Hunting ghosts: hopefully, not a metaphor

Sometimes, my cat sees things that I don’t see—and yes, this freaks me out. What can a cat see that I don’t see? It can only be three things, really: rodents, insects, or ghosts. Of the three, there’s only one I don’t mind having in my house—and it’s not mice. Or insects.

My daughter mocks me for believing in ghosts. And it’s not that I believe in them, exactly. It’s just that I don’t… disbelieve in them. I’ve felt atmosphere of places polluted by past tragedy, the weight of history, paralyzing sadness—also, overwhelming joy, sense of sacredness… I’ve felt spooked, and warned.. Terrified. And, also, protected.

Flora: Therefore, ghosts?

Jane: Therefore, why not ghosts?

Flora: How are you an atheist and how I am your daughter?

I don’t think atheism is at odds with thinking ghosts might be thing. Shadows, residual energy, memories so powerful they outlive the corporeal form? I’m sure if I tried, I could come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation for ghosts, aka Ghostbusters, ghost hunters or The Sixth Sense.

But I don’t need one.

I just think—you know, they might exist… and I don’t need a because.

Flora: So not a scientist.

I make no claim to be a scientist as I take my budding scientist across Alberta ghost towns. She, of course, is hunting for physical things: animal bones, owl pellets, coyote carcasses. If we ever find a human skull, I expect she will expire from sheet joy right on the spot—perhaps becoming a ghost that haunts that place ever after.

Me, I’m looking for stories, which is pretty much the same as looking for ghosts. Who lived here? How did they live, laugh, suffer? How did they die? Why did they leave—what did they leave behind? If they saw this physical ruin of their past, would they experience pleasure or pain? What do they regret? If they could live life over again, would they choose to live it in this isolated prairie town?

Sometimes, we find real people. They can be scarier and sadder than ghosts.

I’m thinking about ghosts because last week, a work colleague and I attended a collaborative writing workshop in which we set down the bones of a play—a scene, really—about a ghost haunting the Banff Springs hotel, because—of course—love and betrayal. It was a fun exercise and a stimulating workshop.

And it got me thinking about ghosts—and whether my cat really sees them. (I think she does.) Also, writing, the process of. Also, how annoying I find ‘aspiring’/’amateur artists and writers who take four years to finish—more often, not finish—a play or a project and who set themselves as somehow better than the people who actually write, create for a living every day.

I find myself annoying in that same way too. It is two years now since I’ve finished a novel. I’m writing… but not enough. And I’m not polishing, finishing—publishing.

My shitty first drafts haunt me, like ghosts.

Flora: Maybe that’s what your cat is staring at.

Jane: Mean. But fair.

As the cat stares at ghosts, I stare at her. She is aesthetically perfect, absurdly beautiful. Is she happy, fulfilled in her limited, safe pet life? Does her inner hunter need an outlet more meaningful than stalking spiders, dreaming of mice, imagining ghosts?

(She is not a metaphor.)

She stretches. Yawns. Curls up into a graceful ball and sleeps.

(OMG, is she a metaphor?)

I close my eyes and listen to the whispers of ghosts.

xoxo

“Jane”

On work, time and money: Happy first anniversary to me

One year ago, I started a new job.

It was—is—my first Monday-to-Friday, 9-5 (more like 7-3, because I work on Toronto time, really, well, 7-5, because also, Calgary and Vancouver—point: people expect me to be reachable from 7 a.m. until whenever it is that they finish work)—and I haven’t had to pay attention to days of the week or hours of the day since, yeah, July 2000.

(I am now so old that I have 20+ years of experience as a freelance writer and 30+ years of industry experience, when da fuq did that happen?)

(I also have a child who’s about to turn 20—again, when did this happen? How? But I digress.)

As you have no doubt inferred, I’m having a moment. Anniversaries always throw me for a loop, and I have a birthday just around the corner that’s only two circles around the sun shy of 50, so I’m, you know. Reflective. That’s the word. Reflective. Not angsting. Definitely not angsting (yet).

Anywhere… where was I?

One year ago, I started a new job, my first Monday-to-Friday type thing since the year 2000—the turn of the century (!!).My brother outright asked me—“Do you think you can handle it?” We both knew he didn’t mean the technical aspects of the work. He meant Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m.—well, 7 a.m.—to 5 p.m. Routine. Predictability.

(Pro tip: When someone asks you, “Can you handle it?” always say, “Yes.” You don’t need their doubts in your head—your own are enough.)

I’ve been handling it—killing it, really—for a year now. The pandemic lockdown and work from home orders definitely eased the transition. I’ve been working not in an office, under my own supervision, for more than 20 years and initially, very little had changed. It wasn’t until I was in the office physically for the first time, with my team, more than six months into the new adventure, that I really felt I had a job.

As I celebrate my first anniversary, we’ve slowly going back into the office, in a new, hybrid model—work from the office, work from home, work where you like, just work together and get the work done. I’m mostly happy about this—a little worried that too many people will choose to work at home most of the time and I’ll be as lonely in the office as I get in my living room. But I appreciate the flexibility of the model, which stems from the recognition of how well we worked together from the isolation of our respective homes.

This stage of going back has its challenges. I only have two suitable for work outfits. I can’t quite remember how to pack a lunch. I keep on forgetting that it takes time to actually get to the office.

Transit time. It’s a thing!

