiccan” phase. Goodbye, big thick books that look good on my shelf and make me feel smart because I own them—but let’s be honest, I’m never going to read Infinite Jest. I tried. It’s unreadable. I read Gravity’s Rainbow—goodbye—and, frankly, wish I hadn’t, don’t remember what it’s about, and I’ll never get that time back.

Goodbye, all of Jeanette Winterson’s not Sexing the Cherry books. Goodbye, gifted books that missed the mark—goodbye, self-bought books that I read, don’t remember, will never read again. Goodbye, books I once loved but don’t anymore—that cull was the hardest.

What’s left was still heavy to move and comprises about ten shelf equivalents. But each of these books is loved. Important.

Like The Letters of Sylvia Plath and this little known book of the poet’s drawings:

I don’t actually own Plath’s The Bell Jar or Ariel. How is this possible? Note to self: must buy. Response to self: this is how it beings, hoarding, pack-ratting expansion. Don’t do it. Response to response to self: Shut up. I want my Sylvia.

All of my Polish books:

Some of these have travelled the world with my parents and me for almost forty years. The Polish translation of A.S. Lindgren’s Children from Bullerbyn (which used to belong to my dad’s sister, actually—she got it and read it the year I was born) and of Winnie The Pooh—the first “chapter” books I ever read. And, of course, Sienkiewicz, Mickiewicz, Orzeszkowa, Rodziewiczówna. Kapuścinski. The more modern poets: Zagajewski, Anna Świrszczyńska and Wisława Szymborska, not in translation.

This cultural heritage of mine, I have a very… fraught, complex relationship with. So much beauty, so much passion, so much suffering—so much stupidity, so much pain.

Governments do not define a national, a culture, or a people, I suppose. But in a democracy, they reflect the will and the hearts of the majority of the people, and, if the current government of Poland reflects the majority of the will and the hearts of the (voting) Polish people, they are repugnant to me and I want nothing to do with them. I am ashamed of them, of where I come from.

But I do come of them, from there, do I not?

Still. I keep the books. Including the one celebrating our first modern proto-fascist, Józef Piłsudski. History is complicated; ancestry not chosen.

Next, a shelf of all of my favourites.

All of Jane Austen, of course. Most of Nabokov. Virginia Woolf, because, well, it’s complicated. Susan Sontag’s On The Suffering of Others, and E.M. Forester’s Maurice—I gave up Room With a View and the others. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, not so much because I’ll ever read it again but because it was so important back then. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, because nothing like it has been written before or since. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—I mean. I had to keep it, hero of my misspent university youth. I put him right next to Charles Bukowski’s Women, which isn’t great, but which… well. It taught me a lot about writing. Then, Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, which always makes me cry because a) it exists and b) I will never write that well.

Edward Said’s Orientalism, the only book to survive my “why the fuck did I keep all of these outdated anthropology and sociology and history textbooks for 25 years” purge. Margaret Mead’s New Lives for Old, which wasn’t one of them, but a later acquisition, kept in honour of the woman who dared live her life, do her thing. She wasn’t the smartest, the brightest, the most original—but fuck, she dared. Fraser’s The Golden Bough and Lilian Faderman’s Chloe Plus Olivia, both acquired in my teens—the first gave me religion for a while, while I freed myself of the Polish Catholicism in which I grew up (“freed” is an aspirational word; I suspect the religions we are indoctrinated into in childhood stay in our bones forever—the best that we can do is be aware when that early programming tries to sabotage our critical thinking and emotional well-being), and the second showed me I wasn’t a freak, an aberration, alone.

Next, The First Ms. Reader and the Sisterhood is Powerful anthology—original 1970s paperbacks bought in a used bookstore in the 1990s when I was discovering feminism. Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother—I suppose another Wicca-feminism vestige. I will never read it again, but way back when, that book changed my life, so. Here it is, with me, still.

And now, back to fiction: The Doorbell Rang, my only Rex Stout hardcover, although without the dust jacket, and a hardcover, old, maybe even worth something, with protected dust jacket intact, of P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist. Next to them, The Adventures of Romney Pringle and The Further Adventures by Romney Pringle, the single collaboration between R. Austin Freeman and John J. Pitcairn under the pseudonym of Clifford Ashdown. Written in 1902 or so, both volumes are the first American edition. In mint condition. Like the P.G. Wodehouse—and The Letters of Sylvia Plath, and the unique, autographed, bound in leather made from the butts of sacrificed small children or something, Orson Scott Card Maps in the Mirror short story collection, which is next-but-one to them on the bookshelf—they were a gift from Sean.

A lot of the books on my shelves, here with me now, are a gift from Sean.

Between them, a hard cover Georges Simeon found at a garage sale, and then G.K. Chesterton—Lepanto, the poem about the 1571 naval battle between Ottoman forces and the Holy (that’s what they called themselves) League of Catholic Europe, which I will never read again, but which is associated with a specific time and event in my personal history, so I keep it. Next to it, The Collected Stories of Father Brown, in battered hardcover, which I re-read intermittently, and which are—well. Perfect, really. Then, all of Dashiell Hammett in one volume. Then, almost all the best Agatha Christie’s in four “five complete novels” hardcover collections, topped with two multi-author murder mystery medleys from the 1950s.

