I believe I can fly

 

It’s a sunny but cold Tuesday in December, and I pack Ender, also a lunch that consists mostly of oranges, into the car. Maggie the runty Boston Terrier I don’t really love—but oh, Ender loves her and she loves him too, they are littermates—jumps into the car with us. Fine. It’s not so cold that she will turn into a dog icicle when I leave her in the car while we explore the Reynolds-Alberta Museum. And she loves car rides. Also, she loves Ender, and he already has his arms wrapped around her. She’s coming.

I trudge back into the house for some pillows and blankets, make them a nest. Have everything? Child, dog, lunch. Water bottle. Ender’s wearing his rainbow crocs—I toss a pair of winter boots into the trunk in case we get stranded on a rural Alberta road and have to walk somewhere. The car’s 12 years old and plucky, but still. December on the prairies. Snowstorms come, ice sneaks up on you, cars flip.

Final check… child, dog, lunch, water bottle, winter boots.

Coffee.

We go.

The Reynolds-Alberta Museum is 246 km, or two hours and twenty minutes, away from Calgary, in the metropolis of Wetaskiwin. It’s dedicated to the spirit of the machine, and it’s full of tractors and vintage farm equipment, old cars, and also, planes. And that’s really all I’m going to tell you about it, because this is not a museum review.

I like the cars. They remind me of Cuba.

Ender likes the planes best.

On the way there, Ender snoozes most of the way, Maggie in his arms. I listen to Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, and bemoan that I am now the kind of person who listens to books like The Joy Diet. Remember when I used to be the kind of person who just enjoyed living her life? Where is she?

She’s at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, taking a selfie in a tractor with her 10-year-old son. Hello, me.

He’s very, very happy.

Did I mention he likes the planes best?

When I brought Cinder here—I think I brought Cinder here? Surely, I brought Cinder and Flora here when they were younger—he was fascinated by the insides of  all the machines and spent hours playing with the hands-on gears, pulleys, inclined planes, and levers.

Ender pokes at all of them with mild interest, and returns to his aesthetic enjoyment of the vintage cars. He likes the colours, the lights, the moving parts, the things that go—but he’s not particularly interested in their insides. Me neither. Let’s just look at shiny things.

Look! The workshop! A welder!

We watch the sparks for a while, but neither of us, to be honest, is interested by the science behind the process.

We spend a lot of time in the airplane hangar. As I’ve said twice before—he really likes the planes.

And they are rather magic, if you think about it. First production-style automobile—1885 or so. First manned flight, 1903. The Ford Model T didn’t roll off the assembly line until 1913.

And before the end of World War I, humans were killing each other from airplanes.

Ah, progress.

Fun Fact:

The first country to use [airplanes] for military purposes was Italy, whose aircraft made reconnaissance, bombing and artillery correction flights in Libya during the Italian-Turkish war (September 1911 – October 1912). The first mission (a reconnaissance) occurred on 23 October 1911. The first bombing mission was flown on 1 November 1911. (Source: Ferdinando Pedriali. “Aerei italiani in Libia (1911–1912)”(Italian planes in Libya (1911–1912)). Storia Militare (Military History), N° 170/novembre 2007, p.31–40, via Wikipedia)

I do not give Ender a history lesson. But I tell him a little bit about the speed of these inventions. He doesn’t really care. He’s starting to get concerned about Maggie. Wants to know how long she’s been in the car.

Two hours.

Too long, he decides. Also, he’s done with the museum. We trudge outside, across the prairie field dotted with melting snow, so very well suited to being a rural airport. Car. Dog.

She bounds out of the car like a crazy person—er, animal?—and runs around the empty parking lot. Pees on a clump of snow.

Ender tries to give her some water to drink, but she’s too excited. Runs a few more loops. Then leaps back into the car.

“Is she cold?” Ender asks. I shrug. It’s not pleasant, despite the still-shining sun. The winter winds on the prairies are brutal. But, although she is definitely a creature of comforts—she’s convinced the electric blanket on our couch exists for her pleasure—she is, above all, a pack animal. She’s not taking any chances on being left behind.

We drive back as the sun sets. Maggie snoozes in Ender’s lap. He gazes out the window for a while. Then pulls out his iPad and watches a show. Falls asleep with headphones on, the dog in his lap.

I listen to The Joy Diet. Don’t really hear much of anything. Through the rearview mirror, I see Ender’s happy face.

He had a good day.

So did I.

This is a very prolonged happy moment.

xoxo

“Jane”

“I’m crushing your head!”

So, this happens.

Yeah, that’s me, right there beside Kevin McDonald. Comic genius Kevin McDonald. Of The Kids in the Hall fame, and a toilet-paper roll of post-Kids credit. Comic genius. Formative influence of my misspent childhood.

Also, really nice guy.

One of the things that Kevin does now is travel the country and the continent teaching sketch comedy. I don’t write or perform sketch comedy. I don’t even write comedy. (Really. When I’m funny, it’s almost always not on purpose. Which is both sad and funny, which sort of makes it totally funny, because comedy works best in juxtaposition with tragedy. See? I learned shit this weekend.) But I’m a Kids in the Hall fan, and a Kevin McDonald fan, and I guess I feel I’m running out of time to meet my heroes? And I want to do it even if they disappoint, because they’re old and wrinkly and have feet of clay and bruised egos?

(I’m talking about Julia Cameron. In case that was too subtle for you.)

(I do feel I’m running out of time. This is a new feeling for me. I always used to think life is long. As 2019 comes to an end… it’s not. It’s not.)

Kevin does not disappoint. He spends the Saturday and Sunday of last weekend teaching me and fourteen other writers at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society all about sketch comedy. I drag him out of the room once to pace the hallway with him and drill him about pacing. Because sketch comedy is 90% about pacing, mastering pacing… He doesn’t say that, by the way—he says everything is about story—but the pacing part is what really jumps out for me. He shows me how to split a scene into beats. And here’s the beautiful thing about a brilliant teacher: I kinda knew about beats. I kinda knew a scene, to work, had to have a beginning, middle, and an end—a purpose, a climax, a satisfying conclusion. I mean, I did know that. I teach that.

The way he explained the beats of a scene—worth the price of an MFA.

Except, I bet you they don’t teach you that in academic creative writing programs, because, sketch comedy…

So. Weekend learning and laughing with Kevin McDonald. Heaven.

Also, a concert by One Voice Chorus, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, to which I drag Flora. So that she knows about Marsha P. Johnson climbing up a lamp post and dropping a purse full of bricks on a police car and drag queens knocking over a paddy wagon and the triangle street and why Pride is political.

In-between, some not-so good things happen.

I try to hold the centre.

I’m not sure I succeed, to be honest. One moment, I am able to text back to a friend, “Pretty much best weekend ever.” The second moment…

Breathe. Life is complicated and many-faceted.

But also short.

Breathe. Don’t look too closely, because, really, being in the moment is a load of crap at times like this. Endure.

Find peace and escape between the pages of a Neil Gaiman book.

(This one: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-Fiction by Neil Gaiman)

Not quite back in the centre. But, focusing on the laughter and the learning. Feeding my hunger.

Thinking about my heroin, and my work, and making Ender and Flora lazy sushi for supper, and Cinder, porkchops. He’s having a hard semester: I see that he is at a loss, not in his centre. This is process, it’s the age, it’s part of what must be right now. But… Trying not to worry too much about him, six months from turning eighteen. Legally adult, and then what? What changes? Anything, everything, nothing?

It was, I tell myself firmly, an amazing weekend. I had a great time. There were some rough moments. But there were more good ones.

I gotta tell you, I’m rather tired of giving myself—not to mention others—pep talks and affirmations and validation.

Id wants to climb up a lamp post and drop purses of bricks on everything. And then, crush all your heads.

Super-Ego reminds me Freud’s theories have been almost completely discredited by modern psychology which is, like, real science—experiment-based blah blah blah.

Ego suggests I should watch some Kids in the Hall sketches on YouTube and stop overthinking shit. Because this precise moment, right now? It could be a happy moment. Or at least the memory of a happy moment.

I’m a little worried Id might win.

Send chocolate.

Chocolate and Raspberries photo by Lisa Fotios via Pexels

xoxo

“Jane”

Work, heroin, and a heroine named Clementine

I’m busy with my work and with my heroin, and on the periphery of my consciousness…

You: Heroin?

Relax, I’m not a junkie, it’s a metaphor.

And not even for sheesha, weed or cigars. But can you please stop fixating on that? Sometimes a metaphor is just a metaphor. Also, I don’t want to explain, and also, I don’t have to. Where was I?

I’m busy with my work and with my heroin, and on the periphery of my consciousness, something ends and something begins, other things stir, marinate. I feel them pulsating on the membrane of…

You: Pulsating on the membrane?

Jesus, if you’re just going to interrupt me and ask me to explain every single turn of phrase—come on. Pulsating is a good word. And I’m pretty sure you can pulsate on a membrane. But fine. It’s too fine a phrase, too self-conscious and it would probably come out in the edit anyway. Let’s try that again.

I’m busy with my work and with my heroin, and on the periphery of my consciousness, something ends and something begins, other things stir, and marinate. I know I can’t force them—in fact, I need to very carefully not pay too much attention to them. Sort of like parenting the eldest teenager—I need to be aware, and present, but in absolutely no way hovering. There-but-not-there. I can do that, because, busy with my work and my heroin.

I am putting off calling the therapist and making my next appointment. One, because I’m writing and that feels way better than talking to her about yucky things. Two, because if I’m not writing, and if I’m not with the kids, I want to be with my heroin, and ok, fine, I realize, short-term solution and I should call the fucking therapist, fine, hold on, I’m making the appointment… Next Saturday, 4 p.m., now leave me alone.

Where was I? I’m busy with my work and with my heroin, and on the periphery of my consciousness, something ends and something begins, other things stir, and marinate, and I can’t remember for the life of me where I was going with this. I don’t even remember what ended and what begun. Was it a real thing? Was it a metaphor?

I’m not high. Or low. I’m playing. This, by the way, is the reason why this blog has no advertising on it. Because how on earth would I slide in a plug for Nando Chicken into a post such as this if I had to?

I’m busy with my work and with my heroin, and on the periphery of my consciousness, something ends and something begins, other things stir, and marinate, and the scent of Peri-Peri sauce—Nando’s? Damn right, Nando’s!—wafts into my nostrils.

I have no idea why I’m thinking about Nando’s. There’s one near the Lebanese/Syrian sheesha lounge that I love, but the only time I’ve ever eaten at a Nando’s was in Horsham, UK, because a friend had gift cards he needed to use up. Of course, the other night I did eat delivered Swiss Chalet chicken—for much the same reason, except this time, coupon, not gift cards. And we did talk about ordering from Popeye’s or Nando’s instead but the coupon carried the day.

See, now if Nando’s was paying for this post, they’d be pissed because I mentioned Swiss Chalet.

You: Sure you’re not high?

Jane: Maybe a little. I’ve been enjoying my heroin, a lot.

(Metaphor, seriously, a metaphor.)

(Let’s pretend I said sugar. You can relate to that better, yeah?)

(But really, it’s heroin, pure, unadulterated, perfect heroin. Methadone is for people who want to quit.)

You: Jane? I think you need to go back to not writing.

Jane: Baby? Fuck off. I’m demonstrating why freefall writing is a useful form of exercise, but is not the way to write a novel.

I’m busy with my work and with my heroin, and on the periphery of my consciousness, something ends, something else begins, and a heroine name Clementine starts to take form.

She hates her name. In high school, they called her Clammy Clemmy. Kids are little assholes. So now, she goes by Tina. But then…

Ha.

She needs to marinate some more. Because I have a shitload of revisions to do. And I need to get through them this week so that I have time for my heroin on the weekend…

Ever yours,

“Jane”

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

I have a new therapist. I make an appointment to see her after a particularly exhausting appointment at Flora’s clinic, a yet another excruciating debrief with yet another new member of Flora’s medical team. She—the new addition to the team—is actually quite wonderful. She clicks with my girl very quickly. Seems to recognize and value her intelligence and her quirks. And gets the severity of this particular manifestation of a non-textbook illness: she doesn’t offer us short-term promises or solutions. Things go really well, except for some of the completely inconsistent with reality (but perhaps consistent with being a teenager) things Flora says about her home life. Her throwaway comments (home life is stressful, she doesn’t really like her parents, and she never does anything fun with her family) plunge me into such despair I drive home in a rainstorm of tears in my eyes and barely get supper on the table. Then go to bed at 6:30 p.m., so that can be well-rested and at least semi-functional before facing the illness-related bedtime chores.

I decide to call the therapist after I try to debrief with Sean and, instead of getting support and acknowledgement and the strong, clear message that I’m a good mom, I’m doing my best, and all my sacrifices are worth it, I plunge him into my despair, and then perhaps lower. Fucking empaths, fucking mirror neurons.

Fucking genes.

I don’t blame him. He’s as empty as I am—how can he hold me up? I can’t hold him up either.

So. Therapist.

The clinic has a family therapist who is supposed to support us through this. She has, I am sure, a good heart, and apparently an education; there are framed degrees on her office walls. But no insight, at least not into me. And no tools that help—me. Frankly, when I do go to see her, I feel that I am helping her feel that she’s doing her job. So, I feel that I’m supporting her, not so much the other way around.

I don’t have super high hopes for the new therapist, but I know I desperately need to talk to someone, and it can’t be you, because, frankly, you’re as useless as the family therapist, and I fucking can’t handle your despair and fears. And tears. You don’t know how to help me, and I don’t have the energy to find feel-good jobs for you to do or to find feel-good words with which to thank you for your concern or to reassure you that yes, I’ll be ok, because, well, I don’t know. Maybe I won’t be, and now I have to worry that my not being ok is making you not be ok, and OMFG, this is why I don’t talk to people.

And now I’ve hurt your feelings just by writing this, and there you go, crying in the corner—for fuck’s sake, do you think something, anything could be about me for a change?

Um. Sorry.

Internal dialogue.

But do you see why I need to see a therapist?

So. New therapist.

I try to set her up for success.

I tell her about my struggle with the family therapist. “I need help coping and I’m here because I know I need help coping,” I tell the new one. “But if you tell me to have a bubble bath, get some fresh air, or practice self-care, I’m leaving.”

I don’t add, “After thoroughly trashing your office.” But I think it.

“Well, so long as we know who is boss here,” she says.

She might be able to help me, I think. Is she going to challenge me, push back? Force me to think about shit in a new way?

Yes, and no.

The appointment is interesting. We have very different perceptions of what the problem is. She thinks I’m being too hard on myself. Which is very sweet and all but I suspect it’s another way of telling me to take bubble baths. I think the problem is that I hate and resent my daughter because her illness is wrecking havoc on my work and my life, and I need to stop having those feelings because it’s fucking hard to act out of love when you’re seething with resentment. More importantly, it’s fucking hard to work when you’re seething with resentment, because all those feelings are exhausting and I’m so tired of feeling exhausted, and I just want to be able to sink into my work and enjoy it—I just had a taste of it when I was at the residency in Banff, and I want more, I need more, like a fucking drug, my heroin, my flow, my respite…

She thinks I need to bring more balance to my sense of identity. I think I need to work more. At all. Specifically, to figure out how to maximize the time that I do have. Because right now, I’m pissing it away, unable to focus, recovering from morning routines, anticipating afternoon and evening routines, all of which revolve around Flora’s illness, waiting to be interrupted, and so not really starting, doing anything…

“This concerns me” she says. But she doesn’t seem to hear what really concerns me. And she talks about balance and identity some more until I cut her off.

