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

i

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”

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant”–a break from the Pandemic Diary

Sometimes, posts, articles, opinion pieces—ideas for novels, stories—go nowhere. You keep on putting words down on paper—or screen—but they don’t really connect. There is no spine—no blood. They are stitches in an inanimate rag doll that, no matter what you do, will not come to life.

When that happens, I think the idea is not yet finished incubating. It’s not ripe, not baked.

This is draft three of today’s post. Draft one ate itself. Draft two started out strong. But in the end, had neither legs nor heart.

Draft three, to be frank, is not turning out much batter. I’m coming at it sideways. I’m starting to tell the story by talking about how some stories don’t want to be told. Aren’t ready to be told.

My advice as an occasional professional writing instructor in such cases is to—move on. Accept that right now, this is a rag doll. Throw it away or put it in that drawer (or file folder). Move on to something else, anything else.

But sometimes, an untold story stands in the way of all the other stories waiting to be told.

Does that make sense?

I think this story—it’s not going to come out in this third draft either—is such a story.

I’ve been in this situation before, with bigger work. After the flood, when I carried a novel inside me but I thought I was supposed to write a memoir about the flood and trauma. Was it a year, then, of false starts? And then, finally, the novel, in bits and pieces, out of order. But all there, all out. Even when it was done and sold, I thought I had left so much untold—and I thought, again, that I was supposed to write another story about the flood. But I wasn’t—I was supposed to write about an artist who couldn’t see colour, another novel, fiction that told the true story better than a memoir could. That one took months of fake starts, three near-complete first drafts thrown out, so many attempts to come at the story sideways, before it finally came, and I was able to move on to other work.

So now I know how to write around the story that isn’t yet ready to come. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Success in Circuit lies.” I explore its themes and problems in indirect ways, in other work. It’s a way of working on other pieces while the untold story demands that you give it all your attention.

“Hush, beloved,” I coo to it. “This is all about you. Don’t you see? Everything I write, think do these days? It’s all about you. Everything.”

I tell students and other writers to not anthropomorphize their work. To not think of their stories, novels as their babies. That way lies madness, because of the publication process involves many, many people telling you that your babies are stupid and ugly, totally useless, nobody wants—also, have you thought about loping off your child’s right leg and sticking it in its left ear?

Madness.

I don’t think of my work, while I’m working on it or once it’s finished, as my progeny.

But I do, while immersed in it, think of it as my lover. I woo it. It seduces me. We experience great joy and misery together. We drown in each other, cannot exist without each other—all is bliss, even the shitty, bad parts have a perverse joy to them.

Then the work is done—some satisfaction—and then… I’m done, and the work is done with me too. It has moved on to being the beloved of readers, and I have moved on to the next idea, the next story…

(This is what makes submitting, promoting, marketing, all of that so hard. It’s like pimping an ex-lover. “Was really into them at one time. Can’t really remember why anymore. Um. Fuck. Let me think. What was it about them that stopped my breath, made my heart pound, soaked my panties? Um… Any chance we could talk about my current flame, my current WIP?”)

We’ve moved on, the flame has burned out, the mutual passion is gone… but that doesn’t diminish the fact that when I was in the work, it was everything to me.

Tell the truth at a slant.

Draft three.

Closer. Not quite there yet, but closer.

Close enough?

xoxo

“Jane”

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic: The Mostly Uncensored–Ok, I Lie, I Totally Censored It, What, You Think I’m Stupid?–Process Journal

July 15, 2020

I’ve spent the last seven days unplugged and locked in my friend’s apartment, writing. Well, not literally locked in. I left for walks and things. But mostly I wrote. Also napped. But mostly wrote.

The documentation of the process is exhaustive and exhausting, and it’s mostly for me, and not really for you–but if you’re struggling with shit, and reading about other people struggling with shit makes struggling with shit easier for you? Dive into my diary.