When I do go in—I’m aiming for two to three days a week—I’m often alone on my floor and that’s not much different from being alone in my living room, except that there’s no place where I can have my post-prandial power nap. (Note to hybrid world architects, at my employer and elsewhere: nap rooms! Or yoga mats besides each desks and officially sanctioned yoga nidra sessions during that dreaded mid-afternoon productivity slump—think about it.)

When there are two or three of us, it’s a party, and when we all come in for a team meeting or lunch, all is bliss.

Still, overall, I’m thriving. This is surprising a lot of people—my brother, who thinks of me as a non-conformist hippy born in the wrong generation, for one, also, my corporate world loving lover in Toronto, who conceptualizes me as a flighty artist who has to be coached on how to dress appropriately before leaving the house. To be honest, even I’m surprised—who would have thought I’d find this industry so interesting, and this particular corporate assignment so fulfilling?

There are trade-offs. I can’t do all of the things. I give the job my all, which has taken moonlighting and freelancing mostly off the table. I miss some of those opportunities—a journalist gets to meet all sorts of fascinating people and hear so many stories. I’m teaching again, but just a little, and that’s lovely, but it makes for long and intellectually and emotionally demanding days. I haven’t quite figured out where to carve out the time for the novelist. She’s writing—she’s always writing—in the mornings, on the edges, on weekends. When she’ll find the desire and energy—it’s not a question of time—to submit, to publish, market,  I’m not sure—that’s never been her favourite thing. I expect she’ll manage somehow, eventually—she always does.

Time is, for sure, more rigid. There are still twenty-four hours in each seven day week, but not all of them belong to me. I can’t spontaneously take a sunny day off and take the kids to the river or on an impromptu road trip. I can’t go for a mid-day two hour walk with you when you drop by unexpectedly. Everything has to be scheduled—we’re lucky if I can tear myself away from my portable office for a fifteen minute coffee.

But right now, it’s all worth it.

What makes it worth it is, first of all—I won’t pretend—the money. It magically appears in my bank account every two weeks, a nice, predictable amount, and I still feel I don’t have to do anything for it. No invoice, no follow up invoice, no begging email, no semi-threatening phone call… it’s just there. All I have to do to get it is work. Amazing!

Also, the people—I’ve been professionally lonely for a while and the pandemic exacerbated that by taking way what writing community I had, so I’m loving having colleagues. Brainstorm sessions. Peer reviews. Professional development support.

Most of all? The daily recognition is da bomb. I’m really, really good at the work, and people reflect that back at me all the time. I’m not conflict-free about this—there are moments, when I look at my job satisfaction and tell myself, “Really? This makes you high? This is your purpose in life?” I struggle with its narrowness and limited impact.

But within that small sphere—I do make a substantial difference. And I make that difference with words, with my gift.

So happy anniversary to me, and thank you for coming to my Ted Talk…

“Jane”

P.S. I am going to take the time to type up and publish this post—yes, I’m drafting long-hand again—and as I do it, I’m going to reflect on the increasing reluctance I’ve felt over the past year of making most of my writing public, and poke about in that resistance.

But I won’t tell you to expect more posts from me, or a new novel from the novelist, in the months to come. I’m writing. Everyday. That’s key.

The sharing will come in its time.

As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, “The first rule of magic is containment.”

Also—and this is Mary Oliver, from “Black Oaks” in her poetry collection Blue Iris:

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from one boot to another—why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.

But selling some time for money—well. It’s definitely working for me right now.

Compassion in year three of sparkling COVID

I don’t know precisely how things stand in your neck of the woods because of sparkling COVID—by the way, this is the best COVID joke ever, maybe the only good COVID joke:

–but here in Viking Hell (it’s so, so cold) things aren’t great, although, of course, things could always be worse—things could always be worse. My kid who’s graduating from high school this year continues to have crappy, interrupted schooling. The kid who should be in first year post-secondary is working in a restaurant—well, when they’re open. My youngest is starting to think that this is all life has ever been or will be. Me, I’m about to start a second year of 100% remote work, with colleagues who are going into their third year of working in their basements, living rooms, and bedroom corners. It all kinda sucks and we’re the ones who’ve had it pretty easy…

All this is to say, inelegantly, that if you’re frayed and frustrated, irrational and irritable? It’s not without reason. Our reality is really not that awesome at the moment… and this moment has lasted a really, really—really—long time.

Still. With all of that, I see a shift in myself. Like, I actually want to live. This is so exciting folks—for most of 2019, 2020, let’s face it, at least the first half if not more of 2021, it was largely a matter of indifference to me whether I ended a day breathing or not. (And let me tell you, inconveniencing yourself for the sake of protecting others while you’re indifferent to your own survival? Really hard.) I wasn’t actively suicidal—chill, Mom—that would have required more energy than I had. I was just… indifferent.

So the best thing about leaving that space—on most days, I’d really like to be here tomorrow, and what a great feeling that is—is that I’m feeling my ability to feel compassion for other people return. Did you know that’s one of the things that happens? That when you don’t much care about what happens to yourself, you really, really don’t care about what happens to other people, their suffering, their pain… let alone their point of view?

I’m not going to pretend that I’m all sweetness and light, Kumbayah my Lord, let’s all hold hands and love each other (we’re still discouraged from holding hands with strangers anyway). But when you cut me off in traffic (how is there even traffic when we’re not supposed to go anywhere?), say something stupid online, of fail to be competent at the most basic requirements of the job you’re being paid to do… I generally think,

You must be having a hard time right now, nothing’s easy at the moment, hope it gets better for you soon, and until it does… I, at the very least, don’t need to make it worse.

End of 2020, early 2021? When you annoyed me, I wanted you dead.