“I don’t want balance.” I am emphatic, clear, unequivocal. “I have never had balance or wanted balance. I have had passion and drive and flow and those are the things that bring me joy. And it’s not far, this thing I need. I had it in Banff: I wrote, I existed. I need that now, here.”

She latches onto my language. “Did you hear what you said?”

“What?”

“I write. I exist.”

Duh. Well, of course. Beavers built dams, songbirds sings, moose—I have no idea what moose do, stomp through swamps stripping lichens off bark? Whatever. Writers write. I write.

She seems to think this is a problem and starts to give me a lecture about work and identity and the dangers of over-identifying with your job. I tell her that we need to accept that if this is a problem, it’s not something I want fixed. What I need is to feel less resentful, less exhausted so that I can, um, you know. Work, write more.

She says, to lower the bar. Change my expectations.

I start to worry this appointment is a waste of time.

“I don’t think you really understand how I’m wired.”

I try again.

So does she.

It’s interesting.

I recognize that she’s trying to figure out how to give me what I say I need. I decide the process is sort of helpful… I did need to talk to someone, and to tell someone how angry and resentful I was, and why.

But what I really need is to stop feeling angry and resentful—and exhausted—so that I can work. And the thing that will make me stop feeling angry and resentful is being able to work.

“Wait.” The therapist wants to be clear. “So you’re not writing at all?

“I’m… practicing. And I’m writing… well, short things. And crap.” Like this. “I’m too stupid to hold space for any of my big, important projects.”

She latches onto the word “stupid.” Tells me I’ve used it a lot.

I shrug. It’s apt. In Banff, my brain woke up, felt sharp for the first time in months. I could think all the things, see all the connections. The Big Picture. Cause and effect and missing pieces, and how to find them.

My mind was sharp as a razor’s edge. I knew it, myself, again.

Back  in the demands of real life, I feel, again—stupid. Foggy.

“This is a problem.” Quoth the therapist.

“Yeah, well, I’m not here because everything is just awesome, you know.”

We again experience cognitive dissonance on what, precisely, the problem is. She thinks the problem is that I think I’m stupid. I think the problem is that I actually can’t think, perform at anything approximating the level that defines normal for me. My non-functionality isn’t all in my head and it’s not the result of poor self-esteem blah blah blah. Trust me. I be an ego-ful, arrogant bitch. If I’m telling you my brain feels stupid, that I can’t perform, this is a real thing that needs a real solution and not a lecture on negative self-talk.

“The problem is that you’re beating yourself up for it,” the therapist says.

I sigh. I feel, again, we’re talking at cross-roads. I redirect her. This is my brain running on nine months-plus of trauma and emotional exhaustion, and I suppose, physical exhaustion too. This is my brain shoulder-checking and, by the time it’s looking forward, not remembering what it saw over the left shoulder. Also, why is it in the car? Where was it driving, exactly? And why? This is my brain screaming, “Write this idea down NOW because I will not be able to hold it during the chaos that is about to ensue!” and this is me screaming at it “Write it down where, how? When? And to what purpose?”—and everyone just deciding to not do anything instead, because, what’s the point? Let’s just seethe and hate and resent instead. We know how to do that, and we can do that in this foggy state, we can do that in-between interruptions. Sure, it feels awful, but by now, it feels familiar…

We need to break that thing. I need to break that state, that habit, that default mode—I need to smash it. I need tools, I need strategies, I need help. What has she got? What can she give me? Cause I’m fucking empty—I’m too stupid to solve this myself.

She does not appreciate the irony in my choice of words.

Whatever.

She gives me homework. She suggests that I try to stop working in the morning—that is, that I stop trying to work in the morning, thus eliminating the feeling bad when it doesn’t happen thing. And perhaps look for other potentially productive windows later in the day. This is so obvious I feel stupid that I haven’t thought to it myself—and she latches onto my words again.

For fuck’s sake.

“Well, it is obvious,” I counter. “And also, an illustration of how non-functional, by my usual standard, I am, that it didn’t occur to me to just… you know. Stop sticking to a non-functioning routine.”

She jots something else on her notepad. I expect it might be “usual standard.”

I don’t really know that we’ve solved anything, really. I leave the office feeling pretty shitty. Emotionally exhausted—not that I was sparkling fresh when I walked in. But, with a bit of a plan.

The next day, I don’t try to work in the morning. It’s a Sunday, so I feed Ender, putter around the kitchen, and leave the house as soon as Sean is up and about. Flora is still in bed.

Go to the library. Don’t really work here—I transcribe. Something unimportant, short, not very good.

I read. Something completely unrelated to any of my projects. Research turquoise mining in Khosan, I don’t fucking know why.

Spend a big block of time, in the midst of real life, not engaging with Flora’s illness. With my obligations as a mother.

So. That’s something.

“Jane”

PS Can we be clear, darling—I’m not asking you for tools or strategies or help. You are here to bear witness, that’s all. And make mewling supportive sounds. Perhaps bring me chocolate. (I was just reading somewhere that among the many proven health benefits of dark chocolate is protection from the sun. I didn’t read the article very carefully, so I’m not sure if this is achieved via ingestion or via smearing melted dark chocolate on your skin, but I’m not sure I really care. I could totally get into smearing chocolate on my skin.)

PS2 Two weeks, two more therapy appointments. The therapist thinks I’m evading dealing with the problem. I don’t care what she thinks. I’m writing.

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

I’ve left paradise and I’m in a crowded parking lot. It’s tucked between the Ukrainian Catholic Church that, I guess, presumes to be a conduit to paradise for its worshippers, and the cultural centre it runs as both a community service and a modest revenue stream.

Even churches need to keep the lights on, somehow.

The Church is St. Basil’s, an unusual and beautiful name that always makes me think of both Sherlock Holmes and John Cleese (and OMG, people, John Cleese playing Sherlock Holmes, why has that not been a thing?).

(Excuse me—I’m googling “Has John Cleese ever played Sherlock Holmes?”)

(OMG, people, John Cleese played Arthur Sherlock Holmes, the grandson of the great detective, in a 1977 British film called The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It, and you can watch it for free on Open Culture.)

(Back to regularly scheduled programming…)

I’m here because in 2015, then-Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Decore, Janice Sarich, lost her job.

Follow me for a while; I’ll explain.

I’m actually here for Julia Cameron’s first Canadian appearance in more than 20 years. Julia Cameron is the author of The Artist’s Way—and more than 40 other books, several musicals, plays, screenplays, etc. She’s also the director of an art film, the creation of which is a study in synchronicity, serendipity, and also, perseverance past the point of reason.

Julia has been my writing teacher and creativity coach for five years. Today is the first day we are to meet. And when I say meet, I mean, I will be in a church hall with 300 other people while she talks. It’s not going to be a particularly intimate experience. But still. We will be in the same room, I will have seen her, truly, “live,” and this brings me much anticipatory happiness.

Back in 2014, when I was drowning (metaphorically, although the flood was real enough), The Artist’s Way threw me a lifeline and turned Cameron into my first real teacher, and the one I keep on going back to, again and again and again.

And again.

I don’t like her.

Let’s make this clear right away, so that you are not expecting a hagiography. We are not friends, Julia and I. I do not have a rose-coloured schoolgirl’s crush on her. I am neither the Peter nor Paul to her Jesus, nor the Mardana to her Guru Nanak.*

* You can google Mardana and Guru Nanak. Or, you can read The Singing Guru, a marvellous novel by Kamla K. Kaur (also author of Ganesha Goes to Lunch and Rumi’s Tales from the Silk Road), about the life of the founder of the Sikh religion—that’d be Guru Nanak—and his faithful companion, Mardana.

If we were closer in geography and fame, we would not be friends, meeting for a coffee and a chat. I don’t accept Julia’s tools and wisdom uncritically, as gospel. Frankly, I argue with her, fight her every step of the way. I call her names—throw her struggle with alcoholism and co-dependent romantic relationships in her face (repeatedly and unkindly). Tell her that if she spent less time gazing out her window and writing Morning Pages and more time perfecting the craft and refining technique, maybe she’d be famous for her poetry or her musicals. Or her novels would be, like, good, and they’d sell.

I am mean to her, so mean to her.

I hate her.

She is my most beloved teacher.

My refusal to be an uncritical acolyte notwithstanding, I’m here to pay homage. I’m quite aware of this, long before I get into my hic-cuping (Please don’t die!) 2007 Nissan Versa (grey) (I’m telling you this because Julia likes specificity, just as much as Writing Down the Bones author Natalie Goldberg does) at 5:30 a.m. that morning to drive the 300 km that will take me to St. Basil’s Cultural Centre in Edmonton.

I know I am here to give gratitude and pay homage long before Julia Cameron enters the hall and I leap to my feet, giving her a standing ovation before she utters a word, because, fuck, Julia, there you are, after all these years, in the flesh, you’re real, would I be where I am, who I am, right now if you hadn’t been thrust upon me back in 2014?

Julia Cameron is 71 now, and an old 71, a frail 71. My mother is 68 and a) she looks much younger and prettier and b) she could easily take Julia in a fight. Janice Sarich—the organizer—warns us before the Godmother of Art, the Midwife of Creation enters the hall that Ms Cameron has health issues, and because of them, there are some rules we need to follow. We are not to badger her, approach her, crowd her—there’s a red velvet rope strung as a barrier to separate us from the lectern and we are not to cross it. There will be no book signings or requests for selfies. We are here to get what she is willing to give us—and to demand no more.

I know from her books that Cameron is a highly introverted, very sensitive and anxious—neurotic really—and has suffered at least two nervous breakdowns.

Those are all the things about her that annoy me when I read her (Could you be a little less neurotic, Julia?), those are all the things that make her such a sensational teacher.

If I am a doubting Thomas and a pre-conversion St. Augustine—maybe even a Rene Descartes, who, had he lived half a century earlier may well have been burnt at the stake—the woman who brought Cameron to Edmonton—to me—is a less critical disciple. Former MLA Sarich is in the honeymoon phase of the student-teacher relationship, you know, when Socrates can do no wrong in the eyes of Plato, when Jung nods his head enthusiastically at every word Freud utters… even though, if he lets himself think, he’ll see that actually, um, ah, I dunno, maybe the old man got it just a little wrong?

I’ve never had that phase with Cameron. I’ve never had that with anyone. Hero-worship, goddess worship—I envy it when I see it.

Sarich lost her job at the Alberta Provincial Legislature when my socialist, progressive, feminist, “Damn straight I will dance at the Pride Parade!” premier unseated the oligarchy that had been lording it over the province for 44 years. So as soon as Sarich introduces herself and her story, I know some pretty core philosophical differences separate us. In 2015, I celebrated with abandon—if not precisely her loss, then my premier’s win. When the Conservatives returned to power in 2019 under a reprehensible platform that offended virtually all of my values as well as my reason, I mourned.

But when I talk to Sarich, all I feel is gratitude and admiration. Because she turned her tragedy and trauma—and job loss is traumatic, no matter how common in the modern economy—into this opportunity, not just for herself, but for me and for 300 other people. To meet Julia, to work with Julia.

For an emotionally exhausting eight hours.

At 4:30 p.m. that day, I revise my estimation of Julia as old and frail. Fuck, the woman might be 71 and battered by life, but she’s also tough and committed. She might have health problems. She may pause at the lectern for a long, long while here and there, to catch her breath or to recall her train of thought. But she gives us her all for the entire day, shepherding her energy carefully, resting in-between when we break off into our mini-clusters—but, at the end of the day, still giving it all, as fully engaged, as fully present as she was at its beginning.

I bow my head and come the closest to hero-worship, goddess worship I will ever feel.

There are several points during the day when I wish I hadn’t come. The first happens early in the day, during one of our first break-off clusters. The workshop for 300 of Julia’s biggest fans is surprising intimate, because Julia (clearly, she’s done this before) speaks for a little bit, gives us a written exercise, then has us break off into clusters of three, four or two. Each time, we are to connect with new people; each time, we are to share ourselves with strangers.

I fucking hate this. There is immense creative power in being vulnerable, open, exposed. I know—I’ve just come off a 10-day stint in Paradise in which I gave myself like that, completely. And I am still so very vulnerable and leaking tears and love. But these people, here? I don’t know these people at all.

And this is a fact, not an opinion: being vulnerable and open with people you don’t know and trust is stupid.

This is also a fact, not an opinion: The Artist’s Way exercises Julia is leading us through are useless unless one is stupid and open. I mean, vulnerable. Ugh.

I hate her. I wish I hadn’t come. Fine, Julia. I’m here. For you. My stupid list… numbered one to five. Things people in my family thought about Art. Imaginary lives. Things I’d do if I knew I didn’t have to do them perfectly. U-turns…

My first two clusters are marvelous. The women—the audience is 90 percent female, and also, 95, 99 per cent white, and this is sadly relevant—are all also open and vulnerable and loving. And so they set me up for what happens next.

Fine. No blame. I set myself up. I relax into the vulnerability. I start to feel safe.

Bam!

Julia says, she’s going to dictate some questions for us, and we are to answer them in our best Obi Wan Kenobi impersonation. I’m not a Star Wars fan, and while I know the difference between Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda (Yoda’s the green one, right?), I’m not sure which one of them it is who says, “There is no try. There is only do.” But I think that’s what she’s asking for. Right? Anyway. Jedi master advice to the Padawan. This much I know. Jedi, wise.

She dictates.

What do I need to do?

I write:

Write and build.

She says:

What do I need to try?

I write:

Rejuvenate, recharge, restart.

(I actually think, “I need to let go,” BUT I AM NOT LETTING GO OF ANYTHING, analyze that!)

Number three, says Julia:

What do I need to accept?

Motherhood is forever.

Corners of my eyes tingle, sting.

Number four:

What do I need to grieve?

I don’t want to do this fucking exercise.

But I write:

Loss of freedom. And time.

Tears stream down my face, hot and sticky.

Last one.

What do I need to celebrate?

This one’s hard. But I find the words.

Love. And my talent. I’m fucking amazing and I’m still here.

My face is wet, soaked when we break off into the clusters. Fuck you, Julia, I wasn’t quite ready for that. Fuck honesty. Sometimes, a little bit of distance and delusion is good. And now, in this state, I need to be with people? Why would you do this to me?

We’re a  group of four, a young stay-at-home mom, a woman who could either be my age or be a decade my senior, hard to tell, and a post-menopausal matriarch. And, me.

I want to stay to stay open, so I tell them the exercise really triggered me and I was crying and I pretty much can’t stop. They make supportive noises. We share our lists, without details, context, backstory. Then, the matriarch starts asking questions. Who, what, why. She likes to be in charge. The young stay-at-home mom says something about motherhood, challenges, sacrifices. “You will never regret this time,” the matriarch says authoritatively. “There is so much time to do everything you want after…” And she launches into the story her of her perfectly sequenced life.

I can’t bear it. Because sometimes there’s no time, there’s no more time. Sometimes, just as you think there’s more freedom, more time, everything comes crumbling down, and then what? Is it still worth it?

Right now, to be perfectly, brutally honest, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was worth it. Maybe I should have been more selfish, more focused on what I needed back then. I’ve lost so much time, I’m losing so much time now, I’m wasting the time I do have…

What happens when you find out there will not be more time, more freedom? And you will never get back what you lost, and you have to figure out how to work with what you have?

And what is it with this crap of telling women—sacrifice everything you are, everything you want now, because sometime in the future, when nobody needs you anymore, you can do the things that you…

Fuck that shit.

My tears come again. Hot.

What do I need to accept?

Motherhood is forever.

What do I need to grieve?

Loss of freedom. And time.

I don’t want to out Flora, her story, her struggle to strangers.