As you’ll discover somewhere around Day 6 or 7–writing doesn’t actually exist until a reader reads it. 😉

But now that I think about it–most of what I’ve written isn’t really appropriate for the eyes of internet strangers. So here’s the deal–y’all can look at the pictures. 😉

If you’re in one of those places, though, and your life will be utterly incomplete without the voyeuristic experience of ‘watching’ me pick at my scabs, email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com and ask for the password to the protected posts. I might give it to you.

Or not.

Fun and games. 😉

Yours in the struggle,

“Jane”

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RETREAT IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC DIARY; Table of Days

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1: In which our heroine wants to be alone (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 1.5: In which the heroine arrives at her destination, and needs wifi to watch porn (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2: In which our heroine doesn’t matter (yeah, this one too)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 2.5: In which our heroine plays with bad gardening metaphors (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3: In which our heroine defends her addictions (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 3.75: In which our heroine tries hard not to identify with Virginia Woolf (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 4: In which our heroine regrets this, but not the other (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 5: In which our heroine is a writing machine and also, actually wants to work (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 6: In which our heroine tortures a client and finishes all the things (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7: In which our heroine counts words and embraces uncertainty (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.25: In which our heroine has one year to live (protected)

Retreat in the Time of the Pandemic, Day 7.75: In which our heroine changes her mind and jumps in a river (protected)

You: Navel-gaze much?

Jane: Too much. It does seem to an essential part of the process though. 

Pandemic Diary: Creative process in uncreative times—especially when that creativity’s supposed to pay the bills…

In the process journal: A page and a half of rambling about—I’m not quite sure, either why I hate Facebook or why I hate people. Big X. Note to self: “This is not going anywhere.”

Visit to JuliaCameronLive.com. Surely, my guru has something for me? Yes. “The Power of Creativity in the Time of the Coronavirus.” Goddammit, she just peddles the Morning Pages, again, and you know, I haven’t stopped, although I do do them wrong intermittently, even though Julia says there is no wrong way to do them. The second tool she offers—another standby. Artist’s Dates. But of course. What else would Julia recommend, has the woman had a new idea in the last 30 years?

“It is my hope that during this period of uncertainty we lean into our creativity, awakening our spirit so that we feel more deeply alive.”

Ugh. Julia. Did you just tell me to lean in? Also, I feel dead inside, and also, I want to smash things not lean in or create—I feel betrayed.

Next stop: Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.org. “A Young Poet’s Love Letter to Earth and to the Double Courage of Facing a Broken Reality While Refusing to Cease Cherishing This Astonishing World in Its Brokenness.”

No. This does not suite my mood at all. Next? Who can I try next?

Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal, of course.

Well. That’s more like how I feel… except it’s probably not what I need.

Oh. “Eight Marvelous & Melancholy Things I’ve Learned About Creativity.” Yes. This. Let’s have a read…

Oh. Matt.

“In the context of your work, you don’t matter.”

Ouch. WTF?

“If you’re like me, then my advice is to buckle up, motherfucker, because you’re destined to die under a mountain of false starts and sad, exasperated poetry. You’re destined to put your personal life in the backseat while your creative spirit gets blackout drunk and takes the wheel.”

from the The Wondrous Utility of Self-Loathing” section

 

Actually, yeah. That helps.

So do the parts about killing your darlings and not making babies, and the business of art.

But especially, that. Thanks, Matt.

Except… I still don’t really want to do the work.

I don’t want to get out of bed, have a shower, turn on the computer.

I’m doing a tech/social media detox starting tomorrow and I’m claiming I’m doing it to clear my head and get myself into a creative space fuelled by boredom—but honestly? I just don’t want to do the social medial and marketing aspects of my work.

I don’t want to do any of the work.

And usually, I’d give myself the advice to just ride the allow period, it’s part of the process, just read poetry, smoke cigars, dance naked in the kitchen—but I don’t want to do any of that either.

When I say I want to smash something: I want to smash that feeling, that mood.

Myself.