So hey, progress, right?

Lest you think I’ve gone all Zen and enlightened on you—come on, you know me, that’s never going to happen—I’m still struggling with extending that compassion and understanding to those nearest and dearest to me when they… disappoint me, let’s use that verb, shall we…

We are always more unreasonable and demanding with the people we love, and they with us.

Still. Generally? I want to breathe tomorrow, and so I recognize that it’s hard for you to breathe right now, and I feel for you, even when you’re being a total ass.

It’s a much better place to angst from.

xoxo

“Jane”

Accidental self-reflection, about, of course, writing

i

Hobbit hole. Baby, it’s cold outside, and the fireplace is roaring. The Giant Beast is sprawled on the couch beside me; the Svelte Beat is roaming the tiny apartment as if it were the Serengeti. I’ve got a cup of Turkish coffee beside me, and a lover tidying up in the bathroom.

I’m writing.

I don’t want to be self-reflecting, though. I realize this as I finish my morning pages, which flow well enough but which read more like a laundry list of the day’s and the week’s tasks than the “brain dump”—or space for self-reflection—that they’re supposed to be.

(A decade later, I’m still not sure if it’s possible to do the morning pages wrong, but if it is, mission accomplished. I think I do them wrong all the time. Still. I do them.)

The lover in the bathroom spent the weekend with me and between that and kids, I missed two days of morning pages since Thursday. So, no more. One missed day makes me feel off. Two missed days make me feel tetchy. Three missed days, and I am unwell.

So, I’m writing.

The people who love me value, encourage, and facilitate this need to write, be it the morning pages, these blog posts, the novels nobody reads or that other stuff.

That helps me stay on the path.

One word, one scene, one post at a time.

ii

I don’t want to be self-reflective and so I’m accidentally preachy.

(Side note: Flora and I debate earlier in the week weather accidental and unintentional are synonyms—I maintain that they are not, she’s not so sure. We also talk about the “Baby, it’s cold outside” lyrics, which she thinks are rapey, and which I think make total sense in the context and time in which they were written, and tell you a hell of a lot of about patriarchy and how fucked up gender roles and expectations still are, and, really, you want to combat rape culture, there are more practical ways of doing it than losing your shit over an American songwriter born in 1910, but hey, I’m old, what do I know.)

I definitely do not wish to be preachy either (man, it’s hard, when you’re in the mood to preach, everything‘s an opening–I am aware of what I did up there, thank you, let’s move on). One, nobody wants to be preached at—except, I suppose the people in church, but, maybe even there, really? They’re already converted: they don’t want to be preached at, just reassured. Preaching, kittens, is not how you change the world.

Two, who da’ fuq am I to tell you what to do?

Fortunately, the preachiness occurs primarily in the  morning pages and in drafts of posts I choose not to inflict on anyone else (except for that one, sorry, it slipped through). A moment of unintended self-reflection: if I’m preaching as a way of avoiding self-reflection, should I listen to what I am… Nah. I most definitely do not want to be preached at my myself.

iii

Today, I’m going to take the kids over to my parents for a pierogi-making marathon—assembly line might be a better metaphor—ok, it’s not a metaphor, it is a pierogi making assembly line.

I’m looking forward to it with an intensity that surprises me. Christmas is not the easiest time of year for me, but after last year?

Every holiday ritual, every chance to be with family, is extra precious.

iv

Baby, it’s cold outside, although not as cold as earlier this week. I’m a little bummed that you won’t get to read my panegyric about life in Viking Hell when it freezes over, because there are a few funny lines in there, but, alas, I’ve spoiled that with preachiness too. Still, nothing is wasted, everything is source material: the unpublishable blog post is still practice and process, and maybe I’ll use that turn of phrase elsewhere. Also, that particular cadence—I like it a lot. I’ll play with it some more, make it better.

The important thing is that I’m writing.

v

I’m writing, finally, again, the thing that I want to finish too. It’s not going well yet. I’m rusty and I have a hard time holding the plot line in my head. I don’t remember what seemed so obvious, inevitable ten months ago. But it doesn’t matter. I’m writing. One clunky sentence, one awkward scene at a time.

Novels get written, life gets lived in 15 minute increments.

Less.

I’m writing.

🙂

“Jane”

Still not trying to be a better person

i

I’ve been giving this a great deal of thought, kittens, and here’s the thing—generally speaking, I do want to be a good person. I just don’t want to be a better person. I mean, I probably wouldn’t mind being a slightly better person—it’s just a lot of work and I don’t want to do it. Like eating a totally sugar-free diet, exercising regularly, not drinking and not indulging with my occasional sheesha pipe—these are all things I’m capable of doing. I just… in the final analysis, when push comes to shove, insert cliché of your choice here—don’t want to.

You are on a relentless path of self-improvement—the goal, not perfection, I’ll grant you that, but that self-help enlightenment that makes me cringe. I’ve figured out why, by the way—your self-focus, self-improvement? It ensures that you will never actually change the world. You, yourself, after all are the project—the one thing you can control and change, and you do require infinite work…

He, conversely, thinks he’s perfect, no improvement required. When he clashes with the world, it’s the world that must change, not he. He’s often irritating to be around, I won’t deny—but he’s going to impact the world around him. You won’t.

You get upset when we talk about this—when I talk like this—because you sincerely believe that you do what you do for the greater good, not just of yourself and your soul—although, ok, there’s that too, you admit it—but for the Greater Good, two capital Gs, period.