But they are looking at me, confused, but, I think, also, compassionate.

“I have a sick child,” I say by way of an inadequate explanation. “I don’t have more time, now, that she’s older. My challenge is to figure out how to work with the time I have.”

I don’t add that I’m having a really hard time making use of what time I do have. That I spent most of it exhausted, non-functional.

The matriarch looks at me. I don’t really expect words of wisdom. Just, what? Acknowledgment? That it’s hard.

“I know this couple,” she says. “Married thirty-two years. Never a cross word between.”

There’s no more to her story, although her mouth keeps on moving and she’s making words. I excuse myself and go cry in the washroom for a while.

I’m not angry. Just unsupported. And reminded that it is stupid to be vulnerable in front of strangers.

I recover sufficiently to be present and to listen to Julia. But I know that even though I carry out the exercises, between myself and the page, fairly honestly, I will not be naked to strangers again today.

This is not unfortunate. It’s smart, safe, necessary. Just as necessary as, when walking home late at night, choosing the well-lit paths or opting to call an Uber instead of taking a shortcut through the dark alley or ambush-point filled urban park.

The next point of pain comes during the Q&A on Morning Pages. The Morning Pages, if you’re not an Artist’s Way acolyte, are the primary tool Julia gives us for creative recovery—and perseverance. Three pages, written in longhand, first thing in the morning. Other than those guidelines, anything goes.

In my Morning Pages, I often tell Julia she’s an idiot and this is a stupid exercise, and surely there’s a more productive, creative, enjoyable way with which to start my mornings?

But it’s been more than five years now and I’ve missed perhaps five days. The Morning Pages have given me three novels. Renegotiated most of my existing relationships, opened me to new ones. They are saving me, keeping me anchored to life and why I want to live it during this latest, shittiest chapter of my life.

They work.

They work, very very well, for writers.

Julia prescribes them for everyone.

The question, asked by a woman I don’t really see, but the top of whose head suggests she might have African roots, is this:

“The Morning Page tool is so powerful. But it’s all about writing. Is there way for people or cultures without writing traditions, to use it?

Julia answers it like a 71-year-old white woman.

The first part of her answer is ok. She says that she’s a writer and she comes at this process from that lens and she doesn’t have any experience elsewhere.

Would that she just stopped there, it would be ok.

But she doesn’t. Her next sentiment, communicated as much by tone as actual words, comes across as, “I’m not interested in making my tools work for non-writing cultures.”

Bang. Ouch. Wah.

I can’t tell if the woman asking the question is African or indigenous—she’s far, the room is crowded, I’m blind (I meet her later, she’s a Canadian with Jamaican parentage), but OMFG, Julia, how could you?

Well.

She’s no goddess, she’s no hero, she’s blinded by her class and her privilege, and she’s a product of her time.

She’s also a product of her culture, which has over-privileged writing as a cultural and communication form almost since it invented it.

And it’s so weird, really if you think about it at all.

This urge to write shit down. Not even important shit. Just… anything that happens to you. Or crosses your mind. Imagined shit. Stories about robots and unicorns and alternate universes. Murders that didn’t happen. Love affairs that go right or wrong—but that don’t actually exist.

How weird is that?

Nothing natural, inevitable about any of it, right?

What would all we writers be doing if we were born into a pre-literate age?

We would be… story tellers. Song makers. Poem reciters.

Writing is a tool, a technology, a cultural invention we use to express, communicate both the very mundane (“Sold three sheep for two wheat barrels”; “Pick up toilet paper and eggs on your way home, will you love?”) and the absolutely divine…

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”

― Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

The Morning Pages are magical for writers. My non-writing son finds a similar peace and cleansing when he runs. His father finds it in meditation (which Cameron near-dismisses during the workshop, wilfully misunderstanding what it is that happens in meditation—“You meditate until you push the problem away,” she says—as most failed meditators and non-meditators do).

My great-grandmother found it in prayer or the rosary.

I find it in the Morning Pages.

But that doesn’t mean everyone will, everyone should.

Julia. You too old to be open-minded?

Sigh.

My last moment of pain comes when Julia wants to talk about God. She’s a highly spiritual person and this, and her highly personal relationship with an anthropomorphic God the Creator, God the Artist permeates all her work. It is another point of contention between us. I’ve had to “get over” Julia’s god thing to work through her books. Don’t laugh. It’s possible. You can read both the New Testament and the Q’ran for life lessons and reject the existence of both Jesus’s God the Father and Muhammad’s Allah. Ditto the Vedas and the Upanishads. You can learn from the Bhagavad Ghita without praying to Krishna, you know?

Siddhartha Gautama, the “first” Buddha, figured it out—he also realized the average person needs God and I don’t expect he’s surprised either by his own deification or the veneration of Boddhisatvas and statues that make some schools of Buddhism look as theatrical as Roman Catholicism. But I digress, yet again. Point: Julia loves God and trusts that he’s running the show.

I think it’s… well, now, occasionally, I think it’s nice. Why not? Whatever gets you through the days and keeps you sober. But I can’t join her there. Not even because, Syrian civil war, genocide in Rwanda, the Jewish Holocaust, and also, the disease my daughter is battling. Just because… it seems so infantile.

Fake.

In the workshop, we first deconstruct, as a group, the idea of god we grew up with. I’m silent. I’ve put the pedophiliac “You are born in sin and you will die in sin” anthropomorphic, misogynist God the Father of my childhood religion away a long time ago. So I think, anyway. Many of the people in the group though had a similar experience. They share it. I don’t understand why anyone would worship, deify, believe in such an entity past the age of reason. Well. I do. Children are impressionable, life is uncertain.

Worship is seductive.

 

Next, Julia wants us to construct a joyous God the Creator, God the Artist. “What sort of God do you, as an artist, want?” she asks. “Let’s make him!” The room enters into the exercise enthusiastically. I’m silent again. I think making art to celebrate a thing that doesn’t exist is, while not as evil as making war in the name of a thing that doesn’t exist (“She was a virgin mother!” “No, she wasn’t!” “He was the son of God!” “No, he was just a prophet of God!”) is just as pointless.

But because I’m not busy building false deity, I am looking inward, and when I look inward, the “Why? to what purpose?” question inevitably looms large.

And because “it’s god’s plan” is not an answer available to me, I must find the answer myself, in myself.

This is hard to do when one is empty…

Julia ends the section, and the workshop, by asking us to first, write a letter from ourselves to this god we create, and then a response from him. (Yes, it’s a him. Of course, no gender neutral pronouns for Julia. We don’t get into it. But I feel we would fight about that too. Anyway, I don’t think she’s thought about it very deeply. Her god has a definite, also material penis. Or so I think as I seethe at her. I told you. I don’t like her. This is not a hagiography.)

At the beginning of the workshop, she introduces us to two characters who will accompany us on the journey, the Tyrant and the Rebel.

The Tyrant is also, I think, the Inner Critic. My Aunt Augusta. “Your list of five imaginary lives is so stupid.” “See, you couldn’t come up with 25 things that you love. I knew you wouldn’t be able to do it, because you suck. You’re stupid.”

The Rebel says, “The teacher is so stupid. Why is she making us do this shit?”

My Rebel is rising, but as I have done since I’ve first started working with Julia five years ago, I acknowledge that she, the Rebel, is absolutely right—but we’re going to do this stupid exercise anyway.

I write:

Dear Creativity God,

You don’t exist because, well, you don’t. I don’t believe in you, or ghosts. But Julia Cameron exists—she is very real, right here, and I believe in her. And in myself. And I believe—most of the time—that my urge to create, to write, to put all these stories down on paper is a worthwhile one. It’s important to bear witness. To document.

Look at that. This is how Jesus and the Buddha became gods.

Julia calls time. Now, it’s time for the Creativity God to write back.

Jesus.

For three minutes, I need to write in the voice of something I don’t believe in, that doesn’t exist. Fun.

Fine.

When I commit to doing something, I do it.

I write.

Yes, M., you’re absolutely right. It’s important to bear witness, to document, to interpret, even. How did you put it in that love letter to your crew? To make sense of the world and share it with other people. Not everyone can see either the whole, or the unique angle with which you can illuminate the most ordinary experience. And so, yes. Believe in your urge and in yourself and in its value. Believing in me is not necessary. Unlike Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I exist whether you believe in me or not.

Well, fuck what the hell is this?

I hate Julia Cameron.

I love Julia Cameron.

Both statements are true. That’s dialectics, that’s where all the best ideas happen.

(Note to self: re-read American Gods soon. I love Neil Gaiman. But it’s his wife Amanda Palmer who is, occasionally, my teacher.)

We give Julia Cameron a standing ovation to close the day and then, I end up at dinner with three other fascinating attendees, including the woman who asked the question about non-literate people and cultures. (She’s brilliant, Julia, working on a doctorate on how we can use art to heal trauma—you really should have paid more attention to what was behind her question).

We de-brief, dissect. I am very pleased to find myself talking with critical thinkers, not mindless acolytes.

I love Julia, I hate Julia—I think the reason my work with The Artist’s Way has been so fruitful for me is because I fight with Julia, argue with her almost every step of the way. Resist and then surrender, for a little while. Fight some more, grow some more.

She is my most beloved Teacher.

Thank you, Janice Sarich, for giving me this time with her.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS In case you forgot where we started: John Cleese + Sherlock Holmes = The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977). Give it at least 13 minutes before giving up. The 1970s were a different time: people still expected/accepted awkward foreplay in their books and films.

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

for Small medium larch

A Golden Larch

I am trying to not think of an audience.  I am trying to not think of a reader—the reader. I am trying to not think that you will read this. I am trying to think—note that the “not” disappears, more accurately, relocates—that you will not read this.

This is, of course, ass-backwards. We almost always write for an audience, a reader—even in the privacy of journals that we claim we write for ourselves but of course keep to appraise posterity of our brilliance, significance, intellectual insight, and emotional depth (What? No? Your journals are truly, completely private? Do you burn them, destroy them, after you write in them? No? Then, beloved hypocrite, you are just as vain and ego-fuelled and delusional as I am). Good work, effective work posits a reader. It is created with an audience, a reader in mind. Otherwise, it’s either therapy or narcissistic indulgence, not art.

Certainly not journalism.

But that’s another story.

This story is about heartbreak. And to write a true story about heartbreak, you need to write without thinking of the reader.

I want to tell you a story about my 12 days in Heaven, and I want it to be a truly true story. You know most of my stories aren’t really true—each is a performance, an exercise, a game. But today, I want to give you a true story. To give it, I need to not think of the audience (especially not you), a reader, the reader (the specific reader).

I am thinking, writing in circles.

It’s because I am sober for the first time in 10 days; hungover from Heaven.

View from the Banff Centre Library

Heaven is partly a place, mostly people. I’ve just come back from 10 days—12, if you count the shoulder travel days, and I do—at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where I was privileged to be part of the Centre’s third annual Investigative Journalism Intensive.

Background for the uninitiated: The Banff Centre is, I believe, North America’s largest non-parchment granting arts institution. Its official messaging describes it as “a learning organization built upon an extraordinary legacy of excellence in artistic and creative development… the global organization leading in arts, culture, and creativity across dozens of disciplines… [which] aims to inspire everyone who attends our campus—artists, leaders, and thinkers—to unleash their creative potential.”

Words, words, words—what it is, it’s heaven on earth for artists, creators. And because it’s located in Alberta and at the mercy of the economic and political machinations of a boom-bust economy and governments that do not believe in nourishing art, culture, and artists, it’s an arts organization that’s an entrepreneurial leader. It provides a womb for artists from across Canada and the world, and it funds this womb in large part through hard-nosed business operations. Yeah, it’s an arts institution that has revenue streams independent of the government and student fees. And we’re not just talking generous donations from philanthropists (while we’re talking philanthropy, though, to the many individual and corporate donors who made the Investigative Journalism Intensive possible, thank you!).

Banff Centre Campus, God’s light

But that also is another story. This is not a hard-nosed business story, although I just completed a hard-nosed investigative journalism intensive. This is a story about Heaven.

And also, not thinking about the reader.

So. I’m in Heaven. This is, I think, not a metaphor. The Banff Centre is in the heart of the obscenely beautiful Banff National Park, nestled into the side of the sacred Sleeping Buffalo Mountain (Tunnel Mountain to the colonizers), with views of Sulphur Mountain, Cascade Mountain and others enclosing it in a fairytale-like setting. God’s country for atheists, hedonists, naturalists, artists.

Elk on campus

Elk and deer wander the 42-acre campus; the occasional bear visits too. Birds sing. Little mammals scurry. Trees rustle, the wind whispers.

Artists dream.

More importantly, they work.

I arrive exhausted and beyond depleted. Soon, I will meet my cohort and later, we will share with each other our hopes, expectations, and fears—so many fears. People are intimidated, uncertain, worried—we are, technically, the most promising-passionate-something-or-other journalists around (ha! who the hell told them that? how did we ever fool them into letting us into this programme?) and we are all suffering from Impostor Syndrome. Everyone’s worried that at check-in—or check-out—or any point in-between, someone will lean over our shoulder and say, “Um, sorry, we made a mistake, you don’t belong here.”

Elk harem on campus

What I’m most worried about, though, is not Impostor Syndrome. Over the years, I’ve come to accept Impostor Syndrome as, if not a friend, exactly, then as a constant presence, whose poisonous whispers I acknowledge, hear, but don’t listen to. “You don’t belong here,” the demon—I call her Aunt Augusta—whispers. “You’re so out-classed.” “You’re so right,” I answer back. “And yet, here I am. I’m so lucky. Now screw off and let me take advantage of this opportunity I don’t deserve.”

What I’m most worried about is that I am arriving so exhausted, so depleted, I will piss the opportunity away. I check in at 3:45 p.m.—and I’m on the gorgeous king-sized bed, linens white and fresh, and falling asleep by 4 p.m. I’m going to sleep the entire time that I’m here and what Alberta tax payers, conference attendees, and generous Banff Centre donors will have paid for by providing me with this opportunity is… dreams. Nothing but dreams.

And not metaphoric dreams, either, but literal dreams, in the pre-2013 definition of the word.

I sleep for 30 minutes, and then I do what I always do when I don’t have the energy to move or live. I go for a walk.

To a cemetery.

The Old Banff Cemetery is also nestled into the side of Sleeping Buffalo Mountain, just below the Banff Centre. I visit it often when I’m in Banff. Death affirms life. Later, as my stint in Heaven is ending, I will talk about beautiful melancholy with a positive-but-melancholy musician, and I will tell a fellow journalist that I hope he finds beauty in his sadness.

This is what I find in the cemetery.

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But this is also not part of this story in which I’m trying to not thinking about the reader. (But do you see how, because I’m trying to not think about the reader, you are only able to follow because you love me and you think I love you, and you hope that, perhaps, I’m writing for you, trying to not think of you? Good. That’s the point, at last part of it.)

That night, I sleep for 12 interrupted hours, waking to the sounds of rutting elk, and also, to the sound of deep silence. Once, my screaming, a nightmare.

The next day, I meet my people.

On top of Sleeping Buffalo (Tunnel) Mountain

I don’t know it yet, of course. When I meet them—when we meet, we are strangers. We spend that day, I think, sussing each other out. Posing, positioning? Impostor syndrome is strong. Intimidation rising.

Me, I don’t make deep connections easily and rarely do I feel that I belong, anywhere, with anyone.

(But when I teach, and I ask students the question, “What do all people want?” the answer I give them is this: “To be loved, to be understood—to belong.)