Next? Hafez:

Last night, pansy addressed flowers and itself displayed
My swinging in this world, so and so’s hair would braid.
My heart was a treasure chest of secrets, the hands of fate
Closed and locked and its key, to my Beloved bade.
Physician sent the broken me to my Beloved and said
My panacea and cure, only by Your hands are made.
May he be healthy, and happy, and in bliss
That his healing hands upon the needy laid.
Take your own advice, O incessant counselor
Sweet lover and wine, whosoever forbade?
Passed by poor me, and towards my rivals strayed
Said, “my poor Hafiz has given his life, I am afraid.”

Ghazal 113
Translation © Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, Ca January 23, 2000

Um. I don’t know how you’re interpreting that, but I sure hope it’s not the way I’m interpreting it…

I’m running out of gurus. Colette? Frida? Jane? Anaïs? Can one of you please send a demon down (or up, I guess?) to yell at me and tell me to get to work?

Her: The blog’s not work?

Jane: No. One, I don’t get paid for it; two, whining about how you can’t, don’t want to work is not work. Get with the program here.

What I have learned, over a career that now spans two centuries and three decades—I’m not really that old, not yet, I was just almost a child prodigy—almost a true story—is that the only cure for when you don’t want to work?

(You’ll hate this.)

It’s to start to work. Open the notebook—laptop. Get the dry paintbrush out of the jar. Pick up the rake. Fold the first sock.

(I probably meant to write towel—but I like that image—and who folds socks, by the way? Anyone?)

That, in the end, is the difference between the professional and the amateur. The working artist and the wanna-be artist. The published author and the eternally aspiring one.

One learns to work when they don’t want to work… and the other doesn’t.

I don’t want to work.

I don’t want to play, either.

But. Here I go.

Words.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Celebrating Canada Day with gratitude, and pain

 

 

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You are, perhaps, curious as to how my decision to make fewer decisions and to just execute is going. Remain curious—curiosity is what keeps us young. I have, as of yet, nothing to report. One major decision made, but not executed. And the rest of life—not miraculously changed. Still. I am getting out of bed in the morning even though I don’t want to.

Today is Canada Day, and national holidays for immigrants and children of immigrants are a time not so much of patriotism but of reflection and gratitude. I am very grateful that my family landed here when I was ten. I am grateful for the closed border to the United States (sorry, American friends) and free public health care. I am grateful for Flora’s medication, Sean’s dental benefits. Cinder’s job.

Ender’s love.

All the self-help books are right, you know. Gratitude helps. “I am grateful” is a powerful phrase.

I am grateful.

I am an adult Third Culture kid with a twist, which means I was born in one country, spent my formative childhood years in another (three others, actually) and then finally landed in the True North (which I keep on leaving, because, Third Culture kids do that). I am grateful for all of those experiences. They make change and uncertainty the norm.

They normalize that nothing is forever.

Nothing is forever.

Everything passes.

But we celebrate permanence, not transience. You know what I mean? On this July 1, we celebrate 153 years of the apparent permanence of the Canadian Confederation, not its fragility.

Not what it replaced.

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I am grateful I am here.

But when I look at the history that brought me here, feeling gratitude gets harder. Am I supposed to be grateful for the 50 years of the Soviet-Communist oppression of my natal land that made my parents’ immigration a survival imperative? The germs-and-gun genocide that effectively cleared the Americas for the first waves of colonizers who established the nation that offered us sanctuary?

When I practice meditation and yoga nidra, I practice a form of intention setting called sankalpa. It’s a fancy Sanskrit name for affirmation—manifestation—intention. (Don’t mock me. You smoke week, she binges on Netflix, I future-plan while breathing in the moment. We all have different coping mechanisms.)

In the yoga nidra practice, before you set the intention, you are supposed to feel nothing but gratitude for all the things that brought you to this moment, this place.

That… instruction has always been a stumbling block for me. And it’s th ekey reason I stopped the practice in 2019. Grateful for my child’s suffering? Grateful for this pain? Fuck you, Buddha and Krishna, and don’t you dare say a word, Jesus, this is why I am an atheist.

Breathe.

I am grateful I am here.

I am grateful I am alive.

I am grateful my daughter is alive.