That’s the lie the gurus, be they yogis of ancient lineages or secular life coaches sell. Maybe some even believe it. But the pursuit of self-enlightenment is really just a distraction—a way of sidelining intelligent, big-hearted people, funneling them away from the external work of social change and trapping them in the Narcissistic mirror of self-love.

Yeah, it’s a conspiracy and it’s a brilliant, grassroots one. The Man did not have to create it. He just needs to use it.

And he does.

ii

To be frank—when am I not—I feel the pull and allure of self-improvement too. I have control over so very little in my everyday life, nevermind on the macro political and social stage. My paltry actions on climate change and smashing the white, heteronormative patriarchy… all so insignificant.

But I have 100 per cent control over being thinner. Physically stronger, maybe even ripped. Capable of sitting still for 20-30 minutes each day in unfocused meditation…

Maybe it’s time to start sitting still and meditating again. It won’t change anything—but it will make me feel like I’m doing something.

Working on myself.

iii

I sit down and close my eyes. Breathe. Ugh. No. Not yet. Moral of the story, reiterated: I don’t really want to be a better person. Now excuse me while I go eat a chocolate croissant, not exercise, and have a long nap…

xoxo

“Jane”

An appointment with the dark

i

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

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

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

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

Overwhelmingly terrified.

Breathe.

ii

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

But—breathe—I’m afraid nevertheless

I’m afraid of being alone in the dark.

iii

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

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

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

iv

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

Breathe.

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

Breathe.

Regroup.

Face the dark.

v

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

We’re going to get through the dark together.

xoxo

“Jane”

Backwards through time: All the thoughts not fit to print

i

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

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

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

A sneeze.

ii

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

I’ll talk to you. Soon.

Probably.

iii

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

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

Food for thought.

Ha.

iv

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

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

My only un-advice: patience.

Patience.

v

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

Poetry should never be literal.

I read it again.

Jesus.

It’s even worse than I thought.

Delete.

vi

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

Let it go.

Done.

vii

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

Dammit.

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

Alas.

viii

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

Moving on.

ix

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

Copying that one into another book.

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

Maybe walk.

Maybe.

x

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

xi

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

Impossible to do it justice, right now.

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

It can be a gift for her 70th birthday.

Yes.

xii

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

Mine alone.

xiii

“Extreme self-reliance is a trauma response.”

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

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

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

The piece is “sharp as a guillotine.”

Also kind of mean.

I don’t think you can handle it.

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

Del…

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

Save for later.

Click.

xiv

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

Apparently.

xv

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

Fail.

xvi

A lot of introspection and whining.

Fuck, woman. Pull yourself together.

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

Honor them.

xvii

A pretty good poem.

xviii

A story called “My cokehead lover.”

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

Can I rewrite it as a comic piece?

Maybe.

xix

Lover, tonight I miss your closed eyelids.

xoxo

Jane

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

Transitions, rituals–and, always, delusions

i

Transitions suck.

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

Him: A toddler tantrum of epic proportions.

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

Transitions really suck.

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

On edge—breathe.

It doesn’t have to feel so jagged.

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

ii

Transitions.

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

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

They have a purpose.

They are… soothing.

iii

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

Everything will be all right.

Him: Better, baby?

Jane: %@#$.

xoxo

“Jane”

August 4, 2021

What next?

i

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

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

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

In the end, no.

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

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

So, there’s that.

ii

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

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

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

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

We survived.

What now, what next?

iii

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

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

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

I will miss you. So fucking much.

What next?

iv

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

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

But the crisis is over.

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

So, what next?

v

Seriously, what next?

xoxo

Jane

Bad dreams, good friends, and French onion soup

i

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

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

Her: You broke my heart.

Jane: But do you forgive me?

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

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

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

You: Protect yourself?

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

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

ii

Jane: Are you dying or something?

Him: WTF?

Jane: You are being so nice and accommodating.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

Jane: Are you moving away?

iii

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

(I’m talking to you, Jason Kenney.)

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

Jane: Wait for it.

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

Them: I’m double-vaxxed! Can we hug?

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

We don’t want to let go.

Jane: OMG, I’ve missed this so much.

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

Jane: Damn right I am. (Lick)

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

We hug again.

iv

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

It doesn’t matter.

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

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

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

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

Jane: I will eat whatever you bring.

Him: French onion soup with croutons and cheese?*

Bastard.

He’s probably not dying.

He’s moving away.

v

Jane: But seriously. Have you forgiven me yet?

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

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

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

Her: Of course.

Phew.

“Jane”

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

You: This makes no sense.

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

The secret correlation between prime number birthdays and sore calves…

Before

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After

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

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

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

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

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

In the middle

[deleted]

[deleted]

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

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

[deleted]

[deleted]

[deleted]

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

Let’s try it like this:

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

After-after

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

You know how much I wanted a party.

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

After-after-after

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

In gratitude,

“Jane”

Instead of nihilism, hit a piñata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theirs go to paradise.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe a piñata.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo

“Jane”

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

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

Or a piñata.

Mother’s Day, non-resident…

i

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

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

Really.

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

You really can’t win.

Flora: Why I don’t want children.

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

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

Flora: Even that one?

Jane: Even that one.

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

Screw you all. I’m doing my best.

ii

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

We will spend some time together, some time apart.

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

iii

It’s actually pretty good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine months after I moved out.

Finally.

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

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

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

I’m doing my best.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

i

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

Flora: Yeah, right.

Jane: Truth.

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

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

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

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

Enough of that though. Back to this:

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

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

Helplessness is awful.

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

But really, really hard.