That first night, I run away from the possibility of connection. I leave as soon as it’s offered, actually. Exhausted, depleted, I sleep another 12 hours…

Later, on the last night in Heaven, I tell the santur player who turns sadness into beauty (you haven’t met him yet, nor have I, wait, it’s coming) that for people like me, intimacy is a conscious choice. Love, connection, trust—none of it just happens. It is safer to be distant—it is more comfortable to be on the periphery. It is easier to be a journalist than an artist: it is easier to walk through a room glibly, smiling and laughing, but not investing. Observing but not risking.

With love, with connection, with trust comes the possibility of loss and pain.

Tears, heartbreak.

No comment

In North American culture, we mostly talk about erotic, romantic love. And we misunderstand it, pervert it—that’s also another story.

Non-romantic love can also cause heartbreak, tear you apart. That’s part of this story.

I will tell you, the reader of whom I am trying so hard not to think, this: the day I arrive, I am so afraid I am too exhausted, too depleted to risk, learn, love. On the day I meet my people—except that I don’t know that they are my people yet—I realize that, the bone-deep exhaustion notwithstanding, I can, I must make a choice. And on the next day, on top of Sleeping Buffalo Mountain, the cold wind whipping my face at the same time as the sun warms it, I make the choice to love them. Fully, unabashedly, no constraints, no barriers, nothing held back.

In the wind

Here’s the magical thing, here is what happens in Heaven: every other person in the cohort makes the same decision.

Not at the same moment, not that day, not on that mountaintop. A few of us are a slower burn than even me—it takes them longer. (And yet others have fewer intimacy issues—they decide to roll the dice, take the risk, and love us all on day one.)

Photographing the photographers; context deleted

I explain all this to the melancholy musician on the last night. And I cry.

He plays beautiful music to soothe my heart, and I cry some more.

I’ve jumped ahead and you can’t follow.

Rewind.

So. I am in Heaven—aka the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity—on a 10-day Investigative Journalism Intensive. My debriefing, description, depiction of it violates every “this is journalism” rule, I know. I am not a journalist right now. I am a broken, open heart.

And it’s a journalist’s fault.

Robert Cribb, the star investigative journalist from The Toronto Star (see what I did there), who is our main guide on this journey, sets the sappy tone in the first hour of the intensive.

(Patti Sonntag, former managing editor in The New York Times’ news service division and now director of the Institute for Investigative Journalism at the University of Concordia is the other; we also get some time with the brilliant Aron Pilhofer, the James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation at Temple University—holy cow, loves, mind utterly blown, I drink each word from him as if it is vintage wine or the blood of Christ itself).

But it’s Cribb who is the main midwife of what happens in Heaven. And this is weird casting. Really weird. If you’ve read Cribb in the Star—if you’ve read Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide, the textbook for people like us that he co-authored with Dean Jobb, David McKie, and Fred Vallance-Jones and which forms the text for our intensive—you form a certain image. Expectation. At least, I did, and it was the kinda image often depicted in movies. You know. The seasoned, cynical, hard-boiled journalist (or, actually, homicide detective) with a bottle of whisky in the bottom drawer of his desk.

And when you see Cribb in the flesh, he rather fits that image. Maybe better dressed than the typical Silver Screen depiction. But tough, tough. And hard as nails.

Heart of gold inside? I dunno, maybe, not really, more like a heart of steel, or an uber-fast analyzing computer.

Hard-core, not soft-boiled. Clearly.

Not.

“This is love, here is love,” the hard-core Cribb tells us on day one, in hour one. I don’t believe him.

I’m wrong.

This is love.

I have no idea if he knows how he’s doing what he’s doing. How much of it is on purpose, by design. How much of it is intuition. But we fall in love, with each other, with each other’s work, passion, experience, vulnerability, frustration, fear, hope, ambition, humility… fear. Did I mention fear?

We are journalists working in the era of free content, death of newspapers, evisceration of news desks. And the rise of alternative facts and fake news.

We are all probably (not just a little) mad.

I am mad, I am in Heaven, and while here, I am working on three things:

  • The narrative journalism-this-is-not-really-an-investigation-but-it-has-elements-of-one-I-hope story I want to create around this thing that’s happening in Alberta that I’m not going to tell you anything more about, because it’s my story and while not really a secret, still, containment is the first rule of magic
    (Ok, I’m not really working on that story. Unless thinking is working. I’m thinking. A lot. Document state of mind, where is it written down, where can I find what I need to answer my questions? I make lists. Identify agencies, names. Think, think, think. A lot.)

meme by David

  • The novel that I was supposed to have finished in February, but, you know, sick child, life
    (I plot it out completely, and hit about 6-7,000 new words on it before the intensive ends; also, flesh out some other parts on its sister pieces—I am happy, productive, accomplished.)

  • A painfully introspective “what do I want to do with the rest of my life, or at least the next five years” journaling exercise
    (I do not arrive at an answer—except that I do not wish to work for an established Canadian media company in any way, shape or form, I want to be part of a revolution, except that I don’t think I’ve got quite enough fire to lead the revolution—what I want is someone else to start the revolution and tell me how to help execute it, what do you mean, I have to figure it out all myself?—and that, my love, is a taste of what my journal pages look like, minus the expletives, doodles, and digressions.)

This is not a newspaper; this is not journalism

I am not working on the story I pitched to get into the programme. Because I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to write it right now. And that’s—well, that’s also another story. Also, I’m not sure who will pay me for it (which is in some ways the most important story). But it’s ok. I don’t have to write that story, right now. Maybe someone else can do it better. And if they can’t, life is long—maybe I will get to it one day.

Maybe not.

In Heaven, for me, my story is not what matters. My people matter.

I have a people. Do you understand how intoxicating this is for me?

We are an interesting mix of people, from across Canada and around the world. The prairie provinces are well-represented, and the East Coast (hello, New Brunswick!) over-represented. Toronto and Vancouver are notable by their absence—why is that? But we’ve got Montreal (although he’s really Boston). And London, Kingston, and Hamilton. There are journalists from New York and New Orleans, a Pole working in Cambodia and an Australian based in Liberia—and the Brit was most recently working in New York. A First Nations journalist from Northwestern Ontario—what a beat she has, what a heart pounds within her—how does it not break, daily?

Perhaps it does.

Boat in the woods

Exhausted, depleted when I come, I request complete radio silence on behalf of real life while I’m in Heaven. “Unless one of the children is in the hospital and needs a blood transfusion from me, don’t text me,” I tell the family. I issue the same directive to my friends and loves. “Don’t text me, I won’t text you”—I want to be here, away, completely.

I break it twice. Once, when the high school calls me—they never call me, what’s wrong, panic—texts—it’s fine, everything is fine.

The second time, it’s after Heaven becomes interdisciplinary—we the journalists go to hear the musicians in residence perform a concert, and I don’t know exactly what happens—it’s like the secret sauce. Journalists (writers in general, except perhaps the poets) don’t usually think of ourselves as artists. A number of us in the intensive are recipients of artists’ grants, and Impostor Syndrome prompts us to laugh at the label. Artists, us? What are we doing here, really, in this arts sanctuary?

Do we belong?

The answer, I think, is this: Yes, we belong. We’re all here, musicians, photographers, painters, poets, novelists, journalists, because we make things in order to make sense of the world. Right? Isn’t that what we do, at the core? And hearing the musicians make sense of the world in a language in which we journalists, writers are rarely fluent—I certainly am not—shakes us.

Shakes me, anyway, to the core.

Dancing in the Streets, photo by Kathleen

Cello, bass, violins, viola, guitar—flute, gods, the flute, what is that? how does she do that?—voices as instrument, body as instrument, drum and paper, a hundred-stringed Persian santur, piano and bass—is that a Zappa song? And that string quartet, do they share a hive mind and what have they done to my insides, they are no longer my own—they’re cosmic dust, and I don’t exist.

(And yet, it turns out later in the night, non-existent, I can still dance…)

The night of the concert, I don’t really sleep; in the morning, unsettled, vibrating, I break radio silence with an email. I write about the santur player (I’ve met him now, and so have you—but this is all the introduction you get), and the flutist, and the folk singer, and the string quartet from Vienna, and the bass player who loves Frank Zappa, and the dancer who speaks with her body, oh-my-god, but mostly, I write this:

My work is not really moving forward in a significant way—well, I did plot out the next [Series Title Deleted] novel, and I’ve got some words down on that, I should not downplay that—but most importantly, my brain feels like it’s waking up, I am drinking art and I am surrounded by people loving and making art and music and poetry and making words sing, and I am so alive even when I am almost too exhausted to move.

Last night, after an intense day of work work work, and then the concert, and then the party, we danced in one of the hotel rooms until we literally collapsed on the floor—I have not felt such freedom and abandon in an eternity.

And I am grateful, and that’s a good feeling—I have had a very hard time feeling grateful.

Here’s a picture of my crew.

Did I mention that I am so happy? My heart threatens to break out of my ribcage.

View from my room

We work, we learn, we work, we hike, we work, we dance—we talk, argue, share, fall silent. Repeat.

I feel the hangover coming before it hits. It all ends, we are to leave Thursday morning. Tuesday, we fill out programme evaluations, have our closing reception… which morphs into a closing party and karaoke (and there is also a mechanical bull, don’t ask, it’s Alberta)… and then a long walk from Banff townsite to the Banff Centre, the longest way possible, not on the direct path, but all the way around the mountain. With lots of stops.

“No. We’re not turning there—if we turn there, we’re going to be back at the Centre, and then this night is over, no.”

Not my words, but my sentiment.

We lay down for a while at the Surprise Corner look-out point and look at the stars.

It’s two, three in the morning? Too late. Too much. Too little. It’s almost all over.

Melancholy.

“I don’t want this to be over.”

I have the conversation that begins with this sentence a dozen times, with a dozen different people, none of whom I would have met in the ordinary course of my creative or professional career; these 10 days are extraordinary.

We are hungry for each other, we fit each other, we stimulate, challenge, push each other. This is Heaven.

Bridge over troubled (they only look calm) waters

The santur player—you’ve met him now, remember?—is Persian, and in our encounters we talk poetry, of course. The Persian sufi poets excel at metaphor, at using the language of sexual desire to represent divine love, at using the prosaic and the ordinary to represent that which cannot rightly be put into words.

I wish I had the talent of Hafez of Shiraz to put my longing into words. I do my inadequate best—my people understand, because we all feel it. Many of us freelance, which means we are almost always alone, working with cyber-editors and ever-new sources. Colleagues, friends, collaborators, soulmates? What is that?

Even the people in the newsrooms—they often feel alone, isolated. Also, under stress, fire, threat.

Embattled.

Being an artist has never been easy; there has never been a worse time, in the “free” world anyway, to be a journalist at a traditional media outlet.

And yet, here we are.

“Are we stupid?” I ask this question as the level in the whisky bottle—not the first one—drops. “I mean, I know we’re brilliant, we’re all high on how brilliant we all are. But are we really stupid? Aren’t the smart ones in public relations, communications, marketing, in-house at the corporations, out-earning us, out-spinning us, killing us?”

All the industry stereotypes

Maybe.

“So why do we keep on doing this?”

The question answers itself when I talk with the melancholy-but-happy (that’s a thing) santur player, who makes the hundred-string Persian instrument weep to bring peace to tormented hearts. He can’t remember not playing the santur. He can’t remember not making music. He can’t remember at what age he made his first attempts at composition—his father first recorded him “improvising” when he was ten years old.

Music is in his bones, in his DNA.

It is who he is, as much as it is what he does.

I ask him questions, so many questions, intrusive questions, ignorant questions—I am not fluent in the language of music.

But there’s a question I don’t ask, don’t have to ask.

I’ve heard its variant often.

“What would you be doing if you weren’t writing?”

(What would you be doing if you weren’t making music? If you weren’t making art?)

And I don’t understand the question.

I stare.

I smile awkwardly.

I shuffle away.

Bow Falls

We here, this intrepid group now enjoying 10 days in Heaven, we are the people who have to tell the stories. We need to document them, chase them, share them.

Beavers build dams.

We see the “Who, what, when, where” and then ask, “Why? How?”

And keep on asking…

Then write down the answers, send them into the world, so that you know too.

This used to be a valued, precious skill and gift. Lately, not so much.

Except here.

Heaven.

See what happened? A bunch of journalists and the Banff Centre made me believe in God. Or maybe it was the Persian santur. Goddamn Sufis. Where’s my whisky and my heart of steel?

It’s time to say goodbye.

I don’t want to. I break radio silence, again.

Today my heart hurts because I will be leaving them. I am stupidly hiding from them because I don’t want to say goodbye.

As I write the email, I realize I am being stupid.

I close my eyes. And enter into the pain.

I am going to stop being stupid & go love them a little more, a little longer.

Photo by Alex

We spend that last evening outside. Around an open fire.

When I leave them, I am an open wound.

The santur player has a song called “One Last Time”:

I don’t even try not to cry when he plays it.

“This is how I feel about my crew,” I tell him. “Precisely, exactly, completely, this.”

We will never see each other again—not like this, not all of us—and the reality of this hurts, hurts, hurts. We now know each other—and we know we are not alone, and we know we are loved and valued. That is something, that is everything.

We connect—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. LinkedIn. Slack.

Sorry. That is meaningless. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t compare to this face-to-face time, any more than an email “interview” compares to a face-to-face one—any more than watching porn compares to having sex with someone you are mad about.

(You know I was going to go there.)

So. Goodbye.

Photo by kind stranger from Willow’s camera under Willow’s direction

Heartbreak.

When your heart breaks, you have, I think, two choices.

(You almost always have at least two choices, right?)

You can sow it up and harden.

Or you can leave it open. And make art.

I’m making art—I’m writing—and I am trying to not think of an audience.  I am trying to not think of a reader—the reader. I am trying to not think that you will read this, even though, of course, I am writing it for you, only for you.

Document state of mind forever.

xoxo

“Jane”

Photo by Kathleen

PS All you need to know about The Banff Centre: https://www.banffcentre.ca/

PS2 All you need to know about the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia https://www.concordia.ca/artsci/journalism/research/investigative-journalism.html

PS3 (The Most Important One) The Banff Centre Musicians in Residence perform most Friday evenings this fall, in Rolston Hall. If you’re within driving distance (Calgary, I’m talking to you), you should go hear them. Because. Amazing. (Also, free.)

PS4 I know that part of the intoxicating intensity of our love affair comes from its brevity and its enforced, prescribed ending. Were we all to, suddenly, form a single, cohesive full-time newsroom, were we to work together five, six—in this world, seven—days a week for 52 weeks—hell, even a few months—there would be less infatuation and more frustration, the professional equivalent of seeing a lover’s dirty socks on the living room floor, repeatedly, for goddsake, what’s wrong with her, does she not know what the laundry basket is for? I know all this. Vacation romance, fairy tale love affair. I don’t care. It’s not any less real, any less precious because it’s ephemeral and must end. All things end. We are lucky, so lucky, that we drowned in it as fully as we did, among the mountains, the elk, the true evergreens and the mysterious golden larches.

Michael on deadline (he made it)

PS5 Ok, I realize, you–the reader I’m trying not to think of–you’re going to go here:

You: OMG, woman, did you actually do any journalism?