I am grateful we survived the various really shitty things that life threw at us. In 2020, 2019, earlier.

But grateful for the shitty things? You can take that fatalistic ideology and shove it up your left nostril. Then plug it.

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So on this Canada Day—I am grateful I am here.

But I acknowledge that I am here in large part because of terrible historical injustices, driven by foul ideologies.

I am aware of the suffering these have caused. Continue to cause.

I guess I am grateful that I live in a time when we are, as a nation, as a people, becoming aware of the injustice of this suffering, and the need to address it.

Pro-actively, passionately.

At a time when global events (pandemic!) and personal stresses (don’t ask, but you’ve got them too, right?) make it difficult to get out of bed.

I am grateful for this painful awareness.

Happy Canada Day.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Enjoy this gorgeous rendition of O Canada by Calgary choir Rev 52:

And then–because the world needs more Canada:

Grateful.

But also–committed to change.

Pandemic Diary: Decision fatigue is killing me, and so are empaths

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I’ve figured out why everything has been so much tougher the last few weeks, even though, theoretically, it should have been getting easier.

Ready?

(I am so full of insight.)

It boils down to this: decision fatigue. In March and April, and into May, when everything was cancelled and closed—and the weather was shit—things were very hard and frustrating, but our decision-making wasn’t taxed. The directive was clear: stay home, flatten the curve. And even if you didn’t want to stay home—well, everything was closed, so there was nowhere to go. Except for the grocery store and the liquor store (my poor liver). The big decision we faced on most days, in my privileged family anyway, was what board game we’d play that night—or maybe, shake things up, movie? Or, enough family time already, everyone go hide in their own rooms.

These days? There are options and no clear directives—plus a lot of mixed messaging about what’s safe, what’s irresponsible—what’s allowed. And so, every time you step out the door… decisions.

Decisions, decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wear a mask? Just take it with you to put on in the store? Nobody else is wearing a mask, fuckers, and you happen to know you’re COVID-free cause you just got tested so you’re only wearing the mask to protect them and you don’t need it and they clearly don’t care about protecting you, so why inconvenience yourself for those selfish motherfuckers? Get that coffee and croissant for take-out? Or risk sitting down, eating in—even if you’re not really concerned about your own safety, you’re thinking about the wait staff, other customers. Is your presence causing them stress? Are these genuine feelings, a true sense of risk or just paranoia induced by excessive media consumption?

Touch of cabin fever hits you, and you can go—to the parks or to the mall, or hey, the library is opening tomorrow. Should you go? Wait? Haircut? Yes? No? What’s the right thing to do? Fuck it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m just going to stick my tongue down the throat of a stranger whose risk-profile and safety practices I don’t know at all—ok, I won’t, but OMG, I understand the people who do and I just don’t want to think about what the right thing to do right now is anymore.

Decision fatigue.

I have some larger, more important decisions to make these days and the brain, it hurts, it is tired, so I don’t, I put them off. I’d cut myself some slack on this paralysis except if everyone in the world cuts themselves some slack for the next two years and does nothing, because decision fatigue and also, don’t not want to get out of bed, we are fucked.

I have, incidentally, very high executive skills (I’ve been tested; if there’s such a thing as excessive executive functioning, that’s me). That means I gather data, analyze it, make a decision quickly—and act on it immediately.

I try to tap into that part of myself now: it seems to be buried under something. Not scar tissue—more like piles of wet toilet paper, snotty Kleenexes. I can get at it, if only I get all these soggy used Kleenxes out of the way.

If only.

Decision fatigue.

It’s real.

It kills.

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If decision fatigue is killing me, so are empaths. This pops into my newsfeed:

OMG, so true.

My insincere apologies to everyone who goes around identifying themselves to all and sundry as an empath, usually in the first two minutes of a conversations… you’re not.

Stay with me. Empathy is real and critical, and it’s something that makes the world a better place, and we need to teach it, foster it, and act out of it.