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

I am here for you.

ii

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

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

You: Can I bring you soup?

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

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

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

iii

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

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

iv

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

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

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

v

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

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

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

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

I love you. When you suffer, I suffer.

That’s all.

xoxo

“Jane”

Lesson 1: Do less yoga

i

Today, we start with a poem:

KINDNESS
by Naomi Shihab Nye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii

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

iii

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

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

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

To be kind.

That’s it.

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

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

To your lover.

To yourself.

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

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

Naomi Shihab Nye

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: COVID Christmas Canticle

December 25, 2020

Two years ago was the worst Christmas ever, a year ago was the most awkward and delusional Christmas ever, and so, this COVID Christmas morning, which finds me alone in bed, a steaming cup of coffee (with cinnamon ) beside me, and cranberry cake too, and, of course, Morning Pages—well, it’s weird and different.

But it’s not bad. Not at all. Things have been so much worse.

I hate it that that’s my yardstick. But it is a pretty effective one, you know? There have been a number of occasions over this past year when I’ve looked at someone totally losing their shit over a quarantine-lockdown first world whine, and all I’ve been able to think is, “Wow, so you’ve never suffered before, not even a little bit… how incredibly lucky you have been… and how ill-equipped to deal with this stumble you are, you child of good fortune…”

To be clear—if I could wave a magic wand and take away Flora’s suffering over the past two, three years—and my own by extension—I’d do it in half a heartbeat. However. As it is the part of the package of my life as I’ve lived it so far? Zoom Christmas Eve was lame but hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, you know?

In my family and culture, we celebrate on Christmas Eve, an orgy of food and presents. This year, we celebrated in three households—the kids and me in my little hobbit house in Sunnyside, my brother and his family in Auburn Bay, my parents on the hill in Signal Hill. One city, three neighbourhoods—I pretended we were in different countries. It was okay. My Mom still cooked all the foods that I still don’t know how to make (I should get on that, perhaps). My over-enthusiastic parents played Santa Claus and braved the winter roads to deliver the grandchildren’s presents after supper. My children gorged themselves on pierogis—the dogs on the Christmas cookies they liberated from the dessert table while the rest of us were opening presents (don’t ask about the results of that). Afterwards, we played Anomia and watched a couple of episodes of Community on my laptop. Laughed.

I walked the kids to their coop house just before 10 pm—the night was warm and beautiful, and it felt like a very, very good Christmas Eve.

I will miss—I do miss—being there for their Christmas morning. Earlier in the week, a friend suggested that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be there. Wouldn’t it be better for the kids if we just did Christmas the way we had before? We’re getting along well, polite and kind, why not spend Christmas together?

I didn’t bother to explain. I’ve learned a lot from watching friends divorce badly for the past 15 years. It behooves me not to repeat their mistakes—I am committed to making only new ones.

So. Christmas morning alone in bed with my morning pages, coffee, cake—maybe a movie—Bridgerton premiers today, no? Christmas night with you—sushi, Bailey’s, Christmas leftovers. The middle of the day? I might write. Walk the dog.

Or stay in bed and binge watch Bridgerton.

A day off.

Not such a bad thing, you know.

Thigs have been worse.

This is actually pretty good.

December 26, 2020

Christmas Eve is good. Christmas Day is good. Boxing Day is passing in peace. It all feels like the calm before the storm though—storm hits in the evening. Nearly breaks me. Ender doesn’t want to come over to my house for supper; his reasons don’t matter—his rejection breaks me into little pieces, makes me barely capable of breathing and paying attention to his siblings. He is my smallest one, my least forged one, the one who needs—needed—me the most, the one who I fear will be the most damaged by our separation.

I scream in pain for hours, cry myself to sleep.

December 27, 2020

I am loved and I sometimes make bad decisions—but that’s okay, that’s part of life. I am loved even when I make bad decisions. It’s kind of strange mantra for the day, but it works. I do things that make me feel good enough to get through the early morning, and then Ender and I end up going on a mega walk with the dogs and with Grandma. I manage to not cancel a socially distanced walk with a friend, even though I really, really just want to crawl into bed and cry some more—and it helps, a lot. (It helps even more that my friend, seeing the state I’m in, says, Fuck Covid, and hugs me, holds me.) I cancel—or rather, skip out early—on a Zoom meeting when one of my people asks me to come run some errands with him. The request, I know, is not company for him, but company for me, because he knows I ache.

We run here and there, accomplishing not very much, end up eating South Indian dosas and Albanian sausages in an idling car for supper.

I am loved.

Ender and I skype: “I love you.” “Me loves you too.”

It’s hard, it’s hard, everything is so hard right now.

I am loved.

I am alive. In 2020, that’s the bar.

December 28, 2020

Morning pages, Laundry Monday, walk the dog, drive Cinder to work—attempts to work sabotaged, interrupted, by self, by life. A text—“We’re just walking past your house. Walk?” And I’m outside in a flash, boots and snowsuit on, exhausted but elated. When was the last time I’ve done something spontaneous? When was the last time that was allowed?

We walk. Talk. Walk.

I am loved. I love. I am alive. I survived this fucking nightmare of a year—and so did you. We did it. Lots of others didn’t, but let’s not think too much about them right now. You and I, we’re here, we did it.

Three more days to go.

December 31, January 1, just days in the calendar… but… aren’t you going to be glad when 2020 is over?

December 29, 2020

I am happy.

In 2020 (in 2019…), these are rare moments, and when they happen, I fuck Buddhism and practice attachment with all of my might. Don’t leave. Stay here with me, for this entire day, DO NOT LEAVE.