Jame: OMG, we did EVERYTHING. We drilled into the elements of investigative reporting and what separates original investigative work from derivative reporting—and also, how it’s possible to write an original, revealing investigative piece purely from data already out in the public records that nobody had bothered to connect together before. DOCUMENT STATE OF MIND. We pitched out story ideas and refined them—and refined them some more—being part of this process was probably the most useful part of the entire intensive, except that all of it was useful. We talked about focus and moral and purpose. “What’s the point of this story? What’s the moral of this story? Why are you writing this story?” (We’re writing to change the world. Short answer.) We talked about testing ideas and getting started, organizing documents, identifying (and chasing down) sources. DOCUMENT STATE OF MIND. Collaborative (like hundreds of journalists working together) investigations. Sharing data, interviews, and insights. Preparing for cooperative publications and broadcast. Public records and freedom of information requests. DOCUMENT STATE OF MIND. Pay-walls, love as business model, memberships and subscribers, the future of our industry. Doing the work, loving the work–paying attention to the reader. Piggy-backing on past FOIP requests. How data tells a story. Turning data into narrative. DOCUMENT STATE OF MIND. Sequencing interviews, preparing for adversarial interviews, dealing with spin and reluctance. Turning “off the record” sources into “on the record” ones. Libel-proofing stories. Role-playing adversarial interviews. Surviving being scooped. DOCUMENT STATE OF MIND. Solutions journalism (sort of). Data. More data. DOCUMENT STATE OF MIND.

You: I don’t understand any of this.

Jane: You had to be there. Here, have some more whisky, and then I’ll play you some modern Persian music, and we can both cry.

“You are amazing”—you are partly right

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

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

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

Apparently, I just hide it better.

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

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

Him: Meditation or marijuana?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Him: Ungrateful much?

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

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

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

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

Cinder: You’re so weird.

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

You: You’re amazing.

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

You: You’re so weird.

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

xoxo

Jane

Her story, my story, our story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathe.

Flora: Tell me a story.

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

Flora: You’re so lame.

Jane: I’m what you’ve got.

Flora: Tell me a real story.

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

Her story, my story, our story.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

 

This is a happy moment

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

It’s official.

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

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

She’s gonna be ok.

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

A little bit of this:

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

*

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

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

(The Art of Communicating)‎

This is a happy moment.

xoxo

“Jane”

Kick like a girl

i.

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

Jane: She nailed it.

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

She nailed it.

She did it.

She got here, and she nailed it.

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

ii.

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

Flora: How am I going to get to Wales?

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

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

She believes me.

The doctors—and her father—don’t.

But she believes me.

And so, I must believe myself.

Signing in

iii.

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

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

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

But even at seven, Flora is unstoppable.

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

Pre-test pep talk from Master Experience Senior

iv.

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

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

Flora: I have to go to Wales in April.

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

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

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

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

Flora: Maybe I was just afraid.

Maybe.

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

Bow-in

v.

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

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

Probably not.

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

Flora: I hate the other kids’ parents.

Jane: In general, or in class?

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

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

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

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

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

vi.

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

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

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

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

vii.

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor: You know what I think about Wales.

Flora: You know what I think about Wales.

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

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

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

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

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

Jane: Yes.

Ready

viii.

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

Everything else goes perfectly.

Flora: Too perfectly. Aren’t you afraid?

Jane: Hush. No jinxes.

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

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

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

Flora: We made it.

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

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

ix.

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

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

I did.

OMFG, I did.

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

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

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

Find Flora puking into the wastebasket in our room.

Jane: Nerves?

She wishes.

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

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

Flora: Can I have some chocolate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

x.

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

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

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

As it turns out, she doesn’t need it.

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

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

Flora: He told me to kick faster.

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

x.

She nailed it.

No puking, from flu nor nerves.

No faltering.

No errors.

A flawless performance.

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

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

xi.

Rewind three months.

Flora: Will you teach me how to spar?

I’m… taken aback.

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

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

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

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

Jane: Ok.

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

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

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

In her test, Flora applies every single one.

Flora: I fell on my ass twice.

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

Calgary Crew and their medals (April 27)

xii.

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

Saturday, a tournament.

Flora’s first.

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

Flora: I made it to Wales.

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

Flora: They didn’t tell me I passed.

Jane: You know you passed.

She smiles.

She knows it too.

My girl.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

Flora: Fuck, yeah.

Fuck, yeah.

Coming home with a black belt.

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

Privilege, burnt quesadillas, and betrayal

i.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can make it work, because—privilege.

Not everyone has the same capacity, ability, access.

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

Will they recognize this when they are older?

ii.

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

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

The smoke alarm goes off…

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

It’s perfect.

There is no such thing as multitasking.

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

But, I don’t.

iii.

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

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

I understand, now.

iv.

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

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

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

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

But this cold—I feel betrayed.

Still.

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

So.

I sleep. I heal.

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

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

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

v.

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

Ender: Cheese tortilla?

Jane: Seriously? Another one?

He’s hungry. Or bored. Or needs love.

I provide.

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

xoxo

“Jane”

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

PART I

i

13 is hard.

Do you remember?

I remember it as the year of tears. I couldn’t stop crying.

Flora’s 13 now.

I remember, I remember—but mostly, I hide from her, because faced with her volatilty, I want to yell.

Thank goodness she has a Daddy who knows how to talk to her.

ii

13 is fascinating.

We are in the line-up at Starbucks, Flora and I. I’m thinking about the story I’m not writing. Flora, I assume, is thinking about what she wants to order.

But no.

Flora: What is the most dangerous drug?

Well. I’m about as qualified to answer this as I am to answer her questions about serial killers.

Jane: I don’t know. I guess, judging by what I’ve seen of addicts in the hood… I’d say crystal meth.

Flora: Mmm.

Jane: But… there’s this thing that happens, in the media and in the cultural zeitgiest. There’s a fashionable worst drug ever. You know? In the 1960s and 1970s, it was heroin. And then in the 1980s, it was cocaine. And then, cocaine was not so bad, but crack—rock cocaine—was the worst, there was no hope of a cure of the addiction, it was a death sentence. And now, crystal meth is the worst thing ever, and marijuana is a cure-all.

I should perhaps highlight at this point that neither Flora nor I are cursed with low-pitched, mumbly, hard-to-hear voices, and the acoustics in this particular Starbucks are quite good.

The man in line in front of us turns around.

Scott: In the 60s and 70s, people served long jail terms for marijuana possession.

Jane: I think in some places in the US, they still do.

Scott: Obama pardoned most of them when he became president.

Then he flushes.

Scott: Sorry. I do psych counselling and support at festivals. So I know a lot about… this is sort of hobby horse of mine…

Jane: Then perhaps you can answer this young woman’s question. What is the most dangerous drug?

He really, really thinks hard about it. Heroin, he says, is really dangerous again, but that’s because it’s being laced with fentanyl. And, crystal meth—well, yeah, not so good. And then, when they add fentanyl to it…

Scott: They’re adding fentanyl to everything.

I don’t actually know how to spell fentanyl; I have to google it.

Scott: So really, the gist of this all is—you’ve got to trust your source.

And he shuts up and looks at me and my 13 year old daughter.

Flora: Thank you.

Scott: Um… yeah.

He looks at me. Awkward smile,

Scott: Sorry?

Jane: Thank you. No worries.

iii

Flora orders her fancy drink.

Barrista: Size?

Flora: Um…. medium?

Barrista: Grande?

Flora: Sure.

Barrista: Name?

Flora: What?

Barrista: Your name? For the drink?

Flora looks at me.

And I laugh.

Jane: What’s your Starbucks name gonna be, baby?

Flora’s real name has fewer letters than mine. But it also has a Z pushed up against a consonant that means your poor anglophone tongue will never figure out what the fuck to do with it, and the two vowels at the end are NOT pronounced the way you think they should be.

Flora: Cat.

Barrista: Is that with a C or a K?

Flora: C.

We shuffle over to the “pick up your drink” side of the counter.

Flora: Fuck. I should have said with a Q.

Jane: Or, with a silent X.

Flora: Oh, look. The drug dude’s name is Scott.

Jane: With one t?

Flora’s brow is furrowed.

Flora: I need a Starbucks name that they will know how to spell.

Jane: They ask me how to spell Jane all the time.

It’s true. They like to put a y in it. An extra e, n, an assortment of the above.

iv

While not doing my work, I watch He’s Just Not Into You. It has some fucking brilliant parts.

“So trust me when I tell you that when a guy is treating you like he doesn’t give a shit, he genuinely doesn’t give a shit. No exceptions.”

Scratch guy for person, and there you have it.

Mothers—for the love of your daughters’ future relationship functionality—when a little boy kicks her sandcastle over at a playground, when her 11 year old class mate snaps her bra—don’t tell her he’s treating her disrespectfully because he likes her. Tell her that he’s an ass who doesn’t know how to treat people with respect—and not worth crying over, much less lusting after. And then call his mother and father and tell them to teach their son some manners, and a functional mode of communication.

You: How do you know this and I don’t?

Jane: I have a father who treats me like a queen, remember?

PART II

i

Something is coming, churning. I’m on its verge and I feel it—what is it? Boom! Sometimes, it happens like that and sometimes, it sneaks in. Peekaboo. Did you see me? Yes, you’re right, here I am.

I don’t know how the breakthrough will come but I do feel it coming. I tell you about it, you tell me about yours… I’m not sure we mean the same thing by breakthrough but that, I think, is the curse of the human species. We never really know what the other is talking about.

ii

You can’t save people.

Someone I love is crying in front of me, unbidden tears, and says, “You have no idea what it is like to live with someone who has depression.”

I laugh. Like a slap.

I have no idea.

I wish.

But these stories, we don’t talk about them, because they are not ours to tell.

I tell her, the one thing I’ve learned—you can’t save people. They have to save themselves. All you can do is love them. Make sure they know you’re there for them when they come back.

And take care of yourself, because if you don’t take care of yourself, they sure as fuck won’t take care of you.

Depression is a narcissistic disease.

Sean: I’m the tone who told you that.

Jane: I know. It helped.

Betrand Russell who, I think, struggled with depression himself, knew this. The major thrust of his 1930 The Conquest of Happiness—both a prescient and a dated read, and yes, one can be both—is that happiness lies not within introspection… but in engagement with the outside world.

Martin Seligman’s PERMA model—Sean attends a seminar about it this week at the U, and we spend a little bit of time discussing the Flourish author’s insights—really says more or less the same thing.

Like most things described with acronyms, it’s kinda simplistic, but, for what it’s worth, here it is:

  • P-Positive Emotion
  • E-Engagement
  • R-Relationships
  • M-Meaning
  • A-Accomplishment

You can read more about it here.

I like a lot about Seligman’s work, except for the P part of his model—because the negative emotions, frankly, have a role to play in engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment too, and if you don’t know how to work with them, through them, well, then, you’re fucked, baby. But the point I’m trying to make here—which perhaps is one of the reasons I’m such a shitty meditator—is that the more you look within, the outside world becomes less and less important and real. And as the world recedes, all that exists is you and your suffering, your demons take center stage, and it becomes easier—it becomes self-evident—that what you need to do is walk into the English channel with rocks in your pockets.

Fuck you, Virginia Woolf, you coward, Lenard would have loved you through another bout of your “terrible times,” he would have endured it, for you.

And fuck you, Sylvia Plath. Did you really think your children would be better off without a mother?

No. Of course you didn’t. You didn’t think. The outside world, reality did not exists. There was only the suffering self.

Depression is a narcissistic disease.

Except those of us who don’t suffer from it but suffer alongside those who do… aren’t allowed to say so.

Because we just don’t understand.

Like a slap, the curse of the human species—we always think each of us is so fucking special and nobody can possibly understand what happens inside the Other.

Anyway.

You can’t save people.

This, I know.

iii

I finish writing a bad story and I feel good about it for five minutes, than bad about how bad it is. I text Sean.

Sean: I’m sure you’ll like it better in revisions. You know hating your first draft is part of your process.

Not always. Occasionally, there is a good, beautiful first draft. But not this time. I stare at the computer screen, chewing lip. Decide to scrub the grease off the kitchen cupboards.

iv

I am feeling unsympathetic today, and I think all you depressed, anxious people should pull up your fucking socks, get a British stiff upper lip, and just get on with things.

I know I’m not supposed to think that.

I’m supposed to take a deep breath, dip into the well of unconditional love, and be your rock.

Crash.

Boom.

Guess what? The well is empty.

And now what?

unsympathetic bitch selfie

v

Two or three years ago, I write a bad poem. I don’t remember much about, except this line:

I danced with a man who hadn’t suffered…

People who haven’t suffered are pretty happy.

But they are also, usually, insufferable.

I find this really funny.

vi

Her: You just don’t understand.

Jane: You don’t actually want to be understood.

Think about it.

vii

Crash.

Boom.

Enlightenment, breakthrough.

You can’t save other people.

All you can do is love them.

And take care of yourself first, like in those airplane safety instructions, you know? Put on your oxygen mask first.

That is not this week’s breakthrough. That, I’ve known for a while.

I try to share it with the person I love who needs to hear it. Bu I can’t save her either. She needs to figure it out herself. I can just be there.

viii

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

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

(The Art of Communicating)‎

I am here for you.

Except, sometimes, I’m not, because I have to go be there for myself. Do you understand?

Yes, no.

Suffering people, when things are bad, understand, feel nothing but their pain. You can’t take this burden off them.

You cannot lighten it.

And you know what? They don’t actually have the right to ask you to lighten it for them. Do you understand that?

Now, where’s that fucking oxygen mask? Put it on.

ix

It’s rainy and it’s sunny and there’s a rainbow and I don’t think the city has looked this beautiful to me for more than a year.

Boom.

Crash.

There is a crack within.

That’s how the light gets in.

Peekaboo.

Well, hello there, breakthrough.

You are not what I was expecting, at all.

You: Buddha was a psychopath, depression is a narcissist, and you?

Jane: I’m thinking I’m an empathetic sociopath. What do you think?

You: You’re something, all right.

I’m something. Something amazing.

And so are you.

But I can’t save you.

Understand?

xoxo

“Jane”

PS I don’t think this piece actually worked. This seems to be my week for shitty first, second, and third drafts. Sorry.

PS 2 Happy Pride! I danced all week. My feet and back ache, and it’s not the motherfucking sadist’s fault—he’s only responsible for the fact that my shoulders and chest hurt so much it’s hard to type. Happiness has some very strange components sometimes. 😉

2018

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

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

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

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

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

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

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You: “But how much should I give?”

Jane: “I get $1 each time a sell a traditionally published book, so my bar’s set really low, love. Want to buy me a cup of coffee? That’s $4.75 if you’ll spring for a mocha or latte. Bottle of wine? My palate’s unsophisticated: $19.95 will more than cover it.”

If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ gmail.com and we’ll work something out. J

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

A good friend and I were talking a while ago about catcalling construction workers, strangers on the street telling us to smile, and the worst parts of #metoo, and I realized our fundamental approach/reaction to living in our somewhat fucked up patriarchal society was different.

We were neither of us immune from its ills, because neither of us had a penis.

My friend was diminished and destroyed by every encounter. There was less and less of her left, and I knew this, saw this. Her reaction to each of these interaction, really, was to internalize the blame and to look for the solution within myself. “What have I done to provoke this?” “How can I shrink myself, change myself to avoid this in the future?”

Me? I won’t pretend I wasn’t affected—fuck, of course I was.

But my core, base reaction?

“What the fuck is wrong with you—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way.”

And there, loves, you have the core difference between me and my friend—and, also, the cure for patriarchy.

It took me a while—40+ years, apparently—to realize the full value of the gift my father gave me. I always knew he loved me, of course, and unconditionally. But this is not the difference—my friend’s father loved her too.

My father didn’t just love me. He saw me, from the day I was born, as a full human being—he is an atheist, as am I, or else I would say a divine being—and he treated me with that thing we give the word respect.

It’s not an easy word to define, don’t you think? Respect. It carries so many nuances and cultural overtones. I’ve been struggling to adequately put into words what it is that my father did, because it seems to be almost too simple to have given me the power it has.