But a lifetime of experiences had now taught me that anyone who says, “Well, I’m an empath, so all this is really extra hard for me,” is actually a self-centred, selfish prick to whom the most important thing is their own feelings.

Self-awareness, of course, isn’t a bad thing. (Well, maybe. Too much self-awareness, as you and I both know, leads to too much drinking, other things.) But wallowing in your own navel while telling yourself and others that you’re deeply affected by the feelings and suffering of others—come on. Get your head out of your ass, look around and instead of shouting from the rooftops (I mean, I suppose, social media platforms) about how much the suffering of others is affecting you… fucking DO something about their suffering.

Just a suggestion.

Empath fatigue.

It’s a thing too.

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Grateful that I am not an empath and that I own, for the most part, my narcissistic tendencies—by the way, owning your boundaries and telling people who violate them is not narcissism, it’s self-preservation, fuck the fuck off, I may not be a fragile empath but I have feelings too and you’re stomping on them—I try to solve my decision fatigue problem.

Mostly, I think I need to make fewer decisions—which means I just need to commit to some consistent actions. And execute them.

Ok. I got this.

Maybe…

No. I got this. I got this.

Execute.

Get out of bed.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you wanna read that Empath Fatigue Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/RebeccaRennerFL/status/1276673896150859776

 

Pandemic Diary: The kids are all right

I don’t know for sure if K-pop stans reserved tix for the Tulsa rally as an act of protest and resistance. Mostly, I think Trump is a liar, and that one million tickets thing? A lie. But never mind that. He doesn’t matter. Really. The Orange Beast doesn’t matter and I’m not saying that just because I’m Canadian. He’s old, and he doesn’t matter—and neither, frankly, does your Grandmother, except for the fact that you love her and want her to die peacefully in her own bed and not choking on phlegm on a ventilator. Grandma’s not gonna change the world, not now. And neither is Trump: he’s old, he’s gonna die soon, worry not.

What matters is the kids—and the kids are all right.

What? Your kids suck? I’m not gonna say, you should have done a better job raising them because… what? Oh, your kids are ok. Other people’s kids though—oh, and the grandkids! Your grandkids suck. So again, babe. Who raised them kids who are raising your grandkids? And, anyway, you’re wrong. The kids are all right. More than all right. And the very fact that all you do is complain about them, it’s a sign that your time has passed. You too don’t matter: you’re over. Like the tantruming president of our Southern neighbour, you too are going to die soon. The kids are going to take over.

And thank Sheela Na Gig (google it) for that, because the kids are all right.

OMG, babe, seriously? You’re gonna continue to shit on your own progeny? No wonder they hate you. But fine. Your kids suck. My kids are all right, and they’re going to save the world.

And you’d better hope that I’m right. We’ve had our shot at it, and we’ve spent two to four generations—depending on how you count—going rather aggressively in the wrong direction. Gen Z, it’s gonna right the ship. Frankly, the best that we can do is to not get in their way.

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Flora—your future overlord, you heard it from her mother first—resents this burden. But also, accepts it. Her expectation that salvation—or even lukewarm support—will come from above, from people in power, from society’s “elders,” is very slim. I lie. It’s non-existent. She doesn’t expect anything from her teachers, and less from her government. You can blame me if you like—but the cause is greater than my anarchist parenting.

She is 15 now, and she was 11 in 2016. Look at the leadership example the most powerful people in the world set before her in those formative years. How stupid would she have to be to put her future in their hands?

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Ender, age 10, still genuinely believes all you need is love. Cinder wants money, has a job: knows that while love is great, you also need resources. Flora’s the big picture thinker who’s going to figure out how to get the resources to feed the army that’s gonna reshape the world. With love… but tough love. The revolution is going to leave tantruming dinosaurs behind.

So before you bitch about kids these days, remember:

  1. We made them. You made them.
  2. They’re gonna take over. They always do. That’s the natural order of things.
  3. They’re all right.

They’re more than all right.

And you’d better hope I’m right. Cause they are our only hope.

xoxo

“Jane”

The family that protests together gets tested for COVID-19 together…