We walk in winter wonderland, and I understand why some people call it church—I’d still rather be in my sheesha lounge, to be honest, but I’ll take this, I’ll take this—and for a few precious hours, everything is okay with the world.

I am happy, I am loved, I love, I am alive, I am a tiny speck of light and life in a vast universe, insignificant yet infinitely important. Fine. Church.

Perfection.

Return of pain—memory of the moment of pure happiness—hold on to that.

Breathe.

I was happy—I will find that feeling again.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Three Generations

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

Three generations.

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

So.

Run away.

Three generations.

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

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

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

Three generations.

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

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

Flora: It won’t.

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

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

Everyone is loved.

Three generations.

xoxo

“Jane”

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

We are melting.

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

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

I am working.

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

We all want more of what we love.

I am waiting.

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

I work.

I am working.

I am waiting.

We are melting.

“Jane”

Some words of wisdom from the House of Snot & Vomit

I got a house of puking, snotty, feverish children over the holidays—Flora went down just before Christmas an barely made it through the Christmas Eve festivities, Cinder felt a tickle in his throat on Christmas Day and was down for the count on Boxing Day, and Ender woke up on the 27th puking. Today, Flora’s recovered but weak, and the boys are still fading in and out of consciousness between bouts of hydration and med top-ups.

And I love it.

Because, this sickness? I know what to do, how to help. Liquids and Tylenol to knock down the fever, Gravol and ginger for the tummies. Rest, baby. Have some tea. Let’s cuddle and watch a movie. I know, that cough is killer. Gargle with salt water, eat some honey.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to set intentions. My intentions for 2020,  as I’ve already shared, are to love more, play more, and also, rest more.

I am not so good at resting. And the secretly fabulous thing that happens when the kids—especially the little guy—are sick like this? I get to rest. I mean, there is all the laundry and tea making. But what they need the most—especially Ender—is for me to sit beside them on the couch and to love them. And so, I rest.

Wait.

Did I just say I want my kids to be sick more in 2020? No, no, no, no. Enough illness. Really.

Just…

More love.

More play.

More rest.

xoxo

“Jane”

 

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

i.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town…

Christmas songs—you can’t really call them carols these days, can you?—are on the radio, Christmas tree and holiday displays glut stores—and the most beautiful time of the year is just around the corner.

I hate Christmas.

I used to love it, of course, as most children from fairly functional homes in which Christmas is a time of feasting and gifting and treats do. And then I didn’t, and for more than a decade I thought it was because of the crass commercialism and overall grossness of the holiday—its utter separation from anything religiously meaningful or spiritually uplifting—you know, the usual.

And then, a few years ago, I realized that my intense hatred of Christmas coincided rather perfectly with the loss of my baby. I started bleeding on Christmas Eve. By December 29, he was dead, and I was alive, but didn’t really want to be. But nobody really let me cry or pout, because I had a toddler to take care and a husband, also work, and we might not be British, but “stiff upper lip” and “don’t let them see you sweat” are genetic mottos in my family of origin.

Recognizing the source of the pain and negative feelings did not transform me as it did the Grinch. But at least now, I know that I spend December marking that awful anniversary, and I expect to be sad, and I sit with my sadness.

His name was Kieran Adam.

Flora was born a year and a week after his death. That was, I guess, the first Christmas I hated. She was a high-risk pregnancy to boot. The first ultrasounds told us to prepare for a Down Syndrome baby with a heart defect. The birth of my daughter in her utter physical perfection on January 6 was a gift and a miracle.

But it did not make any future December any easier.

Flora’s health issues, manifesting in secret only to herself through 2017, and in bits and pieces to us through 2018, exploded on us on over the Christmas holiday break in 2018.

I have a novel, as yet unpublished, written in 2016, in which one of the refrains is, “Bad things happen on Sundays in December.”

I hate it when I’m unintentionally psychic.

ii.

He’s making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town

I’m making a list of good things that happened in 2019. Because, although the overall theme for the year is, “What the fuck, God? This is why I don’t believe in you, you fucking asshole!” … there were good moments.

Just as I expect there were good moments in 2013. But I didn’t make a list, so all I remember is the flood.

Anyway. Good things that happened in 2019:

  • Sean took Flora to Harry Potter World in Orlando, in January, even though, as we neared to the trip, she was getting sicker and sicker, and we had no idea how she—or he—would cope. (It was a really rough, rough trip… but it had good moments. And she got to see Harry Potter World while still young enough to love it. Later that year, she’d turn into a cynical teenager.)

  • Cinder spent the Winter semester taking Physics and Biology at school in the mornings, and welding, pipefitting, and metal working at the local Polytechnique in the afternoon, a balance that worked extremely well for him—and let us get away with not parenting him when the shit hit the fan with Flora’s health.

  • I started teaching at the Polytechnique, and found I really enjoyed it. And, I taught a bunch of other writing courses, and participated in some very fun literary community things.

  • Flora got her fucking black belt! And, she and I got to see Wales and Cardiff Castle. And the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. Also Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey—but not Big Ben, because he was wrapped up—the Natural History Museum, the Tate, and, best of all, we spent time with one of my dearest and oldest friends and his fam.