But this is it, this is all, this is everything: he treated me, acted, always, as if I mattered. He infused me with a sense of self-worth that’s, so far anyway, proven to be virtually invulnerable to the worst the world has thrown at me.

He did this—well, first let me tell you how he didn’t do this. He wasn’t perfect—when I look at those father’s days cards that say, “You are everything I could wish for in a father!” they are to me a lie. They have been plenty of times that I’ve wished my father was different. I see plenty of flaws in him—and he has always seen most of mine. He didn’t sit me on his lap and say, “You are beautiful. You are smart. You are strong.” Well—possibly, he did—most likely when I was too young to really hear, or when I was asleep. It doesn’t matter. I knew, from the beginnings of memory, that my father thought I was beautiful, smart, strong, IMPORTANT. That I mattered. That my thoughts mattered, my feelings mattered. He talked to me when I was ten—this I remember vividly—the way he talked to adults. He expected me to use my mind, my discernment, my voice.

He expected me to use my voice.

(He bought me my first typewriter, my first computer.)

He disagreed with almost every major life choice I made. My first love, my last love. My choice of degrees, teaching overseas. Quitting a prestigious and stable job for freelance writing. Selling a house and moving into a commune—er, co-op. Homeschooling his grandchildren. Phasing out the profitable freelance writing for the riskier business of writing risque books… His response to each of those decisions was not an enthusiastic, “You go, girl!” It was more along the lines of, “You terrify me. This is a terrible idea. You really shouldn’t do this. Oh. You’re doing this? Well. I got your back, woman. Whatever happens, I’m here, and whatever you do—you’re important and you MATTER.”

I matter.

I have walked through life with this seed mantra inside me—I did not need religion, yoga, meditation or therapy to uncover it. When, at 14 years old, I stood at the head of a martial arts class composed primarily of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s—I knew I mattered and I acted accordingly. I counted, commanded—they jumped. I saw nothing strange about this—although they occasionally did. I was my father’s daughter—this was my due…

When, at 24, I had to argue with boardrooms filled with silverbacks in their 50s who thought they ruled the world, I entered those situations with my father’s power, belief, and strength inside. I mattered. I would be heard.

I expected respect. And I got it. And when I didn’t…

“What the fuck is wrong with you—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way.”

And that attitude alone changed, defined the situation.

Because my father thought I mattered—I knew I mattered. And so… well, it didn’t really matter what YOU thought, you see. I mattered, I was important, I had a voice—I had boundaries, power, wings, all the things—and if you thought I didn’t matter, if you tried to diminish me… well, you were clearly wrong. There was no argument, no fight, really: you either saw that I mattered and treated me accordingly… or our encounter, professional, romantic, whatever, was terminated.

I know it sounds as if I am oversimplifying it. I don’t believe I am—I think that’s really how it was.

I don’t know if my father would call himself a feminist. He is an Eastern European male of that generation, and he likes women to be ladies and thinks men should be men, and carries within him all sorts of unexamined stereotypes from his particular culture and upbringing. But see… apparently none of that matters. All that matters is that he raised a daughter who knew she mattered.

And he changed the world that way. He really did. I chose to have my children with a man who a) also knew I mattered and b) is raising our daughter to know she matters and c) is doing the same with his sons. And my father had a son too, who now also has daughters, as well as a son.

Each of them matters. Each of them knows they matter: that other human beings, regardless of gender or any other variations, matter.

If that’s not revolution, I don’t know what is.

Thank you, Daddy.

Happy Father’s Day.

I love you.

Marzena

2018

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

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

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

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

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

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

The best things in life and on the Internet are free, but content creators need to pay for groceries with money. If you enjoy  Nothing By The Book content, please express your delight and support by making a donation via PayPal:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

You: “But how much should I give?”

Jane: “I get $1 each time a sell a traditionally published book, so my bar’s set really low, love. Want to buy me a cup of coffee? That’s $4.75 if you’ll spring for a mocha or latte. Bottle of wine? My palate’s unsophisticated: $19.95 will more than cover it.”

If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ gmail.com and we’ll work something out. J

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

monday

I write and then I vegetate except for when I do battle with the fridge—totally unfulfilling, but someone had to take that bitch down—rearrange all the furniture in the kitchen (and then put it back), go to yoga, do two loads of laundry, and murder all the dust bunnies hiding under our bed.

I also find my good water bottle and favourite vibrator, so, you know, it’s all worth it.

You: You’re not going to use that, are you?

Jane: I’ll clean it. Really, really well.

You: I don’t even want to look at you right now.

I also walk to Safeway in the sun with the Ender. Buy meat, bath salts, candles and flowers.

Ender: Candy?

Jane: Ok.

Ender: Drink instead of candy?

Jane: Sure.

Ender: The big bottle is cheaper than the little bottle. Look.

Sigh. Ok.

He carries a 2l bottle of Sprite all the way home, chugging from it at irregular intervals.

tuesday

i

[insert key scene here]

Fuck.

And what key scene would that be?

What?

Cryptic notes to myself are just so enchanting.

 

ii

True thing: marination is alchemy and it transforms a $1.76 (for two) steak into a masterpiece. The secret is plenty of lemon juice.

I have no lemon juice, but there is a very old lime on the counter.

Flora: Didn’t you just go to Safeway yesterday?

Jane: Hush. The alchemist is at work.

Key scene, key scene, key scene…

iii

Coffee with neighbour, friend of many lifetimes. The Ender roams in the background; the Flora is in the next room. Headphones on, but always listening.

We talk about almost important things, but fairly carefully.

iv

Lunch out. Big eyes that blink too much. Small mouth. Swollen lips. The  most delicious gluten-free muffin ever… that turns out to be gluten-friendly. Someone has a sense of humour, fucking bakers, I’d be so angry at you, except THAT WAS THE MOST DELICIOUS THING I HAVE EATEN in…. aaaah.

Suddenly, snow in the sunshine.

I decide the lunch with a beautiful woman, never mind the delicious white wheat flour muffin, OMFG, fuck being responsible, GIVE ME MORE—is indulgence enough, and I will not smoke a cigar today.

The snow and icy wind influence my decision. Just a little.

v

Science happens without much need for intervention, correction or encouragement.

Jane: So, you? Math?

Flora: Ugh.

Jane: I know. Just a little?

Flora: Shouldn’t you be teaching Ender to read?

Jane: Ugh.

Mostly, I’m hoping Minecraft teaches him.

Hey, it worked with Cinder.

vi

Flora peels the potatoes while I meditate.

But there’s a text from her on my phone when I come out.

Flora: Where did you go?

I decide to text her back, instead of finding her.

Jane: I was hiding in the basement. That’s where I usually am when you can’t find me.

I think I’m so funny.

vii

The invasion of the neighbourhood boys while I make supper.

Blue: Is Cinder doing math today?

Jane: No.

Blue: Thank god.

Pre-calculus math isn’t just ruining my life. It’s affecting the quality of life of everyone in the neighbourhood.

(I think I’m so funny. But… so does she…)

Her: Hey! New story idea! Harried mom has to trade sexual favours with hot young math teacher/tutor to help her child.  Just putting it out there.

Jane: You know… that totally has legs…

Jane: Actually, fuck it as a story. I’m going to go out and seduce a hot young math tutor. And then, maybe, I’ll write about it. Win-win-win scenario. 😉

You think I’m kidding. Ha.

viii

I’m reading, simulatenously, Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Ryan, The Art of Organizing Anything by Rosalie Maggio, and Original Light  by Snatam Kaur). I should be reading billionaire romances. Four more to go… no, three—before March 7.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to persevere.

Sean: What’s the penalty if you don’t finish all the books you’re supposed to judge?

Jane: Eternal shame. You know I have to finish. I’m genetically incapable of not finishing. Sob.

(This is not funny. It is utterly tragic.)

(The Art of Organizing Anything is both funny AND tragic.)

ix

I steal Blue’s mother’s car to take Flora to her martial arts class. Then, for reasons I don’t quite understand, end up reading articles about / by Jungian analyst Marion Woodman.

I should be writing that missing key scene.

Reading billionaire romances.

Something.

Instead:

“The conscious feminine gives us the courage to love an acorn without knowing what an oak tree is.”    —Marion Woodman

And:

“Love is the true antitheses of fear. It expands where fear constricts. It embraces where fear repels.” —Marion Woodman

And this one is my favourite:

“Presence is holding love without twisting it into your desire.” —Marion Woodman

(Sean is reading the Marion Woodman part in Stephen Cope’s The Great Work Of Your Life, so I think I start googling her for context. And to find out if she lived or died.)

x

Sort of on topic:

synchronicity is “the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.”

I think Carl Jung coined the word. Or at least redefined it.

“Jung believed that many experiences perceived as coincidence were due not merely to chance, but instead potentially reflected the manifestation of coincident events or circumstances consequent to this governing dynamic. He spoke of synchronicity as being an “acausal connecting principle.”

Source: http://www.thinking-minds.net/carl-jung-synchronicity/

I guess I might have been familiar with the concept before Julia Cameron, but it was really only after reading The Artist’s Way that I started to really think about synchronicity.

“When I teach and I explain to my students the concept of synchronicity, they may at first protest that such a concept seems too good to be true. Not wanting to be gullible, they exclaim, ‘Julia! Do you really believe the universe opens doors for us?’ I tell them yes, and I ask them not to believe me, but to keep track themselves of the instances of synchronicity they now encounter.”

Julia Cameron

So I’m thinking about synchronicity chiefly because she’s experiencing crazy synchronicity (and is a little worried, a little fey—is something bad going to happen soon?) and also because…

I don’t know.

 * * * [insert key scene here] * * *

wednesday

i

The morning starts with those thoughts. Is it worth it? Why bother? What sets them off is the Twitter account of a podcaster. I’ve followed a few friends who podcast. And now, Twitter keeps on suggesting podcast accounts I might be interested in.

THERE ARE SO MANY.

Ditto youtubers. Bloggers. Authors.

SO MUCH NOISE.

Maybe the biggest service I can do for the world is to shut the fuck up…

Listen. Instead of talking.

Read. Instead of writing.

BE instead of creating… things nobody needs, notices because they are too busy shouting about their own drama, trauma, passions.

Maybe I need to stop.

Maybe I should get off.

The thoughts crate a peculiar sensation. The opposite, perhaps, of the still-point yogis chase—although it feels still, too—I am very still—and the world is swirling around me, a cacophony of noise, podcasts, vloggers, bloggers, youtoubers, genre authors, critics, reviewers… trolls.

Everyone is talking, all at once.

STOP!

What will happen if I fall silent?

I should close my mouth and find out.

I close my eyes instead.

ii

I decide the key scene is not so much missing as buried.

I. CUT. HUNDREDS OF WORDS. MAYBE THOUSANDS.

Fuck, that felt good.

 

iii

Seesha. The Man On The Moon.

Searing sadness. Just such… searing sadness.

How is it possible to find happiness and rest and peace in the heart of such searing sadness?

But it is.

(a sense of safe place, I can’t explain it otherwise; a place of rest)

(I want to honour this moment, this night, this experience–I don’t yet know how)

thursday

Up too early. Smell of sex in the sheets, the air. Morning air so cold.

“What will you do today?”

“I have to finish a story…”

I finish more quickly than I expect; there is a smell of violets in the air.

I do all the things at home; take the train to the university. Russell Smith is speaking on what is authentic in art.

I’m… interested and yet disappointed.

And I’m so… frustrated by art and academics apparently working so hard to make themselves irrelevant.

You want to meet me in the evening; I say no. Choose solitude, home instead of you; you understand.

But instead, I end up in a bar with a bevy of artists.

We none of us know why we do what we do. We just… Compulsion, vocation?

I don’t know. And there is no answer at the bottom of the Guinness glass.

friday

I spend the whole day reading Marion Woodman’s Bone.

Well, I also help Cinder with science. Read Bone (Jeff Smith’s) to Ender. Make food, go to yoga (I think I hate yoga) (I think I hate exercise) (I definitely don’t like “the gym”) (please, spring, come soon). I think a load of laundry gets done somewhere in there. I might answer an email.

Oh, and I burn through a billionaire romance (I told you; don’t ask—it’s work; it’s necessary, but I’m NEVER going to do it again).

But mostly, Friday, I spend with Marion Woodman.

Bone seduces me, transposes me, transforms me.

“Returning to my self-discipline routine. Taking time and energy to do my exercises, walking half an hour every day, and gently dancing. Not relying on housework to give me the exercise I need. Feeding myself the vitamins and remedies… Not begrudging myself the rest I need. Visualization and mediation hold the days and nights together.”

Marion Woodman, Bone, December 18, 1993

“Thinking about passion and the dark feminine and how they are related to creativity and healing. This relationship is one of the biggest tasks of the Crone: holding he opposites in conscious aging—holding passion for life in balance with acquiescence in death, holding the spiritual womb always receptive to the creative spirit and choosing the new wholeness…”

Marion Woodman, Bone, October 7, 1994

This is not from Bone, but it is Marion Woodman:

“A mother who is identified with being mother has to have children who will eat what she gives them and do what she wants them to do. They must remain children.”

And this is Italo Calvino, on Carl Jung, quoted in Bone:

“Jung’s method, which bestows universal validity on archetypes and the collective unconscious, is linked to the idea of IMAGINATION as PARTICIPATION in the TRUTH of the world.”

(capitals mine)

In the evening, Edward Sorel reminds me that Carl Jung was a raging anti-Semite.

Boo.

There are no heroes.

Sean comes home in the evening bearing presents.

I change my mind. Go to bed with Vladimir Nabokov and Vera, and Frida, unopened, but beside us.

Sean joins us after his bath.

saturday

i

It’s two days before an anniversary I’m not going to celebrate. It’s fine. I’m fine.

Because, Leonard Cohen:

Take the word butterfly. To use this word it is not necessary to make the voice weigh less than an ounce or equip it with small dusty wings. It is not necessary to invent a sunny day or a field of daffodils. It is not necessary to be in love, or to be in love with butterflies. The word butterfly is not a real butterfly. There is the word and there is the butterfly. If you confuse these two items people have the right to laugh at you. Do not make so much of the word. Are you trying to suggest that you love butterflies more perfectly than anyone else, or really understand their nature? The word butterfly is merely data. It is not an opportunity for you to hover, soar, befriend flowers, symbolize beauty and frailty, or in any way impersonate a butterfly. Do not act out words. Never act out words.

[…]

Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list. Do not become emotional about the lace blouse. Do not get a hard-on when you say panties. Do not get all shivery just because of the towel. The sheets should not provoke a dreamy expression about the eyes. There is no need to weep into the handkerchief. The socks are not there to remind you of strange and distant voyages. It is just your laundry. It is just your clothes. Don’t peep through them. Just wear them.

Leonard Cohen, Death of a Lady’s Man
Quoted in Brainpickings

ii

You text to see if you can come over.

Jane: Yes.

But you will have to compete with Vladimir, Vera and Frida for my attention.

I am a terrible friend.

iii

A cat n mouse game via text. I decide I definitely don’t matter, don’t exist.

iv

I try to convince Flora to eat expired yogurt.

Jane: It smells fine!

Flora: I can’t believe you’re trying to make me eat expired diary. What sort of mother are you?

Jane: You’re so lucky. When you live on your own and I come over–you’ll never be stressed about having to clean your house or what to feed me. You can feed me expired yogurt–well, you can’t, because I don’t eat diary, but you know what I mean–and…

Flora: I’m not feeding you anything when you come over. I’m gonna be like, remember that time you didn’t feed us lunch for six months? No snacks for you!

Jane: Seriously?

Flora: Also, you’re not going to want to come over, because I’m going to have seven snakes.