Looking at this shelf makes me very, very happy.

Next, the one fully preserved collection. Before the move, these books lived on a bookshelf perched on top of my desk. Now, they are here, their “natural” order slightly altered because of the uneven height of this case’ shelves. The top shelf is, I suppose, mostly reference and writing books:

The Paris Review Interviews, Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird, Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, and their ilk. At the end, a couple of publications in which I have a byline.

The next shelf, the smallest on the case, is a bit of a smorgasboard, but is very precious to me:

Do you see Frida and my Tarot cards? Also an Ariana Reines book that I really should give back to its owner…

Next, my perhaps most precious books.

Philip Larkin’s Letters to Monica and Nabokov’s Letters to Vera. Anne Carson’s If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho. Four Letter Word, a collection of “original love letters” (short stories, they mean, pretentious fucks) from an assortment of mega-stars, including Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin… a strange assortment, really. But some lovely pieces in there. Some lame ones too—and I like that too. Even superstars misfire, every one in a while.

Then, Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Jack Gilbert, Vera Pavlova. Finally, Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus and Little Birds, and a bunch of battered Colettes. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer right next to Colette, of course. Then, my Frida books.

The next shelf is full of aspirational delusions.

Farsi textbooks next to Hafez, Rumi and Forough Farrokzad translations. I will never be able to read Hafez in the original Persian. But maybe? Life is long. Maybe, one day, I will have time. Then, Jung’s Red Book, Parker J. Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness, Rod Stryker’s The Four Desires, Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, Thich Nhat Hahn’s The Art of Communicating (I failed), The Bhagavad Gita (still trying).

As I said, the shelf of delusions.

The bottom shelf is aspirational/inspirational, and also, very tall.

And so, that’s why my Georgia O’Keefe books are there, as well as The Purple Book, and Obrist’s do it manifesto. Perhaps there is room there for my leather-bound Master’s thesis, currently tucked away in the closet, right there, next to a course binder from SAIT? Then, all of my Spanish books, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera… which, also, one day, I will read in Spanish and actually understand. Life is long, right?

Next, not really a book shelf as such, but the top shelf of my secretary desk, where the reference and project books of the moment live.

The Canadian Press Stylebook has a permanent home here, of course. And I’ve got two copies of Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide there, one for me (unread, but I’ll get to it, I promise myself, again), one for a colleague. Both snagged from a Little Free Library, by the way.

Almost done.

In the bedroom, the books of vice.

A shelf of battered Ngaio March paperbacks, tucked beside them some meditation and Kundalini yoga books that I’m not using right now, but, maybe, one day, I am not ready to give up on this part of myself yet.  Below, a shelf of even more battered Rex Stout paperbacks.

I read and re-read these books—as did their original owners—until they fall to pieces. They are my crack, my vice—also, my methadone, my soother.

Below them, space for library books, mine and Ender’s:

I am finding Anna Mehler Paperny’s Hello I want to Die Please Fix Me unreadable, by the way. I pick it up, put it away. Repeat.

Will likely return it to the library unread.

Currently not on display: books by friends. Some here with me, some on the shelves in the Co-op house. There are a lot of those. Can one be ruthless… with friends?

ii. A reflection

Books, for readers and writers, are the artifacts that define us. When I enter a reader’s home, I immediately gravitate to their bookshelves. What’s on them?

What’s not on them?

What I’ve chosen to let go of, to not bring with me here tells me… a lot.

What am I going to do with this information?

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: What is normal?

August 4

i

A few normal things from the past couple of weeks: I have an in-person interview, I meet a client face-to-face (well, across a room, but still); I go to a restaurant; I take an Uber; I shop at Canadian Tire; I take my kids out for lunch; Flora and I spend hours looking for the sketchbook that defines her as an artist in a local art store—and not online.

None of it feels normal, though. We wear masks in the stores, my hands burn from the sanitizer. The client and I do not shake hands. The entire time I’m in the Uber, I’m torn between

a) gratitude that this dude is working because I’m too drunk to drive,

b) guilt that I’m endangering his health by providing yet one more contact point of potential infection,

c) mild fear the previous passenger was a COVID carrier and so now, because I’m doing this normal thing, I might accidentally get the virus and infect and kill your grandma,

d) low key hate for your grandma and your auto-immune deficient cousin and also, your respiratory illness suffering son,

e) guilt at the hate, because what sort of monster is this selfish (me),

f) OMFG, it’s just an Uber ride—can you just relax and go with it already?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me see. No.

Because none of it is normal.

Still.

It just is.

At some point, surely, this low grade stress will recede? Perhaps, even, disappear?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me check. No. Still there.

ii

A few normal things from today: coffee. Morning pages. Lunch with Cinder and Flora. Nap. Work. The work feels like a slog and that’s the new normal too. But maybe the old normal as well. Was it ever easy?

I don’t know. Maybe. Let me check. No. Often a slog, often hard.

Sometimes, joy.

ii

A few moments of joy from today: coffee (it was exceptionally good). Lunch with kids. The discovery of James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers murder mysteries and their televised Grantchester version. A cool afternoon breeze. Cardamom in my afternoon tea. The flowers you brought me dropping their petals on the table.

Good things, normal things. Happy moments.

xoxo

“Jane”