  • And then, my London friend came through Calgary briefly, and we had sushi, and all was right with the universe for a few hours.
  • I got to spend six days in New Orleans! If I hadn’t had the conference paid for and booked well before Flora’s health started to unravel, I wouldn’t have gone. As is, I’m not sure I really enjoyed it—I was frayed and exhausted and, childless in New Orleans, I slept 12-14 hours a night, and had a hard time being with people. Still. I met a musician who showed me the French Quarter, and an artist/university arts professor who drove me all over and gave me a beautiful history lesson, and dozens of local artists doing cool things, and a whole bunch of authors I adore. I sat next to Charlaine Harris, got trapped in an elevator with Sylvia Day, stalked Sonali Dev… so good. And, New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans. Even through my fog, it was magical. I will definitely go back.

  • On the plane to New Orleans, I wrote a short story (the first thing I had been able to write since Flora got ill), and on the plane from New Orleans, I created a supercool project for one of my pen names, and that felt really good.
  • One of the people who was instrumental to Flora’s medical team while she was in the hospital transferred to the outpatient clinic that would be taking over Flora’s treatment, and fast-tracked our transfer, intake, and all of those things, and provided critical continuity of service and support.
  • Ender learned to read! Negligent unschooling for the win, cause god knows I wasn’t teaching him anything in the first seven… eight… nine? months of 2019.

  • Despite all the shit—Flora nailed her math and English courses! And, passed Phys Ed. Unschooling for the win again, and that’s a story for another time to be told in some detail.
  • We got a chunky tax return! Finally, an upside to being poor! It took us until July… August? to file our taxes. (Fuck off, Aunt Augusta. Flora ended up in the hospital in March; not even Revenue Canada expected us to be on time. And, I’ve got to say—I love Revenue Canada. The two times in my life that life sideswiped me so hard that I couldn’t be functional—it’s not that they don’t want their pound of flesh and the accompanying paperwork. Of course they do. But so long as you keep them in the loop with what’s happening, they don’t nag you. Much.)

It looks like garbage. It’s someone’s life. We really rushed to clear the debris off the streets and driveways in advance of the city crews’ trucks coming. Because it was killing people.

  • I did make it to my fourth When Words Collide festival in Calgary in mid-August, and I took Flora with me, and it was a good weekend.

  • Also… Beakernight! And that’s all we really to say…

  • I didn’t get that job in Dubai that I didn’t really want that would have turned our lives upside down but that seemed like such a good opportunity that if I had gotten it, turning it down would have been really hard.
  • But, I got into the Investigative Journalism Intensive at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and, my 12-day stay there was fully funded, and I had the most amazing time, and I met the most amazing people.

  • While I thought I wasn’t writing, I wrote three novellas. They’re not very good novellas, mind you. But. They’re something and they’re practice. And I’m really enjoying the process of revising them.
  • Sean got As in all his psychology courses. Even statistics!
  • My dad’s pacemaker insertion and follow-ups all went very well.
  • Oh, Pride 2019! It was amazing! And, I danced! So much! Tequila! Also, YYC Queer Writers put out another anthology and raised enough money to send one kid to Camp fYrefly. Go, us!

  • A good friend was made a judge and there was much celebration.
  • We took care of a gorgeous German shepherd puppy for two weeks this summer, and then again in November. We all got a temporary big dog fix—and after she’s gone, our house feels so big and hair-free!—and we’re able to help a friend in this small way, and I am so grateful for that. (Parenthetically, I’ve been a shitty friend this year. Aunt, sister, neighhbour. Unfortunate, but true. Still. A time and a place for everything.)

  • I attended a workshop with Julia Cameron, the woman who gave me the courage to call myself an artist. Also, to return to journaling and the joy of writing privately (writing publicly makes you a better writer; writing privately is necessary for the soul, and also, to strip self-indulgence out of your writing so that you can be less self-indulgent when you write publicly). Also, the tools to write my second novel, more or less. She was old and frail, and very much of her era. I still loved her.

  • I spent a mind-blowing weekend with Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald learning all about sketch comedy. Do you know what the common characteristic of geniuses in their domain who are also good people is? This: “This is everything I know. Take it, and do great things with it.”

  • I took Flora to a concert celebrating 50 years of Stonewall, and she now knows all about Marsha P. Johnson. Oh, and I got to see Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra performing with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and that was pretty amazing.

  • I smoked a lot of sheesha, alone, occasionally with a good friend… and was able to call it research…

Most critically:

  • Despite all the suck-ass challenges, Flora made it to regular high school and is killing it.

  • My parents did what they always do, and showed them, rearranged their work scheduled, and helped us out whenever we needed it, with childcare, driving, food, and accepting my anger, silence, and other difficult emotions.

  • Sean and I fucking kill it in a crisis. There are stats on this—shit like we’ve been through this year breaks up marriages. And we still look like drowned rats, and we’re exhausted as fuck. And we seek our comfort elsewhere, not with each other—because we’re rather empty, so how can we? But. Through all of this, neither of us has blamed, resented, guilted or otherwise maligned or cut down the other. We’ve supported each other as best as we could, tag-teamed, given relief when we could, and tried to time our collapses so they did not happen at the same time. So far, so good. Easy? Fuck, no. But we’re still here.

I’m fairly certain that even if things get harder (but how about there’s a stretch of easier, for just a little while?), we will make it through. So. That’s a good thing.

More cryptically:

  • The full moon delivered a letter I didn’t know I had been waiting for. Thank you, Sufi poets.

And that’s the list. And you know what? I bet if I checked it twice, I’d find more stuff to add…

And yet… funny/sad thing: my godmother died in 2019, and Sean lost a favourite uncle. I think, we hardly noticed those losses—any more than we noticed, were capable of really celebrating, the arrival of a new nephew, the development and growth of our kids’ other much loved cousins.