Jane: Seven?

Flora: Seven. Crazy cat ladies are so passe. I’m going to be the crazy snake lady.

I don’t mind snakes, actually. It’s the smell of their liquid feces that turns my stomach. Did I ever tell you about the time we had cornsnakes and they escaped… and we never found them? I will, the next time you’re over, and sitting in a badly lit corner…

v

Saturday night. Sheesha with tribe–the YYC Queer Writers and I take over a Lebanese eatery and sheesha place. Make the owner uncomfortable. He knows me–doesn’t mind when I came alone or with one or two friends… when the queers take over two of his tables? He looks twitchy. Or are we projecting?

We are not their target audience. But it’s good to shake things up. Right?

An evening of unexpected blasts from the pasts, connections… glimmers of the future.

She comes and holds my hand, and…

Her: Ready?

Jane: Yes.

We go.

You: I’m going to strip you naked and paddle your ass raw for all this vague-blogging.

Jane: Promises, promises. But–seriously, this is all for me. When I’m here, on this page, in this space? I’m writing, playing, working out shit… for me. You get to have a peek. Appreciate that. Don’t ask for more.

I work at appreciating what I get. Don’t ask for more.

You: Liar.

No. Not really. Remember my original sankalpa? I’m still working with it, a little:

I ask for what I need.

I have everything I need.

I just… sometimes… often… want more.

But I have everything I need.

(Cohesive narrative be damned.)

sunday

The psychic who used to live next door is coming to dinner. I can’t wait. I miss her so much I can barely bear to hear her name spoken by people. (In the conversation with the bevy of artists on Thursday, I realize I have intense abandonment issues with which I deal by not attaching to people until I’m pretty sure they’re going to be around for a while. And then, when they leave… well. That’s the topic for another book… and another year’s or decade’s worth of therapy.)

But, she’s coming. I’ll feed her. Love her. Try to forgive her for leaving me. I haven’t yet; to be honest, I probably never will (I hold grudges).

Still.

I have everything I need.

Sort of.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Jung 101 Courtesy of Sonoma U. Just in case I go Jungian on you, so we have a common language.

2018

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

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

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

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

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

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

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

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

 

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

I.

It’s Sunday and I’ve no plans but to lie still and regroup. Will I?

Flora: It’s impossible for you not to have a project.

True. But let’s call Sunday’s project… rest.

II.

On Saturday, I worked very hard and you didn’t come, and I was… disappointed.

I guess that’s all I’ll say. And practice letting go of the outcome some more.

Find your dharma. Do it all out. Let go of the fruits of your actions.

“Do it all out,” I’ve got that down. Really. “Do it all out,” even when nobody’s watching, nobody cares, nobody comes.

On Saturday, I worked very hard, and you didn’t come and I felt very sorry for myself in the evening and cried.

Walk. Beer. Love. Sex.

Sean: I will take care of you.

True story: both my ultimate fantasy and biggest fear.

III.

On Friday, I was a superstar. Everyone came. (Not you. Strangers. Why is it easier to please strangers?). They loved me. I was exhausted. But also high.

Wine Bar. A beautiful woman. The snow and air crunched as she walked me home after midnight.

Yes. It was a good day.

IV.

Every day there was math. Daddy, help!

V.

On Thursday, I worked very hard. A meeting. Another. A moment of joy, captured by a friend’s camera:

(I must remind myself of this moment on Saturday. But I forget it, until Sunday.)

VI.

On Wednesday, I wrote and everything was right with the world.

VII.

Tuesday. Words. Deleting more than adding. Necessary. Email. Confirmation. Volley. Dodge. Return.

Busy.

I fucking hate being busy—this needs to stop.

Meeting. Learning. There is a purpose to all of this, right? There is a method to this madness?

VIII.

Monday. The family that goes on a frigid winter walk together… swears and suffers together.

Jane: Should we just let them have stayed home and played video games?

Sean: No. I’m pretty sure this is good for them. Us.

Cinder: I’m bored. Can I go home now?

Flora: I’m cold. Can I run ahead home?

Ender: I’m hungry!

On the plus side… there was no plus side. It was -100 degrees out.

In the morning, before the walk—I wrote. I said I’d start writing on Monday, and I did. 3500 new shiny words. Well, 4700. But I knew 2200 of them were garbage as soon as my fingers stopped moving.

I wrote before I read that email.

Rejection. Tears.

Do it all out. Let go of the outcome.

Right.

Krishna was a psychopath too.

an outtake

She’s showing me her husband’s texts. They’re lacking capitals. And periods.

She’s interpreting this as disrespectful. Lazy.

Worse, proof that he doesn’t love her or, in some perverse way, is now undeserving of her love.

I don’t know what to do with this situation.

There’s a part of me that wants to slap her or drop a bucket of cold water of her head. “It’s texting. Maybe he’s driving. Maybe he’s—imagine this—busy at work. It’s punctuation. Who the fuck cares?”

(I’m a writer. I don’t care. It’s texting. My texts are riddled with errors and omissions; his, her, your texts to me ditto. I don’t care. Unless you’re mean. I care then.)

Then there’s the part of me that knows it’s not about the missing periods and the lower case i.

She thinks he doesn’t love her. She’s worried she doesn’t love him. And she’s terrified. Fixating on the texts—the socks left on the floor of the bathroom—that he forgot to salt the mashed potatoes—that’s all easier.

I don’t know what to do with that either.

“What do you think he says to his friends when he complains about you?” I ask. “Do you think he shows them your texts?”

Ah, fuck. Wrong thing to say. Why did I say that?

When she gets up to leave, I’m pretty sure I’ll never see her again. Well. Maybe a year or two after the divorce. I realize—I know—she came to me to get something. Help? Perspective? Advice?

No. Understanding, compassion, an acknowledgement that it was ok to be pissed off about those missing periods.

I failed to deliver.

But she texts me a few hours late.

“Thank you for the coffee. I appreciate your time.”

Periods. Capital i.

I text back:

“you’re welcome”

Yes, I skip the period on purpose.

Yes, I’m a bitch.

Yes, I think about typing “your” instead of “you’re” but I can’t make myself do it.

IX.

It’s Sunday. No math today, thank god. He’s going to do science.

Some guilt.

Journal: “I’m not spending enough time with Ender. I’m not giving Flora enough attention. The house is a pigsty, and how many days in a row can I feed them frozen pierogies, imperfectly fried, before someone complains?”

(Sean makes steaks on Saturday and pork ribs on Sunday—I think that means I get one more week of pierogies.)

I don’t feel guilty about not giving enough to Cinder, though. The math time I’m putting in… Yeah.

Every time I help Cinder with his math though… I think about privilege.

Privileged people don’t understand privilege.

Cinder is so fucking privileged.

Think about it. Just in the context of the math.

He’s got two parents. With too many graduate degrees between them. Both of whom can sit down with him and give him the time and support he’s not getting from the textbook (which is shit) and the school (no comment). One of whom is home a lot, and has a sufficiently flexible schedule so that she can be there for the homework, the tests, the tears.

He has a grandfather. Also overeducated and NOT an artist and humanist—so he remembers high school math. Knows how to explain it. And has the time—and the love—to travel halfway across the city once or twice a week to help Cinder where I can’t.

On the days when we struggle with the sines and cosines and convergent and divergent equations and infinite series—and I don’t even want to look ahead in the book to see what’s next—I bring myself back to tranquility by thinking—We are so lucky.

So fucking privileged.

So lucky.

Today, I am extra lucky. It’s Sunday. No math.

X.

It’s Sunday and I’m wrapped in pillows and blankets, pens and pencils around me. I will write, maybe draw. Read? I don’ t know. Tired eyes.

I’m not so disappointed anymore. I mean—I am. I wanted you to come. To see what I do. To be excited about it with me, for me. But it’s ok. I’m not resentful (anymore—I was, on Saturday).

I accept that I don’t do what I do for you. I accept that what I do just isn’t that important or interesting to you. It’s a little challenging to not think that therefore I’m just not that important and interesting to you.

I’ll work on NOT thinking that. I know it’s not true.

Small, petty feelings.

They will pass.

My “tired” fuels them.

When I am full, there is no room in me for those small, petty feelings.

It’s Sunday.

Tomorrow, another Monday.

And I’ll be… next week, I won’t be busy.

I will think. Breathe. Play.

Write.

It will be good.

xoxo

“Jane”

2018

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

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

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

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

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

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

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

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

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

take 1

Monday not much happened, Tuesday I missed you, Wednesday I don’t know, Thursday I felt the dam trembling, Friday it burst, Saturday I pushed through—it’s Sunday, I don’t want to work.

take 2

Monday: “I am very productive in the morning. Also cranky.”
(wait, is this not a direct contradiction of take 1? apparently…)

Tuesday: Facebook frustration, Tinder swiping, checking email just because, coffee, overcommitting to plans, sheesha, cigars, having judgemental thoughts about people, not feeling like working, not walking the dog.

(this is a list in the process journal—I can’t quite figure out WTF it is—then I realize it’s a list of bad habits. Mine or yours? I wrote it—Tuesday—I don’t remember the context at all.)

Wednesday: “Do I have faith in this goal? Am I just not that hungry?”

Thursday: “Too many ideas, not enough focus.” (But I feel loved. So there’s that.)

Friday: Drip campaigns, branding, secrets. Tell me secrets? Tell me more secrets? Rhythm, routine, rest.

Saturday: Cinder passes a pair of Adidas gym pants on to me. They’re too big.
(I type “gym” because I can’t seem to be able to spell athletic. Oh hey, look. I did it.)

Sunday: 5 am wake up. Fuck that. But, I can’t.

take 3

Wednesday: I have a new sankalpa. But I’m not going to share it with you. It’s too bold, too big. Too personal.

And I’m afraid.

take 4

Friday: I am actually a very good, loving person. And I’m very good at connecting with people, connecting people with each other. I’m not sure where this “I’m hard and prickly” story about myself came from.

Flora is developing her own “I don’t like people,” “I don’t want to meet new people” story. My social butterfly, my empath. I don’t know where it’s coming from. Or how to stop it.

Jane: Want to meditate with me?

Flora: Isn’t it bad enough one of our family joined a cult? We really don’t need two.

Jane: I think being part of a cult all together would make us stronger. As a family.

I haven’t, btw—I feel I must reassure you too—joined a cult.

But, month fourteen of daily meditation.

There is no enlightenment. Not much tranquility and non-attachment happening either. And some of this:

Flora: OMG, you’re going To Buddhist hell as well as Christian hell!

Jane: Well, it’s a good thing I’m an atheist then. And stop reading over my shoulder!

Anyway. It’s all good.

non-sequitur: We’re reading Jeff Smith’s Bone to Ender. It’s almost as brilliant as Calvin & Hobbes.

take 5

Wednesday: Cinder gives Ender his “broken” Lego. The Lego is broken because when Ender was three and Cinder 10, and Lego was still precious to the big brother, Ender and a friend of his disassembled almost every single one of the Lego sets Cinder had spent the previous five years building and treasuring on his shelves.

I’ve never seen my eldest so angry, not before and not since. (And I’ve seen a lot of anger this year).

He still won’t forgive Ender’s friend. (He comes from a long line of grudge holders. On both sides, it seems.)

But it looks like he’s forgiven Ender.

The passing of the Lego makes me feel a little weepy…

So does this:

Cinder: You can throw out this blanket.

It’s an ugly ancient comforter, more holes than fabric, most of the stuffing gone, the little that remains balled into lumps.

It was a hand me down to us from Sean’s mother during our first winter back in Calgary when Cinder was a baby. It was the comforter I wrapped around us when we were in the nursing chair… it eventually became the main comforter on his bed.

It looked like shit a decade ago, four years ago it was totally coming apart.

After the flood in 2013, when my mother was cleaning our house, she was so appalled by it, she bought Ender a new one—and threw the old one in the dumpster.

Sean and I had to go dumpster diving for it at midnight, dig it out from amongst other flood debris. Wash it. Dry it.

Let Cinder love it, hold on to it, a little longer.

I don’t quite trust that Cinder is ready to let it go. He wasn’t six months ago, the last time he did a deep clean of his room.

I leave it on the landing for most of the day.

Sean: Why is this ratty blanket here?

Jane: Cinder wants to throw it out.

Sean: Oh…

Milestones are so weird…

My son is also getting rid of a pair of gym pants. Fairly new. Too small for him.

I try them on.

They’re too big for me.

OMFG, baby. When did this happen?

take six

You text me this quote:

 “We do not need to learn to let go. We just need to recognize what is already gone” Suzuki Roshi

I hate Buddhists.

interlude

Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel prize for literature. Did you know that? But he wasn’t really a poet. He was a mystic, who happened to be a writer. So I think.

Keep me fully glad with nothing. Only take my hand in your hand.

In the gloom of the deepening night take up my heart and play with it as you list. Bind me close to you with nothing.

I will spread myself out at your feet and lie still. Under this clouded sky I will meet silence with silence. I will become one with the night clasping the earth in my breast.

Make my life glad with nothing.

The rains sweep the sky from end to end. Jasmines in the wet untamable wind revel in their own perfume. The cloud-hidden stars thrill in secret. Let me fill to the full my heart with nothing but my own depth of joy.

Rabindranath Tagore

take seven

This week has no cohesion, no unifying story.

It is a mix of productivity and sloth.

Calm and pain.

Learning and resistance.

Perhaps it’s a week of oppositions? But that’s too neat.

No.

It simply has no cohesion.

It ends with a snowstorm.

Jane

2018

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

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

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

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

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

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

one

It’s Thursday, and Sean has an important interview on Friday at 3 pm. He’s nervous. I’m nervous. We’re all nervous. It’s a REALLY BIG DEAL and we’re all attached to the outcome.

Jane: Flora and I will do some magic at three. Draw a pentagram on the floor, sacrifice a small..

Flora: Child?

She looks at Ender poignantly as she says this, and the Unicorn’s eyes are so expressive, Ender starts to cry.

Sean: I will be very very upset if you sacrifice any small child, but especially if it’s MY small child.

Flora: But….

Sean: And it sets a dangerous precedent. Once he’s gone… who’s next in line to be sacrificed/ Hmmmm?

Flora: Cinder. The spells always call for the eldest child or the youngest child. For once, being in the middle has a bonus!

By now Ender is howling—fake crying but still—Cinder is threatening to burn Flora’s books—“WE NEVER EVER BURN BOOKS IN THIS HOUSE!!”—that’s my contribution—and Sean’s wondering if perhaps we should stop getting Flora witchcraft books out of the library.

I’m watching. Taking notes, obviously.

two

Hell froze over on Wednesday but after doing all the work and ruining supper (it wasn’t entirely my fault), I trudged through the cold and snow to have tea with a fellow artist.

I learned something important but it’s all confused inside me right now. It’s there… germinating. I suppose it’s a seed.

So thank you for that.

three

On Tuesday, we introduced Ender to Bill Waterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. Cinder had committed all ten years of the strip to memory by the time he was eight and Flora still sleeps with the complete editions we got her for Christmas—the year she was eight—under her pillow.

Flora: Under my bed.

Jane: Shall I look under your pillow to prove my point?

Flora: No!

Sean and I think Bill Waterson is a genius, and in our more dogmatic moments, believe Calvin & Hobbes should be mandatory reading for all parents—part of pre-natal classes, or maybe delayed till your kinder are three or four, but absolutely mandatory by the time they’re five. You see, Waterson captures so perfectly the inner life and logic a child, the interplay of reality and imagination. The fire and the helplessness, the freedom and the frustration…

I generally think I’m a pretty good parent for two reasons—the the first is that I remember. I remember not just being six and sixteen… but what it felt like to be six and sixteen.