Because our one bad thing was so fucking bad.

iii.

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

When Flora first heard this song when she was four or five, she looked at me with her big googly eyes and said, “Is Santa a Stalker?”

This is the kid who identified Sting’s “Every breath you take” song as problematic when she was seven, and who had problems with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” long before last year’s … I don’t know what to call it. Awakening, I suppose.

I was just at a concert with one of my loves at which a voice coach, more or less of my vintage, and one of her students—more or less of Flora’s—performed the song, after an introduction in which the voice coach acknowledged that they argued about the “political correctedness” of the lyrics. The teenage boy thought they were appalling and didn’t want to sing the song. The voice coach said, “It’s a great tune.” She prevailed. He sang with the occasional grimace on his face.

I’d like to meet his mother, because kudos to you, woman. Our kids are gonna change the world, right?

iv.

With little tin horns and little toy drums
Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Goodness sake

I haven’t been good this year, fuck off, Santa Claus, I don’t want to be.

I’m looking at my list again, checking it thrice. And thinking about how, as you read it—as I read it—sure looks like I had this fantabulous year, right? My Instagram feed is beautiful. Welsh castles and smoking cigars on beaches, rubbing shoulders with celebrities.

Can I please be allowed to say this: it’s been a shitty, shitty, god-awful year. For half of it, I didn’t know if my child would live, how she could live. For the second half of it, I’ve been caught between hope and fear, and moving through life in a state of such emotional exhaustion, to which not even the sleep-deprived nights of early motherhood compare. For all of it, I’ve suffered.

There’s a Buddhist saying, apparently popularized by Haruki Murakami—but I think both Sylvia Boorstein and Thich Nhat Hahn use is—that pain is inevitable but suffering is in your head.

Perhaps. That doesn’t make it any less real. We are our bodies and our minds and, perhaps, some ineffable essence that binds them. We are real.

Suffering fucking sucks.

In the support/training group for parents at Flora’s clinic—I call it, not affectionately, “The Support Group for Parents Whose Children Haven’t Died Yet But Are Suffering So Much They Want To, and Some of Them Will, And How the Fuck Are We Supposed to Not to Suffer with that Hanging Over Us?”—the Pollyanna family therapist tells me that suffering lies in resenting the new normal and sanity lies in celebrating the little victories.

I think there’s a special place reserved in Buddhist hell for family therapists that have read the pop-psychology excerpts of Buddhist sutras, peppered them a little with Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie and the like, and mouth them at parents while, perhaps, pondering with what photograph they might best couple them so they look good as an Instagram meme.

I’m unfair. They’re doing their damn best, I know, and after all, what can you tell a parent to make them feel better about witnessing, constantly, their child’s suffering?

“Love less” is really not an option.

v.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming to town
(Coming to town)

“Love more,” however, is probably where salvation lies. And where suffering becomes bearable. It doesn’t end, you know. A life devoid of suffering is a life devoid of love. When you love, you suffer. But you also experience the joy that makes you see God, if that’s your shtick—or, in the case of atheists like me, understand the purpose, meaning of a godless life, understand why you are alive.

Loving is not always easy.

Isn’t that a mindfuck? It’s a new thing for me. Loving mine has always been effortless.

Not in 2019.

In 2019, loving has been work. It’s required work, consciousness, effort.

vi.

Santa’s a busy man he has no time to play
He’s got millions of stockings to fill on Christmas day
(Santa Claus is coming to town)
(Coming to town)

I’ve always been quite good at work. At girding my loins and gritting my teeth and doing the shit that needs to be done.

My lesson from 2019 is that the hard work of conscious loving through a crisis and suffering that may never end requires intense play.

For me, much of my most precious play is also my work. In that, I am so lucky.

But it’s also dancing a tequila-infused night away on the rooftop of Broken City (that mountain of a woman, yes, I’m going to put her into a story), reading poetry in bed (but see, that’s also work), smoking sheesha with a fellow writer while not talking about writing at all, drinking coconut-infused stout in a quiet booth in a crowded bar with beautiful people (and thinking, I can use that story about her body builder Tinder date in my novella)… laying in your arms listening to the murmur of city traffic—I can totally pretend it’s a river or an ocean—and not thinking at all for a while.

I think it’s going to be a really tough Christmas. Anniversaries are always tough. I see it already in Flora’s eyes, mood. She’s remembering last year, with her body if not consciously with her mind.

Sean and I remember too. I feel the tenseness, anxiety in my throat, in my spine.

I think about the difference between feeling and doing. And how you can’t always—often—usually—help how you feel. You can affect what you do—not always, I’ll grant you. But often.

Grit teeth. Gird loins. Love more.

Play Christmas music for Ender, because he loves it. Think about Kieran Adam, and cry, a little. Go to the kitchen, and maybe don’t think about the things that happened in it last December, but feel them, you can’t help but feel them. Then, think about the good things. Or, don’t think.

Thinking isn’t always necessary or desired.

Read Hafez. Write a poem. Revise a story. Prepare a slide show for the next workshop.

Text a lover.

Remember you have a son in high school hungry for career guidance, searching for his life’s purpose. Give him love, time, attention.

Love more.

Acknowledge that you suffer to a purpose, and you suffer because you love, and you’d rather love and suffer than not suffer and not love.

Love more.

(Santa Claus is coming to town)
(Coming to town)

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Lyrics by Fred J. Coots and Haven Gillespie
…and, to close let’s enjoy this video by Mariah Carey

xoxo

“Jane”