I think one of the tragedies of modern prescriptive-scientific-lived-on-social-media-so-many-books-and-blogs-and-artciles-telling-you-what-you-SHOULD-do parenting is… that most people just don’t remember. They don’t remember what if felt like to be small.

They remember… facts, events, accurately or not. Things done to them, said to them. But they forget… how those things made them feel.

(The second reason, by the way, is that I’m selfish, in a self-aware way. More on that later.)

four

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,  I am super-productive, tying up all the loose ends, running, sprinting—pause, breathe—and then a prolonged interlude to ground myself, see that I’m almost done and revel in what I’m about to finish…

But even in the middle of it all, I take time—make time?—for pleasure and love, sheesha and hot tea, a lover’s embrace. Time slows down, suddenly, everything is possible, everything is clear—everything will get done.

I make time for reading too, not work-related reading (novels are now work-related reading and I do need to figure out how to reset that), but soul-nurturing reading.

You: I thought you were this hard-core atheist.

Jane: Hush. I have a tender little atheistic soul. Don’t crush it.

I read this:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

It’s quoted in this book:

Ordinary Goodness by Edward Viljoen… I’m not quite finished the book yet, and I’m not sure I’m going to get to the end. It’s making me feel kind of bad about myself.

Jane: See, I just don’t think I’ve got a drive to be good. Or kind.

Sean: What do you mean?

Jane: I just don’t think I’m that good. The way he defines the word. And I don’t really want to be. All the “practice this” sections? About how to be this person who celebrates and lives and practices ordinary goodness and everyday kindness? I read them and I say, “Fuck, who has time for that? I’d rather be writing.”

Sean: You’re an artist.

Not, I suppose, an altruist. Or much of a humanist, really.

See? Selfishly self-aware.

It has some bonuses, I won’t lie. But also pitfalls.

five

On Monday, I do something not good. Unkind. Selfish. Not even to fulfill a burning desire—more a whim, temper of the moment—I do something that makes me so conscious of my selfishness and unkindness that I weep.

I’m not going to tell you what I did. One, it’s private, two, I’m ashamed, three, it doesn’t matter.

I do something not-good that, yes, potentially harms other people.

But here’s the thing:

Even before it harms them—it harms me.

I feel awful.

six

As Monday became Tuesday, Cinder forgot to put away the dishes before he went to bed.

“It was 2:30 in the morning!” he says later. “I remembered, but I was already in bed!”

He puts them way noonish—at least, they’re put away when I get back home Tuesday afternoon.

While Cinder still sleeps, and the clean but un-put-away dishes litter the kitchen counter, Sean and I resist the urge to a) do his job b) be angry at him.

“Remind Cinder to put them away when he gets up,” I tell Sean as I head out the door.

“I’ll remind him eventually,” Sean says. “I’m not going to… ‘Good morning, you didn’t put away the dishes last night’—starting the day with being nagged about something you didn’t do last night and probably feel bad about forgetting to do… that’s not a very loving way to wake up.”

I kiss him and for a few minutes rest in the love of his arms.

He remembers what it felt like to be sixteen, six too.

seven

I remember trying to explain attachment parenting to some “this sounds fucking weird people” a decade, more ago, and saying something along the lines of, “Attachment parenting gave us this amazing, loving little son.”

I’d never say that now.

I’d say, “Attachment parenting made ME a better, more compassionate, more complete person.”

Caveat 1: I never treated it as a religion or dogma.

Caveat 2: I chose selfishly self-aware over martyr, for better or worse, every single time.

eight

Friday, we smoke seesha, Saturday, we play Bears versus Babies, and on Sunday, I have a fight with Cinder.

Well. Not a fight, exactly.

He gets angry. His anger infects me. I tell him that. He calls me a hippy, and I slam the stainless steel serrated knife I’m holding against the kitchen table, as he slammed his “switchblade-style” bottle opener against the table a few seconds earlier. I start to cry and he storms off to his room. I weep outside his door, barred. So angry, so helpless, why will he not tell me what’s wrong?

I drag myself away from his bedroom door to the kitchen. Go back to reading Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier Than You Think.

Read this:

Even If It’s Senseless, Mushrooms Matter

My friend Alta’s life was a lesson to me, and her death was a lesson to me, too. She enjoyed good health for seventy-nine years, then quite suddenly she became desperately ill, and it was clear she would die very soon. She accepted this awareness with her normal consummate grace. That was half the lesson she taught me.

The other half was about what makes sense. On the last day Alta could talk to me, two days before she died, we talked about meaning.

“I’m thinking about the meaning of it all,” she said, “and it doesn’t seem very important. What do you think?”

“Maybe it’s ‘much ado about nothing,’” I said.

“Seems like that,” she replied, adding, “You did a good eulogy for your father.”

“I’ll do yours too.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble…”

“Give me a break, Alta! What do you want me to say?”

“It doesn’t matter. Say anything you want.”

“How about if i give your recipe for the great marinated mushrooms you make?”

“That’s a good idea. They were very good. People liked them a lot.”

“Do you remember the recipe? You could give it to me now.”

“Not exactly. Look it up. It’s in my recipe box. Remember to say they shouldn’t be made more than four hours before you eat them. The mushrooms wilt.”

Mushrooms are as meaningful as anything else.

Sylvia Boorstein, It’s Easier Than You Think, pg 121

Cinder comes back downstairs to his computer. I get up, slowly. There is no anger in me. There is no anger emanating from the other room. But there is shame in me at my anger.

I go up to him and hold him, hug him.

He hugs me back.

We don’t talk, but that’s ok.

We talk later.

nine

Friday, I am trying to take some time for myself, but, children—the sheesha at the end of the day is a treat. Saturday, I run from event to event, overscheduled and frazzled, a little, but also happy.

I matter. I find out I matter, I hear I matter, I feel I matter.

And then, suddenly—I don’t.

Hello, weekend existential crisis.

ten

It’s Sunday so I no longer really remember what happened Monday (proofing) or Tuesday (proofing, an interlude for love) and all I remember from Wednesday is that it was too cold to live and yet we walked in the Ice Age anyway. Sean’s interview on Friday went well even though Flora did not sacrifice her little brother to the human resources gods.

On Sunday, I make the bathroom and a quarter of the kitchen shine. It deepens my existential crisis: I wish scrubbing kitchen counters mattered, was in the least bit fulfilling, changed the world—or at least filled my soul.

It doesn’t.

Does this? This scribbling, throwing of words into the cyber-ether?

Probably not.

Flora: Chocolate?

Jane: Thanks. I love you.

Flora: I love you too.

Sylvia Boorstein:

… when I love, I’m happy.

eleven

I guess the third Monday of 2018 will start with existential angst. But maybe not. God is not merciful—I’m not sure the universe exists—but my abstract concept of life has a wicked sense of humour.

Ender: I’m hungry!

Jane: Chocolate?

He says no. I give him a cold porkchop instead. He eats it while watching his older brother and sister play Minecraft.

Flora: I still say we should have sacrificed him.

Ender: Mom!

Jane: Flora!

Somewhere, an imagined God laughs.

And I smile.

Self-indulgently yours,

“Jane”

PS Last word this week to Sylvia Boorstein:

“We are VERBS not NOUNS
EXPERIENCES unfolding
STORIES TELLING THEMSELVES
as sequels to other STORIES
previously told.”

2018

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

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

monday, january one

“When the New Year starts on a Monday, are we doomed to a year of Mondays? Not an auspicious omen.”

The sentiment is not my own—it comes from the mouth of an acquaintance via an Internet meme.

I shrug.

My world does not divide into weekdays and weekends. And I like Mondays. Actually, I did just find out the Y cancelled my Essentrics class, which was one of my favourite things about Mondays.

Still.

Mondays are fresh. New. A new page in a new notebook. You know?

I like beginnings.

Revolutionary thought: I like Mondays.

Revolutionary suggestion: you could like Mondays too.

* * *

An intimate moment from my first Monday of 2018: I’m working with the same sankalpa I set myself in the fall of 2017 when I was drowing in too much work. It goes like this:

I ask for what I need and it comes to me.

I accept it with reverence and gratitude.

At the end of my meditation on the first Monday of 2018, I ask myself exactly what it is that I’m asking for. What do I need?

I ask for the courage to be myself.

Oh. Interesting. Now, that is interesting…

* * *

tuesday, january two

From my process journal:

It was an emotionally HARD day

but I WORKED and made FOOD;

also smoked a CIGAR.

* * *

wednesday, january 3

I am hyper-productive and yet putting the breaks on myself the entire day. Watching the pulse and the rhythm of the day. What’s driving it? What’s driving me?

In the morning, I create an amazing short story. By noon, I decide to break a heart (and also, decide that the morning’s amazing story is shit; I should trash it—but I don’t).

A quote from Jeanette Winterson:

True art when it happens to us challenges the ‘I’ that we are.

* * *

thursday, january 4

In the morning, I am the consummate professional and I sit down to write and finish and FILE a story without whining AT ALL about how much I don’t want to get it done. Watch. Me. Type.

Fuck. Done. Filed.

And it’s not even 10 am yet.

I ROCK MY WORLD.

I go to the Y for the first time since before my grandfather’s funeral.

Text Sean after:

Can’t feel my arms. Or legs. Or butt.

Don’t text:

Please come to the Y and carry me home.

But I think about it.

* * *

I ask for what I need and it comes to me.

I accept it with reverence and gratitude.

So, a sankalpa is basically an affirmation, except, you know, cooler cause it has a Sanskrit name.

(Note use of humour as a safety-distancing device—this isn’t really important to me because I can laugh at it—let me mock myself before you mock me.)

It’s usually translated as “resolve.” Rod Stryker, the author The Four Desires who introduces me to sankalpa defines kalpa as vow or “the rule to be followed above all other rules” and san as a connection with the highest truth.

I don’t know about the highest truth part. Or the rule part.

But resolve works. Resolve works.

Anyway. I’m practicing:

I ask for what I need and it comes to me.

I accept it with reverence and gratitude.

because I suck at asking for what I need. And often, when it does come to me… I fight it. Or accept it ungraciously, ungratefully. Resentful that I need your help.

I should be able to do everything alone, don’t you know.

* * *

Sean is doing this month’s high school math with Cinder.

I am so grateful.

I didn’t even have to ask.

* * *

friday, january five

From the process journal:

I have not done a lot of work today but I am very happy.

* * *

saturday, january six

My Unicorn turns 13 today. 13!

We celebrate all day.

For breakfast, she eats the tiramisu Sean and Cinder made for her last night. Ender’s present to her is all the candy left-over from his Advent calendar.

At some point I do laundry.

At dinner, we find out my mother, the hardcore ER nurse… doesn’t know what a marijuana leaf looks like.

Life is good.

* * *

sunday, january seven

I have so much to do today. Tomorrow. This week.

This year.

I look back at the first week of the year and… reflect? Evaluate? Something like that—I’m searching. For patterns, good and bad.

I don’ t make resolutions, you know. But I do make… commitments. There’s a difference. Right?

I won’t tell you what my commitments for 2018 are. Apparently stating one’s goals does not help one meet them.

It’s true; I read about it on the Internet. (In this article–Hush And Just Do It—parenthetically, I’m really glad the author isn’t my grandmother, and if you would like to talk to me about your hopes and dreams, intentions, darling—please do it. You know how you kill a relationship with a child, a lover, a friend? Say “I don’t want to hear about it until you fulfill it” when they start telling you about their dreams. Fuck. You know what? Don’t read the article. Apparently, I’m just sharing it with you because it ticked me off.)

I’m long-handing this post in the morning—I will type it up and post it at night, I decide, when I’m fried and tired of my other work. I have a 12,000 word anthology to final-proof today—once, twice… three times? A shitload of laundry to fold. A kitchen to excavate. A unicorn to tame, a vampire bat to chase outside, a manticore to charm…

But I also want to chill and read a book. Have a bath. Cook something good. Go for a walk in the sun.

Patterns. Rhythms.

* * *

I do stare at that post-script to my sankalpa from the first Monday of the year.

I ask for the courage to be myself.

Why, really, that? Now?

I kind thought I had THAT part of my self-drama pretty much worked out.

But no. Apparently, not yet.

I ask for the courage to be myself.

Well. Let’s see how all that goes next week.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

For my dad

Nov 29, 2017
Kafefajka, Nowy Swiat
Warszawa

I.

Dear Fatherland,

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

But your government is fascist.

Your religion is medieval.

Your customer service sucks.

And your people are rude and pushy.

II.

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

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

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

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

Which, of course, is at it should be.

A corpse is not a person.

III.

I don’t like coming back “home.”

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

IV.

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

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

My grandfather’s sister is crying.

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

For his soul?

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

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

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

V.

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

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

They’re so loud.

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

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

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

I don’t want to.

VI.

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

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

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

Everyone else is wearing black.

VII.

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

VIII.

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

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

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

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

But I can’t.

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

I stand in silence.

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

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

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

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

Analyze the appearances and manifestations of grief.

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

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

IX.

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

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

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

I’m thrilled.

X.

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

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

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

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

XI.

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

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

XII.

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

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

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

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

My mother was there, though.

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

I remember her.

I loved her.

XIII.

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

The letter is full of good memories and warm feelings.

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

It’s the first time I hear those stories.

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

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

I probably know him best through her stories.

XIV.

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

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

Citizens of the world.

XV.

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

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

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

“Ten… no, nine years ago,” I said.

“In 2000, at her wedding,” he said.

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

My mother, who overhead the conversation, was appalled.

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

She didn’t understand, at all.

But I did.

Geography matters.

Time spent matters.

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

My children will also miss only one set of grandparents.

XVI.

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

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

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

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

That’s not him, she says.

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

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

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

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

But you see… she loved him so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family is complicated.

Is love?

XVII.

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

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

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

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

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

Love is also very simple.

XVIII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

XIX.

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

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

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

Both his daughters remain religious and devout.

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

Family, as I’ve said, is complicated.

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

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

XX.

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXI.

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

Citizens of the world, all of us.

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

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

But I think it.

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

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

I doubt it.

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

XXII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We eat.

Conversation, memories, stories.

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

XXIII.

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

Shitty customer service is another.

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

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

XXIV.

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

Family.

Love.

The proper way to make and serve schabowe.

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

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

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

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

I tell my dad, “I’m glad I came.”

“I’m happy you like Poland,” he says.

Um. That’s not what I said.

XXV.

Dear Fatherland,

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

It’s not your fault.

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

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

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

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

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

But I am not yours and you are not mine.

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

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

But that’s their future to navigate and write.

I’m writing my present now.

Goodbye, Grandfather.

I’m really glad I came,

xoxo

Marzena

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

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

I.

I am in the kitchen, burning tortillas.

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

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

Hold on…

Saved it. “It’s perfect,” Ender says.

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

II.

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

Speaking of which, I am nursing a cup.

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

They didn’t like hearing them.

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

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

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

“Big people take care of little people.”

“Flora’s not little.”

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

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

IV.

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

Not unexpected news.

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

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

Me?

I hardly knew him.

V.

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

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

Being loved and loving is very important.

VI.

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

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

I think they understand.

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

“I’m hungry,” he announces.

VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flora: No.

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

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

Ender: I’m hungry!

Jane: I just fed you!

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

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

“Love me. Pay attention to me.”

When I myself am hungry… well.

VIII.

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

I’m shocked to find out… that I do.

IX.

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

He doesn’t hesitate.

“Go.”

X.

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

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

XI.

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

I am still feeling… tranquil. Poetic.

Sad. But in a… in a really good way.

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

xoxo

Jane

written and posted in real time